I want to preface my comments by saying that overall, we were satisfied with our trip. We had a very good time. The people we met on this trip were interesting and fun.
The following observations are of things I learned that might be of value to both potential passengers and the cruise company.
Ship and cabins- Other reviewers have described in detail. Cabins are about as big as could be expected to maximize occupancy. They are adequate. The ship is a flat bottom hotel barge with a detachable tug unit in the rear pushing it. There was adequate hot water and the drain and flush system worked well. The air conditioning is a chill water system and is limited in its ability to cool the ship. The ship can not be any wider or taller or it would not fit through some of the locks. The captain, Punisa Grbovic is a highly experienced river pilot and maneuvered this awkward vessel with great skill. The ship was in outstanding condition and showed little sign of its 6-7 year age.
Hotel and restaurant - The rooms are cleaned twice a day. The maids are very pleasant and did a good job keeping the room tidy and the small bathroom clean. The beds and bedding appear to be typical of Europe and were adequate but were often too much (hot) to sleep under, especially with the sliding door closed. The restaurant was a disappointment. I would rate the entire operation as "high institutional" similar to what you might expect in the dining room of a retirement community. The tables were over set. They looked nice and there was always an extra fork laying around if needed. The coffee cups were too small and as noted by others, the coffee was terrible. If there are special dietary needs, let your agent know well in advance and the ship will be prepared. In this regard, the restaurant manager Khrisztina Erdelyi was absolutely great. She always knew what ingredients were in the various dishes and made sure our gluten free needs were strictly adhered to. Meeting her was worth the trip. There was gluten free beer aboard, but only because I asked for it in advance.
Other things to know - The wine flows freely, but only at the dinner table. Otherwise, expect to pay for drinks at European prices. The tours and included day trips were well organized. All guides spoke understandable English and really knew a lot about their subject place. If you are interested in this cruise, we recommend starting at the Black Sea and ending in Holland. The scenery is bleak until you leave Romania and is quite depressing. It gets much better as you travel west. The internet service is spotty at best. They say they have a satellite link but with such crappy service, it 's hard to believe. Internet service could be greatly improved if they wanted to do it. At least it's free. We understood that the entire crew are subcontractors. No one works directly for Avalon. The hotel and food service operation is contracted to one company and ship operation to another. The cruise director is also independent but has a more direct relationship with Avalon and can communicate with them. They all do something different after the cruise season ends. Avalon advertises excellence and excellence is what was expected. The blatant pitch for tips was annoying and not appreciated. We have always thought of tips as a way to express gratitude to those who provide exceptional service and not simply doing the job hired (and paid) to do. Avalon is not alone in this. From what we've read, all the cruise companies solicit tips.
Summary - Knowing what I know now, we would do this trip again. You must remember you are on a ship and conditions must be different, but that is part of the fun. There was an outbreak of some sort of virus that caused sneezing and coughing. Quite a few passengers caught it and some were bedridden for a few days. Hopefully, trip insurance will help those who missed some of the trip due to sickness. It was also suspected that some of the illnesses may have been food borne. There were some passengers that had bouts of vomiting and diarrhea that lasted a day before a full recovery. It was obvious the crew had no idea of what to do in response to the sickness. Their answer was to stop the self service of food and close the one public restroom. The effectiveness was doubtful and the cruise ended with sick people walking off the boat. Regardless, the ship shouldn't be blamed for an outbreak of sickness among a group of people living in close proximity. Kitchen staff must be properly and frequently trained in prevention of food borne illness.
Recommendation - If you are interested in a cruise like this, do it. For Avalon (if they read this) 1. Take on more fresh food at some of the port stops. 2. Work on the menu. It lacks imagination. Fancy presentation and a well set table does not cover a poor food product. The coffee is awful and the cups too small. The lobby coffee machines are likewise terrible. 3. Stop soliciting tips. The cost of these cruises are not inexpensive and any additional payment for good service should be spontaneous. 4. Fix the internet service so that it works consistently. 5. Reconsider drink prices. If you noticed, sales during "happy hour" were good and not so good at all other times. Cut the price in half and end happy hour. 6. Put a screen on cabin sliding doors to keep the bugs out and let fresh air in. 7. Ensure stops at major cities are scheduled to occur on working days and last long enough to enjoy (four hours free time in Budapest on a Sunday was not good scheduling). 8. Provide better TV service, in English. A satellite system is not beyond existing technology. Run more CC movies at night when people are in their cabins.