This was only my second river cruise so I don’t have a lot to compare it to, but I was not as happy with the Danube as I was with my first cruise on the Rhine. We had mostly very early morning tours and I got the impression from the cruise director that this was a function of the locks, and the need to get from point A to point B and on by specific times. These early mornings, plus the need for the ship to keep moving on while we were touring on two occasions, left me feeling rushed all week. The stops were all interesting (Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Durnstein, Melk, Passau, Rebensburg, Nuremberg).
Day 1: We arrived to the ship at about 4 PM and were immediately boarded. Everyone was welcomed into the lounge and within a half hour everyone had been escorted to their cabins. We were docked on the Buda side of the river, directly across from the Parliament building and only steps away from the Batthyány tér metro station.
After settling in we had a welcome drink and dinner, followed by a moonlight cruise around Budapest to see the buildings lit at night.
Day 2: We were off at 9 AM the next morning for our tour of Budapest, which began with a drive around the Pest side and a quick stop at Hero’s Square, after which we drove over to the Buda side for a walking tour of Fisherman’s Bastion and St. Matthias church. The bus took us back to the ship at 12:30 and we were on our own until 4:30. We took off on foot and went to visit the Great Market Hall. We set sail on time and I awoke around 3 AM as we entered the Gabčíkovo lock. It took about 45 minutes to get through the lock and continue on our way.
Day 3: I overslept the next morning and almost missed our 8 AM walking tour of Bratislava. The town was still asleep for much of the tour, with the shops only opening during the last hour hour before we had to be back on board.
We sailed throughout the afternoon towards Vienna, where we arrived at around 6 PM. Shuttle buses were arranged for those who wanted to go into town this evening; we took advantage of them and visited the cathedral before heading back to the ship.
Day 4: The next morning we were off at 8:15 AM for our guided tour of Vienna (part bus, part walking). The tour ended at 12 and we had the option of taking the bus back to the ship or staying in town; we stayed in town. There was an optional tour that evening to a dinner and concert; once the participants returned to the ship we sailed, at around midnight.
Day 5: The next day was another early morning, off the ship at Durnstein at 8 AM for our walking tour. This is a beautiful little town which, like Bratislava, wasn’t quite awake yet when we arrived. The shops had opened for the last half hour of our visit.
We were off and sailing again by 10:30, headed for Melk and our visit to the abbey. When we arrived we decided that rather than take the bus up the hill we’d use the ship’s electric-assist bikes – what a blast! It takes almost no effort at all to ride these bikes. The tour guide at the abbey was the best one we had all week (and they were all good); the concert was short and uninspired, but pleasant enough.
Day 6: We stopped this morning to drop off about half of the passengers, who were taking an optional tour to Salzburg. The rest of us sailed on to Passau, where we had a walking tour then boarded buses to meet up with the ship (and the Salzburg passengers) further down the canal. Dinner this night was in Portobello’s, the Jewel’s specialty restaurant and after dinner we had the crew show; all I have to say about that is “why?”
Day 7: Yet another early morning, with a walking tour of Regensberg beginning at 8 AM. The tour ended with a sausage and beer tasting at around 10 AM. We then had two hours free before we met the buses that would take us to meet the ship, which had sailed on without us. Unfortunately, as this was a Sunday, just about everything in town was closed and there was little to fill those two hours.
Day 8: Our week ended in Nuremberg where we disembarked and had a two hour tour of the city before heading south to the airport in Munich.
The Ship, Food, and Crew
The Jewel is a new ship in great shape. The one major issue was that the elevator was not functioning when we arrived, and we were told that it would not be fixed until the end of our cruise. This was a problem as we had three wheelchair bound passengers aboard. For the first two days a crew member had to be called to use the elevator, but by day three it was fixed and back in normal operation.
We were in a Royal Suite on the Danube deck, a large (for a river cruise) cabin with a small sitting area (love seat and two easy chairs) in addition to the main part of the room. The deck was usable through the cruise because of the “Sun Lounge” windows that go up and down, turning a typical deck into a sunroom when it’s too cold to be out there otherwise. Fruit, canapes and petit fours were delivered to the room each day but we often didn’t eat them as we spent so little time in the room.
The public rooms are large and comfortable, we spent most of the cruise in the lounge watching the world go by, or playing games, or doing a jigsaw puzzle. There’s a coffee/cappuccino/espresso machine that makes pretty great coffee, and a full range of teas with pots available 24 hours a day. As if the meals aren’t enough, there are also snacks at the bar in the afternoon.
Speaking of food, it was generally good and occasionally great. Portobello’s, the specialty restaurant, delivered good food but the promised view didn’t materialize. It’s located at the front of the ship for the view but at night there isn’t much to see and, even if there was, the reflection off the windows means that you’re mostly looking at yourself.
I’m not a fan of buffets but I realize that they come with the territory on river cruises. There were a couple of luncheon entrees each day that you could order from a waiter, so that limited my buffet usage a bit.
The wines poured at lunch and dinner were almost all really good and they were generously poured. Glasses were refilled before they were even empty.
The crew were good and generally pleasant; once or twice we found the servers at meals to be a little less than average, but on balance they were fine. Rooms were very clean all the time and the cabin staff worked their butts off. We never actually took advantage of our butler, as we really weren’t in the cabin much at all.
My net reaction is that I would absolutely sail with Scenic again, but not on the Danube.