I flew economy class with Qatar, who were excellent! I took advantage of the Qatar stopover deal offering one night in Doha on the way over for only $40USD in a selection of 4 and 5-star hotels. I chose Souq Waif Boutique Hotels, who have 7 hotels within the Souk area. You don’t know until arrival which one you’re staying in, but you can use the facilities of any of their hotels during your stay. I was put in the Najd Boutique Hotel & it was traditionally decorated with spacious rooms. A very good 4-star Boutique Hotel.
The Souk is amazingly clean & orderly with lots of little shops to explore & restaurants, there’s also a Bird Souk and Gold Souk across the road. It was very easy to wander around (without getting lost) & I felt safe.
The next day I flew to Belgrade to join my Evergreen River Cruise.On arrival at the airport we were met and transferred to the ship. You can check in at any time on the embarkation day, your room won’t be ready until later, but you can enjoy a buffet lunch in the main Bar and relax until it is. The masseuse offers free 15min neck and shoulder massages during this time too!
My River cruise itinerary incorporated the Lower Danube from Belgrade to Vienna.
Day 1 & 2 – Belgrade, Serbia
Day 3 – Novi Sad, Serbia
Day 4 – Osijek, Croatia
Day 5 – Mohacs – Pecs
Day 6 – Budapest
Day 7 & 8 – Vienna
Evergreen exceeded my expectations. It was an excellent 4-star product. I sailed on the Emerald Sky which is one of the newer ships in their fleet. There are 92 Staterooms with 182 Pax. I was in an Emerald Panorama Balcony cabin on Deck 3 which had a french balcony. Cabins are compact with a small bathroom, very modern, comfy beds. No irons are allowed in the cabins & pressing was very expensive – so iron your clothes before arriving!
There are two Restaurants, one in the main Bar area for casual earlybird breakfast, Afternoon Tea and Buffet lunch. The other is the main dining room where you can order A la Carte. Beverages are included with mealtimes. You also have the option to purchase beverage packages for the rest. Pricing was very reasonable, the basic beverage package which includes Soft drinks, beer & wine was only 11Euros per day. Dinner is at 7:30pm every day.
There is a tiny gym on board & a Spa which is by appointment only for treatments.
The pool area is brilliant. It is located on Deck 3 right at the back of the ship. The back wall is full glass & the roof opens in good weather – which also means it’s not at all windy and you can swim in any weather. At nighttime, the floor comes up and the space is converted into a cinema.
Evergreen included a morning city tour in each city. This is mainly a bus to the center with a walking tour using the Voxal headsets – split into 3 groups. Some days there was an ‘’Emerald Active” included option which is a bike tour or a hike in place of the bus/walking. You see different things on the Bike tour than on the Bus. I did this in Belgrade which was fantastic but was on the hottest day – 38deg and was 18km, so a good level of fitness is required.
Evergreen also offer “Your Invited” activities which are included in the cost. These were things like a Serbian folklore show in the bar after dinner and a home hosted lunch with a Croatian family. This was very special, one of the local students had to translate but there were lots of stories told from the hosts personal experiences with the war between Serbia & Croatia in the 90’s.
DiscoverMORE are the optional tours which are an additional cost. They always run after lunch so you can still take part in the morning free activities.
This trip there were 4 on offer & I did 3 of them and they were all very reasonably priced.
If you chose to not do an afternoon optional tour – there are onboard activities like, Pilates, Trivia etc. Yoga was sometimes offered before breakfast which was fun.
I found the Serbia & Croatia part great, a lot quieter – small Villages to visit. Lots of history especially between the 2 countries. We sailed mainly at night time for this part. There was much more to see from the river once we crossed into Hungry. For me the highlight was Budapest & Vienna. They are spectacular cities. So beautiful & so much more to see on the River banks. We only had a half day in Budapest but I could have easily stayed longer.
Something to be aware of is that there is no currency exchange on the ship. Serbia, Hungry & Croatia are all on their own currency. Vienna of course is on the Euros. Until we got to Budapest & Vienna – most shops didn’t accept credit card as payment, cash only.
On the day of disembarkation – you aren’t restricted to the transfer times that they offer. A lot of people had very late evening flight departures. You can actually opt to book a taxi or the ship will organize a private car to take you to the airport later in the evening. You need to checkout of your cabin at 8:30am but they will hold your bags till later in the afternoon. You can have a shower in the Pool area & you are permitted to stay on board, use the lounge area & enjoy lunch too.
I stayed a further 2 nights in Vienna at the Imperial Riding School Renaissance Vienna Hotel in a Club room. It was excellent value with morning & afternoon tea, evening hot canapes & alcoholic beverages till 10pm. The train station was directly behind the hotel and this was particularly convenient to take the train for 5 euros to the airport rather than the 50euro taxi ride! With the help of the hotel staff, we worked out easily which train stations to get on and off to explore different areas we wanted. It had a lot of great restaurants within easy walking distance too.