Central Europe with Adventures by Disney

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Castle in Cesky Krumlov.
Castle in Cesky Krumlov.(Richard Rico)

Wow! I’ll say that one more time, a bit slower now: W-o-w! That’s my one word to describe Adventures by Disney’s itinerary through Central Europe. There’s no denying Disney knows how to put on a grand show, and its escorted tour product, Adventures by Disney, is no exception. Talk about culturally immersive experiences, heart-pounding activities and hanging with the locals—this itinerary through Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic has it in spades. I had the opportunity to take this tour last month, and was able to bring my family—my husband, and two kids, one 15 and the other 10—so I can say this with conviction: This is the tour to “recommend” to those families who want to be held by the hand while traveling through this area of Europe, but who also want to go back home having felt that the vacation they just had was a truly unique one. It’s got everything from visits to medieval towns to a private “Sound of Music” tour, not to mention exploring ice caves and salt mines, marionette-making, stomping through castle grounds, walking in the footsteps of Hitler, watching birds of prey soar through the sky over a lush, green valley, and visiting some of Europe’s most captivating capital cities. And, keep in mind, this is a Disney product, so nothing on this journey—not even the trips on coach from one experience and destination to the next—are run of the mill. In fact, the two “Adventure Guides” who play host—on our trip it was Dean Baladad and Stephanie Schulz, who’s a native of Germany—are not only charming, knowledgeable and hospitable, your clients will want to take them home, so they can guide them through their own city, because they are sure to find a gem and a surprise around every corner.

If you think I’m easily impressed, all you have to do is read what luxury travel advisor Staci Kimball responded when I asked her if there was any part of the experience that could be improved upon: “Honestly, no. I was very impressed with the entire experience from beginning to end.” Kimball, an executive concierge specializing in Disney Destinations for Glass Slipper Concierge, whose parent agency Sanborn’s Travel Service is a Virtuoso agency, was on the same trip I took, and points out that with “Adventures by Disney, everything is pre-arranged to offer guests the very best at each stop along the way, including luxury accommodations at incredible hotels and resorts; exciting, hands-on experiences that immerse you in the culture of each destination; private tours of historical and scenic locations with exclusive extras just for Adventures by Disney guests; fabulous, authentic meals in one-of-a-kind restaurants—many of which include complimentary beer and wine; enriching, family-friendly entertainment; unlimited snacks and refreshments; digital and printed photographs throughout the adventure; and little keepsake gifts along the way to commemorate the various experiences.”

a journey full of discovery
This vacation is for those clients who like to go-go-go and don’t tire of taking in as much as they can while traveling. It includes lots of early wake-up calls, an array of hands-on experiences and quite a few energy-packed activities. All complemented, of course, with leisurely lunches and dinners at restaurants that emphasize the local destination and come sprinkled with a few elements of surprise (one of the most enjoyable lunches is in Austria overlooking Lake Mondsee). Unbelievably, with all the great activities that are packed into this itinerary, there’s still time for families to sightsee at their own pace.

The trip begins and ends in two of Europe’s most charming capital cities. It kicks off in Prague, home to the world-famous Astronomical Clock (your clients will have a chance to see it in action) and wraps up in Vienna, an elegant city so packed with museums and imperial history, one could easily spend the entire nine days of the trip here. It’s a great way to start and end the tour, because clients have a chance to ease into the itinerary by sightseeing through Prague on a walking tour, and then wind down “sort of” with two full days in Vienna, where there’s plenty of time for families to enjoy the city on their own. And to think that these are merely the bookends to a vacation that also includes conquering 1,400 steps inside an ice cave while surrounded by surreal, glittering ice sculptures; listening to a duo play Mozart in Salzburg, in one of Europe’s oldest restaurants, mere steps from the composer’s birthplace and childhood home; going down slides through salt mines in Berchtesgaden; and learning the fine art of pretzel-making in Germany at an intimate, family-owned bakery.

All of this is laced, as Kimball notes, with “‘Adventure Guides’ and local guides who use storytelling, role playing, costumes and unique venues to bring history to life in memorable ways that ‘Adventurers’ of all ages will enjoy.” One thing that Kimball notes, too, that is of utmost importance for clients to understand is that “this is an upscale guided tour experience and the focus is on service, not [Mickey Mouse]. I am, however, occasionally asked if there will be characters on the tours, and I explain that while they won’t see Mickey and Minnie, they may discover some historical characters along the way.”

That said, there’s definitely Disney magic sprinkled throughout the trip, although in unexpected ways…read on to see what I mean. One of the most memorable experiences on this trip is exploring Eishole Ice Cave in Austria. This experience is much more than merely walking through the ice cave—although that alone is worth the trip—it also includes a vertigo-inducing cable car ride up to the top of the mountain, then a 20- to 30-minute hike to the entrance of the ice cave (don’t forget, there are those 1,400 steps inside the ice cave to still contend with). But it’s the views along the way that are what truly takes your breath away—embraced by clouds, one looks down at the village in the valley below, with its mammoth castle, and from this vantage point, it all looks more like a miniature village built for fairies. Kimball agrees that this is one of the trip’s most exhilarating moments: “I especially enjoyed the mountain-side hike to the amazing Eishole Ice Cave. The scenery was spectacular, so much so that the long hike up the winding path didn’t seem to matter. Once inside the cave for our private tour, we were permitted to take photos and venture off the path to test the ice—special privileges only Adventures by Disney guests enjoy. To add a little more Disney magic to the experience, our ‘Adventure Guide’ Stephanie surprised us by playing ‘Let it Go’ on portable speakers as we made our descent through the deepest part of the frozen cave. A fitting tribute to our ice adventure!” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

Marionette-making workshop in Prague.
Marionette-making workshop in Prague. (Paloma Villaverde de Rico)

Other trip highlights include a marionette-making workshop in Prague, in which the group heads over to the National Marionette Theater to learn how to make marionettes with skilled professionals. The marionette theme comes up again later in the trip while visiting Vienna, when the group gathers at the Marionette Theater at Schonbrunn Palace for a private performance and some private instructions on how to “play with” a marionette. Not only does the itinerary include a tour of Schonbrunn Palace—Junior Adventurers are whisked away by the “Adventure Guides” to the onsite Children’s Museum to play dress up, while the adults tour the gorgeous palace—but one of the evenings in Vienna tops off with a private after hours visit to the Vienna Zoo, which is on the palace grounds and where the group has dinner at the Emperor’s Pavilion. In fact, palaces and castles are high on the list on this itinerary, with visits to Castle Hill in Prague; Hellbrunn Castle, with its world-famous Trick Fountains that shoot out water at unsuspecting passersby; Hohenwerfen Castle, with its eerie torture chamber and delightful falconry demonstration; and the State Castle of Cesky Krumlov, casting an imposing shadow over this medieval town and, as with many castles, echoes with haunting tales, recounted to us by the local guide.

One of the other experiences that proved to be a highlight for the group was the backstage tour of Vienna’s Spanish Riding School at Hofburg Castle. As Kimball points out, “It was a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience during which we had the opportunity to meet one of the riders who eloquently shared with us the history of the Spanish Riding School. The private tour included an escorted walk through the stables, an inside look at the tack room, and a glimpse at the stately riding arena. We had a chance to get up-close and personal with one of the stallions, and we were even permitted to take photos, a rare treat reserved only for Adventures by Disney guests.”

And it’s those rare, unexpected treats that make Adventures by Disney trips so genuinely exceptional. Who knew, for example, that dinner at Vienna’s Piaristenkeller Restaurant, dating back 300 years, could be such a fun experience (check out my editor’s notes picture to see the fancy hats we donned pre-dinner), or how hilarious it would be to try and learn the Viennese waltz with a true master?

These aren’t new attractions on the tourism radar, but it’s how the “Adventure Guides” escort the tour participants—your clients—through these destinations and experiences that makes the difference. As Kimball notes, “The ‘Adventure Guides’ did an excellent job of keeping everything moving as scheduled without ever making anyone feel rushed. Best of all, Dean and Stephanie were wonderful storytellers, together and individually. Every day we were immersed in the history of the area we were visiting through the stories told by our guides.”

Yes, tourists have been traveling to these sites for years, but the way in which Adventures by Disney explores them—and the skilled way in which the “Adventure Guides” lead their guests through them—will have clients seeing these destinations through a one-of-a-kind lens.

accommodations & age restrictions
At each of the hotels—Prague Marriott Hotel, Kempinski Hotel Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps and The Ritz-Carlton, Vienna—my family had access to two rooms, so the kids had their own room throughout the trip (to say they enjoyed this would be an understatement). At Prague Marriott Hotel, we had connecting rooms, but at the Kempinski and The Ritz-Carlton, because of the age of my kids, we did not have connecting rooms. That said, because of the caliber of accommodations, safety was never a concern. Additionally, Adventures by Disney imposes age restrictions on each of its tours. For this Central Europe itinerary, the minimum age is 4, but the ideal minimum age, the tour operator notes, is 6, and I would add that it has to be a pretty active 6-year-old. Kimball agrees that the tour is appropriate for kids 6 and up. “Some of the outings were strenuous and require a lot of walking, climbing, hiking, etc. There were six children on our recent tour, ranging in ages from about 6 to 15, and none of the activities proved too much for them.”

rates, dates & new river cruising product
Rates for the 9-day Austria, Germany, Czech Republic itinerary start at $4,999 per adult and $4,749 per child for a June 2016 departure. There are two adult-exclusive departures this September with rates starting at $5,829.

By now you’ve all heard that Adventures by Disney has partnered with AmaWaterways to provide an 8-day, family-focused river cruise on the Danube. The Central Europe trip provides a taste of what’s to come, as the river cruise visits Hohenwerfen Castle and Schonbrunn Palace, and explores Salzburg. It also includes a Wachau Valley bike excursion and archery at Devin Castle in Slovakia. Sailing dates start in July, and rates start at $4,100 for adults and $3,900 for children.

Read on…
Luxury travel advisor Staci Kimball had a whole lot more to say about this Central Europe trip. Visit recommend.com, and search Staci Kimball, and you can read the entire Q&A.

I’ve got the lowdown on what clients can do with some of their downtime while exploring Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic. Visit
recommend.com and search for “Adventures by Disney.”

Also, if you want to see Central Europe through the eyes of a teenager (my daughter), click here.

contact information
Adventures by Disney: adventuresbydisney.com or disneytravelagents.com