In order to celebrate a milestone birthday year with my husband, I chose a Danube River cruise. I love the fact that the ships carry less than 200 passengers, there are no inside cabins, the service is top-notch, and almost every day you wake up to a different town just outside your window.

After much research, we elected to go with Emerald Waterways. The clincher was a special on at the time that included airfare plus €100 spending money per person. Emerald is relatively new to the river cruising business so the ships are pretty new and innovative. The Panorama Balcony rooms feature an indoor balcony beside a huge picture window that drops down halfway at the touch of a button. At the back of the ship is a pool with a sunroof that doubles as a movie theatre in the evenings. The floor of the pool raises up flush with the deck, and after a quick mop and dry, a screen drops down, and voila! There is also a bar/lounge, a restaurant, a putting green on the huge sundeck, an exercise room, bikes for use when docked, and most importantly, fantastic 24-hour serve-yourself coffee/espresso machines.

We embarked in Nuremberg, Germany but didn’t see anything of the city, unfortunately. Check in was smooth and we received fobs and scanner tags for our cabin door and checking on and off the ship respectively. Our room was surprisingly large with lots of storage space and a very comfy queen-sized bed with the European style double duvets so you don’t have to fight over the blankets. Large bottles of water (still and sparkling) were replenished daily.

Our Cabin on the Emerald Sky

Our Cabin on the Emerald Sky

The evening was spent cruising the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal and we went through many locks. We used our €100 credit towards the Premium Drink Package and never looked back. After the first day, the staff knows what’s what and you never have to sign for anything.

Regensburg, Germany

We continued to cruise through the morning of the second day until we were on the actual Danube River. There was a special Bavarian lunch on board and we docked in Regensburg around 2 pm. Our walking tour, which was included in the cruise, covered the medieval city center – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and some of the surrounding town.

The remains of a 2000-year-old Roman fort still stand in Regensburg. There is also a medieval stone bridge that spans the Danube; knights of the 2nd and 3rd crusades crossed here. Many medieval buildings survived the bombings of WWII and a slow economic recovery after the war saved many others as they weren’t torn down to make way for new buildings. Our walking tour concluded outside the 13th century Regensburg Cathedral, a beautiful twin-spired church.

We wandered on our own after the tour and sampled sausages from perhaps the oldest continuously open restaurant in the world, the Historische Wurstküche (Historic Sausage Kitchen). It’s been open and slinging sausages for almost 900 years.

Back on board the ship, we were treated to an authentic Bavarian band in the lounge followed by the Captain’s Welcome Reception and Dinner.

Passau, Germany and Linz, Austria

Passau lies at the confluence of three rivers, the Danube, the Inn, and the Ilz, which makes it very prone to flooding. People tend to avoid living on the ground floor of their homes as they never know when things are going to get wet.

Our walking tour took us through this beautiful town ended at the gorgeous St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It houses the largest cathedral organ in the world with 17,774 pipes.

We had to be back on the ship by 10:30 am as we had quite a ways to go to Linz, Austria. This stretch of the Danube is sparsely inhabited as the hills drop down sharply to the water, but it made for a wonderful afternoon of cruising and relaxing on the sun deck.

We arrived in Linz by 5:30 in the afternoon and had about an hour to look about before getting back to the ship for dinner. We could have stayed in Linz and found dinner there but there was a street performer’s festival happening and it was very crowded. We stayed to watch a few performances in the main square are wandered some side streets to admire this pretty city, the third largest in Austria.

Melk and Dürnstein, Austria

The crown jewel of Melk, Austria is the Melk Abbey. Founded in 1089, it’s a sprawling place with several courtyards, the abbey itself, and also a co-ed private school. Our guide was a former student at the school and took us through the public areas and told us all about the history of the place and about its famed library. We were also able to catch a magnificent choir ending a service in the church.

We then returned to the ship to cruise the Wachau Valley to Dϋrnstein, Austria. Some of our shipmates did a bike tour from Melk to Dürnstein, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) away. We opted to stay on board and admire the scenery in the Wachau Valley. Famed for its apricots, the Wachau is the epicenter for all things apricot. Upon arriving in Dürnstein around 2:30, we had an apricot tasting in the lounge that included schnapps, jam, chutney, bbq sauce, and chocolate covered fruit.

Dürnstein is a small, pretty town, named for the castle (now in ruins) that overlooks the area. Its claim to fame is that King Richard the Lionheart was held there by the Duke of Austria during the Third Crusade. It was destroyed by the armies of the Swedish Empire in 1645.

Dürnstein

Dürnstein

My husband decided to hike up to the castle ruins with a group while I decided to stay on board and relax on the sun deck.

The crew show was that evening. A not-to-be-missed, awkward, funny, spectacle.

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria:, the city of music, city of dreams. A liveable, prosperous, beautiful city.

We started the day with a bus tour (included with our cruise) of the Ringstrasse, the road that encircles the city core. It’s lined with stunning architecture, monuments, and parks. After the bus tour, we had a walking tour through the pedestrian areas that make up much of the core, learning about the city as we went along.

Once on our own, we made our way to a famous Viennese coffee house, Café Central and partook of some of their wonderful pastries and coffee. Afterward, we walked back to St. Stephen’s Cathedral as it started to rain. We found that due to the rain almost no one wanted to go up the 60 meters to the viewing platform atop the south tower, so we had it all to ourselves. St. Stephen’s is renowned for its steep patterned roof, made with glazed tiles – 230,000 of them.

St Stephen’s Cathedral Roof in Vienna

St Stephen’s Cathedral Roof in Vienna

We took a shuttle back to the ship for dinner and then made our way back into the city for the only extra that we paid for the whole trip. About 50 of us hopped on buses and went to the Palais Lobkowitz for a private concert. Eight musicians and a tenor and a soprano gave us a delightful hour to remember.

Once back on the ship, the kitchen crew was serving a late snack of local goulash soup in the lounge. It was the perfect topper for a great day in Vienna.

Bratislava, Slovakia

We met our guides right outside the ship in Bratislava, the capital and largest city of Slovakia. We toured the old town starting with Hviezdoslav Square, an area that has been part of the city for 1,000 years. The old town is home to embassies, monuments, churches, cultural buildings, bars, and restaurants. Narrow, stone-paved streets give way to smaller squares with wonderful sculptures here and there. It’s a charming city.

After lunch, which we had back on the ship, we were back on some buses to head out to the countryside. After about an hour of travel, we were dropped off in batches of ten to visit with a local family. Our hostess gave us a tour of her property, including a large orchard, garden, and vineyard, and then served us coffee and cake on her patio and answered questions while our guide gave a running translation.

Back on the ship, we had the Captain’s Farewell Reception and Dinner even though we would be on the ship one more evening. They have it the second to last evening as the last night is very busy with packing and disembarkation plans.

Budapest, Hungary

The last full day of our river cruise was spent in Budapest. We docked on the Buda side and hopped on buses for a tour around the city. For those who don’t know, Buda and Pest used to be two separate cities on either side of the Danube. They became Budapest in 1873.

Hungarian Parliament Buildings in Budapest

Hungarian Parliament Buildings in Budapest

We started in the Buda hills on the east side of the city and went up to the towering Liberty Statue on the Gellért Hill. We then crossed the Danube and saw a great deal of the city along beautiful Andrassy Avenue on our way to Heroes Square next to the City Park. We spent some time here admiring the monuments and history of the area until we got back on the buses and crossed over the Danube again to the Buda side to see the Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church. Fisherman’s Bastion has one of the best views of the Hungarian Parliament buildings from the Buda side of the Danube.

Hungarian Parliament Buildings by Day in Budapest

Hungarian Parliament Buildings by Day in Budapest

After exploring on our own for a while back on the Pest side we returned to the ship for dinner and an evening cruise of the Budapest waterfront. At night the Parliament Buildings are lit up and present a spectacular sight.

Pros and Cons of a River Cruise

Pros:

Almost everything is included. Tours, meals, wine and beer with lunch and dinner, and gratuities.
Service is excellent. The lounge staff, restaurant staff, housekeeping, desk staff, and excursion staff, all were wonderful.
You don’t have to unpack and haul your luggage to every town. You stay in one place and your hotel moves you.

Con:

The only con I can think of is that you may not spend as much time in each place as you would like. I could have used several days in Vienna, but that would have meant missing another city. We did end up staying another two nights in Budapest on our own after the cruise ended, and that was great.

The Emerald Sky

The Emerald Sky

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Theresa Ladner

Theresa Ladner

FTB Member

Theresa is a mostly stay-at-home mom who drags her husband off traveling as much as possible. When she’s not traveling or momming, she likes to write, experiment with cookery, and speak about herself in the third person. Find her at Adventures in Middle Aged Travel. You can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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