On the Danube, a sneak peek at Disney river cruising options

Baron Peter von Wethelm, a Salzburg tour guide and relative of the Von Trapp family on which "The Sound of Music" was based, points out a fountain featured in the "Do-Re-Mi" scene.

Baron Peter von Wethelm, a Salzburg tour guide and relative of the Von Trapp family on which “The Sound of Music” was based, points out a fountain featured in the “Do-Re-Mi” scene.

SALZBURG, Austria — In one of its most ambitious product launches since Adventures by Disney was founded 10 years ago, the tour brand earlier this year announced that it would introduce river cruises in 2016 in partnership with AmaWaterways. And not more than a month after unveiling the river cruises, Disney was adding departures to meet what has clearly been a strong response to its new offering.

The travel industry won’t know until next year, when the first Adventures by Disney river cruises set sail, exactly how the operator’s family-friendly take on river cruising will look, feel and fare compared with existing river cruises.

But to get a sneak peek at some of the land experiences Disney will offer along its Danube itineraries, I joined an Adventures by Disney Central Europe tour last week, which includes several of the same stops in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic that will either be visited on upcoming river cruises or offered as pre- or post-cruise extensions.

One of the main Disney differentiators quickly became apparent in the first city on the tour, Prague, which will be offered as an extension on Disney cruises: youthful fun.

It’s not that river cruising isn’t infused with plenty of adult-style fun, often in the form of wine and cheese and dancing in the lounge after dinner. But as a global leader in family travel, Disney has a knack for finding experiences that truly engage children. In Prague, that meant not just attending one of the popular marionette shows (that would come later in Vienna), but actually making our own marionette dolls, bringing to life an old Czech tradition for kids on the tour.

Many of us adults also had a blast making marionette dolls. Likewise, I thoroughly enjoyed the trick fountains at the Hellbrunn Castle in Salzburg and making pretzels. In fact, I took delight in all the activities that were geared to the younger tour participants. There’s something really refreshing about having permission to be a kid again.

Adventures by Disney tour participants make marionette dolls in Prague.
Adventures by Disney tour participants make marionette dolls in Prague.

Take the “The Sound of Music” tour in the Austrian town of Salzburg. When else can you get a pass on singing your heart out to the movie’s iconic sound track while riding a motorcoach to visit sites from the film?

If Adventures by Disney runs its river cruises in a fashion similar to how it executed the Central Europe tour (and I was assured there will be a fair amount of overlap) participants can expect plenty of fun activities for kids and for any adult’s inner child, as well:

• Active experiences, such as our rigorous hike to and through the ice caves of Eisriesenwelt Werfen in the Austrian Alps.

• Relevant movies and music.

• Well-trained Adventures by Disney guides who ensure that the program caters to both adults and children.

• Accessible information about the culture and history of the destinations provided by local guides.

Clients on the river cruises also will have a high-class, floating hotel to return to at the end of each adventure-filled day.

Adventures by Disney will be chartering AmaWaterway’s 170-passenger AmaViola, a custom-built river cruise ship launching in 2016. There will be five Adventures by Disney sailings along the Danube in summer 2016 and two holiday-themed sailings in December 2016 through Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.

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