Day 1. Viking Grand European River Cruise
It certainly has been sometime since I pulled up the old Wix website and started a blog but I am very happy we have something now to blog about for the next 15 days!
Think fast...what's the name for the Norse Goddess of Winter? I know its on the tip of your tongue! That's right! Its the SKADI! The SKADI is also associated with hunting and skiing and when her father was slain by the gods, Skadi strapped on her armour and weapons and headed to Asgard where the gods lived, to avenge her father's death. Well, how's that for the name of a 190 passenger, 4 deck river cruise ship? From that name we should be able to get through any River or will we?
I need to give you some back story on how we actually came to be on the Skadi, (originally the Bragi).
In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, in or about July 2020, we booked a December 2021 Viking 7 night Christmas Markets river cruise. Who knew when the pandemic would be over? but the chance to book a Christmas market river cruise, at a great price was something we could not pass up - as well as the 'cancel at any time due to the pandemic, with the ability to use the cancellation voucher for up to 2 years in the future, deal'.
Fast forward to December 2021 and we were living in Newman (our 40 foot class A diesel pusher RV) on Vancouver Island and we were scheduled to fly from Victoria to Vancouver, to then somehow get to Europe (I frankly cannot remember our routing), to start our 7 night European River Cruise. With Covid still in full swing, we decided to cancel the cruise and instead when the Canadian/US border opened in November 2021, we made a decision to make a 30 day epic road trip across the USA to Florida to finally get to our home in Florida. We do not regret that epic road trip where we were able to self isolate in our own moving bubble called Newman and see more of the USA on our road trip than we could ever have imagined!
When we received the credit on our 7 night river cruise sometime in December 2021, we immediately had our amazing travel agent Carolyn at Vision 2000 Travel book us on the 2023 Grand European River Cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam. We could not use the voucher to go on a River Cruise during Christmas 2022, because of course we were on the 138 day 2022/2023 Viking World Cruise, on the Viking Neptune.
So that's a long story, but it explains why this Grand European Christmas Markets River Cruise in 2023 feels like it is 'at long last' and finally happening now that we've made it to Budapest!
We left our home in Plant City, Florida yesterday and flew from Tampa to Atlanta as we always try to fly Delta or a Skyteam partner. We checked two large suitcases which were at 38 and 42 lbs respectively. I'll let you guess who had the heavier bag! And we had 2 roller boards with us which were fairly empty to allow for shopping. Richard has his large knapsack as well and because Richard's roller board was relatively empty, he was able to put his CPap case in the roller board, to avoid one more bag to keep track of over 3 flights.
Our flight out of Tampa to Atlanta was on time, although we were sitting in row 40 which was not so much fun waiting for everyone ahead of us on the fully sold out flight to get off the plane. Luckily with Richard's status we board with Sky Priority so overhead bin space is not a problem for us with sold out flights. These flights on this trip will get me my status for 2023 which also helps for potential upgrades for both of us.
We arrived in Atlanta in Terminal 'T' and had to make our way to the 'plane train' through Hartsfield Jackson airport (now the world's busiest airport), to get to Terminal 'F'. We thought we had lots of time and I quickly stopped at Kiel's in Terminal F to buy some face moisturizer. Once we arrived at the gate in Terminal F people were already lining up in their Boarding Zones for our Air France flight to Paris. We immediately lined up in Zone 3 and the gate attendants were telling people in Zone 4 & 5 there would be no room for their roller boards in the overhead bin space. Luckily being in Zone 3, we had no problem getting overhead bin space and Richard had booked us emergency exit seats for this long haul flight. We had tons of leg room and the bonus was the washroom was close by too!
Our seat mate in our 3 seat Emergency exit configuration was a student attending Georgia Tech and his parents are US expatriots living in Paris, so he grew up and attended school in Paris and was fully bilingual. Jeff, was returning to Paris for his Christmas vacation from school and since his father has Diamond status on Delta he was brought champagne pre-flight and we were also afforded this nice touch too sitting next to him!
Trying out my new red glasses from Peepers.com for Christmas!
Our flight from Atlanta to Paris was long and neither one of us got much, if any sleep on the flight. Oh well....at least our luggage made it as our Delta app notified us that the 2 checked bags were on the plane. Woohoo! One less thing to worry about on the long flight to Paris!
Arriving into Paris was a breeze, but a 24 minute walk between our arrival gate and terminal 2F where our flight to Budapest was waiting for us. We had about a 2 hour layover in Paris which is never enough, but did allow Richard to pick up a bottle of Tullamore Dew for our cabin on Viking and me some Valhrona chocolates as well as some L'occitane almond body butter. There are just some French brands I love!
"The bagman!" Richard always watches our 'stuff" while I go and wander the terminal. Winter coats sure are bulky when travelling!
Our flight to Budapest again was in an emergency exit row and I had no one beside me either. The only niggling thing about this flight was that the Delta app had not prompted me to let me know our bags had made the flight. I did have an air tag in my checked bag and I did see that the air tag had moved to Terminal 2F, so I was hopeful the bags had made the flight. We much prefer to do carry on but with a 15 day cruise and cool weather, it is not realistic to try and pack everything in carrry on bags, as well as visit Christmas markets to purchase 'I JUST GOTTA HAVE THAT' type souvenirs to bring home with us.
We were so relieved when we reached Budapest and saw one bag was already on the baggage conveyer! Then the other bag arrived and we promptly got 2 luggage carts and exited the baggage area to meet the Viking representative in the crowded arrivals terminal. Unfortunately 2 other passengers who we met from our flight who were on our cruise and had also travelled from Atlanta had taken up the gate attendant's request and had gate checked their roller boards from Atlanta, only to come out of the luggage area in Budapest with no roller boards. Apparently their checked roller boards only made it to Paris, but with another flight to Budapest this evening on Air France, and not departing Budapest until tomorrow evening, the couple should be ok to get their roller boards before we leave this port. We sure are glad we didn't let go of our roller boards. Imagine no CPAP machine? A complete nightmare!
Our transfers from the airport to the SKADI were included since we were arriving in time to board our ship today The Mercedes Sprinter van dropped us at the roadway and we walked down the steep steps carrying our two roller boards and crossed the floating dock to board the Skadi.
Our cabin was ready when we arrived just after 12 noon. We are in a Verandah (B) stateroom which at 205 square feet is adequately roomy given the built in storage in the cabin. We didn't know how much we would use the balcony this time of year given it is cold in Europe (45F/7C) but it is nice to have the ability to go out on our balcony for photos should the need arise.
Our cabin steward Nicola met us and brought the distilled water which we have on Richard's Viking profile for his CPAP machine. He also brought us an adapter for the plug for Richard's side of the bed which only had a European style plug, even though we did bring two adaptors for the electricity conversion.
We turned on our Viking TV and watched the safety video and navigated through the various options to see our itinerary and calendar; read the Viking Daily to see when the Welcome Briefing would be and we easily connected to the Viking wifi and set up the code on our in room safe. It is amazing how comfortable it feels to be back on a Viking ship since we know the drill with Viking having done the World Cruise this past year. It was 'easy peasy, lemon squeezy!'
Our luggage arrived within about 10 minutes of getting our cabin, but we were hungry so headed up to the Aquavit Terrace and found a lovely table in the sun inside to partake of the modest buffet. The food was delicious with a nice vegetable consommé to start, penne with pesto, greek salad with feta, coleslaw and my favorite Shweppes Bitter Lemon to drink!
Viking encourages meeting other guests on this smaller ship and our table for four at lunch was quickly filled by Cara and Bill from Australia! We enjoyed chatting with them who were doing their first Viking cruise and had spent a week in London and a week in Paris before arriving on the ship today.
We quickly unpacked and put our suitcases under the bed for storage and then it was nap time! We didn't set an alarm either, but luckily we woke up at 5pm in time to shower, change and get ready for the 6:15pm briefing in the Lounge. The Lounge is one deck up from us.
Heading to the Lounge one deck up from our cabin. The area Richard is in serves as the Guests Services area as well as the small Viking store.
We met Stoyan Yanchev the Hotel Manager (the real boss) and Daniel Pavlukovic the Program Director who briefed us on everything we needed to know about our cruise. Much of the briefing was repetitious for us having been on Viking before, but we sat and listened attentively to see if there was something we needed to learn. Our ship holds 190 guests and we are not quite full at 178 guests. There are no other guests from Canada either, with many guests of course from the USA, but a very large contingent of guests are from Australia and New Zealand - or maybe they just yelled the loudest when asked where they were from?!
Stoyan mentioned that we may have to switch ships next Saturday if the Rhine water levels do not recede since the ship is not able to passage safely with enough clearance under the bridges on the Rhine. Viking does not want to do a ship switch if possible. Originally we were to be sailing on the Viking Bragi, but we got word a few days ago that we would be boarding the Skadi instead. The Bragi according to Cruise Mapper is stuck south of Amsterdam somewhere along the Rhine due to high water levels. We certainly hope we do not have to pack and do a ship switch, but anything is possible in the next 7 days.
We had met another very nice Australian couple from Perth, Australia while we were listening to the Welcome Briefing, so after the briefing, we headed down a level to The Restaurant to enjoy a delicious local meal. Our new friends have travelled extensively and it was nice to learn where they have travelled and who they enjoyed travelling with. This River Cruise is their 10th wedding Anniversary cruise and their first on Viking!
We enjoyed the house wine with dinner as we do not have the Silver Spirits Beverage Package which both have to purchase and at $25USD per day/ per person x 15 days did not make any sense for us. We will pick up some wine in Budapest tomorrow for when we want a drink outside of lunch or dinner, which is when local wine or beer is included. It seems silly we can pick up wine or spirits and bring it on board, yet Viking will not give us a drink at a Welcome briefing since we are outside of the lunch or dinner times. Oh well, since I am not a big drinker it really is not cost effective to buy the Silver Spirits package on this trip.
The White bean soup, local menu Hungarian paprikash and a local Hungarian dessert made of walnuts and chocolate called Zserbo were delicious! So far the two meals we have had on the Vikin Skadi have been better than the food on the Viking Neptune. Perhaps it is the smaller scale of cooking vs cooking for the masses of 900 people or that the local food items and a more limited menu, provides for higher quality food? Anyway, I rated SKADI 2, Neptune 0 so far!
Tomorrow we have a Panoramic Budapest tour at 8:30am which involves sitting on a bus and touring Budapest. We plan to have a quick lunch after our tour and then head out to the Jewish quarter and also hit up a couple of Christmas markets before our 5:45pm back on board time tomorrow afternoon. On my to buy list is Hungarian Paprika of course
Viking gave us this guide to different varieties of paprika so I will see what I can find tomorrow since I have an extensive spice collection and love to cook!
We're excited to be in Europe for Christmas and can't wait for this ship to start sailing!