8 Reasons You Should Take a Scenic Cruise Along the Danube River

Luxury from Budapest to Nuremburg

Taking an Australian ship on a river cruise through the heart of Europe may seem counterintuitive. But Scenic River Cruises has been breaking rules in travel ever since it started offering coach tours out of Melbourne, Australia in 1986. For over 30 years, its founder, Glen Moroney, has established his company as a worldwide leader in creating unforgettable luxury cruises and land tours.

Called “SpaceShips,” Scenic’s deluxe fleet got into the river cruise business in 2008 and it’s been growing ever since. Now you can sail all along Europe’s rivers, from the Volga in Russia to the Douro in Portugal and everywhere in between.

We were among the fortunate passengers on one of its most popular itineraries, the Danube River, where we sailed from Budapest in Hungary to Nuremburg in Germany. Stops en route included Vienna, the Wachau Valley, Durnstein and Melk Abbey in Austria, and Passau and Regensburg in Bavaria. Side trips took us to Bratislava in Slovakia, Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic and Salzburg in Austria.

On board our eight-day cruise was a complement of 55 Canadians, 30 Brits, 48 Americans and 25 Australians. The Aussies, so far from home, usually book Scenic’s longer two-week itinerary all the way to Amsterdam.

Thinking a Danube river cruise might be for you? Here are eight reasons you should climb aboard.

1. You’ll Have the Chance to Stay at the Aria Hotel

Many of us took advantage of hotel stays in Budapest in advance of boarding the ship. I was overwhelmed with my stay at Budapest’s Aria Hotel, named by TripAdvisor as the #1 Hotel in the World just last year. This extraordinary property is musically themed — with rooms named for musicians ranging from Mozart to Michael Jackson.

A stay in Budapest is not only highly recommended for beating jet lag, it’s a fascinating and beautiful city full of history and magnificent architecture.

2. The View of Budapest at Night from the River is Unforgettable

The excitement of sailing day never fades, even though the first night of the cruise is spent on the river right in Budapest. In the evening, just after dark, you’ll be treated to a magnificent show of lights. That’s because Budapest’s key monuments — its Parliament Building, Royal Palace and dozens of landmarks — light up the night sky. It’s an unforgettable view.

3. Your Every Need Will be Catered To

Scenic’s Freechoice are tours offered all along the river so passengers can pursue their special interests. On day two of your cruise, for example, you can take your pick of an in-depth tour of Budapest, a Jewish heritage tour or a visit to the artists’ village of Szentendre located outside of town.

Like everything aboard a Scenic cruise, the Freechoice options are included in the fare, as is every drink, glass of wine and meal — even those offered in the specialty restaurant. They even give a laundry allowance for a kilo of wash.

Once you’ve returned from your tour, a swimming pool with Jacuzzi jets awaits on board. You can also participate in German language lessons, fitness classes and listen to port talks.

4. The Classical Music Concert Is a Cultural Experience You Won’t Want to Miss

After docking in Vienna in the evening on the third day of the cruise, you’ll be invited to a classical music concert at the Palais Lichtenstein, a monumental and beautiful remnant of Vienna’s dominant role in Europe that lasted from 1804 until 1918.

On my trip, the passengers were awed by a performance that included an orchestra, opera, dance and of course, the Blue Danube Waltz, called Austria’s “second national anthem.”

5. You Can Explore Extraordinary Palaces

On your fourth day, one of your Freechoice options will take you out of Vienna and into Bratislava, Slovakia, allowing you to notch another country off your list. Your other two choices offer the chance to visit two extraordinary palaces: Schönbrunn, where the Hapsburgs presided, or Belvedere, home of a great collection of Gustav Klimpt paintings.

A shuttle operates all day for freestyle touring.

6. You’ll Get a Chance to Stretch Your Legs on a Bike Tour

On route to Melk on the fifth day of the cruise, the ship makes a quick stop in Durstein for those who wish to participate in a cycling tour.

On the cruise I took, the passenger complement was a surprising mix of young and the young at heart. There were three generations of a family from Toronto and any number of young adults traveling with their parents. So it was not a surprise that 37 passengers signed up for a 35-kilometer bicycle tour. Leading the pack was an 80-year-old birthday girl from Ontario, Canada.

The tour actually beat the ship at one point as the stay-aboards waved and clapped to their fellow cruisers on their bikes.

The two cohorts meet up again in Melk for a visit to Melk Abbey, with its jaw-dropping baroque cathedral and 16,000-book library. And don’t forget about sundowner drinks at the Instagram-ready castle ruin, Aggstein.

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7. You Can Walk Along Streets from the Sound of Music

On the sixth day, the Freechoice options include a day trip to Cesky-Krumlov in the Czech Republic or one to Salzburg, Austria. For fans of “The Sound of Music,” there is no question that Salzburg is the only option. After all, Maria was a novice at Nonnberg Abbey, right in the center of the city.

But for passengers who choose Cesky-Krumlov, there is just as much romance in this lovely Czech city with its enormous castle and medieval buildings. On your way back to the ship, an unforgettable playlist of Czech classical music makes for the perfect backdrop to the beauty of the Czech countryside.

8. You’ll Be Delighted by the Scenic’s Hospitality

If into each life some rain must fall, unfortunately not enough had fallen on the Danube. At the daily port talk on the seventh day of my cruise, Cruise Director Gray informed my fellow passengers and I that the ship could go no further. However, Scenic really shined.

Alternate arrangements had been made to take passengers to Regensburg on a day trip to this ancient town with its 1,300 medieval buildings. Or one could choose a walking tour of the university town of Passau. Home to 12,000 college students, the town is treasure trove of baroque architecture dominated by St. Stephen’s Cathedral, home to the second-largest pipe organ in the world.

To further accommodate, on the last day of our tour when we should have been reaching Nuremburg, Scenic provided transport to Prague where the tour would continue, or airport drop-offs in Munich and Nuremburg.

While some continued on for more magical days on the Danube river and others headed to the comforts of home, all were filled with memories of abundant food and wonderful company, thanks to what is perhaps the best way to see Europe: a truly all-inclusive Scenic River Cruise through its very heart.

For all things food and travel, visit Monte’s website, Chewing the Fat.

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