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Danube river cruise: Why this European heavyweight is ideal for all

Flowing through multiple countries, the Danube offers a wealth of choice for repeaters and new-to-cruise clients.

The ‘Blue Danube’ – immortalised in the famous waltz by Johann Strauss – last year overtook the Rhine as the most popular river cruise destination.

Rising in Germany’s Black Forest, the 1,770-mile waterway winds through 10 countries, including the capital cities of Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade, before flowing into the Black Sea. Served by all the main river lines – and with itineraries running from budget taster sailings to luxury voyages of a fortnight or more – the Danube offers a wealth of selling opportunities for agents.

Ideal for new-to-cruise customers are week-long cruises between the Hungarian capital Budapest and Passau in Germany, or round-trips from Passau. For clients that have been before, sailings into the quieter and lesser-known Lower Danube Delta deliver new experiences, including the UNESCO-listed Delta Reserve, which is Europe’s largest wetland area and home to the continent’s largest population of white pelicans.

CLIA UK & Ireland director Andy Harmer says: “The Danube offers beautiful scenery of ancient castles, lush vineyards and sleepy towns rolling by as guests relax on board. Ashore, there are countless opportunities to explore vibrant cities rich in history and culture.

“Due to the sheer length of the Danube, there’s a huge choice of cruises on offer, giving agents plenty of itinerary options. Cruises also vary in length, with three to four-day cruises available, [which are] perfect for first-timers who want to get a taste of what a river cruise has to offer.

“For seasoned cruisers, agents can recommend a cruise to the Danube Delta where the river meets the Black Sea. Furthermore, agents should consider recommending themed cruises on the Danube, which have grown significantly in popularity over recent years.”

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Pelican sightings on the Danube Delta

Behind the Iron Curtain

New ships launching this spring include Amadeus River Cruises’ 16th ship, the 166-passenger Amadeus Imperial, which will sail between Amsterdam and Basel to the Danube Delta during its maiden season. And in 2021 Amadeus Cara will join the fleet to also sail on the Danube.

Also arriving next year is Emerald Waterways’ 180-passenger Emerald Luna, the ninth addition to the Star-Ship fleet. It will sail along the Danube, Rhine and Main and feature the line’s signature indoor heated pool that transforms into a cinema at night.

The line’s director of marketing & global brand curator David Winterton explains: “We are delighted that the Emerald Waterways portfolio continues to grow. The new Star-Ship is being built to increase capacity to accommodate demand for itineraries including the Danube.”

This year AmaWaterways’ double-width AmaMagna will be heading to the lower Danube for the first time on the Gems of South East Europe itinerary from Budapest.

Managing director Jamie Loizou comments: “The Danube is a real river of contrasts. The better-known upper Danube travels through the very heart of Europe visiting grand cities such as Budapest, Vienna and Salzburg. Meanwhile the lower Danube explores five countries in Eastern Europe, stopping in lesser-known places that for many years were hidden behind the Iron Curtain.

“Although AmaWaterways has been cruising the Lower Danube for quite some time, AmaMagna will be exploring the area for the first time. This unique ship is proving extremely popular both with experienced river cruisers and ocean cruisers who are drawn to her size and the facilities.”

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The majestic Grand Empress train

A window to the past

Archaeology-themed cruises are now available with specialist operator Andante Travels, in partnership with A-Rosa. Each sailing includes exclusive private excursions and is accompanied by an Andante expert guide lecturer. The two Danube cruises explore Roman sites, medieval architecture and historic landscapes, and include a four-night festive cruise.

Shearings Holidays is offering the new 17-night Spectacular Danube to the Black Sea cruise on A-Rosa Silva, which follows the course of the river starting in Austria and travelling into Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. Additionally, Shearings’ most popular A-Rosa vessel, A-Rosa Flora, will move to the Danube in 2021 and a range of itineraries are now on sale.

“The Danube has so much to offer and for 2020 we have some exciting new special interest cruises available, plus Shearings have added an incredible cruise all the way to the Black Sea,” says A-Rosa UK & Ireland managing director Lucia Rowe.

“Agents should use our new UK trade website, arosa-cruises.co.uk, as a resource tool as it details all the destination and cruise information needed to sell A-Rosa’s international products on sale in the UK.”

More new products include APT’s eight-night Danube Discovery, one of a pair of shorter cruises. The Nuremberg to Budapest sailing will feature two exclusive APT Signature Experiences – a cocktail reception and private concert at Vienna’s Liechtenstein’s City Palace and a trip on Budapest’s historic Grand Empress Steam Train.

Riviera Travel has launched the seven-night Vienna, Bohemia & Treasures of the Danube river cruise. Scenic highlights include the Danube Loop, where the water carves its path in an almost 360 degree bend.

This year several river lines have special sailings that include tickets for the world-famous Passion Play in Oberammergau, which only takes place every decade. They include CroisiEurope, where seven-night Budapest to Munich sailings on 17 June and 28 August also include two nights in a hotel to see the play.

Finally, agents can book clients on new extensions available voyages on Crystal River Cruises’ Crystal Ravel and Crystal Mahler. The three-night Prague Discovery is offered pre and post-cruise on sailings between Regensburg and Budapest and features accommodation at the five-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the heart of the Czech capital.

Selling tips

  • First-timers can take a short itinerary or themed sailing ­– ideal for the new-to-cruise market looking for a different type of holiday
  • Experiential travel is booming and the Danube is perfect for those with an interest in food and wine
  • Have guests worried about getting to the embarkation port? Air, rail and coach travel options are available for Danube itineraries

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