Deilmann's Mozart dazzles on the Danube

Travel Weekly executive editor Joe Rosen recently sailed the not-so-blue Danube aboard the Peter Deilmann vessel the Mozart. His report follows:

have never been much for cruising. In my nine years with Travel Weekly, I have set sail twice: Once on a Caribbean jaunt mandated by business obligations and, in my first year here, on a coastal cruiser that plied the wintery waters off Norway from one frozen zone to another.

I enjoyed both voyages, but not enough to forgo my land-lubbing ways.

But now, following a four-country voyage on the Danube, I want more. I want the Rhone, the Rhine, the Elbe, the Moldau. I want the Po and the Moselle. In fact, so taken am I with ol' man river that I'll settle for the Hudson River, just a few miles of New Jersey marshland from my office, if something more exotic doesn't come my way.

It turns out I like inland cruising.

And why not, if the paradigm of such a journey is a leisurely, luxurious lay-about aboard the Mozart, the queen of the extensive Peter Deilmann Cruises fleet.

Peter Deilmann Cruises' Mozart docked in Vienna, one of the port calls on its Danube cruises. The Mozart, a four-deck, 100-cabin vessel that comfortably accommodates 207 passengers, sails two itineraries: A seven-night roundtrip from Passau, Germany (near Munich), which includes visits to Vienna and Budapest, Hungary, and 10- and 11-night voyages in May, June and July that link Passau with Constanta, Romania.

My wife, Carolyn, and I took the seven-night version. A warm welcome put us at ease when we stepped aboard that first Sunday in October ("Relax. Slow down. You are now on holiday."), and at our disembarkation eight days later, we were laden with souvenirs of seven port stops in central Europe -- plus the extra load implicit in contending with the Mozart's six-meal-a-day regimen (add midmorning broth, afternoon tea and a late-night buffet to the usual Big Three).

Ship's in shipshape shape

As a jaunty Tony Curtis assured a wide-eyed Marilyn Monroe in the film "Some Like It Hot," this vessel, in fact, does shape up nicely. The public areas, from the main deck lobby to an elegant dining room, are richly appointed in wood paneling, burnished metal accents and art objects after -- who else? -- the eponymous Wolfgang Amadeus himself.

The Mozart features a beauty salon, a cozy bar and a windowed lounge -- buying a round of German-brewed Konig-Pilsen on draft is a fast way to win new shipboard friends, I found -- as well as a gift shop, fitness center with heated pool and a small library with an eclectic collection of English and German titles. Between port stops and meals, how anybody finds the time to read is beyond me.

Up top, on the ship-length Papageno sun deck, is a great place to watch the Mozart float the many locks that help tame the Danube and make it comfortably navigable for clients and cargo alike. In fact, so smooth is the passage that often we were unaware the ship was moving along swiftly.

According to a travel agent familiar with the range of ships plying European waterways (see story below), the Mozart's standard accommodations -- all cabins measure 203 square feet with the exception of two 406-square-foot suites -- are unusually spacious by river cruise standards.

Our cabin reminded my wife and I of a compact continental hotel room, with a queen bed, sofa, TV/radio (including CNN for the compulsively news-hungry like myself), built-in wardrobe, writing desk, minibar, safe and a cleverly designed bathroom.

One caveat: The Mozart permits smoking in most of its public venues and in the cabins. Smoking, however, is not allowed in the restaurant.

For mature audiences only (well, not only)

My wife and I are no kids, but we felt young and carefree compared with many of our gerontologically challenged fellow passengers.

This is not to suggest that all of us weren't physically active, mentally alert and of high spirits. But dinner talk at my table of six (no names, please!) one night included the following subjects dear to all our hearts and other vital organs: multiple bypass surgery, angioplasty for an occluded artery, an enlarged prostate, menopause (a spirited conversation, I might add) and the pros and cons of walking with a cane.

One other note about the passengers: I am told the usual ratio of English-speaking guests to German-speaking is 50-50; however, on our voyage the split was more like 25-75, which lent the shipboard experience a distinctly, and to my mind much-appreciated, European flavor.

All ship announcements are made in English and German, and the staff, at a service-plus ratio of one to every 2.5 passengers, is bi- if not multilingual.

Passengers aboard the Mozart dine restaurant-style in a single-seating, fixed-table format, and meals generally comprised an a la carte menu and/or an extensive buffet. An attempt is made to match ethnic dishes to the cuisines of the countries visited, including a selection of reasonably priced regional wines and beers.

For example, when we docked in Vienna, the entrees included a pork dish with a sauce from "Archduchess Maria Theresa's court chef," and in Budapest the menu featured a cabbage roll and a kohlrabi cream soup "Esterhazi"-style.

Passengers familiar with meals served on traditional Caribbean cruises said they thought the Mozart's fare stacked up well in comparison, and one wanna-be food critic offered the following backhanded compliment to the Mozart's galley: "The food is gourmet, but not too gourmet."

A personable wait staff is more than willing to accommodate any reasonable dietary request. My wife, for example, is allergic to fish. One mention of the problem to our waiter on our first night produced agreeable substitute dishes throughout the rest of the voyage.

Talk of the town

If you want a stress-free way to see the world, a river cruise such as this one is the way to go: No packing and unpacking other than the initial sorting out upon embarkation and reassembly at the end; no check-ins and checkouts at impersonal hotel desks; and with new-found friends among fellow passengers, none of that stranger-in-a-strange-land feeling.

In fact, we experienced all the comforts of home -- well, no dog and no cat, comforts both, to be sure -- while touching ground at such storied cities as Vienna and Budapest as well as Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia; Durnstein, Grein and Melk, Austria; and Esztergom, Hungary.

Of course, the Mozart offers separately priced escorted tours at all port stops, some more extensive than others, with city walks (including van or coach rides to places of interest) generally ranging in cost from about $23 a person in Bratislava to $26 in Budapest.

The Budapest outing seemed particularly worthwhile. About three-and-a-half hours in duration, the tour took us to sites such as Hero's Square in Pest on one shore of the Danube and to St. Matthias Church and Fisherman's Bastion across the river in hilly Buda.

All port stops, incidentally, put us conveniently within hailing distance of each destination's main attractions, with only Vienna requiring as much as a 10-minute metro ride from the docks to the Stephansplatz pedestrian zone.

Agents take note: Clients who have ambulatory problems probably would do well to take the vehicular-based land tours in Esztergom and Melk rather than explore on their own.

The cathedral in Esztergom -- the main attraction there -- is a hike from the ship, and uphill at that, while walking to the impressive baroque abbey that overlooks the town of Melk tested our endurance.

In any event, a hearty walk is not a bad way to burn off some of those six-meal-a-day calories. Or so I kept telling myself with each bite.

For more information or to book, call (800) 348-8287, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.deilmann-cruises.com.

Passenger finds Mozart voyage a perfect fit

By Joe Rosen

ABOARD THE MOZART -- In many ways, Paul Schneider is the perfect client.

Retired but for volunteer work; financially secure enough to travel when, where and how he wishes; and driven by an interest in history, Schneider is intent on seeing the world -- at least the parts he hasn't already visited by ship, plane or on foot.

When I met Schneider, he was sailing with his wife and two other couples aboard Peter Deilmann Cruises' Mozart as the middle leg of an extensive jaunt through central Europe.

Schneider, 68, a retired physician who volunteers as a docent at the Holocaust Center of Michigan, said it was his interest in the Jewish experience that found him and his travel agent, Steven Kalt of Bee Kalt Travel in Royal Oak, Mich., agreeing that the Mozart would be the perfect vehicle for a trip tracing aspects of 20th century European history.

"As a docent, I talk about the Holocaust and how it played out in a number of countries, such as Austria, Hungary and Croatia -- I spent time in Croatia prior to embarking on this cruise -- so I wanted to see those countries for myself and get the experience firsthand," Schneider said.

But why a river cruise? And why this one?

"I told my agent what I was hoping to do, and he recommended a cruise on the Danube, in particular aboard the Mozart, which he described as the 'Cadillac of river cruises,'" he said.

When contacted at his firm, a Virtuoso agency, Kalt explained the sales-and-selection process:

"When a client, especially an itinerary-driven client, comes in with a destination in mind such as central Europe, I suggest there are a number of touring options -- escorted tours, FITs and hosted trips -- and that a good option is a river cruise such as the Mozart's Danube program. I generally work with affluent, well-educated and well-traveled clients, and Peter Deilmann Cruises is at the high end of the quality scale.

"In addition, I tell prospective clients the Mozart overcomes some of the traditional objections some people have to river cruises -- small cabins, a sense of confinement. The Mozart, with its large cabins and bathrooms huge by river-cruise standards, becomes a very logical choice."

For Schneider, the Danube voyage also represented the chance to add a page or two to a memory book already replete with images from cruises in the Mexican Riviera with the Sitmar line, the eastern and western Caribbean with Royal Caribbean, the Mediterranean with Silversea and China with Holland America.

"I really liked using a boat as a floating hotel and as a location, in this case, that is virtually within the center of so many major European cities," he said of his Mozart experience.

"No unpacking. No hassle. I've driven through Italy, France and England by car, but as I've gotten older -- and as my bad back becomes more of a problem -- driving is less and less my thing.

"In fact," Schneider said, straightening up gingerly from a chair in the Mozart's lounge, "I am about to head for the ship's masseuse right now for a back massage."

After all, you can't get one of those riding in a car.

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