While recently browsing at a bric-a-brac and antiques fair, I happened to overhear a conversation between a greying purveyor of timeworn wares and a potential purchaser.
‘Why are you getting rid of all this stuff?’ the purchaser enquired. The vendor merrily replied: ‘Why do I need this old junk? I’ve taken up cruising’.
So, it seems, have many Aussie baby-boomers, and one of the most popular options is European river cruising. Droves of retirees are pushing the boat out on all-inclusive cruises along the gentle waterways of what is still very much old-world Europe.
Having completed a section of a river cruise along the Danube with Evergreen Tours — from picturesque Passau on the German-Austrian border to Hungary’s capital Budapest — it’s pretty easy to understand the attraction. Here are some top tips for first time Europe river cruisers.
European river cruising is sublime. No doubt about that. This is the Europe dreams are made of, with hilltop castles and chateaus, stunning medieval towns and cobbled city streets. River cruising passengers get to enjoy it all from the comfort of their floating hotel. I actually expected to see lots of cruise ships on the Danube, but much of the time we seemed to have the river much to ourselves.
Unlike coach tours through Europe, which can be pretty taxing in terms of the early starts, the big attraction of European river cruises is that you only have to unpack once. All meals on board European river cruises are generally included and in most cases alcohol served with meals is also part of the package.
On our itinerary with Evergreen Tours there were port stops every day and an included shore excursion in every port. Or you’re welcome to go exploring at your own pace. Many of the town centres are accessible on foot from the ship. If not it’s a short taxi ride at most.
Evenings on our cruise were relaxed and informal, with a well-stocked cocktail bar and live entertainment. Most of the passengers were Aussies and unlike larger cruise ships, the relatively small number of passengers on a river cruise means it is possible to get to know as many of your fellow passengers as you like.
While I travelled on the Amadeus Brilliant, Evergreen Tours has now launched two brand new Emerald ‘Star Ships’. Stunning by all accounts with a choice of accommodation including balcony staterooms, and one-bedroom suites, all with complimentary WiFi. There’s even a swimming pool that converts to a cinema by night.
It’s hard to pick a particular highlight from this experience — there were many — but if I had to, the magnificent Austria capital of Vienna would come top of my list. This city is really extraordinary, with an incredibly rich cultural history to explore.
We got started early with a visit to the Hofburg — the centre of the mighty Habsburg Empire for six centuries. Tour the Kaiserappartements, the home of Emperor Franz Joseph I and his beloved wife Elizabeth (also known affectionately as Sisi). Ferdinand ruled Austria from the mid 1800s to his death in 1916 during World War l. The apartments are largely undisturbed and a fascinating insight into this chapter in Viennese history and the life of Austria’s longest reigning emperor.
Art aficionados should make their way to the nearby Albertina Museum. It has an incredible collection of works by the great masters, including Picasso, Matisse, Monet, Cezanne, Klimt and many more. Good things do come in small packages: the museum’s most famous piece is Albrecht Durer’s small, unassuming watercolour Young Hare — painted in 1502.
If it’s time for a restorative latte, pay a visit to one of the city’s world famous coffee houses. A word of warning however: the Viennese take their coffee drinking very seriously. There are no takeaways from a traditional coffee house. They’re a place to sit and put the world to rights. Visit Café Sacher (located near Albertina) and try a piece of their famous chocolate Sacher Torte.
For a more substantial lunch option, head across the city heart to the historic Griechenbeisl inn for a traditional Vienna Schnitzel. The schnitzels are massive and the restaurant oozes old-world charm. It should do. The history of the building stretches back to the 1300s. Some of the famous guests that have dined here include Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner and Schubert.
Speaking of Mozart — no visit to Vienna would be complete without attending a Mozart recital. Mozart was born in Salzburg but spent much of his life composing in Vienna. Purchase a ticket to the concert of your choice from the sellers in the main square around St Stephen’s Cathedral. We chose the Vienna Residence Orchestra, which performs nightly at the wonderful Palais Auersperg.
Once all passengers are safely back on board, the cruise departs for its next enchanting destination. Drifting down the Danube is without doubt one of the finest ways to travel.
Do you have any top tips for first time Europe river cruisers? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Adam Ford is a Melbourne-based travel presenter, producer, writer, blogger and photographer, and has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam lived in London for six years and worked as a travel consultant for three years before taking up the opportunity to travel the world as host of the Tour the World television series on Network Ten. Adam loves to uncover everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi. He regards himself as a flash-packer — a little bit of extra comfort goes along way!