Spending time with family and friends is one of the top reasons people travel so it makes total sense that taking a trip as a family, over the holidays, is like giving a gift to each other that will be remembered and cherished.

I went on a Danube River cruise aboard AMA Waterways from Budapest to Vilshofen, Germany, on the New Year’s Eve sailing. There were lots of families celebrating the holidays, some with school-aged children, others with their teenage and adult children. I imagined they may have decided the trip was everyone’s Christmas or Hanukkah gift.

A river cruise on the Danube is spectacular during the holidays as all the cities and towns were decorated for Christmas. Beautiful Christmas trees and lights adorned the squares, buildings, and streets. The sights and smells of the Christmas markets still open the week after Christmas and over New Year’s Eve added to the fun.

The festive atmosphere in the iconic cities of Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Durnstein, Linz, Salzburg, and Passau made the trip extra special. I walked, the narrow cobblestone streets and tree-lined boulevards, hiked up to castles and monasteries and even biked in a few places. Biking gave me a different perspective of these historic places rich in culture, art, architecture, food, wine and beer.

One of the highlights was a Mozart and Strauss concert in Vienna in an impressive 18th century concert hall complete with a glass of sparkling wine during intermission. In Vilshofen, an Oktoberfest party was set up for us with a seven piece German band, giant pretzels and mugs of pilsener and dark beers.

The ship, AMA Sonata, featured comfortable seating in the main lounge perfect for family meet-ups. There was a game area to one side and a cozy café area on the other side for espresso, cappuccinos and lattes. The main restaurant featured two wine rooms for semi private dining the family groups onboard loved to gather for meals.

Larger than average staterooms had plenty of closet space, balconies, great beds, and double-basin bathrooms. The rooms were a relaxing place to return to after an active excursion ashore.

I hope to return to this part of Europe someday. Perhaps in the summer. I would love to do the things I didn’t have time for this trip. There is so much to enjoy.

John Werner

As a 45 year veteran of the travel industry and the President of MAST Travel Network since 2002, John’s career has included 14 years as a travel agency owner. He has served in various capacities on the Board of the Midwest Chapter of ASTA including Treasurer and Vice President. John has also held several positions on the Board of Directors for MAST including Vice Chairman and Board Chairman during the years he owned Travel Group International, a MAST member during the 1990s.