A few days before our departure BA pilots went on strike. We received a message from BA to say our flight on Wednesday 11th, the day after the strike was due to end, would be cancelled. Later the same day we received another message that the flight would go ahead as planned. We set off on Tuesday 10th September and planned to stay in a hotel at Heathrow and leave our car there for the duration of our holiday. On our journey we were contacted by Viking to say that the water levels in the Danube were low and we would probably need to change ships at some point. Later, in our hotel room we received a message from BA to say that our flight the next day was cancelled after all and we were booked onto another flight in the late afternoon. This meant we could have driven straight from home and avoided a hotel stay. Not a good start!
After spending several hours at Heathrow on Wednesday afternoon we did depart for Prague, a little late. We were pleased to find that Viking had not forgotten us; a driver was waiting to take us, his only passengers, to our hotel. We had been told we would be staying in the Corinthian but he said he was to take us to the Hotel Smetana. He kindly checked with Viking and we discovered that we had not been told about the change in hotels. By the time we were settled into our room it was about 10pm and we had missed two thirds of a day in Prague.
Our stay in the city was all that we had hoped. We were surprised to find that all our fellow Viking travellers in those first three days were American. This did not matter a jot as we have travelled widely in the States and have several American friends. It just wasn’t what we expected.The Hotel Smetana was very comfortable indeed and most people who had been moved there like us, were actually pleased as it was so characterful and so handy for getting to places on foot. The included walking tour was very informative and well organised and the Viking Rep was most helpful in getting us late entry to the Folk Evening. That event was however spoiled by people on the trip talking all the way through the entertainment. The musicians just carried on regardless. They needed to explain to their audience what would happen during the evening and perform several slots in between the different courses of the meal – which by the way was very poor indeed. The rest of our time in Prague was most enjoyable and more than lived up to our expectations.
Our transfer to the Viking Gullveig was smooth and we were most impressed with our stateroom, the food and the service. Our cruise coordinator, Benne, was a star throughout and we must commend her. We soon found some fellow Brits aboard too.
We were surprised that our journey was along a canal and that there were many locks along the way and on the river as well. This meant that we spent quite a lot of time looking at green, slimy lock walls when we were expecting glorious scenery. As we travelled through the night the lock transits were a disturbance for light sleepers. It also meant that instead of cruising along during the day we spent daylight on coaches going to our various destinations. Our visits to Nuremburg and Regensburg were very well coordinated and interesting as we had expected. Then we were told that the water level from there was definitely too low to proceed. Benne gave us all the necessary information about the change of ship (to Viking Egil) but this was a disappointment as it meant we would have to pack and unpack and miss some time on the river.
Our visits to Passau and Vienna fulfilled all our expectations but we all observed that we now felt we were on a coach trip, not a river cruise. Our drivers and tour guides were all excellent however and we very much enjoyed the special lunch arranged for us as recompense for the upheaval. Vienna was spectacular and we were stunned by the beauty of Budapest.
On the morning of our departure Benne came to tell us that our BA flight was cancelled. Not again. This affected another three British couples. Benne said we could use the ship’s facilities and have lunch aboard. She also assured us that we would be taken to the airport as planned in time to check in. Our flight was delayed a further hour and we did not get home until 2.30 am the next day!
Overall we really did enjoy our trip and the places we saw were wonderful. Viking was well organized and thorough throughout. We wanted to do this particular cruise to see the cities I have mentioned but we do not intend to do another river cruise.
I do however feel that the adverts we see on TV and in brochures give a false impression of what the cruise would be like – for some of the reasons I have already mentioned. In addition, on a number of occasions when there was the opportunity to go on the sundeck it was closed. The crew did not seem to know why. On other occasions we were moored next to other ships and this blocked out any view on one side. This, and the locks, meant having a balcony was not worth the extra money.
We loved the places we visited but did not feel the river cruise aspect lived up to expectations.