This Exclusive River Cruise Is the Danube's Best-kept Secret — and You Can Sail It With Travel + Leisure's Editor in Chief

Mingle With Austrian nobility, learn to yodel, and enjoy after-hours tours on this Uniworld journey from Salzburg to Budapest.

Uniworld Cruise ship exterior in Europe and portrait of Travel+Leisure Editor in Chief, Jacqui Gifford

Courtesy of Uniworld Cruises; Courtesy of Travel+Leisure

I will never forget my first European river cruise, which took me from the heart of Paris up to the green fields and beaches of Normandy. I would wake up to morning mist, hovering over the banks of the Seine; easily walk off the ship to explore charming towns, such as medieval Rouen; and sample local French wine and cheese, fresh pastries, and more, all in abundance on board.

My experience was with Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, a Travel + Leisure reader favorite and World’s Best Awards winner thanks to its excellent service and stylish vessels (many, like the S.S. Joie De Vivre, take their design cues from the destination they sail in). This year, I will be hosting a 10-day T+L reader sailing with Uniworld on their 150-passenger S.S. Maria Theresa, as we journey from Salzburg to Budapest along the Danube River.

The trip, inspired by a fall “mystery cruise” that proved to be a huge hit with travelers, kicks off on June 2 and ends on June 11. Amenities on board the Maria Theresa include lavish Baroque-inspired public spaces plus a heated indoor pool, as well as staterooms with handcrafted Savoir Beds of England and marble-clad bathrooms. Everyone (including me) is into maximalism these days, and the ship’s royal blue, white, and gold color scheme, a tribute to the former Hapsburg empress, is frankly an Instagram fantasy. 

But the itinerary is the real showstopper, as we will be visiting four countries — Austria, Germany, Slovakia, and Hungary — in one go. The excursions that I will be attending and hosting (all included in the price of the cruise) give you up-close insider access to the best of music, culture, food, and wine. In Salzburg, for example, you will experience a musical heritage walking tour and then be treated to a schnitzel lunch with a performance of songs from "The Sound of Music." While the ship is docked in Grein, a local singer will come on board and teach you how to yodel. Want to meet Austrian nobility? There will be a wine reception and harp concert at Castle Clam — a stunning historic fortress, where the counts of Clam have been living for 550 years — and you will be personally welcomed to tour this home by the current count. During the stop in Vienna, you can enjoy a Lipizzaner horse show at the famed Spanish Riding School, opened just for Uniworld guests, as well as an after-hours tour of the Belvedere Palace. 

Also part of the fun: three themed nights, including a '70s disco party (bell bottoms optional) in Dürnstein, Bavarian night in Passau, and “white attire” night, while the ship is docked in the humming city of Bratislava, accompanied by a silent disco party. Europe is poised to have a packed summer season, and this is your chance to see multiple places without the hassle of packing and unpacking; have superb meals, wine, and gratuities included; and make some new friends. I’ll see you on the Danube. Find more info and book at, from $5,799 per person.

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