The following is my diary of an AmaWaterways Danube River Cruise – Nuremberg to Budapest. Explore five countries in eight days on a floating boutique hotel. This is Luxury cruising on small ships at its best!
Day 1 Friday: Atlanta – Nuremberg
After the overnight flight to Charles De Gaulle (CDG), I practices a little French on the long suffering airport staff. Then I transferred to the Nuremberg (NUE) flight and was less accomplished in German.
Having penetrated the medieval inner city walls by taxi, built to keep the likes of me out, I arrived to check in the Hotel Saxx. A mid-priced, modern, and stylish hotel right on the town square. The Christmas Markets stalls sell decorations, mulled wine and pretzels. Despite a case of the travelers’ nerves. A combination of jet lag and fear of being in a foreign country with little local language. I forced myself out the door to explore the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg .
This was much more interesting than first suspected. Construction began in 1037 and it had been added to and redecorated ever since. A full armory of things to stick into enemies, a charming little chapel and even a 164 foot well. Next was the St. Sebalduskirche (church). This looks more like a cathedral with two massive spires, vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows.
Upon exiting my sense of smell carried me to the Bratwursthäusle. Here I enjoyed a plate of sausage, sauerkraut, potato and a beer. In the Bratwursthäusle and most beer barns, everyone shares a table. The hostess billeted me with a wonderful German couple and an elegantly dressed Bavarian lady. Everyone ordered sausage and beer. When the beer arrived, we all shared a convivial “Prost!” . I was immediately feeling welcome in Germany. After a quick walk around the markets I returned to the hotel to phone home and a quick nap.
At 5.30 p.m. I was back out there again for a bigger walk using the Pegnitz river for orientation. Quaint little Tudor houses line the river. Down by the Spittlertortur, a big turret on the city wall, more Christmas Markets.
A cute little restaurant Cafe Luftsprung presented itself as the perfect place for dinner. It was next to my orientation landmark the Pegnitz and full of locals. Everything was in German, but with a little thought you can work out the menu. I had a couscous based dish with eggplant (what else in Bavaria?), accompanied by salad, potato gratin and a pilsner!
Nuremberg is a beautiful city with three concentric city walls for protection. The buildings are medieval, and many were rebuilt after WWII. The locals are Bavarian, but any taxi driver will inform you, that they were originally Franconian. Napoleon Bonaparte consolidated them as Bavarian to make things simpler. The French and Germans have been meddling in each other’s affairs for some time now. The Alsace-Lorraine area has swapped hands several times over the last few hundred years.
At the northern edge of the Altstadt (old town), surrounded by red-roofed buildings is the Hauptmarkt (central square). This square contains the 14th century Schöner Brunnen, a 60 foot tall gilded fountain. Built with several tiers of forty different figures to represent administrative and religious people.
Day 2 Saturday: Nuremberg – Vilshofen
The Documentation Center is a WWII museum at the old Nazi Party Rally Grounds. It has a spike (an elevated walkway) driven right through the building to represent the Nazi impact. Inside you tour a series of photographs and artifacts whilst listening to the accompanying narrative. This is an enlightening exhibition on the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi) rise to power. It exposes their use of propaganda, legal manipulations, appropriation of and the direct seizure of power.
The museum honestly details the destructive and hateful acts of the Nazi’s. The tour culminates with the Nuremberg trials and details the outcomes of the Nazi cult. You can visit the Nuremberg rally grounds and picture the mass hysteria and adulation of hundreds of thousands. The Germans have elected to honestly face their history, own it and document it as a warning to all mankind. You leave in a much more sober and thoughtful mood than when you enter.
After lunch, I took a taxi to the docks where normally you meet the ship for embarkation. Instead we had motor coaches for a short ride to Vilshofen. AmaWaterways had the buses ready as the Danube was under threat of closure between Regensburg and Vilshofen due to low water levels. Pretty impressive planning and operational organization, considering that until the last minute even they did not know what would happen. At all stages AmaWaterways kept us informed. I was even offered an alternate itinerary which was even better. That’s how you tell a good operator, they cope seamlessly when things change from the plan.
Upon embarkation of the AmaCerto the guests were welcomed aboard by the staff lining the twin staircases and individually escorted to their cabin. We then assembled in the main lounge for a welcome drink an introduction to the staff, the ship and how things would run (like clockwork) for the next 8 days.
At the end of the briefing, we were invited into a hospitality tent dockside for an Oktoberfest beer festival. This was great fun as there were local beers, an ‘Oompah’ band, dancing and the staff were traditionally dressed in Lederhosen (leather trousers) and Dirndl (ruffled apron dress). After a beer and hot pretzel, we sauntered back on board for dinner.
As each guest arrives (by stairs or elevator) in the main restaurant the Maître D asks if you would like to join a group or prefer to be in your own company. Every meal you have the option to be social or find a nice little intimate nook depending on how you fee. It is all executed with warmth and care and you are made to feel most welcome. The mixed group I sat with were great fun and we enjoyed a surprisingly good dinner. Cruise guests are from all over the world and are mostly American and British. Ages ranged from some very well behaved 8 year old children to the sprightly and energetic septuagenarian Jim (mostly well behaved) on his fifth cruise with AmaWaterways. An impressive first day.
Day 3 Sunday: Vilshofen – Passau
Breakfast was another serendipitous occasion, everything from cereal, breads of every variety, fresh fruit, smoked salmon, bacon & eggs or an omelet for you made by the chef. All washed down with coffee tea, juice and even a glass of Champagne for those who appreciate an early morning stimulant. Vilshofen an der Donau, has cobbled streets, bridges, street sculptures and a Maibaum.
Raising and dancing around the maypole on the 1st of May is a tradition going back to the 16th century to celebrate the end of a long dark winter. Next we smoothly cruised, there are no waves on riverways, to Passau. Getting through the locks is tremendous fun. It is a wonder how engineers contrive such devices and fun to watch the captain and crew work to a precision of inches (or centimeters) in Germany!
Before the cruise and each night, you are given a menu of different tours and activities to choose from the next day. The 120 or so guests are split up into little groups of 10-15 with their own tour guide. Some groups are slower walking and others are for more energetic activities like cycling between towns. I ended up with the some of the people I met at dinner the previous evening and we joined a local cheery guide, Sonia on her fabulous tour of Passau.
Located at the confluence of the rivers Danube, Inn and Ilz, by the Austrian border, Passau was part of the Roman Empire for 400 years, an independent prince bishopric for 600 years and was annexed into Bavaria in 1803. The setting of the Old Town, created by Italian baroque masters in the 17th century, shows soaring towers, picturesque places and enchanting promenades. Sitting high above the rivers, the majestic fortress Veste Oberhaus on the Danube’s side and the Pilgrimage Church on the Inn’s side frame the city.
We learned the how to tell the difference between the Gothic Period buildings (young, slender and tall) and the Baroque (older, shorter and horizontally challenged). It is a cute little town with lots of little cobbled laneways no wider than 4 feet, that twist and turn through the town. We remarked that high water mark from flooding was still held by the 1501 flood although 2013 was a close second.
St. Stephan’s Cathedral is now one of my favorite cathedrals in Europe and a beautiful example Baroque architecture. The Catholic church’s building practices were to preview the wonders and riches promised to the faithful in the afterlife. St. Stephan’s certainly does that and I highly recommend anyone join this group and be mesmerized by the beauty and presence inside. Back on board and another great dinner accompanied by local wines with some friends I had met in our wonderings.
Day 4 Monday: Linz – Cesky Krumlov
This morning I joined a small group touring Linz with Jim an erudite septuagenarian with abounding energy and zest for life (I began to suspect the morning glass of Champagne). Harold, our local tour guide and raconteur took us to stand outside the house that Mozart gave his first performance. We toured the Lentos Art Museum and the Hauptplatz or main square and spied the striking Ars Lectronica Cente (Museum of the Future).
After lunch on board I joined a group going for a quick ride to Cesky Krumlov in Czechia (the Czech Republic) again with Harold the tour guide. It had snowed overnight, and the little Gypsy villages and countryside was beautiful, but Cesky Krumlov was stunning. A city in the South Bohemia region it’s bisected by the Vltava River, and dominated by its 13th-century castle. The castle has Gothic, Renaissance and baroque architecture, an 11-hectare garden and an original 17th-century baroque theater. The panoramic views of the old town and the winding river from the top of its bell tower are spectacular.
My travel buddy for the day Jim, battled up the cobblestone hill and around the grounds with his walking stick and we adjourned for a well-earned lunch of pork loin, sauerkraut, dumplings an original Budweiser (Czech) beer. We returned to the ship and had a quick change for dinner at the Chefs table. Each person gets a least one night to enjoy the chef’s special degustation menu. In the aft of the ship is the dining room that seats up to 20 guests all deck out in their finery.
Dinner Was Superb:
- Hors d’oeuvres: Champagne with a feta cheese panna cotta, matcha with dill sauce, cucumber brioche.
- Appetizers: Scallops, tiger prawns, yellow beet, tahini hummus, avocado & sepia ink, laksa soup, hickory salmon, sea bream with chardonnay foam, blueberry sorbet
- Main course: Braised beef, golden beets, green asparagus, pumpkin mash potato and pumpkin gratin
- Dessert: Nougat gateau, green apple sorbet and almond chocolate pearl with a fresh fruit platter and cheese
- White wine: Sandgrube 13 Gruner Veltliner and Californian 770 Miles Chardonnay
- Red Wine: Sandgrube 13 Blauer Zweigelt and Californian 770 Miles Cabernet Sauvignon
The Chef’s table is highly recommended, but you will eat exceedingly well every night as this is a major focus area of co-owner Rudi Schreiner.
Day 5 Tuesday: Melk – Dürnstein
This morning we cruised to Melk and after breakfast a trip up to the top of the hill to Melk Abbey. The original monastery was founded in 1089. The church and library are astounding highlights. The Holy Roman Empire Empress, Maria Theresa said in 1743 “I would regret it, had I not been here.” The marble hall has a flat ceiling which an exquisite Tromp L’oeil that makes it look curved. The Melk Abbey church is richly decorated with elaborate carving and much gilding and domed ceiling to the heavens. The library where the monks learned and transcribed books has over 100, 000 volumes from before 1500, through the 17th century and into today.
In the afternoon we visited the 1,000 year old city of Dürnstein in the Wachau valley, famous for wine and the unspoiled town. Perched on the top of hill it hasn’t been able to expand so everything is preserved from the last 500 years. We shopped in some little stores filled with authentic goods such as the little river pebbles incorporated in silver bracelets, necklaces and earrings by lady who goes down to the Danube every day in search of pretty stones. To end the evening, we went to a cellar and tried three varietals in a local Wachau Valley wine tasting.
Day 6 Wednesday: Vienna
A morning tour of Vienna, home to Mozart, Beethoven and Sigmund Freud. The city is also known for its Imperial palaces, including Schönbrunn palace which was the Habsburgs’ summer residence and the Hofburg Palace which was very interesting to me as it has an excellent collection of armor, weapons and Imperial crowns, coronation robes, scepters, orbs and mitres as well as gem-studded reliquaries. Then the Wiener Christkindelsmärik at the Rathaus (City Hall) for a quick walk through and some hot chocolate.
At dinner another guest told of how she had always wanted to see a Lipizzaner horse show. The concierge secured two tickets with a days’ notice. On both AmaWaterways ships I have been on, Cruise Manager/ Concierge/ Confident were excellent very professional but friendly and approachable. I went back out to the Christmas markets to walk around at night while the lights are brightest and watch the skaters, drink a mug of mulled wine, listen to the music and buy some gifts for the family. Remember to take cash as not all vendors have credit card facilities.
Here is a blog about the top ten Christmas markets to visit on a cruise https://www.bluedanubeholidays.com/top-10-christmas-markets-to-visit-on-a-cruise/.
Day 7 Thursday: Budapest
The Christmas markets in Budapest were great fun with interesting tools and at least one third was traditional food including a pig on a spit! We had a splendid lunch at a local restaurant and then walked through the town. The Soviet Union held Property “Developers” in abeyance for decades. This resulted in the preservation of many buildings which are a delight to behold today.
These building are now being refurbished and as a consequence Budapest is a very beautiful city with many 16th to 19th buildings. Even the prison is interesting and carries many stories and history. The Matthias Church in the Buda Castle grounds is different from most others with more Slavic or eastern influences. The roofing tiles are durable pyrogranite ceramics and arranged in a beautiful almost Persian Carpet pattern. The interior has spectacular orange, brown, golden hewed frescos reaching from floor to ceiling, beautiful stained glass windows, far reaching arches, century old wooden pews and medieval remnants.
The view from Fisherman’s Bastion, a panoramic viewing terrace with fairytale towers, are wondrous. You can see the river, The Hungarian Houses of Parliament and Margitsziget island. A river cruise from Budapest is definitely on the ‘Return To’ list.
Day 8 Friday: Bratislava
Bratislava in Slovakia is a small town of around 600,000 residents. The pedestrian-only, 18th-century old town is known for its lively bars and cafes. Today there is still 90% home ownership, thanks to the communist era apartment complexes at Petrzalka. It is said that when the Soviets left, Slovakia split from the Czech Republic so the two leading politicians could avoid a confrontation and share power. The Czechs and Slovaks are still very friendly.
There are beautiful old buildings everywhere including the Bratislava Castle. The tour guides regaled us with stories such as how they used to eat cod for Christmas. Father would bring it home live and put it in the bath for 1 week. The kids would get to know and love the fish, even naming it. Finally, they would enjoy a fish dinner and only the older kids would realize why the cod was no longer in the bath.
There was another tradition where the boys touch the girls with a willow swish (symbol of health and beauty) and in return they have to give the boys a gift of chocolate or cake. Not sure whacking girls with branches will bring you much more than an interview with the local constabulary these days.
Day 9 Saturday: Vienna
A last breakfast was shared with one of my all time favourite fellow travellers, Jim. A private car rolled up at my allotted time to whisk me away and back the States. 5 countries, so many castles and cathedrals all from the comfort of a floating boutique hotel.
Why take a Luxury Cruise on a Small Ship?
Every detail is considered, and problems are solved in the guests favor every time. This is not possible on the cheapest cruises and tours. The operators need to cut costs and cannot afford to be thoughtful and kind. The cheap operators bus people in and out like cattle. You will have to jostle with hundreds or thousands of other selfie seeking tourists. Avoid them if possible. If this is the only way to travel, then my advice is to use the tours for reconnaissance and protect your down time to explore with a few other like minded folk or on your own.
Value does not mean cheap; value is having your expectations exceeded by a professional and caring organization. AmaWaterways are sincere, professional and caring ,which is a key difference.
Wow, what a classic European adventure on the Danube river cruise – Nuremberg to Budapest. The crew and staff are hardworking, sincere, thoughtful and kind. Exactly the sort of people that should be in hospitality. The food is excellent in all the various locations on and off the ship. The accommodations are stylish, spotless and very comfortable and there are many places to be alone or in company. Most of all the locations are stunning as Kristin Karst, Co-Owner of AmaWaterways says: “Ocean liners take you to locations, river cruises take you through them.”
Central Europe is beautiful, the countries are close together and rich in history. The fact that we had small groups with expert local guides that gave us a special window to places, people and stories that are now a treasured lifetime memory.
We hope you enjoyed our Danube river cruise – Nuremberg to Budapest. Here are links to other AmaWaterways cruises we offer on the Danube: