The Suite Life: Cruising With Avalon Waterways

7 May 2015

A night at the opera, a glimpse of a Gustav Klimt painting, a peak inside a Habsburg palace – everyone comes to Vienna for a different reason.

I’m here to fulfill a lifelong dream: to see the dancing white horses of the Spanish Riding School.

To the elegant strains of Mozart I watch transfixed as two white stallions execute a pas de deux, a dance duet, where each horse becomes a mirror image of the other.

Like a reflection on a lake it is impossible to tell where one horse begins and the other ends, the movements so perfect they are termed Haute ecole, the highest form of riding.

Under glittering chandeliers the arena falls away, the horses seeming to float on Pegasus-like wings, their hooves rising and falling with metronome precision. For 450 years Lipizzaner stallions have performed this equine ballet for dukes and duchesses, presidents and princes.

But today it feels like the horses are dancing just for me.

 Inside the Spanish Riding School (Image: Getty)

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Opera Ticket? Just Tie Your Scarf To The Railing

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It is the second day of our eight-day Taste of the Danube river cruise with Avalon Waterways aboard the newly christened Avalon Illumination cruising from Vienna to Budapest.

Day one began with a walking tour of Vienna, where our local guide gave tips on pressing matters such as where to get a slice of the original Sacher-Torte (Hotel Sacher), how to claim a spot at the standing-only section of the opera (tie your scarf to the railing) and where to hire a bicycle (at any one of the 120 public bike rental stations).

 The fabled Viennese cake (Image: Getty)

Along with organised activities Avalon also factors in ample free time so guests can design their own itinerary within the suggested one.

I easily fill my leisure time with a visit to the Spanish Riding School, as well as a stroll around the 5.3-kilometre Ringstrasse (Ring road), which is celebrating it’s 150-year-anniversary this year.

The real adventure begins when we board the 83-cabin Illumination, part of Avalon’s Suite Ships fleet, a concept introduced with the launch of Avalon Panorama in 2011. This pioneering design, which provides bigger rooms by doing away with separate balconies, has been so successful Avalon now has a ten Suite Ships in an overall European fleet of 15 deluxe vessels.

On entering our Panorama Suite the advantage is immediately obvious, from floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall glass doors that slide back transforming the room into an open-air balcony, to the spacious sitting area and queen bed angled to the ever-changing scenery.

The ample storage space, elegant bathroom with full shower and premium L’Occitane products and flatscreen television are welcome additions.


Take a tip from those who know. Common Cruising Questions Answered By Experts

Choose the cruise that suits you. How To Choose The Right Cruise For You


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The Mud Map Lets You Go It Alone

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From Vienna we cruise the Danube River through the Wachau Valley, passing rolling hills cloaked in green corduroy, the raked rows producing some of Austria’s best rieslings.

Stopping in the small village of Weissenkirchen we are offered three choices of tours – a bike ride, a wine experience or a walking tour. I toy with the idea of a bike ride - yes, I’ve seen the glossy brochures of smiling people pedalling along the river front – but it’s warm and I’m lazy, so I take the fourth option, going it alone.

With a handy mud-map provided by Avalon I follow my nose, down cobblestone paths, pausing at family-run Heurigers (wine taverns), a small green light letting me know which ones are open.

 Wachau's hills cloaked in green corduroy (Image: Getty)

I pass apricot orchards, white Baroque-style churches and higgledy-piggledy houses painted in sherbet colours and strung with garlands of drying corncobs. Finally, I buy a bottle of gruner veltliner, a dry white wine I’ll enjoy later in the comfort of my suite.

While Avalon includes regional beer and wine with all onboard dinners, even sparkling wine with breakfast, it’s good to know guests have the freedom to purchase their own drinks (either onboard or locally), without the all-inclusive option favoured by some operators.

Multiple choice is also a feature of the dining options, including early, late-riser or full buffet breakfasts, alfresco lunch on the Sky Deck, afternoon tea, four-course a la carte dinners or a light dinner alternative, of which regional specialties are a feature.

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Richard The Lionheart Was In The Slammer Here

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With only 166 passengers and numerous public areas, including four lounges and bars, the dining areas never feel crowded. The contemporary décor, without a faux anchor or fake flag in sight, adds to the relaxed feeling.

Over the coming days we enjoy a walking tour of Durnstein, a walled village where Richard the Lionheart was held captive, feast on apricots during a cooking demonstration at the Hotel Schloss, discover the secret statues of Bratislava during a city tour, and finally, cruise into Budapest, its spires gleaming in the early morning light.

 Durnstein - Richard Lionheart was a 'guest' here (Image: Getty)

Avalon Waterways’ parent company, Globus, has been operating land tours for 85 years, so the standard of the tours and experiences are exceptional.

On other occasions I do nothing more than read a book, gaze at the passing scenery or sit on the back deck, mesmerised by the white wake swishing behind like horses’ tails, eagerly anticipating the discoveries ahead.

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Visit your local Flight Centre or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Vienna.

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The writer was a guest of Avalon Waterways and the Vienna Tourist Board