We completed our 7 Day Tui ‘East Danube Explorer’ river cruise in July 2022. In this article we will look to give you a better idea on what to expect if you were to book a TUI river cruise or similar. We will provide you with insight into both the good and bad.
We booked our cruise only a few weeks before the cruise itself. As a result, we got ourselves a great deal. This appears to be usually the case with Tui packages. As you get closer to the time and if there is available space, the price will dramatically decrease. In our case it was around a 50% price reduction. At the time of writing, if you were to book the same river cruise 1 year out, you would expect to pay £1449 per person (excluding any sort of room upgrade). We paid £798 per person, and paid an additional £364 as a room upgrade. We did not opt to have the all inclusive drinks package which was £20pp per night (£280 for a couple for the week).
The price includes:
- Full Board – breakfast, lunch and dinner at two restaurants and a range of drinks are included; standard tea, coffee and juices with breakfast, as well as soft drinks, beer and wine with lunch and dinner.
- £120 per person as credit towards daily excursions (eg: tours)
- Transfers to and from the airport
2. The Ship
Our tour was on the TUI Skyla. This ship features:
- 4 Decks
- 77 Cabins
- 2 Restaurants (one formal, one buffet)
- 2 Bars
- Spa (spa pool, loungers, sauna)
We found the ship to be great and challenge the other cruise companies that target a more luxury market. All rooms and facilities appeared to be new and modern. Most importnatly when travelling it is quiet, and all you could hear when moving was the sound of the water.
Free WiFI is onboard but we found it to be fairly patchy and non-existent in our room. As a result, we had to rely on mobile data.
see here for more specifics
We paid an additional £364 for the room (cabin) upgrade and we are thankful we did. If you do not opt for an upgrade you will be placed in a standard room at the deck 1 level.. Whilst the room itself is much like the others available, what you lose is the view. You’re effectively below the water level and have two port windows to peak out of at the top.
We selected the ‘Deck 2 French Balcony Cabin’ the great benefit of this option is the sliding doors that open up. You can relax in the comfort of your own room looking out at an unencumbered view as the world passes by.
The room featured a large double bed that was very comfortable along with equally high grade pillows. A TV with a few English channels (BBC, Euronews, Comedy Central – some shows in english and some not). Unfortunately the casting feature on the TV did not work in our room, I think because of the poor WiFi. Mini fridge was a great feature that allowed you to pickup your own drinks/foods from the towns and store these away. We purchased beer, coca-cola and a bottle of bourbon on day one which allowed us to sit nicely with a drink at our french balcony.
Plenty of storage spaces to unpack you’re personal items and clothes. The bathroom was fairly standard with a sink, toilet (like on an airplane), and comfortable sized shower. Pressure on the shower was not a problem at all. All tap water on the boat was filtered which allowed you to drink from the tap without buying any sort of plastic bottle alternatives.
All three meals are inclusive every day and in many occasions have the opportunity to decide whether to eat at the port location or onboard. Spotted around the ship were also Coffee machines with treats such as biscuits.
Breakfast time is between 7am-9am. There is a buffet option where standard breakfast foods are available. This includes full english breakfast items (beans, bacon, scrambled eggs, mushrooms, hashbrown etc), cereals, yoghurt, continental breakfast, and pastries. In addition to the buffet you have the option to order from the Chef. Through the Chef you can order eggs cooked to your preference, eggs benedict, and omelettes. For drinks you will be served standard coffee, tea or you can grab yourself a juice. We aren’t the biggest breakfast eaters and usually don’t bother eating breakfast, however on the cruise we did every single day in order to fill up before the activities shortly following. One downside we found with the breakfast was there was a lack of fruit options. We are fairly healthy eaters and between the meals we felt we were missing some of the standard nutrients we expect in our daily diets. Therefore when the option for fruit was there, we stocked up when we ordered. For snacks, we also grabbed a couple pastries at breakfast to take with us in our bags during the excursions.
Both Lunch and Dinner and three course meals with an appetiser, main, and desert. For each part of the meal you were usually presented with 3-4 various options including at least one vegetarian option. In terms of taste we were pleasantly surprised for most of the options we selected. There was always a standard chicken or salmon option but we tried our best to try the more unique options when they were available.
One of the nights had a special ‘Indonesian’ menu that was considered experimental. This was by far the best meal we had aboard the ship. So much so that we ordered two mains each (staff were more than happy to oblige!). This makes sense as much of the cooks are Indonesian or from other Southern Asian countries, allowing them to flex their traditional dishes. What we were disappointed to see was the turnout for this option from the other passengers. What we noted was that a majority of passengers aren’t the most adventurous when it comes to their meals. We certainly hope this continues in the future and hope TUI really push this option to passengers as I think they could have done a better job to recommend it.
For drinks the Beer and Wine was flowing. It was unlimited and in most cases your waitress/waiter could not wait to supply you with an more drinks (very handy when you didn’t pay for the unlimited drinks package). There were a few different Beer options with a light and dark beer variation. For Wine you had both White and Red with each night having a different bottle from a new region. The quality was very good, and much better than what we expected (we expected the cheap stuff – it was not).
During the long cruise day where we were moving from Belgrade to Budapest, we had to be onboard for more than 24horus. As a result, they planned a gala night to make things a bit more interesting. This included a 6 course meal where you only had to make one decision regarding the main. This felt quite fancy with the little beautifully presented dishes. Bon appetite (I think staff are told they have to say this, and you will hear it so often it will become quite funny).
Our criticisms of the food are limited to a few different areas. The meat options usually didn’t hit the spot in portion size and the vegetarian options (like pasta) sometimes felt like it was a bit bland and missing ingredients. We would have also hoped for a bit more international flavour to mix things up. However, you can still eat off ship when you’re at the ports if you’re a very picky eater.
5. Port Time and Excursions
One thing that this cruise does is organise optional excursions for you to pick. Included in your ticket price we were given £120 each to use towards excursions. This paid for around 4 excursions. If you wanted more, then it was pretty reasonable priced at around £10-40 depending on how much is involved. There was usually 1 or 2 different excursion options available each day, one in the morning and then one afternoon/evening based excursion.
In all ports a historical walking tour was an option. The guided were local and would provide a wealth of knowledge and answer any questions that you may have. In our rooms we were provided with ‘Vox boxes’ which were little frequency radios with earpieces which allows you to hear the guide from a good distance away.
Each excursion had a rating on how hard the physical activity was (ie Walking). This allowed an individual to decide what they could and could not do. We are young (30) and fit so none of the walking was difficult for us, but for some of the older folk, they did struggle. So it’s best to fully understand the amount of walking that is involved.
If you’re not wanting to do an excursion and instead want to do your own thing that you can do that. That’s what we did in a number of ports. Maps are provided at the front desk which does highlight some key sights which was helpful, but in most cases we just opted for google maps and trip advisory to plan our day. When leaving the boat pay attention to the time you must be back onboard, otherwise you might be left behind.
We did 3 TUI excursions on our cruise:
Wine & History In And Around Novi Sad – Novi Sad, Serbia
Overview: Fortresses, ancient cities and wine houses are all part and parcel of a sightseeing tour in Serbia. This four-hour tour starts in Novi Sad, Serbia’s second largest city. Follow your guide on foot to the mighty Petrovaradin Fortress, perched right on the banks of the Danube. You’ll have an hour to explore and find out how this stronghold became a centre for art and music. Then you’ll hop on a coach and drive to the ancient city of Sremski Karlovci. Take a 30-minute guided walk through its pretty streets before arriving at a wine house – a winery. This city has a rich history of wine production, and you’ll have an hour-long tasting session to find out more about it before heading back to your ship at Novi Sad.
Bohemian Belgrade – Belgrade Serbia
Overview: You can see Belgrade’s bohemian side on this tour. For starters, you’ll be taken to one of the city’s music halls for a folklore performance. This hour-long show gives you a taste of Serbia’s mish-mash past, with songs played using traditional Slavic instruments and dancers kitted out in authentic outfits. After, you’ll be dropped in Skadarlija, AKA the Bohemian Quarter. This place is more of a street than a quarter, but its cobblestone lane is brimming with some of the city’s oldest restaurants and bars. There’s the option of snapping up a traditional snack at one of the eateries – like grilled Serbian sausages or meat skewers, washed down with wine. Then you’ll hop on the bus back to the ship.
Lepenski Vir Archaeological Site and Golubac Fortress – Donji Milanovac, Serbia
Overview: This tour ticks off a pair of Serbia’s must-see antique attractions. After a 15-minute drive from the port, you’ll arrive at Lepenski Vir – an 8,000-year-old archaeological site that’s been dubbed ‘the first city of Europe’. In the museum here, you’ll watch a video presentation about the history of the area. Then you’ll head into the main hall to see what’s left of the old settlement. These remains were discovered in 1960, and historians believe they date as far back as 6500 BC. You’ll see where the old huts used to stand, as well as artefacts like carved stone heads and tools. When you’re finished, you’ll travel to the town of Golubac’s waterfront fortress. This giant stronghold was built in the 14th century, and sits on the shore of the Danube. During a riverside stroll, your guide will tell you about the battles that took place here between Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. And before you start the journey back to the port, you’ll have some free time to explore the castle on your own.
6. Onboard Entertainment
An itinerary is set for each day with a number of different hosted and self hosted events throughout the day. Generally each evening the onboard musicians will provide a few hours of music whether it be a DJ set of 80’s classic hits or cranking out a ballad. On the first night in Budapest there was traditional dancers who put on a show for the guests in the main function room. During the day there was the odd Yoga session and some small games on the top deck (shuffleboard and a homemade mini golf course). Throughout the ship there was various board games, card games, and chess/checkers boards. We honestly didn’t do much of this, and rather entertained ourselves on top deck or in our own room, however people certainly did enjoy all of these.
What we did enjoy was the first night when we left Budapest, the tour manager Tony gave a fact session as we first left the port along the Danube river in front of the beautiful lit up buildings including the parliamentary building. The same was also done when we were passing through the ‘Iron Gates’ which was absolutely stunning first thing after breakfast.
If I asked you to imagine the type of people on a river cruise what do you imagine?…. well you’re probably spot on. River cruises in general do market and attract an older crowd and because TUI is British company you will end up with 95% of White British people above the age of 60. We are a 30 year old couple and we did stand out as a very strange sight to the rest of the passengers. Some other passengers would jokingly ask what us young people are doing and were very interested to get our thoughts on the trip, as we were an anomaly. Honestly we did expect to be much younger than the others but did expect to see maybe one or two couples of similar age (or below 45) but that certainly was not the case. It did not ruin the trip, but it did detract from the social side of things as it was always going to be a bit harder to fit in. Whilst we do live in the UK we are also still not British so that did add another component to feeling a bit like outsiders. Regardless we did not go into this trip expecting to meet a bunch of new friends or party it up. It was planned to be relaxing and fairly calm which it most certainly was. The crowd are fairly calm and level headed, so if you are used to a trip to Benidorm where you drink and party yourself into a coma, then look elsewhere, you won’t get what you’re looking for here. Same with if you’re under 55 and looking to make a bunch of mates on the trip, it’s going to be unlikely unless you do get along with much older people (eg: there was a lovely deaf couple celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary onboard). We must say though, that everyone we did talk to were really nice and certainly went out of their way to say hello. Our boat only had about 70 people onboard (max ~150) so you will see the same people and you will be on excursions with them (which has some forced mingling). Because of this, if you’re used to a normal big ocean cruiser where you can hide in the crowd, you won’t get that here. Many passengers are elderly and have mobility issues, so when on excursions or doing anything as a group just be prepared that it will be slower than what you’re used to.
Overall, the river cruise was a great value for money. It also ticked off a number of new places we had never been to before. There are a lot of different river cruise options, so definitely pick one where you prioritise the ports that sound interesting to you. TUI has done a fantastic job to have a more entry level cost to river cruising. In comparison to other companies running, TUI has undercut them by a hefty margin and I can’t see how others could really rationalise the extra cost. Would we do it again?…. at this stage probably not. It does feel like a one time thing for now (a once and done). However, that is not TUI’s fault, i think that’s more to do with the target demographic that this industry caters to. So until a river cruise company goes after working age people, we will give it a miss for now….. unless financially it makes more sense to do a river cruise to see new spots we want to get to. Are we glad we did it? certainly, definitely a novelty experience.