So we were invited on a 14-day river cruise, all expenses paid!!! I know, you hate us. We would hate us too, if we weren’t us! This style of travel wasn’t on our radar, but when the opportunity arrived (courtesy of Mark’s stepfather) we were quick to say yes.

Mark’s mum and step-dad, Wendy and Terry (Wez and Tez) are long-term Scenic groupies and when Terry sold his business and said “let’s take the family!”, he did just that. Twenty of us in total from 2 different families joined together. It was the ultimate bonding session and a generous gift.

Say hello to Wez and Tez

Mark even made up caps that we’re wearing in the photo above – “Big Tez Tours”. This was a very special travel experience, to share with such a large group (all family). The stories will live on in our family folklore. Our debaucherous night at Portobello’s Restaurant onboard includes photos that cannot be shown. Ever.

A two-week cruise in Europe aboard a Scenic Cruise boat is all-inclusive luxury. Accommodation, flights, tours and all food and beverages are covered in the ticket prices. So you can just glide on, and settle into the cruise of a lifetime.

Our “Jewels of Europe” river cruise departed from Budapest, which gave us a good day to wander the streets, monuments and shops of Budapest. This city is made up of two towns across the river from each other Buda and Pest, hence the name. History abounds in this pretty city, and by walking and taking the trains we made our way to many of the main city sights.

Recommendation: Learning about a city’s war history is not normally high on our list of fun things to do while travelling, but we can highly recommend taking a visit to the House of Terror. Besides the fact that this is an interactive, incredibly artistic museum, immersing the visitor in the look and feel of the time, it is a brutal and emotional recreation of a terrifying era in the history of Budapest, when the Jewish people were tortured and killed during WWII. The building is the actual place that many of the horrors took place. We were deeply moved by the experience, and very relieved to leave.

With the cruise departing in the evening, it gave us one of the best views of beautiful Budapest.

The view of the Parliament of Budapest as seen from our cabin

Travel in style

Once aboard our Scenic Diamond, with private balconies, we were greeted by our personal butler and invited to contact him for any of our needs. We didn’t call on him once however, as everything was fully catered for. Our in-room fridge was stocked with drinks, both non-alcoholic and alcoholic, snacks and sweets – all included. Belgian chocolates were laid on our beds during turn-down service every evening and during pre-dinner cocktails we were informed of the following day’s entertainment, port calls, and tour options, all of course which were also included at no extra charge.

We relaxed into the gentle lap of the water as our boat slowly slipped through the quiet water, being gently lulled to sleep on the most comfortable king mattress we’ve slept on.

The days and nights that followed were dreamlike. We cruised past magnificent castles, and visited centuries old towns. Sometimes we felt like we were in a Game Of Thrones episode and other times it was like The Sound of Music.

We woke one morning to Durnstein

Things we loved most about our Scenic Cruise

  • Everything was included! No money required. From breakfast through to after dinner drinks and snacks, we did not need to pay anything. All the tours were also included.
  • The size of the boat. With only 150 passengers, and around 70 staff, it felt intimate enough to get to know a few people. Meals were at seat-yourself large tables mostly and we chatted with some lovely folk.
  • The choice of tours was excellent. Every time the boat stopped there was more than 1 choice of place to visit, so we could customise the days to our interests.
  • The electric bicycles! We loved taking the bikes out for a ride around a new city or town. These were charged and ready for us to use anytime we wanted. At one stage we rode alongside the boat from one stop to the next. Actually we loved the electric bikes so much that we bought two for ourselves when returned home.
  • The fun and friendly staff who served us food, cocktails, and wine everyday as well as taking us on great tours. They worked super hard to keep everyone happy and enjoying their holiday aboard this beautiful boat on one of Europe’s most picturesque rivers systems.

Off to the opera in Vienna

Highlights

Our cruise took us to places like Cesky Krumlov in Czechoslovakia, a magical UNESCO World Heritage site dating from the 1200’s.

We also visited stunning Vienna, which had us singing Ultravox’s “Ah Vienna”! while walking from one architectural wonder to another, wallowing in the richness of this timeless city.

Further along the Danube River still in Austria we arrived in Durnstein – an unexpected delight. Climbing a rough path to the top of a small mountain where King Richard I of England was held captive in 1192! The views of the valley farmlands and tiny villages below were breathtaking (actually so was the steep trek up).

In Rudesheim, we drank a specialty coffee (yes alcohol is included) out of the finest bone china, and visited a very special little music museum call Siegfried’s Mechanisches Musikkabinett. This place must house the best of the world’s pianolas and other mechanical music instruments. It’s a fun little tour led by the quirky owner’s friendly wife. A ride up on the old gondola gave us beautiful vistas of the vineyards below.

On top of the world in Durnstein

As we travelled through locks and different rivers, we came to Nuremberg, Germany, on the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal in Bavaria. Please be sure to drink a stein of beer here, or anywhere in Germany, and have lunch at one of the river-side restaurants. Expect large portions.

Bamberg, Germany was a favourite day for us. We took the electric bikes out and explored the ancient, mostly cobble-stoned, village. Much of the town is now a UNESCO World Heritage site making it perfectly preserved for our pleasure.

Bamberg – Germany

And with a few more stops along the way, and lots of wonderful dinners and sometimes too many wines, we spent an entire day relaxing on the top deck while a world of mountains and castles drifted by.

Eventually we arrived in the upbeat, quirky city of Amsterdam where we departed our river cruise and stayed for a few nights. We LOVED this holiday, and we’re every grateful to Wendy and Terry and our family for making it so special.