Disclosure: We were guests on the Theodor Körner however this in no way impacted the fabulous time that we had. I just thought you should know. :)
Our cycle tour Europe itinerary got a bit convoluted part way through. Itinerary is, in fact, a bit of a strong word for what we actually had. What we had was a basic circle route penciled out on a map that included most of the places that we wanted to see. Our real plan, though was to cycle as much (or as little) as we wanted to, enjoy Europe to its fullest (read: eat and drink everything possible!), and take advantage of every opportunity that came our way. Mission: Accomplished.
Our real plan took us through the beauty of Northern France, through historic Luxembourg, along the south end of the Rhine River in Germany to Freiburg to visit old friends. It saw us up and over the Swiss Alps (by train – we didn’t cycle over the Alps!) to feast on pizza and red wine on the banks of Lake Como before taking an epic 8 train (with seven train switches!) journey to Brussels in Belgium. After drinking as much beer as possible in Belgium, and falling head-over-heals for Amsterdam, we rode along the absolutely-unexpectedly-stunning coast of the Netherlands before entering Germany (again) to cycle the truly-appropriately-named ‘Romantic’ section of the Rhine. Another slightly-less-epic train journey took us to Passau in eastern Germany so we could finish our cycling adventures in style as we boarded the Theodor Körner and biked and cruised along the great Danube river. See, convoluted but a truly successful plan!
So, I wanted to tell you about the Rad & Reisen Cruise because I think it’s an absolutely perfect way for folk (like you) to enjoy cycle touring the best parts of Europe without having to enact a plan like above and cycle the 2500+ KM that we did.
Everyone can cycle tour Europe. Everyone. In fact, I’ve already recommended this exact cruise to my sister-in-law and my friend here in London because I think they would love, love, love it.
Here’s a link to the Passau-Vienna-Passau cruise that we took. I won’t detail the route as you can look on the site for that information (and see all the other options they offer all over Europe) but I will tell you what I liked, and what I didn’t like, about the cruise (because that’s what really matters!)
Generally the cruise works like this. The ship acts as a floating and moving hotel. You check into your cabin at the beginning of the week, leave all your non-cycling stuff there, and go cycling along the river each day. At some point during the day the ship passes you and magically appears at the end of your cycle just when you need it for a hot shower, a cold beer, and a great meal. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Cycle touring perfection. Easy, peasy.
Built in 1965, the Theodor Körner is one of the oldest passenger ships fording the waters of the Danube. Lucky for us though it was completely renovated just this past winter so the facilities on board were brand new and very comfortable.
Our twin, side-by-side, berth cabin was more than I expected from a river boat. The beds were comfy, the window opened, the closet easily held all our stuff, and the full bathroom had a real toilet and a powerful, and hot, shower. During the day one of the berths was tidied away to create more space and was magically made up for us each night while we enjoyed dinner. No, it’s not a massive room but keep in mind that you’re on a ship – it was more than comfortable and, really, you’re only sleeping in there – there is plenty to do on, and off, the ship to keep you out of there!
The Panorama Bar at the front of the ship is where all the action happened. Coffee and cake in the afternoon, before dinner beers, route information meetings, and evening entertainment all occurred in this quite stylish lounge. I enjoyed spending time here except when the entertainer was playing. I really did not like the entertainment. Perhaps it was a demographic thing. Maybe I need to better appreciate old ‘classics’ from the 60′s and 70′s. It may just be that I have a thing against Casio keyboards and electronic accompaniment. It doesn’t matter; it was like nails on a chalkboard and I just couldn’t handle it. Luckily, there were other options.
The Back Deck was where you could usually find us. Comfy lounge chairs, great views, shade from the sun (or, more likely, the rain), and blessed silence. Perfect. Although there wasn’t a bar on the Back Deck we could bring our beers back or ask for service if we didn’t feel like making the hike to the bar.
There were two other lounge areas available; neither of which we really used. The Library is a comfortable, quiet, indoor lounge and the entire roof of the ship is a sun deck also – alternately too hot or too wet to use during our journey.
The ship was really comfortable, and casual. You won’t need to bring your best sparkly dress and high heels, just some comfy clothes and a smile.
I’ll make a quick note about bar prices. I have been on other cruises which, not only did not allow outside drinks on board, but then fleeced me when I ordered a drink. Not cool. This didn’t happen on the Theodor Körner. In fact, we felt no need to bring drinks on board because they served cold, perfectly poured, beer where ever we were for the same price as on shore. Very cool.
Seating is assigned on board; you receive a table number and sit with the same people all week. We were seated at a table for six amongst a few tables of English speakers – thoughtful, as we have had a few meals on our trip with non-English speakers and it can be a bit…quiet. Our group of Australians, New Zealanders, Russians, and Canadians had a great time getting to know each other over our meals. Space was a little tight but we managed although I wouldn’t want to be at a table with a bunch of burly guys.
Breakfast was buffet style with a good variety of bread, meat, cheese, yogurt, fruit, and cereal along with some hot options such as eggs, bacon, sausage and mushrooms. We filled up at breakfast in order to fuel the riding for the day. Those who stayed on board during the day were offered a prepared lunch; those of us riding made up some quick sandwiches which were wrapped up for us with a piece of fruit and a chocolate bar for a picnic lunch later on.
Dinners were good and varied. A menu was placed in our cabin each evening so we could choose our evening meal the next day; usually a choice of meat, fish, or vegetarian. Each meal had an appetizer, a main entree, and dessert. Some meals were better executed than others; I would say that the fish dish was the most consistently good throughout the week. Wine was available at a cost but you could buy a bottle, have a glass or two out of it, and they would save it for you for the next day. Nice. My favourite part was after dinner. Along with the usual coffee service they came around with a bottle of schnapps or digestif to finish off your meal. A different bottle was offered each night; I sampled them all and proclaim them all to be delicious!
Of course we had our own bikes and gear for the cruise, as did a number of others on board, but it was possible to arrive with nothing more than your bike shorts and a smile. You could rent all the gear that you needed; 7-speed, 21-speed, and electric bikes were all available at a very reasonable price. The bikes all appeared in great condition – and were well sized for each participant. Each had a small repair kit, a handlebar bag (which all riders received even if you had your own bike) and a side pannier to store the stuff you’d need for the day. Helmets aren’t mandatory here but you could buy one for a a couple of euros if you wanted to be safe. Each rider was assigned a bike but there were many, many, many more on board so, if you didn’t like the one assigned, another could easily be found. Everyone I spoke to seemed to be quite pleased with the equipment they had rented.
The crew took excellent care of the bikes, whether rented or our own. They stored them away on deck for us each night and had them all lined up and ready to go well before we were ready in the morning. My only complaint here was that it had rained on the bikes one night and my seat was wet in the morning. Petty, I know, but it wouldn’t have taken much effort to have given them all a quick wipe to save our wet bums.
This is what made the experience for us. We’ve spent weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks cycling through Europe. Determining where to go, figuring out the best possible route, discovering interesting stops along the way, searching for places to stay, and always looking for regional cuisine and the best beer we could find. It’s takes a lot of time and effort and there is no doubt that we cycled right by some of the best that Europe has to offer simply because we had no idea it was right there!
On board, each cycling group had been issued a route book which not only included daily detailed maps but also turn-by-turn instructions to accompany the map. Every afternoon Andreas the cruise director held a meeting (once in English and then again in German) to review the next days cycle route. It wasn’t the detailed routing information that we were after though – we could easily get ourselves from Point A to Point B – no, the best part of the meeting were all the secret spots he pointed out along the way. Places that you wouldn’t know were there unless someone told you about them (or you could read the German signposts).
It was the charred mackerel (with ice cold beer) for ‘second breakfast’ one morning, knowing which castles were worth climbing up to (and which brewed their own beer!), refreshing glasses of Most (local apples cider) on hot afternoons, bicycle museums to explore, schnapps tastings on the cycle-only river ferries, platters of delicious food we enjoyed at the taverns he recommended along the way, whiskey and wine tastings, and the best coffee and ice cream must-stops.
Each days cycle had two possible routes – usually one on either side of the river – a recommended route and an alternate route. Andreas described each route (along with each ones hidden secrets) and explained why one would be recommended and one would be alternate so it was easy to choose which route we wanted to take. You can bet we always chose the one with the most tasty options along the way. :)
The riding was easy. Really easy. Downhill-trending-smooth-flat-with-a-tailwind easy. Anyone could ride it easy. You could totally ride it easy. There were some alternate routes and spurs that we did that were not flat and smooth but you don’t have to do those bits. The regular route is mostly on bike only paved or packed gravel paths and only on lightly trafficked roads occasionally – and those roads expect cyclists on them. It is very safe. There were a few families riding with children as young as seven or so and they were fine. Any hills or roads with cars on them were clearly pointed out by Andreas during the route information meetings so there are no surprises. You could totally do this.
It’s beautiful. I’ll let you in on a secret; we preferred riding the Danube to riding the Romantic Rhine. I know! I’m surprised too but the Danube was so peaceful, and green, and quaint. The villages were cuter and friendlier, the people didn’t seem tired of tourists or expect them to be there, there was no railway right along side with trains barrelling along every 10 minutes, and most of the time the only river traffic were the kayakers slowly drifting downstream. It was nice, and calm, and relaxing.
We rode between 35 and 50 KM’s each riding day. There were 5 riding days total and one day off in Vienna (if you didn’t book the biking tour, that is). There was no set starting time each day – we didn’t all leave en masse or ride together, although we all generally left between 8 and 9 AM and tended to ride in the same groups leapfrogging each other along the route all day. We had all day to get to the end point and were free to stop wherever and whenever we wished. We were often the last on board, having taken our time eating and drinking along the way, and we always had plenty of time to get ready for dinner. There is no need to rush the cycling – there is lots of time.
We luckily had no breakdowns or accidents (well, one of our group did have trouble staying on his bike but fortunately suffered no real injuries other than the hit to his pride) but the cruise director is always available by phone should the need have arisen. This isn’t a guided tour but it is well supported.
There were a few excursions available throughout the trip. A bus or bike tour was offered in Vienna – we did the bike tour and really enjoyed it. An evening operetta was also offered in Vienna but opera sounds, to me, like cats screeching and makes my ears bleed so we went to a nearby wine house instead. I think we made the right choice. In the small village of Grein a young resident came and gave us a tour of the historic theatre in town – it was a fun glimpse at what used to make a small town click and a revealing look at how villages like this are struggling now as young people move away and tourism replaces industry in the economy.
Who Else Was On Board?
I wasn’t at all surprised by who our fellow passengers were. Mostly Germans, with a smattering of Belgians and our little international English speaking section. There were a couple of families with children on board but the average age was mid-60′s I would say. It’s an active cruise so people are fit and mobile of course. Although we never had any deep conversations, most people spoke some English and all were very friendly. They certainly were all interested in having a good time – we were often tucked away in bed well before they had danced their last dance in the Panorama Bar in the evening.
So, is it worth it? I can’t decide that for you. We usually travel on a tight budget and Budget Girl (that’s me!) is loathe to spend extra on things that we can do ourselves for a lesser cost (and really, it doesn’t matter how much less, Budget Girl is a hard-ass!). Having said that, I am SUPER HAPPY that we took the cruise. We really enjoyed it, thought the facilities and service were excellent, and got SO MUCH out of having someone do most of the planning work for us.
If you’re wanting to do some cycle touring yourself but aren’t sure if you want to do all the work involved then this is definitely a great option. Like I said, I have already recommended it to my friends and family as I think they would really enjoy it.
You can check out all the Rad & Reisen Tours on their website; they have a bunch, there’s bound to be one where you’re going!