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Danube River Cruise, Beginning in Prague and Ending in Budapest


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For years I said that we were saving river cruises for when we got old, thinking there would be less walking – but that was a mistake. Last year I decided that we should take a river cruise, and I choose Gate1 for several reasons. The main reason I choose Gate1 is because their ships are smaller than other lines (think Viking), but still reasonable priced. While a typical Viking River cruise has 190 passengers, our Gate1 ship (The Monarch Governess) had a capacity of 110, and our specific cruise had only 100 people. Easier to get to know people (more about that later), and I just prefer smaller ships.

Gate1 offered several options for our cruise: cruising the Danube only, or a pre-cruise stay in either Munich or Prague, and the possibility to add additional days in Budapest. Additionally, you can also arrive early or stay later on your own. We looked up our hotel in Budapest, contacted them via email, confirmed that our group was indeed staying there, then booked additional pre-cruise nights on our own. Although you can ask Gate1 to book these additional pre and post nights, we found that contacting the hotel directly got us a better rate. (which seems backwards to me, but what do I know)

We also asked the hotel to provide airport pickup service, which was also cheaper than the Gate1 option. If you're NOT flying in early or staying longer, Gate1 does include the airport transfers.

We'd been to Prague 19 years earlier, but knew we'd find plenty to see and do. Art's health has declined over the past year or two, and he's not able to walk as fast, or as far as he used to, so we hoped the extra time in Prague would allow us to not only recover from jet lag, but also have enough time to wander on our own. Our hotel, the Art Deco Imperial, was just a short walk into the center of town, and was very close to a tram line (altho we never took the tram) The hotel was gorgeous and the food spectacular!

We had a general walking tour of the city included with our Gate1 package, and added 2 additional tours of the city. We also had our hotel book us a city tour in a classic convertible, because I didn't want Art to be completely exhausted. We enjoyed the tour but suggested to the concierge that the drivers should use headphones/earphones to make the commentary easier to hear. Sometimes traffice noise kept us from hearing, expecially if the driver was facing forward – which is always my preference for a driver. When the driver did turn around to talk to us, I was always nervous!

We visited the The Clementinum Astronomical Tower and Baroque Library, and were rewarded with spectacular views. Warning: LOTS of steps, some circular staircases and some very steep ladders into the uppermost part of the tower. We also checked out several restaurants that had been recommended to us, all just off the main square. The restaurants are: 1) Pasta Fresca (Really, really good Italian food!), 2) Stridaka (The Hockey Bench) for a traditional chicken and cabbage dish, 3) Las Adelitas for Mexican (yes!) and because they have a happy hour from 3-6 each day, and 4) Mincova for a tradional Czeck meal.

When it was time to board the ship, we boarded a bus and drove several hours, stopping in Pilzen along the way. Apparently Pilsner beer was 'invented' here, but the city didn't have a lot to offer. The main square was really all we had time to see, but there wasn't a lot going on. We grabbed a quick lunch - and were shocked that the restaurant we chose didn't serve beer! We arrived in Regensburg mid-afternoon, Art wasn't feeling well so I walked into town by myself. We were docked after all the Viking ships, so I'm assuming they pay more to have the closer spots. Still, it was an enjoyable walk along the river (Danube!) and the town itself was very, very charming. The following day we had a guided walking tour of the town, adding some history and general information.

We began our Danube cruise the next day, heading for Passau. The optional excursion would take people to Salzburg, but it was 2+ hours on the bus each way, so we didn't go. We've been to Salzburg several times, and were discovering that as usual, organized tours never leave us with enough free time to do and see the things we want to do and see, even if it's just wandering. Passau was pretty dead, I guess because it was Sunday, but we did have a guided walk around the town, then went back to the ship.

Our next stop was in Melk, and we visited the Abbey, which was beautiful, and offered great views over the countryside. There was no free time in the town itself, so I don't really know if there was anything worth seeing – but I'm thinking it's a charming town along the Danube, what's not to like!?

The next stop was Vienna, and our ship was docked quite far from the center. There was a bus/walking tour that showed us around the city, and it took about 20 minutes to get from the ship into the center. We had time after the walking portion of the tour to buy some chocolates and have our first strudel. In the afternoon we had booked the optional tour of the Schoenbrunn Palace, but if I had it to do all over I'd skip the palace and just spend the day in the center of Vienna. I left feeling as if I hadn't seen the city at all, and that was a big disappointment.

The next day we cruised all morning and arrived in Bratislava around noon. We had a guided walking tour, then time to explore on our own. We found a spot for lunch, a good gelateria, and just enjoyed the charimng city.

The next morning we were in Budapest, and once again had a guided tour of the city. In the afternoon we walked to the large farmer's market, not far from the ship. On the following day those who had not opted to stay in Budapest left the ship, and the rest of us went on another city tour while our luggage was sent ahead to our hotel, The Corinthia Hotel. As in Prague, the hotel was gorgeous.

We had booked an optional traditional dinner and show, but completely forgot about it! We'd walked down to the grocery store to buy a few snacks, and Art had fallen asleep when our guide called to ask if we were coming. We apologized and enjoyed a relaxing evening. My advice it to really, really, look at each days itinerary, and to think about how much time to allow for transport, how much time to allow for the guided tour, etc, and then how much free time you'll want. I think in our effort to see and do as much as possible, it ended up being too much.

The next day was our last full day in Budapest, and once again we'd book an extra tour. It was intersting and ended with a stop at a large strudel shop. The tour ended around noon, at the farmer's market we'd visited previously. We'd arranged to meet a friend who's working in Budapest, and she'd booked us a table at TATI, a farm to table restaurant not far from our hotel. The food was good and we were treated to live music, complete with a strolling violinist.

On our final morning we were taken to the airport by a Gate1 bus. We'd let Gate1 book our flights for us, but if I had it to do again I think I'd book my own flights, just to have more control in case of delays or cancellations. Thankfully all our flights departed on time.

Here are my thoughts on the river cruise itself: the biggest advantage, as with most cruises, is that you don't have to repack and move every day or so! Because we're not night people, we didn't participate in the evening activities, which meant that we really didn't get to meet a lot of people. We tried to eat lunch/dinner at a different spot each day so we could talk to different people, but in the end Art struck up a friendship with one of the (Italian!) waiters, so we ended up sitting in his section most evenings. There were 2 evenings when local entertainers came on board, and we really enjoyed them.

The food was good, especially the pork! There was a always a good selection. Lunch was always a buffet, dinner was always table service. Wine and beer was included with dinner, and not just the one glass I had assumed – refills were promptly offered (and accepted!) The crew was very friendly, and the tour director was not only friendly, she was incredibly patient and kind to everyone.

Our cabin was on the lower (cheaper!) level, and our window was a small one about 4 feet off the ground, meaing we didn't have a view from the cabin. We didn't mind, because when we were cruising the scenic parts we were always up on deck to get the maximum view. The bed was comfortable, there was plenty of storage, and the bathroom was supplied with very nice toiletries.

I'm not as big a fan of river cruises as I thought I'd be, mainly because of the lack of free time. Although it might work for some, I always want free time to wander and enough time in one place to really soak it all in, but if you're just looking far a sampling, a river cruise might be worth exploring.

Here's the link to my photos on
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Very well documented Barb. Glad you enjoyed your trip in trip. Btw, what was the duration of your entire stay and total package cost? Knowing it might help me in future with my trip.
The tour was advertised as a 14 day trip - the cruise itself was 7 days, with the extra days being divided between Prague and Budapest. We arrived an extra day early in Prague, and spent approximately €250 for the room and €50 for the airport transfer. We bought the Gate1 insurance, which I now think was rather pricey, at $518 for both of us. We also let Gate1 provide our airfare, which they itemized at $2458 for 2. In the future I would book my own airfare.

Gate1 had a sale going on, saving us $2000, and we bought all of the excursions except for one. In the end we sold our Salzburg tickets to someone on board, and did miss one, maybe 2 of the excursions - my fault for planning too optimistically. Our total from Gate1, including airfare, insurance and excursions was $7602.

We budgeted approximately $600 for tips, and $800 for miscellaneous (mostly meals on our own, and of course a few souvenirs). All in all, as close as I could figure, we spend about $9,900 for 15 days.
So $10k for 15 days! Well to be honest, I believe if you planned and arranged everything by yourself you could've saved 10-15%. Well, Comfortability comes first, though.

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