Lines Dress Up Their Danube Vessels

NEW YORK -- As cruising the Danube continues to become more common among U.S. travelers, newer and refurbished vessels boasting opulent interiors and amenities reminiscent of four- and five-star hotels are appearing on the river.

Unlike ocean voyages, river cruises traditionally have focused on the destinations along the way, not extensive on-board luxuries.

The Danube flows from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, and although ports of call and lengths of itineraries vary, common stops along the river include Passau, Germany; Grein, Melk, Durnstein and Vienna, Austria; Bratislava, Slovakia, and Esztergom and Budapest, Hungary.

River ships are built narrow at the beam and with a shallow draft, and passenger capacities range from 20 to 200.

Deciphering the differences in the vessels can be a challenge because what one company might consider four-star or deluxe, another might classify as three-star, depending on the facilities and amenities on board.

For example, Richard De-Sousa, assistant manager of marketing and sales for Peter Deilmann EuropAmerica Cruises, noted that among its fleet, the Mozart is billed as a five-star ship and the Danube Princess a four-star vessel.

The Mozart gets the higher ranking because of its larger cabins with minibars.

The two Danube ships owned and operated by KD River Cruises of Europe are the Wilhelm Tell and the Heinrich Heine.

The company considers the Heine a four-star vessel and the Tell a three-and-a-half-star vessel, said Jeff O'Rourke, president of the company's U.S. general sales agent, J.F.O CruiseService Corp.

He added that the main difference between the ships is that the Heinrich Heine has an indoor swimming pool.

Unique World Travel separates the ships it books into three categories: first class, superior first class and deluxe.

The vessels are the Blue Danube, the Rousse and the Danube Princess, respectively.

Although there are no major differences in the physical appearance of the three ships, cruise costs are based on added amenities, such as bathrobes in the cabins or a better selection of wines at dinner, and the staff-to-passenger ratio, said Misha Radulovic, president of Unique World Travel.

What remains consistent on all three ships is the quality of the food and entertainment, he said.

Clients interested in a truly luxurious experience can sail aboard the River Cloud.

Dailey-Thorp Travel, which specializes in opera and music tours, and Abercrombie & Kent both have chartered the ship for scheduled sailings.

The ship, which went into service last May, is the "most deluxe of any ship on the Danube," said Mary Dailey, president of Dailey-Thorp Travel.

She pointed out that, as with any river ship, "the cabins are small by ocean cruise ship standards but superbly appointed."

For example, each cabin has a marble bathroom, ample storage space, terry bathrobes and a hair dryer, she said.

The ship is decorated with mahogany, rosewood and elegant fabrics, and its lounge features a Steinway grand piano.

Other tour operators offering Danube products include European Connection, (800) 345-4679; EuroCruises, (800) 688-3876; European Waterways, (800) 217-4447; General Tours, (800) 221-2216; Kemwel, (800) 234-4000, and Value World Tours, (800) 795-1633.

Peter Deilmann EuropAmerica Cruises can be reached at (800) 348-8287.

To reach J.F.O CruiseService Corp, call (800) 346-6525 for the eastern U.S. or (800) 858-8587 for the western U.S.

Unique World Travel can be reached at (800) 669-0757.

Dailey-Thorp Travel can be reached at (212) 307-1555.

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