Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Viking River Cruise... who me? Final Episode

Apples and Oranges

It is not possible to fairly compare a European river cruise with a European land tour.  The two offer totally different travel experiences and as a friend says, it is like comparing apples and oranges... you can’t!  There are positive elements to both experiences, so in wrapping up my cruise experience, I’ll try to comment on the unique elements of each and offer some comparisons.

Traveling Over Land

Traveling by land, whether on a big bus or with a smaller group, always provides culturally diverse interactions with the local people.  The bigger the group, the fewer the opportunities exist for this cultural immersion, but no matter, one will interact with the locals. These cultural interactions include those with hotel and restaurant staff, shopkeepers, local guides, coach drivers and even toilet attendants!  Opportunities abound to break away from the group and experience Europe on your own. Additionally, traveling by land provides unlimited opportunities to visit big cities, small villages, national parks, historic sites and more while not being limited to sights strictly along or near a waterway.

My company, David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, offers tours for small groups ranging from 6-24 people. Typically, our tours are regionally based making for relatively short travel days, focused sightseeing and some time for exploring on your own.  Our tours are arranged so there are two nights in each destination which allows one to establish some “roots” in the locale and settle into the customs and culture. We include at least half your dinners served at some of my favorite restaurants offering authentic and gourmet local menus.  Breakfast is included daily at our hotels.  Our hotels are top quality properties, usually 4-stars or better, designed for Europeans and situated right in the heart of our destinations.  Some are small family-run properties while others are larger European chain hotels and resorts.  Our tours are all-inclusive meaning you’ll never be burdened with optional tours, added costs and nickel-and-dime add-ons. Finally, all tips are included… for everything!  Our advertised price is the price you pay, period!       

River Cruising

River cruising limits your destination choices and sightseeing to locations along or near the river route. My personal experience comes from a recent river cruise on a Viking long-ship cruising from Budapest to Passau in seven days. The boat is set up with 95 staterooms accommodating up to 190 passengers.  I’ve described the ship’s features in detail in a previous article which you can read here.  Every passenger, save a couple of Canadians and a couple of Aussies, were 100% USA Americans.  The ship’s crew all spoke perfect English and it was the language of the ship.  Many passengers were on their second, third or more Viking cruise.  The Viking company does very well with their targeted marketing to Americans ages 60 and beyond. 

Unpacking only once is definitely the best benefit of cruising. The stateroom was well planned with closets and drawers to hold your stuff and space under the bed to store empty suitcases.  The bath was small, but well-planned, modern and bright.  All meals were included.  A bountiful breakfast buffet, table service or buffet lunch and seated three and four-course dinners.  BUT, the meals were all heavily slanted to American tastes, ideas and portions.  There was one night we had a traditional Austrian buffet dinner featuring sausage, pork knuckle, pretzels, cheese, sauerkraut and all the fixings.  

There was organized sightseeing offered every day.  These included short coach and walking tours with local guides followed by some free time on your own… although often, this free time was limited due to having to go back to the ship for a meal or castoff.  I felt it was necessary to eat all my meals aboard ship because I had paid for them.  Dining on the ship certainly was a choice I made, although I think most of the folks did the same.  Getting back to sightseeing, there were optional tours offered every day and with this option came an added cost ($79-$150 per tour) and an investment of time away from the port of call.  The guided tours were mostly informative, led by a local professional guide with a placard “lollipop” that we were to seek out and follow. The group usually consisted of 30 to 40 cruisers.

It was a well-known fact that tips were not included for any portion of the tour.  Our pre-tour information included suggested tip amounts for drivers, local guides, ship’s crew and the tour director. This was heavily reinforced at our ship-wide meeting at the beginning and end of the tour.  Additionally, envelopes were placed in our rooms on our last night as a final reminder.  On top of it all, we were encouraged to give additional tips to members of the crew who serve you well.  For me and Charlotte, the suggested and optional tips added up to €360 above and beyond the cost of our tour.     

Wrapping it Up

Cost is the final factor to consider. I calculated that our Viking cruise cost us $3800 per person, plus coach airfare of $1400 per seat.  European coach tour prices vary widely depending on the size and services, however, my Exploring Europe small group tours beat Viking by almost $1000 for our 7-9 day tours.  Although, I must mention that our prices do not include lunches, a few dinners and drinks.  Check out all my European tours here at my website. Again, the two travel styles cannot be equally compared, however, I have given you my exact cost for a dollar-to-dollar comparison, so you be the judge.

A European river cruise and a European land tour, especially the European tours I offer, vary widely.  The two are totally different travel experiences designed for two types of travelers… those seeking cultural immersion and an authentic real-life and local experience, and those desiring the comforts of home punctuated with short guided excursions out to see the sights.  I am glad I traveled with Viking. They do a fantastic job with customer service and the boat and accommodations were top notch.  I enjoyed the down time and leisurely pace, however, I very quickly realized it would be my only European river cruise.  I am glad I chose the route from Budapest to Passau because it allowed me to see some sights along the river I had never visited.

To wrap it up, floating down that river with two hundred people in an “American bubble” is not my idea of experiencing Europe. I am a traveler, one who enjoys planning and exploring on my own or with a small group of like-minded people. Armed with information and an adventurous spirit, there is a whole world out there to explore. Get out of your comfort zone and GO!


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Do you want to learn more about traveling to Europe? There is a wealth of information and special discount pricing on my tours at

David McGuffin is Founder and CEO of David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc., based in Middleburg, Florida. You can connect with him on  Twitter,  Facebook,  Google+,  LinkedIn and YouTube. David spends his time in Europe organizing and leading small group and independent tours to European destinations. In business since 2001, David has provided exceptional travel opportunities to several thousand satisfied customers. You can find out more about David and his European tours at his website,

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