This summer I took a once-in-a-lifetime journey with my mother, sailing the Danube River in a floating hotel called the Amaverde. As for so many others, our trip had been postponed by the pandemic. By the time we boarded, I’d researched river cruises for more than two years!
As a travel advisor, I delight in immersing myself in the details of an experience or a destination so I can share the highlights with my clients. In this case, I scoured the internet for photos of staterooms, cruise trip reports and ports of call. I wanted to know as much as possible about what a river cruise would be like. To be honest, I had a few reservations. Would there be enough to keep me busy on board? Would my cabin have enough space? Would I be the youngest passenger by 25 years?
What I experienced surprised me. Even if you’re familiar with ocean cruising, leave those experiences at home. Our river cruise was the complete opposite. To me, it was like an artist gathering his supplies to paint a masterpiece: patient, peaceful and embracing.
Upon arrival at the port, we received a warm greeting and handed off our luggage. We walked up a small gangway for a simple and quick check-in, tasks that felt more like welcome back than hello. Then we were escorted a short distance to our stateroom, where our luggage was already waiting. I was so glad we’d opted for a Double Balcony room! It had a spacious, square layout, with ample room for us. It featured inside seating next to French sliding doors and outside seating on the veranda.
After unpacking, we went to the lounge to relax and enjoy a lunch of tea sandwiches, soup and salad. As other guests arrived, my second concern was put to rest: these days, cruisers on the rivers come in all ages. The secret has been shared: river cruising is ideal for everyone! How else can you see four countries and seven villages/cities in a week and only unpack once?!
One of my top reasons for taking a river cruise was to visit places in Europe less populated by tourists. Walking the winding cobblestone streets, I saw bright, pastel-hued homes adorned with window boxes bursting with lush, vibrant, cascading geraniums and ivy. A leisurely self-guided tour of the town suddenly found us in a small, family-owned vineyard with a backdrop of a charming, historic village perched on a hillside.
Our days were filled with choices. We could take a guided tour of the village; delight in the Apricot and Chocolate Tasting with Cordials or grab an interactive Quietvox map and wander on our own. There also were tempting “active” options like biking along the Danube or hiking to a castle! When it was time for food, we could enjoy a leisurely, full-service meal of local dishes on board or dine in a local restaurant in the village. Every day unfolded with new delights to be discovered in whatever way we chose to experience them. Now, I now chuckle at my third concern. There was so much to do that I honestly could not fit it all in!
I learned a few things on my river journey:
- Always bring a fully charged camera (plus an extra battery);
- For women, a scarf dresses up any outfit and doubles as a head covering, recommended for entering certain buildings (like synagogues)
- Bring a hat, sunglasses, and an umbrella (they might just chase away the rain!)
- Stop to smell the roses – or Sacher Torte or German Riesling. If something catches your eye, stop and enjoy it at that moment. You may not be able to come back to it later.
- Slow down. Bring pre-printed address labels of friends back home, sending them unexpected postcards so they can share in your travels while you relive yours via pen. (AmaWaterways actually provided beautiful complimentary postcards and postage!)
At some point, I realized that I would have to return someday and sail the same stretch of the Danube. She has so many twists and turns, castles, villages and cultures waiting to be discovered that you simply can’t do it in a single visit. The Danube is like an unfinished sculpture emerging from cold stone. We are the artist letting her reveal herself as we meander her ever-changing path. My bags and passport are ready when she beckons next!