A wee glimpse of the Danube was ours as we headed to our coach to depart from Regensburg. This might have been the only photo I got where the Danube looked even nominally blue. We saw lots of green Danube, and some murky-colored Danube, but you should probably know that “blue Danube”, at least in Germany and Austria, was apparently just a 19th century Johann Strauss marketing ploy.
We skirted the river by bus for about an hour until we reached Vilshofen and boarded the M.S. Joy, which, according to Tauck, offers “the most space per guest on Europe’s rivers.” Yes, our bags were there awaiting us, along with a glass of champagne. And we were very pleasantly surprised by our roomy suite with a queen-size bed. The bathroom was small but ingeniously efficient and sparkling clean.
No sooner had I taken a sip of that champagne than we heard the engines powering up and just as the church bells at Vilshofen began to toll 6 p.m. we were a-sail!
This was an exciting moment for us as novice river cruisers, but also for the seasoned Tauck passengers (of which there were many – it was not uncommon to meet fellow travelers who were on their third or fourth Tauck tour) because there had been some concern as to whether we would sail at all. Water levels in the Danube were at a historic low due to drought conditions and we’d heard that many cruises had been re-routed or canceled as a result. Friends who had been on a tour with a similar itinerary a few weeks earlier reported grumpily that instead of a river cruise they went on a bus tour – their boat could not navigate the shallow water.
As it turned out, ours was one of the few boats that made it all the way to Budapest that week, thanks to the shallow draft of the M.S. Joy, which we were told drew much less water than the deeper-keeled boats used by other tour operators. But it can be tricky planning a river cruise at any time of any year: in addition to low water levels in the fall you can encounter flooding in the spring. Good luck finding the perfect time to cruise!
But we were in luck that week of September, and as our boat pulled away from the dock, we scrambled up to the sun deck to experience our first moments an der Donau.
There was the obligatory corny orientation made more than bearable by ship director Petr’s clever repartée, and there was our first dinner on board in the lovely Compass Rose dining room. And the finale was a beautiful sunset as we passed another boat on our short trip to dock at Passau for the night.
After a brief night-time walk through the sleepy streets of Passau, it was time to turn in. We’d traveled from Prague to tour Regensburg and then to Vilshofen and sailed to Passau – places we’d never really dreamed of visiting and a river we’d only heard of in musical lore. As the crow flies, we’d gone less than 300 miles, but we felt a world away. A very fine day it had been!