Saturday, October 04, 2014

Gate1 Travel's 14-Day Danube River Cruise Report - Part 1


My husband and I recently returned from a 14 day Gate1 Travel Danube River Cruise with pre-cruise days in Prague, post-cruise days in Budapest, and optional tours to Cesky Krumlov, Salzburg and Schonbrunn Palace.  Prior to my trip, I was only able to find a few reviews about European river cruise trips hosted by Gate1.  I hope this helps future Gate1 Danube River Cruise passengers who plan to take a similar trip.  Feel free to contact me if I missed anything. 

Preparation before the trip
Performed research online about the different itineraries, read Rick Steves’ book “Europe Through the Back Door”, listened to Rick Steves’ audio tours free online.

Reserved an airport shuttle service in Prague so when we arrived, someone would meet us there without having to figure out transportation.  I highly recommend the Prague Airport Transfers service. You can make a reservation a day or two before leaving and pay online with your credit card.  The cost is 550 Czech Korunas or about $26 USD/20 Euros.  It also includes a free 4-hour Prague city walking tour.  Unfortunately, it starts at 11am and conflicted with our scheduled Gate1 tour.  

I did not order any foreign currency ahead of time from my bank, but I did obtain an ATM/Debit card from my bank. Contact your bank and credit card company to let them know which dates you will be in which country and the rates they will charge for a foreign transaction and/or ATM fees. I also carried some US Dollars to exchange just in case my ATM card didn’t work.

Remember that on this particular river cruise, you will need 3 different country currencies: 
- Korunas in Prague
- Euros in Nuremberg/Regensburg/Passau/Salzburg/Melk/Vienna
- Forint in Budapest

We used 1 large suitcase and each of us carried a backpack.  Gate1’s lengthy Travel Document that was emailed to us says dining room attire is casual.  Most people dressed casual to business casual for meals in the dining room, but a majority of the passengers were dressed in suits and dresses on the last evening on the cruise during the Farewell Dinner.

There is laundry service at the hotels and on the boat, but I did not use them and unfortunately forgot to note the prices.  Most of my laundry was hand washed.  There is an iron in the hotel in Prague and Budapest, but not in your boat’s cabin.  They do not allow irons in the cabin so if you need to use one, someone has to iron it for you. There is a hairdryer, shampoo, and soap in the hotel rooms and in your boat cabin. 

There are three available electrical outlets in your boat cabin - two in the main cabin and one in the bathroom for your electric razor. Don’t forget to bring several Euro plug power adapters and make sure your electrical device is 220v compatible; otherwise, you will need to bring power converters.  All the countries you will be visiting during the cruise will use the same Euro plug power adapters.  You can get one for a few dollars at the store or online. 

I brought a small binocular in case I needed to use it while cruising. I discovered it wasn't really necessary because we didn’t cruise too much during the day and when we cruised into the picturesque locations of the Wachau Valley or arrival into Budapest, I was either busy taking pictures or just enjoying the view.

If you plan to use your cell phone, either get a SIM card, or notify your cell phone company that you will be overseas to get on an international phone and/or data plan temporarily.  I did not get an international plan and opted to hunt for wifi signals.  By the way, the wifi signal on the Amadeus Royal boat was terrible, but luckily, wifi was available in town.  Many of the restaurants require a wifi password, so just ask them for it if you are dining there.

Although I didn’t venture into any pharmacies, we did see at least one at each location maybe with the exception of Melk because we just visited the Abbey and not the town.

Arrival at Vaclav Havel Airport (PRG)
There are ATM machines at the baggage claim and arrival hall areas .  It was simpler to use than I anticipated.  Specify English on the monitor if it is not already set, put your ATM card into the slot, enter your pin, press the button to the pre-set amount in the local currency you want, and the money comes out.  It helps to know the exchange rate so you know the amount you are withdrawing in US Dollars.  I used the XE Currency Converter app on my iPhone.  Depending on the ATM machine, you might or might not get a receipt so note how much you are withdrawing each time.  It will also help to get smaller bills/coins to access the public bathrooms.

The Prague Airport Transfer driver was waiting for us after we picked up our luggage from baggage claim. There were lots of people at the exit.  Look for the person with the Prague Airport Transfer sign with your name on it if you choose to use this service.  He spoke English, very professional, and his car was very clean. FYI, we did not have to go through Customs in Prague as it was done in Frankfurt during our layover.

It was about a 20-25 minute car ride from Vaclav Havel Airport (PRG) to the Art Deco Imperial Hotel around 5:30pm on a Thursday.  If you want to pay tips to the driver, money in Korunas, US Dollars, Euros, …etc. are accepted.

Arrival at the Art Deco Imperial Hotel
We arrived after 6pm, checked in, went to our room to freshen up, and unfortunately we missed the 1pm or 3pm Vicinity Walking tour and was late to the Welcome Briefing which started at 6pm.  Some people missed it all together because their flights didn’t arrive until that evening.   In the meeting with free wine and snacks, they introduced the Gate1 tour guides, explained basic information, and discussed the next morning's activities,…etc.

The most important to get out of the Welcome Briefing is to get a Gate1 lanyard with your name, time of the next morning’s tour, and find out which tour bus you should be getting on.  We had about 128 passengers and they divided us into 3 buses. You were either on the Red, Blue, or Yellow bus.  This information is also listed on a board in the hotel’s lobby which looks like this.

Art Deco Imperial Hotel
The hotel is celebrating its 100th year anniversary in 2014 and it has quite a past. These are pictures of our hotel room.  We were on the 6th floor and had no windows except for a skylight. The bathroom had marble floor and walls room, a shower stall and a bathtub.  The tub was a little high so we had difficulties getting in and out.  Not sure why we didn't use the shower stall instead.  Free wifi was good and you will need to enter a code to access it.  The elevator is quite small and will only fit a few guests at a time.

I think the hotel's buffet breakfast was served from 6:30a.m. to 10:30a.m. downstairs in its beautiful dining room. It included eggs, bacon, sausages, cold cuts, fruits, oatmeal, various pastries, coffee/tea, juices, ...etc.  Tour groups other than Gate1 were also staying at the hotel where it got quite busy so much so that some people had to be turned away to come back later when seats were available.

The hotel is within walking distance to many restaurants and shops.  If you like to grab a quick bite to eat, you can visit the Palladium Mall's top floor food court only 2 blocks away.

Here's our Gate1 group waiting for our tour buses to arrive in front of the Art Deco Imperial Hotel for our first bus tour in Prague.

We visited Prague Castle and arrived just in time to see the changing of the guards. After a tour by the local guide, we had some free time to visit St. Vitus Cathedral and the Royal Garden.
Changing of the Guards ceremony at Prague Castle

St. Vitus Cathedral exterior

St. Vitus Cathedral's impressive interior

Prague Castle's Royal Garden

After visiting Prague Castle, the bus drove us into the heart of Prague where we had a walking tour which included the outskirts of the Jewish Quarter and the Old Town Square where we hovered in front of the Astronomical Clock just in time to see it spring into action at noon. You can even venture to the top of the Old Town Hall Tower to get a view of the city.

At this point, our city tour ended and we tipped our local guide and driver.  Gate1's guideline for tipping is $3 per person per half day for the guide and $2 per person per half day for the driver. Since we did not participate in the afternoon optional tour, we had the rest of the day to explore on our own.

We asked the tour guide to suggest a place for lunch.  She did not make a particular recommendation, but told us to stay out of the touristy and pricer locations of Old Town Square and instead walk to restaurants located on the side streets.  While looking around, we saw a bride and groom eating at Restaurace U Dvou Velbloudu (Restaurant With Two Camels). Well, if they are eating there, it must be good.  We found outdoor seating, ordered from the English menu, and ate our first traditional Czech meal (Roast duck with red cabbage, bread, and potato dumplings).  When writing this post, I discovered this restaurant is highly rated in Tripvisor

After lunch, we explored more of Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, and Wenceslas Square, during the day and night.  

Powder Tower a few minutes walk from the Art Deco Imperial Hotel.

The Municipal House where concerts are played is also a few minutes walk from the hotel.

Old Town Square area in the evening.

The view of the Charles Bridge from a restaurant lookout.

View while on the Charles Bridge

View of the people walking on the Charles Bridge

View of the St. Vitus Cathedral in the distance seen from the Charles Bridge at night.

View of the people walking on the Charles Bridge at night.

National Museum at Wenceslas Square

Art Nouveau architecture of the Grand Hotel Europa in Wenceslas Square. 

Fresh fruits, gifts, toys, ...etc. were seen at the Havelske Trziste market.

What to eat?
Prague is inundated with eateries like this interesting cafe in the middle of the boulevard in Wenceslas Square.

We found this piglet being roasted outside a restaurant. 
280g grilled pork with sauce, cabbage salad, and bread for 350 CZK ($16 USD)

Trdelnik (Chimney Cake), a traditional Hungarian sweet pastry, was sold everywhere.  Of course, we had to try it and it was delicious!

If you have a sweet tooth, bakeries and ice cream stores are everywhere.
This lady was making our freshly made waffle topped with strawberries and chocolate. Mmmm!

Along with food, there are never any shortage of street performers like this dance couple who drew in the evening crowd.

Just looking at these street artists is making me tired.

This anonymous gentleman was trying to make enough money to buy an engagement ring.

This concludes part 1 of my Gate1 Danube River cruise report.  At this point, I don't know how many more parts I will write or even if this report generates any interest, but I hope it does. 

In my opinion, Prague was my favorite city on the 14 day trip.  I wished I had more time to explore the rest of the city, but I was happy I was able to visit the city that has been on my bucket list for a long time.

The next segment will be on the optional tour to Cesky Krumlov and the embarking on the Gate1 Amadeus Royal boat which would be our home for the next 7 days.

- Karen


rainfield61 said...

Roasted piglet!


Mandy said...

So happy to see you back here!! I think Prague would be my favourite too. I've always wanted to go there and you've made me realised I'll love the food too.

Diane said...

Thank-you for posting the beginning of your Danube trip. We are currently booked with Gate 1 for our 2nd trip with them. Last year we went to Cambodia and Vietnam and in a few weeks we leave for Thailand. We were very impressed with their tour. I have also looked for reviews for their river trips without finding much information. I would love to read more of review! Thanks

AVCr8teur said...

Rainfield61: We didn't get a chance to try the piglet. It was interesting to see it being cooked right outside the restaurant. I'm sure it drew lots of onlookers.

Mandy: Thanks for visiting. I haven't decided if I will be back permanently, but my goal is to write about my river cruise experience to help future travelers. I hope you get to experience Prague!!!

Diane: Thank you for your response. I am glad to hear my write up was informative. I will definitely write more soon.

Indrani said...

What a wonderful travel experience. Loved seeing the pics. The Prague clock is amazing.