with a Special Signature Invitation Programme
Mornings were shrouded in winter mists with birds flying low over the river and countryside; the sun rose and shone through veils of clouds silhouetting the bare branches of riverside trees, their stark black arms reaching for the sky……the sun then set over historic towns and cities, with lights glittering and dancing off dark waters……..old stone castles clung to steep hillsides in-between rows of grape vines, as the ship continued to glide through rivers and canals with an ever-changing cameo of riverside flora, fauna and beautiful architecture – these are my abiding memories of The APT Magnificent Europe River Cruise that I enjoyed in December last year, and only a few weeks now ago, as we nudge into 2016. The ship was the beautifully comfortable and elegant AmaVenita, which started her journey in Budapest on her last river cruise of the season in 2015. You can read all about my wonderful Christmas Markets adventures here: Magical German Christmas Markets – On an APT River Cruise, and if you follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, then you may remember all of the photos I shared on my magical journey through Germany and The Netherlands.
My last post highlighted the beautiful Christmas Markets of Germany, which certainly got me into the festive mood; but for today, I’d like to tell you about the destinations and special Signature Invitation Programme that APT run on this Magnificent Europe River Cruise. Firstly, who are APT? APT was founded in 1927, a family-owned and family-run company still, they offer a diverse range of luxury river cruises and escorted tours around the world. On offer are a choice of four and five-star river cruises through Europe, Vietnam and Cambodia, China, Burma, India and along the Mississippi in the USA. And, the all-inclusive ‘Royal Collection’ cruises in Europe feature a host of VIP experiences and events designed specifically for APT guests, of which I was lucky enough to experience. From exploring the rooms and gardens of Namedy Castle, before a lavish royal banquet meal in the wood-panelled dining room in this lovely German Schlöss to soaking up the spirit of the Habsburg Empire on a private rail journey aboard the luxurious Majestic Imperator, from Passau to Linz, these special experiences are ALL included in the price of your APT river cruise.
It’s a wonderful way to see Europe, with no checking in and checking out of hotels, catching multiple flights (or coaches and trains) to and from the destinations, as the ship is your home for 15 days, a floating hotel with all the mod-cons and luxury that you would expect from a 5-star land-based establishment. I boarded the 5-Star ship AmaVenita in Nuremberg, but I am now going to talk you through the complete itinerary, from Budapest in Hungary to our final destination, Amsterdam in The Netherlands. We are going to take a virtual tour through five countries, with special signature excursions that are “once in a lifetime” experiences, and that wouldn’t be out-of-place on any “bucket list”……..you can start the APT Magnificent Europe River Cruise either in Amsterdam or Budapest, it’s up to you which way is more convenient for you, taking previous and onward travel plans into consideration. It’s a magnificent itinerary, as the cruise title implies, and the fact that the ship takes you right to the heart of most of the destinations is a huge plus in my opinion.
The APT Magnificent Europe River Cruise Itinerary
(Budapest to Amsterdam)
* Signature Invitation Programme
Excursions highlighted in red are the ones that I participated in
Day 1. Arrive Budaspest, Embark Ship (Hungary)
Be met on arrival and transferred to your ship before a Welcome Reception this evening.
Stay: 14 Nights: one of APT’s luxurious Aria or Concerto river ships
Day 2. Esztergom, Budapest (Hungary)
*From Esztergom, head into the countryside for a traditional Hungarian farm experience. Learn about rural life on a wagon tour of the farm, experience a daring horse show from Magyar cowboys, then savour a goulash lunch accompanied by gypsy music. Continue overland to Budapest for a guided city tour. See Buda Castle, the Royal Palace, Fisherman’s Bastion and more. *Later, visit the Hungarian State Opera House for a tour, a glass of sparkling wine and a private opera recital. After a Welcome Dinner, admire the lights of Budapest on a magical twilight cruise.
Day 3. Vienna, Freedom of Choice (Austria) and Bratislava (Slovakia)
On your second day in Vienna, tour Schönbrunn Palace; join an excursion to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia; or explore the Fine Arts Museum.
Day 4. Vienna, A Royal Invitation (Austria)
Disembark in the Austrian capital, Vienna. Enjoy a walking tour of the city, and delight in its striking architecture, classical musical culture and its vibrant cafés. Take in a number of the city’s most important landmarks during an orientation tour along the Ringstrasse, Vienna’s famous ring boulevard officially opened by Emperor Franz Joseph on May 1, 1865. Then visit the Spanish Riding School to witness the Lipizzan horses during a morning practice session.
*After dinner on board, visit the newly renovated City Palace, a magnificent aristocratic residence in the heart of Vienna. Be welcomed at a Cocktail Reception, then head to the ballroom for a private classical concert featuring members of the Mozart Boys’ Choir, a full orchestra performing classical masterpieces by Strauss and an operatic recital.
Day 5. Melk, Freedom of Choice, Dürnstein (Austria)
Cruise through the spectacular Wachau Valley today. Disembark in Melk for a guided tour of Melk Abbey. Alternatively, join a walking tour of the town. You may then like to take a guided bicycle ride along the banks of the Danube River from Melk to Dürnstein. Or, rejoin your ship and continue cruising to Dürnstein, where you’ll enjoy time at leisure to explore at your own pace.
Day 6. Passau, A Royal Invitation, Salzburg, Linz (Austria)
*Arrive in Passau and board the Majestic Imperator for a privileged insight into the luxury of imperial rail travel as you travel to Linz. Enjoy morning tea and refreshments en route to Salzburg where you’ll disembark for a tour that takes you to several sights from Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic film, ‘The Sound of Music’. Re-board your train and delight in drinks and entertainment as your journey continues to the city of Linz.
Day 7. Regensburg (Germany)
Known as one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval cities, Regensburg is home to one of the oldest bridges spanning the Danube River. On arrival here, disembark your ship for a guided tour of the architectural highlights. See such sites as the Old Town Hall, the World Heritage-listed city centre and the ancient Romanesque Porta Pretoria. You’ll also admire Germany’s oldest vaulted stone bridge, which arches gracefully across the Danube River.
Day 8. Nuremberg, Freedom of Choice (Germany)
Arrive in Nuremberg and choose to either embark on a historic city tour or tour the Faber-Castell Old Lead Factory Museum. The historic city tour visits a selection of World War II sites, including the Reich Party Rally Grounds, where six Nazi Party rallies were held between 1933 and 1938. Discover the spectacular medieval architecture, including the 900 year-old ramparts that surround the city, the Imperial Castle and more. Alternatively, step back in time at the Faber-Castell Old Lead Factory Museum where a unique guided tour brings the industrial history of the 19th century to life. Back on board your ship, enjoy the opportunity to sample some freshly baked gingerbread, a local favourite, before continuing along the Main-Danube Canal. I visited the Christmas Market before I embarked, as the ship was late due to a delay entering one of the locks.
Day 9. Bamberg, Freedom of Choice (Germany)
Travel to World Heritage-listed Bamberg, another of the few German cities that wasn’t destroyed during the bombings of World War II. Bamberg also lies in the heart of a region that boasts nearly 300 breweries. Upon arrival, disembark and set off on your chosen activity. Perhaps explore this beautiful medieval city on a walking tour. Or, learn about ancient brewing techniques on a walking tour that includes a tasting of Rauchbier (smoked beer).
Day 10. Würzburg, Freedom of Choice (Germany)
In Würzburg today, you may like to embark on a tour that will take you through the city to the magnificent Residential Palace, past churches ranging in styles from Baroque, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance to modern. Inside, marvel at intricate tapestries, gilded stucco work and ceiling frescoes by Tiepolo. Alternatively, travel to Rothenburg on the Romantic Road and set out on a tour of this medieval walled town.
Day 11. Miltenberg (Germany)
After an on-board glass-blowing demonstration this morning, disembark in Miltenberg, a pretty Franconian town set amongst the spectacular scenery of the Odenwald Forest. Spared from the destruction of World War II, its stunning half-timbered houses and historic buildings offer a wonderful insight into medieval times gone by. Miltenberg also boasts one of the oldest inns in Germany. Today, you’re invited to discover the local way of life on a unique village experience. Explore quaint shops and swap stories with the locals during a day to remember.
Day 12. Rüdesheim, Freedom of Choice (Germany)
Today cruise through the Rhine Gorge on what is known as the most beautiful stretch of this enchanting river, where crumbling ruins cling to rocky cliffs and rolling hillsides are marked with perfectly planted vineyards. Arrive in Rüdesheim, and ride the Winzerexpress mini-train to your selected sightseeing activity. Perhaps tour Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum, home to one of Germany’s most beautiful collections of automated musical instruments. Alternatively, take a ride in a gondola to the Niederwald monument for incredible views over the Rhine Valley.
Day 13. Cologne, Freedom of Choice, Bonn, Andernach, A Royal Invitation (Germany)
Cruise into Cologne this morning. Disembark your ship and perhaps discover the city on a guided sightseeing tour, which will give you a great insight into the history, culture and architecture as well as enjoying the Christmas markets, or explore the Chocolate Museum. Alternatively, travel to Bonn where you can explore the city with a local guide or discover the Bonn Botanic Gardens with a presentation from the gardeners. *Later, rejoin your ship in Bonn and cruise to the 2,000 year-old town of Andernach. This evening, Princess Heide von Hohenzollern has opened the doors of her turreted home, Namedy Castle, exclusively for APT guests. Enjoy some free time to wander about the castle’s opulent rooms, hidden nooks and manicured gardens at your leisure. Later, head to the castle’s exquisite ballroom This 14th-century residence is home to Princess Heide von Hohenzollern who has opened the doors of her castle just for you. Enjoy some free time to wander about the castle’s rooms, hidden nooks and grounds at your leisure, then savour a lavish banquet in the ballroom accompanied by a classical piano recital.
Day 14. Amsterdam, Freedom of Choice (The Netherlands)
Choose from three activities today. You may like to take a canal cruise and admire the city from a glass-top boat as you glide past 17th-century homes, churches and 16th-century merchant houses. Or, tour the Anne Frank Museum, located in the building where Anne Frank went into hiding and composed her famous diary during World War II. Alternatively, take an excursion to Zaanse Schans, a picturesque village famous for its wooden windmills, barns and houses. Here you’ll enjoy time to explore and a tasting of the region’s cheeses before returning to your ship. Set off along the Rhine River, enjoying a Gala Farewell Dinner on board.
Day 15. Disembark Ship, Depart Amsterdam
Disembark and transfer to the airport.
***APT’s Freedom of Choice Inclusions allow you to tailor your holiday to suit your interests and tastes. Freedom of Choice Sightseeing Inclusions are available in Amsterdam, Cologne, Rüdesheim, Würzburg, Bamberg, Nuremberg, Melk and Vienna.
***All of the Signature Invitations are EXCLUSIVE to APT and no other river cruise companies.
My time on-board was truly memorable, and the meals and accommodation were exemplary – I’ll be covering that in my last post next week; but I really wanted to focus on the destination element in today’s post, and after talking to many of the guests on the cruise, the overall consensus was that this was the element of the river cruise that appealed to them when booking their holiday, the ALL INCLUSIVE excursions and the Signature Invitations, which I think is understandable. You are at the mercy of high and low water, as well as being allowed access into the locks, but when our sailing timetable was interrupted (see Trip Notes), our wonderful cruise director, Anja Wauters, worked very hard to ensure that we were still able to enjoy the special excursions that were advertised in the itinerary, albeit at different times and one occasion, on a different day.
Most of the guests that I chatted with were happy with the alternative arrangements and if you don’t want to go ashore, than you are more than welcome to stay on the ship, as many people did on the double excursion day in Rüdesheim and Cologne. I thought that the river cruise was an excellent way to do the “European Grand Tour” and I’d be happy to recommend this as a way of visiting several countries (over a two-week period) to any future travellers, and with the luxury of a 5-Star river ship, as the AmaVenita was. Do pop back next week when I will be sharing my ON-BOARD experiences with you, as well as the all important FOOD on-board as well, which is always of interest to a food and travel writer! Karen
What’s included on an APT Luxury and Royal Collection river cruise:
•Home-to-airport by private car
•Return scheduled flights from the UK
•Regional flights available at no extra cost
•All meals plus complimentary beverages served at your discretion on board
•APT Cruise Director and expert English-speaking local guides
•All sightseeing and on-board entertainment
•Unique or exclusive Signature Experiences
•Freedom of Choice Touring – choose from a selection of excursions at no extra cost
•Overseas transfers, all port charges and tipping
What’s included on a Travelmarvel by APT river cruise:
•Return scheduled flights from the UK
•All meals plus complimentary house wine, local beer and soft drinks served with lunch and dinner on board
•Travelmarvel Cruise Director and local guides
•All sightseeing and on-board entertainment
•Unique Insider Experiences
•Overseas transfers, all port charges and tipping
•Welcome reception and farewell dinners
•Complimentary WiFi on-board
•Bottled water in stateroom replenished everyday
With included shore excursions, guests will have the opportunity to visit the Fragrance Museum and learn about the history of Eau de Cologne in Cologne; journey along the Romantic Road to the medieval town of Rothenburg in Würzburg, and tour the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna.
In addition, APT Royal Collection guests have access to three exclusive events through the Signature Invitation programme. From a visit to the newly renovated City Palace in Vienna with a Cocktail Reception and private classical concert, to a private rail journey aboard the Majestic Imperator from Passau to Linz, reminiscent of the Habsburg Empire. Finally, guests will have the chance to explore the rooms and gardens of Namedy Castle in Andernach and indulge in a royal banquet.
Price is based on a 15 day river cruise departing on 18 November 2016. Home to airport private transfers, return flights, all food and drink on-board, 32 included excursions and invitations to exclusive events and experiences are included within the price.
For more information and to book, visit www.aptouring.co.uk/royal or call 0800 046 3002
Disclaimer and Thanks:
I was the guest of APT: my return flight, transfers, accommodation and meals were included on-board the river cruise, as well as all trips and excursions. With profound thanks to all the people and organisations that looked after me and made my trip so memorable and exciting.
This trip could not have been possible without the following people and organisations, as well as others already listed above:
Kelly Adams, Katie Wright and Sam Sims
Anja Wauters – Cruise Director
Vicky – Hotel Manager
Images: Karen Burns-Booth; APT & Regional Germany Tourism