VIENNA — Johann Strauss has returned to Vienna. Not the famous composer of waltzes (1825-1899), but a namesake that is a permanent but floating dining, dancing and listening pavilion.
After sailing on the Danube for almost a century, the cruise ship is docked within walking distance of the main part of the city.
The attraction fulfills a long-sought recipe whereby visitors (and residents) can have their waltz and eat it, too. For years the only place one could hear and dance to Strauss music was at a pavilion in a park.
Years ago, visitors to Vienna complained that they never heard the famous waltzes, so city fathers decreed that the most popular were to be aired in public shopping areas. But the residents complained anew. They loved their waltzes, but how many times could one listen to "The Skater's Waltz" and others equally well known?
Closed for Winter
So an orchestra was provided at a large park pavilion, with tour groups continually hustled in and out. That was not only disconcerting, but because it was outdoors, the facility was closed for five months a year.
Now the Johann Strauss, operating all year, offers both waltzes and operetta in a picture-perfect setting that ties everything together: great music, good service, air-conditioned comfort and excellent food (including fabulous Viennese coffees and desserts).
The large and attractive vessel really is a combination of two ships that were familiar sights on the Danube. The Carl Ludwig was built in 1853, renovated in 1883, modernized in 1913 and retired from service in 1949. The Franz Ferdinand was built in 1913, renovated and named the Johann Strauss in 1919, then badly damaged in an aerial bombing in 1945. It was rebuilt in 1945 with machinery from the Ludwig and until 1970 sailed between Melk and Krens as the flagship of the Danube's DDSG line.
After use as a restaurant in Regensberg, Germany, enterprising Viennese leaders bought the ship and spent more than $1 million on its renovation.
It opened officially on March 23, 1986.
Just Minutes Away
One of its greatest features is easy access. It's in Vienna's First District, on the Klein Danube along the Saltzor embankment, and has a large parking lot and parking garage. One can walk from central Stephenplatz in less than five minutes.
Crossing the authentic covered gangplank, a charming turn-of-the-century foyer leads either to the 240-seat Waltz Cafe or the more casual Cafe Johann Strauss. On the upper deck forward is an outdoor salon. A pavilion with enclosed seating for 60 or 80 on the afterdeck has a grill and salad bar.
Meticulous attention has been paid to the re-creation of the original decor with highly polished inlaid woods, marble-topped tables and regal colors in carpeting, draperies and decorations. It combines the charm and plush atmosphere of a Danube cruise ship with the conviviality and warmth of a Viennese coffeehouse.
Something for Everyone
The Cafe Johann Strauss, Salon and Covered Terrace all offer a menu of warm and cold dishes, cakes and pastries and a variety of drinks including 30 coffees, many teas and famous Austrian chocolate.
The Waltz Cafe (reservations required) offers two packages: Viennese coffees and desserts for $6, or a selection of hot dishes with coffee and dessert for $20. Operetta music is presented from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and 45-minute evening shows are at 8:30 and 10. The Johann Strauss is open from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m.
The six-piece orchestra in the Waltz Cafe backs an outstanding quartet of ballroom dancers. The service staff is excellent.
All are led by genial general manager Raymond Boeckx, who brought years of Hilton hotel experience with him. His recommendation for an entree is Weiner Zwiebelrostbraten, a boiled beef specialty of Vienna, or the ever-present Weiner Schnitzel. Both are about $15. The No. 1 favorite of patrons is the Johann Strauss Melange, Viennese coffee with whipped cream. All chocolate is made in the ship's kitchen.
The Johann Strauss is owned and operated by WIGAST, a local gastronomic organization.
For more information, write to the Austrian National Tourist Office, 500 Fifth Ave., New York 10010.