Ali Ryland takes a journey down the Danube with Vegan Travel’s venture Vegan River Cruises, reporting on the sights, sounds, tip-top food, drink and other extras.
Vegan Travel are a German company opening up cruises to vegans in ways we never could have imagined a few decades ago. Their recent Vegan River Cruise along the Danube amazed and delighted us for one week: and Vegan Society members can join their first ever ocean cruise from London to Norway in September at a discount. I’d seriously recommend it – but read on to find out why.
This particular Easter vegan cruise started in Nuremberg, meandering along the delightful Danube and its towns and cities along the way until the week’s end in Budapest: next year’s spring cruise along the Danube will start in Budapest, and end in Ukraine. However, if you ever are in Nuremberg, I suggest you look around its quirky streets and lunch at vegan café Mariposa. While in the cosy café, tucking into some high class food, my partner and I noticed that everyone else in there happened to be English-speakers – it turns out we were all going on the same cruise!
Pro tip: get there a few hours prior to departure time in order to enjoy the amazing vegan buffet in the lounge while staff take your luggage to your room – I was quick to choose lasagne, mini sandwiches and cake, even though we’d already pigged out at Nuremberg’s vegan bakery and supermarkets.
After lunch my partner and I were led to our palatial room which we immediately fell in love with, especially its balcony window view. We didn’t realise drinks on the cruise were complimentary having bought some cheap plonk from Lidl, which we stowed in the free mini bar as we helped ourselves to Fritz Cola. We turned around to find out that we even had a fireplace, of sorts! Crackling fire is available on the flatscreen TV, on which we also watched films, surfed the web and, er, spied on fellow passengers in the lounge. Well, not really – but there were a few cameras in there so you can see talks without leaving the comfort of the plush dressing gowns provided on the back of the bathroom door.
Other little touches included complimentary vegan toiletries, Vegan Life magazine and ‘chocolates on our pillow’: these turned out to be packets of vegan sweets, raw chocolate and creamy wafers. What we didn’t eat right away we had to take home with us, which really demonstrates how much food was provided throughout the holiday. And speaking of… [Blog continues below]
Food and drink
Brace yourselves: there’s a lot of information here and it deserves to be read with care and attention!
I do love a good breakfast and we started each day cushioning our stomachs with a full English and French pastries! I mostly refrained from the cold cuts as it was too early for vegan cheese and meats in my humble opinion, but my partner managed to eat four breakfasts on the first day! First, the porridge starter; then the cooked breakfast main, followed by the cold cuts and all mopped up with a croissant, yoghurt and fruit! We’d try to squeeze in a slice of bread with chocolate spread or jam, the latter being homemade and delicious.
My favourite meal of the day was lunch. I just love buffets, but my experience of them is usually limited to a greasy all you can eat Chinese in Camden. So I wasn’t prepared for how swanky everything was, and the agony of choice: do I get a lovely creamy soup or a potato salad with creamy asparagus and fresh leafy veg plate? Or do I tackle some of the main dishes? Invariably I went for everything and put on about half a stone during the trip. My-much loved meal was in Budapest where the chef was highlighting some of the starchy Eastern European dishes such as Langos (bread with sour cream and cheese), alongside a traditional steak dish (all vegan of course) which I peppered with deep fried tofu and pesto pasta. Lunch often had the best desserts too, with creamy mousse to die for.
You’d think we’d be too full for this, but we bravely managed a couple of them. At 4pm, fancy tiered stands would come out full of dainty vegan cheese and cucumber sandwiches and, of course, cake! It would usually be a Victoria Sponge variant, with clotted cream of my dreams.
Before the welcome dinner and the farewell gala we met in the lounge for flutes of champagne and a speech from the captain before heading down to dinner. On such occasions the usual four course meal turns into six, with an amuse bouche and extra starter added onto the already bulging menu. Not that we were complaining – on such occasions I scarfed down an exquisite mushroom pastry, creamy turnip soup, and avocado tempura on a bed of paella, with a light cheesecake to finish. The main meals were often themed around the areas we visited, too: as we entered Austria we had a fantastic schnitzel, with apfel strudel for dessert. All this took place in a dining room with sparkling full length windows to watch the incredible scenery go by. After sating ourselves, we’d head up to the lounge for free cocktails made with vegan cream, more often than not choosing Pina Coladas and White Russians. Hey, we’re on holiday!
I think by this time of night we usually refrained ourselves [read: filled up on cocktails], though we did make it there once to eat some tasty savoury hummus pots with veg and crispy dippers. After all, breakfast starts in 7 hours!
Every tour is different, of course, but I have to tell you about some of the beautiful places we visited along the way. The first stop was Regensburg, a very quaint (I’m going to overuse that word) town with a stonking cathedral, an ancient monastery and beautiful parks. Passau the following day was stunning – we climbed to its Veste Oberhaus (fortress) for the attractive vista, and to work off breakfast.
The day after was a busy one – we had an early start in Melk to visit its tremendous Benedictine abbey – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. By 11am we were back on board ready to sail to Durnstein, where we had fun climbing to its ruined medieval castle – it’s claim to fame is that it’s where Richard the Lionheart was once imprisoned, but it’s a draw just for the panoramic views of the Danube. We then left at 3pm, after which we enjoyed watching the scenery pootle by on the boat (the top speed of which was around 26mph: you couldn’t even tell it was moving!) until we hit Vienna that night.
My partner and I aren’t big on guided tours, though Vegan Travel were arranging at least two each day that looked incredible, from vegan wine tasting in the mountains to visiting vegan shops in the city. We decided to go on the third and last tour of the day in Vienna, as experiencing the majestic capital at night by coach seemed like a perfect opportunity we wouldn’t get otherwise. It was worth it, despite the tour guide stumbling over herself every time she realised she was talking up meaty places to eat to a bus full of vegans!
The following day we then had a full 24 hours to experience Vienna. Unfortunately it decided to rain and snow, leaving us wishing we’d packed our winter gear! We still decided to do the whole thing on foot, which involved a two mile walk into the centre. We’d racked up far more miles than that by the time we’d seen all the major sites so suffice to say we had to hotfoot it back to the room before dinner to have a very long shower and snuggle into the massive, comfy bed.
The next day in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, was much fairer. Reminding me of when I visited Prague, we climbed to the castle on the hill and enjoyed the landscape as we are wont to do.
The final day we arrived in Budapest. We walked the whole of the hilly old town, ‘Buda’, on this gorgeous day, deciding to do the newer part – the ‘Pest’ – the following day. Personally, I think Budapest had the finest attractions of the whole trip, and I would love to go again. The ending night was sweet and sorrowful as we prepared to leave: that evening after dinner the boat drove up river and back so we could take snaps of the Hungarian Parliament while fantastically lit, all why a lounge band played in the, you guessed it, the lounge. [Blog continues below]
Sometimes the best things in life are those little optional extras that just add that extra bit of warmth and comfort to your life. The coffee machine and tea service area, available 24/7, was magical, offering vegan lattes with well-stocked homemade biscuits (as if we needed more food!). The room service was exceptional, the offer of free bikes to explore with was thoughtful, and lounging by the pool was certainly relaxing. It was good to know that the gym and yoga classes were there, ready in case we decided to do the unexpected and exercise on holiday. Suffice to say I lay around doing the crossword puzzles on offer instead.
As well as being exceedingly pleased by automatic hand towel dispensary in the bathrooms by the dining area, I thought the night time events held on the boat were great fun: talks, a film night, a very entertaining pub quiz – which my team won, no thanks to my partner and I!
Though I am rather jealous of all the extras those lucky enough to attend the first ever vegan ocean cruise will receive. Embarking on 25 September from London, the mega cruise ship has seven different bars, a casino, speciality tea and coffee shops, mixology and dancing classes and a much larger pool on top with curated vegan BBQs and live music. It even has an inside pool, which turns into a cinema at night. Not to mention the vegan speakers on board such as Dr Michael Greger, whose nutrition talks will surely be unmissable. I’d be tempted to stay on board most of the time if it wasn’t for the fact that the Norwegian fjords are incredible and outstanding areas of natural beauty, and I’ve always wanted to visit Bergen.
If you’re intrigued too, then book quickly before it’s gone! Vegan Society members receive a 5% discount on the cruise via a special booking code found in the discount section of the Members’ Area: make sure you’re logged in to the website to view it. If you’re not a member, you can join for the low price of £2 a month.
Book here to avoid disappointment.
I hope you enjoy your vegan cruise as much as I did!
By Ali Ryland