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Along the ‘river of kings’: Cruising the Danube in a uniquely Tauck way

On a Tauck Blue Danube river cruise, Monique Ceccato discovers that you don’t just see the cities’ historic castles and palaces – you get to socialise, wine, and dine in them too.

On a Tauck Blue Danube river cruise, Monique Ceccato discovers that you don’t just see the cities’ historic castles and palaces – you get to socialise, wine, and dine in them too.

As the heavy wooden doors creep open on the palatial Akadémia Club, lilting classical music fills the air, and dozens of white-gloved wait staff appear. Their gold ties complement the gilding on the ballroom’s vaulted ceilings and the champagne they offer around.

In my everyday world, an invite to a dinner party as grand as this is once in a lifetime. But on Tauck’s Blue Danube river cruise, this is just considered ‘night two’.

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Budapest’s Széchenyi Baths, visited on a Tauck Blue Danube Cruise.

We’ve started our all-inclusive journey in style in Hungary’s capital, Budapest. Over the next 12 days, we’ll be making our way westward towards our disembarkation point in Prague, with stops in the history-steeped cities of Vienna and Bratislava, and some quaint country towns for a nice change of pace. 

Our trusty steed? The glamorous MS Joy.

All aboard MS Joy

MS-Joy in port in Dürnstein Tauck Blue Danube Cruise Monique Ceccato_resized
Tauck’s MS Joy in port in Dürnstein.

When we arrive at the 130-guest ship, we are greeted beneath the chandeliers with glasses of champagne, and a welcome by our banter-loving cruise director, Drobny Petr.  It’s a stress-free and indulgent welcome, both characteristics that run through Tauck’s DNA.   

Our 21-square-metre ‘category six’ cabin exudes luxury. The bathrooms are on par in size with your regular ensuite, and spacious double robes leave plenty of room to unpack and settle in. I’m rather chuffed to see the thoughtful touch of the shoehorn by the door, even if I’ve never used one in all my years.

The view from the cabin windows on a Tauck Blue Danube Cruise. Image: Monique Ceccato.
The view from the cabin windows on a Tauck Blue Danube Cruise.

With space always at a premium on any ship, Tauck has graciously maximised the cabin’s floorspace by exchanging balconies for floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors – perfect for watching the riverside towns go by from the comfort of the pillowy bed. 

However, the more sociable option to watch the passing scenery is from the rooftop sun deck. I order a negroni from the Panorama Lounge downstairs and join a 27-time Tauck customer and his wife we’d met earlier in the day to wave Budapest’s glittering castles and landmarks off into the night. 

Exploring Central Europe

Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, Tauck Blue Danube Cruise Monique Ceccato_resized
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, Tauck Blue Danube Cruise.

Most of the guests on board know Vienna and Prague. Few of them know what to expect from our second stop: Bratislava. But, like the well-known cities, it’s picture-perfect with its winding cobblestone streets, buzzing cafe strip, and meticulously preserved imperial and communist histories. 

Slovak National Theatre, Bratislava, Tauck Blue Danube Cruise Monique Ceccato_resized
Slovak National Theatre, Bratislava.

You can continue the cruise’s regal theme in town and visit the Baroque Hasburg-era castle on a walking tour. Or, there’s the option to take a guided biking tour through the Iron Curtain area. I opt for the latter, and with it comes a surprise tour of a WWII bunker museum meticulously restored by a passionate historian and his friends. It’s not the last of the cycling—or uniquely Tauck experiences—that we’re privy to.

Live opera at Palais Pallavicini, Vienna, Tauck Blue Danube Cruise Monique Ceccato_resized
Live opera at Palais Pallavicini, Vienna.

A 26km e-bike ride takes a small group of us across the Austrian border and into the beating heart of Passau, Germany, on the confluence of the Danube, Inn, and Ilz rivers. Deer-feeding stops and a celebratory stein and soft pretzel from Tauck at our destination —one of many surprise inclusions on the cruise known as a lagniappe — are welcome rewards for the cohort.

Our biking group, Dürnstein, Tauck Blue Danube Cruise Monique Ceccato_resized
Our biking group in Dürnstein.

We deserved that beer, but I don’t know what we did to deserve our dinner in Vienna, punctuated with a ballet and Mozart performance at the private Palais Pallavicini. We were the only tour group allowed keys to the otherwise closed-for-the-season State Castle in the Czech Republic’s Český Krumlov, too. It pays to have well-connected Tauck tour guides.

Vlatava River in Český Krumlov Tauck Blue Danube Cruise Monique Ceccato_resized
Vlatava River in Český Krumlov.

In our final destination, the surprises keep coming. After a personal tour of Prague’s exquisitely frescoed Strahov Library — where some 1800 pig skin-wrapped books line the walls — we have yet another private viewing, this time at the Lobkowicz Palace. The walkthrough of the historic collections is a fitting finale to our farewell dinner and the pinnacle of 12 days cruising the Danube. 

Tauck really did leave the best until last.

Strahov Library Prague Tauck Blue Danube Cruise Monique Ceccato 2_resized
Strahov Library in Prague.

*All images by Monique Ceccato.

Tauck’s 12-day ‘Blue Danube’ river cruise takes guests through Prague, Bratislava, Regensburg, Vienna, Budapest, Salzburg, and more. The cruise season runs from April to October, with prices from AUD$9,840 per person (Category 1).  

The writer Monique Ceccato was hosted by Tauck as a guest on this recent 12-day ‘Blue Danube river cruise.