I just wanted to check in and make a few remarks about our recent Avalon Cruise from Budapest to Prague with eight ports of call on the Danube. This was our first cruise in many many years and our first ever river cruise, so we don't have ready comparisons, but we have visited Europe many times on business and pleasure (and have lived there.) so we aren't total neophytes to travel.
First of all, I had many apprehensions about going on this (organized) trip: thoughts like being trapped in a tiny hot room for 12 nights; or, trapped on a small boat with people we had nothing in common with; and/or long boring afternoons spent being herded around monuments and buildings (and my husband fed up with my vacation choice!). Well, all of my apprehensions were baseless, and I'm happy to report that our room was quite nice with a lovely sliding door on the river side, a good bed with comfy sheets and a memory foam layer for extra comfort, well engineered storage and bathroom, good company on board, an excellent cruise director, Dragan, who added so many extra dimensions to our tours, and interesting dinners and plentiful (free) wines featuring local producers.
I can't say that we had any disappointments, even though our ship ran into issues with the river water levels and thus (not) making it under bridges. This added some 'drama' to our schedule and necessitated re-arranging our itinerary and using motor coaches for some day tours. Our cruise director handled this change (which doesn't happen often according to our CD) with professional good grace and aplomb and so did most of our passengers.
We signed up for a number of (extra cost) day tours along with the included tours. For the most part we found these tours interesting and entertaining (although oftentimes one might classify them as 'culture lite' and that was OK with us). Our local guides were for the most part excellent although a couple were perhaps just 'better than average' in their presentations (although one tour bus reported a poor experience with their local guide in one city).
One note of advice: I suggest that anyone considering this cruise have a fair amount of physical stamina and good walking shoes as we did spend lots of time on our feet and climbed a lot of stairs. Though at times there was a 'gentle' group to accommodate a slower pace, still the tours required dexterity on the cobblestones and around the docks and gangplanks. (We had at least three or four passengers experience trips and falls requiring hospital care, casts, and bandages.)
(One other caution is about the pick pockets and security. I have to say: Be smart not sorry. Rick Steves suggests a money belt for everyone and leave all your IDs and cards in the safe, and now I understand why. Before Day Two we had one passenger report her purse stolen with everything in it. Another small group reported a difficult interaction with some locals in a dark passage way. After that, my reluctant husband put on his money belt and so did I!)
Our cruise director added a welcome dimension to this cruise thru Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, The Czech Republic and Germany with his running commentary on the political currents in these countries that have experienced exceptional change and development in recent decades. Dragan also expounded on the developing or revival of the food and wines of the regions; the economy and the EU; religion and local customs; and of course music and the arts. Several of these topics are of special interest to my husband and me so we appreciated the extra effort and 'briefings' that Dragan provided.
As I mentioned we have not cruised with other river cruise companies, and I would like to try a few of the others like Tauck, Uniworld and maybe Ama just for variety's sake. But we would also be perfectly happy to book another Avalon cruise, and even take this same Danube Discovery Cruise again! It was a wonderful experience for both of us and we recommend it.