Today was the start of our week-long A-ROSA river cruise Danube classic along the second longest river in Europe through the countries of Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. Before we report in detail about our individual stations and city tours in the next contributions, we give here some general information and report about our experiences about a river cruise with A-ROSA on the Danube and our ship A-ROSA Bella.
Table of contents
About A-ROSA Flussschiff GmbH
A-ROSA Flussschiff GmbH is a German shipping company with currently 11 ships, which has been offering cruises on several European rivers such as the Rhine, the Danube, the Main, the Moselle, the Seine and the Rhone for 15 years. Here is an overview of all current river cruises of A-ROSA. As part of Deutsche Seereederei GmbH, A-ROSA was founded in 2000 and began operations in 2002 with two ships on the Danube. The focus of the trips is on enjoyment, wellness, sports and experience. Currently (as of August 2017) the fleet includes the following river cruise ships: A-ROSA Aqua, A-ROSA Bella, A-ROSA Brava, A-ROSA Donna, A-ROSA Flora, A-ROSA Luna, A-ROSA Mia, A-ROSA Riva, A-ROSA Silva, A-ROSA Stella and A-ROSA Viva.
Our itinerary “Danube Classics”
A-ROSA offers different river cruises on the Danube with different durations and destinations, depending on the season. We had consciously opted for the 7-day route “Danube Classics – On calm water through the waves of European history”, as this route connects the big metropolises (with sufficient lying time), natural highlights and UNESCO World Heritage Sites – for us a perfect combination. The route took us from Passau to Engelhartszell, via Vienna, Esztergom, Budapest, Bratislava and Melk back to Engelhartszell and Passau.
Passau (bus transfer from Central Station)
Passau (bus transfer to central station)
Things to know about the Danube
The Danube is the second longest river in Europe after the Volga River with a length of 2,857 kilometers and the only major river of the continent that flows from west to east. On the route from Engelhartszell to Budapest, we covered 553 km on the Danube on our journey with A-ROSA Bella, passing through eleven locks.
The Danube flows from its source in the Black Forest to the mouth of the Black Sea, 10 countries (Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine). The most famous cities directly on the river are Ulm, Passau, Linz, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Galai and Belgrade. The Srebarna Biosphere Reserve in Bulgaria, the Danube Delta in Romania (the Danube estuary on the Black Sea) and the Wachau Cultural Landscape are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Information on how to get there
Our first question, of course, was: Why does the river cruise actually start from Engelhartszell in Austria and not directly from Passau in Germany? We have found the following information:
“River travel provider Arosa will no longer operate cruises from Passau in 2016. The congestion in the high-frequency tri-river city was “a recurring criticism,” explained COO Markus Zoepke at the catalogue presentation for press representatives in Munich on Wednesday. The nearby Upper Austrian municipality of Engelhartszell will be the new embarkation port. This made it possible to avoid the Jochenstein lock and the incalculable waiting time there, Zoepke continued.” [Source: Tourism Current]
Already a few weeks before the arrival day we received our travel documents from A-ROSA by post. This is a small booklet in which you can get information about the journey, information about the excursion program, the luggage trailers as well as vouchers for the transfer or other services that have already been booked. What’s quite good: On the back of the booklet there is also a mobile phone number on it, with which you can reach someone on the respective ship (with us A-ROSA Bella) in case of emergency. That we really needed this number… we will be there later 😉
Up to two weeks before arrival, you must enter all your data (passport number, nofall number, etc.) online in the ship’s manifest, so that the shipping company already has all the important data of the passengers. This is relatively easy within a few minutes.
And at some point he is there: the day of the arrival. We decided to travel by Deutsche Bahn, as this was more convenient and cost-effective. For the round trip to Passau we paid only 42 eurosper person. You can also travel from Darmstadt for about five hours, but you can read, sleep or simply enjoy the passing landscape. Unfortunately, the five-hour journey turned into eight hours for us, because there was a huge construction site near Nuremberg and our ICE to Passau failed. So we were only half an hour before the ship left passau in Passau and had to come to the drop-off point in Engelhartszell, which is about 27 km from Passau. We had already called the ship when we were stranded in Nuremberg, so everyone knew that we would not make it on time. But this was not a problem at all for the crew of A-ROSA. Around 5.05 p.m. (as if only 5 minutes late) we were also the last to arrive on the ship. After a warm welcome by the hotel manager and a quick check-in, we were able to start.
On the first evening, all passengers will be provided with a safety briefing on board. It’s a bit like a sea rescue exercise on a deep-sea cruise – with the small difference that you don’t have to go to a sample station and don’t have to put on life jackets. The security briefing takes place directly in the lounge as part of a small film that everyone has to watch. Afterwards, all the officers were introduced and, together with the guests, started the upcoming river cruise.
The river cruise ship A-ROSA Bella
Things to know about
The “Bella” was built in 2002, making it the oldest ship in the A-ROSA fleet. With its 100 double cabins, it can accommodate a maximum of 242 passengers and 49 crew members. It is 124.5 metres long and 14.5 metres wide. We have learned that the maximum speed of the ship is 24 km/h. We drove downstream mostly about 17 to 19 km/h and upstream 10 to 12 km/h. On the 553 km long route between Engelhartszell and Budapest there were eleven locks, which we had to pass by boat. If there were many ships in front of us, we even had to queue here, because there were not enough chambers or we simply fit into the chambers alone with the width of the “Bella”. Other “narrower” ships have even fit in for two.
The deck and cabin plan
This is the deck and cabin plan of the identical ships A-ROSA Bella, A-ROSA Donna, A-ROSA Mia and A-ROSA Riva.
The different booking categories
If you book an A-ROSA river cruise, you have the choice between three different booking categories. Essentially, the rates for meals and drinks as well as some other subtleties (such as transfer, reduced prices in the SPA, etc.) differ.
A-ROSA Basic fare: This fare includes only the breakfast buffet, in addition to the cruise and the cabin itself.
A-ROSA Full BoardPlus: This rate includes lunch and dinner as well as afternoon coffee & cake in addition to breakfast. For this service you pay 29 euros per person per night before the trip. If you decide to do so on the ship, it will be 39 euros per person per night.
A-ROSA Premium all inclusive: Definitely the all-round carefree fare, which includes (almost) everything. All meals, (almost) all drinks as well as transfer to the ship. We had this tariff and there was really nothing missing!
The facilities on board
As you sail along the Danube, there are all sorts of ways on board to pass the time. Either you lie lazy in the sun and relax in the fresh air, hop into the pool, enjoy the view outside from the sauna, play shuffleboard, chess or a game of mini golf on the sun deck, power yourself out in the fitness area, relax in the SPA-ROSA, try the puzzle or treat yourself to a refreshing drink at the bar. You never get bored on board and before you know it, you’ve already moored at a pier and are ready to explore the surroundings.
For all premium all-inclusive guests, there is free WIFI on board, but only in public areas. Unfortunately not in the cabins. However, since EU roaming charges have been eliminated since June 2017, it is no longer a problem to be online normally with your mobile phone. On the ship there are two bars, a café bar right in front of the restaurant and a lounge bar located at the bow of the ship. We usually sat down in the lounge bar after dinner, drank a delicious cocktail and let the day end. On some evenings there was a musical evening program from the ship’s own DJ, which we mostly cancelled because we were so broken by our city explorations 🙂
Our outdoor cabin with French balcony
From home we have already looked at photos of the cabins on the A-ROSA homepage, so that we get an approximate impression of how we will “live” in the one week. We had a 2-bed outdoor cabin with a French category C balcony. Our cabin was 16 m2 in size and was on deck 2. On the A-ROSA ships there are by the way only outdoor cabins, i.e. enough daylight is always provided. Compared to the interior cabins of the large cruise ships, this is really an advantage.
The furnishing of the cabin was very practical: if you enter the cabin, there is the bathroom on the right or left at the entrance and a spacious wardrobe and a shelf on the other side. The suitcases disappear under the bed for the first week without any problems, so that they do not stand in the way. At the window there is a desk where the TV has found its place and an armchair with a small side table. By the way, you don’t have to do without the German channels in the case of television. All standard enders (ARD, ZDF, RTL, Sat.1, Pro7, etc.) are available. Every evening, the A-ROSA Journal is located at the cabin door, which provides information about the following day: be it the buffet times, excursion tips or the evening program – nothing escapes here.
The food on board the A-ROSA Bella
A lot is done on board A-ROSA for the excellent catering of the guests. Our premium all-inclusive fare included all meals of the day, so we were well catered for.
The dinner was held every day under a special motto, such as “Bavarian”, “Austrian”, “Asian” or “Hungarian”. There was an extensive selection of cold and warm appetizers, main courses and desserts. We also found it remarkable that the foods were always labelled, depending on whether lactose, gluten or the like were included. For guests with food intolerances definitely a huge advantage.
The (only) restaurant on board A-ROSA Bella offers enough seats for all guests, both indoors and outdoors. You have a free choice of seats and also no fixed meal times. It was usually periods of 1.5 to 2.5 hours during which one could “jump on the buffet”, so that it was distributed very well and you never had to wait long at the buffet. Water is already available free of charge on the tables; more drinks must be ordered from the waiter. This sometimes took a little longer (up to 15 minutes), so we were already finished with the food before we had our drinks. So it is better to order something to drink first and wait until it comes and then get something to eat at the buffet. There are unfortunately no tap stations with drinks in the evening, in the morning already (for example juices and tea).
On our trip there was a special evening with an exclusive dinner,which you could book in addition – at an extra cost. This was on the one hand the “A-ROSA Dining Cucina Italiana” and the “A-ROSA Dining exclusive Wine & Dine”. Both dinners were in a separate area in the restaurant. We were there for the Italian evening, for which 14 other guests had also registered. A 4-course menu was served, at the sight of which the water in the mouth was running together. Everything was super nicely decorated, great prepared and also tasted 🙂 So if you want to experience the icing on the cake – away from the buffet – we can definitely recommend the exclusive dinner.
A boat tour with a look behind the scenes
On the last day on the ship, an exclusive boat tour was offered in the morning, which offered us the opportunity to take a unique look behind the scenes of A-ROSA Bella. With a group of about 15 other interested guests, we went on tour with the hotel manager through the most diverse areas of the ship. Be it the ship’s own laundry, the bar drinks warehouses, the kitchen, the crew area, the machine area or the bridge (which is actually called the wheelhouse on a rivership). We were able to experience really interesting things here that you weren’t so aware of before. Did you know, for example, that the wheelhouse can also be retracted during bridge crossings and that the captain then sits with the wheelhouse in a cavity behind the bar? Or that there is no lifeboat on the ship? In between, we were able to talk to crew members who reported on their daily lives, such as the captain, the senior technical officer or even the chef. A really very exciting one-hour tour, which is recommended to anyone who has always wondered what is going on in the background of a ship.
The guest structure at the A-ROSA Bella
Are river cruises really “floating retirement homes”? This is a point we were repeatedly approached before our river cruise. And we have to admit that we also thought that the average age on A-ROSA is between 60 and 75 and we will definitely be the youngest on board. But that is not the case. Since there were still summer holidays in some federal states, we had some families with their children on board and also grandparents with their grandchildren. But there were also couples who were in their mid-40s/early 50s, up to retirees in their mid-60s. A pretty mixed audience, then.
Information About the excursions on board
Before each stop, on the eve of the day, there are so-called harbour guides at the reception,which provide all sorts of information about the city itself and its main attractions. A small city map is also printed on it. In addition, there are also larger city maps of the cities at the reception, but also of Melk, which can be picked up there. Really a great service – this saves you the walk to the tourist information on land.
If you want to explore the surroundings on land, you can choose between an organized excursion of A-ROSA or an individual exploration tour. We have explored the major metropolises of Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava and the World Heritage Site Melk itself on foot. Only for the esztergom stop we had joined a guided eight-hour tour “From Danube Knee to Budapest” from A-ROSA.
Once you have chosen a way to explore the city, you have to pick up blue land gang cards at the reception before leaving the ship. On these small credit card-sized cards there is the cabin number on it, an emergency number of the A-ROSA Bella (you never know if something will happen) and a door opening code, which you need to get back on board. At most ports, the ship’s door is locked so that no other people have access to the ship. The ship needs the blue cards to know who is on land and who is back on board. Before each deposit, it is checked whether all the cards (and thus all guests) are back. We find this system a bit cumbersome, because it can happen that when you leave the ship you forget the cards or on your return you miss to hand them over at the reception. So, just before dropping off, there was often an announcement as to whether everyone had also handed in their country maps. A system in which you simply scan your cabin card when leaving and entering the ship directly at the entrance might be a little more modern here.
Information on departure
We will report on our complete trip in our next contributions. But at some point, unfortunately, it is there, as with any other holiday: the day of departure. The night before there was a very nice get-together with the crew in the lounge. The whole crew came here to say goodbye to the guests and to start the beautiful journey with us once again. The hotel manager couldn’t resist counting down what we ate in the week: 2,000 eggs, 250 kg of potatoes, 280 kg of fish, 330 kg of meat, 1,900 breakfast rolls, 157 liters of cream, 31 m2 of cake, 44 barrels of beer and much, much more.
We knew that we would be docking in Engelhartszell at 7 a.m. on the day of departure. Two days before departure, all guests had an information sheet on the departure arrangements at their cabin door, on which one had to tick whether you are leaving individually or – if you have booked an A-ROSA transfer – at what time the train goes back home or to which car park you want to be taken. Depending on the “departure type” you get one of the differently colored suitcase tags, so that the luggage can be sorted by the crew on the day of departure. Since we had a transfer with A-ROSA back to Passau station in our package and had a late ICE in the afternoon, we got a yellow suitcase trailer. The luggage should have been placed in front of the cabin door by 6.30 a.m. at the latest, so that there is enough time for the suitcase sorting.
Unfortunately, the night before our departure day we stood at a lock for 3.5 hours – almost in the queue behind six other ships – so unfortunately we did not make it to Engelhartszell on time. The crew therefore quickly rescheduled and decided that the majority of the passengers would already leave the ship at the Danube sling in Schlögen, which is about 15 kilometres away from Engelhartszell. Sounds little at first, but the ship would have taken 1 hour and 20 minutes by then. Around 8.30 a.m. we set up in Schlögen and one by one all passengers left the ship and were invited to the respective buses. In the meantime, the luggage had already been loaded into small trucks and was on its way to the station. This cooperation between A-ROSA and Deutsche Bahn is really super and insanely convenient. The luggage is simply handed over 20 minutes before the departure of your train by a railway employee directly on the track.
We had deliberately booked a late train back to Darmstadt in the afternoon, so that we still had enough time to explore the 3-river city of Passau.
10 questions for the hotel manager of A-Rosa Bella
During our stay aboard the A-ROSA Bella we were looked after by a nice team, which is led by Balazs Benacs. Here’s our little interview with him to learn more about life aboard a river cruise ship.
1. What makes your work as a hotel manager on board the A-ROSA Bella?
I am the host on board and responsible for the hotel operation. A full-time job with passion.
2. Many think that a deep-sea cruise is comparable to a river cruise. Can you describe the biggest differences from a hotel manager’s point of view?
That’s what a lot of people think. In addition to the geographical differences of the shipping areas, river ships are much smaller and more familiar. Contact with guests is made faster and you look forward to personal communication with regular guests. From a working point of view, I can say that the smaller a company is, the more versatile the tasks are.
3. The “Bella” is the first ship in the A-ROSA fleet from 2002. How do the newer A-ROSA ships differ in size, equipment, etc.?
The 4 Danube Sisters (Bella, Donna, Mia, Riva) are the first ships of the A-ROSA fleet and also the widest. The sister ships on the Seine, Rhone and the Rhine are a little narrower and structurally slightly different. However, the concept of A-ROSA runs through the entire fleet (11 ships) and the latest ships are of course very modern, yet elegantly designed. I can only recommend everyone to experience the entire fleet.
4. In the run-up to our trip, we were often approached by the audience of a river cruise. Can you tell us something about this specifically about A-ROSA Bella?
You put up the cliché that cruises are something for the older generation. I can say that cruises are more attractive than ever. The ships of the A-ROSA fleet are highly recommended for all age groups.
5. What can you expect as a guest when booking a cruise with A-ROSA?
Beautiful and authentic ships, a modern spa area, active holidays with biking tours, a well thought-out food concept and beautiful destinations and landscapes.
6. On our journey we have reached three beautiful cities on the Danube. What are your personal highlights of Vienna?
In a traditional metropolis like Vienna, there are countless highlights. In summary: architecture, cuisine and leisure activities.
7. Can you give us your personal recommendations about Budapest? What should you not miss in this city?
A walk along the banks of the Danube on both sides of Budapest. Especially recommended in the evening when the lights turn on. Otherwise, the same principle applies as in Vienna or other metropolises and big cities.
8. And what insider tips do you have about Bratislava?
On the shore opposite the old town there is a houseboat, which has been converted into a restaurant, bar and own brewery. Very modern and authentic with good food and excellent beer.
9. Was there a special experience you experienced on board a ship?
We had a guest on board, who was in his 100th year. celebrated our birthday. It was really special.
10. You have now travelled to over 80 countries in the world. Which one is remembered and why?
Absolutely. Burma, in other words Myanmar. I was there a good seven years ago. The country is one of the poorest countries in the world, you can feel and notice the shards of the military dictatorship. Nevertheless, people are very friendly, open and radiate an inner satisfaction despite the events of the past decades. A trip to the land of the pagodas is a must-have.
Dear Balazs, we thank you for the interview and the great stay with you on board. 🙂
Our video of the A-ROSA Bella
Finally, we made a short video of the A-ROSA Bella with our new DJI Mavic Pro drone. However, we only had 20 minutes before the ship left.
All travelogues from our Donau River CruiseA-ROSA offers various river cruises on the Danube with different durations and destinations depending on the season. We had deliberately chosen the 7-day route "Danube Classic - On calm waters through the waves of European history", as this route connects the big metropolises (with sufficient mooring time), natural highlights and UNESCO world heritage sites - a perfect combination for us. The route with the "A-ROSA Bella" took us from Engelhartszell, via Vienna, Esztergom, Budapest, Bratislava and Melk back to Engelhartszell and Passau.
Austria: A-ROSA - 7 days river cruise on the Danube
Austria: Vienna – Tourist Attractions, Things to do & Photo spots
Austriah: Vienna – Schönbrunn Palace, Belvedere Palace & Prater
Hungary: Danube Knee, Esztergom, Visegrid and Szentendre
Hungary: Budapest – Travel Guide & beautiful photo spots at night
Hungary: Budapest – Tourist Attractions & Things to do on the Buda site
Hungary: Budapest – Tourist Attractions & Things to do on the Pest side
Slowakia: Bratislava – Tourist Attractions, Things to do & Photo spots
Austria: Wachau – World Heritage Site on the Danube & Melk Abbey
Germany: Passau - Tourist Attractions, Things to do & Photo spots