I keep visiting Balaton in the off season; my first visit was in September 2003, my second in mid-May 2010. Balaton can be windy at the best of times and storms can close in rapidly. Having not been able to hit the water first time round, I didn’t want to miss out the second time.
Fortunately in May boat trips were running from Keszthely and even though the water looked a little choppy I was determined to set sail. There were two boat berthed alongside the pier but there was nobody around but we found an old guy selling tickets from a little wooden cabin near the entrance to the esplanade. We booked for the next sailing and paid up in advance. We were told to go to the pier ten minutes before the sail time but when we did nobody turned up. After fifteen minutes we went back to the ticket seller who told us that they hadn’t had enough customers and that we could sail on the next trip. We said we’d go for lunch and return for that trip.
There’s a collection of cafes, kebab joints and bars as well as the usual tacky souvenir stalls in the park by the lakeside. We picked one out but the ticket seller was letting the owner know he’d brought us there himself; no doubt there’d be a drink with his name on it later that day.
After a quick lunch we were back at the pier waiting to board. There were a few customers waiting to sail but the crew made no moves to let us on board until one of them received a phone-call, presumably from the coach party of Austrian tourists who arrived a few minutes later, and it was all hands to the decks. We sailed on the 'Helka' which is described as a 'nostalgia boat': I wasn't sure what was so nostalgic about it but some digging on my return home unearthed some information tthat claimed that the two boats that sail from Keszthely are the oldest still working on Balaton.
Our round trip was due to last an hour. We had hoped to sit up on the deck but it proved too windy and within a couple of minutes we had gone into the cabin to warm up. The cabin was crowded and we had to take seats that didn’t give very good views of the shore. It didn’t help that we were going out towards the middle of the lake rather than staying closer to the shore. Then there was the weather which was getting more and more grey by the minute.
The boat had a bar but we didn’t bother with a drink. We were feeling a bit disillusioned with the whole thing. We might have had a better experience in finer weather; unless it’s clear or at least not very busy I wouldn’t bother with this trip. We really got to see so little.
Tickets for adults cost HUF 1300, and for children HUF 600.
Trips leave daily at 11.00, 13.00 and 15.00 (assuming they do leave). At weekends in summer there are additional trips at 17.00.