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Cruise Ship Review

Viking Legend - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

River ships are the original slow boats, flat-bottomed vessels that slowly ply inland waterways, designed to fit under bridges and through series of locks. While they bring passengers past beautiful scenes of river life, including fishing shacks, vineyards and castles, and cruise right into fascinating Old World cities such as Budapest and Vienna (you and walk off the ship right into the city center in some cases), they are comfortable but hardly the kind of ships that draw big buzz. Except that this pretty, contemporary ship, part of the world's largest river ship fleet, and introduced in spring 2009, does have some quiet firsts.

For those who seek luxury, the Viking Legend boasts the two largest suites on any European river ship, though at 310 square feet each they are hardly penthouses. All cabins on the ship have windows for views, but cabins on two decks on Legend are equipped with French balconies – you can open floor-to-ceiling glass doors to let in breezes (there is a railing through no step-out area). Most beds on the ship are comfortably hotel-like and in-cabin entertainment comes via flatscreen Sony TVs. The ship also has Wi-Fi (free if you bring your own laptop). And at 443 feet, the Legend is one of the longest ships in the Viking fleet.

But the biggest achievement is actually behind the scenes, where a state-of-the-art propulsion system delivers a quieter, vibration-free, more environmentally friendly ride. Legend passengers probably won't notice what's going on below the waterline, but the hybrid, diesel/electric engines save an estimated 20 percent on fuel. This river ship is greener than its competitors.

Viking Legend serves up a particularly comfortable, friendly environment (a limited number of public rooms on only four passenger decks assures you pretty much get to know everyone), a crew that certainly tries hard to please and, as with all river ships, the advantage of visiting a different locale each day while only having to unpack once. Plus on the calm river-ways, there is no need to worry about seasickness – except for the change in scenery you'll hardly know you are moving. This ship was purpose-built for cruising riverways in Europe including the Danube, Main and Rhine, where there are some very low bridges. So the Legend also features a collapsible Wheelhouse and collapsible canvas awnings on the sundeck – when needed, up on top, the Legend can get as flat as a pancake.

Dining

The Viking Legend has one restaurant, off the reception area on Deck 2, that is open-seating, offering mostly tables for 6, 8 or 10 but some for 4 as well (there are no tables for two). The room has nice, cushy chairs and a contemporary flair. Tables covered with light table cloths line windows on two sides (and in the center too at dinner). Fresh flowers fill tabletop vases. For breakfast and lunch, a huge buffet takes up the central section, while dinner is served by waiters from menus.

Dining is at set times – check your newsletter daily as the times change based on itineraries. Generally dinner is at 7 p.m., and while there is a little flexibility in terms of when you show up for the buffets (breakfast is usually 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and lunch noon to 2 p.m.) this is not so for dinner. If you come late for dinner, the policy is your meal continues with the course being served – so show up, say, a half hour late, and you may not be offered the appetizer (though you will get the entrée).

At the breakfast buffet, a chef is positioned in the center preparing eggs, which you order from your waiter, who also pours the coffee and juice. You can get pancakes too, though be aware they are served with a simple syrup rather than maple syrup. The rather lavish buffet spread also includes scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, cold meats and herring, a selection of breads and pastries, cheeses, fruit and cereals. There's a do-it-yourself toaster oven.

The equally lavish lunch buffet features several salad selections, hot entrees, soups and stews, sandwiches, pasta, cheeses and desserts. Goulash makes an appearance several times during the cruise and is delicious, and don't miss the stuffed green peppers (they'll bring back memories of your childhood). The wait staff delivers additional desserts including ice cream sundaes and beverages.

Every afternoon, 3:30 to 4:15 p.m., in the lounge, there is a choice of two pastries at a self-service afternoon tea. Chips, pretzels and peanuts are on tables during the pre-dinner cocktail hour.

Regular dinner menus offer one or two appetizers (such as liver pate or beef carpaccio) and a daily soup, with the option of a Caesar salad on request (otherwise, salads are sparse on the dinner menu). There are usually two entrees, typically one fish and one meat – choices might include local favorites such as wienerschnitzel and venison with juniper berries or international dishes like shrimp on risotto. You also have a choice of two desserts (layered cakes, lavish pastries, ice cream), or a tasty cheese plate to finish the meal. If you don't like the entrée choices, you can, at any time, order a thin grilled steak or grilled chicken (the only real healthy option). While the food is generally well-prepared and flavorful, the variety at dinner is not huge and neither are the portions. But a member of the wait staff will walk through the dining room with seconds when available (sit at one of the tables near the kitchen for first dibs).

The food is nicely prepared, somewhere between what your German grandmother might have served and the kind of gourmet cuisine you'd expect in a fine restaurant, with care taken in the presentation (everything looks pretty on the plate).

There are several themed dinners during each cruise to reflect the cruising regions including Viennese and Bavarian. Passengers with specific dietary requests, such as vegetarian, low-salt and gluten free, are accommodated upon request though Viking encourages travelers to give the line advance notice.

The only alternatives to meals in the restaurant are in the Observation Lounge upstairs. There's an early risers' breakfast – coffee, juice and pastries served in the lounge daily from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. (the set-up disappears when the breakfast buffet begins). And a light lunch is offered in the lounge at a set time each afternoon, usually around 1 p.m. – a smaller version of the restaurant buffet with sandwiches, pasta, salad and soup. There is no waiter service in the lounge, so that if you want a drink, even a glass of water, you need to go to the bar and fetch it yourself.

While passengers in the two suites can order room service at any time, other passengers will only be accommodated in-cabin by special request (and are discouraged unless they are ill).

Outside the lounge (and just above the reception area) there's a 24-hour coffee station that serves as an impromptu café, with a few cushioned chairs and tables facing windows. A self-service machine makes free cappuccinos, lattes, even macchiatos and hot chocolate, with tea, iced tea, iced water with lemon and fresh fruit available at all times.

Editor's Note: If you think you'll get hungry between meals you can always grab a snack (such as a sandwich from the buffet) to keep in your cabin fridge.

To accompany your meal, you can buy single bottles of wine or single drinks, but the line also pushes alcohol packages – 150 euros per person (about $223) for drinks and wine daily (plus a bottle of champagne) for a week; or wine packages with four bottles for the price of five, for 99 euros ($147).

Alcohol is not cheap – expect to pay 5.50 euros ($8.17) for a Bloody Mary, 7 euros ($10.40) for a pina colada. A cocktail of the day is 5 euros ($7.43) and a small, Individual carafe of Riesling is 4.20 euros ($6.24).

The crew is mostly German or Austrian or from Eastern European countries (such as Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland and Bulgaria) and while they are not particularly smiley by nature they are certainly enthusiastic. Talk to them and a sense of humor will emerge and they are great at meeting requests promptly. They mostly speak German with each other and English to guests. The Captain is German.

Public Rooms

Overall the ship makes the most of windows. You are rarely without views. Throughout the ship, the décor is streamlined, contemporary Scandinavian.

You enter the Viking Legend into a pretty, modern, light-filled two-deck reception area with a front desk to one side and a dramatic chrome staircase leading up to the next level, where the Observation Lounge is located. The wooden entranceway floor (which can get slippery when wet) is covered in part by a large pale Oriental carpet and the overall ambience is light and airy. Windows on both levels and a skylight above the staircase provide so much light that there are even real plants growing in planters in the foyer. Off in a corner is a small boutique, with t-shirts and a few other trinkets (you can buy sundries such as toothpaste at the front desk).

Head up the staircase to Deck 3 and there's the Observation Lounge, the second big public room after the restaurant, with floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides and a semi-circle bar with cushioned bar stools at the non-windowed end. The lounge is filled with tables for four and stuffed chairs in blue, coral and tan, all with window views. The multi-purpose venue hosts a daily briefing/cocktail hour with the ship's program director each evening before dinner and after-dinner entertainment as well. There are a few tables and chairs on a small deck outside the lounge too, where you can bring your lunch or coffee or drinks if you want to be outside.

The only other indoor public room is the windowed Library aft on Deck 3, with cushy chairs and a few tables. There are some board games on the shelves but few books (this space is generally used as a quiet area for reading and postcard writing). Again, there are a few tables and chairs outside as well.

The ship does not have an elevator, and those with trouble walking up stairs will have trouble getting to the lounge – though will be able to access the dining room. There are ramps to get onboard.

Throughout the ship, the contemporary art was chosen by the line's president's wife (she also picked the carpet in the reception area). Framed old maps add a nice travel touch in several areas as well.

Cabins

Cabins on Viking Legend are located on three decks – Main, Middle and Upper. All cabins have outside views and all doubles are the same size at 155 square feet, with hotel-style beds that can be configured as twins or a double bed.

The big difference comes in the windows. Cabins on the Main Deck have half windows above the waterline that some will have to stand on tippy toe to see out of. Cabins on the Middle and Upper decks come with wonderful French balconies – floor-to-ceiling glass doors that easily slide open so you can take in the views and breathe in fresh air (there is no lip to actually stand outside but there is a railing).

The ship also has five cabins specifically designed for single travelers – one on Main Deck, two on Middle and two on Upper. These are smaller, at 134 square feet and have foam beds – that double as sofas with bolsters during the day. They're not quite as comfortable as the hotel-like beds in the other cabins. Those on the upper two decks have the French balconies.

Legend also boasts the two largest suites on a river ship, both on the Upper Deck and both measuring 310 square feet. Each has a little foyer, a desk area and a living room with couch and cushioned chairs and dining room-style table, as well as a double-size French balcony. There are flatscreen TVs in both the bedroom and living room. The bathroom has a glassed-in shower, real bathtub (those in the suites are the only ones on the ship) and double sink, and there's a big walk-in closet.

When choosing a cabin there are a few things to consider: The ship has metal stairway doors in the middle and aft that tend to slam (my cabin was next to a stairway and I could very much hear people coming and going). Some passengers on the Main Deck complained they could hear rushing water at night as the ship passed through locks. And on the Upper Deck, despite padding on the sundeck, you may occasionally hear people above. For my money, the best bet is a cabin on the Middle Deck, away from the stairs. One double cabin near the reception area is designated for the physically disabled, with doors large enough for a wheelchair.

All cabins come in a contemporary tan color scheme with amenities including a refrigerator, safe, telephone (calling the U.S. is $8 to $10 per minute), real hairdryer, and flatscreen TV. Singles and doubles both have decent storage space including drawers and closets with real wooden hangers. A vanity/desk has good lighting and plenty of space for plugs (one for American, two for European, which you can use if you bring an adapter). There are also cushy chairs and side tables. Everyone gets a large bottle of water for free.

Bathrooms have decent mirrored cabinets and larger than normal showers with curtains – with a good lip so that they don't flood -- adjustable showerheads. Amenities include a bar of soap, shampoo (but no conditioner), a shoe polish brush, a mending kit and hand lotion. There's also a liquid soap dispenser in the shower.

You'll find slippers waiting in the closet, but if you want a bathrobe you need to request one. Beds are made up with European-style duvets without a top sheet, but again, you can request a top sheet if you like. There are individual cabin temperature controls and you can also control whether or not you hear announcements in the cabin.

You'll find self-service ice machines on Deck 3 aft and Deck 2 forward. Laundry onboard is send-out only – cost is 4 euros ($5.95) to have a shirt laundered and pressed. A newsletter is delivered to cabins daily highlighting activities, meal times and tour departure times.

Fitness and Recreation

The sundeck is the main outdoor space, running across the entire 443-foot length of the ship on the top deck. It's enormous with various areas for sun and shade (under canvas awnings) and 360 degree views. You can relax in blue canvas sling chairs or soft plastic lounge chairs (comfortable, though not padded) or at tables with chairs, and on a warm and sunny day this is the place to be. The entire deck is covered in blue outdoor carpeting (providing soundproofing for cabins directly below). The Captain's Wheelhouse is up on top.

Occasionally, when the ship goes through areas with low bridges, the sundeck is closed (and at really low bridges the Wheelhouse and canvas awnings are collapsed).

There is no spa, gym, jogging track, pool, or Jacuzzi. Most days a very easy "light" exercise class (really a stretch class) is conducted by the program manager in the Viking Lounge, at 7 a.m. You can exercise- walk on the padded sundeck, but there are steps you need to think about in a few areas so you don't trip. While it's not quite exercise, there is a giant chess set up on the top deck too, and moving the pieces is at least slightly aerobic. Those seeking to burn calories and get the heart rate up are best off walking or jogging on shore.

Gratuity

At the end of the cruise, you are asked to pay gratuities in one lump sum, in cash (U.S. dollars or euros) so the tips can be pooled – meaning the program director divvies up everyone's share. The suggested gratuity is $10 to $12 per guest, per day. Additional tips during the trip are at your discretion – they suggest $1 to $2 U.S. per person, per day, for local guides, and $.50 to $1 for each bus driver (again, paying in U.S. dollars is fine).

Editor's note: the official onboard currency is the euro. You can pay your final bill in euros, U.S. dollars or by credit card. The ship does not accept traveler's checks. And while you can exchange a few dollars onboard, guests are encouraged to use shore-side ATMS or exchange bureaus.

Entertainment

Entertainment on Viking Legend is low-key, home-grown. There is a friendly singer/keyboardist who sings Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" with an Eastern European accent – so that it comes out "Margaweetaville" – and plays everything from Beatles to Mozart (he even occasionally picks up an accordion). He plays during cocktail hour and some evenings after dinner, and also fills the peanut bowls in the bar in between sets, helping out the ship's one bartender.

Local entertainers come onboard some nights after dinner including a small troupe of musicians/dancers introduced by our program director as “Hungarian gypsies.” Other nights after dinner (at about 9 p.m.) the program director does slideshow/lectures that are more entertaining than intellectual, covering topics like the coffeehouse culture in Vienna (he makes such observations as "The Blue Danube never was blue. I don't know who wrote that. He must have been on booze or something.").

The majority of passengers head to their cabins after dinner; this is not a ship for nightlife.

Those seeking intellectual discussion will be more pleased with an afternoon lecture one day by a young German bureaucrat/graduate student discussing the history and future of the European Union.

Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship for free (it works best in public areas), and if you don't you're your own laptop you can rent one for 5 euros ($7.42) per hour. Be aware it is not high speed.

On the flatscreen TV in your cabin you can watch CNN International, BBC World, CNBC Europe, sometimes Bloomberg, one English movie channel, and itinerary-related channel and three German TV stations – where late at night there are often shows with nudity.

Among other onboard activities, the crew invites passengers on a galley tour towards the end of each cruise, and at the program director's whim there may be an afternoon Liar's Club (particularly on a day with low bridges when the sundeck is closed), an evening talent show, or an afternoon strudel-making demonstration by the chef.

Much more impressive, and really the big event of every day on the Viking Legend, are the complimentary shore excursions. These well-planned outings range from two-hour walking tours to full-day bus tours. Nearly everyone participates – though you also have the option of staying on the ship. The tours require some walking on cobblestones or uphill, so may not be appropriate to some with physical limitations.

All passengers at check-in are assigned a bus (you can switch if you want to be with friends) and given a pair of disposable headphones for use throughout the cruise. These hook into a wonderful Quietvox receiver system – with pocketsize units distributed each day – that allows everyone to easily hear the guides (the only dial to toy with is the volume). If you lose your headphones – guilty! – extra pairs are available.

For those who want to go off on their own to explore the ports, also particularly impressive is the ship's concierge desk. Since the ship is staffed with crew who hail from some of the countries you are visiting if you want to head off on your own you can truly get local advice – from navigating the subways of Vienna to finding the best pastry in Budapest. The program manager uses a computer to carefully check museum hours, is equipped with maps, and gives all passengers his cell phone number in case you get lost.

There are a few extra-charge excursions offered in addition to the complimentary daily outing – a big hit was a musical evening in Vienna for 75 euros ($111 per person), but really you can have a very stimulating cruise and see all the main sights without paying extra.

Family

There are no programs for children, and very few come onboard (though there are no age restrictions). There is no babysitting, and cabins are designed to sleep one or two. There are no family cabins or even triples.

Fellow Passengers

Those on Viking Legend are mostly 60 and up (some into their late 80s and 90s), though on our cruise we also had one 30-something honeymoon couple attracted by the two-week itinerary, and several couples in their 50s. They are generally well-traveler and interested in world history. They are a fairly active group, though these cruises are hardly soft adventure (an ability to walk on cobblestones and uphill is helpful). Most like to chat, and the convivial small ship environment enhances this aspect – I was adopted by several couples and never dined or drank alone although I was traveling solo.

Nearly all passengers are American (though you may find a few British, Canadians and Australians too). A lot of guests have roots in the region and are here to see where a parent or grandparent was born. In some cases they may be returning to places where they served in the armed forces (one fellow on our cruise said last time he was in Passau, Germany, he was carrying a machine gun).

Dress Code

The dress code during the day is casual and comfortable – you'll want sneakers or comfortable walking shoes for the tours. At night, some get gussied up slightly for dinner – country club casual – while others don't bother to change at all. An exception is the Captain's Dinner, once each cruise, dressy but not formal – women may want to wear a dress or other dinner party attire, men a collared shirt with blazer (though no tie or jacket is required).

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