Pre-Cruise and Embarcation: We started our Cruise on the Avalon Affinity with an overnight in Zurich, and stayed at the Moevenpick airport hotel, which was a good choice, since the bus transfer to the ship left from the hotel. The hotel was easy to reach from airport, with a great buffet breakfast in hotel included in price of room. All hotel personnel were helpful, professional and pleasant. We enjoyed a nice lunch on their patio while waiting for tour bus to take us to Basel for departure. There was a meeting room available for waiting and luggage storage prior to boarding the transfer bus, and the hotel had carts for the luggage. The bus trip to the ship was short and comfortable, taking about an hour.
Ship Comments: Once on board the Avalon Affinity, we checked out our room: We had one of the Suites, and it was very nice, with plenty of space for luggage and clothes and a great bed, but looking back we're not sure it was worth the premium over the regular room. The room safe was small and in a dark corner of closet, which made it hard to find small things and to read the instructions for passcode setup. The bath area was very good.and had adequate water pressure in the shower at all times and no shortage ever of hot water. There was plenty of storage available there, also. Our housekeeping attendant was wonderfully compulsive and the room and bath were always spotless. WiFi was available on the boat, but frustrating to use, necessitating multiple log on and password entry attempts each time for every device. It was reasonable fast for text, but horribly slow for photos. There were the usual English language European TV channels with an additional movie channel on a nicely placed flat panel TV, though we rarely watched anything. European plugs were plentiful throughout cabin making recharging of all electronic devices easy-but bring a Europe/US adapter.
Food: There was a good breakfast buffet daily. Lunches were buffet style with a variety of pasta, salad, meat and dessert options, though the choices grew monotonous during the trip. Poor food placement stations for lunch resulted in gridlock amongst the diners, and long waits for the food. Dinners were always sit down and slow paced -- usually it took about 2-2.5 hours to eat. Food level we felt was barely cafeteria quality, though often artistically presented. Fish dishes and bread were extraordinary disappointments, and eventually we skipped them entirely. Regional wine was poured with dinner at no charge, and there were usually 2-3 wine choices per evening meal. There was never a charge for the house wines poured in the evening, though any wines at lunch were always extra. Beverages and pastry for early risers was available most days in the lounge and a coffee/cocoa/hot tea machine in the aft lounge was available 24h. There was no provision for room service.
Itinerary: Our trip looked lovely in the brochure, but it became apparent after the first day that it was not designed for any type of independent exploration nor to offer any chances for off-boat dining in the wonderful cities where we docked. It was common practice on this trip to disembark in the morning often far from the advertised city, get on a bus, to be transported into the city, then return for lunch by bus to the ship (which had now moved further along the course of the river), then board another bus at another point and drive for optional afternoon excursions, then meet up after another bus ride to the again moved boat. With one exception, (Bamberg) it was never possible to enjoy a lunch in any of the towns visited. Only in three towns (Miltenburg, Wertheim and Durnstein) did we dock close enough to the center of the village that we could walk about and return to the ship at will. Otherwise, you were totally at the mercy of the bus schedule for transport to and from the ship, and there was always only one departure time.
Added Cost Excursions: We took a wonderful optional trip to an Alsatian wine producer and then got to explore the beautiful town of Obernai.. I could also recommend the Danube Gorge excursion and the all day trip to the Salzkammergut lake region of Austria. We also chose the Vienna evening program for a concert, and though the audience was mostly other river cruisers, it was most enjoyable. I think we were lucky in our excursion choices, because our fellow travelers had varying experiences with the other tours. Please note you have no flexibility in the tour bookings-- once you sign up, you are charged, even for reasons of illness or bad weather.
Annoyances: Depressing, dirge-like sail away music- every time the boat moved. Maps handed out were the worst for any shore excursions we have ever seen. Often the position of the docked boat was not included on the map, nor was the site of the return bus pick up ever marked. Major local sights were often omitted from maps, as were major areas of shopping interest. Daily activity programs were often incompletely described and frequently inaccurate. We felt the tour director was disorganized and aloof. Room safe was too small for an iPad or a laptop . Suggested gratuities at the end of the trip were in our view excessive for most of the services provided.
In summary, if you want a very regimented tour with the security of all meals on the ship, the company of English speaking fellow senior travelers, and passive touring with furnished guides and busses, this is your tour. However, we grew rapidly weary of the continual early morning tour departures, and perpetual bussing to city center sights, when a different docking location would have provided easy in-town walking access. Overall,for us this trip was a huge disappointment, and a poor value. It was a much less satisfactory experience than another tour we took along a similar route in 2009 with a less expensive company. In my opinion, this tour did not deliver an upgraded experience for the significant extra cost.