It’s no secret that what makes river cruises wonderful is their ability to reach cities, towns and panoramas unavailable to ocean liners. But is there a trade-off?
In the age of mega-cruise ships offering a mind-boggling range of food and dining, does variety suffer on their daintier river cousins?
This May I was invited to join Viking River Cruises’ Romantic Danube itinerary and whilst I knew I’d love the chance to visit the amazing destinations on offer (Vienna, Nuremberg, Budapest!) would I tire of a smaller ship and the food and beverage options on offer?
Well, first up, Viking River Cruise’s award-winning Longships are anything but dainty. When we pulled up beside Atla, my home for the week, she was moored next to Magni, and thanks to their impressive structures topped off by the retractable wheelhouses, neither are slight!
With an open and light-filled atrium, overlooked by a portrait of Norse goddess Atla herself, you could easily mistake her guest services desks for that on any smaller cruise ship. And whilst Atla has only four passenger decks, I never had to hunt for a comfortable seat, sofa, or on the sundeck, a lounger in the sun. So, space is no issue. And with a crew to passenger ratio of better than 4:1, neither is service!
Atla’s reception team are available 24/7 and though they are few, they are fierce. No matter what you need, Daniel and team can usually make it happen thanks to their in-depth knowledge of the Danube and easy access to ports. From arranging bike hire to finding the nearest farmer’s market, there was little that seemed to stump them.
So, onto the crux of the matter, dining and food. And Atla’s beautifully contemporary main dining room, which thanks to floor to ceiling windows provides marvellous views of countryside and city as Atla glides past.
As you’d expect with an award-winning setup like Viking’s, the food was delicious and plentiful, with a minimum three courses plus coffee available each lunch and dinner.
What I didn’t expect though was the choice on offer in Viking’s menus. With at least sixteen dishes on offer at each meal, some very clearly local delicacies, it was a real feast for the senses. Viking’s commitment to destination dining runs through its menus each day and with Maitre d’ Nicola and the team’s keenness for us to get to try everything, it was rare that we weren’t offered a taste of dishes we hadn’t ordered. Hungarian goulash with dumplings was a favourite, I’d eat it all day if I could, though the wiener schnitzel runs a close second.
Supplementing the main dining room is the Aquavit Terrace, a lovely indoor/outdoor space at the bow of the ship which acts as a more casual alternative to the main dining room and serves gorgeous pastas, gourmet burgers and salad buffets throughout lunch and dinner. As we were lucky with sweltering weather, we got to eat out here regularly and again, the quality was fantastic.
However, Viking’s cherry on the ‘rakoczi’ (Hungarian cheesecake) was not only meeting Executive Chef Carlito, but also visiting a Viennese farmer’s market with him while he chose local ingredients for that evening’s dinner; where else do you get a chance like that!
So, I guess what it came down to really is, was the food delicious, varied and interesting? And the answer is a resounding yes to all the above. When you couple this with an-ever changing, epic landscape as the backdrop to your drinking and dining, plus amazing service from a crew that not only knew my name within an hour but what I like to eat, drink, even that I was always late for breakfast (sorry Richard!), I think it’s safe to say it’s hard not to convert!
River cruise ship: Viking Atla
Staterooms & capacity: 95/190
Stateroom: River view stateroom
Itinerary: Romantic Danube, Nuremberg to Budapest, 8 days, 6 guided tours