How many times have you heard this expression: “Size doesn’t matter.”? Well, after a week spent cruising the Danube on a luxurious river ship from Passau to Budapest with my wife, I can honestly say that size definitely does matter.
Before explaining that comment, let me take a moment to make some observations. We’ve been to Europe plenty of times, usually just traveling around on our own by car or train. Frankly, we were tired of all the time spent getting to/from airports and train stations to those places we were truly interested in seeing. When an opportunity to take a river cruise on the Danube came up we jumped at the chance. That was a great decision! The cruise was so much less expensive than our land trips, and we learned how easy and hassle-free a river cruise can be; pack and unpack just once, and it was literally impossible for my wife to get seasick.
Since we didn’t want to go such a long way just for a cruise we opted to purchase a combined cruise/pre-cruise land package of 3 nights in Prague. That was a really smart move on our part because the cruise company handled all the airport and ship transfers, along with a great overview tour of Prague. Our deluxe hotel was smack dab in medieval Old Town and even included breakfast. All we had to worry about was which sights to see first!
A picture perfect city, Prague is incredible. We had a grand time visiting Prague Castle, walking across the historic 14th-century Charles Bridge into Old Town taking in all the vendors and activity and losing track of time while strolling the medieval center looking for a set of Czech crystal goblets. We also made time to stop and enjoy a few of the outdoor cafes and restaurants. If you’re a beer lover like me, well, you’ll think you died and went to heaven. Everything you’ve heard about Czech beer is true. Whatever else you do in Prague, don’t miss out on having a glass or two [or three] of beer (try Budvar or Pilsner Urquell) — you’ll thank me later!
Prague whetted our appetite for the cruise and was the perfect cure for our jet lag. We both agreed that if the 7-night cruise were anything like our time in Prague we were in for a real treat! If you would like to read more about Prague, click HERE to read the current Spotlight article on this romantic and delightful city.
Leaving Prague, we had a beautiful [included], scenic drive/tour to Passau, Germany where we boarded our ship. Passau turned out to be a very pretty city on the banks of the Danube. Being “sweet lovers,” we immediately discovered an incredible pastry shop in the train station of all places; check it out as it's only two blocks from the river. Our cabin in the middle of deck three was very spacious, beautifully furnished and best of all came with a French balcony. All signs pointed to a wonderful river cruise ahead, especially when my wife discovered the plush robes in our stateroom.
The first evening aboard saw us enjoying the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Gala and delicious cuisine. The first day’s cruising took us to Linz, Austria. Linz has a small and fairly well preserved old town, but the main reason for docking in Linz is to take a marvelous, complimentary (Ocean cruise lines, are you listening?) full day guided excursion through the incredible “Sound of Music” city of Salzburg. On our guided tour, we visited several of the spots highlighted in that film and also spent a few hours on our own strolling and shopping along the Getreidegasse, a delightful street filled with quaint and unique shops. We were able to get some great photos standing in front of Mozart’s childhood home located right in the middle of the Getreidegasse. Of course we couldn’t leave without buying that most typical of tourist treats, Mozartkugeln, a dark chocolate nougat surrounding a marzipan center. Delicious! Be sure you get yours at the original shop on the Getreidegasse. It was a beautiful, clear day of about 80°F, and some of our fellow travelers chose to have lunch in one of the many popular restaurants around the main street; for my money though, nothing beat that glass of cold beer and tasty bratwurst in the central square. My wife enjoyed eating outside with the locals, too, because it made us feel as though we were an integral part of the scene.
The next few days of the trip were spent floating downriver towards Budapest. Each day revealed seemingly endless beautiful sights along the river especially when we got to the lush, vineyard-rich Wachau Valley, the heart and soul of Austria’s wine producing regions. I was thankful we had a digital camera as I must have taken 500 shots of this incredible area — words just cannot describe the beauty we found around every bend of the Danube. [By the way, the itinerary we took was Uniworld's “Enchanting Danube.” My wife loved it and so did I! CLICK HERE to view all Danube River sailings and offers.]
The visits to the small towns of Melk and Durnstein were also a favorite part of our trip. After catching our first sight of Melk Abbey all we could do was say “wow”; what a regal and imposing sight. The 900-year old abbey is perched high atop the town and can be seen for miles in each direction. Little Durnstein; well, anyone who leaves this tiny medieval town without a smile on their face just can’t be pleased or satisfied with anything. While you can walk the village in about 15 minutes, you can spend days there sampling award-winning wines from the many shops that line the main street. No charge either for tasting — it’s true! If you’re a history buff like me, you may want to take an hour or so to climb to the top of the Durnstein Castle ruins situated above the town. It was there that Richard the Lion Heart was held captive for a few months on his way back from the Crusades. Not much of the castle is left but the views from the top are spectacular, especially on a sunny day like the one we had.
The last part of our trip was spent in Vienna and Budapest. These are two of the most beautiful capital cities in Europe, combining great food, music and culture. The cruise stayed overnight in Vienna and we had enough time to explore the city on our included, guided half-day excursion; attend a magnificent Mozart and Strauss music recital [also included in our price!] at one of the many concert halls; and to enjoy an evening out on our own. For many of our fellow passengers, Vienna was the highlight of the cruise as this truly world class city has it all: breathtaking buildings, grand boulevards befitting a city which was once the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, museums to satisfy everyone’s tastes, and of course the food. One simply cannot leave Vienna without at least trying its world famous apple strudel, sachertorte and weiner schnitzel.
All too soon it was time to bid Vienna “auf wiedersehen” and say hello to Budapest. Cruising into Budapest in the early morning is a sight to behold. The city stretches for several miles along both banks of the Danube and many of the buildings, such as Parliament and the Castle Hill complex on the Buda side of the river are quite imposing and yet another wonderful photo opportunity. My wife and I had been to Budapest before and time constraints did not allow us to extend our trip but, for anyone going to Budapest we strongly urge you to spend 2 or 3 extra days there; you’ll find it well worth the time. To read more about Budapest, click HERE to read the Port Spotlight article on this extraordinary city.
Our cruise would appeal to anyone, but is particularly appropriate for a first time river cruise. Things we really loved about the cruise: The relaxed and casual atmosphere aboard. Guided, complimentary tours where you never felt rushed. Getting on and off the ship literally in seconds; no crowds to contend with. Bicycling alongside the Danube (have to go back again and do that from town to town). The tiny villages surrounded by lush green hillsides — you really do feel as though you’re in the midst of a storybook tale. The wonderful people aboard ship and on shore in the medieval towns, villages and cities at which we stopped, and the spacious stateroom with all the amenities of a deluxe hotel.
The food — in particular the bountiful breakfast buffet with made-to-order omelets and Belgian waffles, fresh fruit and wonderful local cheeses. Good thing there was an exercise room on board to work off the sinfully rich dinners and desserts. “Fresh” is the key word on the cuisine as most of it is locally sourced and in season. I would be remiss if I did not at least say that dinners were the highlight of each evening. Each dinner was a gastronomic delight, enhanced even more by the delightful selection of complimentary regional wines that we were offered.
I do have to mention one more thing about dining on board. When we sat down to our first lunch and dinner our waiter came by and asked what we would like to drink. Well, having done ocean cruising I was prepared for outrageously priced beer and wine. Were we surprised! All wine, beer, and soft drinks during lunch and dinner were complimentary. And I’m not talking cheap beer or a bad vintage. The wine especially was amazing and selected by the ship’s sommelier from local vineyards of the region we were cruising through. “Are you serious?” I thought to myself; this is incredible. If I needed anything more to push me over from ocean cruising to river cruising, that was it.
Oh, yes... and getting back to the expression: “Size doesn’t matter.” Did I mention there were only about 140 other passengers on board our 338-foot long spacious river cruise ship? I said it in the beginning: size truly does matter. And in this case smaller is much, much better. We’re now looking forward to our next river cruise... the hardest decision will be which one to take! (CLICK HERE to view all Danube River sailings and offers.]
— Doug and Sharon L., Encino, CA
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