September 18 & 19 – U.S., Krakow, Poland
Depart from the U.S. and arrive in Krakow, the only major Polish city to have emerged from World War II unscathed. For more than 1,000 years, Krakow has been the cultural and spiritual capital of Poland, serving as the country’s seat of government from 1038 to 1596, and its Old Town is a World Heritage site whose treasures have remained undiminished through the centuries. Upon arrival in Krakow, check into a deluxe, centrally located Radisson Blu Krakow Hotel. This evening, gather for a welcome reception at the hotel. (19th- R)September 20 & 21 – Krakow
Enjoy a walking tour of the grounds of Wawel Hill. See the Royal Castle, the seat of the monarchy for 500 years, which blends 16th-century Florentine architecture with Polish motifs and houses the state art collection and the 14th-century Cathedral of Sts. Stanislaus and Waclaw, where all of Poland’s kings were crowned and buried. Walk into the Old Town and experience Rynek Glowny, or “Main Market Square.” Visit the 14th-century twin-spired Mariacki (St. Mary’s) Church, one of the finest Gothic structures in Poland, to see the famous medieval altar by Wit Stwosz. From the church’s tower, a lone trumpeter sounds a haunting call every hour on the hour, in commemoration of a warning of an impending attack by the Tatars in medieval times. Pass by the former residence of Pope John Paul II, where he lived while Archbishop of Krakow.
You'll also tour the Oskar Schindler Factory, now an evocative museum precisely presenting the history of Krakow and its people under Nazi occupation from 1939 to 1945. Continue to the historic Kazimierz district and see the impressive landmarks of this former medieval town, known for its vibrant Jewish community from the 14th century until World War II.
You'll also attend a presentation on Frédéric Chopin, then enjoy the Master’s works during a specially arranged, private performance in Florianka Hall.
During your stay in Krakow, you can also choose between two optional excursions or explore the city further on your own. One excursion takes you to Auschwitz-Birkenau, a World Heritage site and poignant memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust. Another optional excursion is a tour to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a World Heritage site known as “The Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland,” featuring the richly ornamented Chapel of the Blessed Kinga, carved entirely from salt, and the underground salt mining exhibition. (B)September 22 – Brno, Prague, Czech Republic
This morning enjoy the scenic transfer to Prague, stopping en route in Brno for lunch. The second largest city in the Czech Republic, Brno is located at the crossroads of ancient trade routes that have joined the North and South European civilizations for centuries. Upon arrival in Prague, check in to the deluxe Hotel Intercontinental Praha, located near the historic Old Town. (B,L,D)September 23 & 24 – Prague
A guided tour showcases the diverse cultural legacy of Prague, a World Heritage site and the “City of a Thousand Spires” of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture. Walk down the narrow, picturesque lanes of the Staré Mesto (Old Town) to the Orloj, the ornate, 15th-century astronomical clock of the Old Town Hall. Enjoy a brief performance of Mozart’s music and a specially arranged private tour of the Estates Theater where the prodigy’s opera, Don Giovanni
, premiered in 1787. Continue to Josefov, the Jewish Quarter, and visit Europe’s oldest Jewish house of worship, the Gothic Old-New Synagogue; walk among the moss-covered, 15th-century headstones of the Jewish Cemetery; and conclude at the famous Charles Bridge, adorned with 17th- and 18th-century statues of saints.
You'll also tour the fascinating Hradcany complex of castles, churches and museums, the former residence of Bohemian royalty, which dominates the city skyline. See St. Vitus Cathedral and walk through the “Golden Lane,” a street formerly lined with goldsmiths, which today is known for its small houses built in the Mannerism style at the end of the 16th century. (B)September 25 – Passau, Germany
Travel across the rolling hills and wooded Czech and German countryside to Passau. En route, enjoy lunch in a historic, typical German restaurant. Upon arrival in Passau take a tour of this beautiful city, where a highlight is a specially arranged recital in the magnificent Baroque Cathedral of St. Stephan, where you will see and hear the largest cathedral organ in the world, with 17,774 pipes. This afternoon, embark the M.S. Amadeus Elegant
and gather for a welcome reception and dinner this evening. (B,L,D)September 26 – Melk, Dürnstein, Vienna, Austria
This morning, visit Melk’s magnificent Benedictine Abbey where you will enjoy a brief organ recital in the abbey’s beautiful Stiftskirche (church), which features the striking 16th-century altarpiece by “Danube School” master Jörg Breu the Elder. This abbey is a showcase of impressive Austrian Baroque architecture, priceless relics, and stunning 18th-century ceiling frescoes by Paul Troger. It was a prestigious center of scholarship throughout the Middle Ages and its library today is a repository of 100,000 medieval manuscripts.
The charming medieval village of Dürnstein sits below the hilltop ruins of Castle Kuenringer, where Richard the Lion Heart was held prisoner after the Third Crusade. Walk through the tiny, picturesque village to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Abbey Church. Then, cruise the Danube’s spectacular and fabled Wachau Valley, a World Heritage site, where terraced vineyards blanket hillsides dotted with the haunting ruins of medieval castles.
This evening, cruise to Vienna. Enjoy an exclusive presentation on classical music’s Great Masters and a special performance of their works on board the ship. (B,L,D)September 27 - Vienna
The former seat of the Habsburg Empire, Vienna is an open-air museum of Baroque architecture, designated a World Heritage site. Tour this remarkable city, which owes its present appearance to the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef, who created the famous Ringstrasse to showcase the city’s finest landmarks—the impressive Vienna Opera House and the lavish Hofburg Palace. Visit the great 13th-century cathedral, the Stephansdom (St. Stephan's Cathedral), followed by a performance of Mozart's music in a premier venue. This afternoon is at leisure to further explore the cultural treasures of Vienna at your own pace. Tonight, you may choose to experience an authentic Viennese tradition and attend an optional opera or classical music performance. (B,L,D)September 28 – Vienna; Bratislava, Slovakia
This morning, visit the Baroque Schönbrunn Palace, a World Heritage site and the Habsburgs’ summer residence, to learn more about the lineage of the Austrian Empire.
This afternoon, cruise to Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, located in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains overlooking the banks of the Danube River. Beautifully restored since the end of the Cold War, the city showcases its 21st-century life amid its 1,000-year-old history. Enjoy a walking tour of Bratislava’s Old Town to see its medieval, Renaissance, and 19th-century architecture, among the finest in central Europe. Admire the Romanesque 14th-century Cathedral of St. Martin, visit the elaborate Primatial Palace, and marvel at the beauty of the magnificent Slovak National Theater, one of Europe’s finest 19th-century opera houses. See the 14th-century St. Michael’s Gate, the only remaining portion of the city’s medieval fortifications. (B,L,D)September 29 – Budapest, Hungary
Arrive in Budapest, the “Pearl of the Danube.” For centuries, the twin cities of Buda and Pest have faced each other across the Danube River. When the Habsburg Archduke Joseph, son of Emperor Leopold II, became Palatine of Budapest in 1796, he undertook a building program on an unprecedented scale. By the time this “most Hungarian Habsburg” died in 1847, Budapest rivaled Vienna as an imperial capital.
Spend the day exploring the Danube embankments and the Buda Castle Quarter, which comprise another World Heritage site. Begin your tour in Pest, where the elegant limestone Parliament Building looms beside the river. Pass through Heroes’ Square and admire its monuments to the Magyar chiefs who conquered Hungary in A.D. 896. Visit the State Opera House, built in neo-Renaissance style in 1884. The grand staircase and auditorium are decorated with frescoes painted by some of Hungary’s eminent artists of the time.
After lunch onboard the ship, continue your tour on the hillier Buda side of the Danube. On Castle Hill, visit the covered marketplace and the Gothic Matthias Church, built in the 1200s and renovated in the 17th and 19th centuries. Then visit the neo-Romanesque Fisherman’s Bastion, which commands a panoramic view of the city. This evening, enjoy a farewell dinner and a specially arranged local folklore performance on board the ship. (B,L,D)September 30 – Budapest, U.S.
Disembark the ship and continue on the Budapest Post-Program Optional Extension, or transfer to the airport for your return flight to the U.S. (B)