We booked the 15 day Magnificent Europe itinerary from Budapest to Amsterdam and travelled the last week in October and the first week in November. Our pricing included flights from the UK, transfers, port charges, gratuities, all shore excursions and drinks with both lunch and dinner. We booked as a special offer 3 months before our travel date through APT, an Australian company, so the vast majority of passengers were Australian with only a tiny number from other countries. Although we are veterans of ocean cruising, this was our first river cruise.
The boat actually exceeded our expectations. Launched in 2011 everything still had a new appearance, all furnishings and equipment were of a high quality and the colour schemes carefully co-ordinated in soft, pleasing tones. It was immaculately clean in all areas that we saw.
Our cabin was one of the standard ones on a lower deck with windows but no balcony. Beautifully fitted and furnished with a fridge, bathrobes and slippers, quality toiletries, and the entertainment system available through the monitor had a very good selection of tv channels, music channels, films and free internet access. There was also free WiFi onboard. Complimentary bottles of water in our cabin were replenished daily and we also appreciated the use of umbrellas which we used on several occasions! Shower was excellent and we had no problems with variable water temperatures which we have experienced on some ocean ships. We could also vary the temperature in the cabin to our own preference. Plenty hangers and storage, and we noticed that the safe and wardrobes interiors illuminated when opened in the evenings. There was a pillow menu, and a choice of sheets and duvet or sheets and blankets. Under one side of the bed there was an underbed storage drawer.
Public spaces were adequate for the number of passengers and we had no difficulty finding seats in the lounge or in the restaurant at any time during the day or evening. In the main diningroom, through choice, we often had the same table and wait staff. This sailing however, was not full. Our understanding is that there were only 120 plus passengers and the boat can take 160 plus. What it would be like with a full sailing I cannot say. The sun deck was only occasionally used by small numbers of passengers due to the very variable weather we had, most passengers preferring to enjoy the scenery from the warmer lounge, because, at this time of year, even the dry, sunny days were quite cool especially when we were on the move. The main sun deck was closed for 4 days due to the number of low bridges we passed under. As we were docked most days anyway, this did not impact anyone to any great extent. One small area of the open upper deck remained open as it was located at the bow and at a slightly lower lever than the sun deck so it was still possible to go "up top" if you wanted.
We thought the food and wines were amongst the best we have experienced with everything made from scratch by a team of 12 in the galley. Having seen a gradual lowering of food quality on ocean cruising ships in recent years, this was a pleasant surprise. Apart from the "always available" and the usual international menu, every day at both lunch and dinner there was an excellent choice of local regional dishes from the various countries we were cruising in, with local and/or regional wines to accompany the meals. Wines were carefully selected and of good quality. Most surprising for us were the Austrian reds. Lovely! It was a refreshing change to be able to try local specialities onboard on a daily basis should we want, as it is an experience we find lacking on most ocean cruises which only give the occasional opportunity to try the food of the countries we are sailing in. Once a week we could choose to experience the Chefs Table restaurant "Erlebnis" where we were greeted with a pre-dinner drink. The menu changes each week and there is no additional charge although you do need to reserve ahead of time. A complimentary range of teas, coffees and hot chocolate were available 24/7 from a machine. These included espresso, latte, cappuchino etc.
Staff were excellent in all departments and we really could not fault them. Friendly and professional.
Excursions were all included with a reasonable choice in most places. APT call this Freedom of Choice touring. In smaller places with less to offer, there was maybe only a walking tour although several tours included a sampling of local wines, beers, or, in Vienna, Sachertorte served with either coffee or hot chocolate with cream. If you wanted to do your own thing anywhere, you could leave a tour at any time or choose not to go on one at all. Some days there was the option of choosing a "regular" tour, a more "gentle" tour, or even a "late risers" tour. As ours was a Platinum cruise, we had an additional number of complimentary "Signature Experiences" along the way and personal highlights for us included a tour of the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest and an evening concert in Vienna. At both, glasses of sparkling wine were served. There are also a number of complimentary bicycles and helmets available for anyone to borrow.
Entertainment we thought was a bit hit or miss. We enjoyed some of it but not all of it. It is low key and mostly consists of either one, two or three entertainers who are mostly singers and/or musicians. Apart from those, one evening there was a glass blower, another evening we had a music quiz, another we enjoyed a 60's themed evening. Some evenings you could go ashore if we were sailing late. As we were usually docked in a very central location it was often easy to do this.
APT actually impressed us a lot. There were many small details which we noticed and appreciated, we were extremely well looked after throughout, the little gifts we received both pre-cruise and in our cabin were also quality items and useful, and our overall impression was of a company which knows what it is doing and does it well. We would book with them again.
As for the itinerary, it was a wonderful way to cruise the Rhine, Main and Danube. The fabulous larger cities were nicely balanced with medium and small sized towns, with many of the smaller ones having well preserved medieval centres, cobbles and half timbered or pastel painted buildings to great effect. The scenery in some sections was stunning, with vineyards, forests, castles and attractive small towns on both sides. Several of our stops were in places ideal for exploring at a leisurely pace. Local street maps and info were handed out at almost every port so that you were not restricted to the tours.
As for timing, we would advise careful consideration. We had the advantage of the most stunning autumn colours more or less throughout this trip with the Wachau Valley being a particular highlight amongst many others. We had anticipated some colour, but not the dramatic sights we enjoyed. Another advantage was that traditional high season crowds had gone and everywhere was only either moderately busy or quiet. As for disadvantages, before we left, we knew that one downside would be dusk and darkness falling in the late afternoon and this impacted on some of our sightseeing. It was worsened by the clocks changing by an hour a few days after boarding. European weather is also notoriously unpredictable, and our dates this year brought us everything from bright, sunny but cool days, to more rainy and/or showery days than we wanted, and even sleety/snowy showers for one of our two days in Vienna. On the other hand, summers can be extremely hot in these areas, the majority of these towns and cities will be full of tourists, and the glorious autumn colours will be missing, only green everywhere. It is quite a difficult decision to make. Best advice is to pack for everything and anything in terms of weather. And be prepared for the locks. Over 60 on this itinerary. Choose your cabin carefully as weather could impact on potential use. And with close cruising, it is usually preferable to be out on deck or in the lounge where there are views of both sides.