#OnTheRoad: River Cruising In Germany

Guten Tag from the Danube River! I’m Jess, an editor at Gadling and AOL Travel, and am on my first river cruise (actually, my first cruise of any kind). I’m chugging along the Danube on Viking River Cruises’ Bragi longship from Nuremberg to Budapest. Our stops include Regensburg, Passau, Melk and Vienna – I’ve never been to any of these places so am excited to explore. I’ll be seeing how much local beer, wine, wurst and culture I can sample, and I’d love some tips on what to do! If you’ve been to any of these places, or have river cruising tips please share what you liked and I’ll try to post a picture of it.

I’ll be posting updates along the river on Gadling’s Instagram account @GadlingTravel under the hashtag #OnTheRoad so please follow along and let me know what you’d like to see.Gadling has a policy against keeping any free or promotional items valued at more than $25 that are provided by companies to the editorial staff for review. In order to access the latest products and technology for review, we sometimes accept travel and accommodations (along with other members of the press). Our opinions and criticisms are always our own. Our editorial is not for sale, and never will be.

A Tiny Cruise Line With A Big Impact

Like them or hate them, travelers have heard of cruise lines that travel around the world on city-like ships, ply the rivers of Europe or sail from convenient home ports around North America. Some have ships designed to be destinations in and of themselves, while others have purpose-built vessels with a shore-side focus, stopping at world class destinations. Between the brands of Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Corporation alone, millions of travelers take to the sea each year. A comparative handful of cruise travelers choose small, boutique lines that sail just a few ships to many of the same places with their own signature travel experience.

Lüftner Cruises, a family-owned Austrian company, is one of those tiny cruise lines. Lüftner operates Amadeus Cruises, a luxury river cruise line with just six ships that sail along Europe’s Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers in opulent luxury on voyages lasting four to 15 days.

Just launched, 443-foot Amadeus Silver is their largest and most luxurious river ship ever. The 90-cabin vessel is adorned in first-class interior furnishings, luxurious accommodations, authentic Austrian programming and an environmentally-friendly design.

Featured on the Amadeus Silver is Café Vienna, a traditional Austrian coffee shop serving Sachertorte specialties. An open-air lounge named the River Terrace is located in the ship’s bow and has special glazed windows to protect passengers from a windy or rainy day. The ship also has a two-story fitness studio, two restaurants and a sundeck with a golf putting green.

Passenger cabins are a roomy 172 square feet and have innovative French balconies with drop-down windows affording panoramic views. Spacious suites are 258 square feet and have walk-out exterior balconies with seating areas.

On the ship, activities include folklore shows, lectures on the history of the Rhine-Main-Danube canal and Bavarian evenings with live music. Off the ship, city excursions showcase the region’s rich cultural diversity and feature concerts in Vienna, wine tastings in Wuerzburg and castle tours.

Lüftner Cruises also has an uber focus on the environment, earning certification by Green Globe, the global travel and tourism industries’ certification program for sustainable tourism as well as Atmosfair, a climate protection organization with a focus on travel.

“We are well aware that tourism always impacts on the environment despite increasing efforts to offer environmentally-friendly travel arrangements,” said Dr. Wolfgang Lueftner, Founder and Owner of Lueftner Cruises in an Eturbonews report.

On board Lueftner ships, cruise travelers have the opportunity to positively impact the environment. Passengers can, and do, choose to offset their own CO2 consumption with a donation and are given the option to pay a suggested climate protection levy of €2 per day per cabin.

[Photo Credit – Amadeus Cruises]

Trek Through Afghanistan Or Explore The Congo With Wild Frontiers

If you still haven’t settled on an amazing adventure for 2013 then perhaps you’ll want to take a look at some of the trips that Wild Frontiers has to offer. The adventure travel company that operates out of the U.K. specializes in unique, one-of-a-kind tours to a number of great destinations on the planet and this year two of their itineraries are unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere.

The first of those trips will take adventurous travelers deep into the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan as they spend a month trekking the Wakhan Corridor. This narrow piece of land once served as a neutral zone between the British and Russian Empires but now it is a seldom-visited region populated only by local herdsmen. Wild Frontiers is one of the few travel companies in the world that guides trekkers through this remote destination, which boasts breathtaking views and pristine valleys rarely seen by outsiders. This is a physically demanding and difficult trip but for those who truly want an off-the beaten-path adventure, it is tough to top a trek through the Wakhan Corridor. It is truly one of the most isolated places you could ever hope to visit. The price is £4495 or about $6820.

The other unique itinerary on the Wild Frontiers schedule for this year is a 20-day journey by boat down the Congo River. Travelers on this excursion will follow in the footsteps of the famed explorer Henry Morton Stanley as they go deep into the wild and untamed African interior. They’ll visit villages inhabited by the last pygmy tribes, encounter a wide array of wildlife and observe life along the river as they slowly cruise past. For more of an idea of what to expect from this journey checkout the YouTube clip below. The price is £5995, which converts to $9095.

Some travel companies promise their customers an adventure but few actually deliver it in the truest sense of the word. But Wild Frontiers is a company that really does focus on putting the “adventure” in adventure travel. The two expeditions that I highlighted above are a good example of this, but they are also just the tip of the iceberg. Take a look at their full catalog by clicking here.

[Photo Credit: Wild Frontiers]

Survey Shows Travelers’ Top Dream Destinations And Experiences

Do you ever wonder how your travel dreams compare to those of others? To help find out where people most desire to travel to, Virtuoso Life Magazine conducted a “Travel Dreams” survey, polling over 5,000 people between January 5 to March 31, 2012. Some of their findings include:

Top Dream Destinations:

1. Australia
2. Italy
3. New Zealand
4. South Africa
5. French Polynesia

Top Trips Of A Lifetime:

1. Setting sail for a world cruise
2. Calling on all seven continents
3. Sailing the Mediterranean on a private yacht
4. Visiting all Seven New Wonders of the World
5. Photographing “the big five” on an African safariMost Wanted Island Escapes:

1. Hawaiian Islands
2. Greek Islands
3. Galapagos Islands
4. Fiji
5. French Polynesia

River Cruises That Capture Your Imagination:

1. French wine country canal
2. Danube
3. Amazon
4. Nile
5. Rhine

Most Romantic Cities:

1. Paris
2. Venice
3. Santorini
4. Rome
5. New York City

Top Family Getaways:

1. Hawaiian Islands
2. Italy
3. Caribbean
4. Galapagos Islands
5. Alaska

What’s your dream travel experience?

Travel caution urged but experiences await, who to turn to?

There is a lot to be said about experience when it comes to traveling. If we have been some place a number of times, that previous experience can add a valuable filter to what we see in video and print reports when events occur around the globe. Government-issued travel alerts and warnings are surely important to consider. Catastrophic weather events, political unrest and the like are too. But while experts urge caution they also explain the actual situation on the ground may not be cause to cancel plans then travel elsewhere.

In Travel caution urged but experiences await, what to do? we talked with premiere land tour operator Abercrombie and Kent, asking the question “Is it safe to travel to Egypt?” who told us:

“The situation has improved dramatically in recent weeks. The U.S. State Department has softened its Travel Warning and both the French and the British have updated their cautions. Airports and financial institutions are functioning normally and popular tourist sites are open – and remarkably free of visitors. Beyond that, Egyptians are relishing their new-found freedom and a sense of optimism is palpable wherever you go…”

Today we take a closer look at areas where headline-grabbing events have led many to reconsider travel plans, some life-long dreams, that may indeed be safe for travel.

Asking again “Is it safe to travel to Egypt?”, we talk to Dwain Wall, Senior Vice President & General Manager of CruiseOne & Cruises Inc. Unlike big-ship cruises, river cruises sail on smaller ships to get up close and personal with countries almost everywhere. Throughout the Middle East and Europe from Egypt to France to Vietnam, river cruising is gaining in popularity. But some worry that same up-close-and-personal exposure many find attractive, puts them in harms way.

“Travelers no matter the destination must be fully aware of any issues in their destination prior to travel “says Wall, adding “This awareness allows for them to properly prepare and assure their safety.”

Beyond our personal knowledge, preparation for travel such as checking to see entry requirements for various countries or enrolling in the US Department of State’s registered traveler (STEP) program, we trust tour operators to keep us safe. If a situation should develop while we travel, being with someone or some company experienced in how things work in a given country under normal circumstances can help.

“The continent of Europe encompasses many countries with vast cultural differences. The most apparent is the many languages that are spoken that can itself make for difficulties which can be exasperated in an emergency or by security issues.”

Beyond traveling with a destination expert and adequate preparation on our part as travelers, backing our plans with some sort of travel protection is also advised.

“The best way to assure that travelers are protected is for them to purchase travel insurance with a reputable travel insurance company. These companies have an amazing array of services including cancel for any reason, and once on the trip should a traveler experience an issue, their emergency response teams have foreign language speakers at their disposal in addition to great resources both at their HQ and on the ground in many foreign countries that they can rely upon.”

Still, caution is urged. Even the best travel insurance can not prevent a tsunami from occurring or political unrest to take center stage in any number of countries. Often, travel insurance does not cover natural disasters or other Acts of God so knowing what is and is not covered is important. Beyond insurance and probably more importantly, a trust should be established with a travel service provider, one we can count on.

“Obviously, traveling to countries experiencing civil turmoil such as Egypt, Jordan, and other North Africa/Middle Eastern Countries should be carefully considered prior to purchase. The tour and cruise operators are informed and knowledgeable of the situation on the ground and have proven to be responsible in openly and honestly sharing the risk with consumers and offering options to the travelers if they are uncomfortable in continuing with their travel plans after booking.

That said, the travel community, those who make a living on travel or travel-related products, is starting to speak up about travel in general and if it is safe or not.

“At the same time, it is very important that U.S. travel leaders take the lead in supporting the return of Americans to these important destinations. The industry must support these destinations as tourism is often the number one economic driver and thus, the more jobs created by tourism, the better the security situation will be. It’s a global economy and these situations impact all of us both in the travel industry and outside of the industry.”