Most traveler’s first river cruise takes place in Europe on the Danube because it offers easy access to some of Europe’s most legendary cities.
Danube cruises tend to depart out of small port towns like Passau, Germany, a sweet if somewhat uninspired town mostly known for being the village where Hitler spent his youth. Brand g’s cruise sets sail from here, as well, but not before two fabulous days in one of Europe’s most storybook cities, Prague.
Prague was never bombed during World War II, and thus has incredibly scenic sights that are completely intact; like the immense Prague Castle and the 14th century Charles Bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most photographed bridges on the planet, with its three towers and 30 statues gracing its length.
On a Brand g Danube cruise, we often (albeit not always) start in Prague during their Gay Pride, which is something else altogether. Europe’s pride celebrations are particularly fun because they aren’t in any way ghetto-ized. Entire cities turn out for them, where young straight couples, families, and grandmothers mix with gym hotties, dykes on bikes, and drag queens to create a really communal spirit.
While in Prague, we always like to visit the Melk Abbey, a spectacular, over-the-top Benedictine abbey set on a rocky outcrop astride the Danube. Its two-story library is stunning, perhaps second only to the Vatican’s in its beauty, and the views of the river from this hilltop vantage point are amazing. But it’s the chapel that will leave you gasping. It has so much gold you need sunglasses. If you ever, as a Catholic, wonder where your tithes went, you need only look here
DAY TRIP TO SALZBURG
Salzburg, Austria is best known for two things: Being the birthplace of Mozart, and having been the location where much of The Sound of Music was filmed. Those two things alone are enough to make it worth a day trip. On Brand g’s Danube cruises, you have the option to take an all-day tour to Salzburg when the ship docks in Linz, Austria. Along with seeing some filming sites from the famous movie musical, like the Mirabell Gardens where they filmed the scene with the “Do Re Mi” song, and Mozart’s childhood home and museum, you can also enjoy Salzburg’s charming Old Town, with tons of great shops and restaurants and a postcard-ready cemetery, all guarded by high walls. Bonus: if Brand g signature entertainer Miss Conception is performing on your cruise, you’ll get to see her parade around Salzburg as Maria von Trapp, with a papiermache goat. The double takes of tourists are hilarious. She’ll also lead Sound of Music sing-alongs on the bus ride, which are frightening in their own special way.
If you’d like more time in Salzburg, start or end your vacation with a couple of days there on your own (it’s an inexpensive train ride from Prague or Budapest). Then, you’ll have the extra time you need to do a Mozart dinner and performance which I highly recommend, and take the Sound of Music bus tour, which covers other filming sites outside Salzburg, like the Lake District, which is a blast even if you can’t sing “Climb Every Mountain.”
When visiting Vienna, one of our favorite cities in Europe, start your tour along the Ringstrasse. This wide, beautiful boulevard encircles perhaps the most grand and glorious collection of public buildings in Europe, including: palaces, government buildings, museums, the Vienna Opera House, and much, much more. Brand g takes you on a special tour of the Ringstrasse, but if you’re here on another cruise (or on your own), take a Hop-On Hop-Off bus for a spectacular couple of hours. If you are a music lover, make sure to visit the Vienna Opera House.
Even if you don’t favor opera music or ballet (personally, I’m a Broadway fan), you have to visit Vienna’s ultra-grand opera house just to see the interior of this magnificent building. There are two simple, inexpensive ways to do this. The first option is to take a fascinating backstage tour where you get a view of the opera house from the stage. These tours are operated frequently and cost only 12 Euro.
The second option: buy a standing room ticket for a performance. These are just 10 Euro and are a great way to get to see the opera house, the theater, the lobby, and the many public and private rooms and terraces where you can enjoy a glass of champagne, canapes, etc. The nice thing about the standing room seats is that, since they’re in the top balcony, you can leave during the performance if you get bored without disturbing the other guests.
Budapest has magnificent buildings that line the river on both sides, and on Brand g Danube cruises that start or end here, we do a night cruise down the brilliantly lit waterfront. It’s just stunning, and provides a wonderful opportunity to take spectacular selfies that are guaranteed to make your friends back home jealous.
Budapest is known for its hot spring baths and bathhouses that cater to everyone. And some of them, like the Szechenyi Baths are quite grand, but could use a bit of sprucing up. In addition to the huge pools, they generally also feature steam rooms and saunas. Book a cabin ( private room) where you can safely leave your valuables. The baths are a must do experience while you are in this beautiful, historic city.
BRAND g SIGNATURE ENTERTAINERS
On Brand g’s Danube cruises, like all our European river cruises, we bring in our own top-flight entertainers, since evening historical lectures don’t quite cut it with our audience. People like Ann Hampton Callaway, Amy Armstrong, Miss Conception, Tori Scott, Branden & James and many others perform nightly shows that have our guests running from dinner to the lounge to snag the best seats. It reminds me of how the show Naked Boys Singing used to charge extra for the front row. Most people don’t book our European cruises just for the entertainers, but they come home raving about them.