When was the last time you did something for the first time?
Taking a Danube Cruise is a travel experience unlike any other we have previously taken. We recently boarded a Viking Danube cruise to get our very first taste of river cruising in Europe. Both Tommo & I have previously travelled Bucharest to Budapest and everything in between many times, but we were excited to get the opportunity to see an off the beaten path part of this region by taking a different mode of transport – a Danube cruise.
If you’ve never been to Eastern Europe, Viking’s Passage To Eastern Europe cruise is a fantastic way to get a glimpse behind the Iron Curtain of yesteryear. During this Danube cruise, we had the opportunity to see, hear and taste what this region has to offer. Many things that have only been reignited since the Iron Curtain fell and the Cold War ended in 1989.
You’ll have the opportunity to discover their still strong cultural traditions of dance, song and cooking. To learn about life in this region during the Soviet era and subsequent civil wars, all spiced with a good touch of local humour. And to discover how this region is dealing with these previous hardships and moving forward in today’s modern world.
Danube Cruise – Viking Danube Cruise Highlights
While we were onboard our Viking Danube cruise we took the time to speak to a lot of our fellow passengers about why they had chosen Viking’s Passage To Eastern Europe cruise and their responses were all very similar. This region is a place of mystery.
Many of our fellow passengers remember the days of the Cold War where these countries were hidden behind the veil of the Iron Curtain. They knew they were run by tyrannical dictators, didn’t have CocaCola or McDonalds, watched television that was heavily censored, and grew up in a very different world to the rest of us.
They also remember back in the ’90s, the civil wars in this region that were televised around the world. The destruction, the heartache was all there for the world to see. Even as a child I can remember seeing images of these regions flash on the news and there were a couple of things that all of us were interested in finding out from taking Viking’s Passage To Eastern Europe cruise:
1. How are they all doing today?
2. What was life like back then?
3. What was the civil war all about?
One of the really fascinating things about taking a Viking Danube Cruise was that many of the staff onboard are from these regions, and grew up just a few towns over from where we were docking and so forth. Many of them had their own tales to tell about their home countries. It really is an interesting experience to get to know the crew members in such a personal way. There’s not so many crew onboard so there were certainly numerous opportunities to get to know some of them throughout our Danube Cruise.
Not only were the crew fascinating to meet but many of the shore excursion guides were very open and forthcoming about what it’s been like living in this region. One guide from Belgrade even said, “In my lifetime I’ve lived in 4 different countries….but I’ve never even left the place where I was born”. I think it’s their stories and their passion to reignite and share their people’s traditions that make this Viking Danube Cruise so special.
Every day was a new learning experience, starting in Bucharest and visiting the ostentatious Palace of the Parliament built by Nicolae Ceaușescu. This is the 2nd largest administrative building in the world and features 5 tons of gold used for decorative purposes, handmade rugs that had to be made inside the building as they are too large to be made and moved from anywhere else. And a building that to this day has heating and electric costs that exceed $6 million per year. A true symbol of the insane vision of a communist leader and madman.
Other highlights included the opportunity to go into people’s homes to learn about their home cooking. One main highlight for us was learning to make banista in a local’s women’s home.
We were welcomed as guests in this region often are – with open arms, a big smile, and a kiss on each cheek! Getting involved in family life and learning about the traditions of the places you visit always makes for a heartfelt travel experience.
During a day of scenic cruising, we also got to see marvels of architecture like the rock sculpture of Decebalus which has a height of 42.9 m and a width of 31.6 m. This carving in rock is of the face of Decebalus, the last king of Dacia. Before this Danube cruise, we had no idea that this sculpture even existed. And it’s amazing!
While ashore we had the pleasure of witnessing the spectacle of the Puszta horseman who’s skill with these’s beautiful beasts is unlike any we’ve ever seen.
And of course, sailing into beautiful Budapest and docking right in the heart of this vibrant and incredibly beautiful city in an experience in itself. Oh, Budapest – What a cruise finale!
What makes booking a Viking Danube Cruise so worthwhile is the fact that many of these shore excursions are included in the cost of your fare. In fact, no matter what Viking Ship you choose to journey on there is at least one shore excursion daily that is included in the price.
Viking River Cruise Food
Of course, there was one main aspect of taking a Danube Cruise that we were interested in – FOOD.
We love having the opportunity to try the local food of the region’s we visit and one thing that grabbed our attention with this Viking Danube Cruise was the daily local food selections. Every single day at dinner you could choose some local and traditional specialities from the menu.
Dishes like sarma (above) which is meat wrapped in cabbage leaves. It was my all time favourite dish of the cruise, and I also heard from Swiss trained Executive Chef Jenner that it’s his favourite dish too – well worth trying!
Mamaliga (a traditional polenta dish with cheese and egg, pictured above), banista (a phyllo pastry with spinach and cheese), we also had a traditional Balkan buffet with local meats, cheeses and more. And the desserts from this region were something to drool over too!
For us, the traditional and local Viking River Cruise food selection was a highlight. But that said, you didn’t have to eat local if you didn’t want to. There was also an incredible selection of foods from all around the world to choose from at every single meal. Some of our favourite Viking River Cruise foods were the giant prawn and pesto risotto,
Roast duck with potato croquettes.
Oh and I pretty much had eggs benedict for breakfast every single day of the cruise!
I also have to mention the Viking River Cruise food portion sizes. They were perfect! So often on cruises, it seems like a feeding fest. Multiple course meals that are so big you leave the table feeling like you might explode. Repeat this for 11 nights and that’s quite a bit of excess food consumption!
I loved the portion sizes offered on this Danube cruise, it was the perfect amount for you to discover all of the flavours of the dish and still have room for dessert. Of course, if you want more of any Viking River Cruise food options all you have to do is ask, and the staff will happily bring you more. Tommo and I might have indulged in quite a few Parisian flans one night (YUM).
We also enjoyed the fact that wine and beer are included with the meal for lunch and dinner. Often a large expense on cruise ships can be the additional cost of purchasing alcohol onboard. The wines offered were all branded with the Viking label…so I’m wondering if Viking has their own vineyard somewhere? If so how do I visit that!?! Either way all of the wines offered each night were very enjoyable and suited the food well. We even managed to get a couple of craft beers at lunch which was the perfect accompaniment to dining on deck in the European sunshine.
Viking Danube Cruise Review
Choosing to take a Viking Danube cruise is a great way to get a taste test of this region of Europe. You get to experience brand new destinations every single day. You have included and paid shore excursion opportunities. There are also informative onboard talks by a Cruise Director who knows this region intimately. But if none of that takes your fancy, you can just find a comfy spot, read a book and enjoy the view as it passes by – it’s entirely up to you.
We sailed on the Viking Embla, and the ship itself I can’t fault. The rooms were spacious and modern, the staff were exceptional and attentive, and we were even lucky enough to get a behind the scenes look at the wheelhouse and the kitchen galley as well.
In all, it’s a very intimate cruise where you have the opportunity to meet many of the crew and your fellow passengers onboard. This is something that sets a Viking River Cruise experience apart from other large cruise ships.
If you are after some calm and relaxation, with a good dose of history lessons and some incredible scenery, then you will love this cruise. I’m a big history nerd and learning all about this region was fascinating – even though I have visited different parts many times, there’s always something new to learn.
I mentioned earlier that many passengers onboard this Danube Cruise were interested in 3 things:
1. How are they all doing today? 2. What was life like back then? and 3. What was the civil war all about?
The answer is:
1. How are they all doing today?
Better. There is still a lot of hurt and sadness but people are resilient and still put a smile on their face every single day and are grateful that those times are now over. Sure there are new hardships – but they are strong and this region will heal….eventually.
2. What was life like back then?
I’m not going to give that away here. You need to go and chat to the amazing people we had the pleasure of meeting during our Danube cruise and hear the stories from them in person!
3. What was the war all about?
That one is harder to answer. We discovered that there is no definitive bad guy which makes it hard to get a straightforward answer. I suggest taking the cruise for yourself, go to the informative seminars by the Cruise Director, talk to the local people, and just absorb as much information as you can.
As T.D. Jakes once said:
“The world is a university and everyone in it is a teacher. Make sure when you wake up in the morning, you go to school.”
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Disclaimer: This cruise was provided complimentary in return for an honest review. All opinions are our own.