We joined the Avalon Imagery on a hot busy Sunday afternoon in Budapest where the thrill of boarding was slightly overlaid with the excitement of local Grand Prix racing. The Intercontinental Hotel was efficient and patient with the passengers and directed the racing enthusiastic to a TV viewing lounge. What a great start to the holiday.
Unfortunately it went sadly downhill from there. Switzerland had experienced high rainfall which was fast flowing toward the Danube and by Monday evening those of us with internet access were
watching and slightly apprehensive.
We did however enjoy Tuesday's pleasant cruising and went through our first lock in the company of two other boats, one Uniworld and the other a Viking boat.
On Wednesday morning the two competitor boats left us and missed the scheduled stop. Alarm bells were ringing loudly by pm as the internet provided information on the rising river. No problem for the Imagery as we continued on the scheduled iternary and of course we awakened on Friday morning to be advised that the boat would proceed no further - we had been stopped Thursday pm by a particularly low bridge and the river would continue to rise.
Once stopped, the Passengers were told that we had no choice but to transfer to the Bus tour, and, in the early days, told that it was a temporary measure. This level of mis-representation was repeated throughout each day as schedules were laid out only to be changed too much poorer options at the last minute. The disappointment of the passengers was intensified by the fact that the two rival cruise companies travelling alongside made the decision several days prior to hurry ahead and so were not stopped. The Viking and Uniworld boats successfully passed under the low bridge, although we shared lock facilities right up to Melk when they made the decision to speed ahead.
We effectively lost enjoyment of the imagery from Friday 6 August2010. The sights of the Main Danube Canal, the Main and Rhine rivers, the ease of companionship with fellow travellers, the relaxed environment medically necessary to some passengers, a safe and hygienic mode of transport, were all denied to us. Avalon's refusal to allow passengers any choice showed a lack of regard for passenger well-being and safety, which in a demographic of mostly older people, is highly regrettable.
The days on the buses were not pleasant and involved much back-tracking, crowded toilet stops, rushed town visits, and a nasty cold which quickly spread throughout the passengers.
The product Avalon promised in return for a "four star" fee was not provided, nor, once the Boat stopped, was passengers treated as valued future customers. We were assured many times that Avalon was "doing it's outmost", however rushed itineraries, public transport style buses, long days and most importantly, continued refusal by Avalon to allow passengers any choice, did not support this claim. An example of high promise/low delivery was the Rhine River Excursion, organised after many passenger complaints of long bus days and eagerly anticipated as at least something of the Rivers. We boarded a public ferry (very crowded, many stops) and were issued with a coupon for 10Euros to cover lunch food and drink for four hours. Consequently, with 116 passengers plus normal ferry capacity, one could choose to either view the sights or eat! An option common to all days due to bus hours needed to cover distances.
Every experienced cruisers knows that unavoidable problems and mishaps can change a cruise itinerary - however this change was totally avoidable and personally we felt that the Globus connection was an easy out. It seemed that Avalon was the only line which adopted the Bus/Hotel option, the boats with us hurried ahead and those behind reputably stoped and refunded.
We were assured that compensation would be forthcoming as a 'goodwill gesture" and received a Globus letter a month later offering a small discount off a near future Avalon cruise and a tiny cheque for refunded port charges. This really was adding insult to injury as passengers were refused a refund off the cruise internet access as we left the boat and continuously bombarded with reminders that although we weren't on the boat the normal tipping guidelines were to be followed once we finalised in Amsterdam. As experienced travellers many of us also knew that the bus product provided was economically very advantageous to Avalon.
Also personally we knew that we would never travel with Globus/Avalon again so requested in two letters and three emails that we receive some compensation for the very high cost of the cruise and the airfare expense for that specific purpose. Finally we have received a response from Avalon /Globus "Traveler Services" with the view of "too bad" and referral to the right of the company to change any itinerary as it deemed appropriate.
A good Cruise Company, in our opinion, is judged so, more by how they handle problems, rather than itinerary or staterooms. We can only suggest that others beware of the pitfalls of travelling on European rivers.