Discoveries Along the Danube

For this globe-trotter, Old World Prague & the Blue Danube offered many surprises

Since her retirement, five-time traveler Sue Strickland has seen her fair share of the world. So when her husband Chuck suggested Grand Circle Cruise Line’s Old World Prague & the Blue Danube, Sue jumped at the chance to add a few more destinations to her ever growing list.

The Stricklands share a smile in front of Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna—a long way from their home in Fulton, Maryland.

“My husband had visited Prague and Vienna years ago in college, and remembered them as being beautiful cities. He wanted me to have the opportunity to see them too.” And because neither of the Stricklands had ever been to either Budapest or Salzburg before, the cruise seemed like a perfect opportunity to visit all of these cities in one trip. “A cruise is a good overview of an area,” she says. “You get a taste, and then decide where you want to return to explore more in depth.” A seasoned traveler who has been on 4 trips with Grand Circle’s sister company, Sue admits she had no idea what to expect from this part of the world. But she was excited to find out.

Sue says she was most surprised by Budapest. “I had no idea how beautiful Budapest would be,” she says. In fact, she said that had she known, she and Chuck would have definitely taken the Budapest, Hungary extension—something she recommends to other travelers. As the ship took a scenic evening cruise from the Buda side of the Danube to the Pest, Sue marveled at the sight of the city and the Parliament Building awash in lights. “It was just magical,” she said.

Sue was struck by the beauty of Budapest aglow at night.

The cities continued to delight and surprise Sue as she continued her cruise. “I thought Prague was the most beautiful city I had ever seen until I saw Vienna. Then I thought Vienna was the most beautiful city I had ever seen until I saw Budapest. That gives you an idea of how good the trip was.”

An accomplished amateur photographer, Sue found many photogenic sites to capture—such as this view from the Charles Bridge in Prague.

But before leaving for any vacation, Sue always researches the destinations so she knows exactly what she wants to see there. “It’s good to plan ahead of time,” she advises. “You will know which sites or attractions interest you, when they are open, how much tickets cost then you compare your findings to your itinerary.” Sue really maximized her time in the different cities they visited—taking advantage of her free time, especially. For example, Sue and her husband were able to attend a concert in Prague. “You could go to a concert every night of the week in Prague, Vienna—really everywhere we visited. In fact, while visiting Schoenbrunn Palace, someone walked up and gave us a flyer to a concert that night.”

Sue enjoyed the optional tour to Schoenbrunn Palace, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tour included visits to the palace’s carriage museum, a tour of palace highlights, and time to explore the stunning park and gardens.

Sue also finds the person-to-person aspect of travel of utmost importance. “Travel helps us broaden our understanding and appreciation of the world and its inhabitants,” she said. “The more I travel, the more I realize that we have more in common with other people than we do differences.” In Slovakia, she enjoyed visiting a local kindergarten supported by Grand Circle Foundation—“They had a beautiful set-up,” she said of the school. “The children sang a cute little song for us.” But most of all, she was interested in the very candid way the people she encountered discussed living under Communism—even the Program Directors. “They were all fabulous,” she said. “They were young, but had grown up under Communism. It was interesting to hear their stories about living there before and after.” In fact, these stories inspired Sue to read up on the Velvet Revolution—the non-violent transition to independence in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. “When I got home,” she said, “I wanted to learn more about the country’s history.”

On Day 10, Sue and her fellow travelers stopped in the medieval town of Cesky Krumlov, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Another part of travel Sue enjoys is immersing herself in the local culture. “Try the local food, the local beer, the local restaurants,” she recommends. “This part of the world, for example, is known for its goulash,” she says. “We tried every region’s version.” She also strongly recommends talking with the locals to further deepen your experience. “I asked the woman at the desk of the hotel we stayed at in Prague, the Don Giovanni, to teach my husband and me three useful phrases a day,” Sue says. And although she notes that many people spoke English, learning simple phrases like, “Good morning” and “Thank you” enhanced her overall person-to-person encounters.

An independent traveler, Sue arranged vacations on her own in the past. When asked why she originally decided to give Grand Circle a try, she said, “Back when I was getting ready to retire, I did a lot of research into travel companies and Grand Circle was very well thought of by my peers. Other companies may offer additional luxuries, but you get more for your money with Grand Circle.” She also appreciated the “stress-free” aspect. “I spent hours and hours planning a trip to Germany on my own,” she remembers. “It’s nice to know that as soon as you make your reservation it’s all taken care of.” As for taking a river cruise specifically? “It was really nice to unpack just once. Instead of moving from hotel to hotel, your hotel moves with you!”

On Days 6 and 7, Sue (and her camera!) explored Vienna—one of the beautiful cities she discovered on her Old World Prague & the Blue Danube River Cruise Tour.

Sue also noted that by traveling with Grand Circle Cruise Line, she had experiences and saw sights that she most likely would not have on her own. “I knew of the Hospital in the Rock in Budapest, but may not have decided to go there,” she said, glad of the opportunity to visit someplace new and different. She also found the Discovery Series events to be quite educational. “The Apfelstrudel baking demonstration was very interesting, and not something we could have experienced on our own.”

She says her next discoveries will likely be made on a GCCL French river cruise.

If you’d like to learn more about this trip from our travelers, check out this video featuring Grand Circle Cruise Line travelers like Sue describing—in their own words—what made their experiences in Old World Prague & the Blue Danube so memorable.