The Love Boat on famous river
Legend suggests that the Danube River only looks blue to those in love and soon after boarding the River Beatrice boat (right) in Budapest everyone was seeing blue after falling head over heels for the stunning six-star river cruiser.
Over the following days the beauty of the boat was easily matched by the picturesque scenery that we sailed by, as we made our way through four countries on Uniworld’s luxurious Enchanting Danube river cruise.
The journey took us from the Hungarian capital through Slovakia, Austria and Germany in a leisurely journey of around 600km spread out over the week.
Along the way we would watch the city of Budapest lit-up at night from the unrivalled vantage point of the top deck of the Beatrice, be treated to a private performance by a chamber orchestra in Vienna, cycle along the banks of the Danube past stunning scenery in Austria’s Wachau Valley, taste world famous Rieslings on a private tour of a winery and stroll through the cobblestoned streets of Salzburg, Passau and Durnstein.
Myself and my partner Jen went on the trip with another group of Irish people and started making new friends shortly after boarding the ship in Budapest.
The cruise is all-inclusive and Irish people around a free bar tend to make friends quickly.
Other travellers were soon introducing themselves to our group, including English-Australian couple Ben and Enid, whose company kept us entertained throughout the week.
The size of river cruise boats make it very easy to get to know people on-board. There were 109 guests when we made the trip and we got to know many of them over the course of the week.
The service was fantastic, with around one staff member for every two guests.
As I was sitting up on the top deck with a group of passengers on the first night watching the sun go down over Budapest, staff members seemed to have a psychic ability to arrive whenever anybody wanted another drink.
As night descended our captain took us on a majestic cruise under the illuminated bridges of Budapest as we watched the city lit up at night.
It was an awe-inspiring first night on board.
The food was fantastic; every night a fine-dining experience featuring extensive menus which focused heavily on foods from the regions we were travelling through.
They also included old reliables like steak and chicken for the less adventurous eaters as well as vegetarian options for the non-meat eaters. Wines from the regions we were visiting were also hand-picked to accompany the meals each night.
Every meal was made to feel like a special occasion, with exemplary service and exquisite cuisine. There are two restaurants on board the boat. One is the main dining room, where we ate most nights; the other is the saveur menu in the Captain’s Lounge, which is billed as a more intimate dining experience. Highly-trained butlers serve the saveur menu in a strictly choreographed way which makes you understand why the service on-board is described as six-star.
The cabins, like on any river cruise, are not massive, but give the feeling of space with large French windows which open to create a balcony. Large mirrors stretch across the room, giving it a bright feel. The bed was easily among the most comfortable I’ve ever slept on and if I wasn’t stopping off in picturesque towns and cities every day I probably wouldn’t have bothered getting up until lunchtime.
Uniworld offers a choice of excursions each day which form part of the all-inclusive package.
However, unlike larger ocean cruise liners you stop off right in the centre of cities and towns so exploring on your own is simple.
And for those who just want to relax there is the option of staying on the ship to enjoy the food and drink, read a book, take in the sun on the top deck or just lie in those really comfortable beds all day and choose from a large variety of free movies to watch.
Other facilities on-board include a small gym, a massage room and a library.
But getting bored was never on the cards with so many interesting places to visit over the week.
We explored the city of Budapest on our own on the second day, climbing to the top of the Citadella for stunning views over the city divided by the Danube, before exploring on foot as we walked around local markets, famous baths and the cafes and bars of the vibrant city.
The following day we set sail for the Slovakian capital of Bratislava, where a local guide took us around the old town and explained the eventful history of the city under various rulers over the years, including the Russians who were initially seen as liberators from the Nazis at the end of the World War II. They soon came to represent oppression until the fall of communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, since then the city has been enjoying a new lease of life.
Soon we found ourselves in the
Austrian capital of Vienna – synonymous with the waltz – and some of the Irish on the trip found themselves taking waltzing lessons from professionals on the dance floor of the boat’s bar.
Sadly, they did not get to put their newfound skills to the test when we ended up in First Floor bar on Seitenstettengasse in Vienna city centre later that night. The bar staff didn’t put a foot wrong, serving up great cocktails and local beers, but nobody was doing the waltz as jazz music played in the background. It may have looked like some of the group were waltzing by the time we left the bar in early hours of the morning, but I doubt that was intentional.
Our second day in Vienna saw us stroll through the streets and marvel at impressive buildings steeped in history, including the Hofburg Palace and the Rathaus.
No trip to Vienna can be complete without visiting the famous Hotel Sacher on Philharmonikerstrasse − home of the famous Sacher Torte cake.
After a visit to the Hotel Sacher we strolled down to the Sky Café on the seventh floor of a building on Kärntner Strasse. The cafe offered great views of the city and was a great spot to unwind before carrying on our stroll through Vienna.
Later that night we were taken to a stunningly-decorated hall for a private performance of selected works by
Mozart and Strauss from a local chamber orchestra. The performance included opera singing and waltzing and received a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd at the end.
The following morning we woke up to glorious sunshine in the stunning
Wachau Valley. Our first stop off that day was the famous Nikolaihof winery to sample some of their renowned organic Riesling.
Having spent the previous few days eating and drinking like royalty, myself and Jen joined a motley crew of other passengers to take part in a 30km cycle along the Wachau Valley while the boat sailed ahead of us. The cycle was a highlight of the trip; getting to take in beautiful scenery as the sun glistened off the Danube.
The route along the river took us through the green tree-lined valley with castles and churches dotted along the way, making it a journey to remember. We caught up with the boat in Melk – a town home to a 900-year-old Benedictine abbey.
Those who took part in the cycle felt a little less guilty when they sat down to dinner that night.
The following morning we arrived in Linz, where we had a choice of seeing that city or taking a coach journey to Salzburg − the birthplace of Mozart. We chose the latter and the medieval town centre is popular with tourists from around the world.
Salzburg is also famous for its association with the film the Sound of Music. There are lots of sights to look at in the picture postcard city including Salzburg Fortress − an 11th century castle which looks down on the town − the Mirabell Gardens and Mozart’s birthplace.
En route to Salzburg we stopped off in the small lakeside town of Mondsee, surrounded by stunning green hills and old-fashioned Austrian homes.
It had felt like only a day or two had passed since we boarded the Beatrice, but soon we were crossing the border into Germany for our last stop.
Our final destination was the Bavarian town of Passau – known as the City of Three Rivers as the Danube is joined by the Inn and Ilz rivers in the city.
We strolled through the cobbled streets during the day while some of the group took part in another bike ride along the river.
Later that night the Captain’s Farewell dinner was made all the better as we were joined at our table by our new friends Ben and Enid as they celebrated his birthday. After dinner we all danced the night away in the bar.
In the words of one of our travelling companions: “It certainly wasn’t poxy.”