My husband Ron and I embarked on our first ever river cruise in August. We travelled with AmaWaterways on a 7 day float from Vilshofen, Germany to Budapest, Hungary. I say “float” because the sailing was so smooth I could hardly tell when we were docked or when we were in motion. This was a great comfort as I once crossed the Atlantic on the SS United States during very bad weather. I spent the entire crossing on deck with other sick-as-a-dog passengers sipping bouillon while wrapped in two layers of blankets. Staying below deck as the ship rolled and tossed was NOT an option! After 45 years of resisting all forms of water travel, I finally succumbed to a river cruise.
It was fabulous.
Prague. We signed up for a three day pre-cruise stay in Prague. What a beautiful city! I thought Vienna would be the highlight of our trip but Prague was far more interesting. Vienna features monumental buildings and a rather confusing street pattern. Prague is a checkerboard of public squares connected by very pedestrian friendly streets.
We took a special interest tour of Terezin a Jewish ghetto created by the Nazi’s. Those Jews who refused to die from starvation were shipped to extermination camps. The visit was emotionally devastating. That night we went to a wonderful concert at the Spanish Synagogue in Prague (there are concerts every night at many different locations). The program ended with Jewish folk songs that helped alleviate the sadness that enveloped us from Terezin.
The river locks. We passed through a dozen or so locks that make the Danube navigable for ships. It was amazing to watch the ship enter a lock (while sipping a coffee macchiato from The Coffee Machine) and observe the river water levels drop by as much as 30 feet. Sailing beneath low bridges was also interesting. All the structures atop the ship collapse to allow the ship to clear low bridge clearances.
The coffee machine aboard ship. The coffee served at meals aboard ship was not very good. No problem. They had a coffee machine in the lounge that was phenomenal. It featured 8 different coffee choices (including straight-up regular, cafe latte and espresso), heated cups and hot chocolate. It was like a Keurig on steroids.
Illumination tour of Budapest. Budapest is coined “the Paris of the East” and it certainly deserves that title. Heavily bombed in World War 2, the city has made a remarkable recovery. At night all the amazing buildings along the Danube are illuminated. Drifting past these structures on a clear summer night was stupendous. We drank wine instead of coffee to toast this spectacular display of lights.
Excellent tour guides. Every day featured a choice of tours, all led by local guides. There were a few so-so guides but for the most part they were excellent. Passionate about their respective towns, they could recount what it was like living in Budapest or Cesky Krumlov (yes, that is a town not a dinner course) before the Russians left in 1989. This personal view of life before and after the communist regime was always interesting.
Living in the lap of luxury. During my college years, I visited Europe on a tight budget. Staying in hostels, eating cheap and travelling by Eurail Pass helped keep costs to $5 per day. Spending 7 days on a luxury cruise ship cost a tad more than $5 per day. But I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed having everything planned out, tour guides all arranged, meals prepared and served, cabins cleaned and bed made. I liked being greeted by clean towels fashioned into animal forms. AmaWaterways provided a complimentary pashmina scarf which I figure, based on what we paid for the cruise, is the single most expensive article of clothing I will ever own.
The Wachau Valley. The Wachau Valley is a beautiful stretch of the Danube in Austria that features picturesque towns, the crumbling remains of castles and terraced vineyards. Ron and I stretched out in deck chairs and enjoyed the view. The Coffee Machine provided us with café lattes.
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?
The cruise definitely surpassed my expectations. Unlike the bus tour of national parks my husband and I enjoyed several years ago, a river cruise avoids the need to pack and unpack at different locations and eliminates long bus rides. I liked having more options in terms of socializing, too. On a bus tour, there are only as many people as bus seats. I liked the larger numbers on a cruise (we sailed with 140 people) because we got to meet many different people.
Sometimes the scheduling got a little too structured for me. I bypassed a castle hike mid-cruise because I just couldn’t handle another guided tour. I am still seeking that perfect vacation that combines the luxury of overnight accommodations found on a cruise ship with the spontaneity and adventure of travelling Europe on $5 per day.
I did not bother upgrading my cell phone so I could use it in Europe. My husband did not even take his. So when my husband missed the bus going back to the ship after a castle hike tour, he had no way to communicate with me or the ship. (This was the one tour I skipped). Fortunately the ship was docked within walking distance (3 miles) so he hoofed it back. Next time we travel to Europe, I am going to make sure we are cell phone ready.
The only other piece of advice I would offer is to study up on the history of the area before the cruise. I wish I had done a cursory review of past events in the countries we visited. My knowledge of the Habsburg Monarchy is pretty weak yet they played a major role in shaping the countries we visited. I made amends by buying several bottles of Frankovka Modra, a red wine supposedly favored by Empress Maria Theresa, the final ruler of the House of Habsburg. Imbibing history is always a pleasure.