By Jeannine Williamson - Cruise Journalist
Walking past a brick feature wall with images of musical greats including Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, along with an iconic photo of Aubrey Hepburn starring in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the restaurant manager shows us to a table for two. Settling into the comfy cream chairs an immediate talking point is the crisp napkins folded like dinner jackets and complete with a bow tie.
Nothing particularly unusual there you might think, especially if you’re out for a special occasion. Except this isn’t a bistro in a trendy part of town. Instead of looking out at a passing street scene we can see the River Danube flowing past. The intimate Manhattan, a music and jazz-themed dining room, is just one of the features that make nicko cruises’ nickoVISION stand out from the crowd.
A main dining room and lounge bar - the backbone of public areas on all river ships - are there, but instead of being two different rooms they’ve been opened up. The back of the restaurant leads up to a separate bar at the front of the ship, which in turn goes up another level to the lounge. It all feels very airy and spacious.
The Manhattan is an alternative dining venue, serving the same menu as the main restaurant, with a cosy vibe. It also includes plenty of tables for two, which is also unusual on a river vessel. Whilst it’s always interesting to meet new people, there are times when it’s nice to have a meal for two, or even dine solo if you are a single traveller, and this provides an extra option. All meals are free seating, so you can eat and sit whenever and wherever you want during the generous dining opening hours. There’s also the third choice of the small Mario’s Grill in a lovely spot overlooking the back of the ship and serving burger-style meals at lunchtime and becoming a steakhouse at night. It doesn’t cost extra to eat there in the evening; you just need to book in advance.
The social heart of the ship, however, is the lounge. It’s a quiet spot to relax during the day and to enjoy afternoon tea before moving up a gear in the evening for pre-dinner drinks and live music and dancing after dinner with the resident keyboard player and vocalist. A novel cocktail is the Blue Danube made from blue curacao, gin, tonic and lemon juice. As an open bar is included in the fare I didn’t need an excuse to order one and try something new. It was the perfect tipple to sip on the sun deck and watch the passing scenery on the namesake river.
Carrying 170-passengers, mostly in cabins with French balconies and windows that open, nickoVISION sails on the Danube and we were on a week-long sailing between Passau and Budapest. This itinerary is a great choice for first-timers on the river as it takes in three contrasting capitals - Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest - and the UNESCO-listed Wachau Valley which is lined with vineyards, topped by castles and arguably one of the prettiest stretches on the waterway.