We got off the tour bus in a light drizzle. Following Katharina, one of the owners of the family orchard and winery we were visiting, we came to rows of apricot trees, vines and strange rose bushes full of white flowers.
Our hostess, a former teacher, delighted to tell us about the fruit trees, the harvest, the wines they produce, the gophers underfoot. We collected the pits from the fruits we sampled. The oil is extracted from the kernels, she explained.
Little fingers open an apricot on a family farm during an Adventures by Disney Danube River Cruise excursion in Austria’s Wachau Valley. Photo credit: TW photo by Hector Fadraga
It was a lush and inviting experience, and with only a handful of other guests, we all had plenty of one-on-one time with our gregarious hostess. And the apricots, or marillen, as the Austrians say? They were sweeter than any fruit has a right to be.
But even sweeter was watching my two children, aged 8 and 10, pick and devour apricot after apricot and pepper our hostess with questions. It was their favorite of many activities on our eight-day Adventures by Disney Danube cruise in late July that touched four countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.
Fast friends with shipmates
Adventures by Disney (ABD) has been offering guided family group vacations since 2005 and offers itineraries on every continent. The Disney difference is its family focus, its specially trained adventure guides, and the VIP experiences it can create through the access it enjoys to popular destinations around the world. Adventures by Disney partners with AmaWaterways for river cruises on the Rhine, Seine and Danube.
Our AmaLea cruise started in Vilshofen, Germany, but was preceded by an overnight stay in Munich, an extra that can be booked through ABD. While guests can certainly arrive at the ship on their own, it is recommended that guests be entrusted to ABD to handle the logistics. In addition, the river route was busy, so the opportunity to explore Bavaria’s capital at leisure was welcome.
The AmaLea is quite small compared to the huge ocean going vessels our family of four are used to. But the privacy was part of the charm, as our children quickly made friends with the other youngsters on board, cartwheeling on the upper deck and playing in the pool from day one. Adults also bonded effortlessly, resulting in, for example, friendly card games almost every night.
One of AmaWaterways’ AmaLea connecting rooms. Photo credit: TW photo by Hector Fadraga
And the AmaLea gives up nothing when it comes to luxury and comfort. Our connecting cabins were spacious and had all the amenities, while the twin balconies offered beautiful and sometimes thrilling views, like watching a lock swallow the ship while a thunderstorm raged just beyond the mountains. (Note: Connecting rooms are not guaranteed for families and are based on availability. There are only connecting cabins on the Rhine and Danube, not the Seine.)
The main difference on an AmaWaterways ABD sail is that Adventure Guides inform the onboard lineup, hosting teen nights, sleepovers, karaoke and Junior Adventurer buffets followed by games. Drop-in dinners allow parents to dine on adult meals at the main restaurant or indulge in Ama’s Chef’s Table tasting menu experience.
The magic makers
Adventure Guides are truly ABD’s secret sauce. As well as always being cheerful and making every guest feel special, they take care behind the scenes of logistics, develop excursions and support local guides. The AmaLea and her sister ships can carry 156 passengers, and an ABD sail typically has up to six adventure guides, providing a good guide-to-passenger ratio.
Our sailing had 86 passengers, so we made do with four adventure guides, although their upbeat energy made it seem like there were 10 at times. On the third day, while waiting to enter the Salzwelten Salt Mine , my daughter complained of having a runny nose. Adventure guide Emma materialized out of nowhere, handkerchief in hand. This adaptation to the needs of the children (and by extension the parents) was evident at all times during all the excursions.
And they make the magic happen. On day two, in Passau, Germany, after a visit to a treetop trail park and adventure playground, adventure guides led guests of all ages on a “Sound of Music” singing and twirling on an alpine meadow that was right next to the beloved musical.
Adventures by Disney Adventure Guides, left to right, George, Michaela, Emma and Dean pose for a photo and keep their spirits up at a rest stop on the Austrian-Slovakian border. Photo credit: TW photo by Hector Fadraga
On several excursions, the adventure guides took the children on separate activities. For example, while the adults were visiting Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna on the fifth day, the children were playing historical costumes and running a maze in the garden. On the sixth day, while the adults enjoyed the opulence of Schloss Hof, a Habsburg palace near Austria’s border with Slovakia, the children visited a petting zoo.
Even on the trip to the family apricot farm and winery, the second half of the excursion had the children playing with bunnies and jumping on a trampoline while the adults sampled wines from the Wachau, jams and apricot liqueurs.
ADB’s Danube Cruise combines the convenience of an unbox once river cruise with unique and culturally rich Disney activities. For guests who have visited Disney Parks and Resorts or Ocean Cruises, it’s a familiar, hassle-free way to see much of Europe.
Prices for Adventures by Disney’s Danube River Cruise start at $5,299 for adults and $4,799 for children under 12.