July is River Cruise Month!

by Don McCann

AMA generic

AMA Waterways, gliding through Europe

River Cruises, primarily in Europe, have exploded in popularity in recent years and there is a very good reason:  They are WONDERFUL!  As we have mentioned in past posts, they carry between 130 to 190 guests and dock in the heart of the city in many ports of call.  A very good industry friend told us “on an ocean cruise, you cruise TO a country; on a river cruise, you cruise THROUGH a country“.  Simple observation, but yet so true.

So we take July as River Cruise Month for several reasons….

  1. Now is the best time to book for next year, 2017; river cruises fill far in advance
  2. Most lines have advance booking discounts which will expire soon
  3. Crystal River Cruises has their inaugural cruise in July; an exciting, new product

This month we’ll be sending out examples of special offers for River Cruises, but we’ll also be sending out some photos and observations on our own past River Cruises.  Watch for more posts and remember to THINK RIVER CRUISES all month long!!!

River Deal?

Emerald Waterways Rhine Gorge

Emerald Waterways on the Rhine Gorge

by Don McCann

European river cruises continue to gain in popularity, but the limited availability is difficult for some experienced cruisers to comprehend. When we’re all used to taking ocean cruises with hundreds and many times thousands of passengers, a river cruise with about 150 people is quite different. The first difference of note is how soon they fill up! With so few cabins and such high demand, they are filling up farther and farther in advance. However, there are always some exceptions. Emerald Waterways is still relatively new and so they have some space for 2016 which is, not only available, but currently on sale! So if a river cruise is on your travel radar for this year AND if you’d like a great deal, then we suggest that you might want to consider Emerald – but act quickly.

For an example of Emerald Waterways reduced fares, click here, then call us for details.

It Was Only a Matter of Time

 

by Don McCann

With all of the growing popularity of European river cruises, it’s not too surprising that one of the major ‘ocean’ cruise lines has decided to launch their own river cruise division. Recently, Crystal Cruises announced that they will begin river cruises within Europe in 2017. At the time, they released virtually no details, but earlier this week they announced some date information and even showed us a couple of renderings!

Crystal Cruises European River CruiseCrystal Cruises will begin European river cruises in March, 2017 and reservations will open in December of this year, in 2015. That far in advance, you might ask? Yes! With the demand for river cruises and the limited number of cabins onboard, they sell much further in advance than many ocean cruises.

The river vessels from Crystal will each feature standard ‘suites’ at 250 square feet,Crystal Cruises river cruise suite as well as two 500 square feet penthouse suites. Accommodations will have walk-in closets, king-size beds and the bathrooms will have double vanities. As with their ocean ships, the river ships will include their signature Palm Court, which will have a glass roof & dance floor and there will be a fitness center and spa. The ships will carry only 140 guests.

The other lines in the luxury arena of European river cruises (Uniworld, Tauck, and Scenic) will surely be interested to see how Crystal will create their own style of luxury river cruises and we’ll all be interested to see at what price point, as well. Stay tuned for more info!

River Cruise Month

European River Cruise photo

Idyllic European River Photo – taken by Bill Edwards

by Don McCann

More river cruises are booked in July than in any other month of the year and most of those bookings are for sailings far into the future.  “So what is it about river cruises anyway?” you might be asking.  One of the best features of river cruising is the very issue which begs advance bookings.  You see most river vessels only hold from 130 to 190 guests, so it makes for a wonderful ambiance onboard, but makes inventory scarce unless you plan AHEAD!

So since now is the time many are thinking (or should be thinking) of river cruise reservations for next year, we thought we’d remind you that we have a separate site exclusively for river cruises.  Take a look and contact us with any questions and/or your preferred dates for a reservation……….RiverCruiseEscapes.com .

Tauck River Cruise in Southern France

Tauck River Cruise in Southern France, photo by John Lane

Something Different

Douro River Cruise

by Bill Edwards

Looking for something different next year?

Consider a rivercruise on Portugal’s Douro River.  While it’s not exactly a forgotten part of Europe it is certainly one less traveled by most Americans and is “off the beaten path” compared to cruising the Rhine, Danube and the rivers of France.

Who will enjoy this cruise?  Those wanting to discover a well-kept secret, a region with spellbinding natural beauty and cultural heritage.  And wine connoisseurs will certainly enjoy indulging in the region’s most celebrated beverage, Port.

Douro River Cruise

The beautiful valleys and vistas of the Douro River

Although a Douro cruise sets a pretty leisurely pace, there are some wonderful experiences along the way.  Most packages will begin or end in Lisbon with time to explore this city which launched a host of renowned navigators, including Vasco da Gama.  On the way from Lisbon to Porto (via motorcoach) a stop is made in Portugal’s 3rd largest city, Coimbra, to visit one of the oldest universities in Europe.  The rivercruise portion of the trip begins in Porto, birthplace of Henry the Navigator and longtime hub of the Port wine trade.   Along the way visits are made to some of the big port-growing dynasties, and folkloric music and dance performances add to the cultural immersion of this region.  Another highlight is to visit Salamanca, nicknamed the “Golden City” for it’s sandstone buildings that give it a golden glow.  This town across the border in Spain, boasts monumental churches, and a historic university attended by one very famous Christopher Columbus!

AMA Waterways, UniWorld and Viking River Cruises are all excellent choices for exploring this unique area.  Their ships generally carry just slightly more than 100 guests so hence the need to plan NOW for next year!

European Christmas Markets River Cruise: Two In One

by Don McCann

Local Baked Treats at Vienna Christmas Market

Local Baked Treats at Vienna Christmas Market

By now, most travelers know about the wonders of European river cruises.  However, many are unaware of the holiday charms of a Christmas Markets river cruise.  These holiday event favorites feature crafts, jewelry, gifts, etc., as well as great local foods and entertainment; they are really more of a ‘festival’.  Tourists and locals mingle as they stroll by the various booths and sip either excellent hot chocolate, or the delicious glühwein, a hot wine favorite!  Germany is perhaps the most noted for the ‘markets’, but you’ll find them throughout Europe beginning in mid, or late November until Christmas.

The attraction of a Christmas Markets cruise is that, not only will you have a great itinerary with tour options at each port, but you’ll also have the opportunity to experience these magical holiday events in various locations.  In other words, it’s almost like two cruises in one; sightseeing, markets, or some of both!  On our recent cruise along the Danube, we were able to visit three, different Christmas Markets in Vienna, Salzburg, and Munich.  Wherever the locations, each one has its own personality and some cities have multiple markets in various locations.  In Vienna and Munich, the market was in front of their town hall building, or “Rathausplatz” in Vienna and “Rathaus” in Munich.  The fantastic facades of these buildings provide the perfect authentic European setting for all visitors to their Christmas Markets.  However, in some locations, the market will simply be in a city square, or maybe a large park area.

Rhine, Danube, or whatever river itinerary you choose for a Christmas Markets River Cruise, you are in for a treat!

Vienna Christmas Market

Vienna Christmas Market at Rathaus

Munich Christmas Market

Munich Christmas Market at Rathaus in Marienplatz

 

Look for an announcement soon on our special Christmas Markets departure in December!

Vienna!

by Don McCann

Viking River Cruises – Danube Waltz – onboard Viking Magni, November 19, 2013

The third port on our recent Danube cruise was Vienna.  This was to be our most activity-packed day and it all worked out perfectly!   The day before we arrived, we were given the option to change our included city motorcoach tour to an ‘upclose tour’ via subway.  As we’d planned to stay in town after the tour to visit the Christmas market and we prefer walking tours, this seemed perfect for us.  Our group of 14 was met at the gangway to the ship by our tour guide, Erika, then we walked a couple of easy blocks to the nearest subway station.  Once at our stop, we began our walk past the fascinating and classic architecture of the streets of Vienna.  The temperature was quite brisk, but not cold enough to create any problems, nor deter our enjoyment of this wonderful city!

The Opera, Hofburg Palace, the Lipizzaner stallions (who were in their stalls, on break at the time), St Stephan’s, and everything in between, seems we saw it ALL and in a very short time.  At the conclusion of the tour, we parted ways with our guide and made our way to the Christmas Market at Rathausplatz (which is City Hall).  Here we carefully went from stall to stall, careful to miss nothing.  Half way through our Market adventure, we stopped for lunch in the adjacent park.  The Markets usually have great selections of wonderful smelling treats (OK, maybe not too healthy, but delicious none the less!).  We shared a braut, some roasted sliced potatoes, a chocolate covered pretzel, and of course, some glühwein.  We had looked forward to the Christmas Markets on this trip for months and, I’d have to say, this one was excellent.  It was very well laid out, it was very clean and not cluttered, and was in a super setting with the historic hall as the backdrop.  Once we concluded our stay, we asked the information desk about the closest subway station, then we easily found it about a block away and made our way to the station.  Our routing required one change of trains, which we figured out and executed all on our own, arriving safely back at the ship before dinner.

Speaking of dinner, it was offered earlier on this day to accommodate those who had signed up for the evening Mozart & Strauss Concert, which included us.  After dinner, we boarded our motorcoach for about a 20 minute ride back through the streets of Vienna to the former Stock Exchange building.  Seems this building has great acoustics and it is used for concerts these days.  The performance was thoroughly enjoyable and the experience of a lifetime; I recommend it to anyone on a stop here.  Once it was over, we headed back to the ship in a very light rain and enjoyed the buildings lit up in their Christmas & holiday lights.  To summarize, I found Vienna to be a delight from beginning to end, from outside to inside, and all in between!

 

Vienna Opera House

The Vienna Opera House (note the ‘winterized’ fountain in the foreground)

 

Vienna Mozart statue

Mozart statue

Vienna

Fall in Vienna – beautiful !!!

Vienna Lipizzaner stallions on break!

Lipizzaner stallions on break!

Vienna Hofburg Palace

Hofburg Palace

 

Vienna St. Stephan’s Cathedral

St. Stephan’s Cathedral

 

Vienna Christmas Market Rathausplatz

Christmas Market Rathausplatz (City Hall)

Vienna Christmas Market collage

Christmas Market close ups

Vienna Mozart and Strauss Concert

Us at the Mozart and Strauss Concert

check back for our next post on Durnstein & Melk!

First Stop: Bratislava

by Don McCann

Viking River Cruises – Danube Waltz – onboard Viking Magni, November 19, 2013

Marek in local Bratislava costume

Marek in local Bratislava costume

After sailing from Budapest, we were treated to a “Bratislava preview” with our Onboard Tour Director, Marek.  He is originally from Slovakia and he even dressed in traditional ‘costume’ to present his talk on the homeland.  Many are unaware that, after the fall of the iron curtain, Czechoslovakia actually split into two separate countries: The Czech Republic and Slovakia.  Marek told us that they simply parted ways with a friendly divorce!  Bratislava is one of the capital cities featured on this Danube itinerary.  He then ended his presentation by suggesting that we all “spend our money” in Bratislava!

Since we were arriving in the afternoon, that left time in the morning for an Apple Strudel Demonstration in the Lounge.  It was actually quite interesting to see the chef, with her two volunteers, roll out the pastry dough, work it into the right shape and thickness, and then to add the filling mixture.  Of course it looks to me as if it is one of those classic “do not attempt this at home” type of exercises.  I mean they made it look easy enough, but I doubt it would work out quite as easily in our own kitchen.  Regardless, the best part is that they passed out finished product samples during the demo and then gave us nicely printed recipes to take with us.

Arriving in Bratislava we were reminded just why we brought those umbrellas with us; yes, it was sort of rainy; not really ‘coming down’, but enough to warrant the umbrella, none the less.  Because of the weather, Bratislava was not nearly as enjoyable as it would have been with more favorable weather.  Don’t get me wrong, we made the best of it and we really liked it, but the first stop on the tour was at Bratislava Castle, up on a hill which overlooks the town down below.  This would have been a lovely view on a clear day, but for us it was a bit misty.  Regardless, we enjoyed seeing the restored exterior of the castle (which looks a bit more like a stylish fortress) and the very impressive gates at either entrance.

Once back in town, our tour continued on foot, through the cobblestone streets of charming Bratislava.  Even with the light rain, we found the old town to be delightful and interesting.  Since the Christmas Markets here were only just being set up for opening a few days later, we opted for some browsing in a few local shops.  One shop in particular converted our ‘browsing’ into ‘buying’:  ULUV Slovak Folk Art & Crafts.  Our few handicraft souvenir purchases may not have been enough to Marek truly happy, but we were quite pleased with them.

A short walk back to the ship included a few moments of confusion about how to cross the busy street using the foreign crosswalk lights, but some cars eventually stopped for us and we were back on the ship in a jiffy.  We freshened up, went in for a talk on our next port, Vienna, had some fantastic chateaubriand for dinner, then finished the evening with a folkloric show onboard in the Viking Magni’s Lounge.  So a day with a little rain, yes; an enjoyable day, ABSOLUTELY!

Apple Strudel Demonstration

Apple Strudel Demonstration

 

overlooking Bratislava

overlooking Bratislava

 

Bratislava Castle gates

Bratislava Castle gates

 

Bratislava - getting ready for Christmas Markets

Bratislava – getting ready for Christmas Markets

Bratislava streets decorated for the holidays

Bratislava streets decorated for the holidays

Bratislava Folkloric Show onboard Viking Magni

Bratislava Folkloric Show onboard Viking Magni

check back for our next post on Vienna!

“Danube Waltz” River Cruise

by Don McCann

Viking River Cruises – Danube Waltz – onboard Viking Magni, November 19, 2013

It would have been nice to have made blog posts about our recent Danube River cruise during the cruise each day.  However, the wi-fi signal was erratic, inconsistent, and let’s just say too poor to actually work!  Therefore, I’m going to post about each day, one day at a time, to the best of my recollection.

Our cruise began in Budapest.  To fly from DFW to Budapest there are many, many options and all involve at least one connection.  Ours actually involved two connections, in Detroit and Paris, and I have to say that all flights went very well AND that our checked bag arrived with us (not always the case these days).  With an arrival time of 3:00pm in Budapest, once our cruise line representative met our flight, gathered the other couples, and directed us to the waiting minibus, it was about 5:00pm when we arrived at the ship.

The Viking Magni was docked in the very heart of Budapest, directly under the iconic Chain Bridge and across the Danube from the Royal Budapest Palace.  In other words, a very exciting setting in which to begin our Danube River cruise!  We walked onboard, gave the front desk our names, were quickly given our room keys, shown to our cabin just down the hall, and voila – we were in our cabin; so easy and relaxed, compared to traditional ocean cruises.

Viking Magni Cat D cabin 212

Viking Magni Cat D cabin 212

Having been introduced just two months ago, the Viking Magni is brand new and is the latest in Viking Cruise Line’s “long ships”, their exclusive design for modern river cruising.  She carries 190 passengers and has such attractive features as the Aquavit Lounge & Terrace overlooking the front of the ship, many cabins and suites with balconies, and an overall open & airy feeling with great views throughout.  Our cabin was a Category D French Balcony room at 135 sq ft.  What – only 135 sq ft?!  Yes, I have to admit that I was concerned about the cabin size prior to sailing, but it actually is designed very well and was quite comfortable.  There was ample storage space, including a safe and fridge, and the bathroom had a great design for the space provided AND included a heated tile floor!

 

Still having a bit of jet lag, but excited about our new surroundings, we decided to put on our jackets and venture across the Chain Bridge for a quick stroll over and back before dinner that first night.  There are those who say that Budapest is more beautiful at night, than in daylight, because of they way they masterfully light up the buildings & bridges.  As we made our way across, we could see the palace just ahead and from the other side we saw the famed Parliament Building down the river; all of which are no less than stunning the way they are lit at night.  Returning to the ship for dinner, I ordered the lamb chops and have to say it was the best I’ve ever had; a great first dinner onboard!

The next morning we took the included city tour, which began on the “Pest” side of the river.  The city was originally separated into two sections, “Buda” and “Pest”; a little fact of which many are unaware.  This perfectly sunny day began at Hero Square, then past the impressive local architecture to continue over the Danube to the more hilly “Buda” side.  Here we were treated to a tour inside Matthias church and the wonderful views from Fisherman’s Bastion.  The tour ended back at the ship, in time for lunch.  The sun had given way to clouds in the afternoon, but the weather was still quite agreeable for our long walk as we explored the surrounding neighborhoods and ended at the very impressive and sobering Shoes on the Danube Memorial site.

After dinner, the ship departed as almost everyone gathered up on the top deck to photograph and enjoy the nighttime sights of Budapest as seen from the Danube.  We found Budapest to be a wonderful city which is deserves a visit of more than the 30 hours we had; will have to plan to stay longer next time!

Budapest Chain Bridge at night

Budapest Chain Bridge at night

Budapest Royal Palace
Budapest Royal Palace as seen from our cabin

Budapest Heros Square
Budapest Heros Square

 

Budapest Parliament from Fisherman's Bastion

Budapest Parliament from Fisherman’s Bastion

Budapest Chain Bridge

Budapest Chain Bridge as we departed

 

Budapest Parliament at night
Budapest Parliament at night

 ……. check back for our next post on BRATISLAVA

Vietnam, Cambodia & The Riches of The Mekong

AMA Ha Long Bay

by Don McCann

Last week we attended an agent presentation by AMA Waterways on their Vietnam package.  I was very interested to hear what it included as I’ve heard great things about tourism in this region in recent years.  On a personal note, I also wanted to see what could be so good that it could make those of us who grew up during the Vietnam War era overcome the really negative feelings at the very sound of that country’s name.

AMA Angkor Wat

Even though “river cruising” brings to mind Europe for many, there are certainly many other regions around the world where river cruising has much to offer.  Such is the case with Vietnam & Cambodia.  The complete AMA package begins in the north with a couple of nights in Hanoi and one night on a traditional wooden junk in Ha Long Bay.  Many people would be surprised about the French heritage in the city and even more surprised at the world-class stunning scenery of Ha Long Bay (just like in a James Bond movie!).  After a short flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia, your next stop would be Angkor Wat, the Asian temple of which many associate with this region.  Next, the cruise itself on the Mekong onboard one of AMA’s new, elegant vessels.  This journey, with the markets, the sights, the people, the traditions, is more than a vacation, it’s truly a life experience!    Then, at the end of the cruise, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is the conclusion of this magnificent tour with two nights at a premier hotel.  Here you may find the culture even more French than in Hanoi!

Needless to say, we all came away extremely impressed and excited to have a quality product to offer in an exotic location for yet another wonderful river cruise destination!

AMA Mekong collage

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