Uniworld’s Enchanting Danube River itinerary offers optional active excursions in Budapest, throughout Austria and Passau. // © 2016 Mindy Poder
Feature image (above): For travelers who want to trek through a German forest, a mellow hike in the nature sanctuary Halser Ilzschleifen near Passau is a must. // © 2016 Mindy Poder
Wellness is a buzzword on the rivers these days, and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is among the river cruise lines catering to the fit jet set. On my recent Uniworld cruise, I tried out a few of the active excursions to see how they complement the line’s other wellness amenities, such as its gym, its masseuse and its availability of lighter meal options. Though the amount of active experiences offered varies for each destination, those featured on the eight-day Enchanting Danube itinerary (from Budapest, Hungary, to Passau, Germany), exceeded my expectations in several major ways.
First, I was happy to find out that the active excursions were not offered as alternatives to the included sightseeing portion of the itinerary. In Budapest, for example, I was able to join a walking tour in the morning, return to the ship for lunch and then take off on a three-hour guided bike ride past some of the major city highlights. And in Passau, an extra option of biking or hiking also took place in the afternoon, well after an optional morning walking tour and lunch.
Besides being offered as supplementary add-ons — rather than as alternatives — the active excursions also provided insight into local culture and offered some sightseeing advantages. Biking alongside the Danube in Budapest, I was among locals. Granted, they darted past me, but we shared lanes all the same. Hungarians are avid cyclists, and it was a thrill to attempt to experience the city at the same pace they do.
My favorite active excursion of the itinerary was also the most rigorous offering: a 19-mile bike ride from Durnstein to Melk, Austria, which offered me a chance to sample the famous Danube Cycle Path that runs from Passau to Budapest.
Cruising — this time, on land — offered us a chance to cycle past gruner veltliner vineyards, through old, off-the-beaten-track villages and along the Danube, where we stopped for a riverfront picnic lunch.
During that excursion, I also found out how fast a river cruise boat actually sails: at the speed of an amateur windswept biker.
In Budapest, instead of seeing sites such as Margaret Island, the Parliament Building and the “Shoes on the Danube Bank” art installation from the ship or from a bus, we were able to get up close and personal. After picking up our bikes near the Great Market Hall, we immediately rode on the iconic Liberty Bridge — much more thrilling than walking or driving past it.
And while we biked free of Vox headsets, we still managed to learn some facts. For example, I’ll never forget the Holocaust history I learned when viewing the “Shoes on the Danube Bank” art installation. And in the town of Hals near Passau, a local hiking guide named Werner pointed out that the mushrooms we were seeing still contained radioactive elements — a consequence of a nuclear cloud that spread over the area during Soviet times.
Poisonous mushrooms aside, we were also fed. In Budapest, we enjoyed a small picnic of "pogacsa" (bite-size biscuits topped with cheese). While on a break during our longer bike ride in the Wachau Valley, we tore through our sack lunch of a sandwich, chips, fruit and a Snickers bar, feeling like ravenous kids.
Finally, though the active excursions are included in the price of the cruise, they are supported by on-ground partners. In Budapest, IBikeBudapest met us at our ship and escorted us a few minutes away to our bikes (where we chose the appropriate bike size). From there, we split into two groups of about eight people each, with one bike staffer leading the front and one positioned at the back of the group. Similarly, our bike ride in Austria was also contracted out to a cycling vendor that embedded three guides into our group.
And on our Hals hike, Werner expertly led us through a winding trail past rivers and reservoirs, pointing out the trees and mushrooms of the local area. Firs made the trail smell like Christmas — an almost too appropriate scent for wandering through Bavaria.
On days when active excursions weren’t offered as an organized excursion, I made a point of visiting the small, but well-appointed, gym onboard my ship. For morning people who can get ready quickly — a club that I have not gained admittance to — 7 a.m. classes ranging from yoga to Tibetan chanting are offered daily.
Also, as someone who likes to maximize every moment at port, I found it difficult to manage a massage into my schedule. I had been looking forward to getting one before my trip, but daily fitness excursions — complemented by first-class dining and destination immersion— proved to be equally well and good.