What Happens on a Danube Cruise Stays on the Ship
By Fyllis Hockman
Of course the highlights of our Danube river cruise were the four European capitals we visited: Prague, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest -- all worth writing about, and I promise to do so.
But it was the many surprises surrounding the experiences on the ship that truly enhanced the trip. Because this was our first river cruise, my husband and I had many apprehensions ahead of time. The tiny stateroom? Check. But somehow it had more drawers, shelves and hangers than I have at home and was surprisingly comfortable.
Too sedentary? Check. Being a particularly active person -- the have-every-minute-programmed kind of active -- I feared the shortish daily tour would not be sufficient. The 182-passenger MS River Aria is not one of those cruise ships boasting round-the-clock activities. However, opportunities abound to explore every city as much -- or as little -- as you want.
Having primarily traveled with Overseas Adventure Travel, the much smaller, younger tour group under the auspices of Grand Circle, our cruise line, we also worried about traveling in a large group of older folks. And yes, GC caters to those needs. There is a slower-paced tour option available for those who feel they cannot keep up with the group. Portable lightweight seats are available for those unable to stand in one spot during long explanations. An electric chair is attached to the stairs on the ship.
There is little that Grand Circle hasn't thought of to accompany its somewhat older clientele. But for the most part that older clientele is a feisty group of fun-loving, adventurous travelers who are loathe to slow down. At this point we stopped worrying.
Most mornings we were out and about by 9, but one sailing day we instead were on a deck chaise, bloody mary in hand, listening to commentary about the surrounding topography -- wooded treetops, rolling green countryside, rural villages, terraced vineyards and an occasional abbey or castle. Life doesn't get much better than that. My concern about filling every hour with activity dissipated.
I was pried from my reading revelry when my fellow passengers hustled to the sides of the ship as we went through our first of nine locks, a feat that if you haven't experienced is worth the effort of rising from the comfort of your chaise lounge. The ship narrowly goes between barriers on both sides and is then lowered so as to access the water level on the other side. By the time we hit lock No. 6, no one moved. Another bloody mary, anyone?
I should pause here to talk a bit about the meals, which deserve a story of their own. I looked forward to every meal, knowing it was going to be surprising, lovely and scrumptious. Suffice it to say, not only were the waiters attentive and accommodating, most of them were stand-up comedians.
I was finishing my soup when Vladimir walked by with a bottle of Amaretto, obviously requested by another table.