From left: A Viking Freya suite; the vessel’s modern atrium // © 2015 Viking River Cruises
Feature image (above): Guests on Viking’s Danube Waltz cruise will explore Durnstein, Austria. // © 2015 Thinkstock
An eight-day Danube Waltz cruise onboard Viking River Cruises’ 190–passenger Viking Freya is an intriguing combination of cutting-edge amenities and ancient history.
It’s impossible to miss all of the longship’s modern touches. Accommodations are equipped with the latest technical features, including electronic entry cards, electronic wall safes and 40-inch televisions that combine today’s top channels with reruns of favorite programs. Free Wi-Fi access is available throughout the ship, though signal strength can vary according to location and terrain. For guests who don’t have their own digital devices, two computers with Internet access are available.
Shore excursions to historic sites are made much more enjoyable with QuietVox audio systems, which allow guests to hear guides clearly while also having the flexibility to move around more. In addition, surrounding noise doesn’t interfere with the narration.
And though the QuietVox gear brings some of Viking’s 21st-century comfort and convenience onshore, passengers still feel like they are stepping back in time. Our itinerary strung together medieval towns and cities that, at least in appearance and mood, have changed little over the past centuries. Almost all of the region washed by the Danube on this cruise was once within the Habsburg Empire, a collection of states united by a monarchy that flourished for nearly 700 years.
For most of those years, Viking port city Vienna was the region’s capital. So was Budapest, a critical hub in the Austro-Hungarian Empire for some 150 years before the outbreak of World War I. Perhaps less historic but equally fascinating are the much smaller towns of Linz, Melk and Durnstein, Austria. Passau, Germany, the starting point for this cruise, was once the seat of the largest prince bishopric within the Holy Roman Empire.
For Viking passengers, this rich history comes alive as they move through the halls of 900-year-old Melk Abbey, wander the narrow streets in Linz’s Old Town district or climb up a rocky path in Durnstein — at the end of this trek, guests are greeted by the castle ruins where Richard the Lionheart was once held prisoner. Intimately associated with the palaces, fortresses, churches and cathedrals visited are names long forgotten (if ever known) — Empress Maria Theresa; Leopold V, Duke of Austria; Emperor Franz Joseph; and Napoleon, among many others.
Viking Freya has no Las Vegas-style production shows or casino, no shopping mall or midnight buffet and no waterslides or climbing walls. It does, however, dramatically deliver passengers back to the personalities and places from so long ago. For a riverboat, that is quite a journey.