River cruising is the trendy new way to travel.
Excursions through Eastern Europe allow passengers to visit Paris and Normandy, while others go as far as Russia and visit St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Some boats dock close to the towns, so travelers can get off the boat and walk around the towns themselves, visit a museum or shop for the trinkets to bring home to remind them of their visit.
And if the boat isn't docked in town, there is always a shuttle to take you back and forth.
In September 2019, we took a river cruise with Crystal, and it was remarkable. The ship has 75 cabins. The rooms are small but convenient. The bathrooms were unbelievable - with heated toilet seats and towel racks.
Great entertainment was brought aboard; although it was local entertainment, it was high-end. For example, one night they brought in the conductor and first violinist of the Slovakia symphony who entertained us with classical music as well as "fun" music, playing a lot of the old reed instruments.
Another night they had a singer who has sung the lead in Broadway shows as they toured Europe. Even their piano player and the cruise director entertained us with beautiful music and singing one night.
Dinner at the Waterside restaurant was excellent - from breakfast to lunch to dinners. The service was amazing. Should one want to skip dining in the dining room, there was always enough snacks to fill you up at the Bistro Mozart. Or if you wanted special service, you could reserve lunch or dinner at the private restaurant, Blue.
There is a spa on the ship which includes a small indoor pool. The dress code is casual so you can be relaxed for your entire stay.
Tours were informative. In Vienna we toured the city; it was beautiful, with lots of flowers around. After the tour, we stayed in town and sat at an outdoor café, watching the people walk by as we enjoyed the most delicious apple strudel.
Day 3 found us in Melk arriving mid-afternoon. We toured St. Benedict's monastery - an absolutely magnificent building - and walked through it until we came to the church itself, which was indescribable. The church service was going on and we stayed for a while listening to the beautiful music.
The next day brought us to Salzburg, known for being the setting for the famed movie "The Sound of Music." Unfortunately, it rained all day. We still saw the gardens where the children danced in the movie and some of the other sights from the film. We then we walked around the town, taking in the ambience of city squares and fountains.
Linz, Austria, was another lovely town we walked through and took the tramway ride. The next day we had a walking tour of Passau and heard a concert on the world's largest pipe organ.
Then, we encountered a problem. The waters were too low for us to sail to Budapest, our next scheduled stop, so we were bussed from the boat in Bratislava to Budapest and housed in two five-star hotels - the Ritz Carlton and the Kempinski (just next door). Each of us was given 240 euros for meals (other than breakfast which was served in the hotel). We used the euros for two five Michelin star dinners in town.
We took the Jewish Tour of Budapest - which I had done years ago when we were allowed in the Temple. This time we only saw the memorials outside, where were very interesting. On one memorial, the names of Jewish people killed by the Germans were written on silver leaves on a silver tree.
We also went to the riverfront, where the Shoes on the Danube memorial was installed on the walkway. During the Holocaust, Jews were forced to stand at the edge of the water, then remove their shoes before they were shot and fell into the river.
It was a very sad experience, but we also saw dedications to the people who saved Jewish people during this terrible time.
Also in Budapest, we toured the House of Parliament. Building began in 1885 and it was completed in 1902. It's the country's largest building and the third largest in the world. We were allowed to explore the main staircase, the upper half of the building and the coronation jewels. It was an absolutely beautiful building.
That evening Crystal took us all by bus to a private concert where three wonderfully talented violinists entertained us on electric violins, which I had never seen or heard of before.
When we were bussed back to the Crystal Mozart in Vienna, the staff was outside holding signs welcoming us back.
It was an extraordinary trip and I recommend it highly.
Joan Flynn is the manager of Classic Travel on Hilton Head Island. firstname.lastname@example.org