Grand Danube Passage

Grand Danube Passage

Explore nine countries, Old World capitals and charming villages along the mighty Danube River. Enjoy three nights in Prague, Czech Republic, an eight-night Danube cruise and two nights in Sofia, Bulgaria. Discover Roman ruins, castles and fortresses, and feast your eyes on Budapest illuminated at night, the lush Wachau Valley and the Iron Gate Gorge. In several ports, choose from a selection of included excursions, featuring culinary outings, cycling, art tours and more. Enjoy first-class ship accommodations and deluxe hotels.

Trip Itinerary:

October 16 Depart gateway city

AHI FlexAir passengers depart for Sofia, Bulgaria. Please check your luggage from your gateway city to your arrival city. Your claim checks should have the following airport code: SOF.

Meals – Appropriate in-flight meal service

October 17 Sofia, Bulgaria

Arrive at Sofia Airport. Proceed through immigration to the baggage claim area and retrieve your luggage. After completing customs, AHI FlexAir passengers traveling on flights that qualify for the group arrival transfer and Land/Cruise Program passengers who have purchased seats on the group transfer should exit the baggage claim area and proceed to the designated meeting spot, where an AHI Travel representative will meet them. The meeting location will be provided with your final documents.

Transfer to your hotel and check in to Sofia Hotel Balkan. Please note, if you arrive at the hotel before check-in time, your room may not be immediately available.

Free Time: Spend the afternoon at leisure or settle in at the hotel.

Accommodations – Sofia Hotel Balkan
Meals – Appropriate in-flight meal service

October 18 Sofia

Enrichment: A Prologue to the Bulgarian Revival.
The Middle Ages were ending when Ottoman invaders claimed Bulgaria for their empire in the 14th century. Learn about the conditions and events that led to the Bulgarian Revival of the 19th century when Ottoman forces were defeated and expelled.

Discovery: Sofia – City with the Name of Wisdom.
From its ancient history to its unique geographical location, Bulgaria’s capital is a fascinating wonder. Today, discover the many landmarks of Bulgaria’s capital. See the ancient ruins of Serdica. Admire St. George Rotunda, Alexander Battenberg Square, home to the former Royal Palace, and the Cathedral of St. Alexander of Neva.

Free Time: The remainder of the day is free to continue exploring Sofia on your own.

In the evening, join your fellow travelers for a Welcome Reception and Dinner at your hotel.

Accommodations – Sofia Hotel Balkan
Meals – Breakfast and dinner

October 19 Sofia/Vidin

After breakfast, transfer to Vidin.

Savor a memorable lunch and stunning views of rock formations at The Rocks restaurant in Belogradchik.

Discovery: The Ancient City of Vidin.
One of Bulgaria’s oldest towns, Vidin was settled by the Celts more than 2,000 years ago. During a panoramic tour of the town, see the mosque and library of Osman Pazvantouglu and other highlights. Visit the 17th-century St. Panteleimon Church and the Baba Vida Fortress.

Embark your first-class river ship.

This evening, gather with fellow travelers for a Welcome Aboard Reception, followed by dinner.

Accommodations – MS Amadeus Star
Meals – Breakfast, lunch and dinner

October 20 Drobeta-Turnu Severin, Romania/Iron Gate Gorge

Following breakfast, pause in Drobeta to briefly stretch your legs.

This afternoon, sail past the dramatic cliffs of the Carpathian Mountains. Enter the Iron Gate Gorge, one of Europe’s most magnificent natural wonders. The gorge is a passage that is only 530 feet (about 160 meters) wide. Watching the Danube thunder through the gap is a truly thrilling experience. This geological wonder is part of the boundary between Romania and Serbia.

Accommodations – MS Amadeus Star
Meals – Breakfast, lunch and dinner

This evening, gather with fellow travelers for a Welcome Aboard Reception, followed by dinner.

Accommodations – MS Amadeus Silver
Meals – Breakfast and dinner

October 21 Belgrade, Serbia

Enrichment: Modern Serbia.
Get an in-depth look at life in the former Yugoslavian state of Serbia.

Personalize Your Cruise: Choose one of the following excursions.
• Belgrade City Highlights.
Enjoy a visit to Kalemegdan Citadel. This impressive structure served as a fort since Celtic times, but much of its present appearance from the 17th century. The gates of the citadel are medieval, while the churches are affiliated with the Orthodox faith. The tombs are Muslim and the bath is Turkish. These characteristics reflect the different cultures that have shaped Serbia throughout the centuries. Take in the sights as you drive through Belgrade’s main streets. Visit St. Sava Cathedral and the Church of Saint Paraskeva (Sveta Petka), one of the most exquisite of Serbia’s Orthodox churches.
• Eating Like a Local in Belgrade.
Prepare to delight your taste buds today as you take a sensory journey of Serbian gastronomy. From ustipak (donut-like balls) to kajmak (clotted cream) to Rakija (local brandy), you’ll encounter a fusion of spices, textures and belly-pleasing flavors. Along the way, learn about the storied customs and traditions that have influenced today’s food culture in Serbia. Then end the tour with a BBQ of minced meats, sweet treats and local wines.
• Science and Scientist Tour.
Explore the Nikola Tesla Museum. Through interactive exhibits, more than 160,000 original documents and short films, learn how the 19th-century inventor Nikola Tesla left his imprint on wireless technology. The ashes of this remarkable engineer, who is recognized as the father of the electric age and pioneer of radio technology, are also kept on the premises.

Free Time: Spend the rest of the afternoon at leisure in Belgrade. A shuttle will be available for transport to and from the port.

Discovery: An Evening of Folklore.
Following dinner tonight, enjoy an engaging and colorful local folk show on the ship.

Accommodations – MS Amadeus Star
Meals – Breakfast, lunch and dinner

October 22 Pécs, Hungary/Osijek, Croatia/Vukovar

Discovery: Pécs.
Enjoy a walking tour of Pécs, a city known for its Roman ruins and Ottoman mosques, which have been turned into churches. Also, discover the flavors of the region during a wine tasting.

Gather for lunch in a local restaurant.

Discovery: Osijek and Vukovar.
Begin your outing in Croatia’s Slavonia region with a visit to Rural House in Kopačevo. Watch a short presentation and learn about typical traditions of the area during a video. Then taste typical Slavonian products and delicacies including Ajvar, a roasted red pepper and eggplant relish; Šljivovica (or Slivovitz), a homemade plum brandy; and smoked pork sausage. Continue to Osijek, Croatia’s fourth-largest town. This village, which hugs the River Drava, has seventeen parks and an impressive well-preserved historic neighborhood called Tvrda, or “citadel.” Take a walking tour along Osijek’s cobbled streets and see its collection of baroque buildings, military complexes and university facilities. See the plague column, built in 1729. This monument gives thanks for protection from a plague outbreak, which killed a third of the city’s population.

Conclude your excursion today with a visit to Vukovar, the “town on the Vuka River.” Vukovar’s infrastructure, including most of its monuments and baroque buildings, was mostly destroyed in 1991 during a three-month siege by the Yugoslav National Army. As a symbol of strength and courage, Vukovar began rebuilding and restoring its treasures in 1997 and today, many buildings have been returned to their former glory. Embark on a panoramic tour of the historical city center. Along the way, see baroque arches along the main street, churches, palaces and many other beautiful buildings.

Rejoin the ship and sail on to Budapest.

Accommodations – MS Amadeus Star
Meals – Breakfast, lunch and dinner

October 23 Budapest

Personalize Your Cruise: Choose one of the following excursions.
• Highlights of Budapest.
This capital was once two cities — Buda and Pest —o n opposite sides of the Danube, which flows through the center of the visually spectacular and united city. Visit Heroes’ Square, the Opera House and the Gothic-style Parliament building. Enjoy stunning panoramic views from Fisherman’s Bastion and marvel at the stunning architecture of the 700-year-old Matthias Church.
• Living Local.
Take a guided tour of Budapest’s bustling Great Market Hall, built in the 19th century. Peruse the food and craft stalls that span three floors of this historic structure. Continue to a local coffee house to learn how pastry chefs craft the flakiest, tastiest strudels. Enjoy a piece of strudel with coffee or tea and a sampling of Palinka, a Eastern European schnapps.
• Jewish Interest Tour.
Explore Budapest’s Jewish Quarter, including a visit to the 19th-century Great Synagogue, the largest in Europe. The synagogue includes Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park, home of the Holocaust Memorial — or Emanuel Tree — an artistic rendering of a willow tree inscribed with the names of Hungarian Jews lost during the Holocaust. Continue to the Glass House, which gained notoriety as a hiding place for Jews during the Holocaust, and Shoes on the Danube, a moving tribute to the Jews who fell into the Danube after being shot by Nazis in the mid-1940s. Visit the Páva Street Synagogue and end your tour at the Holocaust Memorial Centre.

Free Time: The afternoon is at leisure for exploring on your own.

Discovery: Budapest by Night.
As your ship departs, delight in the sparkling, awe-inspiring panoramas of Budapest at night. The city’s architecture bordering the Danube is illuminated with vivid auburn and butter-toned hues, providing an unforgettable moment during your journey. Sail past the beautiful Parliament, Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle, Chain Bridge and more while admiring their rosy reflections cast on the Danube’s surface.

Accommodations – MS Amadeus Star
Meals – Breakfast, lunch and dinner

October 24 Bratislava, Slovakia

Enrichment: The Velvet Revolution.
Learn about the Velvet Revolution, a pivotal event that led to the end of communism in Czechoslovakia and preceded the country’s split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Personalize Your Cruise: Choose one of the following excursions.
• Old Town and Cafe.
Enjoy enchanting Bratislava, a medieval town with a rich past. Marvel at St. Martin’s Cathedral, once the site of Hungarian coronations. See the Slovak National Theatre and St. Michael’s Gate, the only remaining gate of the city’s medieval fortifications. Continue to Primate’s Palace, where Hungarian archbishops spend their winters. Then visit a café for a pastry tasting.
• Old Town and Music.
Once the stage for Mozart, Beethoven, Hummel and more, Bratislava has a storied musical history. Explore Old Town, focusing on the venues associated with these renowned composers. Then go inside a rococo palace where a special music concert will be performed.
• Iron Curtain Bike Tour.
Enjoy a leisurely bike tour along the Danube that explores the Slovak-Austrian border, once part of the Iron Curtain. As you ride on both the left and the right banks of the Danube, enjoy vistas of the marvelous Bratislava castle, see a pre-WWII bunker and learn about the area’s urban transformation.(Active)

Accommodations – MS Amadeus Star
Meals – Breakfast, lunch and dinner

October 25 Vienna, Austria

Enrichment: Timeless Vienna.
Discover the history of Vienna, an elegant and timeless city.

Personalize Your Cruise: Choose one of the following excursions.
• Imperial Vienna.
Explore the Imperial Apartments of Hofburg Palace and admire their sumptuous appointments, then drive along the Ringstrasse, one of the most magnificent boulevards in the world. See the University, the oldest in the German-speaking countries, the Houses of Parliament, the Opera House and monuments to Johann Strauss and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
• Klosterneuburg Monastery and Wine.
Journey north of Vienna to nearby Klosterneuburg. Overlooking the Danube is its 12th-century monastery, home to the gilded copper Verdun Altar and a wine estate, the oldest in Austria. Explore the monastery’s winding cellar as you learn about the craft of wine making. Enjoy a tasting.
• Schönbrunn Palace.
Visit this grand palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the former residence of the imperial family. See the Hall of Mirrors where six-year-old Mozart played for Empress Maria Theresa. Admire the ornate State Apartments with their opulent ceiling frescoes, and stroll through the estate’s extensive gardens, resplendent with fountains and topiary.

Free Time: Spend the afternoon at leisure in Vienna, perhaps stopping in a café for a Viennese coffee and Sacher Torte, the famous Austrian cake.

Discovery: Viennese Waltz.
Following dinner, gather with your fellow travelers for a waltz lesson. Delight in an evening of Viennese Waltz as your Austrian ballroom guides pass on secrets of ballroom etiquette, tips for a successful ballroom occasion and how to master steps of the original Viennese Waltz. Try the steps yourself and glide across the dance floor!

Accommodations – MS Amadeus Star
Meals – Breakfast, lunch and dinner

October 26 Dürnstein/ Melk

Personalize Your Cruise: Choose one of the following excursions.
• Dürnstein Walking Tour.
In quaint Dürnstein, where King Richard the Lionheart of England was held captive during the Crusades, tour baroque architecture, pass by gorgeous scenery, see vineyards that produce award-winning wine and visit the magnificent Stiftskirche, known for its blue tower.
• Cycling the Danube.
Considered one of the most beautiful towns in the Wachau Valley, Dürnstein offers an ideal setting for a leisurely and scenic bike ride. Along the way, see quaint villages set against the Danube and lush vineyards of the Wachau Valley with an expert guide. (Active)
• Wachau Winery.
Head out of Dürnstein, passing stunning vineyards and lush scenery en route to a local winery, where you will enjoy a tour and samples from its cellar.

Enjoy daytime sailing through the picturesque Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the finest landscapes in all of Europe. Along the way, admire pretty villages clustered around charming churches and medieval castles.

Discovery: Frühschoppen!
Laze on deck and join the crew for a fun social event. Eat, drink and be merry as you enjoy the German tradition of drinking beer with Brezeln (pretzels), Weißwurst (sausages) and mustards.

Discovery: Melk Abbey.
Visit Melk’s Benedictine abbey, an architectural jewel with impressive interiors that also is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The baroque building dates from 1736, and an amazing view of the mighty Danube waits on the abbey’s terrace.

Accommodations – MS Amadeus Star
Meals – Breakfast, lunch and dinner

October 27 Passau, Germany

Discovery: Picturesque Passau.
Nestled at the confluence of the Danube, Ilz and Inn rivers, Passau has been called “one of the most beautifully situated towns in the world.” See the many highlights of this delightful city including Niedernburg Abbey, the medieval Veste Oberhaus and St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

Join your fellow travelers for a Farewell Aboard Reception on the ship, followed by dinner.

Accommodations – MS Amadeus Star
Meals – Breakfast, lunch and dinner

October 28 Prague, Czech Republic

This morning, disembark the ship and transfer to Prague. Check in to the Art Deco Imperial Hotel, located just steps away from Prague’s Old Town and many fantastic landmarks.

Free Time: Spend the day at leisure in Prague or settle in at the hotel.

Accommodations – Art Deco Imperial Hotel
Meals – Breakfast

October 29 Prague

Discovery: Prague Old Town and Charles Bridge.
Visit the famous Old Town Horologe (Clock Tower), whose 15th-century astronomical clock still works on its original system of construction. Stroll along Charles Bridge, the city’s most familiar landmark. Savor this gem of medieval architecture and after admiring the view you’ll be on the left bank in Hradcany, where many of Prague’s most famous sites are located.
Free Time: Spend the rest of the day at leisure and make your own discoveries in Prague.

Accommodations – Art Deco Imperial Hotel
Meals – Breakfast

October 30 Prague

Personalize Your Cruise: Choose one of the following excursions.
• Lobkowicz Palace and Museum.
Visit this luxurious 16th-century palace, which is located inside the Prague Castle Complex. See stunning masterpieces, works of art, weapons, ceramics and musical instruments from the 12th-20th centuries. Admire Romanesque and Rococo artifacts and learn about the legacies of the noble Lobkowicz family, whose storied history spans seven centuries.
• Prague’s Jewish Quarter.
Explore the Jewish Quarter and the Prague National Jewish Museum. Founded in 1906, the museum has weathered turbulent times under both Nazi and Communist rule. Today, it is a showcase of Jewish history and religious treasures. The collections are housed in the quarter’s six synagogues, and the exhibits provide a comprehensive look at Jewish history in Eastern Europe.
• Art Nouveau and Cubist Walking Tour.
Uncover the captivating 20th-century architecture adorning Prague’s streets and squares. As you wend your way through the city, see buildings built in the art nouveau and cubist fashions, and learn to recognize the different elements of these architectural styles, such as their unique angles, geometric patterns and textures. Visit elaborate structures and listen to fascinating historical accounts along the way.

Free Time: Spend the afternoon at leisure and make the most of your last day in Prague.

Tonight, gather with your fellow travelers to recount your Danube adventure during a Farewell Reception at the hotel.

Accommodations – Art Deco Imperial Hotel
Meals – Breakfast

October 31 Depart for gateway city

After breakfast, AHI FlexAir passengers traveling on flights that qualify for a group transfer and Land/Cruise Program passengers who have purchased seats on the group transfer depart for Prague Ruzyně Airport for your return flights home. Your Travel Director will provide the details.

Meals – Breakfast and appropriate in-flight meal service

NOTE: Itinerary schedule may change due to local conditions. Many excursions in this program involve an element of walking on cobblestones, unpaved paths or other uneven surfaces.



It was our first river cruise and our first “EXPLORERS” trip. We had been to Europe before but not to the Danube cities. All the arrangements were wonderful. Having local and knowledgeable guides was so interesting!

- Bo and Judy Batchelder, 2015

We’ve always enjoyed sharing our travel experiences with fellow U of I EXPLORERS.

- Nina Jacobsen, 2015

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