European River Cruise on the Danube
What a year! In 2022 I retired from work and Mrs Chard and I began planning our trips for the coming year. This time there was no consideration for scheduling time off around work commitments and colleagues’ plans. A river cruise through the cities of Europe seemed like a fun way to explore cities we had not visited before, and after considering a few options we settled on a 10-day trip down the Danube with Emerald Waterways
Why Take a River Cruise
Exploring the culture and history of some of Europe’s most beautiful cities is something any traveller would relish. Doing it from a luxury cruise ship adds a whole new dimension to the adventure. The Danube originates in the black forest of Germany and flows through many European countries including Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia. What better way to experience the countryside and views than from the sundeck of a cruise ship or through the panoramic windows of the ship’s restaurants and bars?
Danube River Cruise Lines
There are many companies, some well-known, that provide river cruise holidays on the Danube. Your personal preferences for the type of cruise, itinerary and cost will all have a bearing on your choice, but the main players include:
What Cruise Line is Right for You?
The nature of river cruising means that cruise lines offer similar itineraries and experiences. Ships tend to be of similar sizes and have comparable facilities. However, some focus more on well-being and fitness and may offer activities more suited to those who like bike riding or hiking. Some operators may also offer themed cruises with, for example, a focus on photography where talks and advice from a professional will be part of the package.
Cabins are likely to be similar although some lines may provide balconies as opposed to panoramic windows which can drop down to give the feeling of open space. Uniworld is known for its 5-star service and lavish décor although I had the opportunity to investigate one of their ships and found the décor a bit too “Liberace” for me!
So, it is down to reading the cruise line brochures and determining what is important to you. In the end, Mrs Chard and I opted for Emerald because they offered a value-for-money cruise, and their ships have infinity pools at the rear which we thought might be fun after a hard day’s sightseeing.
Cities Visited on the Danube River Cruise
Our cruise was the 8-day “Danube Delights”. From the UK we flew to Munich and were met by an Emerald representative at the airport before onward transport to our ship the Emerald Sun.
Our itinerary took us to the following places.
Melk, Durnstein and Vienna (Austria)
A typical Day on the Emerald Sun
When compared to an ocean cruise a river cruise is much more of an organised tour. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be in the ship’s one and only restraint and be at fixed times. A typical day on our river cruise looked like this.
07:00 - 0900 – Breakfast
09:00 - 12:30 – Organised walking tour with guides
12:30 - 14:00 – Lunch on the ship (or you could do your own thing and eat in town)
14:00 - 16:00 – An optional more strenuous tour or hike or time to relax on board.
18:00 - 19:00 – Pre-dinner drinks and briefing on the next day’s activities
19:00 - 21:00 – Dinner
21:00 - 00:00 – Entertainment (usually a quiz or local band/group etc.)
When is the best time to Cruise on the Danube?
Cruising over the summer months has the obvious benefit of pleasant weather and longer days which can enhance your enjoyment of the organised tours and sightseeing. Back on the boat, you can enjoy lazy afternoons and evenings on the sundeck and even join in some games, walk, or simply enjoy a glass of wine and watch the countryside pass by. On the downside, in recent years the lack of rainfall has made some cities impossible to reach by boat and in extreme cases, your cruise could be cancelled. The low water could have affected our cruise, but I found Emerald adept at working around problems and I would still consider river cruising during the summer months.
In Spring melting snows raise water levels and can make navigating the many locks impossible and cruise lines may have to use coaches to reach some destinations. However, walking, hiking or some of the other activities you enjoy may be far easier to enjoy in the cooler months.
Autumn brings its own pleasures, and the scenery may be at its best and hopefully, the river levels will have settled down. Nights, however, may be cooler and into October and November, you can expect rain.
Many cruise lines offer dedicated Christmas cruises, and these are extremely popular and take in some of the beautiful Christmas markets in Europe which have wonderful food and gifts and the stalls, displays and lights make a wonderful addition to some of the old squares and plazas.
Should you buy a Drinks Package on a River Cruise?
Most cruise lines include water and hot drinks in their all-inclusive packages. On the Emerald Sun, several drink stations were in communal places around the ship and water was provided in the cabins daily.
Wine and beer were provided during lunch and dinner and although there was a limited choice (Re or White!) I found the wines to be particularly good and the waiters were attentive and would continually refill glasses without limit. Additional drinks can then be purchased from the bat either before or after dinner.
Drink packages are also available and can be booked before or during the cruise. I found these to be fair value and not as expensive as on an ocean cruise so I booked the basic package and would do so again.
River Cruising for Solo Travellers
I met several single travellers during our cruise, and they were positive about their experiences. Cruise ships have much lower numbers of passengers than ocean liners and it doesn't take long for people to get to know one another. Given that everyone is eating, drinking, and going on excursions together it does not take long before everyone gets to know each other, and no one is alone for long.
Pros and Cons of River Cruises
Lots of choice of destinations and cruise lines
It is a wonderful way to travel and see several European countries and cities.
Everything is provided - no additional cost for excursions.
Little to think about - The cruise line provides the itinerary, and you just turn up.
Small and Intermate - Small numbers mean you will get to know your fellow passengers and crew.
Embarkation and Disembarkation are easy, fast, and no more painful than getting on or off a coach.
Limited Facilities - smaller ships mean fewer venues. You won't find casinos, theatres are specialist restaurants.
Days are structured - A river cruise is much more of an organized tour and there is less opportunity to do your own thing.
Water Levels - can be too high or too low so expect some disruption and changes to your itinerary.
I sailed on the Emerald Sun with Emerald Waterways in August 2022.