Earlier this month I had the opportunity to sail on Adventures by Disney’s Danube River itinerary, sailing through Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary on the AmaViola. During the sailing, I was lucky enough to meet Melissa Jiles, a vacation planning specialist with Crazy Imagination Travel, who has traveled with Adventures by Disney on some of their other tour programs (and plans to go on next year’s Rhine sailing), and went on this trip with her husband and two teenage-aged kids. I picked her brain to see how this sailing, with 160 passengers, differed from other “more intimate” ABD programs, and what she thought of ABD targeting the family market with a river cruise product.
Paloma Villaverde de Rico (PVR): Overall, what do you think about ABD’s Danube sailing?
Melissa Jiles (MJ): I felt that the Danube sailing was fantastic! My husband and I have always wanted to try river cruising, but were skeptical that the median age would be too old for us. We are both 48 with two teenage children. Once Disney offered a river cruise sailing, we were in! We had a great week seeing the sights and sounds while being totally immersed in the cultures of the various countries. We referred to it many times as “a floating hotel” as we would sail in the evenings and arrive at an amazing port the following day. It’s a great way to travel without having to worry about packing your bags! I will highly recommend it to my clients seeking a way to see the Danube River cities worry- and hassle-free!
PVR: How do you feel it differs from ABD’s traditional tour products and what, if anything, did you miss from those more traditional tours?
MJ: I think the river cruise is very different from your traditional ABD tour in that the group size is larger and there are eight Adventure Guides instead of two. I am used to a maximum of 35 guests with two Adventure Guides. The river cruise model worked as Disney provided unparalleled service and multiple options for every family to choose from. I have traveled to Vietnam with Jennae [the lead Adventure Guide on this Danube sailing] before and know her well, but did not get to know all of the eight guides as well with a larger group. The Adventure Guides did do an amazing job walking around and talking with us, but there were 150 guests to attend to. Don’t get me wrong, if we needed anything at all, any Adventure Guide was right there to help. They all still had their “little bag of tricks” with them.
I liked having the open seating concept at dining times and really enjoyed getting to know new people. I did not get as close to the entire group as I do on a traditional ABD tour, but did make a few close friends who I will stay in touch with. I love this about ABD.
PVR: What surprised you on the sailing?
MJ: I was honestly surprised at how nice the ship was and how easy it was for the AmaViola to maneuver around the Danube River. Often we would dock next to one or two other river cruise ships and we would walk through their lobbies to access land. This was super fun!
We had a connecting room, which was wonderful as we were traveling with two teenagers. The housekeeping staff would tend to our rooms almost as soon as we would leave. Every time I saw them in the hall they would say hello and smile. My husband and I commented on how attentive the staff was on the AmaViola ship. Our ABD daily pins were perfectly placed on our pillows each evening. The ship also offered a hair salon as well as a massage and weight room.
I also enjoyed sailing through the locks in the Danube River. The captain would announce when we were going through the different locks. You could get up early and watch if you wanted. It was amazing watching the ship drop lower and lower. The largest lock [we passed] was during the evening and the captain made a great night out of it. We all stood on the top deck of the AmaViola and watched as we carefully drifted lower and lower and then finally sailed away.
PVR: Do you think there are too many excursion options and did you feel the team did a good job in reinforcing the fact that there is no obligation to do all of the excursions?
MJ: At first I felt a little bit pressured to choose all of our excursions for the entire week all at once on the first day. Disney did an amazing job selecting just the perfect excursions to immerse us in the cultures, but the excursion schedule was very flexible. I loved that Jennae explained that nothing was written in stone and we could easily change any option that we wanted later in the week. For example, there was an option for free time in Bratislava towards the end of our sailing; we were not sure of this at first, but finally, the day of the excursion, we decided to choose free time exploring on our own and it was no problem at all. There was also one day that we decided to sleep in a bit and meet up with the guides after the first city walking tour was over—this was very simple to do. ABD had a plan in place and accommodated any guests’ wishes!
PVR: Was there anything that you think is missing or that should be implemented in future sailings?
MJ: The cruise was amazing! If I were to add anything to a future cruise, it would be a kids’ area of some sort. I love the way Disney set up two dining areas for the teens as well as brought in board games, etc. There was even a movie night for the kids in the lounge. The guides made it a point to hang out with the younger guests during the evenings in the common areas. There was a pirate night and the kids even put on a marionette show. I think a private teen area of some sort either on the deck or in the back of the ship would be nice as well.
I would also like room service! We are spoiled with Disney Cruise Line room service and there were times that it would have been nice to have food brought to the room. I did like the snacks provided in the bar area as well as the wonderful staff that greeted us with fresh towels and delightful peach tea when we embarked the ship after a day on land. This was fantastic! I would like to see children-sized bikes available for future guests. Disney could even offer bike trailers for any child that wanted to be included on the longer bike rides.
PVR: What’s the minimum age you would recommend for this sailing?
I would recommend no younger than 8 years old for the river cruise. You want your child to be able to ride a bike successfully as children’s bikes were not available. My son had a wonderful time meeting two other boys that were his same age. My 17-year-old daughter had a great time, but did not connect with any particular friend her own age.
PVR: I think it’s ideally suited for multigenerational families. What are your thoughts on the perfect clients?
MJ: I agree that multigenerational families are well suited for the ABD river cruise. I noticed on our particular sailing that there were two large groups including grandparents, children and grandchildren. They seemed to be having a wonderful time. The ship is small enough that you spend lots of quality time with your family members throughout the week.
The full onsite review on Adventures by Disney’s Danube sailing appears in the September Family issue. For some eye candy, we’ve got the Eye on the World: Adventures by Disney on the Danube.