Rolling on the river is cruising's hottest trend

Retirees Brian Johnson, 65, and Toni Johnson, 63, from Corlett, Australia, say they like the mix of nationalities. They chose the River Beatrice "because we wanted the comfort and service," says Toni. "They're very hands-on." For example, when Capt. Tom Buining overheard a passenger complain about the lack of weights in the small fitness center, he bought some at the next port and delivered them personally.

Life on the river's banks

As comfortable as the ship is, this voyage draws you into the destinations. Slicing through the heart of the Continent, the Danube historically was the lifeblood of its communities. Quiet country scenes and vineyards, citadels and castles, monasteries and cathedrals form a never-ending tableaux along its 1,770 miles. This itinerary features some of Europe's great capitals: sophisticated, stylish Vienna with its reminders of Austro-Hungarian imperial grandeur; historic Budapest, where coffee culture percolates again in some 300 cafes; Bratislava with its cozy cobblestoned Old Town.

But the less-known stops offer the most unexpected treats: tiny baroque Dürnstein (pop: 900), gateway to Austrian wine country (bike tours to the vineyards are available). Melk, Austria, home to a 900-year-old cliff-top abbey famous for its 80,000 medieval manuscripts. Storybook Salzburg, which is still alive with the sound of music on every street corner and courtyard, and Passau, set in pastoral Bavaria.

As Harvey King, an association executive from Scottsdale, sums it up, "This cruise is a no-brainer."

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