Sailing the Danube with APT on my first river cruise

I confess I am a relatively inexperienced cruiser. My previous cruise holidays have been ocean cruises on mid-size ships holding in excess of a thousand passengers. Ships where it’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle, and rare to see the same face twice. So, when I took my very first river cruise with APT I had no inkling of the social affair which awaited.

River cruise ships are, by nature of their purpose, much smaller than ocean cruise liners. Smaller ships mean fewer guests. And fewer guests mean it’s easier to get to know your fellow passengers and certainly see the same faces most days! My home for the week was the contemporary Travelmarvel Vega, launched recently in March 2022, which took us on a journey along the Danube from Budapest to Nuremberg.

What to expect onboard

As soon as we stepped onboard, my mum and I were greeted with the biggest welcome from hotel manager Nikko. He introduced himself as “Nikko from Puerto Rico – a great way to remember my name”, although he’s not actually from Puerto Rico, he just likes the rhyme! That easy, and fun, familiarity would become a regular part of life onboard. In fact, it only took a couple of days before we were on first name terms with most of the staff and crew, who looked after us impeccably and created a jovial atmosphere.

With only four decks we got our bearings fairly quickly on Travelmarvel Vega. On the upper deck a warm reception area leads into the True North Lounge which would become my favourite spot to sit with a hot chocolate and watch the stunning autumn scenery go by during our time sailing. At the opposite end of the upper deck lies McGeary’s Bar, a relaxed Irish Pub venue which hosted a happy hour most evenings, with passengers mixing easily and getting to know one another.

The top deck is a recreational area, with a walking track, putting green and whirlpool. But while sailing, even on a chilly November day, we’d often just wrap up and find a seat at the front of the sun deck to sit and appreciate the landscapes passing us by. One day, whilst chatting away to a cheery Aussie couple, we realised we were approaching our first lock of the trip and got front row seats to the fascinating process of being gently raised up a level as if on an aquatic elevator.

Never a dull dining moment

The social hub of the ship would have to be Constellations Restaurant, an elegant dining room with modern décor, located on the main deck. A hearty buffet breakfast each morning made way for a four-course lunch and dinner with delicious menus showcasing the local flavours along our cruise, from Hungarian goulash to Wiener schnitzel. A highlight would have to be the Bavarian themed evening complete with bratwurst and beer, which continued up into the bar with local entertainment, singing and dancing!

With open seating and no reservations, fellow passengers became friends as those travelling as couples, friends, family and single travellers all came together to enjoy mealtimes in each other’s company. Conversation flowed easily as we all shared stories of the trip so far and also life back home. With a high proportion of Australian guests we were treated to a daily geography lesson as we learned where people lived, and heard tales of life ‘down under’.

Daily sightseeing and activities

One aspect of a river cruise which was a big bonus for me was how much you can see and do in one trip. At each stop along the way we had time to explore on our own and at most we had a walking tour with local guides to gain more insight and information. It gives you a great taste of what a city has to offer.

In Budapest I fell in love with the view from Fisherman’s Bastion looking out over the Danube across to the Hungarian Parliament Building. While in we took the optional excursion to enjoy a classical music concert with the Vienna Royal Orchestra. And in Melk we toured the absolutely breathtaking Melk Abbey – an active Benedictine monastery since 1089.

Even though there was so much to do, it was all at a really relaxed pace, with sightseeing options for all levels of fitness. Our wonderful cruise director Kevin ensured we made the most out of each day with daily briefings each evening, so we knew what to expect the following day. We had a perfect blend of time on and off the ship during the week, so we got to enjoy all that Travelmarvel Vega has to offer whilst seeing all the sights along the way.

My verdict of a river cruise

It may have been my first river cruise but I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last. The Danube has something to offer everyone from vibrant capital cities bursting with culture, to smaller picturesque towns steeped in history. Travelling onboard Travelmarvel Vega was a true home from home, filled with cheer and conversation, a perfect choice for those looking for a social cruise with like-minded travellers.

Next steps:

2023 sailings of APT Travelmarvel’s 9-day Delightful Danube river cruise cost from £1,695 per person (was £2,195, saving £500). The price is based on a twin share and includes return scheduled flights; eight nights of accommodation aboard a new Travelmarvel Contemporary River Ship; 22 meals and complimentary soft drinks, beer and local wine with lunch and dinner aboard the cruise; unique cultural experiences in up to seven towns, villages and cities; and the services of a Travelmarvel Cruise Director and local guides. Itinerary highlights include an evening of Bavarian food, folk music and dancing; and absorbing familiar sights from The Sound of Music on a walking tour of Salzburg.

For more information or to start planning your own river cruise with APT, call Silver Travel Advisor on 0800 412 5678.

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Kerry Gallagher

Director & Travel Writer, Silver Travel Advisor

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