We emerged from the tour bus into 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, grape vines and the odd rosebush full of white blooms.
Our hostess, a former teacher, delighted in telling us about the fruit trees, the harvest, the wines they produce, the gophers underfoot. We collected the pits from the fruit we sampled. Oil is extracted from the kernels, she explained.
Little fingers pry open an apricot at a family farm on 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 fellow guests, we all got 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 any right to be.
But even sweeter was watching my two children, ages 8 and 10, picking and devouring apricot after apricot and peppering our hostess with questions. This was their favorite among many activities on our hosted, eight-day Adventures by Disney Danube River Cruise in late July that touched four countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.
Fast friends with shipmates
Adventures by Disney (ABD) has been operating family guided group vacations since 2005, and it offers itineraries on every continent. The Disney difference is its focus on family, its specially trained Adventure Guides and the VIP experiences it can craft thanks to the access it enjoys in sought-after destinations around the world. Adventures by Disney partners with AmaWaterways on river cruises on the Rhine, Seine and Danube.
Our cruise on the AmaLea began in Vilshofen, Germany, but it was preceded by a one-night stay in Munich, an add-on that is bookable through ABD. While guests can certainly arrive at the ship on their own, putting clients in ABD's hands to handle logistics is recommended. Besides, the river itinerary was jam-packed, so the ability to explore the capital of Bavaria at leisure was welcomed.
The AmaLea is quite small compared to the massive ocean ships our family of four is used to. But the intimacy was part of the charm, as our kids made fast friends with the other youngsters onboard, cartwheeling on the top deck and playing in the pool from Day One. The adults, too, effortlessly bonded, resulting, for example, in friendly card games nearly every evening.
One of the connecting rooms on AmaWaterways' AmaLea. 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 every amenity, while twin balconies provided beautiful and at times thrilling sights, like watching a lock swallow the ship while a thunderstorm raged just beyond the mountains. (Note: Connecting rooms aren't guaranteed for families and are based on availability. There are only connecting staterooms on the Rhine and Danube, not on the Seine.)
The main difference on an ABD AmaWaterways sailing is that the Adventure Guides inform the programming onboard, hosting teen socials, pajama parties, karaoke and Junior Adventurer buffets followed by games. The drop-off dinners free up parents to have grown-up meals at the main restaurant or to indulge in Ama's signature Chef's Table tasting menu experience.
The magic makers
The Adventure Guides are truly ABD's secret sauce. Aside from being ever cheerful and making every guest feel special, behind the scenes they handle logistics, develop excursions and back up local guides. The AmaLea and her sister ships can carry 156 passengers, and an ABD sailing usually has a complement of up to six Adventure Guides, making for a healthy ratio of guides to passengers.
Our sailing had 86 passengers, so we made do with four Adventure Guides, though their upbeat energy made it feel like there were 10 of them at times. On Day Three, waiting to enter the Salzwelten salt mine, my daughter complained of a runny nose. Adventure Guide Emma materialized out of nowhere, tissue in hand. This attunement to children's (and by extension parents') needs was evident at all times on all 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" sing- and twirl-along on an Alpine meadow that was right out of the beloved movie musical.
Adventures by Disney Adventure Guides, from left, George, Michaela, Emma and Dean pose for a picture and keep up spirits on a rest stop on the Austria-Slovakia border. Photo Credit: TW photo by Hector Fadraga
On several excursions, Adventure Guides would lead the children off on separate activities. For example, while the adults toured Vienna's Schonbrunn Palace on Day Five, the kids played historical dress-up and ran a maze in the garden. On Day Six, while the adults took in the opulence of the Schloss Hof, a Habsburg palace near the Austrian border with Slovakia, the kids visited a petting zoo.
Even on the trip to the family apricot farm and winery, the second half of the excursion found the kids off playing with bunnies and jumping on a trampoline while the adults sampled Wachau Valley wines and apricot jams and liqueurs.
ADB's Danube cruise pairs the unpack-once convenience of river cruising with culturally rich, unique Disney activities. For clients who have been to the Disney parks and resorts or the ocean cruises, it's a familiar and hassle-free way to see a good deal of Europe.
Rates for Adventures by Disney's Danube River Cruise start at $5,299 for adults and $4,799 for children under 12.