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Viking River Cruise: ‘The Danube Waltz’- A European Christmas Market Tour Of A Lifetime

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Viking River Cruise: 'The Danube Waltz'- A European Christmas Market Tour Of A LifetimeWhen we first received an invitation from Viking to take a winter Viking River Cruise to see Europe’s Christmas Markets, I was unsure. To me, December plus a cruise ship meant cold. And generally, when I think of winter travel, I prefer to go south to warmer climates, but my husband convinced me it would be a nice break and a change of pace.

We decided to go and made all the arrangements for our cruise called “The Danube Waltz.” It was an eight day cruise beginning November 28 that went from Passau, Germany to Budapest, Hungary. I’m thrilled we decided to go. My husband and I have travelled extensively and I have to say that the Viking Danube Waltz Christmas market cruise was the travel experience of a lifetime.

During our eight days aboard the Modi, new vacation horizons opened for us. We enjoyed a standard of excellence and enjoyment unequaled in our decades of travel. From dining and service to touring and accommodations, Viking exceeded expectations and is an absolute must for every tourist who appreciates quality. In all respects, there was value and enrichment offered to every passenger.

Here is a look at our fantastic winter cruise on the Danube.

Viking River Cruise: 'The Danube Waltz'- A European Christmas Market Tour Of A Lifetime

Day 1: Passau, Germany

We flew directly into Munich from Montreal on Lufthansa. As we left baggage claim, we were immediately met by two Viking Cruise representatives. They made sure we got on the right bus to Passau for our transfer to the boat. They made sure we were comfortable, had bottled water, and were all set for the roughly two hour drive.

Once in Passau, we disembarked the bus and were greeted by our friendly program director, Titiana. From there, Viking handled our luggage and all we had to do was head to the ship and check in. The embarkation process was very fast and within minutes, we received our key cards for our state room. We then headed to the Aquavit Lounge to have a buffet lunch while our rooms were prepared.

Viking River Cruise: 'The Danube Waltz'- A European Christmas Market Tour Of A Lifetime

After lunch, we headed to our rooms and were pleased to find our luggage was already there. The beds were comfortable and the rooms very nice. We unpacked our luggage then decided to take a quick walk into Passau to visit our first Christmas Market and it was magical from the start.

Day 2: Passau, Germany

The ship stayed in Passau overnight and we decided to explore the city before we sailed away. It was a bit rainy that day, but we decided to take the walking tour of the city and we did not regret it. The town is quite charming and very pedestrian friendly. There are delightful cobblestone streets that are crammed with history. We had the choice of a gingerbread baking demonstration or a cathedral visit.

Viking River Cruise: 'The Danube Waltz'- A European Christmas Market Tour Of A Lifetime

We opted for the gingerbread experience, but the other was just as tempting. The cathedral visit was St Stephen’s, the site of the largest organ in Europe, and included an organ concert. Because we went for the baking tour, we set out for Simon Café. They had a tent set up for the demonstration. The experience started with a hot mug of Glühwein, an excellent local mulled wine.

Passau is home to the oldest gingerbread recipe in Germany and the Simon family that owns the café has been baking it for five generations. We learned about making gingerbread and sampled some. It’s very different from what most people think of as gingerbread. The locals call it Lebkuchen and it is delicious. We also watched a lesson on making Advent wreaths and bought gingerbread to take home.

Last, before returning to the ship, we walked through the Christmas market in Passau. It’s called the Christkindlmarkt and is located in the historic town center right by St. Stephen’s cathedral. There are about 75 stalls there that sell Christmas goods, handcrafted items, local delicacies, arts, crafts and delicious foods line Bratwurst and, of course, more Glühwein!

[Check out the sideshow below with our photos of Passau, Germany]

Day 3 – Linz, Austria

The ship left Passau and sailed overnight and we docked in Linz the next morning. Our excursion options there were to tour the city of Linz or take a short drive to Salzburg to tour there. We opted for Salzburg which is a stunning two hour drive from the Danube providing shockingly beautiful views of the Alps. The countryside through which you ride is spectacular – this is a very green area – about 50% is either forest or grasslands so it’s gorgeous.

Viking River Cruise: 'The Danube Waltz'- A European Christmas Market Tour Of A Lifetime

We stopped halfway through the drive at a rest stop by the Mondsee lake which was prominent in the movie The Sound of Music – the wedding was filmed in the basilica there. We snapped some pics, grabbed a coffee, and were back on the road to Salzburg. Once in the city, we embarked on a guided walking tour that focused on the city’s rich history in the Altstadt (old city).

This included the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hagenauer House – which is Mozart’s birthplace – and many other sights and sounds. There is a heavy influence of Baroque architecture and even a palace. We also hit up a number of Christmas Markets – some larger, some smaller – on the tour, but we were free to leave the group and roam at any point if we preferred and meet back with the group.

Viking River Cruise: 'The Danube Waltz'- A European Christmas Market Tour Of A Lifetime

We decided to break from the group and go exploring independently. We decided to skip a sitdown lunch and instead explored more of the Christmas markets and sampled goodies there as we strolled. The local foods are all delightful and there was more Glühwein to be enjoyed as well. We met back with the group later and headed to the ship for dinner and some relaxation after an invigorating day of walking.

[Check out the sideshow below with our photos of Salzburg, Austria]

Day 4 – Melk, Austria

Viking River Cruise: 'The Danube Waltz'- A European Christmas Market Tour Of A LifetimeWe next traveled about 60 miles down the river to Melk, Austria which was the smallest city on the cruise tour. There is an enormous church there – Melk Abbey – up on a hill overlooking the Danube. It was founded in 1089 and is a Benedictine monastery still in use and is designed in the Baroque style. After touring the public areas of the abbey, we headed back down into the town.

The Christmas market in Melk was more modest than the others, but I still found some lovely holiday items to purchase.

DAY 4: Durnstein, Austria

The ship departed Melk as we sat down to lunch and we enjoyed views of the Wachau Valley as we dined and sailed. It was chilly, but we braced ourselves and took our camera and some more Glühwein and sat on the top deck to snap photos of the countryside.

Viking River Cruise: 'The Danube Waltz'- A European Christmas Market Tour Of A Lifetime

Program Director Titiana pointed out sights of interest to those that remained in the lounge. This leg of the cruise took us to Dürnstein, Austria and as we sailed down the Danube, we passed many castles that ranged from ruins to still-beautiful. Dürnstein castle itself is a ruin high up on a cliff that looks like something from a gothic novel.

That evening, we had excursion options for a village visit or winery tour – we chose the wine and went to nearby Mörwald Winery, a short drive from the ship. We sampled local wines from the family owned winery as our tour guide, Trinca and owner Gerhard, showed us their modern facility. In addition to the red and white wines they make, they also craft an excellent apricot schnapps – we took a bottle of that home with us.

[Check out the sideshow below with our photos of Austria]

Day 5 – Vienna, Austria

The ship cruised overnight again and we woke to find were in Vienna, Austria. We hopped a bus into the city since the river is a 20-minute ride from the city center. Our bus took us on the Ringstrauss (Ring Road) that circles the inner city of Vienna where there are old cobblestone streets and remarkable architecture. The street lies in the path that used to be a city wall around old Vienna.

Viking River Cruise: 'The Danube Waltz'- A European Christmas Market Tour Of A Lifetime

We left the bus to begin our walking tour with a skilled and knowledgeable tour guide. We saw the renowned Vienna State Opera House among other sites. There are medieval, Renaissance and Baroque elements and architecture throughout reflecting the rich history of Vienna. We decided to lunch at the Christmas markets – there are more than 25 there!

Viking River Cruise: 'The Danube Waltz'- A European Christmas Market Tour Of A Lifetime

The largest market has about 150 stalls including arts, crafts, ornaments, more local cuisine and of course, my new favorite hot drink of choice – Glühwein. We also had the option of adding on a tour of Schönbrunn Palace for 40 Euro more, but decided to skip the Baroque palace this time. There was also a classical concert for 63 Euro featuring the works of Austrian composers Mozart and Strauss at the Vienna Opera House.

[Check out the sideshow below with our photos of Vienna]

Day 6 – Bratislava, Slovakia

A short leg down the river next took us into Slovakia’s capital Bratislava. Bratislava is a fantastic central European City and reminded us of Prague-its blend of old and new makes it tremendously appealing to North Americans. We had less time than we would have liked in the Slovakian capital to roam around because it was fascinating and very comfortable. Bratislava is located at the juncture of three countries – Slovakia, Hungary and Austria. You can see the nearby Carpathian Mountains and the city rests on the banks of two rivers – the Danube and the Morava.

Viking River Cruise: 'The Danube Waltz'- A European Christmas Market Tour Of A LifetimeBratislava Castle is located high above the city and we learned that this area has been populated since the Bronze Age and was a Celtic settlement at one time. We went into old town to check out the amazing architecture and the Christmas Market. We sampled more Glühwein and a local treat – cabbage-filled potato pancakes. We then had to head back to the ship so we could sail to our last stop, Budapest, Hungary.

Viking River Cruise: 'The Danube Waltz'- A European Christmas Market Tour Of A LifetimeOur captain made sure that we all bundled up and headed up to the top of the boat for the entrance into Budapest.  We passed the Parliament building all lit which captivates the senses with its beauty.  I’ve seen the parliament in daytime and it’s impressive but in the nighttime it’s stunning!

[Check out the sideshow below with our photos of Bratislava, Slovakia]

Day 7 Budapest, Hungary

Viking River Cruise: 'The Danube Waltz'- A European Christmas Market Tour Of A LifetimeWe got up early on our next to the last day of the cruise and took a bus tour of both sides of the city. There are two areas – Buda and Pest. Buda is the older area and Pest is more modern. The ship docked on the Pest side near the Four Seasons Gresham Palace. This is a modern hotel installed in a palace built in 1906. It’s fascinating to see.

Viking River Cruise: 'The Danube Waltz'- A European Christmas Market Tour Of A LifetimeWe saw a number of sites on the bus tour including the neo-Renaissance State Opera House, Heroes Square featuring the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and then in Buda, we saw the Castle of Buda and walked up to Fisherman’s Bastion, a neo-Gothic fortress with seven towers representing ancient Magyar tribes that settled the area in the late 800s.

Viking River Cruise: 'The Danube Waltz'- A European Christmas Market Tour Of A Lifetime

We walked up to Matthias Church which was built in the 1300s and lovingly restored – it is a sight to see. We decided to skip lunch on the ship and go to the Christmas markets instead. There are two large Christmas markets in Budapest, both within comfortable walking distance (less than 10 minutes) from the ship. We also stopped by Budapest’s Great Market Hall at the Pest end of Szabadság Bridge.

Day 8 Budapest Hungary

Viking River Cruise: 'The Danube Waltz'- A European Christmas Market Tour Of A Lifetime

This was the day our adventure ended. We had a great time so we were sad to pack our bags to leave. The disembarkment process was low stress – our packed bags were handled for us (much heavier now with all the Christmas goodies we purchased) and were loaded onto the bus. We were taken to the airport and escorted to check in which made the process very simple.

[Check out the sideshow below with our photos of Budapest, Hungary]

Trip notes

The Viking River Cruise is all-inclusive offering complete tours at every port-of-call with several extra optional outings at nominal charge.  Onboard guests are treated to gourmet dining including wine and beer with every meal and the lounge offers a full service bar for those wanting extra drinks at very reasonable prices.  There are excellent coffee and hot drink stations with delicious baked goods available 24-hours-a-day included with the tour.

While sailing down the Danube, we were able to stay very active on the ship by checking out on-ship demonstrations of local cuisine, enjoying musical performances, language lessons and much more in a wide array of activities.  There is a rich and varied social life on board not only every evening but during the day as well for those not participating in the tours.  With only 140 passengers you make friends easily and a happy informal ambiance is enjoyed.

There were game nights, an Austrian themed night, plus tours of the “backstage” areas of the ship so we could see how the boat operated. In all, it was an incredible experience that I’m so glad we took. The beds were comfy, the on-board food delicious and the ship’s staff offered attentive personal service to all the guests. Our Viking Danube Waltz cruise was a once in a lifetime adventure that we look forward to repeating.

It is impossible to exaggerate the warmth and courtesy of the entire staff aboard he Viking Modi.  From Thomas, the Hotel Manager and Captain Istvan Fekete to the waiters and housekeeping staff all guests are made to feel special.  The service on our Viking Tour was superior to any we have experience in our extensive world travel.

We highly recommend you take a Viking River Cruise, head over to their website and check out all the amazing river cruises offered, RIGHT HERE! 

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82 Comments

  1. Robin (Masshole Mommy) says

    That sounds like quite an adventure. Glad you got to experience this and were able to share your experience with us 🙂

  2. Elizabeth O. says

    Wow! That’s really so lovely! I think I’d enjoy a cruise like this as well. I would love to experience the beauty of the Christmas markets! It’s really all so nice.

  3. Dogvills says

    What a fun adventure. I’ve never been on a cruise, but I hope to go someday.

  4. Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle says

    What an amazing experience! I would love to take a river cruise like this. Europe is such a beautiful part of the world.

  5. Tammy says

    I’ve always wanted to take a cruise like that. Looks like the area you went to is beautiful. Great pictures

  6. Lady Lilith says

    Wow. Sounds like you had an amazing time. I love all the winter accommodations. I am sure it made all the difference.

  7. Chubskulit Rose says

    What a beautiful place to visit. It would be a dream come true for e to see this!

  8. Jeanette says

    I would love to surprise my family with one of these cruises. My dad would love to take a cruise on the river in Europe he’s been talking about it for years.

  9. Sarh S says

    Wow, this sounds and looks absolutely amazing! I’d love to take a cruise and be able to visit so many countries at once. How fun!

    1. Miles L. says

      Same here! It’s great to visit different countries in just one trip. The very thought makes me excited.

  10. Travel Blogger says

    This looks awesome! I will have to keep this in mind for my next vacation!

  11. Miles L. says

    What a great experience! I am sure you had a wonderful time. I hope to try this one soon.

  12. April Mims says

    All of these destinations look so amazing! I need to make it to these places some day to experience them myself.

    1. Miles L. says

      I would really agree to you. These places are wonderful and I would love to visit them.

  13. Melissa Bernardo says

    This cruise looks amazing! Looks like you had an awesome time. Love the photos! Beautiful!

  14. Janell @ Saving You Dinero says

    That looks like an incredible trip. I would love to spend some time in Europe one day.

  15. Amsnda Ripsam says

    LYou took such stunning photos the photos could be in a magazine.

  16. Amber NElson says

    I think if I ever went on a cruise, this would be my choice.

  17. Nikki says

    Wow, that’s so beautiful place. I would love to go there one day with my family. I’m sure they would love it.

  18. ricci says

    Holy WOW!! What an amazing trip!! I would love to go to Europe one day!!!

  19. MyTeenGuide says

    Sounds like a fun and wonderful trip. I would love to go on a cruise someday.

  20. Christine - The Choosy Mommy says

    This looks like quite the trip! Seems like a really long boat ride. I have heard of people doing these kinds of trips before and they loved it.

  21. Jessica Cassidy says

    These photos are really nice and beautiful. What a fun European tour this is. Thank you for sharing. I hope to get a chance to visit Europe someday.

  22. Lynndee says

    Love all the photos. Such beautiful shots. Touring Europe is a dream of mine. Good for you for being able to see all those places.

  23. MyTeenGuide says

    What a beautiful experience. I would choose if I ever go on a cruise.

  24. tiaras and tantrums says

    Oh, you just took my dream vacation. My husband and I have wanted to have a trip like this since we got married! Hopefully when we retire!

  25. Kelly Hutchinson says

    I must say, I agree with you about the winter cruise and cold. But after reading this, I am sold! This is going on my bucket list for sure!

  26. Sicorra@NotNowMomsBusy says

    Wow….I love your review. Thank you so much for sharing your trip and the beautiful pictures. Austria is somewhere that I think I would actually enjoy living. My heritage is European\German and I love both Germany, the German Christmas markets and Austria.

    I just told my husband about your cruise and since we too love cruising, I am going to check out the link for next Christmas.

  27. Marielle Altenor says

    I’ve never been on a cruise before! A Viking Cruise would be amazing I can tell from all the beautiful pictures!

  28. Magdi says

    I love your review. It’s very good to read such details of a Danube cruise as I have a lot of guests from Viking cruises. I know you travel extensively, I wonder if you remember our trip in Budapest.

    1. Annemarie LeBlanc says

      Of course I do Magdi you showed us around Budapest and it was a wonderful tour! Happy New Year!

      1. Magdi says

        I’m glad to hear that you liked our tour. Happy New Year to you, too. You’re doing a fascinating work here on your website.

  29. Crystal Lopez says

    I have heard some really amazing things about Viking Cruises! How amazing it would be to see the places that are on that map!

  30. Life as a Convert says

    Oh wow! This looks like something I would enjoy. I bet you guys had fun.

  31. Rachel says

    What a great adventure! My mom and I were in several of those cities last month as well, we must’ve just passed each other! I’ve been hearing a lot about the river cruises this past year, so it’s something I definitely want to look into doing soon!

  32. Jaime says

    Oh my goodness. This would be the ultimate dream trip for me. What an AWESOME cruise!

  33. Rosey says

    Cold or not cold that is a trip I would absolutely love to take too!! Low-stress, visual delights, and being treated well? Oh yes, and the Christmas shopping. Yep, that’s my kind of a trip. 🙂

  34. Jeanine says

    So fun. I’ve always wanted to do a cruise like this. I think it would be so relaxing and so fun. Great photos!

  35. Geanine says

    This looks like such a great trip, my family and I would really enjoy it

  36. Nile says

    Ooh! The trip itenerary looks awesome. I love traveling. This is a trip I could see myself doing. I like escorted trips with a good itenerary, at least for the first time when I travel to a specific place.

  37. Veronica says

    I want to go there! Such a beautiful way to get away and spend some time seeing the world

  38. Tingting R says

    I have heard of river cruise before, but I did not really delve into it much further. After reading your post, I am quite convinced that this is a better alternative for the regular ocean cruise. Thank you.

  39. Jessica Simms says

    Wow, this sounds like an amazing tour, I would love to take one some day.

  40. Clo Nevaeh says

    Wow! I’ve heard so much great things about Austria but have never been. I’d love to visit it though. Thanks for these great pictures 🙂

  41. Life as a Convert says

    What amazing views! I have always wanted to go on a cruise. This one looks lovely.

  42. lisa says

    What an amazing cruise!! I would love to do something like this. I would love to visit all of these places in Europe; cruise or not!

  43. Tracy @ Ascending Butterfly says

    I am a total cruise virgin, I have never traveled via Cruise – ocean or river- but would definitely love to try it! Since I live in the North East, much like you I would have wanted a ‘warm weather’ cruise, especially for me as a first timer – was it super cold during the day?

  44. Liz Mays says

    Wow, you really get to see such a variety of amazing places. Going in December actually sounds really nice.

  45. Ashley Whipple says

    Talk about the trip of a lifetime. I think your Austria pics might be my favorite.

  46. victoria says

    Such a beautiful place to visit. you had an awesome tour, i wanted to go in cruise but i think this is just only in my dreams

  47. Rebecca Swenor says

    This indeed sounds and looks like an amazing cruise and tour. I would love to do this some day for sure. It looks like you had a wonderful time and I will have to check these cruises out. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  48. Ashleigh says

    That looks like a wonderful travel. I have never been on a cruise before, this one looks very nice.

  49. Brianna says

    My parents did a cruise like this in Europe through Germany. They LOVED it! I would LOE to do this someday too.

  50. Kathy says

    This looks amazing! All of your photos are very beautiful. I’d love to go on a cruise like this. It looks like so much fun.

  51. Lynndee says

    I would love to take a Viking River Cruise someday. I would love to visit that Christmas market too. Bet there are a lot of great stuff there.

    1. Liz Mays says

      The Christmas Market does sound really nice. I think the cruise in December would be amazing.

  52. Chrystal | Nevermore Lane says

    When I see the name Viking in the title I almost expect the cruise ship to resemble a Viking ship. That would be pretty awesome if someone did that. It’s one cruise ship I would book in a heartbeat.

  53. April Mims says

    That sounds like a completely amazing trip! I would love to visit all of those places some day!

  54. Claudia Krusch says

    What a great experience! I would love to take a river cruise like this! Hubby is not so crazy about traveling, one day I will convince him!

  55. Bonnie @wemake7 says

    I love seeing all your wonderful places you visit. Makes me want to travel someday too.

  56. Alyssa Waters says

    I’ve always wanted to travel the world and got visit the Christmas Markets. We live down South and sadly I have not been out of the state many times (we drove 6hrs to GA and just went on a Disney Cruise to the Bahamas and their private island Castaway Key), but traveling the world has always been a dream and one day I will make it happen. I would love to experience something like the Viking River Cruise thanks to your wonderful post.

  57. Amanda says

    Wow, this sounds like an absolutely fantastic way to celebrate Christmas. A once in a lifetime trip, wouldn’t you say?

  58. Nikki says

    Wow that’s wonderful tour, I’ve never been in cruise I think it’s fun.

  59. tina says

    I would love to do this. You get to experience many different places celebrating the holidays. I think I would spend a fortune because looked like there were cute shops in all the towns!

  60. Patrice M Foster says

    Looks like you had a great experience would love to do this fun every day. Never cruise before but after reading your article may try like meeting people from different culture.

  61. shalama says

    I love to travel. This sounds like a great trip.

  62. Kristina says

    The pictures look amazing! I lived in England for 4 years as a child and got to travel to France and Germany. I would love to go to Austria! It looks beautiful! Looks like a wonderful time.

  63. Erica Brooks says

    Looks like you had an amazing time. I would love to go on a cruise again.

  64. Ron Leyba says

    What a great experience. Hope we can do something like this too, soon!

  65. Clo Nevaeh says

    What a wonderful experience. I really plan to travel more this year!

  66. Melissa Bernardo says

    Austria looks amazing! I’d love the opportunity to visit some day. Thank you for sharing!

  67. miranda says

    oh wow!! i am so jealous! i always see the adverts on tv abut the viking river cruises i didnt realise that theyd be that amazing!! the pictures look amazing!!! the cruise looked like it was really worth while

  68. New Europe Tour Vienna – PC1Q5 | Tour Topic

    […] Viking River Cruise: ‘The Danube Waltz’- A European … – When we first received an invitation from Viking to take a winter Viking River Cruise to see Europe … tour guide. We saw the renowned Vienna … tour. Happy New … […]

  69. Louise says

    Looks like a fun and memorable trip to experience. I have not yet tried going on a cruise but I heard good stories like yours. If this was accessible to me, I would automatically schedule/plan out my trip with Viking River Cruise.

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