TRAVEL REVIEW: Star ship enterprise boldly combines quality river and rail travel
"Delights of the Danube" successfully straddles such stimulating transports of delight.
Unique voyage of discovery awaits all opting to take cruise control aboard a vessel where true new friend-ships are forged.
Indeed, some passengers find soul mates amid holiday romances '70s TV hit "The Love Boat" story lines would be proud of.
Adventures aplenty lurk just around the bends of most majestic of rivers, jaw-dropping journey courtesy of relative novice in this twin travel sector.
New-ish kid on the dock is none other than Great Rail Journeys, whose impressive reputation rises with every successful sail.
Enjoyable escorted exploration for the more mature traveller is ensured at every turn, fittingly first class, courtesy of specialists whose train transport track record remains second to none after almost 50 years' experience.
Amadeus Star navigates most scenic of sections along among Europe's longest waterways, whose total 1,770 miles meander from Black Forest to Black Sea.
Weighing in at hulking 1767 tonnes, our 135 metre denizen of the deep negotiates labyrinth of locks, looming high overhead, forging forward at 14 knots.
Aboard are 200-plus passengers and crew, fellow guests proving convivial company, sharing absorbing back stories, while 50-odd staff, representing numerous nationalities, remain consistently professional and personable in equally engaging measure.
Quality cabins belying "more you pay, more you sway" misnomer, this fabulous floating hotel offers superior spacious accommodation at every level.
Gourmet catering comes second to none from bountiful breakfasts to finest daytime dining. Downtime days fuelled by Yorkshire Tea, a tannin tribute to the company's York base, something a little stronger lubricates dancefloor dusks, Erdinger for we weiße squad stalwarts.
Informative itineraries comprehensively confirm daily excursions' expectations for those keen to take shore leave at every opportunity.
Others sit back and kick back on-board, watching wondrous watery world drift by, everyday cares washed away on open-air sun deck or within luxurious lounge and Panorama Bar.
Bustling Budapest to peaceful Passau, this transnational trip takes us back in time to Ottoman and Habsburg empires, seamlessly sampling Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany throughout nine fine days' globetrotting, magnificent seven nights afloat.
This floating voter, Yorkshire native like popular prime time TV "Cruising With" celebrity Jane McDonald - singing fewer songs and sporting slightly fewer sequins - remains convinced such trips tick all the boxes, reporting such sophistication is certainly something to write home about.
What's not to like about unpacking once, daily waking refreshed in new cities, nay countries? I rest my case. And you can yours.
"Four countries aboard five star floating palace awash with quality service and food, great organisational team, tours and guides. We would certainly book again with GRJ." - Richard Morgan, Birmingham
Daily diary ...
Day 1: London Royal National Hotel sleep dawns with St Pancras early morning departure, riding rails to NH Collection Nuremberg overnight stay via Eurostar Brussels and Dusseldorf before new day delivers further transfer to Budapest via Vienna, together encountering more trackside delights than television train buff Michael Portillo boxed set.
Day 2: Hungarian capital - and George Ezra hit song title - first port of call, bisected by body of water Johann Strauss II immortalised with 1866 blue waltz. Warmest of welcomes makes way for local folklore, interpreted through medium of musical dance, and truly illuminating nocturnal spectacular, amazing architectural landmarks, moon splashed and star spangled, viewed in new awe-inspiring light.
Day 3: 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, collectively demonstrating indisputably why hilly Bude and flat Pest combined are correctly acclaimed "Gem of the Danube".
Day 4: Slovak capital Bratislava, 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 weißer, thirst-quenching Budvar original "king of beers" sampled. Rude not to!
Day 5: 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 recital of Mozart and fellow key composers' classics rocked Amadeus.
Day 6: Snaking its interminable way along Carlsberg of scenic vistas, Danube tips us up amid Wachau Valley vineyards of delightful Dürnstein's monastery and castle, once unwelcome home to incarcerated crusader Richard the Lionheart, before upping anchor again for Emmersdorf. Majestic Melk Abbey (if it ain't baroque, don't fix it!) amounts to another architectural treasure, more Austrian than all Von Trapp kids eating schnitzel and strudel in lederhosen and dirndl. Some cycled, unexpected 25 kms route taking this aged athlete, legs and lungs pumping like a sewage station, way beyond his PB ... and comfort zone!
Day 7: Packed lunches and electronic guide gizmos in hand, many head for the hills of Austrian Lake District or Salzburg, sampling spectacular scenery, speckled with Instagram photo opportunities aplenty, both tours via picture postcard Mondsee, whose must-see 15th century church was scene of The Sound Of Music's Maria marriage to her beloved baron before their family fled into the Alps to Climb Every Mountain stirring soundtrack.
Day 8: Medieval to its historic core, Regensburg was built around 12th century Stone Bridge, 300-plus metre iconic structure whose 16 river arches connect old and new sectors, the settlement also boasting cathedral, a 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 9: Suited and booted Captain's Cocktail Reception and 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 will wait for future visit, as will St Stephen's Cathedral, featuring distinctive onion-domed towers and organ that pulls out all the stops, sporting just shy of 18,000 pipes. Gregarious cruise manager and co thanked for sterling sociable support, we disembark to wend our way back, station to station beyond even Bowie's Seventies substance enhanced wildest imagination. Our return included Aschaffenburg, Frankfurt Airport and Brussels Eurostar before hitting St Pancras buffers, homeward bound, buoyed by many magical memories.
Way to go ...
Delights of the Danube (Rail and Cruise) nine days from £2,395 per person, including seven nights’ accommodation on board Amadeus Silver II, Silver III or Star, spacious cabins and breakfast, daily lunch and dinner, departing June 11 to August 31 2023, contact 01904 527180 or www.greatrail.com.