Saturday, August 06, 2016

Day 8 - Budapest, Hungary to Oklahoma City, OK and final thoughts - Adventures by Disney Danube River Cruise 2016

Our trip was coming to an end.  Our bags were packed and we had to say goodbye to our floating home for the past, amazing week.  We were scheduled for a 7:10 am departure for a 10:10 am flight so we had to have our luggage outside of our door with red tags on by 6:30 am.  We got our bags out by about 6:20 and headed to the dining room for our last breakfast.

We boarded a bus and were taken to the airport which took about 30 minutes so we actually arrived at the airport before the Air France desk was even open.  Apparently they only opened 2 hours before the flight and our 10 am flight was the first flight out.  It was silly waiting at the check-in area with nowhere to go - it created a lot of confusion for the passengers on the other airlines who were also trying to check-in.  When the AF desk finally opened - there was a mass rush to wait to even get into the check-in line.  We had to go around to get in another line for "sky priority" as we were flying business class which was only marginally faster than the general line.

Fortunately, we were able to get our luggage checked all the way through to OKC and we were soon on our way home.

A few parting thoughts about this trip.

Traveling - Flying business class is the only way to go.  Not only did we get preferential airline check-in, no baggage fees, and use of their lounge, but we also got preferential lines at the border patrol in Paris on the way home.  The seats were so comfortable on Air France and the food was quite good with generous amounts of wine.  In addition, Seth and I have Trusted Traveler status ($100 for 5 years) which means that it took us literally a few minutes to pass through the U.S. border patrol in Atlanta.  Our traveling companions didn't have TT status and their wait to cross the border was nearly an hour.

The AMA Viola - Much smaller than any boat that we've ever sailed on for any extended period of time.  It didn't take long for us to figure out the layout of the ship.  From when we boarded the boat on the main deck, the reception desk and lounge were the only things on this level.  We were on deck 2 which was a short flight of stairs down.  Our stateroom, 204, was the 2nd stateroom on the right (left side of ship).  If you continued down the stairs towards the front of the ship, it was the main dining room.  At first I was a little concerned that our stateroom was so close to the dining room (kitchen noise) but, as it turns out, the dining room wasn't even on the same level.  If you continued down the stairs towards the back of the ship, there was a gym. the spa (massages, hair cuts, etc) and other staterooms.  Going up the stairs from the main deck were the desks for the cruise manager and hotel manager along with staterooms in the 300s.  At the very back end of the boat on this level was The Chef's Table restaurant.  There was an elevator between the dining room up to the 3rd level (one level up from the main level).  When you exited the ship on either side of the main deck, there were stairs leading up to the sun deck.

Our Stateroom (204) - the bed was comfortable.  The temp in our room was controllable with the thermostat by the door.  We prefer a cool room to sleep in so we had our temp set at 64 the whole time and it stayed there which was great.  The Apple computer that doubled as the TV worked pretty well although the screen was kind of small.  There was a 110V outlet right behind the TV monitor which we plugged one of our power strips into.  There were actually a good number of hangers.  We had a safe in the room but never really used it.  There was a refrigerator where complimentary bottles of water were kept cold.  I can't say that it was worthwhile to have the balcony except for picture taking here and there.  We didn't sit out on the balcony and there's no room service so we didn't ever use it to have breakfast either.  If you keep the sliding door open, the AC automatically turns off.  The bathroom was small - certainly not big enough for both of us to be in there at once.  The shower was great with a large "rain" type of shower head but only enough room to turn around making it challenging to shave my legs.  There was plenty of storage.  It was a little tricky to get our suitcases under the bed as the only way to do so was to push them under the bed from the sliding door side but there was a large wooden box on wheels under the bed that I had to move to the other side so I could get our suitcases under the bed.  The hair dryer was great - not like the ones on sea cruise ships that are attached to the wall and/or required a finger pushing a button to make it run.  The only irritation was the small trashcan in the bathroom which required you to step on it in order to open it.

Wifi - quite good on the Viola.  We had no trouble connecting to it and there were very few instances where it didn't seem to work or was slow.  I had also rented a portable Wifi unit called Tep which was about $100 for the duration of our trip.  The unit worked really well in the larger cities but for some of our excursions, the venues were in "the country" and the signal was noticeably slower.  The unlimited data was great and the battery life was pretty darned good.  It came with a battery back up but I couldn't ever get it to work.  It accommodates up to 5 users so all 4 of us were logged on to it when we were off the ship and out/about.  Uploading pictures to Facebook was consistently good but texting a picture to someone took a lot longer and oftentimes we got a "fail" message with pictures being hit and miss whether it was really sent.  It seemed to send better when only one picture was texted at a time.

The food - as I'd mentioned in a few of my posts, the food was really outstanding.  Just about everything we ate was really good and the choices on the menu each day for lunch/dinner were great.  We also really appreciated the inclusion of soft drinks and wine during lunch and dinner.  The wine pours were very generous and we were offered refills often.   One other reason that we booked this particular ABD was the fact that our friends both had severe allergies - one to tree nuts and the other to peanuts.  They both commented on how the service accommodated their allergies beyond what they expected.  This doesn't mean that there weren't a couple of times that there were potential issues (both times recognized and corrected without incident) but the Maitre 'D (Tomislav) really went out of his way to make sure things were as safe as possible for them coming by to check on us every day and during the meal multiple times.  Since they bake all of their bread right on the ship, our friends were able to enjoy the bread service every day as well.  Each day's ritual was to eat breakfast while our friends were given that day's lunch/dinner menu(s) to mark their selections so they could be prepared ahead of time to accommodate their allergies.  That kind of service and attention to detail is not common.

The service - Overall, excellent.  From our room steward who did a phenomenal job keeping our stateroom clean to the Maitre 'D in the dining room who went above and beyond.  Some of the only negative feedback that I gave to Disney was related to the few waiters in the dining room that we really didn't care for.  They weren't very patient and seemed a bit cold or indifferent.

The Adventure Guides - Jennae was the head Guide and we had started following her Facebook page a couple of months ago.  She was a really great Guide and her extensive experience with Disney and ABD was apparent.  She had her trademark cow jokes that she told on every excursion that we were on with her which were just a couple.  I'm really not sure how the Guides were assigned to their different colored "teams" - there was one guide that we never saw (Katerina).  We picked up our colored team cards each day along with our safety cards and learned on the first day that we needed to make sure that we had the same colored cards as Lisa and Tim.  Lisa usually picked up their colored cards first and had them set aside the same color along with our safety cards.  I especially appreciated Dean from California - also another Guide with extensive Disney history.  Dean was not only super friendly but he gave us a ton of information and was very honest with his suggestions including, at times, suggestions not to take certain ABD options.  It was very obvious how passionate all of the Guides were and they were all extremely patient.

The excursions/tours - for the most part they were great.  This is definitely an active vacation and we averaged about 5 miles a day of walking (according to my Garmin Vivofit).  We made it to almost all of the tours we signed up for.  They had given us a final version of the available tours and had us circle the ones we wanted to attend and hand it in on the bus ride from Munich to Vilshofen.  I think the only tour we ended up skipping was the Spanish Riding School because we really wanted to explore Vienna more on our own.  They emphasized every day that all of the tours/excursions are totally optional.  I've always been of the frame of mind that we need to squeeze in as much as possible in the time allotted but not everyone likes to vacation that way.  What I think the Guides and Disney did very well was compensating or anticipating human nature on all the tours - always having information about bathrooms, scheduling times that had a little cushion for the stragglers, all the while still being a bit flexible.  I really liked all of the ports we went to - I don't think Slovakia would have even remotely been considered as a vacation destination but now that we've been to Bratislava, it would be one that we wouldn't hesitate to visit again if the opportunity came up.

Currency - the exchange for Euros was pretty low during our trip - about $1.10 to 1 Euro (last year it was at around $1.15 per 1 Euro).  We had some Euros left over from a previous trip - about 40 Euros.  Unfortunately, we weren't careful checking to make sure that the taxi from the Munich airport to the meet up hotel would take credit cards and we didn't have enough Euros to cover the trip so we ended up using USD.  We used an ATM twice during our trip - once to get 100 Euros for souvenirs and then again for 300 Euros just to buy some at the current rate and use in the future.  We will definitely be returning to Europe again in the future.

Weather - we really lucked out with the weather.  The warmest day of the week was in Austria - Melk/Linz/Krems/Durnstein with the temp hitting the mid 80's.  Otherwise the rest of the time we were in the 70's.  We got rained on once in Durnstein and that was it.

River Cruise vs "Traditional" ABD - this is the question that Disney asked us too.  Having done 2 "traditional" Adventures, the river cruise Adventure is definitely different.  As most people who have done the river cruise seem to agree, we miss the more intimate interaction with the Guides and fellow Adventurers but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  We got to meet a lot more Guides at the same time - they were all so fun to interact with.  The way that the tours were staggered for the different colored teams, we never felt overwhelmed or "lost in the crowd".  The Guides really did make it a point to come by and visit with us during the welcome onboard activity and during meal times too.  We did get to meet some fellow Adventurers but in all honesty, I think everyone who has ever done a group trip before (Disney or not) knows that there are those on the tour that we would rather not interact with.  We don't particularly like loud people or the ones who act entitled or are oblivious to common courtesies.  There were a few of these on this trip and there were times that we breathed a sigh of relief that they weren't in the same colored team with us that particular day.  It was a real trip when we found out that fellow Adventurers Richard and Sharon had been on the very same ABD trip with us way back in 2008 - the Spirit of America tour.  When we were comparing notes on previous ABD trips, they described the infamous fire alarm incident at the Great Wolf Lodge during that first ABD that we had ever done.  We wouldn't hesitate to consider the Rhine river cruise in the future with ABD.  For now, though, we have already booked the Ecuador and Galapagos "traditional" ABD in 2017 - a graduation/birthday trip for our son, Rhys.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Day 7 - Bratislava, Slovakia to Budapest, Hungary - Adventures by Disney Danube River Cruise 2016

We were recommended last night to watch as the Viola pulled into Budapest this morning and that suggestion was a good one – the architecture in Budapest along the river is just beautiful.  Pictures from our state room balcony:

Today's Daily Adventurer:

We headed down to breakfast at around 8 and then headed off the boat for our walking tour of the central market. Our green team guides today were Dean and Daniel who introduced us to our local tour guide, Christina. We didn't walk far to get from the dock to the market.

The market was really neat. We had been to markets like this in Portugal and Spain but this one was particularly nice – wider, cleaner, and with 3 levels: seafood on the lower floor, food items on the main floor, and then souvenirs on the upper floor. Once we crossed through the market, stopping just to get a quick lesson on paprika – the pepper vs powder vs dried paprika, we continued to the opposite end of the market where we were told to meet in about 25 minutes.

The local currency is the Hungarian Forint (HUF) which was about 279 HUF per 1 USD or 311 HUF per 1 Euro. Most of the stalls on the main floor took credit cards except American Express. Most of the stalls upstairs took Euros so we never exchanged for any HUF at the ATM.

We headed upstairs to find ourselves a magnet, country sticker, and t-shirt for Seth. We found a magnet and sticker but then ran out of time and had to meet up with the group downstairs. We decided that we would have to come back to the market later and added a few items to our shopping list: Tokaji, t-shirt, paprika, and salami. Rhys wanted some local ham but I tried some of their hungarian salami which was one of the things they were known for but I was underwhelmed – the salami from 2 different stalls tasted bland to me. One other thing I noticed in a lot of the stalls were these cans of goose liver but I thought they were a bit expensive – about $16 per tin of goose liver with truffle.

We met up and walked to our bus for the drive to Lazar Equestrian Park which took about 45 minutes. The weather was nice today – high 70's – a bit warm in the sun but nice in the shade. On the way, I read up how to buy Tokaji and found out that Hungary is also well known for their goose liver. I was surprised to read that much of the goose liver in France is imported from Hungary. I decided that I was going to need to try it.

When we arrived at the Equestrian Park, we were given some schnapps and bread to try. Neither were my favorite. We were given instructions to explore the park as we wanted and to meet up at the horse show arena at noon. 

We headed over for the cart ride first – we just happened to also have Christina, our tour guide, on this ride and she told us some “gossip” about one of the local heroines – Sisi.

We then walked over to the horse stables and saw the different horse breeds – there were many besides the famous Lipizzaners. Some of them had quite a few awards.

We headed back to the horse show arena for the noon show. Besides our 3 buses, there were probably at least 2 or 3 other buses at the park as well. The horse show was pretty cool – an equestrian archer, performing horses, a demonstration on the use of whips with audience participation, a demonstration where they rode horses around the track without spilling any of their drinks, and a Chico (Hungarian cowboy) who controlled 5 horses while standing on 2 of them.

After the show, we headed inside for lunch. The room we were in was gorgeous with beautiful woodwork. We had white and red wine, water, spritzer, and apricot juice. There was a salad, cheese, sausage, and butter on the table. It was at this point that I realized there was a difference between salami and sausage – the sausage seems more spicy and what I expect a salami to taste like. Before long, they brought out a HUGE platter of food – pickled red cabbage, pickled slaw, pickled peppers, pickled cucumbers, and 6 types of meat: duck, sausage (like a hot dog), pork, fish, schnitzel, and chicken. It was a massive amount of food and was really good.

After lunch we had a little while longer to explore the park – we headed out to the zoo where they had goats, rabbits, puli dogs, sheep, and hairy pigs. On the way over, Christina our local tour guide caught up with us to talk to us about buying Tokaji as I had asked her earlier if she had any recommendations.  She recommended only buying Tokaji earlier than 2011 as anything later than that was probably fake.  

After checking out the small zoo, we walked back to the goulash making demonstration. They had already made the goulash in large pots hanging over a wood fire. The goulash was delicious – very simple – meat, potato, carrot, garlic, onion, paprika.

We got back on the bus and headed to the Viola after seeing a few more beautiful sights along the way. We headed straight back to the Central Market taking a couple of pictures along the way.


We had a few things on our list to buy after doing some reading on the bus:  Tokaji (one of our favorite dessert wines), sausage (not salami), paprika, t-shirt, and goose liver.  We just wandered around without much of a plan - going up to the top floor to find Seth a t-shirt and then back to the main floor to find some sausage.  We tried some spicy sausage at a stall and really liked it - they were also selling the black/gold goose liver tins so we got one of those as well - the total was 5840 HUF or about $20.  We also noticed that they were selling caviar.  We ended up with a 56 g jar of "gold collection" osetra caviar for 6000 HUF and also a 100 g Imperial collection osetra caviar for 44,000 HUF for a total of about $180. We have no idea how authentic this caviar is but we thought we might as well give them a try - doing a "head to head" comparison of the 2 types. We went downstairs to the first floor to see the "fish" section which was not as impressive as the main and upper floors.  We wandered into the Aldi's but were unimpressed.  We went back upstairs to the main floor and bought a bottle of 2002 Tokaji (6 puttonyos - 4690 HUF or about $16) also picked up some paprika - both the hot and sweet varieties (7 Euros).  We also found one last bottle of Tokaji on our way out the door - a 1995 Tokaji (5 puttonyos - 7500 HUF or about $26).    

We headed back to the Viola, rested a bit and started some packing, Dean had mentioned on the bus that we would be getting departure information which we did on a final Daily Adventurer.  I went upstairs to Dragan's desk to pick up our tags and find out our departure time.  

We then headed to dinner.

Grilled Eggplant

Traditional "Somlauer Nocker"

After dinner, we headed up to the lounge to watch the Rubik's Cube Magic show.  This was about the only show we went to see the whole week and mostly went because our son was so interested in Rubik's Cubes and had a nice collection at home.  The show was interesting although I'm not sure which part was the "magic" part.  After the show, everyone received their own Rubik's Cube and instructions on how to "solve" the cube.

"All solved"....well, not quite.  :-)
After the show, we went up to the sun deck to watch the "Illuminations" cruise.  The buildings lit up along the Danube were spectacular.  It seems like every Disney trip that we've ever taken, there are those moments that bring tears to my eyes.  Usually it's a moment involving the kids - watching their pure joy and enjoying their enjoyment.  It was this part of the trip that unexpectedly brought tears to my eyes - enjoying the beautiful lights with Seth at the end of a most amazing trip.