Cruise: Enchanting Danube
Ship: River Beatrice
On July 15th, 2012 I began the most amazing experience of my life. When I stepped onto the breath taking River Beatrice behind by Grandmother, I realized that at age 17 I was easily one of the youngest passengers aboard. Not only that, but I had never traveled internationally, and I was about to be in three foreign countries over the course of a week. Of course I was excited, but there were quite a few butterflies as well!
As I learned later, there was no reason to be nervous, because I immediately became one of a ...
128 member family on the Beatrice. From day one, the crew was fantastic. Service was great, but so was the camaraderie. We hadn’t even set sail yet, and crew members were already smiling at me on the deck and commenting on my book, as well as directing me towards the library and offering to fill my glass with water. And we had just begun! The rest of the week could only get better.
On this trip, I was determined to try all sorts of new foods, and I had all sorts of opportunities to do so! All the food was AMAZING, and every dinner had a vegetarian option. The breakfast and lunch buffets had a variety of ever-changing options, and the culinary crew was always more than happy to recommend and describe any odd-looking dishes. For example, one afternoon in Germany I selected a hot pretzel to join my lunch, and Armin (a member of the crew) immediately recommended a dish of funny looking cheese sauce I hadn’t even noticed. It tasted fantastic! My personal favorite was a linguine with ‘sea fruits.’ Well I learned that ‘sea fruits’ consist of pieces of octopus and squid…yet it turned out to be a very delicious dish. Another fun touch was that every meal had some sort of local favorite. For example, the day we set sail in Hungary we had the option of eating Hungarian goulash, while in Germany we had Bratwurst.
I also had the opportunity to be a guinea pig for an amazing excursion- an (at least) 11 mile bike ride from the town of Dürnstein to Melk (Austria), through all sorts of little towns. A group of eight people set out on this adventure, and I stuck with a group of four friends I had made earlier in the week. The bike ride took us four hours- but not because of the distance! We stopped at a local café for a cappuccino, ate the picnic box lunch provided by the ship while looking over the Danube, explored St. Michael’s church, as well as purchased freshly picked apricots and peaches from a local seller. We biked by terraced vineyards and sunflower fields, all the way directed by signs. We got lost once when trying to find the boat, but that is the reason why we were the guinea pigs! :) We made it back late and missed the bus to Melk Abbey, but this was just an opportunity for the front desk to exercise their talents. Within minutes a taxi was called, and we drove to Melk Abbey where our tour manager Markus stood waiting with tickets. We walked in and joined the fourth group as if we had been right on time. The bike trip was definitely one of the highlight experiences of this trip for me, and I hope anyone else who sails the Danube has the opportunity to experience it!
But what was my grandmother doing during this biking adventure? Not everyone was physically capable for this sort of a ride…well, while I was enjoying a freshly picked apricot she was relaxing on the sundeck of the Beatrice as it sailed to Melk. The crew had prepared a barbecue on the deck for everyone to enjoy as they took in the beautiful scenery of the Wachau Valley. While I was able to tell stories about biking over cobblestones, GranAnn learned all about the pirates who used to raid the Danube and what all those crumbly buildings along the river were. So no matter where we were or what we were doing, we were creating memories unlike any other.
The second new excursion was a hike along the Else river in Passau, Germany. It was a three hour hike (although quite honestly, about 45 minutes was spent at a lovely local café) led by a fantastic local guide, Hika. The hike gave us a wonderful view of Passau that not everyone gets to experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is physically capable of wandering over dirt and root trails. The forest of Passau is beautiful, and is a unique experience that you can’t find on the deck of a ship.
All of the provided city excursions contained the perfect balance of tour guide time and free time. With a guide, we got an idea of the simple layout of the city, as a well as a fascinating history lesson. We were then free to explore as we wished, an opportunity my grandmother and I enjoyed. With the free time, we managed to find a fun bookstore in Vienna, as well as experience the subway in a foreign country. In Salzburg, we explored the local marketplace and enjoyed local food favorites (I highly recommend Baumkuchen!) If I wrote everything we did and enjoyed, I would be publishing a book, not writing a review. :) But for those curious about what we saw, I would say this cruise was the perfect first experience in Europe. We saw castle ruins, as well as vineyards. We explored local towns and the country side, as well as the two well-known European cities of Vienna and Salzburg. This trip was the perfect mix of everything, as well as an excellent teaser for any future trips!
Another unique feature of this cruise was how they created a fantastic experience by reading the group of people aboard the ship. Originally, there was only one onboard musical group scheduled to perform. (And they were AMAZING!) But as the week progressed, travelers began to dance. Every night after dinner, a good number of people would head to the lounge and dance as our pianist Zultan played and sang along. I learned to twist, cha-cha, and many more! Recognizing this developing hobby, ship managers Markus and Mario found a local jazz band from the area and brought them on board one night to play for us- not only for us to watch, but to dance along! We danced the night away, and even if you weren’t dancing, you were sipping a glass of wine watching and chatting with new acquaintances. The crew actually came to know us as people- for example, by the end of the week, everyone knew that my grandmother and I were in room 203 and that all I ever drank was water (much to the entertainment of bar tenders Georgi and Mladen!).
Not only did we become friends with the crew, but with the people around us. This is where the size of the River Beatrice comes into play. With a boat that only holds around 162 guests, we voyaged with 128 people. Because of the size, we recognized faces and made all sorts of friends. As the week progressed, we would always meet new people, but we would also create solid friendships over dinner and during city tours. We became one big happy family, one that was very hard to leave on the last day! All the trips and history I absorbed during this trip was amazing, but it was my fellow passengers and crew that added the icing on top of the cake. After all, what’s better than exploring the Danube River on a gorgeous boat full of friends? :) I’m never going to be able to thank my grandmother enough for sharing this amazing experience with me, and hope that whoever is in room 203 of the River Beatrice right now is having as much fun as we did.
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