Solent Richard catches a Viking Maiden

My wife and I cruised along the River  Danube between Budapest and Nuremberg in July 2012…
We had chosen to travel with Viking River Cruises  and embarked on their latest ship,  Viking Embla…
…for its maiden voyage from Budapest. Our only previous river cruise had been along the Yangtse River and that before the Dam had been built.

Our flights from Heathrow to Budapest and return from Munich were part of the Viking River Cruises (VRC) package and both flights were British Airways scheduled flights.
The ‘ meet and greet’ service at Budapest airport  was excellent: as was both  the transfer to the ship and check-in.
Viking Embla was moored directly opposite Budapest’s Buda Castle ( once the Hungarian Royal palace) on the Buda side of the Danube…
Later that evening the well lit Buda Castle was provided with a picturesque half frame by the 154 year  old,  but still very serviceable,   Széchenyi Chain Bridge.
 
 Viking Embla is a purpose built River Longship with accommodation on 3 levels for 190 guests.
Onboard  there is a selection of accommodation ranging from Suites and staterooms with a balcony (called Verandas) to the smaller French Balcony staterooms which feature a floor to ceiling sliding glass door (no balcony) down to a small number of staterooms on the lowest deck with a half-height window. The photograph below does illustrate the outlook available at  all three levels of accommodation…
For this river cruise we had chosen a ‘Superior Veranda Stateroom’, basically placing us on the upper accommodation deck level…
All accommodation has deluxe amenities, premium toiletries (L’Occitane) and high-definition in room entertainment.
Passengers are each supplied with a personal wireless ‘Tour Guide’ receiver for their use on all the inclusive tours  that VRC arrange…
(more about this system later)
Around the Ship
Embla has a Main Restaurant which operates on a one sitting / open seating system…
…while the Aquavit Terrace offers an indoor/outdoor area at the bow of the ship for more casual dining at breakfast and lunch…
The Aquavit Terrace is effectively an extension of the Observation Lounge, which also incorporates the ship’s  bar and entertainment area. It is here where, in addition to the limited entertainment programme,  port talks and cultural lectures are given.
Viking Embla is well blessed with open deck space and more than sufficient good quality furnishings…
One particular innovation that has been incorporated into the Viking Embla design is a  ‘retractable’ Sun Deck features.
On its journey along the Danube the Viking Embla often met a number of low bridges…

In order to facilitate the safe navigation under such low obstacles the deck awning….

…is lowered hydraulically along with the various masts…

…and even the Captain’s Bridge lowered and raised under a similar hydraulic system…

Talking of Navigation

A considerable amount of  time is spent on board with passengers enjoying the constantly  changing scenery and the ship making its leisurely passage along the river between each of its itinerary  destination towns and cities. Bridges have already been mentioned but on this particular river cruise there were also numerous locks and narrows that need to be navigated through.

On most occasions that the Embla is underway the Captain is generally observed in his ‘Bridge House’…

Though for the purpose of navigating through tight locks, this one at night

…the Captain had a remote navigation facility on either side of the ship, adjacent the Bridge House…

…and observing these manoeuvres was certainly a pastime to the more nautical minded.

Dining

Breakfast was served buffet style in both the Main Restaurant and on the Aquavit Terrace. There was an excellent selection of both hot and cold offerings: all traditional breakfast fare being on offer. Lunches were semi buffet style and again, available in both the Aquavit Terrace and the Main Restaurant.

Dinner was full waiter service on a one sitting, open seating arrangement and would follow the ‘early evening’ Cruise Director’s ‘following day’s events’ briefing in the lounge. Complimentary selected Wines, beers and soft drinks were served during both lunch and dinner.

We certainly  found the cuisine on board perfectly satisfactory for the style of ship we were cruising on.  Serving upwards of 190 passengers in one fast sitting is never going to offer high end cuisine nor should it be expected. Having said that though, what was produced was certainly substantial,  variable in  choice, particularly for dinner, and an alternative steak or salmon dish was always on offer. The boat was certainly pushed out on the Captain’s Gala Dinner Night…

Executive Chef Karl Heinz certainly conjured up some interesting regional dishes to tempt the palate and the attentive waiters ensured that copious quantities of acceptable wine were available. This wasn’t Cunard Grills but hey, no complaint, we didn’t starve.

Our Destinations and Itinerary

This was a 7 night cruise and as originally stated, was sailing between Budapest in Hungary and Nuremburg, Germany.

 

This itinerary crossed three countries borders while sailing north along the River Danube.

As this Blog post is primarily concerned with the Viking Embla I will confine photographs to a limited number with the intention of giving a flavour of what is on offer and maybe concentrate on individual towns and cities at some later date under my ‘One Way to do…’ series.

Having arrived in Budapest early afternoon and successfully checked in we were given ‘free’ time to discover Budapest on our own. We were,  however, aware that the following day Viking River Cruises  would be laying on their first ‘inclusive’ escorted tour and that this tour would also be in Budapest…

The Viking tour was excellent and covered the Hungarian capital City most admirably while additionally offering a good deal of free time at Buda Castle: from whose ramparts the above picture, showing the Hungarian Parliament Building, on the right centre, was taken.

On completion of this first taste of Viking’s excellent tour itineraries we re-joined the ship, albeit  some distance up the river from Budapest. The Captain had taken the opportunity to reposition the Embla further up stream in anticipation of our overnight river  passage to Vienna  and what was to be  our first taste of Austria: having crossed the Hungarian border sometime overnight.

Here again VRC had organised an informative and interesting complimentary excursion which gave a broad picture of understanding of this fascinating iconic city.

Once again there was a very good excursion and, on  completion of this complimentary tour,  passengers were given the option of either returning to the ship with the coach – it was a journey of around 4 miles – or continuing on a self guided tour: the latter being our option.

Again, so many possibilities here in Vienna but,  probably for us at least, a visit to the Spanish Riding School

The Imperial Crypt –  the principal place of entombment for members of the House of Habsburg.  The bodies of 145 Habsburg royalty,  plus urns containing the hearts or cremated remains of four others, are deposited here, including 12 emperors and 18 empresses…

The visible 107 metal sarcophagi and five heart urns range in style from puritan plain to exuberant rococo.

Among the more impressive that we viewed was the tomb of Maria Theresa and Holy Roman Emperor Franz I Stephen of Lorraine…

Amongst many other places we also made it to the  Wiener Riesenrad, a 64.75-metre (212 ft) tall Ferris Wheel at the entrance of the Prater Amusement Park…

Built and erected in 1897 by the English engineer Lieutenant Walter Bassett Bassett (1864-1907), Royal Navy, of Watermouth Castle, Devon.  Its purpose was to celebrate the Golden Jubillee of Emperor Franz Josef I.  The Riesenrad was one of the earliest Ferris wheels ever built. Walter Bassett’s Ferris wheel manufacturing business was not a commercial success, and he died in 1907 almost bankrupt. It is now one of Vienna’s most popular tourist attractions.

Our stay in Vienna extended  into the early evening and, after eventually returning to the Embla on foot,  we set off for another overnight passage along the Danube to Durnstein…

…and sailed past Castle Schönbühel…

 

…and  on to the town of Melk  with its Benedictine Abbey.  Among the world’s most famous monastic sites, the Abbey  overlooks the town of Melk, which itself an attractive visit…

Founded in 1089, it is located above the town on a rocky outcrop which overlooks the Danube river as it flows through the Wachau valley.  The abbey contains the tomb of Saint Coloman of Stockerau and also the remains of several members of the House of Babenberg, Austria’s first ruling dynasty.

From Melk our overnight passage took us across the Austro-German border for a mid morning arrival at the German town of  Passau.

The Viking River Cruises featured excursion at Passau was in fact a walking tour: certainly not a  problem as the Embla was berthed almost at the centre of the town. As with other guided visits at the previous stops our VRC wireless ‘Tour Guide’ receivers proved amazingly good, particularly for passengers like myself who often wanders off to ‘snap’ that unusual picture. Of course, the onus is on the passenger to ensure that their receiver’s battery is charged in the special charger located in the stateroom and pictured earlier.

The highlight at Passau was a VRC pre paid admission to St. Stevens Cathedral for the lunchtime organ recital. St Stevens was originally a Baroque church dating  from 1688. Over time, the Passau Cathedral has acquired the largest organ outside of the United States. It is also the largest cathedral organ in the world. The organ currently has 17,774 pipes and 233 registers, all of which can be played with the five-manual general console in the gallery.

Impressive? well listen to this…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jdQ-IYR508

On a number of occasions Viking River Cruises  arranged lunches at various venues on our excursion stops. However, with the close proximity of Viking Embla to Passau centre we returned for an on board lunch prior to  yours truly taking a solo climb to investigate the Veste Oberhaus

 

A fortress that was founded in 1219 and, for most of its time, it served as the stronghold of the Bishop of Passau…

 

 

The building is located on the mountain crest (St.Georgsberg) between the Danube and the Ilz rivers and dominates the city of Passau that is located on the opposite side of the Danube.  The fortress was attacked five times between 1250 and 1482. Twice, 1298 and 1367, the citizens of Passau themselves rebelled against the Bishop but the  Veste Oberhaus was never conquered militarily.

There is a steep footpath leading to the Veste Oberhaus which took some 55 minutes to climb and  reach the entrance. Alas time did not allow me to fully discover all that this historical building has to offer. However, but the surrounding vistas from the battlements were something to behold…

Regensburg was the  following day’s port stop. This particular city – it has yet another Cathedral – is located at the confluence of the Danube and Regen rivers in the state of Bavaria. Regensberg’s  large medieval centre of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is  accessed across this stone bridge, built 1135–1146,  and a fine example of medieval bridge building…

Our final day was to be, for me at least, the  piece of the itinerary jigsaw that I had really had looked forward to putting in place:  Nuremberg.

It was for this visit to Nuremberg that we chose to pay an excursion supplement for an add-on tour that would not only show us the complimentary town excursion  but take us additionally to  the Nuremburg Nazi Rally sites and other World War II places of interest.

We were not to be disappointed and the additional charge for the tour extension was for us a master stroke. Amongst the many sites we visited were the Nazi Congress Hall and Nuremberg Documentation Centre…

…and probably the most famous of all war time venues, the Nuremberg Palace of Justice Courtroom…

where Nazi war criminals were tried.

And a look at  Tiergärtnertor Square  below the Imperial Castle

The following day VRC’s usual efficient organisation transferred us to Munich Airport for our British Airways scheduled flight back to London.

Summary

I trust that in the  above I have given a taste of both the Embla and the ports of call from this particular cruise. All the visits were well guided and only a fraction of the interesting places and  buildings have been covered.  As far as visiting the various places they were all actually intense despite being well planned. All credit to Viking River Cruises who, by day two, assessed the balance of passengers mobility needs and arranged separate transports for those with less difficulty walking in order that they were not hindered or slowed. Full marks there VRC.

But River cruising wasn’t all intense fast action million fact excursions. This was also about various lengths of time given to leisurely cruising along tranquil waterways, passing spectacular landscapes and passing unique, ever-changing vistas whether scenic or historical.     Get the drift?….In no particular order….

Schloss Schönbühel

and closer….

The ruins of Spitz Castle, Wanchau valley

Dürnstein….

and Befreiungshalle (Hall of Liberation),  a historical classical monument upon Mount Michelsberg above the city of Kelheim in Bavaria

River cruising is not ocean cruising and should never be considered in the same light. River cruise ships are, by their very nature, not conducive to what ocean cruisers have come to expect. They are of course considerably smaller but, having said that, the newer ships are well designed and when factors are considered they certainly provide a comfortable platform to journey along sometimes tight rivers otherwise fascinating ports of call.

Their amenities are of such a level that one should not expect what one experiences on larger Ocean cruise liners. They do, however, certainly on Viking River Cruises, make the best of their limited space and organisation to provide a most attractive product.

Evening entertainment was limited but, to be perfectly frank, after some days excursions and early starts planned for the next day, after dinner entertainment would be the last item on many passengers minds.

Food and dining was good with many evenings offering regional favourites to supplement traditional dinner favourites.

Once or twice unscheduled stops were called for. These were explained to us as being necessary due to low levels of water in the river making navigation unsafe. To VRC’s credit, when this did happen there were prompt alternative coaching arrangements to get us on our scheduled tours.

River cruising offers an interesting alternative to ocean cruising and both my wife and myself thoroughly enjoyed this latest adventure. Indeed, so much so that we have booked further cruises with Viking River Cruises in 2013 and 2014. That in itself can’t be a bad recommendation for either the style of cruising or the company.

For us a river cruise once a year will probably be the norm as our great love is to be dancing out on the oceans. All the same, thank you Viking River Cruises, you have an excellent product and are obviously a brand leader.

5 responses to “Solent Richard catches a Viking Maiden

  1. The ship looks great! We’ve cruised with Viking three times so far and intend to do China’s Cultural Delights next summer. Is there a review of your Yangtze cruise anywhere?

    • Thank you. No review as such of the Yangtse River cruise but you have given me an idea. We did it in 2002 – before the Dam was completed – and before I had an interest in cruising. Four nights in Shanghai, flight to Chongqing, 2 nights there and sailed on the Victoria Cruises’ ‘Majesty of the Yangtse’ 11 days Chongqing back to Shanghai. Absolutely fascinating trip. Whatever you choose make sure you do The Three Gorges on the Chongqing side of the Dam.

      http://www.victoriacruises.com/

  2. Pingback: Cruising Mates | Solent Richard's Cruise Blog·

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