Dear Friends and Fellow Travelers,
If you haven't experienced the unique joy of river cruising we'd like to introduce you to this wonderful form of travel.
In centuries past, the rivers of Europe were the commercial and social hubs around which all life gathered. Nowadays, river cruisers can enjoy an intriguing, panoramic view of thousands of years of history and culture while traveling along in a luxurious floating hotel! Read on to share our memories and thoughts about river cruising.
Firstworld Travel and Cruises
|~ River Cruising ~
Comfortable, Convenient, Intimate
Savvy travelers know there is no "one best way" to see the world. To experience traveling around Cape Horn and mingling with the penguins in Ushuaia and the Falkland Islands, a cruise ship is your best bet. For a relaxing Hawaiian vacation, let your travel agent find you a hotel or resort or two and reserve a rental car and you can enjoy the tropics on your own schedule. To get the best out of Turkey, a group tour with a knowledgeable tour guide is the way to go.
When your travel agent knows your travel style, destination dreams, and time of year you can travel, an itinerary and mode of travel will result in an unforgettable vacation. Depending on your needs, it is likely your travel agent will suggest a river cruise. If your travel agent is an experienced river cruiser, a river cruise will definitely be suggested.
Here's what your travel agent knows:
- A river cruise ship is like a barge with a hotel on top. Unpack once and enjoy.
- Ancient towns were built beside the rivers. When you dock, you're there. No need for taxis from your hotel or public transportation to get where you want to go. Your river cruise ship is your transportation - you're there!
- You explore villages and towns, not just big cities.
- There are no lines at embarkation or disembarkation.
- Every day is a port day with opportunities to visit the town or city highlights on your own or with a group.
- You have time to relax. Take a nap or sit on the sun deck and watch the world go by.
- Short interesting excursions (with the exception of special concert or dining events) are included in the cruise price.
- Leave right after breakfast and return in time for lunch.
- With 200 or fewer passengers the pace is relaxed, dining casual and unhurried and opportunities for socializing more rewarding.
- Calm, slow cruising lets you enjoy beautiful scenery, frequently on both banks.
- River cruising is perfect for those who want a relaxed grand tour exploring the world beyond the coastline.
In 1992, Europe's age-old maritime landscape changed dramatically. It was that year that the Main-Danube Canal opened, connecting the Continent's main arteries - and along with them, all of Europe. The completion of the canal opened up more than 2,200 miles of river and exposing today's travelers to life along the banks. Tributaries and smaller rivers flow into the main arteries to provide additional opportunities not only to reach deep into the heart of the Continent but also to explore some of its more remote regions.
The opening of the canal also meant that no longer would travelers need to sit with their noses pressed against the windows of busses as they moved from one destination to the next. Instead, travelers admire the scenery from the ship's sun deck as they are transported along with their accommodations.
Although river cruising is typically associated with Europe, the popularity of this travel mode has skyrocketed in recent years resulting in fantastic river cruise opportunities in Egypt, China, Southeast Asia, Russia, and even Africa. And let's not leave out the many USA river cruise itineraries.
Prices range from $1099-$4500 per person for 5-16 day cruises for standard rooms. There are no inside cabins. Higher categories of cabins including balconies and suites are available. Early booking incentives are common. Remember, you won't get a bill for excursions at the end of your cruise - they're included.
Although a few older vessels are still in service, most have the amenities you would expect - elevators, free Wi-Fi, sun decks with covered areas, hair salons, etc. New ships coming out even have fitness centers, libraries, and concierge services.
Many experienced river cruisers find they enjoy river cruising at its best by combining a city stay of a few days on their own at the beginning and/or end of the cruise. You've flown all the way to a foreign country, you may wish to spend more time on vacation if your schedule allows. Your travel agent can find a good hotel near your river cruise ship, maximizing your vacation experience. Other travelers find themselves only a short train ride from a city they possibly would not otherwise have an opportunity to visit. A couple of hotel nights before your cruise is also a good way to overcome jet lag.
As always, your travel agent is prepared to help you plan the best vacation possible within your travel budget.
Springtime on the Legendary Blue Danube
From the Black Forest of Germany to the Black Sea, the Danube is Europe's second longest river and flows through ten different countries with more than a dozen languages spoken on its banks. The variety in food, architecture and history that goes with each of these languages and cultures is delightful.
Having always been fascinated by the legendary "Blue Danube," last spring I spent eleven wonderful days aboard the Avalon Tapestry as we cruised from Nuremburg to Budapest.
Our trip started in picturesque Prague, capital of the Czech Republic. Once hidden behind the Iron Curtain, since its liberation from communism, Prague has become a popular destination spot. In 1992 the historic core of the city was named a UNESCO site, and with good reason. Within a small area, clustered on either side of the Vltava River, lies a unique collection of historical monuments dominated by the Hradcany Castle which towers high above the city.
We spent two days wandering through the old city taking in all of the fascinating sites; the Charles River Bridge, Josefov (the historic Jewish quarter), Hradcany Castle, vibrant Wenceslaus Square and the renowned Astronomical Clock. The beauty and grandeur of Prague was offset by a somber side trip to the Terezin Nazi concentration camp and memorial.
My favorite moments? Changing of the Guard at the Castle (complete with marching band), writing on the colorful John Lennon wall and coffee at the Franz Kafka Café.
On our third day we drove through the Black Forest, trees blanketed with snow, to Nuremburg, Germany, where we boarded our river boat and settled into our cozy cabin. The sliding glass doors next to my bed provided us with a spectacular view of every village we visited since the boat docked right in the thick of all the action!
Every day we enjoyed a complimentary walking tour of whatever town we were in. The guides were amazing and gave us a real appreciation for local history and culture; not to mention the delectable specialty foods and beverages.
Our next stop was radiant Regensburg, one of Germany's best preserved medieval cities. Architectural highlights included the Old Town Hall and the Porta Pretoria, gates to an ancient Roman fort built in 179 AD. Regensburg is famous for its Christmas market which lights up the historic market square, but the area is also replete with amazing Easter goodies and displays.
(Many town squares featured bunnies and lambs in congenial petting areas.) Our day ended with bratwurst and sauerkraut at the ancient riverside tavern - a gastronomic treat I'd recommend to anyone.
Farther downriver, Passau, Austria, is a gem of a city located at the confluence of the rivers Inn, Ilz, and Danube. Most of us chose to visit nearby Salzburg, famous as the birthplace of Mozart and the location of the enduring favorite: The Sound of Music. We were not disappointed! The city is stunning; spring flowers were in bloom everywhere,
and the huge castle looms over the old town center which is alive with market stalls, Mozart memorabilia and Sound of Music high spots. I really enjoyed our visit to the cemetery where the family hid from the Nazis and the gorgeous church where Maria and Captain von Trapp were married. The interior is a delightful rose pink with dark wood accents. Oh, and Mozart chocolates aren't too bad either!
Next day, we relaxed in decktop recliners admiring the verdant grape terraces and numerous castles while cruising through the pastoral and serene Wachau Valley. En route we visited the tiny town of Melk with its magnificent Benedictine Abbey dominating the hill above. Melk Abbey is one of Europe's largest monasteries and certainly one of its most impressive. The view from the terrace over the Danube and surrounding countryside is breathtaking!
On our way down the hill, we came across a festive palm procession heading up to the abbey and realized it was Palm Sunday. An unexpected treat.
In Vienna, once the capital of the great Austro-Hungarian Empire, we waltzed down shop-lined streets, savored the sounds of an orchestral concert, and delighted in a Sachertorte at the famed Sacher Hotel. Later, we fulfilled a life-long ambition with an evening at the legendary Vienna Opera House.
Our wonderful journey ended in Budapest. Spanning both banks of the Danube, Budapest is Eastern Europe's liveliest and most cosmopolitan metropolis. Seven bridges, including the famous Chain and Elisabeth Bridges, connect ancient Buda on the right bank with Pest on the left. The massive hilltop castle complex with Fisherman's Bastion and the Matthias Church are among the many sights we enjoyed on our final day.
My most cherished memories of Budapest are:
Sitting on the Fisherman's Bastion dreamily contemplating the Danube and the city, while a gypsy violin trio serenaded us with Die Moldau. Relaxing in the steaming mineral waters of the Budapest Bath House. Climbing to the top of St. Stephen's Basilica for a panoramic view of Budapest. Goulash. An evening with Wagner at the sumptuous Budapest State Opera House.
I've traveled to many countries and by many different methods, but I don't think I have ever enjoyed a trip as much as my journey down the romantic Blue Danube. I can't wait to try a river cruise on the Mekong River Delta.Fiona Dunlop
River Cruising in Russia
We love river cruising. It is our favorite mode of travel. We have cruised the rivers of Holland, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic, Egypt, and even the United States. In Russia it is the most logical and dependable way to see the country.
In September 2011 we cruised from St. Petersburg to Moscow, an 11-day cruise known as "Classic Waterways of Russia." We like to incorporate pre and post stays into our cruise vacations, so we flew into Stockholm, stayed 3 nights, continued on to Helsinki for 3 nights, then took the train to St. Petersburg for a two night stay before boarding our cruise ship.
The river cruise ships in Russia are a bit different than those in Europe.They were built in the '70's and '80's for the Russian rivers and are the only ships allowed there. Most of these ship have received extensive renovations to up bring them as close as possible to the quality of the ships on the European rivers. Those renovated in the last few years usually have elevators. The others usually don't. We were on one of the latter - at half the price of the more deluxe versions. We all had a wonderful time, but out of our group of twelve at least a couple wished we had opted for one of the more recently renovated vessels.
Our ship was spotlessly clean with a generous amount of public space and a terrific crew. The cruise staff were mostly Russian school teachers on their summer breaks. They spoke beautiful English, gave us Russian language classes and rewarded us with certificates - but only if we passed the rather difficult final. The food was good and plentiful with buffet breakfasts, and full service for lunch and dinner. There were choices for entree, but the rest of the meal was set. Beverages were included with meals, but limited to coffee, tea and water. Juice was available at breakfast.
All of the ships sailing between St. Petersburg and Moscow follow the same basic itinerary - 2-3 days in St. Petersburg, a river village, Kizhi, Goritsy, Yaroslavl, Uglich, and 2-3 days in Moscow. We missed Kizhi due to high winds causing swells on Lake Onega. I had assured my seasick-prone clients that there was no motion on a river cruise. I now have to add - except possibly in Russia.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Museum of Wooden Architecture there is supposed to be one of the highlights of the cruise. Any disappoinment we felt in missing it was offset by the substitution - an opportunity to visit the small town of Vytegra, not usually visited by tourists. We walked the village with improptu guides, visited a beautiful little church, a Russian submarine from World War II, and browsed in a couple of "real people" shops. The "river village" was a reconstructed village where local arts and crafts were demonstrated and sold. Almost everything sold in the shops and markets and on the ship was actually handmade in Russia. The best souvenir shopping ever!
The other mid-cruise stops were small towns and villages that blend together in my mind, lovely churches, monastaries and monuments. The real stars of this cruise were St. Petersburg, Moscow, and the people of Russia. St. Petersburg is all about the riches and culture of Czarist Russia - the Hermitage Museum, ballet, opera, palaces, and amazing churches. It deserves a couple of extra days.The evening performance of the military choir and folk dancers was very entertaining.
I didn't realize the reaction I would have to Moscow. As a child of the cold war, born in 1950, I was raised with the threat of Russians attacking the US. We practiced hiding under our desks and covering our eyes in case of nuclear attacks. Our neighbors dug bomb shelters in their backyards. Terms like "Kremlin", "KBG", and "Communism" caused many a sleepless night.Standing in Red Square, driving past the former KGB building, and exploring the multi-faceted Kremlin exposed and dissolved many hidden childhood fears. It was so enlightening to hear the stories of our city guides who were Russian children of the same and succeeding generations. We got to hear firsthand the stories of living under communism and during the final days of the USSR. Moscow is also worth two or three days after the cruise, if you think you'll have enough energy.
It was a wonderful, worthwhile trip for so many reasons, but it was not an easy trip - lots of walking, very few elevators, and too many beautiful, enticing sights to see. The cruise season is April - October. Our September cruise offered beautiful fall foliage along the banks of the rivers. This is a trip you will always remember.
Merrie and Jim Williams
Jewish Heritage Danube River Cruise
A special invitation to join Oscar and Olga Worm and Firstworld Travel for a very special Jewish Heritage Themed Cruise and Tour!
Budapest to Prague October 28 - November 10, 2012
Seven Night Cruise on the Avalon Tapestry
PLUS two nights in Budapest and three nights in Prague
This special Jewish Heritage Cruise takes in the museums, monuments, and landmarks significant to Jewish history.
Visit Budapest's Jewish Museum and the second-largest syagogue in the world; Jewish Vienna; and Regensburg's Jewish quarter. In the Czech Republic, an expert Local Guide introduces you to Prague's Jewish Museum, Jewish Cemetery, and synagogues, then visit the former WWII Jewish ghetto of Terezin. All of this and more awaits you on this educational vacation!
Tapestry Ship Amenities:
Panoramic windows throughout the ship. Included shore excursions with Local Guide.
Headsets for shore excursions.
Complimentary Wi-Fi access.
Personalized room options & excursions. Premium coffees, cappuccinos and lattes. Fitness center.
Daily early-and late-riser breakfast.
Full buffet breakfast with sparkling wine. Complimentary juices with breakfast.
Made-to-order egg station at breakfast. Complimentary soft drinks with lunch.
Complimentary regional wines at dinner.
Free soft drinks or beer with dinner.
Late Night Fare served at 10:30 p.m.
English-speaking crew. Non-smoking interior. Flatscreen satellite TV with movie channels.-Onboard lectures, activities & nightly entertainment
Onboard movie nights. Room service available featuring Continental breakfast and beverages and much more.
Per person tour only rates
Price includes $250 per person promotional discount for booking with Firstworld Travel.
Category E: $3,089
Category B: $3,638 Category A: $3,688 Category P: $3,788
Port charges $105
DEPOSIT: $250 per person
FINAL PAYMENT: Due July 31, 2012
AIRFARE: Available upon request.
INSURANCE: $329 to cancel for any reason