Well into the third glass of Czech wine at the opening social, it finally sunk in – this wasn’t the stereotypical all-gay circuit party cruise.
Normally, images of gay cruises include crowds of hard-bodied Adonises, 24-hour partying and a steady techno beat. But Brand g Vacation’s inaugural cruise along the Danube River was an intellectual, cultural, culinary immersion experience of a lifetime.
The nine-day adventure kicked off in the stunning city of Prague in the Czech Republic. For two days, guided tours were offered of the ancient city. Whether guests were looking to see the city with a gaggle of gays or to experience a more authentic side to the city sans tour guides, Brand g Vacations representatives were ever-present at the host hotel to recommend restaurants, offer directions to popular sites and bars and ensure that all guests felt welcome. With more than a dozen gay cafes, pubs and clubs, Prague was perfect for bar hopping – a welcome relief from Utah gay nightlife.
After departing Prague, we took a shuttle to Regensburg, Germany and boarded our ship, The Amacerto. This new ship was launched in spring of this year and is owned and operated by AMA Waterways. It is the definition of river cruise luxury. From its marbled entryway to the tiled bathrooms with double-headed showers, the ship put even the most exquisite ocean liner to shame. With approximately 150 guests and 60 crewmen, instead of being inundated with crowds, the Amacerto feels like a floating boutique hotel. Each crewman was uncommonly helpful with everything from sending postcards for free to arranging taxi services and cleaning rooms up to three times a day.
Amenities such as free on-board wireless internet, pillow-top beds and unbelievable air conditioning (trust me, in Europe, that’s a hot commodity), make the ship a true five-star experience. As you cozily sleep through the night or calmly watch the countryside pass by from the top deck, the Amacerto travels at night to bring you to another gay- and lesbian-friendly destination. We traversed our way through Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary to end our trip in breathtaking Budapest.
Each day, breakfast, lunch and dinner were served on-board. While all the meals were scrumptious and included in the purchase cost, the dinner menu with complimentary wine pairings was the highlight. Serving up delicacies such as roast duck, lamb chops, river fish and shrimp appetizers, there were also rib-eye steaks, pasta and local dishes (think beer, pretzels and bratwurst). Each meal and wine pairing matched the local culture, cuisine and flair. The wine selection was explained in great detail on the menu, highlighting the chef’s selections and showing off various tastes and textures. And the waiters certainly were not shy about sharing the nectar – it was practically impossible to leave the restaurant without drinking several glasses each night. The waiters also filled our glasses as we left to enjoy an evening soak in the top-deck hot tub or listen to fabulous entertainment.
Waking up each morning in a different European city without the stress of changing hotels, making train connections and dealing with varying public transit systems is the ideal way to experience different cities and towns of all sizes and backgrounds. With the inclusion of transport, food, coffee, alcohol, guides and many other amenities, river cruises are also economical options that help the budget-conscience experience another thrilling part of the world.
We stopped in three major metropolitan areas and saw gargantuan churches, castle complexes and museums galore in Prague, Vienna and Budapest. Spending two days in Vienna, we were docked within walking distance of a major subway line that fed directly to the city center – and the gay center. Vienna’s gay nightlife is astoundingly diverse. From some of the classiest, chic lounges serving delicious beer to kinky back-room bars with slings and sex labyrinths, there’s something for even the most discerning gay in the City of Music.
But it was the smaller towns, such as a charming village of Durnstein in the Wachau Valley of Austria that stood out. Hiking to the castle where King Richard the Lionheart (of Robin Hood fame) was held and touring a vintage winery showcased another benefit of a river cruise as opposed to hostel-hopping. Instead of wasting time moving from one city to the next we were able to enjoy a stress-free travel and save time for off-beat destinations.
The wine tours, abbey explorations and classical concerts attracted an older, more gentrified crowd than other, larger gay ocean cruises. The environment was relaxed and comfortable. From lawyers who lived through gay bar raids in Los Angeles in the ‘60s to government workers who survived the AIDS crisis in New York – everyone had a story to tell.
The tone of the cruise and friendliness of its guests was set by Brand g Vacations CEO Charlie Rounds and his associate Brian Van Wey. The company charters the entire boat, which allows guests to experience the AMA Waterways excellence in the company of other gay and gay-friendly travelers. Rounds is a veteran in gay travel and helped launch RSVP, another popular gay travel company. Rounds and Van Wey were caring, helpful and knowledgeable about each area we visited. They were very familiar with the destinations and were outstanding guides in unfamiliar territory.
The optional extended stay in Budapest, Hungary, allowed guests to experience a city coming out of oppression and finding its rhythm amongst other major destinations in Europe. While a bit challenging and overwhelming at first, after visiting the other cities, seeing the vibrant (and kinky) nightlife of Budapest was the perfect ending to an ambitious voyage.
As cliché as it may sound, a trip down the Danube River was legendary. The sights, sounds and smells of major European cities and ancient villages were inspirational, educational and just plain fantastic. AMA Waterways has regular cruises through the area and Brand g Vacations has a Burgundy and Provence river cruise planned for August 2013 and a Vietnam and Cambodia river cruise in October 2013. For more information and pricing, go to brandgvacations.com.