River cruises are very popular and even though I was booking the trip in November to travel in July, almost everything was booked up. So I found an Avalon combination package, that included 2 days in a hotel in Vienna and Budapest, at either end of the cruise, plus three days on the river traveling from Vienna to Budapest, with stop in Melk and Durnstein, Austria and Bratislava, Slovakia along the way. We added on two days at the beginning in Vienna, and I wish we had done the same in Budapest, so the trip was 9 days in total.
The included hotels were Intercontinental hotels in Vienna and Budapest. I was very happy with the hotels in both cities, and a really nice breakfast was included in each. The Intercontinental in Budapest was particularly well located, right at the foot of the Chain Bridge, with an outdoor eating/drinking area right along the Danube River. It was a wonderful place to be.
The stops along the way were beautiful, and the tours offered by Avalon were very good and innovative. We took a great tour of the Baden resort outside of Vienna before we boarded the ship, took in a great musical performance in Vienna, did a bike tour of the Wachau Valley in Durnstein and took the Jewish and Communist tours in Budapest. There were many different types of tours for different interests.
I've taken a number of ocean cruises and this was my first river cruise. The two are completely different, each having its advantages and disadvantages. On a river cruise, there is much less of a life aboard the ship. On the other hand, there is always a beautiful view as you go down the river, and our evenings were spent mostly up on the top deck taking in all the beautiful sights.
The only real disappointment was the food. I thought the quality and selection of the food was relatively poor. It was sort of like eating at your grandmother's house if she were a bad cook. On the ocean cruises, dinner was an event to be anticipated and savored, but on this cruise, it was more something to be endured. The staff was very friendly but at dinner time, they were clearly overwhelmed and service was slow. There were too many courses of low quality food, and fewer courses of better quality food would have been far preferable. Even the salads were terrible, and the dressing appeared to have been watered down. Two other things surprised me -- that there was no drink service offered on the top deck (which required us to keep going down to the bar to get our own drinks), and that the choice deck on the ship was a smoking deck.
All in all, it was a great trip and I would definitely do it again, but I would hope to find some better food options next time around.