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Christmas Vacation: Cruising The Danube

Photo courtesy of Riverside Luxury Cruises

Christmas may be six months away, but now’s the prime time to start thinking about your holiday travel plansespecially if they entail a Christmas cruise around Europe.

I honestly never even thought of experiencing a European river cruise over the holidays, but something caught my eye. After doing my due diligence and, of course, getting the thumbs up from “the boss” (aka, my wife!), inquiries were made, our schedule cleared, and we were booked for a “Christmas Market” cruise with Riverside Luxury Cruises on one of Europe’s most celebrated rivers: the Danube.

Photo courtesy of Riverside Luxury Cruises

While Riverside may be new to cruising, they’re a storied travel business based in Germany. After entering the market, they purchased the now defunct Crystal cruise line’s river ships, which were held in the highest esteem. These were lovely, lavish ships to begin with, and after a good going over by the Riverside team, the vessels were ready to go—and we couldn’t wait!

I’ve cruised the Rhine, Moselle, and Main Rivers through Europe and have to say that river cruising is easily my favorite way to vacation. What’s not to love? Smaller, more intimate ships, luxurious accommodations, and spectacular dining and entertainment. It’s simply a wonderful (and relaxing) way to see the world. 

Photos courtesy of Riverside Luxury Cruises

If you’re worried in any way about sea sickness, stop: This adventure was aboard the largest of the river ships, the Mozart, and the best way to describe it is “floating on glass.”

My initial impression of the Mozart was “wow!” It’s clear every detail was impeccably considered, and the ship was simply fantastic. It’s important to know that this is an “all-inclusive” river cruise: top-flight dining, top-shelf wines and liquor, and all excursions were included. Riverside offers various ways to book and enjoy your cruise, so please check with your travel professional when booking.

Our journey started in Vienna and took us to both small towns rich with history and character to larger cities that felt welcoming in every way. 

Here are my key takeaways for each port of call:


While it’s unfair to condense anything about this city, as it’s truly one of Europe’s finest, Riverside (smartly) made sure we had plenty of time to see Vienna and all it has to offer. As you can imagine, it’s a beautiful city that's wonderful for walking, shopping, dining, and sightseeing. Having visited Vienna before, I can confirm that Riverside’s excursions were spot on, taking us to key locations, like Schönbrunn Palace, the grand concert halls, and providing tours of the take-your-breath-away city center. The Christmas markets were nothing short of spectacular, particularly the one at Schönbrunn Palace. To top it off, Riverside was able to get us into Midnight Mass at St. Stephan’s Cathedral—an experience we’ll always remember. An incredible city and an amazing few days, to say the least.


Once docked and after enjoying a wonderful breakfast on board, we had to make a choice: either a day trip to Salzburg or a walking tour of old town Krems with coffee and cake. Having visited Salzburg before, we opted for the walking tour. As first-timers to Tulln, we were wide-eyed and found Krems teeming with charm. Other excursions that day included “Vienna Woods,” which featured a boat trip on Europe’s largest underground lake and a visit to Heiligenkreuz Abbey (for history buffs this is a must-see).


Known as the “Pearl of the Wachau” and sitting on one of the Danube’s most beautiful stretches, we strolled on cobblestone streets, enjoyed local wines (delicious!), and were treated to an organ concert at the Dürnstein Abbey (Stift Dürnstein). Sound like a wonderful, relaxing day? My description doesn’t do it justice.


Located at the Danube Bend, the most photographed part of the river, we visited the castle ruins of Visegrád, the formal royal seat of Hungary. It’s places and tours like this that you find yourself short on adjectives. Let’s just say it was spectacularly beautiful with an enthralling history—an experience not to be missed.


My first time in Budapest was over two decades ago, and I was interested to see the changes. First off, I can tell you that the one constant is the exquisite architecture. Visiting cities like Budapest, Prague, Vienna, and so many others remind me that our own U.S. history and architecture are so young in comparison. 

Budapest is, without a doubt, one of my favorite cities to explore. The Jewish Quarter and Great Synagogue, the Castle District, the Royal Palace, and what may have been my favorite visit of the trip: the Hungarian State Opera House. Riverside put together a mini-opera performance for our group that was simply superb. And the tour and history of the main hall was breathtaking; photos don’t do it justice—you must see it for yourself.

We did our own walking tour on day two, exploring the Great Market Hall and checking out all the terrific shops the city has to offer.

There were so many excursions to choose from: the Royal Palace of Gödöllő, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Kossuth Square, and the Hungarian Parliament Building, to name a few. 

Having visited Europe extensively, I can say without question that Budapest resides near the top of “my favorite European cities” list.


This was our second time in this city, the last being 22 years ago. We found it then to be a city, like many in Eastern Europe at that time, transitioning from being behind the iron curtain, to one breaking out and finding the light of freedom. It’s a wonderful thing to see, as it’s another jewel of Europe. 

Our walking tour was about two hours and allowed us to soak in the city—one full of history and architecture—that are both familiar and yet so different. 

Photo by Terry Carroll


Our tour in Melk was the perfect way to see our Christmas cruise come to an end. Baroque architecture, a stunning abbey, and spectacular views of the Wachau Valley. A perfect ending to a wonderful Christmas vacation.

Ports aside, the on-board experience was unparalleled. Every member of the crew was attentive and eager to please; the service impeccable; the dining first class; the on-board entertainment, gym, pool, and spa impressive; and the cabins clean and comfortable. 

Riverside has jumped into a competitive business with notice and aplomb and deserves all the accolades it’s receiving. Bravo, Riverside Luxury Cruises! 

Photo by Terry Carroll


by Terry Carroll
Photos courtesy of Terry Carroll and Riverside Luxury Cruises