Last month we had an epic holiday cruising the Danube with U by Uniworld. Originally this cruise line was launched for the 18 to 45 crowd but for those of us who aren’t ready to sit back and let the kids have all the fun it is a perfect fit.
The ship itself is very sleek and modern looking for a river cruise ship. We sailed on “the A” and we loved the cool vibe it gave off as soon as we saw her. Black and white with touches of chrome and glass in the interior and just a tiny bit of neon just for good measure. We arrived a bit later than we expected so we dumped our bags and headed off to the dining room to have a quick bite before they whisked away the food. In retrospect that was the worst thing that happened on our cruise so it was pretty close to being perfect.
For us it is all about the food. Honestly as food tour owners we travel to eat so this is really important. The thing that drew us to U was that they offered two meals instead of three. The first was a later breakfast/brunch and the second was dinner. I have been on ocean cruises where it is an all you can eat situation and the mentality of many is that you need to eat as much as you can and you shouldn’t miss a meal because you paid for it. The days of rushing back to the ship for lunch in the middle of exploring a new destination are over. It was fantastic having the opportunity to eat in place.
In Vienna we found ourselves eating with our new shipboard friends at the market. In Budapest we went on a fabulous, leisurely food tour. In Bratislava we found a gorgeous sidewalk cafe and watched the world go by. We would enjoy our day and then return to the ship to eat dinner a little later.
For U cruises, alcoholic drinks are not included. That of course did not deter me from having a glass of wine with dinner or enjoying a mojito or Aperol spritz on the rooftop deck. There is juice with breakfast, water poured constantly and there is a coffee/tea station called “Mugs” that is on the lower deck and is self serve and available 24/7. I had withdrawals when we got home and I could no longer have an Earl Grey latte every night. Our bar bill was significantly less than our previous ocean cruises so we were pretty pleased with that.
Dinners were not quite what we had expected. The original marketing suggested we would have family style and tapas type dining with table mates but there was a buffet every night but one. The food was excellent but we would have preferred the original dining concept over the dinner buffets. I imagine that they will tweak things as this is a new cruise line and they may mix it up a bit. The staff were attentive but fun and it felt more informal which made us feel very at ease and relaxed, just like a cruise should be.
The Danube Flow goes from Regensburg, Germany to Budapest, Hungary or in reverse on certain dates. Each port has something different to offer. In Regensburg there is the oldest wurst house where we enjoyed some Bratwurst and a pint while sitting along the Danube. In Budapest we spent time in Pest on a food tour and then went to Buda to the castle district. In Austria we spent a steamy evening sipping wine and eating gourmet appetizers in a vineyard in the Wachau Valley. There was also a morning spent wandering the streets of Bratislava, one of the smallest capital cities in Europe.
The greatest thing about a river cruise is that you dock in the centre of it all. You walk off the ship and there it all is just waiting for you to discover! On U there are included excursions available that are often walks with the U Hosts with a bit of history and lots of suggestions about where to go and what to do for the day. We did a few paid excursions because the bus ride sure beat the walk up the hill to Melk Abbey. We also had a guided tour in Vienna which was worth every penny and we love wine so in Wachau Valley we spent time exploring a local vineyard.
If you cycle there are bikes to borrow or you can head out with the group on a paid excursion on the trail beside the Danube. Everyone works hard on the ship and pitches in. At the end of a cycling trip they hand the bikes back up onto the ship. We got a great shot of the captain riding one of the bikes back to its storage spot on the top deck.
We never ran out of things to do on the ship because there were onboard activities too. There was yoga in the morning on the top deck, a beer mixology class and drumming lessons in the Ice Bar. I managed to fit in a couple of reflexology treatments to sooth my aching feet. My fitness tracker tells me we walked 200 km in 2 weeks and my feet appreciated the treatments!
If I were to talk about the highlight of the cruise I would have to say it was the evening we sailed into Budapest with the sounds of a jazz saxophonist and a dj. In the dark night passing under the first bridge, only the sounds of awe and wonderment could be heard as we saw the spectacular lights of the Parliament buildings and the chain bridge. I have seen Paris at night too but Budapest surprised me with its old world beauty and charm. We didn’t know where to look as we were surrounded on both sides with an incredible light show.
I could talk about this cruise forever because there were so many high points. In short I would do this all again in a heartbeat and so Niagara Culinary Tours and Plan a Culinary Vacation are planning a return trip as we escort a group on the Danube Flow in May 2019. If you would like to join us spots are still available.
On this blog I make it my mission to share a tip that I have learned the hard way. Think before you pack! It always seems like a good idea to have outfits for dinner and alternatives in case it gets cold. Everything adds to the weight in your suitcase so you have to be selective. This trip I used a rolling rack and created outfit pairings. If it couldn’t create more than one look then it was gone. I still ended up with too much but at least I didn’t have to pay a luggage overage fee this time!
Photos and story by: Kimberley Gunning, Plan A Culinary Vacation
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