7 Day/Night Europe
by Steve Johnson
Due to its limited size, the amenities and on board diversions of The Star do not compare to an ocean going cruise ship. But we found the low key, sedate, environment of the riverboat appropriate to the region and itinerary.
Pros: Outstanding itinerary, crew staff, crew show
Cons: food quality
This is a review of our seven night Danube cruise aboard Viking Cruise Line's Viking Star. Our cruise begins in Passau, Germany. The Star's timetable is to make a quick 560 km dash down the Danube to Budapest, Hungary, followed by a leisurely return. We sailed from Passau during an early June Saturday evening, followed by a Sunday stopover in Melk where we visited the magnificent Benedictine Abbey. The Abbey makes a marvelous benchmark for the incredibly exquisite palaces, castles and cathedrals that follow. On Monday afternoon we arrived in the picturesque city of Budapest. The following afternoon The Star sailed again, arriving in Bratislava Wednesday morning. Bratislava is today the capital of The Slovakian Republic and was previously the residence of the king, as well as the capital of Hungary for 258 years. The next port we docked for two nights in Vienna, capital of the Austrian Republic. Don't miss the Sacher tortes! Vienna is the music capital of the world and the political, economic and cultural center of Austria. Here you can enjoy every imaginable cosmopolitan pleasure, and take a ride on the same ferris wheel that carried Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles to the dramatic climax of their classic film The Third Man. The final port, before returning to Passau, was the town of Durnstein. Here we enjoyed a walking tour of the village, culminating in a wine tasting in the local Heurigan (wine bar). Following the wine tasting, we staggered back to the boat. Durnstein was a low key and fitting climax to the cruise.
We signed on for nearly all of the offered shore excursions and were very pleased with the quality of the local tour guides and the thoroughness of the tours. Some tours were included in the fare, while others were optional. Examples of the electives included a half-day exploration of Budapest which comprised tours of the neo-Gothic parliament building, Europe's largest synagogue and, best of all, pancake's at the world famous Gundel restaurant. The cost for this tour was $40USD per person. Another tour option was a Mozart and Strauss concert in Vienna's Lichtenstein Castle for $41USD. Because this was our first, and possibly last, visit to Central Europe we wanted to maximize our exposure to each venue. The tours, although not cheap, amounted to a small part of the total trip expenses.
The Star's cabins are in two categories: ‘standard', a tiny 120 sq ft, and ‘deluxe' at a more comfortable 154 sq ft. The bathrooms are minuscule, with very limited shelf space. Unless you like showering with liquid soap, I recommend supplying your own bath soap. We both liked the living area arrangement. The ‘deluxe' cabins have two sofas which the cabin attendant converts to beds in the evening. This provides additional space during the day. The sofas are wide enough for naps, when needed. Panoramic windows in the middle and upper deck cabins provide for an excellent view of the superb passing scenery.
The public areas consist of a well-appointed main dining room, a rather standard reception area adjoined to a small shop, a very small library/coffee bar and a large, but crowded, lounge. Nearly all of the top deck is fitted out as a sun deck, equipped with lounges and a small spa. Entertainment is limited to Vladimir at the keyboards in the evening, and a marvelous crew show, by far the best we've ever seen. Smoking was permitted only on outer decks and the port side of the lounge. Since The Star is marketed only in Europe, you won't find it in Viking's brochure distributed to U.S. customers. You can, however, make a comparison with the Viking Burgundy, The Star's sister boat.
The noon and evening meals were both ‘sit down'. The breakfast was buffet style, lavish with pastries, cereals, fruit, eggs, cheeses, meats, etc. The noon and evening meals consist of a small salad, poorly prepared appetizers, good soups, an offer of two entrees, usually meat or fish, followed by a mediocre dessert, i.e. mediocre except for the pastries - especially the strudels. They were outstanding! Regrettably, I found the meat entrees virtually inedible. The meat was extremely tough, overcooked and often obscured by a mystery sauce. The fish courses, with one or two exceptions, were acceptable. The food preparation was a major disappointment. Perhaps it was partly attributable to a regional indifference to cuisine, or maybe we just had a lousy executive chef, but were blessed with a great pastry chef. Dress was a little more formal than we expected. Dress code for the reception and farewell dinners was described as "elegant". Unfortunately, we had left "elegant" at home. Coat and tie had to suffice.
We were both very happy with our first river cruise. Not knowing what to expect and unable to find only a few reviews, we did extensive research of the various offerings. Needless to say, there exists a great variety of cruise lines, from budget to expensive. We were particularly pleased with the crew of the Viking Star. They are young, energetic and without exception, personable, eager to please and very competent. The physical accommodations on The Star are satisfactory, assuming you avoid the smaller cabins. The public areas are adequate; mostly well designed and comfortable. We found the low key, sedate, environment of the riverboat appropriate to the region and itinerary. We much preferred our river cruise to the unsettled experience of a bus tour. However, if an itinerary were compatible with a cruise ship, then we would likely opt for the larger ship with its superior public areas and dining.
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