My Danube River Cruise Highlights
River cruises are a great way to maximize your time traveling abroad. Here's everything you need to know about my time on the Danube.
My time on the Lower Danube was in April so the weather was absolutely gorgeous! It was in the 70's and 80's every day. This weather made for the best conditions to walk around at each stop. I flew into Budapest the day of embarkation with a layover in Frankfurt, Germany, and all flights were comfortable and on time.
I cruised on the "Gems of the Southeast Europe" river cruise provided by AmaWaterways™ on the ship named AmaViola.
My stateroom was on the ViolinDeck, which is the top deck of staterooms, just under the sun deck (which is the top deck of the ship). This was roomy and comfortably included a queen bed, desk area, shower in the bathroom, and both a French and Outside balcony. I happened to be mid-ship, but on a river cruise the placement isn’t as critical like it could be on an ocean cruise ship primarily because the water on the river is so much calmer. On river cruise ships there are typically three levels – one is under the water line (think“inside room”). The second is the main entry level and where the reception desk is typically located. The third is the upper level of state rooms, just below the sundeck level. They aren’t usually taller than that as on European cruises they have to watch the bridge clearance pretty closely for obvious reasons. I have to admit, I like being able to access outside air and I prefer a higher level - I would happily be on either level 2 or 3.
After embarking in Budapest, Hungary, there was a Welcome Cocktail with the Captain and staff, along with the mandatory safety and information briefing. Your luggage magically finds its way to your stateroom and you get to unpack in your home-away-from-home. I’d suggest familiarizing yourself with the ship by exploring a bit.
I definitely have to give a heads-upon this one … The Chef’s Table dining experiences is WELL worth it if you are a foodie. Every passenger can go once –and expect a gourmet several-course meal very nicely presented and absolutely delicious. Don’t expect a huge steak, rather modest portions of many things. I wasn’t sure if I was going to feel full – but not the case! I wished that was available every night, actually. Heads-up that this type of meal is a fixed menu. They do publish the menu for you to review ahead of time. This is a small group dining experience( 20-ish). And they include wine recommendations to accompany your meal.
I’d recommend trying The Chef’sTable as early as possible on the cruise as there is limited seating each evening. If you wait until the end of the cruise, there may not be seats available on that day, and it is by reservation.
The first evening we also met Ricardo, who was the guy on point for all onboard wellness. Definitely take advantage of included sessions to keep burning calories while on vacation. And our Cruise Manager, Nikola Grujin was great – informative and entertaining. The Cruise Manager really does set the tone for a cruise, along with the service from the remaining staff (which was all great, by the way).
And away we went on our river cruise along the Lower Danube. First up was a night-time Illumination cruise of Budapest. Oh my. Gorgeous. As you can see in the photo the architecture is stunning but add the night view and it really pops.
From here we cruised overnight to the small town of Mohacs, Hungary. We disembarked there and then traveled via coach to Pecs. This included a walking tour of the town center and other excursions and sites, then onward to a wine tasting of a local family. We boarded again in time for the Sip& Sail in the Lounge (every day had a different special for the day if you were so inclined). Then it was dinnertime and onward to Vukovar, Croatia.
Here’s a tip, plan on needing to make choices on river cruises when it comes to excursions. There are so many things you could do, including things on your own, that it is best to decide earlier than the day-of in case you want to go on an organized excursion through that cruise company. Today we enjoyed a leisurely paced breakfast, then some sundeck time, grabbed lunch, and in the afternoon went on the Fruska Gora Hike. Followed by the Petrovaradin Fortress evening walk (if you’re claustrophobic or do not like dark places, you may not want to do the evening walk or even go through the tunnels in theFortress – while it has some lights, it isn’t extremely lit up for the ambiance of an evening walk). We boarded again and then headed to Belgrade on an overnight sailing.
We woke up in Belgrade, Serbia (I really liked that every day was different on this cruise) and headed out on the city tour. We decided to do a little on-our-own walking as the ship was close to the town (another neat thing on river cruises is how close they are to the town centers). Got some souvenir shopping in and moseyed back to the ship at our pace. That evening we enjoyed the evening entertainment in the lounge and met fellow travelers. The next day was a site we all wanted to see… The Iron Gates. While we slept, we cruised and that really helped maximize the time in each port. The weather held up and was clear enough to see the massive site. Here are three photos to give you an idea of what it looks like close up and the scale of it from the ship. Remember it is a gorge on the Danube and is Romania on one side and Serbia on the other.
In the next couple of photos you’ll see the rock sculpture of Decebalus on the Romania side of the Danube at the Iron Gates – a familiar site, likely.
We continued sailing for an overnight stay in Vidin, Bulgaria. We opted for the Baba Vida Fortress and Belogradchik Hike that morning to get out and see the area. Then it was on to Russe, Bulgaria. Amazing how fast river cruises go … we couldn’t believe it was already the night of the Captain’sFarewell cocktail and dinner.
The next morning we opted for the Hiking tour to Ivanovo Rock for the half-day excursion. This wasn’t something you see every day…rock-hewn monolithic churches, chapels, and monasteries actually hewn out of solid rock - see the holes in this wall? Really quite amazing to see, along with the well-preserved medieval frescoes.
And also the Belogradchik Rocks and Fortress … there was a SERIOUS amount of climbing and stairs on this one. Well worth it, but wow, lots of climbing. This is a fortress that also has natural rock formations and gives you a 360 view after you’ve climbed to the top and are working on catching your breath.
We also visited Rousse, which was a very nice Bulgarian city opposite Romania’s city of Giurgiu. It was in Giurgiu where we ended our cruise and disembarked. We organized our own extension to Transylvania and headed that way via a private transfer - watch for a separate review on that portion.
All in all, we visited the countries of Hungary, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, and Romania on this river cruise. Five countries, one river, one unpacking, lots of new sites!
My tips while river cruising:
· I’m not sure how anyone can go hungry on a river cruise. Watch for food pics and review in a separate post. 😊
· Like taking photos of the sites as you cruise by? Then head up to the sun deck (the top deck),and if there isn’t inclement weather, it is an ideal place to sit. You can always go to the lounge and have great visibility, also.
· Enjoy the ambiance of the lounge and reading areas – they really are pleasant and roomy.
· Make sure someone in your party goes to the Daily Cruise Overview. You’ll hear about the plan for the next day, and possibly extra excursion opportunities.
· Don’t skip meals when offered ... river cruises don’t have the 24x7 food volume like an ocean cruise and wouldn’t want you to be caught off guard.
· Visit the gift shop – I am always surprised how many unique things are on the ship compared to what I see when I’m out souvenir shopping.
· Take some comfortable earbuds with a standard (not iPhone type) plug in – they may very well work on the headset system they have and be more comfortable.
· Be ready to walk, walk, walk! So comfy shoes are a MUST. Knee braces, ankle braces, walking sticks on the ship …well worth the use and you’ll be able to enjoy your day and trip more.
· Definitely choose your excursion level that will be the most enjoyable – they have options so take advantage of that beginning with a realistic assessment on your part. If you have questions, the Cruise Director can answer questions. This will make the trip much more pleasant and you won’t wear yourself out for no reason.
· I found it helpful to take a photo of the Daily Cruiser(their daily newsletter) – it had the weather, location, phone numbers, and schedule to be back on board. If you don’t take a photo, take the actual paper with you, along with a map from the reception desk.
· Book excursions ahead of time before you cruise – a little preplanning takes the stress off a tad because there are so many choices.
· Do get some R&R time in.
· Enjoy the regional musicians they bring on board for the evening entertainment – it really is neat to hear and see local talent and traditions.
My Packing Tips:
Something you should definitely pack for a trip like this is a solid pair of walking shoes. I brought my Skecher tennis shoes - they have memory foam and are easy to wash. They also dry quickly and are great for just about any terrain.
I also took a down vest on this trip. It wasn't super chilly on this trip but a vest like this is good to have so you can layer it on top of lighter shirts. Trust me, clothing you can layer is always your best friend when traveling. That way, you're ready for anything!
This trip was truly fantastic! I liked Romania so much, I would plan a trip completely dedicated to Romania, actually.
Another recommendation I have is that the Lower Danube could be better after you've been on a couple other river cruises. Many people take their first river cruise expecting picturesque banks - this cruise was more picturesque during excursions. If you're looking for a river cruise with gorgeous shorelines to view from the ship as you cruise, consider a river cruise on theUpper Danube or Rhine – both are very nice and you’ll see a lot.
As always, if you have any questions about your next travel experience, give me a call or submit an inquiry on my website at https://www.travel-by-wendy.com/#Contact .