The Legendary Danube River Cruise Experience
Danube River Cruise map
In July of 2011, my husband Steve and I experienced one of the most popular river cruise itineraries, the 7 Night, Legendary Danube, with Avalon Waterways, cruising from Nuremberg to Budapest. This was an absolutely fabulous experience and I want to share it with you. Our port stops included Regensburg, Germany, Passau & Melk, Austria with overnights in Nuremberg, Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungary.
We took advantage of the opportunity to extend our stay for 3 nights in Prague before the cruise and 2 extra nights in Budapest at the end. While I have been to Germany several times, I had not had the opportunity to visit Eastern Europe before and all of the destinations were a wonderful surprise!
The capital and largest city in the Czech Republic, dates back 1100 years. The historic center has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Prague served as the political, cultural and economic center of Eastern Europe and has a fascinating history. Much of the city has survived intact and offers some of the most varied and pristine examples of historic architecture and monuments in the world.
The west bank of the city is dominated by the Prague Castle complex which began construction in the late 800’s. It is listed as the largest ancient castle in the world and is where the Kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperors and the presidents of the Czech Republic have had their offices. Other areas of interest are the Old Town, the Jewish Quarter, the Lesser Town and the New Town with Wenceslas Square. Each area has at least a dozen famous sites to visit. Prague has a simple and efficient underground train system. We chose a hotel just outside the city center and across the street from a train station, which made getting around very easy.
Our first afternoon we took the train and wandered down to the Old Town Square area, in the center of Old Prague, which is filled with fabulous buildings and monuments most notably the Church of Our Lady before Tyn and the Town Hall Tower, hosting the infamous Astronomical Clock.
The Astronomical Clock was built in 1410, making it the 3rd oldest astronomical clock in the world and the only one of those still working. In addition to the time of day, it shows the movement of the sun, phases of the moon, the equinoxes, the seasons, the days and the zodiac. On the hour, crowds gather to watch the Trumpeter at the top of the tower announce the beginning of the show. On each side of the clock, figures representing Vanity and Greed on the left and Death and Pleasure on the right are set in motion. The golden rooster crows, the two doors above the clock open, and the 12 apostles rotate and look out the windows. It is truly spectacular to watch. We joined the crowd to watch the first time, and then realized that the café just opposite the clock offered a perfect view, elevated just above the heads of the crowd. We decided to take an outside table, try some local fare & Czech beer and wait for the next show and a much better photo op. The rest of the afternoon we explored more of Old Town and walked over to the Jewish Quarter. While it was too late to get into the famous Jewish Cemetery, we peeked in and enjoyed the interesting architecture of the neighborhood.
The next morning we took a city tour, which included all the highlights, including an overview of the Castle Complex and a cruise on the Vltava River. I recommend taking a guided tour, as the rich history lesson brings the castle and the city to life. We met a couple who was staying at our hotel and they became our Prague exploration buddies. After the tour, we took off to walk around the famous Wenceslas Square and the visit the National Museum. We were lucky with our timing, as the National Museum closed for renovation a few days later and wouldn’t be open again until late 2018.
The next day the four of us went back up to the Castle Complex for a more in-depth exploration and visited the interior of St. Vitus Cathedral, the interior of the old castle and a trip down the Golden Lane, tiny houses built along the castle wall that were originally built to house the castle guards. The lane was recently restored and now houses gift shops and museums. We had lunch at a very nice restaurant on the castle grounds, affording a fabulous view of Prague from the hilltop. We then walked down the hill to explore the Lesser Town area below, which originally housed all the workers and tradesmen that supported the castle.
The day before, we made reservations for a concert in the stunning Estates Theater in which Mozart performed. We attended a 'Mozartissimo' concert featuring well known Mozart opera pieces with the musicians and actors in period costume. Another option would be to see Don Giovanni performed at the National Marionette Theater. An evening of theater and a nice Italian meal out with our new friends made for a perfect end to our Prague adventure. There is plenty to see in Prague in 3 or more days, be sure to put this city on your 'Bucket List'.
The next morning was the day before our cruise. We enjoyed a relaxing motor coach ride from Prague to Nuremberg, where our cruise would start, to have extra time to explore our embarkation city. We stayed at a hotel across the street from the old city walls and spent a day exploring this wonderfully restored town with its gothic churches, elegant patrician houses and the castle, which dates back to 1105. We especially enjoyed the German National Museum, the largest museum of cultural history in Germany and one of the most outstanding in the world. It holds extensive collections of art, scientific instruments, toys, musical instruments, armor and weaponry and decorative arts spanning prehistoric to modern times. Along the way, we stopped to sample the local tiny bratwurst and large pilsners and to explore the shops full of the local specialties which include toys, metal working and Lubkuchen (a traditional German Christmas treat, somewhat resembling gingerbread).
Our Cruise Begins
Day 1 – Embark in Nuremberg
The next day around 4 pm we took a cab to the 'port', boarded our ship & unpacked (once!) Our stateroom, complete with a lovely French Balcony, was quite spacious at 172 sq ft. with plenty of room to store all our things. We then headed to the Welcome Reception where the Captain introduced the Crew and we met Dragan our Cruise Director (from Vienna) and our fellow travelers. There was a good mix of ages, about half baby boomers, one third older and a few younger. Most were Americans, but there were many from the UK and Canada and an assortment of others from all over the world. As there are only 190 or less guests on a river cruise, there is one seating for dinner. There was open seating, so we tried to find someone new to eat with at every meal.
This was the basic daily schedule: Continental Breakfast was offered for early risers, followed by a full Champagne breakfast buffet at 8:15 (or earlier, depending on the plans for the day) and a Late Riser Breakfast from 9-10 am. A lunch buffet was served around noon, Happy Hour from 6-7 and a full service dinner, with complementary wine, followed around 7 pm. After dinner we enjoyed excellent local entertainment in the lounge for about 90 minutes followed by music and dancing.
Every day, we received a newsletter in our stateroom outlining the following day’s activities, with maps and descriptions of sites of interest for the cities we would be visiting. We were even given a 'Memory' binder, so we could keep all of the information together to refer back to after the cruise. Most days there was an included excursion and we had headsets so we could hear the tour guide clearly. The guests were divided into smaller groups, including an 'Easy Walker' group. We also did the optional excursions that were offered (extra charge) and all were not to be missed! Each afternoon, there was a short 'port talk' with Dragan, so we would know what to expect the next day.
We visited so many cities and sites during our week long cruise, that the best way to describe everything will be to include our day-by-day itinerary.
Day 2 – Nuremberg
The included excursion was a city tour, and as we had already explored the city we selected the Optional Excursion of Nazi Trials and Rally Grounds – Our guide explained the complex background of the war crime trials in light of the Nazi ideology and a visit to the related historic sites, including the Parade Grounds & Nazi Museum. The Nazi Museum is very well done and really helps one to understand how events led to Hitler’s rise to power that culminated in WW II. Standing on the Parade Grounds brought to mind old movies showing the enormous gatherings of Germans at this site, you could almost hear the roar of the crowd amongst the ruins of the amphitheater. This was a very fascinating tour.
Day 3 – Regensburg
We elected to do the morning Optional Excursion-Danube Gorge & Weltenburg Abbey – where we experienced a picturesque boat journey through this narrow gorge and a visit to the Weltenburg Abbey, home to the oldest beer of Bavaria (sample included).
After lunch on the ship, we set out for the Included Walking Tour of Regensburg - Architectural highlights included on the tour are the Old Town Hall, St. Peter’s Cathedral and the Porta Pretoria—gates to an ancient Roman fort built in 179 AD. The city is the capital of Upper Palatinate, a bustling university town, and one of Bavaria’s cultural centers. Also included was a visit to Wurstkuchl, which claims to be the oldest 'fried sausage kitchen' in Germany, to enjoy beer and sausage at the foot of Steinernde Brucke, the oldest medieval stone bridge of its kind (1135) in Germany.
Back on the ship in the late afternoon, we had a Port Talk with Dragan, followed by a beer tasting in the lounge before dinner, as we headed out for an evening of cruising.
Day 4 – Passau, Germany to Linz, Austria
Today there were two optional excursions that most of us chose, either a full day in 'Salzburg & Sound of Music Tour '(with Austrian Lakes) or 'Cesky Krumlov, Ducal Seat in Bohemia.' The included excursion was a walking tour of Passau and free time in Linz.
We chose the full day tour to Salzburg which met the ship in Linz on our return. Salzburg is the original home of Mozart and the setting of many scenes from the Sound of Music. After a tour of the extremely picturesque town, we took the cable car up to the Hohensalzburg, a splendid fortress which reached its final form in the early 1500’s, and from which there are breathtaking views of the city below. We had free time to explore the city and do some shopping before we re-joined our group and headed to the Austrian Lakes region. We stopped along the road for a photo op of several lakes from high on a mountain, then continued on to visit a charming town and the church in which the wedding scene from Sound of Music was filmed.
Day 5 – Melk to Vienna, Austria
This morning starts with a visit to the magnificent Melk Abbey located at the beginning of the scenic Wachau valley. This monastery epitomizes the extravagance of the Baroque style and represents one of the supreme examples of 18th century building. (included tour)
After the Abbey, we all headed back to the ship and up to the Sun Deck, where we cruised thru the Wachau Valley, the most beautiful stretch of the Danube, on our way to Vienna. Dragan gave us an informative presentation as we cruise along, and we all took many, many photos, trying to capture the essence of our surroundings. (Pictures may be worth 1000 words, but there is nothing to replace seeing it in person)
That night we arrived in Vienna and we had a buffet dinner, so those of us who were interested could take in an optional Royal Waltz Concert, Sound of Vienna by the Salonorchester Alt Wien at the elegant Kursalon Wien built in 1865, in Italian renaissance style. Hearing this excellent orchestra and the talent of the singers and dancers, will remain and unforgettable experience for us. A very special night indeed.
Day 6 – Vienna
We started our day with the included Vienna City Tour, an overview by coach and a walking tour of the old town, including the interior of the awe-inspiring, gothic St. Stephen’s cathedral, known as Stephansdom, dating from 1165. Once the center of the mighty Habsburg Empire, Austria’s capital has much to offer: lavish Hofburg Palace, the impressive Vienna Opera House, the majestic Ring Boulevard to name just a few of the sights. You do not rush through Vienna; you waltz, taking your time to savor each classic sight and sound. Shop in the Kärntnerstrasse and enjoy Sachertorte or Apfelstrudel in a neighborhood café.
We had some free time to explore on our own before we headed back to the ship for lunch. That afternoon, we headed out on the optional excursion to Schonbrunn Imperial Residence & Bakery, which was originally designed to surpass Versailles. The interior & decor is largely intact, thanks to the British soldiers that made sure the occupying Russians left empty handed when they were forced out. Schonbrunn and the surrounding gardens are not to be missed! No trip to Schonbrunn would be complete without a stop in the bakery, where we snacked on freshly baked traditional apple strudel and Viennese coffee before heading back to the ship. Vienna is a magnificent city and is somewhat spread out. The buildings are huge and close together which makes it hard to get good amateur photographs (I bought the book) It would take many days to explore Vienna fully, so you have a great excuse for a return trip!
Day 7 – Budapest
This morning as we cruised into Budapest, we joined Dragan on the Sun Deck for an orientation on Budapest from the Danube. Budapest is Eastern Europe’s liveliest and most cosmopolitan metropolis. Seven bridges, including the famous Chain and Elisabeth Bridges, connect ancient Buda on the right bank with Pest on the left. After some free time, we had an included City Tour, both from a coach and on foot. We saw many sights including a photo stop at Hero’s Square & the Museum of Fine Art, before we head up to the massive hilltop castle complex with Fisherman’s Bastion and the Matthias Church. I will go into more detail on Budapest later, as we stayed an extra two nights to more fully explore this fabulous city. After dinner, we took the optional Budapest City Lights tour, which was spectacular! We had great views of the city from the Buda Castle. Everything is lit up and just beautiful at night!
Day 8 – Disembark in Budapest
Today was a bit of a sad day, as we said good-bye to all of our new friends and our river cruise came to a close. River Cruising is without a doubt the easiest, most comfortable and comprehensive way to see the extraordinary cities and sights located within the interior of many countries. We will definitely plan to do ALL available itineraries in the future.
As much as we hated for our cruise to end, we still had two days in Budapest ahead, so we had the concierge call us a cab and we set out on our own.
More on Budapest
The largest city in Hungary, modern day Budapest, was created in 1873 by merging 3 cities, Buda and Óbuda (Ancient Buda) on the west bank, and Pest on the east bank of the Danube. A World Heritage Site, Budapest is the most beautiful city in central Europe with baroque, neoclassical, eclectic and art nouveau architecture in abundance, including intricately tiled roofs on many buildings. It is brimming with attractions and is a delight both by day and by night.
We had one day and night in Budapest on the cruise, so we had three days total to explore Budapest – just long enough to scratch the surface. We had explored the Buda Castle complex at night and got a good look at all the famous bridges from the ship, so we set out at a fast pace to see the Basilica of St. Stephen, the Great Synagogue and the Hungarian Jewish WW II Memorial. We stopped to try Soproni, a Hungarian beer and local goulash, which is more of a soup than a stew. We returned to Buda Castle during the day for photo ops of the Pest side from the hill and to go inside the 700 year old Matthias Church.
On our final day, we decided to slow the pace and spend half the day at the National Museum and half the day at the Szechenyi Thermal Baths, the largest thermal spring complex in Europe.
I highly recommend you take the time to visit The Hungarian National Museum, one of the best museums we have ever been in, and we are museum people! The interior of the building itself is a piece of art. We started with the Paleolithic Age circa 400 BC in Hungary and went all the way to the 1990. We wandered over to the nearby Central Market Hall, a huge building near the river, filled with local food and craft specialties, as well as lots of touristy gift items. Don’t forget to stock up on Hungarian Paprika while you are there! There are two kinds, sweet and hot. We strolled along beautiful boulevards, making our way towards the river, stopping in shops and decided it was time to try another Hungarian brew (it was very hot that day!). We ordered our usual large beer (.5 liter) and they brought two HUGE liter sized mugs, so we decided to have lunch, since we would be drinking beer for a while.
After lunch we caught a cab to the Szechenyi Baths & Spa in the City Park, a very large urban recreation area with museums, lakes and the Budapest Zoo. Built in 1913 in Neo-baroque style, the Baths have 3 outdoor and 12 indoor pools of varying temperatures, feed by two thermal springs. We chose this Bath over the also famous Gellert Bath, because all of the pools are co-ed. The hot spring contains a significant amount of fluoride and metabolic acid, along with calcium, magnesium, hydro-carbonate, sodium, and sulphate, which are said to be effective to cure degenerative illnesses of joints, as well as chronic and semi-acute arthritis. There is an entrance fee (get a ticket in advance from your hotel) and you can rent bathing suits and towels, but we brought our own. I do recommend renting lounge chairs if you plan to spend some time relaxing there. You can also take advantage of the fitness center and full service spa, with a wide variety of massages and treatments available for an extra charge. We spent the afternoon trying out the many pools, with temperatures from cold to hot with most in the comfortable middle. It is an absolutely beautiful building and a unique experience.
After a few hours at the Baths, we decided to explore some of the 302 acres of City Park, which dates back to the 1200’s and was developed into a public park in the mid 1700’s. It is a World Heritage site in its own right, with a treasure trove within, including the Millennium Monument adjacent to the Palace of Fine Art, the Vajdahunyad Castle, the Zoo and many other attractions. We walked around the City Park Pond and viewed a floating art exhibit, peeked into the Castle which was hosting a private function and followed the paths through the forest until we reached an exit and saw a local restaurant named Paprika, which seemed like the perfect place to have our last meal in Budapest. (Very unique interior) I ordered the spicy paprika chicken pasta and learned the difference between sweet (what we have in the US) and hot paprika! The Soproni beer was the perfect antidote to cool off my scalded palate.
Our two week discovery tour of Eastern Europe via River Cruise was coming to a close. We had explored almost a dozen incredible cities at leisure from the comfort of our ship and decided River Cruising was the way to go! The included and optional tours covered all the most important sites and many tours to special places and events we would not have been able to arrange on our own. We made many new friends and gained a few pounds. I highly recommend River Cruising and this particular itinerary.
Contact Arrow Discovery Travel to help you find the experience best suited for your party.
Janet Beazley Scraper, ECC, CTP
Seller of Travel Numbers