Cruise like a king on Amadeus Queen
Unique passage of discovery, awash with right royal quality, awaits all opting to take cruise control aboard a boat where true new friend-ships are forged.
Adventures aplenty lurk behind Danube bends of most majestic of rivers, courtesy of relative novice in this travel sector. New kid on the dock is none other than Great Rail Journeys, whose impressive reputation rises with every sail.
Enjoyable escorted exploration for the more mature traveller is ensured at every turn, fittingly first class, courtesy of Yorkshire-based specialists whose train transport track record remains second to none after 45 years' experience.
And water way to launch with five star debut voyage along most scenic sections of route whose Black Forest to Black Sea 1,770 meandering miles make it among Europe's longest.
Bustling Budapest to peaceful Passau, the transnational trip seamlessly samples Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany throughout great eight days and magnificent seven nights.
Quality cabins belie "more you pay, more you sway" misnomer, this quality floating hotel offering superior spacious accommodation, while gourmet catering comes second to none from bountiful breakfasts to dinners that digest fine dining.
Some 50 staff, representing ten nationalities spanning the globe, are consistently efficient and entertaining in equal engaging measure while fellow guests prove personable and convivial company, absorbing back stories ranging from Salvation Army stalwarts to octogenarian circus dancer (retired).
Informative itineraries comprehensively confirm daily excursions' expectations for those keen to take shore leave at every opportunity. Or sit back and kick back on-board, watching wondrous world float by, everyday cares washed away, from sun deck and open air lounge or, better yet, cradling cool glass in Panorama Bar.
Day 1: Blighty rail, overnight hotel and flight - seat A1 allowing shortest of legs to be stretched - a distant memory, Hungarian capital - and George Ezra hit song title - is first port of call, Budapest bisected by body of water Johann Strauss II immortalised with 1866 "blue" waltz.
Warmest of welcomes gives way to breaking bread with all the single ladies (didn't put a ring on it!), local folklore interpreted through medium of musical dance and truly illuminating evening spectacular, amazing architectural landmarks viewed in new awe-inspiring light.
Day 2: Having slept like captain's log, this most majestic of cities becomes available via coach tour. Opera House, Parliament Building, Széchenyi Chain Bridge, St Stephen's Basilica and Castle, perching imperiously above all below, all underline why Bude and Pest combined are correctly acclaimed "Gem of the Danube".
Bratislava bound, guests are entertained by another life-long journo, somewhat more eminent, in charming form of Nicholas Owen, whose presentation and Q&A documents life and times of one-time royal correspondent, confirmed classical music aficionado, popular TV and radio anchor man in millions of front rooms.
Day 3: Slovak capital, surrounded by vineyards and Little Carpathian heights, crisscrossed with forested hiking and cycling trails, unveils on coach and walking tours Michalska Gate, Main Square, Old Town Hall, Primatial Palace, Reduta, Cathedral of St Martin and, atop lofty hill, reconstructed castle, surveying pedestrianised central cafes and bars.
Another day older, another day weiser, Budvar original "king of beers" is sampled. You can take the lad out of Leeds but you can't stop him, anywhere worldwide, supporting his football club so free time saw support far from home for LUFC with Loiner stags and face-painted Scandi fans of World Ice Hockey Championships. We're all Swedes aren't we?
Day 4: Vienna sees us transported back in time to days of decadence, exemplified by Ringstrasse's finest building blocks, impressive State Opera, monumental Museums of Fine Art and Natural History, neo-classical Parliament, acclaimed City Hall and Burgtheater, World Heritage Site listed site Schönbrunn Palace attracting flocks of culture vultures from across the globe.
Fitting finale to Viennese whirl, considerable coup expertly executed, comes in stylish shape of Philharmonic Orchestra quartet, whose lounge recital of Mozart and fellow key composers' classics rocked Amadeus under star-spangled nocturnal skies.
Day 5: Blue Monday Danube, snaking its interminable way along Carlsberg of scenic vistas, tips us up amid valley vineyards at delightful Dürnstein's monastery and castle before upping anchor again, via labyrinthine locks, for Emmersdorf.
Majestic Melk Abbey (if it ain't baroque, don't fix it!) amounts to another architectural treasure, more Austrian than entire Von Trapp family consuming schnitzel and strudel in lederhosen and dirndl. As Gilbert O'Sullivan almost said, ooh Wachau do wakka day.
Day 6: Packed lunch and electronic guide gizmo in hand, we head for the hills, sampling spectacular scenery, speckled with lakes various. Its name suggests rap battler, but Bad Ischl is in fact serenity personified, Alpine gateway spa town bathed in calm. On to UNESCO listed Hallstatt, whose traditional pastel-shaded houses, perched on precarious plain 'tween crags and water, makes this settlement picture postcard photo opportunity par excellence.
Must-see Mondsee church, 15th century scene of The Sound Of Music's Maria marriage to her beloved baron, evoked memories 54 summers past of first cinema musical, eyes damp during Edelweiss encore ... likely because I was refused more usherette Butterkist and Kiora!.
Day 7: If it's mid-week, it must be Regensburg. Medieval to its historic core, built around 12th century Stone Bridge, 300-plus metre iconic structure whose 16 river arches connect old and new sectors, it also boasts cathedral, one century younger, standing as twin-spired Gothic landmark, home to globally renowned Domspatzen choir.
Snuff factory museum is not to be sniffed at while water-side Historic Sausage Kitchen, reputedly world's oldest such eatery, sees staff - keen as trademark sweet mustard - duly daily serve 6,000 portions. It was, likely to sound of Charles Dickens spinning in his Poets' Corner grave, "the best of times, the wurst of times".
Day 8: Suited and booted gala dinner enjoyed, a little too much by some - we know who we are! - last day dawns in Passau, more than passable final destination, Three Rivers City in shadow of Veste Oberhaus, 13th-century hilltop fortress housing city museum and observation tower.
Old town offers up new revelations including St. Stephen's Cathedral, featuring distinctive onion-domed towers and organ that pulls out all the stops, sporting just shy of 18,000 pipes.
"Four countries with five-star rating on floating palace with quality service and food, great organisational team, excursions and guides. Everything beyond our expectations, we would certainly book again with GRJ again" - Stuart and Pat Braddock, Lancashire
Gregarious cruise manager and co thanked for sterling sociable support, this floating voter's one-man mission to enjoy Europe came to most congenial close.
Part busman's break, copy-reading and correcting programmes for 140-odd passengers, your roving reporter - Rob Brydon body double, Jane McDonald minus songs and sequins - disembarked firmly persuaded this Great Cruise Journeys transport of delight, previously unfamiliar, is genuinely something to write home about.
What's not to like about unpacking once, only to awake refreshed daily in new cities, nay countries? I rest my case. And you can yours ...
Way to go: Departing next year May 5 & 12, June 1, 13 & 20, July 11, August 1 & 26, September 4, experience Five Star Danube Cruise on escorted group tour https://www.greatrail.com/tours/five-star-danube-cruise-fly-and-cruise/ with Great Rail Journeys www.greatrail.com / 01904 527180. From £1,395pp, eight-day trip includes seven-night cruise on board 5* MS Amadeus Queen or Silver II, selected meals, transport from UK to Budapest (customers can choose between rail or air), excursions including illuminated sail of Budapest, guided tours of Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna, performance from Hungarian folk band, private recital from Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra musicians, Melk Abbey visit, Regensberg walking exploration before final night Captain’s gala dinner.