/ Alumni and Family Engagement

Discovering the Balkans from the Black Sea to Budapest

This Danube River cruise, taking place June 3–15, 2019, is designed for all interested alumni and friends of Hope College.

Trip Highlights

What better way is there to experience many of the most beautiful cultural and natural sights of the Balkans than with a 12-day program cruising Europe’s most interesting and exciting river? Cruising through the northern region of the Balkans, the Danube River made expansion in art, culture and trade possible from the East to the West. This one-of-a-kind journey, through four countries and three national capitals, will explore the charming cultural and magnificent natural beauty that makes this part of southeastern Europe a must-see for any world traveler.

Danube Cruise MapBeginning with one night in Bucharest, Romania, you will then embark on the ship, The Avalon Passion, for eight picturesque nights of travel along the beautiful Danube River and disembarking in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, for two days.

Highlights of the program include:

  • Arc de Triomphe and Royal Palace Square, Bucharest
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site: Danube Delta
  • Constanța, Romania’s oldest continually inhabited city
  • Veliko Târnovo, ancient capital of Bulgaria
  • Bulgarian Folklore Show
  • Ethnographical Museum and Church of the Nativity in Arbanassi
  • Belogradchik Rocks, Vidin’s fortress
  • Iron Gates Gorge and Lepenski Vir archaeological site
  • Serbia’s capital: Belgrade
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site: Pécs, Hungary
  • Organ Concert in Pécs
  • Széchenyi Chain Bridge, connects Buda and Pest
  • Heroes’ Square, Great Market Square, Royal Palace, Budapest
About HASP

The Hope Academy of Senior Professionals (HASP) is a peer-led institute for learning in retirement at Hope College. Through a variety of classes, lectures, study groups, and cultural and service events, members pursue avenues of study and exchange ideas. This travel program is planned in partnership with HASP and registration will be open to HASP members first.

Program Leader

Roger NemethRoger Nemeth, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology and Social Work, will lead the cruise of the Balkans. During his teaching (nearly all of it at Hope College), he has been blessed with numerous opportunities to travel abroad. Roger is an experienced tour and study abroad guide, having led groups to Japan, Italy, Ireland, Scotland, Romania, Budapest, Bucharest, Greece, Turkey and, most recently, South Africa.

As a lifelong educator, he is honored to share his knowledge and experiences of the many places he has visited, and as a traveler it is his thrill to lead this incredible adventure.


If you choose to fly with our group leaders on the group flight, we will leave from Hope College on June 3, 2019, taking a bus to our departing airport. You will depart on an overnight flight from the United States on June 3 and arrive in Bucharest, Romania, on June 4.

June 4

Participants flying independently will meet the group at our hotel. If you fly with the main group, you will be transported as a group to our hotel. The day is yours to relax, explore and enjoy Bucharest.

June 5 

Guided sightseeing in Bucharest, embarkation in Fetesti, onboard welcome reception. Onboard lecture on the Danube Delta.

June 6

A mighty river’s entrance into the sea, guided small boat excursion to the Danube Delta, celebration of the Danube.

June 7

Guided sightseeing excursion to Constanta, visit the National History and Archaeological Museum.

June 8

Excursion to Veliko Târnovo & Arbanassi, guided sightseeing, visit Tsarevet’s Fortress in Veliko Târnovo, and the Ethnographic Museum and the Church of the Nativityin Arbanassi, or guided sightseeing of Rousse. Onboard live entertainment with a Bulgarian folklore show.

June 9

Guided sightseeing to Vidin’s fortress, excursion to Belogradchik, see the rock formations.

June 10

Cruise through the Iron Gates gorge, visit Lepenski Vir archaeological site.

June 11

Guided sightseeing tour of Belgrade, lecture on board about the Balkan states, live entertainment on board in the evening.

June 12

Archaeological tombs and Turkish architecture, guided tour excursion to Pécs and organ concert.

June 13

Disembarkation. Guided tour of Budapest, see Heroes’ Square.

June 14

Free day. Explore Budapest, shop in the Great Market Hall, see the Royal Palace grounds, try Budapest’s famous thermal bath spas, then dine in a garden or rooftop eatery.

June 15

The program ends after breakfast. Those traveling on the group flight will be transported to the airport for their flight back home. Because of the time change, you will arrive in the USA on June 15, 2019. After landing and exiting customs, we will gather and meet our bus to drive back to Hope College.

Please note: Included visits and special features are subject to change. If a change is necessary, a substitute will be offered. In the event of water level problems or any problems of a technical nature, it may be necessary to operate the itinerary by bus or to alter the program.

A more detailed itinerary, including discussions with Professors Roger Nemeth and Deidre Johnston will be shared with participants closer to our departure date.

Geography and Natural Beauty

Defining the Balkans can be done in many ways by emphasizing various dimensions, such as the political, ethnic, religious or the economic make-up of countries located in southeastern Europe. Perhaps the most common definition emphasizes geographic characteristics shared by countries in this region. Most of the “Balkans” region is located on the Balkan Peninsula, a region surrounded by Adriatic Sea on the northwest, the Ionian Sea on the southwest, the Aegean Sea in the south and southeast, and the Black Sea on the east and northeast. The northern border does not have a specific natural boundary and is variously defined.

Serbia's Iron Gates

We will be traveling east to northwest, beginning at the Danube Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its fantastic bird watching, and where the Danube flows into the Black Sea. Next, we will begin westward on the Danube with Romania to our north and Bulgaria to our south. In northern Bulgaria, we will witness Belogradchik's bizarrely shaped rock formations and learn about their equally bizarre legends. And, after entering Serbia we will cruise through the Iron Gates, four grand gorges separating Serbia and Romania. From here we will begin to turn northward and continue on to Hungary, with our final destination being Budapest. The natural beauty of the many spectacular places we will be visiting makes our cruise a photographer’s dream. To make the most out of these many places, we will be sharing with you in lectures, literature and photos detailed information describing these geographical marvels.

Belogradchik's Rock Formations

Culture and Identity

Budapest Chain BridgeTBelgrade Orthodox Churchhe Balkans has a long history deeply steeped in a diverse mixture of Eastern and Western cultures. Beginning as early as the Neolithic era, when the Balkans served as the primary route by which farming practices in the Middle East spread westward and northward into Central Europe, the region’s identity has continued to be dominated by its strategic geographical position. Over its vast history the Balkan region has served as a juncture between Latin and Greek bodies, the destination of a massive influx of pagan Bulgars and Slavs, a region where Orthodox and Catholic Christianity interfaced, as well as a point of conflict between Islam and Christianity, Eastern and Western empires, and between communism and free-market capitalism. A major point of emphasis will be to better understand the complex confluence of demographic, ethnic, social, religious, political and economic forces that have shaped the region’s identity.

Budapest Royal Palace SquareTo help all of us make the most the many cultural and historical sites in our itinerary, we will be inviting all participants to join us in a book and film club beginning during the late fall and continuing up to our departure in June. We will be suggesting various readings of books and articles and viewing of various films to help prepare us with a basic understanding of and appreciation for the many diverse peoples and places we will visit. Additionally, before each of the major port-of-calls on our itinerary, we will be leading presentations on board our ship to help prepare for the sites we are about to see.  To begin familiarizing us with some of the more popular ethnic foods of the region, we will be sharing recipes that you may want to try making prior to our departure in June.

What to Expect

The weather in the region will be pleasant during our journey. Average highs and lows for our destinations in June are:

  • Bucharest: low 61 °F, high 81°F
  • Vidin: low 58 °F, high 83°F
  • Belgrade: low 60 °F, high 78°F
  • Budapest: low 56 °F, high 75°F

Keeping in mind that temperatures could fall outside the averages, we recommend packing light layers that can be added or removed as needed. There is a chance of rain, so you may also want a light rain jacket or travel umbrella.

Though we will use air-conditioned private motor coach in transfers, you will walk during most excursions. To participate fully in this program, you must be able to walk a minimum of three–five blocks, stand for a period of time during day tours, climb stairs that may not have handrails, keep pace with a group of travelers on days together dealing with the emotional highs and lows that can occur when experiencing a different culture, and live on ship with a group for several hours each day.

You should plan on seeing your family physician or a travel doctor at least four to six weeks prior to departure, preferably earlier, to talk about routine vaccinations. For more information on travel health, visit cdc.gov or who.int.

Ship and Room Options

Our Ship
The Avalon Passion welcomes passengers to their home-away-from-home. It is 135 meters long with 65 Panorama Suites and 16 Staterooms.

Avalon Ship

  • Complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the ship
  • Complimentary computer use in public areas
  • Panoramic windows
  • Elegant, contemporary design and decor
  • Friendly, English-speaking crew and cruise director
  • Fitness Center with state-of-the-art equipment
  • Sky Deck with whirlpool, shade awnings, game area and premium lounges
  • Covered Observation Lounge
  • Club Lounge with 24-hour self-serve beverage station with complimentary cappuccinos, lattes, tea, hot chocolate and premium coffees, as well as treats throughout the day
  • Hair salon
  • Elevator
  • Non-smoking interior and staterooms 
Deck Plans

Category D and E Photo

Category D and E LayoutCategory E Indigo Deck Stateroom (6 available)
Included in program fee.
$2,172 upcharge for single occupancy.
172 sq. ft.
Yellow on Map

Category D Indigo Deck Stateroom (10 available)
$228 upgrade fee.
$2,525 upcharge for single occupancy.
172 sq. ft.
Beige on Map

Category A B and P Photo

Category A B and P LayoutCategory B Sapphire Deck Panorama Suite (9 available)
$1,314 upgrade fee.
$4,208 upcharge for single occupancy.
200 sq. ft.
Light Blue on Map

Category A Sapphire Deck Panorama Suite (24 available)
$1,371 upgrade fee.
$4,296 upcharge for single occupancy.
200 sq. ft.
Dark Blue on Map

Category P Royal Deck Panorama Suite (32 available)
$1,485 upgrade fee.
$4,473 upcharge for single occupancy.
200 sq. ft.
Green on Map

Program Fee

The program fee is $5,035 per person, based on double occupancy. The single occupancy rate is $5,865. The program fee price is currently reduced by $500 through August 28 or until withdrawn because of reaching capacity. We recommend you place your deposit early to guarantee this special price.

Program fee includes discussions led by Roger Nemeth and Deidre Johnston, ship and hotel accommodations, all meals on ship, breakfasts on land, gratuities, port taxes and travel protection insurance

The program fee covers the basic Category E Deluxe Stateroom aboard ship. There are a limited number of Category E Deluxe Staterooms available. You may upgrade to any of the room options in the "Ship and Room Options" section above.

Participants are solely responsible for all expenses not specifically included in the program fee. Examples of excluded expenses are:

  • Airfare between your home town and Bucharest and Budapest
  • Airport transfers in your home town and Bucharest or Budapest
  • Passport fees
  • Immunizations or vaccinations
  • Laundry
  • Dry cleaning
  • Phone charges
  • Room service or other items of a personal nature including but not limited to minibar, alcohol, beverages and food outside of the contracted Avalon menu as presented at a hotel or restaurant or onboard your vessel
  • Optional excursions
  • Expenses incurred during free time or non-group activities

Airfare is not included in the program fee, allowing participants the flexibility to choose airlines, use frequent flyer miles and pick travel times and connections that best meet their individual travel needs. For those travelers who prefer to travel with a trip leader and as a group, there will be an opportunity to purchase airfare for an additional fee, which will include airfare and transportation between Hope College and O'Hare Airport along with transfers in Bucharest and Budapest. Group flight information and reservation instructions will be sent out via email.

Payment Schedule

$879 due with registration (includes travel protection). Fully refundable if your room category selection is not available and you chose not to pick another category.

Interim Payment
$1,500 due by October 1, 2018. Payments are now non-refundable through Hope; apply for and use your travel protection if you need to cancel.

Final Payment
Remaining balance due by March 1, 2019.

Travel Protection Insurance policy applies. In most situations, you will be refunded the amount you have paid minus travel protection insurance. Cancellations must be in writing.