A couple of months ago I was invited by Saga to join them on the Filia Rheni, we cruised from Budapest to Bucharest along the Danube river. If you are considering a cruise with Saga or a cruise on the Danube this post is for you, it will take you through from embarkation to disembarkation and discuss everything in between.
- Novi Sad, Serbia
- Ruse, Bulgaria
- Danube Delta
This post is the combination of daily diaries shared our my Facebook Page.
Day 1 – Embarking in Budapest
What an incredibly busy day I’ve had! My day started at 4 am with a transfer to the airport. I was flying to Budapest to join Saga’s Filia Rheni on a Danube cruise.
Saga cruise fares include transfers within 250 miles of the port/airport which is really cool. Speaking to guests onboard it seems as though most people love Saga because of everything the fare includes (and the food).
Things went downhill a little when I got off the flight and met the Saga representative. I wasn’t on her list as being on the flight (or the transfer) but she eventually decided we could fit on the coach so we didn’t end up stranded (phew). It did scare me for a little while though. This probably was to do with me being on a media trip and not being a ‘normal’ passenger but even still it wasn’t ideal.
Mini Excursion of Budapest
We got on the coach around 12 pm and weren’t able to board the ship until 4 pm. We had a transfer/excursion which gave us an hour in Budapest and then drove us around until 4 pm (it felt as though we were just killing time, to be honest).
This wasn’t a problem for me and mum since we’re quite able to walk around but I did feel sorry for the other guests who were much older and not very mobile.
It was 34c today and there wasn’t anywhere air-conditioned for them to go to sit or any water given out. I was surprised how much standing around in the sun/walking was actually required considering the average age of Saga cruisers… I’m not sure if the other guests knew that this would be the case. Some seemed as clueless as me and had no idea what was going on but others had sandwiches and snacks ready. Clearly they had done it before or had some insider info!
I spoke to many other guests throughout the cruise and they all agreed that they were disappointed with embarkation day. Luckily things improved a LOT when we got on board.
Boarding The Filia Rheni
Boarding the ship was so exciting! We were given a balcony cabin and we headed straight to afternoon tea in the main lounge. Apparently afternoon tea happens every day so I will certainly be partaking daily! They had lots of cakes, cookies and sandwiches of which I ate a lot. Tea/Coffee is available 24 hours a day too which is great. I do love my tea.
After afternoon tea we decided to explore a little and found a a lovely little library/games room at the back of the ship. I also found a gym although I don’t think I’ll be using that anytime soon. We had a safety briefing and welcome talk from the cruise director which was really useful. I bought a diet coke for €2.40 which I thought was a pretty reasonable price for a diet coke on a cruise.
Our First Dinner
Dinner was SO GOOD. I’ve heard loads about Saga’s food in the past and it certainly lived up to my expectations. Everything was cooked extremely well and the free wine with dinner went down well too. We were assigned a table for dinner with 4 other ladies who are all lovely, what a relief it is to have nice table mates!
Hungarian Folklore Dancers
We finished off last night with some local entertainment in the lounge. The Hungarian folklore dancers were incredibly good and they were accompanied by three musicians. The dancing was so energetic is genuinely made me tired just watching it! One thing that I like about river cruising is that because the ships are much smaller you get much closer to the action. The dancers were so close we definitely could touch them.
Day 2 – Budapest
Our First Breakfast
I started the day by discovering the bread section of the breakfast buffet. The bread onboard is SO yummy and there is plenty. There is also hot food and fruits/cold options but I was definitely more interested in the doughnuts. I don’t know who’s idea it is to have doughnuts with breakfast but it seems to be available on a lot of cruise ships. Who am I to question it?! Guests can sit wherever they’d like for breakfast which makes it very easy. The waiters are very attentive and offer tea/coffee.
An Included Excursion
We had an included excursion today which was cool. Our 7-night cruise includes 2 excursions, one in Budapest and one at the end in Bucharest. The tour was mostly coach based but we did have an hour or so to walk around and take photos. It’s 33c here today but it still managed to rain!
I love Budapest and would 100% recommend a visit if you ever get the chance, there is loads to see and it’s very easy to travel around. I came to Budapest for the weekend of my 21st birthday which was brilliant. You can buy a 3-day transport card for less than £10 which you can use on all buses, trains and trams! I wish the transport was so cheap in the UK. It usually costs me that amount to make a 20-minute journey.
Main Dining Room Lunch
We came back on board for lunch and decided to eat in the main dining room. We were sat with another group today and I decided to have a few diet cokes. I really do worry that I’m addicted to diet coke but that is a problem for another day. Beer, wine and soft drinks are included with meals on Saga cruises.
Sail Away From Budapest
We sailed away during lunch and went up to the top deck to watch the world go by. I’ve only been on one river cruise before but on that cruise, we didn’t have the opportunity to sit on the top deck while sailing, we usually sailed at night or the top deck was shut to go under bridges. Being able to sit and watch the scenery go by is just amazing and definitely my favourite thing about river cruising. It is so relaxing.
A River Cruise Muster Drill
After this we had a very brief muster drill, it’s amazing how much faster things can be when you’re only dealing with 110 guests instead of 5000+. The muster drill took place on the top deck and we took the opportunity to take life jacket selfies, of course!
Welcome Onboard Talk
The muster drill was followed by a welcome talk. We had a little welcome talk yesterday so I was wondering what information they could give us today that they haven’t given us already. The answer is, LOADS! Saga really do explain everything about the cruise process and look after their guests. They took the time to explain things like how our phones would work in the countries that we are visiting which I thought was really nice. I’m sure you could go to the staff with any problem or question and they would help. Nothing seems like too much trouble.
Day 3 – Novi Sad, Serbia
We’re in Serbia, the largest exporter of Raspberries in the world (apparently)! Today we’ve been Zumba-ing, exploring and eating a LOT.
Last night the ship had to have a passport check as we left the Schengen region (26 European countries which allow free travel). All guests were required to be present and we all had our faces checked against our passports. I was a bit worried that my 25-year-old face might look out of place on a 50+ cruise but they didn’t seem to care.
Today started with breakfast and a chat with fellow guests. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to how friendly river cruise passengers are! I know guests can be friendly on ocean cruises too but you get to know your fellow cruisers so much better on the river, probably because there are only 100ish passengers. I had another doughnut… of course.
Gentle Stretching and Zumba
At 10 am there was a gentle stretch and gentle Zumba on the top deck. Gentle anything in this heat is exhausting but it was really good to do! Loads of guests took part and everybody had fun. I didn’t bring any Zumba clothes on this cruise because who’d have though that Saga would do Zumba?! I didn’t! I improved with a pair of shorts and a t-shirt which worked well. In future.
Light Lunch Options
We’re docked in Novi Sad and we were planning on going ashore but got distracted by the smell of spare ribs and potatoes wafting by… As well as the usual sit down three-course lunch Saga also put on a light lunch in the lounge for those of us who don’t want to have a proper sit-down lunch. The food was once again AMAZING. I honestly think the food on this ship might be the best I’ve ever had on a cruise. It is so consistently good and is the type of food that I like to eat.
Exploring Novi Sad
Mum and I decided to explore Novi Sad by ourselves. There is an excursion happening today but there isn’t anything I particularly wanted to see to make it worth my while. Saga cruises do include some excursions but not every day.
As an alternative, the Cruise Director Charlie is doing an escorted walk into the centre of town for those who want a bit of help working out where to go and what to see. I thought that this was a lovely touch, especially for those who are a bit nervous about being in a new country such as Serbia. The number of Charlie and the ship is always on our daily schedule and if we ever get lost we can phone and they’ll come and rescue us, you don’t get that on an ocean cruise!
Amazingly it’s almost time for afternoon tea again, it’ll then be time for dinner and before I know it another day will be over. Our entertainment host Debbie is singing 60s songs tonight which I’m looking forward to. I’m actually quite impressed with the variety of music on the ship, I would have expected it all to be the 60s but we even had things like George Ezra last night! Saga are a 50+ cruise line so older music definitely is to be expected. Not that that is a bad thing, I sometimes listen to the 60s rewind Spotify playlist when I’m at work.
Day 4 – River Day
Am I the only person that didn’t realise you could have a ‘river day’ on a river cruise? Today has been so brilliant.
Our morning started with us getting dressed VERY quickly and heading up to the top deck to view a rock face on the side of the gorge. His name is Decebalus and he’s the last king of Dacia apparently!
Our clocks went forward last night so it felt even earlier but I didn’t want to miss it. Sailing through the gorge is absolutely beautiful. It really reminds me of Norway or Alaska.
We made friends with some more lovely ladies at breakfast. It’s amazing the people you meet on a ship like this. I met a man who was planning on doing a skydive on his 90th birthday, amazing. As always the breakfast food was absolutely perfect, as you guys know I am a MASSIVE fan of a good slice of bread and they do not disappoint.
Locks Are SO Cool
We’ve been through a couple of locks today which I REALLY enjoy. We were sat in our cabin when we went into the first one. I filmed and edited a couple of river cruising videos which will be on YouTube soon (EmmaCruises). As I editing the video it started to get really dark in the room as my normal view started to become a concrete wall! You can literally touch the wall outside of our cabin. I know you’re probably not supposed to do that but I did it anyway…
I’ve been through locks before on my last river cruise but on the Rhone river the top deck was never open when we did it, or it was at night. Today everybody was on the top decks and we were taking photos and looking at everything. I find it amazing how these huge locks work, they’re engineering masterpieces! We shared the lock with two other little boats.
Next, it was time for ZUMBA! Zumba took place in the lounge and I was sweating so much by the time it was done. It was meant to be gentle Zumba but everything feels more difficult when it’s so warm. Most of the other passengers on here are in their 60s or 70s so I felt as though I had to give it my best shot. I don’t want to be out Zumba-d by somebody 50 years my senior!
We decided on the light lunch option again today. I much prefer being able to see what the options are before I decide what I’d like. I really wish that all menu’s had pictures but that’s an idea for another time! (Please let me know if you agree, it would be so helpful and they do it in a lot of Asia).
Mum discovered a ‘blue cheese and pear’ sandwich, an odd combination but it seems to work. Mum says it was ‘delicious’ and she went back for a second.
A Swimming Pool and Ten Sunbeds! All For Me…
We spent some time this afternoon swimming in the pool and sunbathing. It’s been a long long time since I’ve had an internet-less afternoon and I have to say I’ve loved it.
I love having the swimming pool on the top because it means you can just bob around the pool. It definitely is a pool for floating around rather than swimming (although I did do a whopping 3 lengths). The swimming pool is really pretty shallow, as you’d expect! I can sit on the floor in the middle and still be able to breathe.
YouTube – Embarkation Day
I filmed half of the video ‘9 Major Differences Between River Cruising and Ocean Cruising’ I’ll have to finish it off when I’m on an Ocean ship next week! I’ve also filmed and edited my ‘Embarking the Filia Rheni’ video which is now live. Make sure you subscribe here: EmmaCruises.
Main Dining Room Dinner
Dinner time came around again and I had the following:
- Summer Salad with Fresh Fruits, Turkey Stripes and Barbecue Dressing. Mum had Tomato-Mozzarella Caprese.
- I skipped the soup but the options were a Clear Beef Consomme with Ham Biscuit of a Sweet Pea Cream Soup with Roaster Pistachio
- Marinated Duck Breast, served with Champagne red cabbage, Orange sauce and croquet.
- I had fruits for dessert but the other options included Cheese Dumplings with Vanilla Sauce or Nuts Ice Creams with Strawberry Sauce and Whipped Cream.
Day 5 – Ruse, Bulgaria
Today we’re in Bulgaria! The land of stray cats that I cannot touch (according to my travel insurance) and builders who wear overalls like Mario.
We spent today sightseeing in Ruse! Ruse is a Bulgarian city with some lovely buildings like an Opera house and Courthouse. It’s got a big square in the middle which is very well looked after with lots of flowers and monuments. The paths around the rest of the town are a little bit hazardous so I wouldn’t recommend wandering around by yourself if you’re not very stable on your feet, even I tripped a few times!
Bulgaria has SO many stray cats which I wish I could stroke. Sadly my travel insurance says it’ll be invalid if I stoke any stray animals and I don’t much fancy going to a Bulgarian hospital with rabies.
Main Dining Room Lunch
It was time for lunch when we got back on board and after a few cups of tea, we decided to go for lunch. We were seated at a table for 6 with 4 people all of whom were lovely. I decided to have a few glasses of diet coke instead of wine because I’ve been having a lot of wine on this cruise (beer, wine and soft drinks are included with meals). My diet cokes came in a wine glass and I’ve never felt so fancy!
I had chicken for main and a plum cake for dessert. Both were brilliant and very filling. I actually decided to skip afternoon tea for a change so I’d have room for dinner.
Tea, Sunshine, and Games
It’s very easy to pass the time on a river cruise. You drink a few cups of tea and BAM, the time has gone by. River cruises don’t have as much entertainment as ocean cruises but there was a ‘golf ladder’ game this afternoon and a general knowledge quiz. There are plenty of books to read and games to play in the lounge at the back of the ship too.
If you’re somebody who needs constantly entertainment you may find yourself a bit stuck on a river cruise but as my mum says, only boring people are bored! I’m not sure how you could be bored with this scenery going by constantly. I know I should be writing more blog posts and filming more videos but I just want to lay down and watch the world go by!
An Evenings Entertainment
Next, on the agenda, we have a port talk about tomorrows port. Then we will head to dinner for another amazing meal I’m sure. This evening our entertainer Debbie will be singing ABBA in the main lounge! I do like a bit of ABBA so I’m looking forward to that. (She’s a great singer and seems to have a million and one talents, she runs all the entertainment onboard).
Day 6 – Danube Delta
Did you know that a pelican can hold 20 litres of water in it’s mouth at once?! It’s quite difficult to imagine that much liquid but if you imagine that’s 10 2litre bottles of coke… wow.
Danube Delta Excursion
We went on a ‘Delta Safari’ boat trip which I really enjoyed. Almost all people on the ship decided to take the excursion as there is very little else to do in the port of ‘St George’. We didn’t get a chance to look around St George because we arrived later than planned.
Due to low water levels the ship has been going pretty slowly and it means we’ve been getting into places a bit behind schedule. Saga organised the excursions so it was their problem, not mine, phew! River cruises are affected a lot by river levels.
The excursion itself was fun, we all boarded little boats in our life jackets and went off around the lagoon to try and spot pelicans/herons. Some guests were disappointed that they didn’t see what they wanted to see but I was just having a good time trying to avoid being hit in the face with hanging leaves from trees and reeds! I really enjoyed it.
Fish and Chips For Lunch
As soon as we got back onboard we went to lunch. I had fish and chips, the first chips I’ve had all week! Yum! I had a couple of glasses of diet coke too, but nothing compared to the 20 litres that a pelican can have. Below is a photo of the pasta starter.
I decided not to have a dessert at lunch because I wanted to keep some room for afternoon tea. It’s amazing how you can get used to eating so often and so much. Usually, I walk quite a bit and take the stairs to counteract all of the eating. This ship only has three decks so I don’t think it will have the same effect! I did enjoy my cookies at afternoon tea though.
Amazingly it is already time to talk about disembarkation. I cannot believe how fast this week has gone. I’ve had the most amazing time. Some guests are staying on for another week but sadly it’s back to home and work for me!
I had the most amazing time onboard the Filia Rheni. Embarkation day was less than ideal but the experience improved 100 times when we actually boarded the ship. All members of staff on board were brilliant and the food and service were everything that I’d hope that they’d be.
I spoke to a lot of guests during the cruise and most were loyal Saga customers who were very happy with the trip. Almost everybody that I spoke to said that they booked with Saga for the friendly service and the fact that things like transfers were included in the cruise fare. I am 25 so the Saga product obviously isn’t for me but I can see why people love them.
To learn more about cruising with Saga, visit Saga’s website here: https://bit.ly/2JvsHmp
Where To Next?
If you’re considering your first cruise, or would just like to learn a little more about cruising, this post is a brilliant place to start: 67 Cruise Tips From 67 Cruisers.
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