Discovering the Lower Danube | porthole cruise and travel news
The world is as big as you make it and limiting yourself to well-traveled cruise destinations limits the reach of this amazing and diverse planet. Of course, the beaches of the Caribbean and the iconic ports of the Mediterranean have a strong appeal, but for me there is always a new world emerging that demands attention. The dilemma becomes not just where to go for new discoveries, but how best to experience them.
The high standards of service, food and hospitality we enjoyed with Uniworld Boutique River Cruises on our very first river cruise in 2014 have made this mode of cruising one of our favorite travel experiences. A change of my been done this perspective on the rivers of Europe coupled with recent world headlines on Eastern European countries, ignited my curiosity and drove my return to Uniworld using Budapest, Hungary as a launching pad for a discovery of the Lower -Danube on board the charming Duchess of the River.
We explored Budapest on several occasions, but a return to the bustling city market, eating a chimney cake and walking through the pedestrian mall were all to do again. Daytime excursions to the huge Parliament building, fortresses and churches are fascinating enough, but the bonus Uniworld nighttime river cruise is nothing short of spectacular. The brilliant lighting of these iconic structures sheds new light on the riverbanks and bridges that define the city.
Beginning, the cruise weaves its way through multiple remnants of the former Yugoslavia, ending with stops in Bulgaria and Romania. Vukovar and Osijek, Croatia offer a taste of rural Croatian life and culture with the first of many free excursions. Offering a full immersion in the country, the excursion passes through vast fields and vineyards to an open-air museum visit to a traditional village followed by a typical lunch hosted by local residents in their individual homes. Before dinner on board, Croatian musicians perform a folk music program adding a taste of local character to the day.
Tito’s hour in Serbia
No Eastern European city better reflects the crossroads of Yugoslavia’s great visions and failures than Belgrade, Serbia. The relatively recent, yet historic, hold of Marshal Tito’s influence is explored in a comprehensive city tour, complete with a visit to the Royal Gardens and Palace, as well as an exclusive audience with Crown Prince Alexander and his wife, providing an indelible highlight of the cruise. After the tour, an in-depth and fascinating exploration of Serbian history, life and politics is presented on board by a well-known historian.
After dinner, guests are treated to a private choral performance in Saint Sava Church, a massive temple of Orthodox Christianity designed to resemble Hagia Sophia in Istanbul with its interior design, huge dome and plethora of typical icons . After the concert, strange as it may seem, an exclusive wine tasting is organized in the colorful basement of the church.
Waking up in the shadow of the Golubac Knights Fortress and walking its riverside ramparts conjure up fairy tale fantasies of knights and castles positioned along the Danube. The afternoon is spent cruising perhaps the most scenic part of the Danube while the Duchess of the River glide through what are called the Iron Gates, deep, narrow gorges lined with rocky cliffs. All eyes are drawn to the colossal sculpture on the side of a mountain depicting the face of Decebalus, the last king of Dacia (modern Romania).
Bulgarian and Romanian restart
Two days in Bulgaria are punctuated by visits to cave monasteries and the fascinating red rock formations of Belogradchik Fortress. The guides offer a captivating insight into the dark days of communism in the country as it emerges today with new hope from its resounding rebuff of communist rule.
Bucharest, Romania conjures up a cruise-appropriate finale. Known as the People’s Palace, the towering image of the massive Parliament, the world’s second largest building after the Pentagon, bears witness to the fanatical visions of excess of its former dictator, Nicholas Ceausescu. Known as the Paris of the East, the city displays an eclectic mix of neo-classical, baroque and communist architecture as well as significant Roman and French influences that contribute to a cosmopolitan European aura.
Back on board Duchess of the River
Exploring diverse and re-emerging worlds is as eye-opening as it is educational, but returning to the comforts of Duchess of the River at the end of each day offers a serendipitous retreat to luxury. Like all Uniworld ships, it is decorated with bespoke design and refined taste. The palette of pastel blues, grays and ivory paints a soft but colorful mood and the generous use of mirrors highlights the spacious public spaces. All of the accommodations, although comfortably sized, are showcases when it comes to interior design. Sliding glass doors or oversized windows provide views of the river scenes and the exquisite Savoir of London beds guarantee a good night’s rest.
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Uniworld has made fine dining a hallmark of the brand with only premium quality ingredients used in its culinary presentations. The glass-enclosed dining room offers open seating for its buffet breakfasts and lunches as well as full-service dinners. For vegetarians, a new wellness menu is also available. As part of its all-inclusive policy, different premium wines from each travel region are uncorked and showcased each evening.
As this cruise itinerary delves into the sometimes gray but compelling narrative of Eastern Europe’s past, the indulgent River Duchess never strays from her message of providing an inspiring luxury cruise experience. .