|Style: Downton Abbey afloat|
Seen on Deck: Aussies, Brits and North Americans
SOMETHING had to give, and after nearly a week of irresistible food and drink the button popped off my trousers. Fortunately I was still in my cabin when it rolled across the floor, and after a cursory look for a sewing kit I changed into a more accommodating pair before answering the call of further temptation at the breakfast buffet.
En route I met one of the butlers (as you do) and asked if he had a needle and thread. In my haste I’d overlooked the pack in the wardrobe, but he offered to sew it on himself. I’m sure needlework isn’t in his remit, but when I arrived back my repaired trousers, which had also been pressed, were neatly folded in a cloth-lined box.
Welcome aboard the luxurious river cruise line Uniworld. I was floating through Austria in style on River Beatrice, one of its 13-strong European fleet. An added bonus was indulging my inner Maria on a celebratory trip to mark this year’s 50th anniversary of the Sound of Music. Elisabeth von Trapp, granddaughter of Maria and the baron, sailed with us from Passau in Germany to the Hungarian capital Budapest, entertaining us with songs and the real story behind her family’s dramatic departure from Nazi tyranny in Austria that’s forever immortalised in the timeless film.
Forget climbing over the mountains to Switzerland - “They actually left for Italy by train quite legally and later boarded a ship in England to sail to America,” she explains. “The play and movie soundtrack didn’t contain any of the music which the family performed in concert, that was pure Hollywood.”
During the week Elisabeth performs guitar and song recitals that include many of her own compositions and, of course, songs from the film (her personal favourite is the main soundtrack). Many passengers warm to the theme. One group brings home-made bags made from curtain material, mimicking the flowery makeshift dresses Maria made for the children, and another dons a traditional dirndl dress bought during one of our port stops.
We all have the chance to join in during our visit to Salzburg, used as the location for several of the outside shots. Our first stop is Mirabell Palace and gardens, and inside the private chapel Elisabeth shares more anecdotes before a spot of yodelling and other songs. Then it’s our turn, and we head outside to the flight of stone steps that will strike a familiar chord with all Sound of Music enthusiasts. We line up and Elisabeth picks up her guitar to count us in for a rousing rendition of Do-Re-Mi on the exact spot where the children stood for the scene.
Fellow visitors stop and gawp, and some take photos as we bask in our little piece of limelight. Afterwards a few of us can’t resist a skip around the fountain and through the leafy tunnel also featured in the film.
We sail on to Melk, following the Danube’s curves through the picture postcard UNESCO-listed Wachau Valley. Some jump ship for a bike excursion and meet up with us at the next stop in Melk. The following morning we arrive in Vienna, and as I’ve visited in the past I skip the daily included excursion to do my own thing. One of the joys of river cruising is you always moor up in the heart of towns and cities so don’t need to rely on a coach to reach somewhere interesting. A short walk inland from the river is Prater amusement park, home to the giant Ferris wheel that’s been the Austrian capital’s symbol since 1897 and played a role in the classic film noir The Third Man. It’s worth the queue for tickets to take a spin and get a bird’s eye view of surrounding cityscape.
Back on board, I catch the late afternoon rays lazing on one of the sun deck’s plush loungers. Everything about the ship is classy, from the chandelier-topped lobby and elegant dining room to the serene spa treatment room that’s a long way from the massage bed in a thinly disguised cabin you find on some ships, if indeed there’s one at all.
Carrying 158 passengers, less than the majority of vessels of similar size vessels, the cabins are adorned with antiques and original art. Silk wall coverings, marble bathrooms and Savoir of England beds complete the luxe look. If you want to really splash out, TLTB recommends booking one of the 13 suites that come complete with butler service and trappings such as a Nespresso coffee machine and curious kettle that heats water to different temperatures (I’m only used to boiling a British cuppa, but it probably makes sense to those in the know).
Viorel and Boris - dressed exactly as you’d expect butlers to look - were on hand to pamper to our every whim. Reconfiguring the minibar with our favourite drinks, topping up decanters of spirits to exactly the same level, fetching ice (first time I’ve ever been asked if I’d prefer crushed or cubes), delivering a daily potted newspaper held together with a smart Uniworld clip rather than staples, shining shoes and returning beautifully packaged laundry (topped off with a Viorel or ‘Boris the butler’ card).
There were plenty of other treats elsewhere. In addition to an uncanny knack for remembering drink orders within a day, the bar tenders suggested other drinks based on previous choices, often bringing a new cocktail or brandy to try. And whether your preference is Champagne at breakfast or a speciality coffee to kick-start the day, an open bar is included in the fare.
The restaurant would give any eatery on dry land a run for its money, as my expanding waistline testified. Meals were excellent throughout, with an extensive choice including vegetarian options. A highlight one lunchtime was the appearance of a chocolate grand piano (for display purposes only!) created by one of the chefs.
The latter part of the week took us to the compact Slovakian capital Bratislava before we reluctantly waved goodbye to River Beatrice in Budapest. Sound of Music fans can join Elisabeth von Trapp on two more special themed sailings on July 24 and 31, 2016. On other dates the regular Enchanting Danube itinerary takes in all the sights that we visited, including Salzburg and the Mirabell gardens. In the UK all Uniworld cruises are sold exclusively through Titan Travel.
With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, after an indulgent week on River Beatrice I certainly had plenty to sing about:
Buttons sewed by butlers, and snug pairs of slippers, Champagne on salvers, and drinks with the skipper, a chocolate piano with no need for strings, these are a few of my (new) favourite things…
|Ultimate Luxury: The 300 sq. ft. Owner’s Suite, the only cabin with a bath tub - perfect for soaking and sipping a pre-dinner glass of fizz.|
|Most Indulgent Moment: Warm slippers popped over your tootsies at the end of a massage, with a heated robe waiting on the side.|
|Insider Secrets: Suite guests benefit from shed load of extras, including a fully stocked minibar, daily fruit and cookie plate, canapes, free laundry, dinner in the captain’s lounge and, of course, butlers.|
|The Little Things: Cute ‘do not disturb’ miniature pillows to hang on the door, lovely L’Occitane toiletries, plus heavenly Hermes products in the suites.|
|Junior Luxies: Not unless it’s one of Uniworld’s special family cruises suitable for youngsters aged four and above. |
|Dress code: Casual by day and smart casual at sundowner time (dirndls optional).|
|Dent in the platinum: |
|Luxury Cruise Link: www.uniworld.com , www.titantravel.co.uk|
Jeannine Williamson 1/11/15