Gate 1 Travel Danube river cruise review

The MS Sound of Music docked in Regensburg, Germany

Gate 1 Travel Danube river cruise review

The waterways of Europe are crowded with river cruise ships, most offering identical itineraries. For the Danube, the route from Budapest to Nuremberg, passing through Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany, sees ships from a variety of travel providers. Gate 1 Travel's 9-day Danube cruise offers what this cruiser feels is a great value for this popular route.

The ship was comfortable and filled with amenities, the food was delicious (and almost every meal was included) and the excursions were informative and entertaining. The well-planned itinerary allowed a wonderful sampling of the various destinations visited and the shipboard service was terrific.

Itinerary: We started day one with a late afternoon departure from Budapest, Hungary. The next day was Bratislava, Slovakia, followed by Vienna the day after that. Next up were Durnstein and Melk, in Austria's Wachau Valley. Passau, Germany was our docking location the next day, which was the port for our day trip to Salzburg. The next day we visited Regensburg, a medieval city in Germany. This was followed by our last stop, Nuremberg.

The ship: We sailed aboard the MS Sound of Music which was very comfortable and rather intimate, carrying a maximum of 128 passengers in 64, all-outside cabins. There was a library, large bar and lounge and a spacious dining room. Amenities included an on-board spa, small exercise room and roof-top sundeck. Wi-Fi was available throughout the ship and in cabins, but did understandably drop off during the many canal lock passages.

Cabins: Mine was spacious, with a French balcony. One whole wall was windows, with a sliding glass door and two chairs and a table in front. It was great to open the sliding door and enjoy my hot chocolate in the morning while watching the world float by. The bathroom was compact yet quite comfortable, with lots of shelves. There was a shower with great water pressure and lots of hot water. Cabins were serviced twice daily by the friendly staff.

Food: Food on the ship was excellent. 20 meals are included, which left only one or two lunches on our own. Seating was open, with breakfast and lunch served buffet-style. The lunch menu always also included a meat, fish and pasta entree option in addition to the wide selection at the buffet. The meals featured local specialties and ingredients from the areas we visited. Highlights included the smoked duck breast and beef tenderloin served on the last night and the herb-crusted rack of lamb served while docked in Regensburg, Germany.

Liquors and wines were also highlighted from the regions we were visiting. Unicum (a Hungarian aperitif) was served after dinner leaving Budapest, Austrian wine was served while passing through Austria, and German wine offered in Germany. Food service was really attentive and having the same waitstaff over seven days really brings truly personal service. After a day or two, the staff get to know your personal food preferences and start to bring things automatically and / or serve them the way you've requested, without having to ask.

Excursions: With only a very few exceptions (an evening music concert in Vienna, a day trip to Salzburg), everything was included. The group of 100 or so was divided into three groups of around 30 and we each had a tour manager. The tour manager's experience, humor, guidance, local knowledge and goal of ensuring each passenger has a great trip is a special amenity of river cruising. Most port visits started with an early morning meeting in the ship's lobby, followed by a city tour with a local guide. The afternoons were normally free for us to explore on our own. We were issued wireless headsets, which allowed us to hear the tour manager and local guides easily.

Service: When you spend seven days with the same staff, they get to know you. Whether it's the hotel staff at the desk, the housekeeping staff or the dining room waitstaff, everyone greets you by name and there is a personal connection. This is not possible when doing a land tour and traveling from hotel to hotel. This is this writer's second experience traveling with Gate 1, the first was an incredible Peru small group land adventure in 2012. I have been constantly impressed and overwhelmed with their planning and logistics, combined with intense local knowledge and a permanent local presence. They really bring value and enable travelers to do more and see more and really get more out of the experience than they could on their own.

The Gate 1 Travel Danube river cruise is available as a nine-day (seven nights aboard the ship) cruise, from Budapest to Nuremberg. The same cruise is available as part of a longer 20-day adventure including land visits to Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest before the cruise and Prague, Dresden and Berlin after the cruise. Cruise-only prices start at $1,899 per person, double occupancy with recommended (and well-deserved) gratuities adding another $150 per person.

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