Thoughts on the River Cruise

After 3 years (sigh) I finally finished writing up the Viking River Cruise we took in 2012, from Amsterdam to Budapest.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, but I have some comments on the experience that I’d like to share.

Walking:  Don’t do one of these cruises unless you can handle walking several miles a day over unpredictably rough ground, or if you have trouble walking distances in heat.  Some cities are well paved, some have cobblestones, and some places aren’t paved at all.  I wore a pedometer, and my records show I walked 3-4 miles most days, a few times more than 4.  One day in Amsterdam I walked almost 8 miles.  If this kind of walking daunts you, you should not take the walking tours – they’re optional, but if you don’t take them, you basically just sit on the boat.  If you do take the walking tours, don’t count on having a lot of free time to explore on your own.  On several occasions we had time to explore a place only because the boat was stuck in line at a lock and was late picking us up.

Weather:  Be prepared for hot, muggy weather.  The farther into the European continent you get, the hotter it gets in summer; the rivers we were on carry enough water to make the weather very humid but not enough to make it cool.  The interior cities can get into the 90s.  Of course, it could also be cool and rainy.  You never know.

Accessibility:  In general, Europe is not ADA compliant. Don’t expect to be able to maneuver your wheelchair there.  The boat was fine, with an elevator, although the angle of the gangplank for loading depended on where we were docked, it could be quite steep.  Off the boat, all bets are off.  Expect to climb stairs.

Bathrooms:  Public toilets in continental Europe cost 50 Euro-cents.  This startled some people.  Many of the big ones have live attendants, who can change bills.  Smaller ones may have machines, or little tin boxes, where you may or may not get change.  The good news is that the attendants keep the loos pretty clean.  I don’t remember this on our trips to Britain.

Boredom:  If sitting for several hours watching the countryside go by annoys you, river cruises may not be for you.  It drove my husband nuts; I may never get him on another one.  He much prefers to watch the countryside go by as he walks through it.  If you, like me, enjoy sitting and reading while occasionally looking at beautiful countryside, or chatting with fellow passengers, you’re good.  But – traveling by boat is slow.  It always has been, and it hasn’t changed.

Iffy WiFi:  The cruise offers free wifi – but think about it.  You’re on a moving boat.  The wifi is satellite.  The connection was slow and unreliable, I never got a good wifi connection on my phone.  They had a couple of PCs where you could log into web mail if you used the machine when the signal was strong enough.

Schedule Issues:  Don’t assume that the published daily schedule will be accurate, especially on when you get back to the boat.  On the Amsterdam-to-Budapest route, the Embla went through 79 locks in about 2 weeks.  Traversing locks is slow and unpredictable.

Boat Amenities:  Generally, the Embla was very pleasant; it should be, it was brand new.  Viking Cruise advertisements speak glowingly about the sun decks, and when they’re available, they offer a pleasant place to watch the country go by.  On our cruise it was not available for most of a week.  Why?  Well, to begin with, it rained steadily for several days.  More importantly, the route we took includes the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal.  This is where most of the locks were (it allows water navigation over a mountain range); but it was also where a lot of the bridges were, frankly, almost too low for the boat to fit under.  To go under these bridges they had to fold all the deck chairs down, and lay the railings flat.  This takes enough time that they simply declared the sun deck off limits until we got out onto the Danube – at which point we had about 3 days left.  In fact, the ship’s wheelhouse, with the helm and navigation equipment, was built to slide down inside the hull like a periscope (or a turtle’s head) when they go under a low bridge, leaving a hole in the ceiling through which the captain could poke his head if he felt he had room.

Did I enjoy it?  On balance, yes.  We had the usual issues: the time my foot swelled up, the time I failed to take rain gear and was then rained on, the awful heat in Budapest.  Would I do it again?  Probably not the same route, but I might consider a different route, and maybe a different cruise company; but I don’t think I’ll ever convince my husband to go again.

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