On the Danube with aRosa's Donna

MICHAEL FERRANTE finds much Christmas cheer aboard the aRosa ship Donna as he cruises the Danube towards Vienna

It’s only 5pm but it’s already dark as we push off from the pier to start our four-night Danube Christmas Markets cruise on the aRosa ship, Donna. We’re headed east from Engelhartszell, Austria, through the Wachau passage and on to the blockbuster city of culture, Vienna. We’ll be exploring the city and its smaller cousin, Linz.

Cruise ship staff have a critical role in getting passengers settled and looking after their needs during the voyage. I find the service aboard Donna exceptional. Help with a smile is always forthcoming from the restaurant and bar staff room service attendants and, of course, the 24-hour reception staff, who are most helpful in giving directions and information about the destinations we visit.

The cold prevents us from using the top deck facilities, which include a heated pool, lounge area with tables and chairs, a putting green and giant chessboard. Even the steam rising from the heated whirlpool can’t entice anyone to take a dip. But, there’s always Spa-Rosa to soothe aching feet and muscles after being on the move all day. There are also various massage and body treatments, and facials available to buy.

However the lounge bar proves an ideal place to kick back and enjoy a drink or two from a plush seat while watching the scenery through wrap-around windows. My Premium package allows me to do so without having to reach into my wallet, as many alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are included.

When I enter my Juliette balcony cabin, one of 40 balcony and family cabin configurations among the 100 passenger cabins aboard the ship, I find an ice bucket with a bottle of white wine and fruit basket on the coffee table.

It’s a nice touch and immediately makes me feel at home. The cabin is elegant, spacious at 16sqm, and comfortable. The desk with charge point is large, while the bathroom is generous, with plenty of space to hang clothing and store luggage. There’s also a big-screen TV in front of the bed. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors give the cabins an airy feel and allow me to take in all that beautiful riverside scenery.

Except for one optional themed dinner, all onboard meals are served buffet-style and are included in the fare. I must say, it’s among the best I’ve had on a cruise ship.

The extensive selection of main-course dishes is accompanied by antipasto specialties such as cheeses, soup, and starters such as smoked trout fillet with beetroot salad. Among my favourite main dishes are roast pork knuckles with rosemary sauce, and the crispy duck with cumquat sauce.

There are also many delicious vegetarian dishes on offer every night. Such as another of my favourites, the beetroot patty with horseradish-apple sauce.

A top drop of wine is the perfect accompaniment. aRosa sources its whites and reds internationally, including from Australia (Penfolds Koonunga Hill shiraz cabernet 2017) and New Zealand.

For dessert, I can’t go past the ice-cream and fresh fruit to cleanse the palate. There is also a special dessert dish prepared each night, such as waffles with strawberry compote.

The breakfast and lunch selections are also substantial and come with those nice selections of cold meats and cheeses. German chef Theresia Mair’s made-to-order omelettes for breakfast are my choice ahead of busy shore days.

Another highlight is the Bavarian fruhschoppen (morning get-together over drinks) on the back deck — a pre-lunch treat to herald our arrival in Vienna. I’m served a bratwurst by head chef Norbert Pisak, a giant pretzel the size of a small plate, and offered a local Trappist beer. Our group huddles together under heaters and thick blankets by the back wall — a classic moment on board.

And now we’re heading back towards Linz, capital of Upper Austria. I’m up early, eager to catch my final glimpses of the Austrian landscape from the window of my cabin.

As the sun rises, fog hovers above bleached-white homes perched on cliffs. We edge slowly to the city around Mauthausen. Shops and restaurants stand side by side, forming a tapestry of pastel yellow, blue and ochre figures. A church spire shoots up from behind. Along the entire 200km-plus voyage, more similarly beautiful scenes add colour and form to rolling hills and plains full of semi-naked trees.

This is an edited version of the original, full-length story, which you can read here.

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Michael Ferrante was a guest of aRosa and Bicton Travel. They have not seen or approved this story.


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