Danube Delights – Cruising down the Danube with Emerald Waterways

Posted on Dec 9, 2014

Danube Delights – Cruising down the Danube with Emerald Waterways

There is a reason the Danube is the most popular River Cruise amongst travelers today. It is an ideal way to explore a stunning part of world presenting a variety of experiences. And whether you love history, food, architecture, music or art, you will not be disappointed. Couple that with the luxurious accommodation provided by the Emerald Star—Emerald Waterways’ recently named Best New River Ship of the Year by Cruise Critic—and you simply can’t go wrong.

EmeraldBudapestThe Emerald Star is 139 m long and 11.5 m wide. That is just narrow enough to glide through the numerous locks as it cruises down the Danube with less than a foot on either side. Not too much more than that separates the bottom of the ship from the river bed. At many parts the Danube is just wide enough for two cruise ships to pass with maybe 20 feet between them.

DanubeNurWe chose the Emerald Waterways “Danube Delights” itinerary beginning our journey in Nuremberg, cruising through Austria and Slovakia and finally ending our journey in Budapest, Hungary. We arrived in Nuremberg the day before boarding the Emerald Star and it was the perfect city to re-adjust the system from the effects of jet lag. It’s small and easy enough to get around on your own walking while providing enough interesting sites to keep you awake and interested as you fight off the desire to sleep and stick with your original time zone. We spent a lovely afternoon walking up to Nuremberg Castle and back down through the walled Old Town wandering through side streets that took us past churches, statues, open squares, cafes, shops, and the main marketplace connected by Fleisch Bridge.

DanubeliberationOur first full day of cruising down the Danube took us through the first of several locks we would pass through and offered up the quaint scenery of farm houses and small chapels along the river. We arrived at Kelheim, a lovely small town of 15,000 people in Bavaria where the Altmuhl and Danube rivers meet. The Emerald Star docked there on our first morning and we all left the ship to board buses that took us up a steep switchback road that had been used in the past for car and motorcycle races. The forest was a beautiful orange and red on this cool November morning as we motored up to reach the Befreiungshalle (Hall of Liberation) that sits upon the top of the highest hill. It is a memorial to the Bavarian soldiers who fought in the War of Liberation that led to Napoleon’s overthrow in 1815. The edifice is striking for its sheer size and for the 18 carved figures which stand guard along the roof’s perimeter. The hilltop also presents a superb vantage point for taking pictures of the Danube.

DanubeBeerOnce back at the bottom of the hill we walked a short distance up the river to the beautiful Weltenburg Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery founded in 620 AD and said to be the oldest in Bavaria. Within the Abbey is the spectacular Church of St George and St. Martin. Rebuilt in 1716, it is wonderfully ornate and showcases the brilliant sculptures and painting two brothers, Cosmos and Egin Asam, a 20 year labour of love for them. After being amazed by the indescribable beauty of the Church, we switched gears completely and crossed the small square to the oldest monastic brewery in the world, the Weltenburg Klosterbrauerie. We sit down in the beautiful old beer garden and are served its famous dark beer. The beer is delicious; it is intensely flavoured and smooth as can be. We were not at all surprised to learn it won the top spot at a recently held international beer competition in San Francisco. And it pairs perfectly with the large bread pretzels baked on the premises.  Between the stunning beauty of the Church and that incredible beer, I think we qualified for having two religious experiences in Weltenburg!

DanubeGorgeThe tour then moved to a smaller scenic tour boat to take us through the Danube Gorge so we could admire the breath-taking beauty of its 300 foot high cliffs. The Emerald Star was waiting for us in Regensburg with a deliciously prepared light buffet lunch. After lunch we were free to return to see the sites of this beautiful walled city. In the evening before we set sail, Emerald arranged for a traditional Bavarian Oompah Band to entertain us over cocktails before dinner.

On our second full day on the ship we arrive at Passau, very close to the Austrian border. Emerald Waterways has organized for a brief tour of this picturesque city of 50,000 that sits on the peninsula formed at the confluence of the Danube and Inn Rivers. The tour is fun and Wolfram, our tour guide is terrific. He regales us with wonderful details about the two rivers, informing us that the Danube is always referred to in the feminine, as she elegantly and calmly winds her way lower. The Inn River however is always referred to in the masculine as he is an entirely different colour (green as he is glacially fed) and of a much different temperament as he moves much quicker. High watermarks are etched onto buildings that show how high the various flood levels have reached. Even with a running jump I cannot reach up to the level marked on a hotel that shows how high the water reached in 2013. It is the second highest level with markings going back hundreds of years.

Danube River Cruise Hyperlapse Video ]

DanubeceilingPassau is charming as we worked our way up her cobblestone streets past the Italian-influenced Baroque architecture of the colourful buildings that give rise to the appropriate moniker of the “Venice of Bavaria”. Her crowning achievement is the Cathedral of St. Stephen, a stunning church whose light colours and Baroque architecture stand in contrast to the darker, Gothic Abbey in Weltenburg. Spectacularly ornate, it also houses the world’s largest organ with over 17,000 pipes and 230 registers. It is truly a sight to behold.

DanubelinzerLinz, Austria is a bigger city and we pulled in for the evening. One of the many great things about river cruising is that since the river was essential to transportation historically, the towns have grown along the river’s edge. This means you often have the town’s centre just a short walk from the dock. Such is the case with Linz and we didn’t miss the opportunity to wander into town to sample the famous Linzer Torte.

DanubeMelkThe Abbey at Melk is considerably larger than what we have seen previously. But like Weltenburg and Passau, it is stunning in its beauty. We entered via a large courtyard that provides an impressive lead-in to the Church. The colour scheme is yellow with white trim and showcases the Broque style: symmetrical and light, it expresses the joy of the time. The Abbey has been renovated and restored and some modern touches have been added: sculptures and paintings clearly are out of the period but not out of place. The sheer size of the structure is something to behold; the West wall is almost a quarter mile long. The Abbey was originally a castle and was donated to the Church by a wealthy land lord. Artifacts of the times have been carefully restored and are on display in the castle’s interior rooms. Two of the more stunning rooms are the enormous main dining room, also called the marble room for its construction material and the spectacular two-story high, 9,000 volume library. Perched upon a premonitory high above the Danube, the outer terraces offer a stunning view of the Wachau Valley. The bus will take you back to the ship but we opted to walk through the town, an easy 20 minute downhill stroll through cobblestone streets passing by the local shops.

The Emerald Star continues on its journey taking us through the beautiful Wachau Valley where autumn coloured trees and rows of grapevines line the steep hills for several miles.

Vienna is the largest of the cities we visit on this cruise and offers an incredible amount of history. Buses and tour guides meet us at the ship right after breakfast and take us on our first driving guided tour. The famous “Ringstrasse” (ring road) replaces the former wall that surrounds the inner city and drives us past many parks and buildings that impress not just with their beauty but their sheer size as well. I think back to my home in Vancouver, where not much of anything is over 100 years old. Yet here there is building after building that is 200 or 300 years old, and all have been meticulously maintained. We get off the bus and take a guided walking tour through the cobblestone platz where automobiles are not permitted after 11 a.m. Two of the most magnificent buildings are the Opera House and St. Stephen’s Church.

DanubekursalonThe Baroque style is very ornate and one cannot help but wonder how it was possible to build such a large and complicated edifice before the invention of modern machines. The Opera House with its marble columns and green roof speaks of an age of grandeur now long past where the arts held a more prominent place in daily life.

DanubeKursalon2The evening was a definite highlight of the trip. We were taken by bus a short distance to the Kursalon, a beautiful building on the edge of a park to see a classical music concert. This smaller building would still be large by North American standards and sits upon beautiful gardens. The orchestra of roughly 20 pieces has no conductor but is led by the first violin. We are treated to the music of mostly Strauss and Mozart and our orchestra is accompanied on a few numbers by two ballet dancers and by two opera singers. I can safely say that regardless of your taste in music, the entertainment value of this concert was of the highest caliber and we enthusiastically joined the rest of the guests at the end of the two hours (which seemed to pass far quicker) in a well-deserved standing ovation.

Our next port was the 2nd of three consecutive capital cities, Bratislava in Slovakia. A less than five minute walk put us in front of the Opera House where they were preparing for the Christmas markets complete with an ice-skating rink. Our tour began with a short drive up to where Bratislava castle stands overlooking the city offering  terrific views of not only Bratislava but also of Austria and Hungary. The bus then took us back down to the city where we continued our tour walking around on foot past Mirbach Palace, St. Martin Cathedral, and Michael’s Gate.

DanubebudapestcathedralWe woke up the next morning in Hungary at our final port, the city of Budapest. Our ship was docked directly across from the Parliament Buildings for an unobstructed and truly stunning view. The Emerald Star is literally sitting in between the iconic Chain Bridge and the new bridge that also links Buda and Pest. Even though I had been here before, it still took my breath away. Home to numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, It has a wonderful blend of both old and new in terms of sights. Our included tour covered everything from the Buda Castle quarter, to Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church and Heroes’ Square. As the ship overnights here, we had plenty of free time during the afternoon and evening to explore it to our heart’s content.


*This trip was sponsored by Emerald Waterways in partnership with Cruiseabout Canada

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