By Marianne Belmonte and Angela Pape
Having cruised on ocean liners more than my fair share of times, a river cruise was an idea that had never crossed my mind. It wasn’t until I was afforded the opportunity to set sail down the Danube through the small towns and historic cities of Germany and Austria that I realized what a hidden treasure river cruising truly is! With your hotel traveling alongside you, there is no better way to experience the world. And there is no better cruise line to experience it with than Uniworld. These boutique river cruises offer nothing short of excellence. From their luxurious amenities to their highly trained staff, you will have the world at your fingertips!
My daughter and I arrived at the Nuremberg Airport one early gray morning in December and no sooner was our luggage collected than a very pleasant Uniworld Representative greeted us. Although the sky was gray, the air cold, and the ground covered with snow, we were just so excited to be there and couldn't wait to get started. As we approached the canal there were several ships docked. We wondered which one was ours. To our pleasant surprise it was the best looking ship there. Shinny and glowing under the gray sky it brought a smile to our faces. As we headed toward the ship, we saw a group of people waiting outside the ship to help us. One of which was the Hotel Manager, Steff Rau, who we would come to call friend and who always went above and beyond to ensure that not just my daughter and I but that all the guests were comfortable and well taken care of. We were escorted onto the ship without a care. Our luggage was whisked away and all we were asked to do was to relax in the Blue Danube Lounge, have a bite to eat and something hot or cold to drink. Before we knew it we were escorted to our stateroom.
The room was bright and cheery with sliding glass doors that would afford us a wonderful view as we sailed down the river. The ship had just recently undergone a refurbishing and our redecorated stateroom’s decor was modern and relaxing with an extremely comfortable queen sized bed. All the amenities were present - a flat screen TV with Internet access, cable programming, movies, and music on demand. The bathroom featured everything you might need ranging from beautifully fragranced L'Occitane bodycare products to a high-powered blow dryer.
Now it was time to explore the ship that we would be calling home for the next week. Our first stop was the dining room where we enjoyed a wonderful buffet lunch. Greeted by the Restaurant Manager, Roberto da Silva, with an engaging smile, we knew he was there to try to accommodate our every request. All meals, and we were served three a day, were overseen by Executive Chef Milos Mucka and least I say that he did a fantastic job with his selections as well as his execution of every meal served. The dining room was situated at the ship's stern with windows all around. It was very well placed with all the tables having access to the view and the prep area being in the center of the room. It was carefully thought out not unlike every detail on this boutique cruise ship. Again the decor was lovely always giving the feeling of relaxed eloquence. Of course, it was also thanks to the staff of waiters and chefs that made it even more enjoyable. It seemed as though they did everything in their power to ensure that the guests had the best of times and all their needs were met. They even came to know us all by name and welcomed us daily with a personal greeting. They were fantastic!
Back to our stateroom we freshened up for dinner but first we would attend the Welcome and Safety Briefing with The Captain, Hotel Manager and Cruise Manager. Back to the lounge we mingled with some of the guests and at 6pm we were welcomed by our Captain, Michael Hofmann, or Captain Mike as he prefers to be called. We were given all the safety instructions and assured that we were in good hands and no harm would come our way. Steff also greeted us and then introduced us to Ann Smets, the Cruise Manager who would be in charge of all aspects of our shore excursions and entertainment program. She was a wealth of information and simply stated, utterly delightful. At 7PM we were back in the Palace Restaurant feasting on another superb meal.
Anxious to start sightseeing and going to the Christmas Markets that abound this time of year, we headed back to our stateroom. Once there we would find our bed turned down for sleeping and a chocolate on each pillow. Each evening we would also find the Daily Program, which outlined what we would be doing the next day. This listed both included and optional activities. Nothing was left to chance and the attention to detail was outstanding, as this program would also give us weather information and a synopsis of the history and culture of the town we would be visiting.
At last we awakened, prepared for a hearty breakfast, mingled with some of our shipmates and by 8:45 AM we are driven into Nuremberg by coach with a local guide. Not only was he extremely knowledgeable but downright hilarious as well. The tour proved to be very enlightening and entertaining. Of course, Nuremberg is known for the infamous Nazi rallies and later on for the trials but Nuremberg is much more than and was considered to be the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire. It also boasts a castle with an enormous mote that transports you back to medieval times. Once the guided tour was done we were taken to the Christmas Market in the town square. It was nothing that we had ever experienced before. The crafts were beautiful, the food was great and the people were...well it was just perfect. We came to understand that a decades long rivalry has existed between Nuremberg and our next stop, Regensburg - who makes a better bratwurst? Sacrificing our diets for the time being, we decided to be the judges of that.
Later in the day, we had the choice of an optional tour to a WWII documentation center or a coach ride back to the Christmas Market. We decided to stay on board, relax, and get ready for the Captain's Diner that evening, for which we had been invited to dine at the captain's table. To say the least, we were very pleased to receive an honor such as this.
The evening started out with a lavish cocktail party including a welcome by the captain followed by a port talk from Ann. As there were only 120-140 passengers on board we also took the opportunity to get acquainted with some more of our fellow travelers. It certainly was a diverse group with passengers from around the world. In fact, we grew so fond of a couple from Australia, Fiona, and Ed, that we extended an open invitation to visit one another during our future travels.
After a very enjoyable cocktail hour, we made our way to the Palace Restaurant for dinner with our captain. Seated at our table along with Captain Mike was Hotel Manager, Steff, Ann our Cruise Manager, a couple from South African, and a woman from Canada. The food, wine, and service were excellent, the company was superb, and we got to know the people who would be in charge of our care and trip for the next week. It was a dinner we will never forget.
We arrived in Regensburg early the next morning. To our delight we found that the combination of sausage, sauerkraut, and sweet mustard served on freshly baked rolls blew all other competition out of the water! Of course it did have a lot more than that to offer as it is the fourth largest city in Bavaria and one of the best-preserved historic cities in Germany. That evening we set sail for Deggendorf where we would board a coach that took us through the snow covered Bavarian Forest with a stop in a small village for a horse drawn carriage ride in the mountains. Our tour also included a visit to a hand blown glass workshop before making the scenic trip back on the coach to meet up with the ship in Passau.
Another medieval city located on the banks of the river, Passau was enchanting. Next day we were off to Linz, Austria, chosen by the European Union as the 2009 Capital of Culture. It is a beautiful city and well deserving of the title. After a day of sightseeing, we headed back on board for our daily port talk with Ann followed by dinner. We then set sail at midnight for the captivating town of Durnstein.
Upon awakening the next morning, we found ourselves in the Wachau Region, with a stretch of winding river and vine-covered hillsides. The scenery was breathtaking, even in the dead of winter with castles on hilltops and the sun gleaming down on the river. We were enthralled. We docked in Durnstein and took a walking tour of this town of 800 inhabitants. It is a post card perfect town, seemingly untouched by modern civilization. It was fabulous and a place we'd love to revisit one day. Back on the ship, we headed to Vienna, our last stop on this wonderful journey.
There aren't enough adjectives to describe the city of Vienna. Being a native New Yorker it takes a lot to impress me but believe me Vienna did just that! It is old and charming yet young and sophisticated all at the same time. Like New York, you can never tire of visiting. So much to see, so much to do, so much to experience. Alas, our journey was coming to an end. We would have one last diner with our new friends and off we would go to our homes with memories and an experience of a lifetime.
Uniworld River Cruise
5851 San Felipe, Suite 500
Houston, TX 77057