nicko cruises has broken the mould with its new vessel on the Danube, as Jeannine Williamson discovers
Walking past a brick feature wall with images of musical greats including Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, along with an iconic photo of Audrey Hepburn starring in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the restaurant manager shows us to a table for two. Settling into the comfy cream chairs, an immediate talking point is the crisp napkins folded like dinner jackets and complete with a bow tie.
Nothing particularly unusual there you might think, especially if you’re out for a special occasion. Except this isn’t a bistro in a trendy part of town. Instead of looking out at a passing street scene we can see the River Danube flowing past. The intimate Manhattan, a music and jazz-themed dining room, is just one of the features that make nicko cruises’ nickoVISION stand out from the crowd.
With its new flagship the line has managed to create a vessel that’s decidedly different. That’s no mean feat given that river vessels in mainland Europe are nearly all the same size in order to fit into locks and sail beneath low bridges. However, nicko’s use of the inside space, maximising what is available through clever split-level design details, gives the ship a very distinctive look and feel.
A main dining room and lounge bar – the backbone of public areas on all river ships – are there, but instead of being two different rooms they’ve been opened up. The back of the restaurant leads up to a separate bar at the front of the ship, which in turn goes up another level to the lounge. It all feels very airy and spacious.
The Manhattan is an alternative dining venue, serving the same menu as the main restaurant, with a cosy vibe. It also includes plenty of tables for two, which is also unusual on a river vessel. Whilst it’s always interesting to meet new people, there are times when it’s nice to have a meal for two, or even dine solo if you are a single traveller, and this provides an extra option. All meals are free seating, so you can eat and sit whenever and wherever you want during the generous dining opening hours. There’s also the third choice of the small Mario’s Grill, in a lovely spot overlooking the back of the ship and serving burger-style meals at lunchtime and becoming a steakhouse at night. It doesn’t cost extra to eat there in the evening; you just need to book in advance.
Carrying 170-passengers, mostly in cabins with French balconies and windows that open, nickoVISION sails on the Danube and we were on a week-long sailing between Passau and Budapest. This itinerary is a great choice for first-timers on the river as it takes in three contrasting capitals – Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest – and the UNESCO-listed Wachau Valley which is lined with vineyards, topped by castles and arguably one of the prettiest stretches on the waterway.
City walking tours are included in the fare and overnight stays in Vienna and Budapest allow plenty of time to explore under your own steam with the help of maps provided at the reception desk. There’s also the option to pay for additional shore tours, such as a night-time ride on the Austrian capital’s landmark Prata wheel which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year.
There are plenty of smaller sights, too. Look out for Cumil, a quirky bronze figure peeking out of a manhole cover in Bratislava. He’s one of several fun bronze statues lining the streets of one of Europe’s smallest capital cities.
In another break with the norm, the ship calls at some lesser-known spots such as Ybbs which is the site of the first hydroelectric power plant on the Danube. Testimony to this industrial first is one of the old turbine propellers which is now an unusual installation on the waterfront next to where nickoVISION docks. An offbeat optional excursion is a trip to see the power station.
Back on board, the social heart of the ship is the lounge. It’s a quiet spot to relax during the day and enjoy afternoon tea before moving up a gear in the evening for pre-dinner drinks and live music and dancing after dinner with the resident keyboard player and vocalist. A novel cocktail is the Blue Danube made from blue curacao, gin, tonic and lemon juice. As an open bar is included in the fare I didn’t need an excuse to order one and try something new. It was the perfect tipple to sip on the sun deck and watch the passing scenery on the namesake river.
The ship has lifts to every floor and it’s also worth noting there’s a stair lift from the upper deck to the sun deck, which on other ships is often out of bounds for guests that can’t manage stairs. Again, it’s another touch that elevates nickoVISION into a league of its own.
nickoVISION sails on a variety of itineraries on the Danube. All-inclusive fares cover flights, transfers, all meals, an unlimited drinks package covering tea and coffee, soft drinks, wine and spirits, selected shore excursions, Wi-Fi and gratuities. The seven-night Blue Danube round-trip Passau sailing starts from £1,645, August 2022 price.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends nicko cruises. Our Silver Travel Advisors are ready to help you book and have all the information you need, call 0800 412 5678.