Bookended by stays in Berlin, Germany’s capital and the second-largest urban area in Europe, and Prague, the capital of Czech Republic, our Essence of the Elbe: President's River Cruise is punctuated by memorable stays in Western Europe’s riverside gems, and features 11 President's Cruise Special Events on the main trip and extensions. Because this is one of Grand Circle Cruise Line’s most beloved annual events, our first departure sold out—but we’ve added a second departure on June 15, 2014, featuring all of the same events . Enjoy an exclusive visit with the mayor of Torgau, plus unique opportunities to see a 360-degree view of Berlin from high atop TV Tower; a Dresden Boys' Choir concert; a tour of Proschwitz Castle and its vineyards; and a historical tram ride in Prague, among other events. These features further enrich a Cruise Tour that already includes two nights in historic Berlin; a relaxing cruise along the Elbe, during which you'll enjoy a day in Torgau, where a local resident discusses the signifigcance of U.S. and Soviet troops meeting during the invasion of Germany (an exclusive Discovery Series event). You'll also visit the Wittenberg church where Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses … witness Dresden’s stunning renewal—still in progress since the end of World War II … sail through the dramatic sandstone mountains to Swiss Saxony … and round out your trip with two nights in Prague, featuring an included city tour.
Fly from one of several U.S. gateway cities to Berlin, Germany.
Depending on your departure city, you will arrive either this morning or afternoon. A Grand Circle representative will meet you at the airport and assist you to the hotel, where you’ll get to know the lively surrounding neighborhood during a vicinity walk with your Program Director.
Meet your fellow Grand Circle travelers—including those joining us after their pre-trip extensions to Hamburg, Germany—for a Welcome Drink this evening.
This morning, after an included breakfast at your hotel, it’s time to set out on your first full day of discovery with an included city tour of Berlin.
The second-largest urban area in Europe, Berlin is an enormous city, but most of its most iconic sites are relatively close together. Divided at the end of World War II, blockaded by the Soviets during the Cold War, riven by a cruel grey wall, and finally delivered by the sledgehammers of freedom fighters, Berlin is once again a united city. The city’s lakes and forests provide bucolic retreats in an urban setting, while the city’s divided history has led to a truly unique collection of architectural styles. If you find yourself in the old Soviet sector of the city, keep your eyes open for extant Ampelmannchen, the “little traffic light man” who adorned East German traffic lights. The Reichstag, site of the final defense of the Third Reich, was rebuilt after World War II and now features an enormous glass sphere, emphasizing the transparency and openness of the new Germany. Like so much of Berlin, the future and past are inextricably mixed.
After lunch on your own, use your new-found knowledge of Berlin to explore the city at your leisure this afternoon.
Special President’s Cruise Event: This evening you’ll enjoy a visit to Berlin’s TV Tower for a 360-degree panoramic view high atop Germany’s largest city. From about 680 feet high, you’ll enjoy a vista that includes an aerial view of what you’ve likely seen during the day—the Reichstag (Parliament building), Brandenburg Gate, Olympic Stadium, and Potsdam Square (Potsdamer Platz).
Then you'll enjoy dinner at a local restaurant with your fellow travelers.
After breakfast this morning, you'll transfer to Potsdam, where you'll enjoy a guided tour of Cecilienhof Palace—which is part of the Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally the last palace built by the Hohenzollern Dynasty, and constructed between 1914 and 1917 for Crown Prince Wilhelm and his wife, Cecilie von Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Cecilienhof is now both a museum and hotel. It was here that Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Harry Truman hammered out the details of the German surrender in World War II.
After lunch, you'll transfer to Tangermunde, where you'll board your private river ship.
Special President’s Cruise Event: This evening, enjoy a medieval Welcome Dinner in downtown Tangermunde. You’ll experience the Middle Ages, sharing a multi-course feast in 800-year-old church ruins, and listen to period music. Raise a glass of mead as the sounds of bagpipes and drums resonate over meter-thick brick walls aglow with light only from candles.
After breakfast this morning, you’ll set out for an included walking tour with your Program Director—dating back to 1009, this 1,000-year-old town in the Stendal district is located on a hill overlooking the river. And as you’ll discover, it’s dominated by a distinctive, red brick church—home to an early 17th-century organ designed by one of Germany’s most famous organ makers. You’ll also see its Gothic town hall, a collection of quaint half-timbered houses, and the remains of a fortified castle built by Charles IV (aka Kaiser Karl IV) in the 14th century as a second royal residence, after Prague. Following your walking tour, you’ll have a chance to seek out additional local history and sites during your free time here; your Program Director will be happy to make suggestions. You can spend the afternoon relaxing onboard or explore more of this ancient town.
President's Cruise Special Event: This morning, enjoy a champagne breakfast before setting out for an included tour of the twelfth-century city of Wittenberg. Officially known as Lutherstadt Wittenberg, the cradle of the Protestant Reformation is best known as the town where Martin Luther lived, preached, and began his philosophical dispute with the Catholic Church. You’ll see Wittenberg’s oldest surviving structure—the twin-towered Stadtkirche (“Town Church”) and visit the most important landmarks in the history of Protestantism, including the Augustinian Monastery where Martin Luther first became a Catholic priest and later lived with his family following his excommunication.
Your tour will also take you to the All Saints’ Schlosskirche (“Castle Church”) where the theologian first posted his 95 Theses criticizing the Catholic Church’s practice of selling “indulgences” (Pope-sanctioned absolution for any sin). As an academic who taught theology at the University of Wittenberg, Luther used a typical means of challenging local church authorities to a theological debate. However, the Bishop never responded and, by the time Luther’s 95 Theses reached Rome, the document had been seen all over Europe. Due to his continuing theological criticism of the papacy, Luther was officially declared a heretic and effectively sentenced to death. He escaped arrest and returned to Wittenberg in secret, where he developed the tenets of Lutheranism. The Church never got its vengeance—30 years after writing 95 Theses, Luther died of natural causes. He had successfully started a new denomination of Christianity and inspired others around Europe to do the same.
You’ll have the remainder of the morning to make your own discoveries before returning to the ship for lunch.
Early this afternoon, you’ll join a local family in their home for a special Home-Hosted Kaffeeklatsch—featuring an enjoyable taste of German hospitality and culture over coffee and cake.
President's Cruise Special Event: Tonight, enjoy a special dinner celebrating American Independence Day, followed by the President’s Party.
After a morning of sailing and lunch aboard your ship, you'll disembark in Torgau, where you'll discover this port on an included tour. You’ll visit the town center—restored since the German reunification—and see the town hall built in Renaissance style, and you’ll also witness the monument along the Elbe that was built in honor of the meeting between U.S. and Soviet soldiers.
President's Cruise Special Event: Then, in a rare opportunity interact with a local official, meet and talk with the mayor of this historic city. Torgau is where U.S. Army and Soviet soldiers met toward the end of World War II on April 25, 1945—coined "Elbe Day." When you meet with the mayor, you can inquire about the city's rich past, learn more about the workings of local government, gain insight into the city's culture, or even discuss contemporary issues affecting its citizens today.
Afterwards, enjoy some time on your own to further explore Torgau before returning to your ship for an informative discussion with a local resident, who will discuss their town's historical significance along the Elbe River.
Today, you’ll step ashore at Meissen for a walking tour—encompassing its historic market square, Renaissance architecture, and Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche)—of this ancient town straddling both banks of the river.
While it’s often called the “cradle of Saxony,” Meissen is internationally known for the high-end porcelain of the same name, which has been produced there for more than 300 years. During your tour, you’ll pay a visit to the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory—Europe’s first and oldest continuously running porcelain maker—to learn about its five-stage production process.
Johann Friedrich Bottger, a purported alchemist who had been unable to create gold for Augustus II, may have saved his own life when he presented the porcelain recipe in 1709. Though it’s unlikely that Bottger devised the recipe himself, it was regarded as “white gold” by the monarch, who opened the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory. Prior to this, all porcelain in Europe was imported from China. They began with simple tableware and quickly expanded into a range of exquisitely hand-painted products, ranging from figures to clocks.
President's Cruise Special Event: Reconstructed and enlarged for one of Germany's leading noble families, Proschwitz Castle dates as early as 1380, and today you'll enjoy a tour and visit to its vineyards. You'll also sample local vintages in the castle's wine cellar as you learn about its history and the lineage of its owners.
Today, immerse yourself in the remarkable city of Dresden. A flourishing artistic center until the rise of the Nazis, it was completely destroyed during World War II. Writer Kurt Vonnegut, himself a survivor of the controversial air raids that leveled the Baroque city, chronicled the events in Slaughterhouse-Five. Dresden has since risen from the ashes and been rebuilt from the ground up—reclaiming its place as one of Germany’s intellectual and cultural hubs. Your included walking tour features the city’s historic sights, including the Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche), Dresden Castle (Residenzschloss), the spectacular 18th-century Baroque Zwinger Palace, and the Semper Opera House—set in a large, public square along the banks of the Elbe.
After lunch onboard, you'll have free time to discover Dresden. Perhaps you'll discover more of the morning's highlights: The impressive art collection at Zwinger Palace, or tour the Semper Opera House, which was first destroyed by a fire in 1869 and then again during Allied bombing in 1945, meticulously restored for the second time.
Special President's Cruise Event: Enjoy a concert with Dresdner Kreuzchor, the Dresden Boys' Choir, whose history spans seven centuries. Today the choir has about 150 members ages 9-19, who each attend the Kreuzschule, or School of the Cross, the oldest surviving school in Dresden and one of the oldest in Germany. The choir's repertoire includes compositions from the Baroque period, early 19th century, and modern times, and the boys tour internationally annually. Though their travels bring them to the United States, this is a unique opportunity to see them perform at Church of the Holy Cross (Kreukirche), the largest church in Saxony.
This morning, you’ll disembark in the spa town of Bad Schandau and transfer by motorcoach to the highlight of this region: the Bastei. Millions of years ago, these rocks were at the bottom of the sea and the evident water erosion still evokes the memory of an undersea wonderland. The Elbe Sandstone Mountains attract rock climbers from far and wide with its enticing 1,100 free-standing peaks. The Bastei sandstone bridge high above the green valley connects the series of rock promontories and overlooks the Elbe—an incredible vista from this perspective. The impossibly smooth cliffs and castle-like detailing of the bridge are straight out of a medieval fairy tale.
You'll then return to your ship to set off to enjoy scenic sailing through one of the Elbe River’s most beautiful regions—Swiss Saxony—accompanied by enlightening commentary from your Program Director. For panoramic views of the dramatic Elbe Sandstone Mountains, find a seat on the ship’s Sun Deck. You'll return to Dresden, where you'll enjoy a visit to the Historic Green Vault (Historisches Grunes Gewolbe), which still houses one of the largest collections of treasures in Europe—including the crown jewels and other royal trophies of Augustus II, the German monarch who turned Dresden into a cultural center. Afterwards, spend the afternoon at leisure or continue to explore more of Dresden.
This evening, your final night onboard, join your fellow travelers in the ship’s lounge for the Captain’s Farewell Dinner.
You'll disembark this morning in Dresden and then drive to Litomerice, set at the confluence of the Elbe and Ohre rivers, and considered one of the oldest and most beautiful Czech towns. Here, you'll partake in an informative stroll, followed by time to explore on your own.
This afternoon, you'll transfer to Prague, and upon arriving at the hotel, you'll join your Program Director for a relaxing walk in the vicinity. This evening, enjoy a dinner with your fellow travelers.
Special President's Cruise Event Enjoy an included lunch in a traditional Czech pub modeled after where Budweiser beer was created. You can make your own comparisons between it and Czech brews when you wash down regional specialties, which include game meats, soups, dumplings, and goulash, and enjoy the convivial Bohemian atmosphere.
Prague’s regal beauty spreads on both sides of the winding Vltava River, connected by 16 picturesque bridges. Like Rome and San Francisco, the city is built over a series of hills and its varied architecture spans many centuries.
This morning, begin your exploration of Prague, “City of 100 Spires,” with a visit to historic Charles Bridge. You’ll also see the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral from the outside before transferring to Prague’s historic city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the highlights of your guided tour is the Old Town Square, home to the city’s famous, medieval Astronomical Clock—or Orloj—parts of which date back to the early 15th century. Every hour, crowds assemble below to watch Christ and the twelve Apostles appear at two little windows above the clock face, followed by the skeleton of Death tolling the bell.
Following lunch on your own, join this afternoon’s optional Jewish Prague tour of the city’s storied Jewish district, including visits to several local synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery.
Or enjoy the remainder of the day relaxing or exploring independently. As you’ll discover, Prague boasts many landmarks worth seeing. Perhaps you’ll visit Stare Mesto, the Old Town, with its many wonderful Gothic and Baroque buildings. Or explore St. George’s Basilica, with its tenth-century towers, or enjoy a stroll through the elegant Prague Castle Gardens—home to an impressive collection of marble monuments.
Special President's Cruise Event: This evening, admire a twilight view of Prague as you ride a historical tram to the castle area. The nostalgic red cars, most of which date from 1908 to 1924, trundle along a special route that is only in operation during select times throughout the year. Tonight, enjoy an included dinner at a historic restaurant on the grounds of a Prague castle, with traditional Czech folk music.
After breakfast, you will be assisted to the airport for your flight home. Or, begin your exclusive President's Cruise post-trip extension on the Highlights of Poland: Warsaw & Krakow.