The Danube is not blue! Never mind the title of the famous waltz composed by one of Austria’s gifts to the world – Johann Strauss II. As our Avalon Vista cruise director Sabine Klocker remarked, “Grey Danube does not have quite that romantic ring to it!’
Well it’s not quite grey, it’s not quite green, it has this indeterminate colour that’s still pleasant to look at, nothing like our teh tarik-coloured rivers here. What was really stunning to the ragtag group of media members, travel agents and paying guests from Britain, Canada and the United States on board was the scenery! The Austrian countryside and the pretty little towns along the banks of the river were picture-perfect.
Spring was slightly delayed this year in the south of Germany and Austria from where we set out on the river cruise. A week earlier, there had been massive snowstorms in the area, so most of the flowers had yet to bloom, and the trees still had bare branches. Still, there was beauty in the starkness.
Through the window of the Avalon Vista
After two nights of on-ground excursions in Bavaria and Munich (Avalon Waterways’ cruises always include a ground portion but guests may opt to take only the cruise option, as some guests did), we started the cruise proper in Passau, close to the Austrian border. We docked overnight at the City on Three Rivers – here, the Inn and the Ilz join the Danube (Danau, in German).
I gave a silent thanks that, for the next six days, I would not have to pack and unpack, unlike if I were on a usual ground tour on a coach. I was not so silent, though, when I walked into my accommodation, and yelped in delight. My Panorama Suite stateroom had wall-to-wall and wall-to-ceiling panoramic windows (which can slide open) and the room was stocked with everything a luxurious hotel room should have. You can just lie on the comfy big bed that faces the windows and soak in the views.
A word of warning: If you want to draw the curtains, like I did, prepare to suddenly get a shock (and shock others) when the ship docks when you are unaware and find people on the shore taking in views of you!
I found out later that, among all the river cruise operators, Avalon Waterways offers the biggest rooms and windows. The other room options are the deluxe stateroom (which has two proper windows, not those porthole types) and the Royal Suite (two units).
Oh, yes, if you still need to keep in touch with the outside world, the room comes with complimentary WiFi – though service can get a bit iffy at times. It helps if you’re a chronic insomniac, or if you have to answer work e-mails, like me. The selection of movies available also helped as did the two cameras mounted on the bow and stern – to see what’s coming or what you missed for snapshot purposes. The views can be so enticing that you forget sometimes you’re in your sleepwear when you race to the top deck to catch that scenic moment.
There are three decks on the ship, which can take about 180 passengers. The ship can even be booked for company trips or events.
I have to give top marks to the 48-member crew from the wait staff to the cleaning crew to the “front desk” to the excellent cooks and kitchen staff. We were fed constantly. On top of that, there is a 24-hour-lounge that offers snacks and hot beverages. Depending on the location the ship is at, they may vary the menu to include local dishes and drinks.
Nightly at the lounge, there is someone at the piano to entertain. Guests can also dance the night away.
There was also one night when two classical musicians came on board and played all-time favourites with a comedic twist. Klocker our cruise director even threw in a basic German class one day.
Don’t worry about having lots of free time because you have all those land excursions to fill your time with. And there is sufficient time to relax at night.
Along the Danube
Another plus about river cruises is unlike ocean cruises, you’re not stuck at sea for days on end. Every day brings a different stop and a different adventure on land. And yes, no “seasickness” as rarely are the conditions bad.
The scenic city of Passau was a good introduction to the river, as we saw evidence of how it affects the lives of inhabitants along the river. Two years ago, there was major flooding (which happens throughout the centuries) and as we could see from the stain marks on the walls of buildings the flood waters reached very high levels. The city also has the largest pipe organ in Europe – with 17,388 pipes and 231 stops – housed in the St Stephen Cathedral (Dom in German).
We were also lucky to have a local guide. Alex (of German-Scottish parentage) who managed to make architecture and art sound very entertaining. So entertaining I forgot to take notes but I dare say I can now tell the difference between Gothic and Baroque architecture.
After Passau, we encountered the first of seven locks before reaching Vienna. Locks are used for raising and lowering boats and since we were going downstream, our ship was lowered. It takes about 15-20 minutes each time and is worth a look when your ship goes through.