Avalon River Cruise; Avalon Tranquility; Vienna to Amsterdam; 19 Aug. 2013
It started out badly, very badly! Having paid Avalon for transfers, at the airport after collecting our luggage we were met by a pleasant young man who had us wait with a group of others while he looked for the remaining people on his list. Eventually, we were then herded through the length of the airport to a far exit where there was a bus pick up area -- but our bus chose not to come there -- instead it waited in a garage about three blocks away, probably to avoid a small airport fee. All of us in the group of about thirty people had to drag all our luggage through the streets, over curbs and cobble stones and then down some steps, to get to the bus. We were all grumbling and sweating by the time we got there.
The bus took us to the Intercontinental Hotel in Vienna where we arrived at about 9:30 AM, our luggage was taken to a secure room, and we were informed that we would not be able to leave for the ship until 3:30 PM. Avalon provided coffee and water, and a meeting room at the hotel (hard chairs) --and no plans for any activity, or place to rest (we had been underway for 20 hours and were tired). The young man manning the Avalon desk indicated there was nothing of particular interest in the vicinity of the hotel, there were no plans, no suggestions, and essentially no help -- but offered a city map in case we wanted to go exploring by ourselves. Later we were informed that the ship had been delayed, and we eventually had to sit around the hotel till about 5 PM. By that time there were about 300 people waiting for two ships so that there was not even a place for everyone to sit. So much for Day One of the Cruise, so nicely described in the brochure! The only good thing that came out of that first day was our meeting with three other couples in the same circumstances, we formed a group and became friends, and dined together for the remainder of the trip.
Once finally on board we were greeted by Sylvia, the Program Director, a very pleasant, knowledgable and efficient young lady who did her very best to make our cruise a enjoyable one. We were surprised to learn that she was not an Avalon crew member, but works different ships on an independent basis. All of the housekeeping and dinning staff we interacted with spoke English, were most pleasant and hard working, and did their very best for us. The cabins are kept spotless, the Dinning Room help eager to please. The ships officers were seldom seen except at a couple of official functions.
We had the 'Avalon Deluxe Stateroom' of 172 sq. ft on the middle deck, with sliding glass doors to the outside. It is well designed, with plenty of storage room, nicely furnished, and the beds are good. The room is made up twice daily, and your requests are promptly taken care of. Free Internet is available in the cabin, very spotty, and when available of insufficient bandwidth to access many sites. You will be able to check your E-mail and keep in touch -- you just have to work at it. There are two computers available on board for your use.
This was our third riverboat cruise -- the first with Uniworld in France, the second with Viking on the Elbe. These form the basis of our comparison.
While nicely served, we found the food preparation on Avalon not nearly up to the grandiose descriptions on the menu. Breakfast was probably the best meal, providing a great variety and including a omelet station where eggs are cooked to choice, and it suffered only from an apparently defective warming table so that everything from oatmeal to scrambled eggs were served at about room temperature. Of great amusement at out table were the soups served at both at lunch and dinner -- always a clear broth and a cream soup, both tasteless, and both appearing almost always identical but with different fancy names each time. One day it might be 'Cream of Cucumber', the next 'Cream of Horseradish', another 'Cream of Potato' -- we competed at the table to come up with new fancy names. The same two inch ovals of 'French' bread appeared at every meal for the entire cruise, the deserts were of a kind, which, considering we were traveling through Austria and Germany with their wonderful bakeries and Konditoris, was somewhat ridiculous. In Vienna there was no Sacher Torte, while in Linz no Linzer Torte, in N'rmberg no N'rnberger Lebkuchen. One would think that Avalon would have made arrangements to have local breads and other baked goods supplied to the ship at the various stops to enhance our dinning experience, but it was unfortunately not so.
One day it was announced that a German chef would come aboard to prepare a special meal for us. The menu showed 'suckling pig', which turned out to be a slab of meat from a beast that must have suckled into very old age, was difficult to cut, and almost impossible to chew. The German Chef came into the dinning area looking for some acclaim, found very little, and quickly gave up visiting tables. On the food front, compared to Uniword and Viking, Avalon comes in a distant third. All that said, with five offerings daily, one tends to eat a lot on these cruises, and we came home with a few extra pounds that will have to be shed.
On-board entertainment and lectures were very good, both from performers brought on board, and amateurs. There were a number of included excursions, and also optional ones at extra cost. Local guides are required in European cities, and most were very good. Everything ran very efficiently. You visit the normal tourist spots (as the English put it ABC, Another Bloody Cathedral) -- but it can be fun.
To summarize, the ship is well run, the service is excellent, the cuisine disappointing, but we made friends and overall we had a good time. Your own choice will be based on your priorities.