All the river cruise training I completed gave me a good idea on what to expect, but there's nothing like experiencing the "real thing". Here's our day by day itinerary:
Pre-cruise: We had a full day in Nuremberg prior to joining the cruise, so Mom and I took advantage of the nice weather and our own time schedule to explore the city. We walked through Old Town, window shopped, admiring the beautiful wooden toys they are so famous for. The walk up to the castle wasn't too strenuous except for the last section, but definitely worth the effort. Great views from the top! Because it was a Saturday, the outdoor markets were in full swing. I have always enjoyed walking through markets wherever I visit as they give you a real flavor of local life. We enjoyed a nice mug of mulled wine (gluhwein) while wishing we could take some of fresh cheeses and sausages with us! We ended the day with a lovely meal at a local historic pub, famous for their Nuremberg rostbratwurstchen (Oh my were they good! Do not pass these up.). Because it was quite crowded, we shared a table with some locals - just too much fun and highly recommended!
Day 1: Nuremberg
Embarkation day. Viking docked in Erlangen, about a 20-30 minute drive from Nuremberg. Cabins are usually available after 3pm, so we took our time getting to the ship. We took stroll through Old Town again, and being a Sunday, everything was so quiet! It was nice to see the sites again without the crowds, and we enjoyed another sampling of the Nuremberg rostbratwurst, in a sandwich this time. Hit the spot! Upon arriving at the ship, we unpacked, relaxed and enjoyed meeting other passengers.
Day 2: Nuremberg
In the morning most passengers took off on the included Nuremberg city tour (partial motor coach, partial walking) or the extra optional World War II tour. Because Mom and I had already fully explored most of Old Town and the Castle, we stayed on board with a few other passengers while the ship made its way down the canal to Roth. Because getting through the locks is "first come first serve" and can take several hours, the ship left Nuremberg to get through several locks before picking up the tour passengers in Roth. I had never been in a lock before, so watching the process was quite interesting. We had to "climb", so we entered the lock, the gates closed, the water levels rose and out we went.
Day 3: Regensburg
In the morning we had the choice of the city walking tour, the extra optional tours of Weltenburg Abbey and the Danube Narrows or the BMW factory tour. We chose the city tour. Regensburg is a wonderful old medieval city full of charm, made that much more interesting with a wonderful local tour guide. Did you know Oskar Schindler lived here? After the tour, instead of heading back to the ship for lunch, we decided to stay in town and treated ourselves to a Weiss wurst sandwich and some fresh cold cuts. Having lived in Germany a number of years ago, there were certain treats we fondly remembered and just had to have again! Some passengers decided to experience the Wurst Haus, Germany's oldest Sausage Kitchen - also quite good. We helped the local economy by leaving behind some euros at a small gift shop conveniently located across the street from the Wurst Haus. The selection of cuckoo clocks was incredible and absolutely beautiful!
Day 4: Passau
We were so glad that we made it to Passau! Several of the sailings prior to ours had to switch ships near Passau due to low water on the Danube. Thankfully we did not have to do this. Passau is known as the "City of Three Rivers" because it lies at the confluence of the Inn, Danube and Ilz rivers. It is the last major German city on the Danube at the border of Austria. The city tour was quite interesting, with the guide elaborating on the city's long history dating back to before the 1700's. We ended the tour at St. Stephens Cathedral where we were treated to a lovely organ concert. We were docked right in town, so it was an easy walk back to the ship. Had we started earlier after lunch we would have either walked or taken the shuttle up to the Veste Oberhaus, the fortress overlooking the city built in 1219 by the first prince-bishop of Passau. Instead we walked down to the park where all three rivers converged. It was a lovely and easy walk with no cobblestones to contend with.
Day 5: Melk Abbey,the Wachau Valley and Vienna
Of all the stops we made, the Melk Abbey was my personal favorite. Originally built as a royal palace, it was given to the Benedictine monks in the 11th century. The abbey seen today was re-built in the early 1700's. It is still an active abbey and houses a prestigious monastery school with over 700 students. Some of the monks also work the vineyards which produce good wines and their famous apricot liquors. I wish we had had more time in the area to explore, but we only had enough time for the tour before heading back to the ship. The afternoon, however, brought beautiful views as we sailed through the Wachau Valley. The river was lined with small towns, castle ruins and many terraced vineyards. We didn't stop in Durnstein, but this is a stop on other itineraries. We arrived in Vienna in the early evening, in time for passengers to attend the optional excursion, the opera Marriage of Figero. While not docked near the old town, passengers could take a taxi or catch the underground nearby if they wanted to explore Vienna at night.
Day 6: Bratislava / Vienna
Instead of staying overnight in Vienna, we had to dock in Bratislava and take a one hour bus ride back into Vienna. A bridge on the river was closed the night before, not allowing any river traffic to pass through, so we had to get past this bridge or we would not have been able to get to Budapest. Inconvenient, but not a big deal. The bus took us into Vienna, where we took a ride along the beautiful Ringstrasse and then our guides took us on an hour walking tour, ending at St. Stephan's Cathedral. Viking included a lovely lunch at the Schweizerhaus where we were treated to a typical Austrian lunch. After lunch some took the tour to Schoenbrunn Palace or had the option of free time. Since we had visited the palace before, we took advantage of the free time before heading back to the ship.
Day 7: Budapest
We arrived in Budapest in the morning as the sun was rising, which made for a beautiful setting. The skies were blue for the first time since we left Nuremberg, so many of us were on the sun deck. Lots of picture taking! A panoramic coach tour took us to both sides of the river, the "Buda" and the "Pest" sides, a short stay at Heroes Square and then a walking tour and free time at Fishermen's Bastion and Matthias Church. This last stop gave us a spectacular view of Budapest. The afternoon again offered free time to explore the city on your own. We didn't get to explore much of Budapest (and we missed the Hungarian dancers) as we left the cruise early to get to Prague, so I am looking forward to coming back. What a lovely city! Our cruise ended with a cold beverage and a nice lunch on the Aquivit Terrace. Couldn't have ended on a better note.
River cruising is a fast growing segment in the travel industry, and I can see why. Cruising the rivers takes you places you normally may not go to, and you see the charming towns and cities from a very different perspective. Add to that the intimacy of the ships, with less than 200 passengers (many under 150) and you get an entirely different experience than an ocean cruise. You see the same people every day and actually get to know them - on some big ships you may see them once and never again. I even met some folks on another Viking cruise when our ships were tied up together (rafted). Fewer crowds. No lines getting on or off the ship. In many cases you walk off the ship and start exploring. So many reasons. I love ocean cruises, but I have found this new adventure to be equally as exciting. Thank you Viking for a wonderful cruise!
With so many brands to choose from, it can get a little confusing. If you are interested in learning more about river cruising and the options available to you, contact me at Laurie@lakamatravel.com. I would be happy to help!
Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder