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CruiseReportViking River Cruises Viking Hlin4A cruise review of Viking River Cruises Viking Hlin in Europe
 
 
by C. Dikmen and
R. Richardson
 
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  Viking Hlin   Editorial
 
Viking Longship Hlin Review
 
November 2014
 
Reviewer Rates This Cruise
 
Itinerary: Budapest, Vienna, Melk, Passau, Regensburg, Nuremberg

In case you have not noticed, Viking River Cruises has been seriously stepping up its game over the past couple of years. There are now 40 of the new Viking Longships in the fleet, and rumor has it that Viking ownership won’t be happy until there are 100. We have been sailing on Viking River Cruises since 2003, yet until now, we have not had the opportunity to experience one of the new Viking Longships. Well, the wait is over. We just spent a week aboard the new Viking Longship Hlin sailing from Budapest to Nuremberg.

Viking Longship Hlin
Viking Longship Hlin

BEFORE THE CRUISE

Whenever we embark or disembark a cruise in Budapest, we like to spend an extra day or two to explore this amazing city. Unfortunately, our schedule only allowed us one day in Budapest before embarking Viking Hlin. We flew from DFW on American Airlines to London, then from London to Budapest on British Airways. Weeks before we departed the USA, we arranged for Limo Hungary to have a driver meet us and transfer us to our hotel. The driver was waiting for us when we exited baggage claim and within 40 minutes, we were checking in at The Four Seasons Budapest Gresham Palace hotel. Our stay at the Four Seasons was what we have come to expect from Four Seasons: ultimate luxury. Make sure you read our review.

EMBARKATION

Viking Hlin was ‘parked’ right in front of our hotel (Four Seasons Gresham Palace) at the famous Chain Bridge. We were able to actually walk the short distance from the hotel to the ship, our rolling duffel bags in tow behind us. As soon as we approached the dock, two Viking River Cruises’ attendants grabbed our luggage and promised to have them delivered to our stateroom. We boarded on Deck 2 at 3pm, right at the Reception Desk. The check-in process could not have been more efficient. All that was requested was our passports, which we quickly surrendered. We were issued our stateroom keys and a steward escorted us to our Veranda Stateroom (309). As promised, our luggage was already waiting for us when we arrived.

Viking Longship Hlin reception
Reception Desk Deck 2

THE SHIP

Viking Hlin is one of 40 Viking Longships. All of the Viking Longships have the same basic configuration; however, there may be subtle differences in design elements and decor between the various ships. So, just because you have sailed on one Longship does not mean you have sailed on all of them. The Longships are the largest riverboats sailing the rivers of Europe and can accommodate up to 194 guests. On our sailing, there were 151 guests. I cannot speak to what the ship feels like when at capacity, but on our cruise, the ship never felt crowded and long lines were not a problem.

Viking Longship Hlin Viking Lounge
Guests enjoy plush leather seating in the Viking Lounge

Viking River Cruises (VRC) has obviously done their homework on the design and construction of these Longships. The public spaces are open and spacious and have a much more upscale feel that what we have experienced on past VRC ships. Viking Hlin’s Viking Lounge on Deck 3 is a masterpiece of design with light wood tones and tan leather surfaces giving the ship a very “Scandinavian” feel. This theme carries throughout the ship, even into the staterooms. The attention to detail throughout the vessel is astonishing for a river cruise boat. The expansive windows in the Lounge make viewing picturesque river scenery much more pleasurable. One of the Viking Longship trademark features is the Aquavit Terrace, a unique indoor/outdoor dining/social venue that carries all the way out to the bow of the vessel with al fresco seating. Even though it was a bit too cold during our November sailing to allow for outside dining, Viking Hlin staff placed blankets on the chairs outside for the few brave souls who wanted to sit outdoors and enjoy the scenery.

Aquavit Terrace
The Aquavit Terrace offers a lot of al fresco seating (note the blankets)

Two coffee/tea stations are aft of the Lounge (one port and one starboard) and are available 24 hours a day for self-serve coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Pastries are placed here each morning, and cookies in the afternoon. Nice.There is also a dispenser for ice water, both still and bubbly.

Viking Longship Coffee Station
Automated coffee/tea/hot chocolate station

On Deck 2 you find Reception, a small gift shop, which is really a wall of Viking logo-branded products. The Restaurant is located on Deck 2 forward and is a major re-design from previous Viking vessels. There is no real need for a large selection of sundries (toothpaste, deodorant, etc.) on a river cruise as these are readily available in every town along the river.

Viking Longship Gift Shop
The Gift Shop across from Reception Desk

A portion of the Sun Deck on Deck 4 is completely exposed to the elements and will no doubt see lots of use in warm weather. On our November cruise, it was too cold to spend much time “up top”, but we did take a walk around. There is no pool or hot tub and the large, mostly unused chess set has been replaced with a mini-golf putting green and shuffleboard. An herb garden can also be found here, the contents of which will find their way into meal preparation. There are lots of seats, both under cover and open to the elements.

Viking Longship Golf Putting
Golf putting on the Sun Deck and herb garden (left)

There is an elevator that can take guests from Deck 1 to Deck 3, but not to the Sun Deck. Ice machines are located on each deck and ice is self-serve. A small library on Deck 3 offers global newspapers and a quiet space for reading. Two computers nearby constitute a small 'Internet-cafe' for catching up on email. Wi-Fi Internet is complimentary and can be accessed from virtually anywhere on the ship, even from the staterooms. Internet connections are spotty and prone to outages, especially as the ship navigates through the many locks on the river. Internet speeds are slow compared to land-based Internet, or even Internet on ocean-going vessels. However, the Internet service is much improved over previous Viking ships on which we have sailed and is as good, or better, than we have had on any river ship.

Viking Longship lounge
A small library and reading space on Deck 3

ACCOMMODATIONS

Our Veranda Stateroom (309) was 205 sq. ft and was comfortable for a one-week cruise. The decor of the stateroom follows the Scandinavian-inspired design of the rest of the ship with light wood tones. It looks very modern without looking “IKEA-like”. And, everything (for the most part) functions very well.

Viking Longship Hlin Stateroom
The modern, clean decor of Viking Hlin Veranda stateroom

The bed is comfortable, but ours had an annoyingly loud squeak in the frame when you got into or out of bed. It was impossible to get up in the middle of the night without waking up your travel companion. A large desk offers plenty of drawer storage space with soft-close dampened drawers. The sliding doors on the closets and bathroom are also intelligently dampened to prevent annoying slams. Once you slid the door to a certain point, the mechanism took over to finish gently closing the door. Again, a very well thought-out design. Cabin doors are also designed to make slamming doors difficult. Good job. The stateroom is one of the quietest we have ever sailed in. We never heard our neighbors on either side. The only noise was the occasional thumping coming from someone jogging on the Sun Deck above us. As with many newer ships, there is a slot by the stateroom door that turns on the cabin's lights whenever a key card is inserted. When you remove your key card, the lights in the cabin go off (except for the bathroom night light). We are notorious for forgetting to remove one of our key cards when leaving the stateroom, so we found out that a common business card will work, too!

Viking Longship Keycard
A business card can be used to activate the stateroom light control

The bathroom is a tight fit, but everything you need is there and Viking River Cruises still provides top-notch L’Occitane amenities. The thick, absorbent towels are very nice. And, the toilet seat lid has a self-lowering feature that prevents that "oops" moment when the lid slips out of your hand and loudly bangs shut when you start to close it to reach the flush button. Another very nice feature is the night light in the bathroom which provides ample lighting to prevent bumping into things when you need to get up in the middle of the night. There is a small mini-bar/refrigerator that you can use to keep cokes or bottled water in, but it is not stocked by the ship. Bottled water is provided and replenished each day, but not in individual plastic bottles. A glass, reusable bottle is refilled and sealed each day before being placed on your desk.

Viking Longship Amenities
Top-quality L'Occitane amenities

The television is one of the largest and nicest we have seen on any ship. The flat screen, HD TV is wall mounted across from the bed and is almost too big for the room. But, I am not complaining, it is great! Programming, too, is good. There is a choice of international news channels (CNN, BBC, CNBC Europe), sports and entertainment. A selection of complimentary movies is also available on demand, at no extra cost. The TV also serves as an information hub for weather, maps, music and Viking videos. There are Bow Cam and Lounge Cam channels so that you can follow the action from your stateroom.

Viking Longship Hlin TV
The excellent wall-mounted television and expansive desk with lots of drawer space

The veranda is a bit cramped, but hey, this is a river ship! Any balcony is better than none, and this one is comfortable enough for two people to sit and enjoy coffee in the morning while the European countryside passes by. Of course, the weather on our cruise was a bit cold to spend time enjoying the balcony much, but it was great to be able to step out to take a photo when something interesting appeared. We look forward to sailing on a Longship in warmer weather so we can really enjoy the balcony to its fullest.

Just about everywhere you look in the Veranda Stateroom, you can see innovations that we wish all river cruise lines would employ, including the addition of many electrical outlets, both 110 (US-style) and 220 (European-style 2-pin). There are outlets at two locations on the desk and above each night stand. The 220 euro-style 2-pin outlets work fine with most modern electronics like camera chargers, cell phones, iPad/iPhone/iPod, computer chargers, etc. All you need are simple adapters that you can buy from any electronics store.

Viking Longship Outlets
Lots of electrical outlets

FOOD AND DINING

We have noticed a consistent improvement in Viking dining over the years. Each cruise seems to be better than the last. The Restaurant on Deck 2 is the de facto dining venue serving breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. Breakfast is primarily a buffet affair with a wide variety of breakfast items readily available for the taking. The buffet serving-station design is much improved over previous Viking ships, and is the best layout we have seen so far on any river cruise vessel. A chef is on hand at the buffet to prepare egg dishes to order if the scrambled eggs on the buffet do not suit your fancy. And, you can order poached eggs, Eggs Benedict, French toast or pancakes from your waiter.

Viking Longship Buffet
The buffet serving station is the best we have seen on any river cruise ship

For lunch, the Restaurant serves a hybrid buffet/table service meal. You select appetizers and salads from the buffet while main course orders are placed with your waiter and are delivered to your table. On most days, a pasta station is manned by a chef creating fresh pasta dishes.

Viking Longship Restaurant
The Restaurant set for casual lunch service

There is no buffet in The Restaurant at dinner. Evening meals are strictly menu based with full table service. Menus change every day and selections usually include one fish and one meat choice along with a vegetarian option. There are a few items “Always Available” including a Caesar salad, salmon filet, grilled chicken breast and grilled New York steak. The New York steak was my “go to” option on at least three evenings. It is just my personal taste. I am a beef guy. I found each steak to be cooked perfectly as ordered, and flavorful. The steaks are served with a trio of dipping sauces, creamy mashed potatoes and broccoli.

The service in the dining room was hit and miss. With the open-seating concept, which we love, we had the opportunity to dine in a few different sections with different waiters. The waiters now use an iPod-style device to take orders, which we presume are then transmitted to the galley. The system was not able to prevent the wrong dishes from being placed in front of the wrong guest on more than one or two evenings. It is as if they had no idea who ordered what dish. That part could use some work. Also, ladies' orders were not always taken first and dishes were not always served to the ladies before the gentlemen. That said, the wait staff were all very pleasant and willing to serve, so it is probably just a training issue. Also, we never got the feeling that the ship was understaffed. There always seemed to be someone available and visible when we needed something. Water glasses were regularly filled and the complimentary wine service was very efficient.

Viking Longships, Hlin included, also offer a casual alternate dining venue in the Aquavit Terrace. Here guests can enjoy a continental breakfast each morning, a casual buffet “light” lunch, or a “bar menu” in the evening during dinner time. There are a few tables inside Aquavit and even more outside at the bow of the ship for al fresco dining. Some tables are set in the Viking Lounge for Aquavit dining as well. We enjoyed the light lunch in Aquavit on several days, preferring the relative calm of the Viking Lounge to the more crowded Restaurant. Also, we were able to get a table for two in Viking Lounge! We did not try the “bar menu” for dinner and I had a bit of a challenge finding out exactly what is served in the evenings. One of the bartenders told me it is basically hamburgers and fries, but I cannot confirm that. I never saw a “bar menu” posted.

Aquavit Terrace
Fresh fruit is always available in Aquavit

In addition to the daily meals, there are a few standout special themed meals. The Captain’s Farewell dinner was a five-course menu degustation that was impressive in scope and execution. The dining highlight on our cruise, however, was the Austrian feast. During this special dining event, all staff were wearing traditional Austrian garb and serving guests in both Aquavit and The Restaurant.

Viking Longship Hlin Crew
Anyone for a Meter of Beer?

Guests could even venture into the galley to fill their plates, combining a dining event with a galley tour of sorts. Local musicians were circulating throughout the ship keeping guests entertained as we all enjoyed endless glasses of Austrian beer. It was one of the best- executed special dining events we have experienced on a cruise ship.

Viking Longship Hlin Crew
Hotel Manager, Robert, flames the traditional Austrian desert, Kaiserschmarrn

ENTERTAINMENT

Each evening, Viking Hlin invites guests to the Lounge for Cocktail Hour (5:30 - 6:30). Dimitir could always be found entertaining on the piano as guests mixed and mingled, enjoying their favorite beverages. Bar service was very good with plenty of waiters circulating through the Lounge. A small tray with an assortment of nuts to munch on was placed on each table during Cocktail Hour.

Viking Longship Hlin Entertainment

Dimitir continued to entertain guests in the Lounge after dinner. However, on select evenings, local entertainers came aboard to provide guests with a combination of song, dance and music. All of the local entertainers were very good.

EXCURSIONS

One of the biggest benefits of river cruising is the included excursions. At every port we visited, Viking offered excellent motorcoach and/or walking tours. The local guides were all exceptional, spoke good English and were informative. The use of the provided Quiet Vox receivers makes walking tours in Europe a pleasure as you can venture off from the group a bit and still her the guide's commentary.

Viking Longship Excursion
Local guides are excellent

It is important to note that on our cruise, we enjoyed the use of brand-new Viking motorcoaches. These coaches are spotlessly clean, comfortable and very well designed. They even have a GPS screen to show where the coach is at any given time during the tour. Unfortunately, we only noticed the GPS displayed during the Budapest tour.

Viking River Cruises Coach
Viking motorcoaches

Viking provides complimentary bottled water on a table as you exit the ship for excursions, a very nice touch. A basket filled with bright red umbrellas is on hand for guests to grab one if the weather looks sketchy. If any guests require a wheelchair, that will be placed outside as well. Once again, Viking's attention to detail is impressive.

Viking Longship Excursion
Complimentary bottled water, umbrellas and wheelchair (if necessary) are available before local tours

In addition to the included excursions, a variety of optional excursions were offered on this cruise. We opted for two of the optional tours. The Mozart and Strauss Classical Concert in Vienna (64€ pp) is simply a must. You do not want to visit Vienna without attending a classical music concert. The musicians, opera singers and ballet performers were amazing.

Viking River Cruises Concert in Vienna
Classical Concert in Vienna

In Regensburg, we took the optional BMW factory tour (29€ pp). This in-depth look at how BMW builds their luxury vehicles will be enjoyed by any auto enthusiast, especially Beemer owners or aspiring owners.

STAFF AND CREW

We were a bit concerned with how well trained and efficient the staff would be on this cruise given that Viking has launched so many new ships in a such a short period of time. Our fears have been put to rest. I don’t know how Viking can launch 10 brand new ships at one time, then launch 14 more at one time the following year, but they did it. And it would seem that service levels have not suffered in the process. We found the entire staff and crew to be pleasant, helpful, smiling and happy.

Viking River Cruises' Valentin
Program Director, Valentin

Program Director, Valentin, was always on hand to keep the activities moving along like clockwork. Chef Thomas and Hotel Director, Robert, were also very visible and approachable throughout the entire cruise.

OTHER COSTS

As previously mentioned, Viking River Cruises includes soft drinks, beer and wine with lunch and dinner, a great value. However, if you choose to enjoy cocktails, beer, wine or soda at other times, there is a charge. A Johnny Walker Black Label scotch will cost you 7.50€ (about $9.25 US). A 3.5oz Viking sparkling wine (champagne) will cost you only 3.50€ and we consider that to be the best drink bargain on Viking. In addition to your bar tab, there are also gratuities which are completely at your discretion. However, guidelines suggest $12 per day/per guest for the crew and $3 per day/per guest for the Program Director. The only other cost would be any optional tours (e.g. classical concert in Vienna) that you choose to enjoy or any laundry you send out.

THE VIKING CRUISE EXPERIENCE

The general atmosphere for river cruising is casual and relaxed. Dress codes are much less strict on the river than on the ocean. As this sailing was in the winter, with colder temperatures, everyone was wearing long slacks during the day. Many gentlemen will wear a sport coat to dinner in the evenings and some ladies will wear dresses. However, slacks are fine and jackets are not required. People do tend to dress a bit more for the Captain’s functions. I wore a sport coat with an open collar shirt and did not feel under dressed.

This was a much younger crowd that we have experienced on previous Viking River Cruises. Ages were all over the place with a few 30-somethings all the way up to 70-somethings, and everything in between. It would seem that Viking is expanding the appeal of river cruising to a broader demographic. There were even a few small children aboard. This diversity in demographics could be a function of the fact that this was a Christmas Markets cruise. The ship's public areas were decorated and there were even a few decorated Christmas trees to contribute to the festive atmosphere.

VIDEO





ITINERARY AND DAILY BLOG


You can enjoy the details of our Christmas Markets cruise aboard Viking Hlin by reflecting on our daily cruise blog that we posted LIVE from the ship!

Click here for daily cruise blog


SUMMARY

Viking River Cruises is taking no prisoners in the river cruise war. They just may have the best hardware in the business with these new Longships and their software (onboard service, food, excursions) just keeps improving with age. It is no wonder they are the largest and fastest- growing river cruise company in the world. Usually, when companies grow like this, they are doing something right. In our opinion, Viking is doing a lot of things right.

So, is there anything we don't like about Viking Hlin? Well, the tromping noise coming from above when someone is jogging on the sun deck is annoying, but this only happened a few times, and mostly in the middle of the day. Also, that would only affect certain staterooms on Deck 3. We would like to see a defined evening menu for Aquavit. The service in the dining room could also stand some tweaking. All of these are details that can be easily addressed and I doubt many guests would even take notice. There was nothing we found that would prevent anyone from having an excellent vacation aboard this ship. From a hardware perspective, Viking River Cruises has everyone beat, at least every one we have sailed with. Quite simply put, the Viking Longship Hlin is the best-designed river ship on which we have ever sailed.



It is common in the travel industry for journalists to be provided with complimentary cruise accommodations, and in some cases, hotel accommodations, for the purpose of a review. While it has not influenced this review, CruiseReport.com adheres to a strict policy of full disclosure to all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, please refer to our Ethics Guidelines
 
 
2 Comments
 
G. BRANDOVER
 
We had never even considered a Viking cruise until reading this review. I don't think I have ever read anything this thorough on the Internet. Such a relief from the 140 character twits. Thanks for taking the time to give the details.
 
Tuesday, April 28, 2015 12:00 AM  
 
 
JOHN AND DENISE
 
Totally agree...excellent report...our first cruise!! Just wonderful and we cannot say enough about how great the staff was...
 
Wednesday, January 14, 2015 1:27 PM  
 
 
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