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March 30, 2010

Danube Cruises

Dailey-Thorp Travel's music cruise

On the Danube
We'd spent part of the evening at a wine tasting in Durnstein, Austria, complete with oompah band and much cheering and singing, so we were in pretty high spirits when we returned to the River Cloud. It was day four of Dailey-Thorp Travel's weeklong Danube music cruise from Passau, Germany, to Budapest, and there had in fact been music every day—organ recitals in Passau's cathedral and the Abbey of Melk, the Domspatzen choir singing High Mass in the cathedral in Regensburg, concerts onboard by the resident artists: three opera singers and a classical pianist.

Still, nothing quite matched this night as several passengers got up to sing, including a Yale senior who belted out show tunes in an impassioned soprano. Then, around midnight, the professional soprano, Shelley Jameson, got up and without rehearsal—and dressed in a sweater, chinos, with sunglasses on the top of her head—sang a wrenching, pure, impromptu version of "Vilja" from The Merry Widow. No one made a sound; indeed it seemed as if no one even took a breath. When she finished, everyone, even the men, had tears in their eyes.

Dailey-Thorp Travel specializes in taking music-lovers on musical journeys around the world, and for the most part, the Danube cruise last spring was top-drawer. The River Cloud is an intimate, beautiful ship with excellent food, service, and cabins (go for one of the six Junior Suites). Ironically, it was the musical aspects of the trip where things went awry. According to the performers, the lounge has terrible acoustics. Onboard performances were also erratically scheduled. The one planned for the first night was canceled because the performers were too jet-lagged to sing. Others were penciled in when the passengers asked for concerts every night.

Shore excursions also seemed a little chaotic for a company that's been through these parts before in its 29 years in business. Someone should have known that there would be a marathon in Regensburg the day we were there. (It forced the passengers, some of whom were elderly, to walk a long distance into the center of town.) There was also such confusion about whether we had a guided tour at the Abbey of Melk that I overheard one exasperated passenger groan, "For $12,000, can't we have a guide?"

Still, everyone queried agreed that the pleasures of the trip—watching the rolling hills and castles of southern Bavaria and Austria's Wachau Valley glide by while the Hungarian pianist played melodies both expected (Strauss waltzes) and surprising (the theme from Exodus and "Home on the Range")—outweighed the negatives. This year's cruise is scheduled for June 10-17 and will travel down the Elbe, from Potsdam to Prague. $4,995-$5,595 per person sharing, excluding airfare. 800-998-4677; fax 212-974-1420.