Eastern Europe Danube cruise — Bulgaria

By Randy Keck
This item appears on page 62 of the June 2012 issue.

by Randy Keck (Third of three parts)

The final portion of my October ’11 cruise “Eastern Europe to the Black Sea,” hosted by what is now known as Grand Circle Cruise Line, began on arrival in Vidin, Bulgaria’s primary Danube port.

After clearing Customs, passengers traveled by coach to the legendary Fortresses of Bulgaria, which are situated atop the Belogradchik Rocks, a massive formation that covers more than 30 square miles.

I climbed a series of ladders to the top of the ancient fortress and a lookout perch that afforded expansive views over the town and surrounds.

The medieval Baba Vida fortress in northern Bulgaria. Photos: Keck

Our later tour of dramatic, Middle Ages Baba Vida showcased its two walls and four towers, illustrating why it was northern Bulgaria’s most important fortress.

To the Black Sea

The following day, we traveled by coach to Varna on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. The popular and attractive resort city is clearly prospering, by current Eastern European standards.

During our walking tour at a local cathedral, I had a strong verbal difference of opinion with two gypsy pickpockets who were clearly targeting tour groups. They quickly departed, but the experience served as a reminder that throughout both Eastern and Western Europe, visitors must remain acutely vigilant in public areas frequented by tourists.


Disembarking in Ruse, Bulgaria, on our final touring day, we crossed the Danube into Romania, traveling by coach directly to nearby Bucharest, the only destination on our itinerary that I had visited previously.

Our tour of the city revealed an impressive array of 19th-century neoclassical buildings, which mitigate the influence of the many massive, largely unstylish structures constructed during the period of Communist control under the egoistic dictator Ceaus¸escu.

I particularly enjoyed the Arc de Triomphe (à la Paris’), celebrating the achievements of World War I soldiers, and the drive along Victory Avenue to historic Revolution Square. Touring in Bucharest is best done by vehicle; the city is not very pedestrian user friendly, by European standards.

Although my highly educational Eastern Europe Danube sojourn was suddenly at an end, many passengers were beginning an extension to mysterious Transylvania, a region I had toured on a previous trip to Romania.

Cruise comments

Life on a Grand Circle Cruise Line European river cruise typically means traveling and dining with 130 to 150 other passengers and efficient touring in groups of 30 to 35, with a highly skilled and dedicated tour director assigned to your group for the duration of the cruise.

The huge, Communist-era Romanian Parliament in Bucharest.

Accommodation aboard ship is in well-designed, standard-size cabins (choose from several categories) for eight to eleven days or longer, depending on the itinerary.

My list of the definite positives included not having to deal with packing and luggage until the end of the cruise, plus having excellent ship’s staff at all levels, a fine range of onboard entertainment and educational programs about destinations. An unexpected bonus was the quality of and impressive variety of cuisine on board.

Finally, I must acknowledge that my fellow passengers, almost all of whom were seniors, generally seemed to be very well traveled and highly congenial.

2012 cruise changes

Please note that in 2012, instead of disembarking passengers in Ruse, Bulgaria, Grand Circle’s “Eastern Europe to the Black Sea” cruises are scheduled to travel (depending on the water level) through the 40-mile-long engineering marvel the Danube-Black Sea Canal all the way to Constant¸a, Romania. This is a significant positive change from the 2011 itinerary, in my opinion.

This cruise operates from March through November. On the final four days of our cruise, Oct. 14-26, we did encounter overcast conditions and continuous rain, affecting visibility and our touring. My recommendation would be to do the cruise between late April and September, if possible.

Grand Circle Cruise Line (347 Congress St., Boston, MA 02210; 800/221-2610) offers river cruises on several continents.

Keck's Beyond the Garden Wall

❝In all regards, a user-friendly introduction to a mélange of redefining, reinventing, redeveloping Eastern European sovereignties which share the bounty of the timeless River Danube ❞
— Randy’s Eastern Europe Danube cruise synopsis