My husband and I are considering a river cruise on the Danube River to include Germany, Austria and Hungary. Any tips or information would be very helpful! Thank you! Kay in Atlanta, GA
Cruise Critic has an entire forum devoted to River cruises. Lots of good information there.
Welcome to Rick Steves forum!
Be sure to inform yourselves on the times of year there may be high water (floods) or low water to deal with. Both can cause diversions to land routes.
You can also use the search bar above - it's the gray area with the magnifying glass. I just put in "Danube Flood" and got a lot of results. The search program does not really sort things well so be sure to click on Forum posts and then do a time frame. Many regulars who post here do river cruises so there is quite a bit of information.
My first tip would be to post this under "General Europe" or under the countries you'll be visiting. You're on a board intended for people reporting about trips they have taken, so you're not likely to get as many responses here.
My second tip would be to do some research about specific trips and cruise lines. Viking advertises heavily (including sponsoring the RS shows on PBS) but there are other companies as well that may cost less, go elsewhere, and/or put you on a boat with a less American-centered mix of passengers. People on this board can help answer specific questions.
We spent a week several years ago with a company called Lueftner on a boat called Amadeus Diamond, from Budapest to Passau. It was interesting and fun, the food was good, they provided a walking tour of each city where we stopped, along with some free time. We didn't experience the high or low river levels that can turn parts of a cruise into a bus ride. We had spent several days in Budapest before embarking, otherwise I would have wanted more time there. We had two days in Vienna, could have used more. A day in Bratislava was about right. Parts of the river are very scenic, other parts not so much (but mostly covered at night).
Our cruise ended just inside Germany. Longer ones go through tributaries and a canal connecting to the Rhine, for a lot more of Germany. Some connect Amsterdam with Budapest and the lower Danube to the Black Sea. So your choice will be based on what cities and towns you want to visit, how much time you have, and your budget.
If you post your question in the correct section you will get better responses.
Nearly every European river cruise company offers trips that begin in Budapest and travel north on the Danube. Some travel a relatively short distance - perhaps ending in Vienna - while others travel as far as Amsterdam. The longer the trip, the more costly. Some companies bundle air travel costs into their price while others offer more limited options.
If Budapest is part of your wishes - I suggest arriving a few days prior to your embarkation - it's a wonderful place. If you are a member of AAA, their travel department can be very helpful working out your wishes with certain cruise companies. Welcome aboard!
As others have said, there are many sources of information for river cruises. I have found the following river cruise website and newsletter very helpful for my research. They even report on river levels which can be helpful in choosing the time of year for various rivers.
We've taken 4 River cruises with Tauck including their Budapest to Amsterdam last June. Water levels were high but it didn't cause any problems. Late summer thru fall is where it gets dicey wrt low levels.
Do lots of research on different companies. Most have similar itineraries but vary in what is included, how many passengers on board and the customer support. Tauck is one of the most expensive but they include everything - all tips, transfers to/from the ship, all food and alcohol, plus bonuses like little food gifts and extra excursions. The only thing you might spend money onboard are spa services, gift shop, laundry. Their customer service is far and away above cheaper companies like Viking. In part that's because in addition to river cruises they have 100s of other land and small ship tours. They want to keep you as a customer. Included airfare (Viking) can save money but you don't always get to pick the best flight times, etc.
In picking cabins, there isn't as much variability as big ocean liners. All have at least a window, some have balconies. The later is fairly worthless unless you're on a longer cruise where you have some daylight cruising time. When docked your view may be blocked by another ship - I noticed this being particularly bad on the Danube due to its popularity. Cabins toward the aft end are noisier ( near the main engines) and require a longer walk from most of the action on board - dining, lounge, departing the ship on tours.
The very forward ones may get lobby noise. We usually pick one about 3 cabins from the front on the middle ship level.
Try to add days on the beginning or end of the tour of possible. The beginning is especially good as it lets you get a head start on getting over jetlag before the tour and a cushion of time in case of travel delays. Budapest was really interesting.
We've loved river cruising.
I am on Cruise Critic frequently and have considered a cruise on the Danube vs. the RS Tour of Munich, Salzburg and Vienna. Here is a link to a local who tracks the water levels on the Danube during the season the river cruises are running. It is very helpful, but we have decided it is too hard to predict the water levels year to year.
Reading complaints on the Chris Elliot travel consumer website, I saw complaints about Viking River cruises becoming second-rate bus trips when the water level dropped. They knew in advance, but passengers were surprised upon arrival. It's in the contract that this can happen. However, other River Cruise companies were able to navigate the Rhine and better maintained their sailings because they were more experienced with the Rhine, had been in the river cruise business longer so had shallower boats built to navigate the Rhine.
There is the potential for extended bus times for any of the cruise companies. We had a weird thing happen on our Danube/ Rhine cruise last summer. After our last day on the Danube we woke up expecting to be cruising to Nuremberg. Instead were stuck in Keilheim. Turns out a Viking ship.had hit and damaged a lock on the Main canal - connects the Danube to the Rhine. Our Tour Directors changed the plan for the day putting us on buses for an hour plus drive to Nuremberg. We arrived prior to lunch and our afternoon guided tours so they gave everyone 20 Euros for lunch ( we had yummy sausages and leibkuchen cookies). Had our scheduled tours then bus back to our still stuck ship. The next day we took a cruise of the nearby Danube gorge complete with beer and pretzels, a tour of Weltenburg Abbey (amazing) and a local war memorial with views of the Danube. All of this was extra excursions at no extra cost. Back on the ship we learned the lock would be out at least 2 weeks so we would be transferring ships with an identical one doing our tour in reverse. The next day we left our packed bags to be handled by the crews, took a bus to Bamberg and Wurzburg for tours then boarded our new ship. After that we saw everything on our scheduled tour. It helped that the original itinerary had a full day cruising which the captain used to make up the time. The bus time wasn't ideal but we ultimately saw everything expected plus much more. Best cruise of four we've taken. On our return home they sent us a $1000 voucher for a future trip which we've already booked.
Other cruise companies canceled trips and sent people home early. From comments I read online later Viking wasn't even telling their customers who had caused this. It was also a week after a different Viking ship hit a local tour boat in Budapest killing over 20 mostly south Koreans. We pay a bit more but I'll stick with Tauck.
Thanks so much everyone for your tips and where to find more information about river cruises on this travel forum.
I have taken a Netherlands river cruise and loved it. I have traveled all my life but now in my 60 ‘s I am finding the pace, amenities and general way of travel by river very nice as does my family of 4. We will be on a danube River Cruise in spring. We always add xtra days in our case budapest and lastly Prague. We have been pleased with Gate one Travel for these cruises. Price, routing, food and itineraries have been excellent.
We did a cruise from Budapest to Passau on Viking. There was a stop in Vienna to attend an opera. The cruise was in April and there was no problem with water levels. We did not find the Danube to be very scenic. We are ocean cruisers and probably would not do another river one. That being said this was a great opportunity to visit Cesky Krumlov as a day trip. We added Munich at the end for a few days and loved it. It was about a two hour train ride from Passau.