River cruises popular for 2013Published 12:27am Sunday, January 6, 2013
Last month, I had the opportunity to sail aboard Uniworld’s River Beatrice on a European Christmas Markets cruise.
We sailed from Budapest, Hungary, on the Danube River into the heart of central Europe. I’ve sailed on many cruise ships and bodies of water but this was my first experience on the blue Danube. After this sailing, I’m an even bigger enthusiast of river cruise-touring!
River touring combines the land and cruise features into one seamless vacation. I unpacked only once yet visited four countries, three capital cities and nine Christmas markets.
All of this was accomplished at a refined leisurely pace. No packing, unpacking, on and off of the bus as you can experience on many multi-country land based tours.
My itinerary included four countries-Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany. Each port stop offered unique sights along with festive holiday markets.
From the large Christmas Markets of Vienna to the more intimate Christmas Markets of Bratislava, Passau, and Salzburg or Linz-each combines timeless traditions with elegant pageantry.
My companions and I enjoyed the cheery sight of holiday décor and the merry sounds of the holiday season both onboard and ashore.
This was a great time of the year to take in all the glory and magic of the season in grand European style as you cruise along the Danube during this festive time of the year.
Be sure to spend a night or two prior to your cruise in Budapest. Besides getting acclimated to a new time zone, this enables you to visit many worthwhile sites such as Heroes’ Square, St. Stephens Basilica, the Royal Palace and much more.
Now back to the boat-there were so many pluses: No river motion, only having to unpack once, and quick access to the center of most towns, fewer people onboard (about 150), included shore excursions, and complimentary wine and beer served with lunch and dinner.
The dining was superb! Meals were gourmet quality with many local dishes and flavors plus your typical American fare was also available.
Many local tours were included in our cruise price as was the onboard education and enrichment programs. One evening over tea and cakes in the lounge the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph and his lovely wife “Sissy” joined us for a lively chat.
One thing I enjoy is meeting new people and this type of cruising offers that opportunity. The vessel had open dining which allows passengers to sit with whomever they choose each day at mealtime.
On this cruise, passengers were from Australia, the U.K., Canada, and the U.S. All were experienced travelers and had researched river cruising before choosing Uniworld. For many, it was their first river cruise. Everyone was more than satisfied at the end of our journey.
River cruises are active vacations. Passengers were up early to partake of the included shore excursions, which left about 8:30 a.m.
Most were half-day tours and the rest of the time was ours to explore. In order to see most towns, there is a lot of walking, much of it over cobblestone and hilly streets. These ports would not be suitable for wheelchair passengers.
In addition, sometimes riverboats are parked next to each other, which require walking through another ship to reach the shore. But the good news is that the ships generally dock in the city center meaning you only have a short stroll to the heart of the destination.
The River Beatrice is only a few years old but sparkles like new! There’s original art (Matisse, Chagall and Picasso) and the staterooms are comfortable, with more-than-adequate storage, hair dryers and personal safes.
The staff, especially our cruise manager, Kristen, was always available with suggestions for optional tours or places to shop. All our shore excursions went smoothly and Kristen made them seem effortless, although obviously a lot of thought and planning went into each one.
One of my most enjoyable ports was Krems nestled at the foot of the Alps in the Austrian wine country.
It’s located in the scenic Wachau Valley and looked like a fairy tale that Disney would build. It was a quaint town to stroll through sampling some of the many apricot-laden pastries and local wines that are a specialty.
Another highlight was visiting Vienna and having coffee and Sachertorte at Café Demel (an old-world café dating back about 225 years).
Visiting the home of Mozart, an afternoon visit to Schonbrunn Palace and an evening Mozart/Strauss concert rounded out our visit.
Included in the port call at Linz was a full day tour of Salzburg. We walked through a charming old town, saw the beautiful Mirabellgarten (featured in the Sound of Music), enjoyed the bustling Old Market and had plenty of time to explore on our own.
The Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers come together in Passau. Our guide walked us to the ornate, baroque St. Stephan’s Cathedral (where we enjoyed an organ concert played on the world’s largest church organ) then on to a gingerbread bakery where we learned the craft of baking those tasty treats. There was plenty of time to browse the Christmas market stalls and enjoy a glass of “gluh” (hot mulled spice) wine.
From Passau we were transferred to Munich for our return flights. I left my “Danube Christmas Markets” river cruise with wonderful memories of a river that has reflected much of Europe’s history and heritage.
I’m looking forward to embarking on another river cruise further exploration. The problem is to narrow it down to where and when to go! Spain, Portugal, the south of France, Italy, Imperial Russia, tulip time in Holland and Germany these are a few of the river touring options on the grand rivers of the Old World!
In addition to Europe you’ll discover river cruising in Asia, North and South America. Feel free to contact me if you want to know more about river cruising! It is one of the hottest travel products for 2013 and I sold on the value of these journeys.
Happy New Year’s, too!
Got travel? E-mail Steve Call at the firstname.lastname@example.org or dial 740.550.9540.