Creative cruising: a mirrored stairwell off the Danube, and self portrait with an iPhone

Renowned underwater photographer and explorer Anne L. Doubilet  shares a first with Luxury Travel Mavens’ readers—her first river cruise, a first rate experience. An Explorers Club Fellow who has traveled the world’s seas for National Geographic publications, a member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame,  winner of the PlatinumPro 5000, international lecturer and creator of the traveling exhibit Ice and Coral, Doubilet also shares some of her photo tips– including the value of an iPhone.

What’s your most memorable luxury trip above water?

I recently took a very high-end trip on a riverboat luxury cruise along the Danube River. “Musical Magic Along the Blue Danube” is a specialty tour offered just a few times a year by Tauck. This was a very unusual type of trip for me as I usually go on working expedition trips to remote places in reconverted fishing trawlers where roughing it is the norm.  And usually I am tossing around on high seas in the open ocean behind tightly closed portholes or strapped to the deck so it was wonderful to cruise smoothly along the water on my first ever riverboat trip.  I particularly loved the floor to ceiling sliding glass panels in each cabin that could remain open to the air and sunlight.

The musical splendors of the Danube

We started with two land-based days exploring Buda and Pest—this Hungarian city is divided into 2 sections by the Danube. Embarking the ship we traveled the river lock system ending up 900 feet higher than when we started.  Stops and tours along the river were in Bratislava, Slovenia; in Austria– Vienna, Melk and a cruise through the gorgeous Wachau Valley, Salzburg—Mozart’s birthplace, Linz home of the linzer tart cookie; in Germany the old cobblestoned streets of Passau and Regensburg; ending for two days in magnificent Prague, Czech Republic.

I love classical music and opera, and my travel companion was Hillary Hauser Executive Director of Heal the Ocean —a close lifelong friend who is an underwater colleague of mine and my opera and classical music tutor. The beauty of the underwater world and the music world is something we share together. Many of my working expeditions were with my teacher and mentor, Dr. Eugenie Clark, the Shark Lady which was like a private marine biology course with the world as classroom. Traveling with such knowledgeable personages makes everything come alive!

Cruising the Danube on the Swiss Jewel

What made the trip luxurious?

The Swiss Jewel is a new sparkling, spacious, light–filled riverboat—just one in a fleet owned by Tauk– beautifully and luxuriously appointed throughout from the private cabins and suites to all the public areas—gracious bar and lounge area, main dining room, smaller Lido Bar on the back deck for more informal meals, and the spectacular huge sun deck comfortably furnished with many tables, umbrellas, chairs and recliner. Relaxing on the sundeck (for which we hardly had time because we didn’t want to miss anything!) as the lush countryside gently flows by is like traveling inside a painting. The service and care of the staff onboard coupled with the rich tours on land made this a very special trip.

Why would you recommend the trip?

We had our own two maestros (Michael Shaw and Andrew Eggert) accompanying us—both PhDs in either Music History or Opera—to discuss the music we would hear and the historical sites we would visit. It was a magnificent immersion in history from royal times of the 1700s when music and art were part of court life, World Wars I & II with the horror of Nazism, the rise and fall of communism and the present day resurgence of tourism.  The palaces, the museums, the gold leaf, the architecture and of course the MUSIC—Mozart, Liszt, Beethoven, Hayden, Bartok.  We visited the homes of Mozart, Liszt and Bartok.  Ferried around in private vans and educated by local guides, we were treated to private tours of opera houses, palaces, museums, special lunches and dinners with concerts, ballets, and opera performances arranged for us.

Musical Cruise on the Danube included live Maestros and historic composers

What are some favorite memories?

In Vienna, we attended opening night at the Vienna Opera—had great seats—for a performance of Verdi’s Don Carlo; in the Auersperg Palace we sat in on a rehearsal of the Vienna Residence Orchestra (one of the world’s best) with commentary by the conductor; a private dinner at Palais Pallavicini under crystal chandeliers served by choreographed white gloved waiters while entertained by musicians, opera singers and ballet dancers was a royal foray into Austria’s history of music and art and opulence at court!

One of my favorites, the Lobkowicz Palace and Art Museum in Prague will stay with me forever. The music archive contains original manuscripts written by Beethoven and Mozart and the personal Lobkowicz family history is awe-inspiring. Our farewell dinner there –preceded by a private tour of the famous art collections–was storybook worthy.

What tips do you have for travelers to get the best photos?  

Champagne Cruise

An interesting photo situation for me occurred on this trip. Because we had to travel light and because this was not a working trip, I only brought one camera body and a few lenses. On day two in Budapest before we even embarked our riverboat, my one camera malfunctioned with some of the lenses.  After despairing and unsuccessfully looking for a camera repair shop in Budapest wasting valuable sight seeing time, I decided to shoot the whole trip with my iPhone.  I was the subject of a photo-shoot with Annie Leibovitz several years ago and her recent recommendation of the iPhone camera stuck in my mind.

You can see some of the results on my website Gallery– Danube Cruise of Music Magic.  I also made a Quicktime movie of stills in iPhoto using the Origami presentation for a fast moving mosaic of the whole trip.

My three main photo tips are:

  • 1. Don’t forget to always look behind you when shooting.
  • 2. Try for the best possible natural light available which usually means sunset and sunrise. Many times this is not possible due to traveling schedules so if stuck at high noon use a bit of fill-in flash to make the subject matter pop out;
  • 3. Get as close as possible to subject matter with wide- angle lenses and particularly with an iPhone!

What are places you have loved traveling to that you recommend people not miss?

For the very adventurous traveler I recommend Papua New Guinea above water and below and Madagascar

Both are places with disappearing indigenous cultures where the rich biodiversity of the natural world is also threatened. Probably our grandchildren will not see much of what we would there—a very unsettling picture indeed!

-Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

Photographs by Anne L. Doubilet

Doubilet in the waters of Papua New Guinea

From her website bio: Anne L. Doubilet is an underwater explorer, writer and photographer. She has logged thousands of dives worldwide working as a freelance photographer and dive-team member for National Geographic Magazine on 34 stories about the seas.   A member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame, Anne has worked in the Red Sea, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Hawaii, Fiji, Tahiti, Indonesia, Madagascar, Japan, the Galapagos, all around Australia’s coasts, and throughout the Caribbean. She is a recipient of a Platinum Pro 5000 Diver Award from Scuba Schools International. Now officially “bi-polar!” she recently photographed melting and shifting ice in the Arctic and Antarctic. A member of the National Arts Club, she premiered her photography exhibition Coral and Ice there and has traveled it to several locations. Author and contributing photographer of the award-winning children’s book, Under the Sea from A to Z, Anne’s work has also appeared in various National Geographic Society publications and The Explorers Journal. She was featured in Vogue Magazine August 2009 and is an “Ambassador of the Sea” in the book Ocean Portraits published in Fall 2010 from Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. A Fellow of The Explorers Club–an international organization with a one hundred year legacy of who’s who in exploration– she served on the Board of Directors as Vice President in charge of Lectures and Programs.  Lecturing at various national and international venues, Anne speaks to the issue of oceans in peril as seen through her 40 years of working underwater.