Whether you are a frequent traveller or a first-time visitor, we’ve discovered the trendiest way to experience Europe is from its rivers. Following the launch of U River Cruises, a river cruise product aimed squarely at the Millennial and millennial-minded markets, young travellers are flocking to see Europe differently.
South African travel consultants Natasha Hazell, an Elite Travel Expert at Pentravel Hillcrest, Durban, and Nadine van Zyl, Shop Manager at Pentravel Brooklyn in Gauteng, are sharing why their U River Cruies experience was just so cool…
Which itinerary did you choose?
Natasha: “We travelled on ‘The A’ ship (sister ship to ‘The B’) on U River Cruises Danube Flow itinerary in August, visiting Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Durnstein, the Wachau Valley, Melk, Linz, Passau, all the way to Regensburg.”
What type of South African traveller do you think would enjoy the product?
Natasha: “Young couples and anyone in their late 20s to late 30s.”
Nadine: “Also groups of friends or even older passengers, as long as they are young at heart.”
Tell us about the experience. And what are the benefits as opposed to something like a guided holiday?
Nadine: “You only unpack once! You also don’t need to sit on a coach for hours. Instead, you can relax on the deck with a gin and tonic, and enjoy the beautiful scenery or even join in a yoga class… It’s just so convenient as you can disembark and walk straight into town.”
Natasha: “It’s great for travellers who want to have a more relaxed experience. I just loved how relaxed it was. The river ships are smaller than cruise ships, so you could go to the small towns, it didn’t take long to embark or disembark, and it also felt more personal as we could interact with the staff and they really got to know us.”
How did you keep busy onboard?
Natasha: “During the day, if we were sailing, you could enjoy the sun on the rooftop, playing board games or catch a snooze. In the evenings, if we weren’t docked to explore the cities, we had a silent disco, karaoke, a beer mixology class, etc.”
Nadine: “You are sent the daily cruise programme on the cruise WhatsApp group, or you can view it on the TV in your room. They also have an info session every evening in the bar. You could choose how active you want your holiday to be.”
Do you have a favourite destination or local experience?
Natasha: “I loved Budapest. It is such a beautiful city, with lovely people [and] the vineyard at Weissenkirchen in Austria was beautiful.”
Nadine: “The Wachau Valley had beautiful scenery and we [enjoyed] a lovely wine tasting excursion there.
“In the small town of Melk in Austria, there was an optional excursion to the Abbey. This was something I would never have thought of doing, but it was the most amazing experience… There is a library, world famous for its 16,000 ancient books [and] many of them are a good 500 years old… Attending a Mozart and Strauss concert in Vienna was unforgettable.”
What was the food like?
Nadine: “They include breakfast or brunch and dinner daily. The dessert options are out of this world… you are tempted to try all of them! One evening, we had a tapas-style dinner… The BBQ on the upper deck was also very special accompanied by live saxophone music.”
Natasha: “They always served food [from] the country we were visiting, adding some local flair.”
What were the accommodation and facilities like on board?
Natasha: “The accommodation was excellent. Cabins were clean and comfortable, and onboard facilities were great, with a gym, spa and even a laundry room.”
Nadine: “There are studio rooms (double or triple), balcony rooms and suites … What’s unique about the U River Cruises ships is that all cabins have windows.”
Did anything unexpected or surprising happen?
Nadine: “The water levels were very low (which is not uncommon for the rivers during August), so we had to end our cruise in Passau. Fortunately, our itinerary could continue, as they arranged coaches to take us to the towns and excursions we were due to visit. This was very well organised.
“Another nice little surprise was that we visited Straubing when the Gäuboden Folk Festival was on. It’s Germany’s second largest beer festival after the Munich Oktoberfest. We arrived on the first day and got to attend the festival and see all the locals kitted out in traditional attire.”
Natasha: “The evening we set sail we had a saxophonist on deck who was playing while we had evening cocktails; it was a wonderful surprise.”
Do you have any tips for South African travellers?
Nadine: “Remember to always pack for four seasons in a day, as the weather can change overnight. The whole trip was very hot and sunny, except for the day in Vienna. The wind is also quite chilly, especially if you’re on the deck. [Crew] do bring you blankets, so that’s a nice little extra touch.
“If you want to drink a few alcoholic drinks each day, it would be worthwhile to opt for the drinks package.
“[Also,] keep in mind that they might not offer all the optional excursions on your cruise, as it depends on the schedules, river conditions, etc…”
Natasha: “Included beverages are water, tea and coffee. There are some included excursions but some U Time excursions are optional. It’s quite casual onboard, which makes it perfect for that relaxed holiday.”
Does U River Cruises represent value for money?
Nadine: “It definitely does with two meals included daily, as well as excursions and onboard entertainment. It also gives you lots of time to explore the towns and cities and enjoy lunches and drinks…”
Natasha: “Definitely; I think it’s really going to take off. I would love to do another cruise.”
What U River Cruises cruise would you like to do next?
Nadine: “I would love to do a French itinerary and, of course, a Christmas markets cruise. I absolutely love Europe in winter and what could be more magical than to experience the Christmas lights on a river cruise?”
Natasha: “The Rhine.”
Book your U River Cruises trip here.