Viking River Cruises’ Viking Sky

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Not to be caught short in the ship’s prime viewing picture, staterooms boast big windows that on the middle and upper deck open to fresh air. Beds, made up as a double or twins, are outfitted with quality linens and duvets. Ample closet and storage space is at hand along with a thermostat, phone, TV with programming in multiple languages, safe, hairdryer, full-length mirror, fresh fruit, complimentary bottled water, and a compact bathroom with shower. Housekeeping personnel, like the rest of the ship’s English-speaking European staff, are notably friendly and efficient.

The fare includes a guided walking tour at every stop, and Viking excels at this. Local guides leading groups on Viking Sky’s Munich-to-Budapest journey were uniformly personable, knowledgable, and easily comprehended. To be sure no one misses the commentary, each cruiser is outfitted with an audio headset. While most passengers participate in and clearly relish the walking tours, it should be noted that the jaunts are lengthy and typically cover some cobblestoned terrain. Clients with ambulatory difficulties could be challenged. Those who prefer to proceed at their own pace should be reminded to make a pre-stroll stop at the tour desk each morning. It stocks a daily supply of maps, local backgrounders, and tips on visiting attractions for on-your-own explorations—as well as a daily sheet of news for each country represented aboard. (In this case, cruisers were mainly Americans, with a smattering of Canadians, Britons, and Australians.)

The hands-down winner in the walking tour sweepstakes was the included all-day excursion to Salzburg. “The Sound of Music,” the enduring family movie favorite that marked its 45th anniversary in 2010, was filmed here, causing the city’s captivating Old Town to feel familiar even to first-time visitors. Then there’s Salzburg’s most renowned native son, Mozart. Ample free time is allowed to visit the birthplace museum and other key attractions, and to lunch in an inviting cafe.

In addition to the included guided ambles, several optional tours are scheduled at varying prices. The hottest lure on the optional list was a classical concert in breathtaking Vienna, staged in a handsome palace with an orchestra, opera singers and ballet dancers (57 euros; approximately $75). The magnificent waltz capital, one of the world’s most elegant and cultured cities, has its own walking tour, of course. Happily, free time is also allowed here to sample Austrian treasures, one of which has to be Hotel Sacher’s famed chocolate-bliss gem, the Sacher Torte.

Canny clients will want to sign up for a pre- or post-cruise extension. Or both. On this itinerary the intriguing options were Prague—a 4-day visit that encompasses a city tour plus a Viking host on hand to help plan on-your-own sightseeing—and a 2-day Budapest stay, also with a Viking host to advise and assist.

On Nov. 22, 2010, the company staged a keel laying ceremony for its newest jewel, Viking Prestige, sister to Viking Legend. Viking Prestige is set to premiere in Europe in summer 2011. Next up, Viking Emerald is set to make waves in 2011 on the legendary Yangtze River, laying claim to the largest suites in river cruising and a private balcony for every stateroom.

Meanwhile, the delightful Danube Waltz is slated to reprise in 2011 via both Viking Primadonna and Viking Legend, which debuted in 2009. Sailings are scheduled March 19 through Nov.19. EBD 2-for-1 fares start at $2,156 pp, with EBD air deals on the table as well.

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