Swiss Jewel Cruise Review by Robert Sakakeeny: Danube cruising in a wheelchair
Danube cruising in a wheelchair
We took a Tauck river cruise from Prague to Budapest on the Swiss Jewel. While this is a review of that cruise, we have a special focus. Gale has limited mobility, and the majority of the off-boat tours were done with her in a transport chair pushed by her husband Bob.
The chair has a thick cushion, which was critical for comfort. It has 12" foam wheels in the rear and 6" removable wheels in front. It collapses easily, and was stored in the reception area of the boat. Gale was able to move easily throughout the boat using her Canadian crutch, and took advantage of the elevator to get to the lounge and dining area. She also had to walk on and-off the boat, since the gang-plank was too narrow and steep for the chair. Also, there were times when two or three boats were docked next to each other, and this required going through (or up and over) one or two boats. The busses also have 4-to-6 steps, and the seats are not so easy to get into and-out of.
That said, the trip was a More wonderful experience, and the cobblestones the price of admission. Here is a non-typical tourist view. Our reviews of private time in Prague, the hotel, and two great restaurants (Imperial and Amade) are on TripAdvisor.
The Hradcany Castle district has some of the worst cobblestones seen, and the walk was difficult. However, by cheating a bit and walking on the grass we were able to keep up with the tour. Also, the (wonderful) Tauck staff made arrangements all along the way for us to go in side doors to hidden elevators. Because of this, we missed very little of the tours.
The Tauck dinner at the Lobkowicz Palace the first full day of the trip foreshadowed the special treatment we were to get throughout the cruise. The Lobkowiczes fled Prague just before WWII and did not return until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989. The current scion, Boston born and bred, hosted the wine reception with a 40 minute review of the palace's history, followed by a private tour of the museum, followed by a private dinner in the Palace. If in Prague, do not miss this site.
The third day of the trip was a killer. Bags packed by 7 AM, three-hour bus trip to Regensburg Germany, long tour over rough streets, boarding the boat and unpacking, dinner, and collapsing in bed late. Day was a blur, so no memory of Regensburg to share.
We woke up in Passau, and in spite of the hills and cobblestones had a good touring day. These stones were smaller and flatter, and there was an HP entrance to the cathedral. Our small group tours with some great local guides were followed by on-board Austrian entertainment. Passau was in West Germany, so did not have the grayness we would see in areas controlled by the Soviets. Ironically, its Southern location, right on the Austrian border and next to Czechoslovakia, meant it was ignored and avoided much of the Westernization that the rest of Germany experienced.
Tour day five was supposed to be a tour of Salzburg, but it was cold and very rainy. Given the long bus ride to and from Salzburg, she who would have to sit in the chair through all the rain made the right choice and stayed on the boat. The other passengers said that, given the rain and the crowds, we did not miss much.
The next day was a delight, as the boat moved through the beautiful Wachau Valley to Dernstein -- a beautiful little town on the banks of the Danube. The countryside included terraced vineyards, ancient buildings, quaint villages, and beautiful post-rain lighting. The walk from the boat up to Dernstein was steep, and pushing the chair up the incline was a lung busting adventure. But the tour by another delightful local guide was worth it. The local Augustinian monastery was human-sized, and it (and the surrounding sights) fascinating to see and hear about.
The delights of Vienna are well known, and need not be written about here. The city center is a 20-30 minute bus trip from the boat, and all touring sites are fairly easy to get to and around with the chair. Of note, Tauck had another of its private dinners, near where those horses dance, with spectacular music, opera, and ballet as entertainment. Oh, my!
On the afternoon of the 2nd day in Vienna we departed for Bratislava. Upon arrival in the morning, we started with a riveting talk on life in Slovakia from the late 30's on by the head of the local tour guides. Bratislava was a nice surprise -- interesting to see and very easy to see. Still cobblestones, but the smaller, flat-topped ones for the most part.
The cruise portion ended in Budapest. Can we tell you what hell Buda is for both parties riding and pushing a wheelchair? Some parts are wheelchair accessible, but most of the tourist areas feel like they left the rubble from the WWII bombings in place and expect people to deal with it.
Pest, on the other hand, is very easy to move about. Not only flatter and smoother, but more accommodations for chairs. From the Marriott hotel in Pest, we had the benefits of the great view of the river and the hills of Buda, along with the ease of moving about the modern Pest.
The visit to the State Opera House (requires two short sets of stairs before access to the elevator) ended with another Tauck treat -- beautiful music and opera from balconies at the top of the staircase.
Our farewell dinner had, yes, more wonderful music as part of the Tauck treat.
Lessons learned: it may not take a village, but it takes a boat-load of people to make for a wonderful trip. There was a large crew to keep the boat running, the food cooking, and the pusher's scotch glass full. There were four Tauck staff who managed all the events, and gave some wonderful and knowledgeable lectures on the boat and busses which enhanced all aspects of the trip. There were a different set of local guides at each stop, who usually gave very knowledgeable and fun tours. All told, the staff made a nice trip a wonderful trip.
We made some friends on the trip among the other guests, and will keep in touch with them. But, all helped out at different points and none felt we slowed them down. When the front wheels of the chair got jammed going over a curb, someone was there to pull us out. When Gale was too tired to climb the steps, several lifted the chair and carried it down. When the view was blocked, people moved automatically to allow the chair through.
Among the joys of the trip was the sad realization that we saw a few others in chairs, and a few struggling with dual crutches over the stones. What was a temporary problem for us must be a daily challenge for the residents.
Thanks to Tauck for taking a risk and letting us go. Note that the other cruise companies would not accept chairs. Less
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Cabin review: 3207
Swiss Jewel cabin 207. Smallish, but well designed. Sliding window for view and fresh air. Enough storage for a long trip.