Trip Review – Sailing the Danube River in Europe

Happy Thursday Hidden Gem Travel community! I’m looking out my window on a chilly day in the Northeast and dreaming of my recent trip to Europe while planning my upcoming trips this year. Looks like I’ll be reporting to you on iconic destinations including Budapest, Rome, Provence, and Barcelona.

This week’s newsletter is my first trip review of the new year and highlights a growing trend in the travel industry – seeing the world via its rivers. While this mode of travel is most popular with adults – couples and groups – families, both extended and family friend groups, can also have seamless, relaxing vacations by traveling its rivers all over the world.

I enjoyed this mode of travel last April in Northern Italy and again this December in Austria and Germany. Twice in one year – yes, I’m grateful! Read on for the scoop and be inspired by seeing the world by river.

Embarking in Vienna, Austria

In the travel industry, we call the days before and after a land or cruise tour a ‘pre or post’ experience. My pre-experience on this trip was a few days in the gorgeous city of Vienna, Austria. I know many of you enjoyed that newsletter as I had some great feedback about it. Yes, I fell in love with Vienna – for its culture, food & wine, music, art, vibe, and charm. I’ve developed strong relationships with the tourism board, tour guides, and some special hotels, so reach out to me if you want to learn more.

The river cruise ship I sailed on is called the Avalon Artistry II. The theme of the trip was ‘Christmas Markets’ which I’ve also written about. This was my first trip with Avalon Waterways (which is under the Globus brand), and the vibe was quite different from my Italy trip earlier in the year with Uniworld. The great thing is that I have a clear idea about which clients will match either company based on their different styles, clientele profile, and other criteria.

💎 Hidden Gem Tip: If you’re already intrigued, you can schedule a chat with me here.

The Lock System

We sailed westbound on the Danube River with stops in Austria and Germany. What was fascinating was experiencing the water lock system which is essential to traveling the Danube River today for pleasure or business. They are truly a feat of civil engineering, and their purpose is to control the flow of the water. On the ship, you enter a lock where you either climb or descend in order to continue to sail either upstream or downstream.

The European lock system dates to the 1800s but the idea originated in Egypt over 2,500 years ago. Today’s locks are made of concrete and steel. I won’t go into the details here but suffice it to say, it’s a unique experience to be in a lock on a river ship.

I woke up one morning inside one of the locks (concrete wall outside the window) and watched the boat rise to and above the horizon. One of the best features of an Avalon ship is the beds face the window so you can look out from your couch or bed any time. Game changer!

💎Hidden Gem Tip: Where do you want to travel next year? The time to plan is now for 2023, and some clients are booking for 2024. The travel rebound is still strong, and the best availability and rates are grabbed well in advance.

The Ship & Onboard Experience

As I mentioned, the game-changer with Avalon is your bed facing the window. The room is comfortable with ample closet and under-bed space and a good-sized bathroom. You can take a meal in your stateroom and watch the ship sail along the coast. You’re never far from the coastline and the waters aren’t rough.

The food is all-inclusive – locally sourced and inspired. There were plenty of choices and every dish was delicious! The culinary team takes great pride in the dining experience and connecting with the guests. Dietary restrictions are taken seriously and there’s always the option of a simple meal for anyone who wants to eat light. The breakfast buffet is so varied and filling that I rarely needed a large lunch which was often eaten during a tour. Alcoholic beverages are included during meals and when there is a ‘happy hour’ before dinner. The wine choices were local and lovely, and there were many options for mixed drinks and mocktails. Luckily, I did so much walking during the day that I didn’t gain weight 😊

The onboard entertainment (in the evenings or while sailing) was terrific. I really enjoyed one evening of traditional and contemporary music by a local German violinist; everyone loved the Austrian Christmas Cookie presentation by an accomplished cook and baker who described their traditions with a tasting of each type. One of the gifts we received in our stateroom was a Viennese chef’s cookbook, one of the thoughtful touches Avalon provided.

The 150 passengers on the ship ranged from retirees from Europe and the US and families with teens who met onboard and made friends with each other. I recommend that families travel with another family they know (or are related to) if possible, on a river cruise. There aren’t extensive activities for kids on river ships. Avalon had a part of a lounge with video and board games that the kids enjoyed. Remember, you’re off the ship every day and sometimes in the evenings when not sailing to your next port.

The crew/staff– excellent across the board and the cruise director named Simona was one of the best I’ve experienced. She handled everything with grace and humor.

Bottom line: I highly recommend Avalon Waterways river cruises for clients whose interests match what they offer. As a Hidden Gem Travel client, you will receive some nice perks as well as my insight having experienced the line myself and certified as having completed their training. And right now, Avalon is offering a sweet promotion: Free Air & Save $500 per couple for a range of awesome European itineraries. Contact me to get the details.

Austria – Two Cities to See

Melk-Grein’s Melk Abbey is an active, baroque Benedictine monastery that also serves as an art museum and school for the local children. Its views of the Danube are stunning as is its architecture and interior spaces.

We docked in Grein which is a charming small town that we walked right into from the ship. The charming 16th and 17th-century buildings and Austria’s oldest theater that is still in use were the big draws. We enjoyed a private concert in this beautiful, historic space.

Salzburg, of the Sound of Music fame, isn’t along the Danube but an optional full-day tour that I took. Nestled between the Alps and the Salzach River, the city grew wealthy from salt. The Baroque Old Town is home to the 7th century St. Peter’s Monastery, known for its exceptional writing school in the Middle Ages and Austria’s oldest library. Fans of Mozart will see his birthplace marked amidst and charming shopping and market area. Nearby is the Salzburg Cathedral where he was baptized.

Regensburg in Bavaria, Germany

Once we crossed into Germany, we docked within walking distance of the historic old town of Regensburg in the Bavaria area. Talk about a hidden gem! I especially loved walking to Old Town after sunset and strolling the narrow streets in the early evening among the twinkling Christmas lights and decorations.

The city is considered the heart of German antiquity as an ancient medieval city and a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are over 1,200 historical buildings spanning a period of almost 2,000 years. Why? In the Middle Ages, wealthy noblemen built touring residences in the 11-13th centuries. The Old Town played host to the Reichstag and Holy Roman Empire. Charlemagne passed laws, directed wars, and ran his vast empire here. Regensburg was also an important center for spreading the Protestant faith in the 16th century.

Travelers interested in a more contemporary experience can visit a new museum about Bavaria’s modern history (last two centuries) which gets good reviews for all ages. While I was there, an interesting exhibit on Bavaria’s role in the Olympics was on display.

Nuremberg & Munich

We disembarked the ship in Nuremberg. Nuremberg has a fraught history – both ancient and modern day. There were tour choices between medieval Nuremberg or visiting the Rally Grounds of World War II and the history of the Nuremberg trials.

After Nuremberg, I traveled by train for an hour to Munich. Munich was charming at Christmastime with the expansive Christmas Market in the Old Town. I revisited the famous beer hall Hofbrau Haus at lunchtime and had a fun time sitting with a family from South Africa who was on their way to spend Christmas skiing in the Alps.

The trip was a big success – festive, educational, inspiring, delicious, and seamless. River cruising is a fantastic way to see the world!

Make your own Wanderlist for 2023! As a reminder, Wanderlist is an online portal where you can research, explore, and create shareable lists of destinations and experiences. Share your list with me so I can make it happen for you.

Inspired? Reach out to me now for 2023 and schedule a chat here.

Follow my Facebook and Instagram pages this week for more travel inspiration.

Wishing you and your family continued good health,


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Hi, I'm Susan Wilson

I’m the founder of Hidden Gem Travel Consulting. As your personal travel advisor, I craft custom worldwide itineraries that astound and inspire you.


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