Avalon Impression Cruise Review by rudeman: Impressed by the Impression! - Budapest to Amsterdam
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Impressed by the Impression! - Budapest to Amsterdam
Destination: Europe - River Cruise
Introduction This was our first, ever, river cruise, having been on 11 previous ocean cruises. We had attended a travel seminar almost two years prior and our interest was piqued by a competing river cruise company. When we began searching companies online, however, we settled on Avalon for three reasons, two of which we felt were completely objective while the third might be a bit subjective:
1. Bed configuration. Some may consider this trivial but we didn’t. The ability for both of us to lie there watching the world go by our large windows rather than one looking over the other did not escape us as being very important.
2. “Balcony”. Some ships have introduced “ocean-cruising” balconies – those small plots of real estate outside of the room proper. These ships are of finite width and taking this space to provide a balcony subtracts space from the overall room size, period. Avalon’s suite ships have a three sliding More door configuration, allowing for 2/3rds of the window to be opened to the outside. One gets the best of both worlds with this scenario – a “balcony” while not eliminating overall internal living space.
3. Globus. Globus is the parent company and is one of the top touring companies worldwide. We have used them before in Europe with great results. Our feeling is that a safe journey down the river in a ship is important while what you see and do on the journey is equally important. We were confident a Globus-based company would deliver – and they did.
Traveling to Budapest
We decided to fly to Budapest two days early to get a chance to acclimate to the area and the time difference. We flew Lufthansa from Charlotte to Munich on a wide body and from Munich to Budapest on a 3X3 configuration. Both flights went off with nary a hitch (second flight was delayed about 30 minutes). The switch in Munich was as simple as could be, with the necessity of passport control but that was easy.
Upon arrival in Budapest, we collected our luggage and went over to the FoTaxi booth outside. They gave us a slip that indicated about what the trip to our hotel should cost. We hopped in the next available taxi, traveled to the hotel and found the metered cost to actually be slightly less than estimated, about 6500 Forints. I would recommend this method into the city, as did others on this board and other travel boards.
We stayed at the Corinthia Hotel Budapest, at Erzsébet körút 43-49., 07. Erzsébetváros
Budapest, 1073, Hungary, booking it through Booking.com at a rate of 112 euros a night – a real steal. The hotel was fabulous. Check in was a breeze. The room was quite nice though rather warmer than we probably would have liked. We availed ourselves of their dining one night (quite nice), used their pool in the spa and both of us had massages in the Royal Spa – highly recommended. For breakfast, we stepped next door to Szamos Kavehaz, where we had good, inexpensive breakfasts and nice ice cream desserts in the evening, though they close by 8PM.
The Corinthia arranged a taxi ride for us to the Intercontinental Hotel where we had to meet prior to boarding the ship. Thankfully, Avalon takes your bags so you are free to explore while waiting. Suggest you lighten your carry-on loads so you can explore more easily. We arrived at the hotel about 1:30 for a 4:00 boarding time. Bags were taken immediately; we were directed to a waiting lounge with coffee, tea and juices, though we decided to walk along the river instead. When the time came, we were shuffled off to buses that took us the short journey to the ship, conveniently moored nearly underneath the beautiful Chain Bridge. We were sent to the lounge and shown our rooms one-by-one – a very nice touch.
A plus of river cruising is ship size. There are only four decks, including the upper sun/sky deck, so exploring the ship is a breeze. Our room was quite nice, just as expected, with bed facing out towards the ample three sliding door configuration, which allowed 2/3 of the room to be exposed to the outside. Bathroom was quite large for a cruise ship, with nice amenities. Water bottles were provided, daily, free of charge.
The lounge was very nice, of ample size, with a small dance floor in the middle and a bar at one end. Plenty of floor to ceiling windows to gaze at the outside, plush furniture and a large-screen tv in one corner which came in handy for World Cup viewing!
The dining room is well-appointed. There are round six-person tables, rectangular eight-person tables and a host of four and even two table configurations. Those are close enough that several couples could occupy them and carry on a conversation between tables if you’d lke. Wine and beer selections were served free of charge at dinner, while soft drink selections were available free of charge at both lunch and dinner. Breakfast and lunch were buffets, so one had an hour or so time period to arrive. Dinner was at a set time, almost always 7PM, so arrival was expected then. Attire was casual in the evenings, with shorts and t-shirts taboo but everything else was acceptable. Even at the two “formal” nights, perhaps 4-5 men had jackets and ties. Very laid back atmosphere. And NO assigned seating (Yay!) Servers were all very good, friendly yet professional. Chef (Olivier) was a real treat. All in all, onboard dining was fabulous.
We availed ourselves to sky deck dining one day, July 4th, where burgers, hot dogs, fish, chicken and minute steak was provided on the grill. Very nice. Though they provided lighter choice dining in the lounge for both breakfast and lunch, we never attended those. They also provided Panorama Bistro dining several nights in the lounge which was well-received though we also did not avail ourselves of those.
Our musical entertainer, Milan, was very good – appropriate for our audience, which consisted of an average age group of approximately 65-68, vast majority Australians with some New Zealanders, 20+ Brits, 11 of us Americans and a sprinkling of others.
There is also a nice, quite aft lounge on deck three. A coffee/cappuccino/hot water machine, along with some pastries are available there 24X7. Great place to play a game or just watch the world go by if you’d rather be indoors than on the sun deck.
Day 1 - Budapest
This day consisted of embarkation, safety exercise, welcome reception in the lounge and dinner with music afterwards. We remained docked overnight near the Chain Bridge.
Andrzej gave a port talk regarding the next day’s activities, as he did each evening for 15 minutes prior to dinner. This was quite valuable and not to be missed.
Day 2 - Budapest
Included was a sightseeing tour of Budapest by bus followed by a 40-minute walking tour of the Fisherman’s Bastion area.
After lunch, we took the optional tour to Szentendre to see another part of Hungary. Though the ride was short, we were definitely away from Budapest, in an “artsy” town with nice shops, a museum, etc.
At 6PM sailaway, the captain took us down river a ways to see more of Budapest from the city before heading upriver while our cruise director, Andrzej, gave a running narrative of the city. Well done, both Andrzej and the Captain! We then sailed overnight towards Bratislava.
Day 3 - Bratislava
We arrived in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, about 9:00AM. We weren't really sure what to expect so we were pleasantly surprised at how nice this was. The included tour was a bus trip up to the castle on high, followed by a great walking tour of the old town of Bratislava. We really liked the old town atmosphere and, had we not been on an afternoon tour, probably would have stayed in town to dine. Old town was a five-minute walk from our mooring.
In the afternoon, we took the optional tour to Schlosshof, a palace and farm out in the country – actually, in Austria. This was a very nice tour with the ability to see some of the countryside.
After dinner, we were entertained by five local young female classical musicians, Aphrodite, before sailing away at 10:45PM. They were excellent, playing tunes in a classical fashion yet songs with which we would be familiar.
Day 4 - Vienna
We arrived in Vienna, Austria, early and, after breakfast, had an included tour of Vienna. Buses took us from the ship on an orientation drive, followed by a walking tour of the center with free time afterwards. We were going to stay in town and take the Underground back to the port (too far to walk, though several did) but it was raining so we took the bus back. The docking location was fairly close to an Underground station for those interested.
In the evening, we went to the optional evening concert, which was very nice. Twelve classical musicians performed for about 1.5 hours, with opera singers and dancers in the mix. And, of course, it culminated in the playing of the beautiful Blue Danube Waltz. We sailed away from Vienna at 11:15 PM.
Day 5 - Durnstein, Melk and Sailing the Wachau Valley
This was a two-stop day. In the morning, we stopped in the charming town of Durnstein, with an included walking tour of the time and free time. We sailed away at 10:45AM.
Sailing was through the World Heritage Wachau Valley, with running narration by Andrzej. Beautiful sites and great narration.
In the afternoon, we stopped in Melk where we had an included tour of the magnificent Melk Abbey.
There was a wine tasting in the lounge before dinner, though we did not attend. Sailaway was at 7PM.
Day 6 - Aschach and Passau
Three optional excursions were offered here: Excursion to Salzburg (Sound of Music), to Cesky Krumlov, or to the Romantic Austrian Lake District. We opted for the first.
For all excursions, we arrived in Aschach, Austria solely for the purpose of off-loading those going on the optional tour. Those few passengers who stayed aboard sailed to Passau where they got an included walking tour of Passau.
Our tour to Salzburg included a stop in Mondsee, location of the Cathedral used for filming Maria’s wedding in the film. Mondsee is a great little town in which we would have enjoyed spending more tim. On our arrival in Salzburg, we had a walking tour of the old city, followed by free time for lunch, etc. Salzburg was quite nice and we arrived back at the ship in Passau at about 5:30PM for sailaway.
Day 7 - Regensburg
Our sailing from Passau to Regensburg was delayed about three hours due to slow going because of low water levels, but, we made it. Unfortunately, our optional tour (boat trip) of the Danube Gorge was canceled due to the late arrival.
The included walking tour of Regensburg was nice and sailaway was at 7PM. There was a beer tasting in the lounge that we did not attend. After dinner, we were entertained by a one-man Oom-Pah band, Hanso Marusch, who was both very humorous and very entertaining.
Day 8 - Main-Danube Canal and Nuremburg
As we left Regensburg, we entered the Main (pronounce “Mine”) – Danube Canal, the link that allows shipping from the North Sea to the Black Sea. In the morning, we were given a lecture on the Canal in general and on locks in particular by local historian Danial Gurtler, which was very good. After lunch we were deposited in the town of Roth to board buses for the included tours of either Nuremberg city or Nazi Nuremberg. We chose the former, which included a walking tour of the city center. Meanwhile, the ship continued sailing towards the Nuremburg port.
We rejoined the ship at 5PM for a 6:30PM sailaway.
Day 9 - Bamberg
We sailed into Bamberg, at the end of the Main-Danube Canal and had an included orientation drive and walking tour of Bamberg, another quaint German town. We returned to the ship for a noon sailaway. In the afternoon, there was a talk by Ms. Mechthild Fischer on the European Union but we elected an afternoon of cards and relaxation with some of our newfound friends, instead, as we began our journey along the beautiful Main River.
Day 10 - Wurzburg
We arrived in Wurzburg in the morning and had a motor coach and walking tour of the Bishop’s Residenz and free time in town afterwards with a relatively short walk along the river back to the ship. In the afternoon, we took the optional tour to Rothenburg, a truly medieval town that is a must-see. In fact, if you were to take only one optional excursion on this trip, let it be this one!
We were back to the ship for a 6:30PM sailaway.
Day 11 - Miltenberg
As we sailed toward Miltenberg, we were entertained in the morning by Tomy Temerson, performing tunes on his Zither, a complex, 42-string instrument that he likened to playing three guitars at once. Amazing!
Around noon we arrived in Miltenberg, yet another quaint, lovely German town on the Main, where we had a walking tour and plenty of free time before the short walk back to the ship for a 5:45PM sailaway.
After dinner, we were entertained with the Crew Talent show, which was short in duration but long in both laughs and talent.
Day 12 - Rudesheim and Rhine River Castles
As we entered the Rhine River, we traveled to Rudesheim, arriving around noon. A choo-choo train ride into town was followed by a visit to the Siegfied Music Museum (quite interesting), followed by a Rudesheimer Coffee Tasting (we did not attend) and free time. During free time, we took the gondola ride up to the monument which is a must-go. We took the train back to the ship for a 4:15 departure.
We sailed through the Rhine castle district with another well-done narration by Andrzej coupled with an Avalon handout listing all the various castles. This night was the Guest Talent show with lots of laughs and talent.
This night, Germany won the World Cup so, as we were sailing through Bonn into Cologne at the time of the victory, we witnessed plenty of celebration along shore.
Day 13 - Cologne
We arrived in Cologne in the wee hours and had a walking tour at 9AM. There was also the option of an included Jewish Heritage tour, instead. Cologne is all about the Cathedral, in our estimation, as the small-town feel we had experienced the last week was starting to disappear.
In the afternoon, we had a Grand Tour of the Galley, given by Chef Olivier. Afterwards, Andrzej gave a lecture on “All About Holland”, followed by our gala Farewell Dinner (a night early due to anticipated packing, etc).
Day 14 - Amsterdam
We arrived in Amsterdam early in the morning, where we had a canal cruise included. One could optionally attend the Gassan Diamond Factory tour but we had a busy day and went back to the ship. In the afternoon, we took the optional tour of the Dutch Village of Zaanse Schans. (Two other equally interesting optional tours, Anne Frank’s House and the Rijksmuseum, were also offered.) This was a nice tour with shoe making, cheese-making and windmill stone mill grinding demos, among other items of interest.
In the evening we took the option Red Light District tour. This was a canal ride to the Red Light district, followed by a roughly one-hour walking tour of the District, narrated by, in our case, Carola, who did a very good job of explaining in no-nonsense, direct terms what the District was about, how it operated, etc. Well-done, given the subject matter.
Day 15 - Disembarkation :-(
We had arranged an Avalon transfer and Andrzej saw us off at 5:45 AM along with three other hardy souls. All folks had to vacate their rooms by 9AM and leave the ship by 10AM. Our transfer was uneventful with little traffic at that time. Checking into Lufthansa and the ensuing passport control and security checks were a breeze. Our flight to Munich as on time and switching in Munigh involved the normal passport control plus an additional passport and random (not us) security check at the gate to the US-bound flight.
We had one issue that was near and dear to us and that is that my wife suffers from severe allergies to shellfish. We had relayed that information early to our travel agent, who indicated she told the cruise line yet the Chef said he had no such report. This may have been a breakdown in communication between our travel agent and Avalon, within Avalon, itself, or some other problem but it was something that should not have happened. Fortunately, the Maitre d’ and the Chef were as accommodating as possible and all went well.
If you are new to Europe, prepare to pay to use toilets, usually 50 – 70 cents (Euro). Always have some loose change on you! There are some free toilets but few and far between. Alternately, you can go to a café, order a coffee or whatever and use their facilities.
ALWAYS attend the Cruise Director’s port talks. Very valuable.
There is free coffee, tea, cappuccino, etc., available in the main lounge and the aft 3rd-level lounge. The latter usually has some sweets, also.
Our captain was more than happy to have anyone join him in the wheelhouse as we were travelling. If you are so lucky, take the opportunity to do so.
The late night offering is really just a snack, not a glitzy buffet like ocean-going vessels. But they work hard putting it out there so take advantage.
When in port, check to see if you are rafted with another ship before throwing open your curtains. You might be in for a surprise!
Go, go, go. You’ll probably not return to these places so take advantage of all the included tours and any optionals you care to enjoy.
Everyone on board works very hard. Befriend them. They’re good people.
We really can’t say enough about how lovely a trip this was – a true “trip of a lifetime”. The ship was wonderful, the staff cheery and professional, the captain a pro and entertaining, and the sights were just spectacular. And, finally, our cruise director, Andrzej, was simply THE best. Thank you, Avalon, for making our 40th wedding anniversary so memorable! Less
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