This was our first ever river cruise. We have taken about 10 ocean cruises, so we wanted to see how a river cruise compared. What's nice about cruising on a river is the fact that you can always look out and see something and not just open ocean. Plus you stop a lot, sometimes twice in one day. And since the river boats don't hold as many people (ours had 140 passengers), it's easy to get on and get off. And the ships are designed to hold the required number of passengers. In other words, there is a seat for everyone - in the lounge, in the dining room, etc.
Our trip was the 7-day Blue Danube Discovery from Budapest to Nuremberg with a pre-cruise extension in Budapest and a post-cruise extension in Prague. All we can say at this point is that we are really glad we went on this trip. It was very enjoyable. Would I say it's better than an ocean cruise - in some ways yes, in some ways no. Each has it's pros and cons. Would we do a river cruise again, you bet. With AMA? YES!
The hotel in Budapest was the Sofitel Hotel sitting about 200 feet from the Danube. Our double room overlooked the river and the beautiful castle/fortress on the hillside on the other side of the river. The bridge over the river and the this castle/fortress were lit up at night giving an impressive view out the hotel room window. It was a very comfortable hotel and we were in want of nothing. The room package included a big buffet breakfast each morning. Usually we ate enough at breakfast that we only needed a snack during the day to keep us going until dinner.
Food in Budapest is what we called rather spicy because the Hungarians seem to like putting paprika in everything and in every conceivable way. But you still have to try it just for the experience. We tried the Hungarian Goulash which is different from Czech Goulash in that the Hungarian variety is like a soup served in a bowl and the Czech Goulash is meat and dumplings served on a plate and not as spicy.
The included city tour of Budapest was quite good hitting all the highlights of Budapest with its rich history. Of course, the bus doesn't have time to stop everywhere, but the guide points out the sights of interest to most visitors and you can always go back somewhere with your free time of which there was plenty.
We're not going to go into all the details of every stop we made on this 7-day trip down the Danube, but what we will say is that you should take advantage of all the included excursions as they are quite informative and enjoyable and you did pay for them. As for the optional excursions, we would suggest the evening concert in Vienna for those who do not normally have the opportunity to attend such classical events. We think it was probably the best of all the excursions we took.
Another one that was fun is the optional Folklore dinner in Prague. It was a different experience than anything we have seen before. The food was good, the beer and wine flowing freely, and the entertainment very enjoyable from the Czech/Slovakian musical players, singers and dancers.
As for the cruise itself, the ship was comfortable and the crew outstanding. One thing we did notice is that during our 7-day cruise, the ship never once rocked from side to side or bumped or anything else. It was a very, very smooth ride! Everyone was so very friendly. We upgraded our cabin by one category so that we would have a large window and sliding door so as to see the scenery as we cruised along the Danube. We're glad we upgraded after seeing the inside of one of the lower cabins. You would have to be at least six feet tall to see out of one of those windows. I think they're simply designed to let in light as opposed to offering any kind of view because they are high and small.
Our cabin was quite comfortable with a queen size bed, lounge chair, ottoman we used as another seat, a flat-screen TV/computer, makeup desk, in-room safe, and plenty of closet space. The bathroom was well-equipped and modern. We were very comfortable during our week long journey. Internet in your room is included with your cruise. We only used the internet when we were in ports as the reception was always better.
There is a large lounge and bar on the main deck with enough seating for everyone. This is also the entertainment area when performers come aboard for evening entertainment of which there was a lot. And it was all good.
The dining room is directly below the lounge area at the front of the ship. There again there is enough seating for everyone at the one and only dinner service at 7:00 p.m. -- dinner has no assigned seating. There is no alternative restaurant or eating venue on these ships, but they do offer a number of different dinner choices each evening. The dinner choices are normally things from the country or area where they are transiting that day. As are the included wines. It was amazing how many different wines they served on a 7-day cruise. And they always had both red and white wines at dinner. If you are not a wine drinker, you can have beer or soft drinks if you like at no charge. They also had main course staples each evening - steak, chicken, fish, chef salad - for those not wanting to brave the local cuisine. A vegetarian dish was also on the menu each night. We had the chicken one night and it was very good. Breakfast was always buffet style with a lot of choices, but you could also order eggs cooked to order, omelets, pancakes, etc. Food is served just about every 3 hours. Coffee and tea are available 24-hours. Early risers can nibble on pastries and toast until the breakfast room opens (times vary but usually by 7:30). A cookie tray is put out about 10:30. A light lunch (soup, salads, one hot menu item, and dessert) can be eaten in the lounge or you may partake of the full lunch in the dinning room. After lunch the cookie tray appears and around 3:30 finger sandwiches and small pastries appear.
We had some laundry done on the ship because we didn't want to pay the airlines $90 for another suitcase. The cost to have roughly a week's worth of underwear washed for two of us was 24 Euros (about $34). They picked it up at 8:00 p.m. and it was back the next morning by 10:00 a.m.
The boat also had a very nice aft lounge that always had fresh fruit and water available. Board games and a computer with a printer were also available in the lounge. Just off the lounge was the exercise room. Although small, it had something for everyone -- sauna, free weights, treadmill, and bike. Bottled water was also available. For nice days, the sun deck had a walking track, sun chairs, small Jacuzzi, and large
Our cruise ended in Nuremberg, Germany where we stayed overnight on the ship and then boarded motor coaches the next morning for our trip to Prague. Each motor coach had a local Czech tour guide on board who provided narration on our journey to Prague. The trip to Prague was pretty much an all day affair with a restroom stop at the German/Czech border and then another stop for lunch in the beautiful little town of Karlovy Vary. It's a picturesque little spa town with a river running through it. There is a fancy hotel there where some of the scenes from the movie Casino Royale with Daniel Craig were shot. After a short tour of the town, our Czech tour guide suggested a local restaurant for lunch. That's where we sampled the very good Czech Goulash along with a good Czech beer. Our lunch stop was two hours and then the rest of the trip to Prague lasted about another one and a half hours arriving at the hotel about 3:00 p.m.
Our hotel in Prague was the Intercontinental Hotel located right in the old town area and just a couple blocks from the Charles Bridge and five minutes from the central plaza. The hotel is a 5-star hotel with all the amenities we could want. The room included a large breakfast buffet each morning. There are too many items to mention, but suffice it to say they have everything - meats, cheeses, eggs to order, pancakes, cereals, breads, juices, fruits, etc.
Prague is a beautiful old city. It's easy to walk to most of the tourist attractions, shopping areas, and restaurants of which there are many. Prague is where we did the optional Folklore dinner. We had two full days to explore, but it wasn't enough so we'll have to go back someday.
Our cruise director, Csaba, from Budapest was absolutely outstanding. He was there at the hotel when we first arrived and stayed with us all the way through to Prague. He was very professional, knowledgeable, and most of all he was very friendly. He's a 36-year old single guy who loves his job and you can tell by the way he goes about his business. We'd love to see him again on another cruise.
Csaba also used his computer to check everyone in 24-hours before our flight departed Prague. He could not print out boarding passes, but you could get your seat assignments and do pre-check-in.
Although you may initially be taken aback by the price of a river cruise, you must remember that a lot of things that may not be included in an ocean voyage are in included here such as local tours with transportation provided and local tour guides. You are also given an audio box with ear pieces so you can hear the guides as they take you through these old towns without having to be two feet from the guide in order to hear something. They really work quite well. They also have three different paced tour levels - fast, regular, and slow. Join whichever group you want.
Free bottled water is also provided in your stateroom each day. Postcards are mailed for free by simply dropping them off at the front desk on the ship. It doesn't matter where they are going - U.S., Europe, etc.
All in all, we were very pleased with our first river cruise and would not hesitate to do another one.