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10 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2016
Overall the river cruise was very good, it was just misleading in selling to us that all cabins are balcony, when in fact the level one was not. The several ports visited was more than what I expected. There was race discrimination ... Read More
Overall the river cruise was very good, it was just misleading in selling to us that all cabins are balcony, when in fact the level one was not. The several ports visited was more than what I expected. There was race discrimination on service especially the head of the dining or banquet including a female server. People were already seated and having their wine and were asked to leave and transfer to another table because this favored race came in. The hotel in Prague on their breakfast servers were also very rude. These people in hospitality industry should know how to treat with people of various colors of their skin!! The food was good and with just right serving amount, not too much and overwhelming. The cabin was clean all the time. The embarkation and disembarkation process were smooth. Being the first river cruise and comparing it to the regular cruises that we have experienced, it has its pluses and minuses. The broader tours are the big plus. Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2014

This was our first river cruise on any line. Before deciding, we researched many options and since we were a fairly large group (six couples), chose Avalon for the destination (wanted multiple countries), price, and generally good ... Read More

This was our first river cruise on any line. Before deciding, we researched many options and since we were a fairly large group (six couples), chose Avalon for the destination (wanted multiple countries), price, and generally good reviews. We were not disappointed, but as I said it was our first river cruise, so we did not have much to compare it to.

The itinerary was wonderful, with 3 small towns and 3 cities we got a good mix of experiences. I would highly recommend the side trip to Chesky Krumlof, which was extra, but other than that, each stop included informative local tours, with listening devices for each person. Our guides were local, and spoke excellent English. We took the wine tasting option in Grein, and it was a tour as good as any in Napa or elsewhere.

The food was great, buffet service for breakfast and lunch, with options to order off the menu for lunch. Dinner was 4 courses of delicousness wrapped up with plenty of wine. All the passengers could be seated in the dining room, and so just one seating. This allowed for much getting acquainted with others. Everyone was friendly and happy, folks from England, New Zealand, Austrailia and Canada as well as the U.S.

They also offered cookies, donuts, and muffins with 24 hour coffee in the back of the ship, and sandwiches, sweets and tea in the afternoon. Happy hour started an hour before dinner and drinks were half price.

We had a variety of different staterooms from inside to suites. All were quite nice and surprisingly spacious. The staff was fabulous, from helping us celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, to remembering our preferences for wine. Always a smile and lots of helpful tips.

Would love to do it again someday, maybe the Duoro River in Portugal. Would definitely travel with Avalon again. Loved the small ship experience!

 

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7 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2013

My sister and I chose to travel on Avalon Waterways Magnificent Europe tour starting from Budapest on 24 July 2013 and finishing at Amsterdam two weeks later on 7 August 2013. It was quite a change for me to be on an organised tour ... Read More

My sister and I chose to travel on Avalon Waterways Magnificent Europe tour starting from Budapest on 24 July 2013 and finishing at Amsterdam two weeks later on 7 August 2013. It was quite a change for me to be on an organised tour after always traveling independently over the years.

We started our journey in Budapest and enjoyed our explorations of that very beautiful city. My sister had a brief city tour in the eighties while it was still behind the Iron Curtain, conducted from the airport to fill in a 10 hour stopover. The city has greatly changed since then from all accounts.

We arrived in the city a day early and were taken by a private driver to Intercontinental hotel to spend our first night before joining our cruise. Our hotel rooms were very comfortable and of a high standard, while the service we experienced was excellent. During our stay we enjoyed a light meal and wine in the bar on our first evening, and a beautiful buffet breakfast the following morning before checkout. The front desk advised that our luggage would be transferred to our ship over the course of the day.

Prior to joining our cruise, our first day and a half was spent ambling around the local streets, checking out the architecture and local sights, trying not to double up on activities included in our city tour with Avalon the following day. Our hotel was beside the Danube so well placed for our explorations. We particularly enjoyed discovering a number of Art Nouveau styled buildings and some quirky bronze statues along the way. One perched on a fence near our hotel, 'the little Princess' was very endearing, the artist inspired by his young daughter playing princess dress-ups. Another of Ronald Reagan was a surprise encounter, I guess a tribute to his presidential role around the time of the move towards democracy in these parts.

The most poignant monument was a collection of 60 iron shoes beside the river near the Parliament building. A tribute to a group of jewish people who were murdered there by Arrow Cross Militiamen in WW2. Ordered to remove their shoes, they were shot and their bodies were carried away by the river. Sadly the shoes were seen to have a secondhand and greater value than the wearers in the eyes of the fascists. It is one of the most moving street sculptures I have ever seen.

Not far from the hotel we discovered a monument highlighting the city's roman past and also an area of archaeological excavation showing roman remains below a thick clear perspex window set in the paved square above. Unfortunately we didn't have time to visit Aquincum Museum and roman ruins during our stay, no doubt a fascinating outing.

We did however delve into more recent history, visiting the House of Terror, the building that once housed the Arrow Cross fascists and Nazis, then later was taken over for by the Communist Secret Police as a torture centre. It is now a monument and museum as a reminder of this tragic past. How wonderful it must be for the population to now experience freedom.

We joined our cruise on MS Panorama in the afternoon of our second day. We were given a glass of champagne, some canapes and a very warm welcome from Cruise Director Hendrik who introduced the senior crew. Instructions were provided for joining tours each day, collecting boarding passes which would indicate we were onboard on our return to the ship and obtaining headsets for our tour commentaries. This was all done with great precision along with much humour from Hendrik, and providing we all complied with instructions about our return to the ship was assured of running smoothly. We were then shown to our suites to settle onboard before dinner.

My sister and I each had our own Panorama Suite so had the luxury of space without having to dodge around another inhabitant. The rooms are beautifully appointed and well maintained each day. I knew from the moment I entered my suite that I would feel at home there, and began nesting immediately. In fact the environment on the whole ship is of a very high standard, with plenty of space for passengers throughout. The ship holds a maximum of around 160 passengers, with a large crew to take care of passengers. The restaurant is very roomy so there is plenty of space for people who choose to sit in smaller groups.

Our welcome dinner gave us a preview of the quality of dining that we would come to expect every meal while onboard for two weeks. I have to admit that it was a bit intimidating that first time we entered the dining room, not knowing anyone else onboard. We introduced ourselves to a lovely pair of ladies from the UK, and remained firm friends and dinner companions throughout the voyage; sitting elsewhere for other meals in order to meet other people. The food was fresh, superbly presented and very tasty, a credit to chef Orlando and his fellow chefs and helpers. A varied selection of wines were offered with our evening meal each day. We were able to select less courses from the menu each time as the four of us all preferred a lighter diet than what was on offer. But for those who prefer more generous serves and multiple courses this restaurant would not disappoint. Try as we might to be self disciplined, the pastry chef made desserts so tempting that this was a course not to be missed at meals. Any attempt to request smaller serves was subverted by him with that extra dollop, slice or scoop! Our empty plates and bowls were testament to his skill!

The following day we headed out for a city tour, taking in the sights of both the Buda and Pest sides of the river. Our guide was very informative giving us a history lesson at the same time as pointing out the many and varied highlights along the way. Most of the tour was experienced from the bus, with a brief stop at Heroes Square, then an hour and a half to wander around Fishermens Bastion on the Buda side where we were able to enjoy some stunning views across the city. Much more time than a couple of days is needed to really appreciate this fine city.

We also went on an afternoon excursion to a nearby town called Szentendre, a quaint little spot heavily reliant on selling souvenirs. The commentary on the way was detailed and interesting but did we really need a second telling of all these same points of interest on the return journey from our guide! I was thrilled to see Aquincum and some of the roman ruins from our bus, a small consolation for not being able to visit.

We were all very excited when the ship finally set sail to the strains of the music 'Conquest of Paradise' by Vangelis, which is very dramatic. (I know some of the words, the ones that go mm mm mm mm mm etc) As the tour progresses we will discover that this is played each time we set sail and we never tire of hearing it, it quickly becomes part of our routine.

Our first stop was Bratislava in Slovakia where we visited the Castle which is located at a high point with excellent views of the river and city. We were then taken on a walking tour of the old town to appreciate the very attractive old-world streetscapes. I had read about the quirky street sculptures featured here and had my eyes peeled. Eventually we were able to meet 'Cumil' (pronounced Choo-mill) who has his head and upper body protruding through a manhole on the side of the road. He is in such a precarious spot he has lost his head a number of times after being collected by cars and has undergone regular repairs. We also saw 'Schone Nazi', a strange name for a representation of a local well dressed character from the early 20th century who used to hang around the spot where the sculpture is located, greeting people and paying particular attention to any ladies passing by, sometimes even handing out flowers. In those days he was considered to be an oddball but in our times he would probably be on YouTube and famous around the world for his antics, much like the guy who was offering free hugs to people in public places. Sadly Paparazzi no longer exists, a sculpture of a man peeking around a corner with his camera. I had been eagerly anticipating meeting him.

Next day and we were in another country! Aaahhh Wien! My husband and I visited this city many years ago, so we had experienced a visit to Schonbrunn Palace and other local sights. We started our day with a bus tour around the city locale. I had forgotten how amazing the architecture is here, truly stunning! Unfortunately this mode of travel doesn't allow us to explore in depth, you just whizz by in a bus taking photos with reflections, cars, poles etc. It is a taster but you can't expect to do any scratching below the surface of each location as I would normally do. We also went on a walking tour with our very eccentric and lovely guide Cordelia, who was able to point out some aspects of interest that were a little more unusual and gave insights into the Austrian sense of humour which is apparently distinct from Germans despite the shared language. We had a little spare time to check out some of the shops where I was able to pick up a lovely temporary souvenir from a baker - a berry torte. A work of art, it was well appreciated later, but not much later! It was great just walking around checking out the distinctive streetscapes and architecture.

We returned to the ship for dinner. Later I boarded another bus to attend a concert of classical music, dance and opera. These concerts are prolific in Vienna and there are young people dressed up in period costume selling tickets all over the city each day. The hall was pretty but not particularly special however I enjoyed the concert very much. The orchestra and other performers were really good. Many of the musicians are apparently music students who are honing their skills in the final years of their degrees. I was a bit unsure about booking this optional tour but decided to give it a try and I am glad that I did.

Our guide talked about the fact that many tourists now think that there are kangaroos in Austria, confusing them with Australia. How funny! When Phil and I visited Europe in 1984 many people thought we were Austrians when they asked where we were from because they didn't understand our accents. I guess it sounded like we were saying 'Austrayia' or the like. Haha! Now there are Tshirts and plastic bags with the slogan 'No Kangaroos in Austria', featuring a picture of a roadsign showing a kangaroo with a cross through it. I am pleased to see that our country is finally on the map. Of course when we clarified in 1984 that we were really from Australia the usual response was 'Ohhh Kangarooooo!' with a suitable mimicking of a kangaroo accompanying that phrase. Later when we visited the US and Canada in 2001, the population was more interested in Crocodiles than kangaroos thanks to Steve Irwin and also Paul Hogan's Crocodile Dundee.

Our next stop was Durnstein, a pretty riverside village with steep vineyards surrounding it and a ruined castle on a rocky outcrop above, which is famous for holding Richard the Lionheart for ransom back in the time of the crusades. Coincidentally at home my other half had been watching Errol Flynn's Robin Hood which refers to having to raise gold and silver to pay a ransom for Richard who is a prisoner in Vienna. What strange timing! We were assured that Richard actually was living the life of Reilly while there, with servants, luxurious rooms and a fair degree of freedom within the castle; not chained up in some dark, damp dungeon as we might imagine. We really loved exploring the quaint streets here, admiring the pretty buildings and walking through laneways past the vineyards. It was very hot though so great to get back to the airconditioned comfort of the ship for lunch.

We continued on to Melk, another town in the Wachau Valley of Austria. Again we were herded on to buses to tour Melk Abbey which we were assured was an amazing place to visit. This is certainly a fact but it was so hot that afternoon I found it hard to appreciate the visit and wished I had stayed on the ship for a quiet afternoon. I should point out that I had been struggling with sinusitis and a sore throat which was interrupting my sleep, so the heat was really draining. The abbey has beautiful terraced gardens but it was way too hot for any of us to spend much time exploring. The weather was much hotter than the locals are used to for several days in a row. Once returned to the ship we set off towards Linz for our final Austrian destination the next day.

Linz required an early start as there were several optional tours on offer, We had opted to visit Salzkammergut Austrian lakes area. I was feeling like death warmed up so decided to give the tour a miss and stayed onboard, while my sister enjoyed a long day out traveling around 'romantic Austria'. It was the best decision under the circumstances as it was a much cooler day after some very hot days, so it was refreshing to sit outside and enjoy a cool breeze. With most of the passengers away on outings, I was one of a very small contingent still onboard.

I found it relaxing to watch picturesque countryside and pretty villages pass by. Apart from the naturalist aspect, we thought we may even get to see more naturists' views as we did the previous day. It seems that the River Danube is a popular spot for getting the gear off for an all over tan. We were even bemused by the sight of men cooking barbecues in the all-together, an activity that seemed fraught with danger of burning the snags!

Additionally we were able to observe the workings of some enormous locks along the way. We crossed the border of Austria and Germany through a very wide lock so two ships were able to go through beside one another, but with the narrowest gap between the side of the ship and and concrete wall. I was amused to see that the neighbouring boat was named Hendrika, because our Cruise Director is Hendrik. Another discovery on this journey was that it was a bit weird walking along the Skydeck in the opposite direction to the boat, as it had the effect of a treadmill, with the landscape beside me keeping up.

> Our first stop in Germany was the extremely beautiful town of Passau, which sits where three rivers meet, the Danube, Inn and Ilz. Each is a different colour so it is very strange to see the three colours of water merging at the point where they all converge. After such high temperatures over several days, we had a huge downpour on arrival here which was quite refreshing. I enjoyed strolling around the streets checking out the architecture, the wonderful baroque cathedral and even had time to browse in some shops that were not stuffed to the gills with souvenirs. I strolled back to the ship beside the river in time to see the daytrippers returning from their outings. My sister shared photos of her day's outing with me and seemed very happy with her experiences. She did however feel that too much time had been spent at St Wolfgang, while another superb location with a Schloss reached by cable car did not have enough time for a visit.

As days wore on I found myself struggling to catch up with my first email to family and friends. Wifi access was understandably sporadic along the river and canals so communication with home became difficult. The best time was when we docked somewhere and of course that meant being out and about on tour. Once back onboard the ship sailed off and again there was no wifi. I was also guilty of dozing off in between activities at times when my intention was to catch up on facebook, sorting photos and emailing. When I finally found the time I could hardly remember where I had been since Vienna! Fortunately we were given daily itineraries which made an excellent resource for jogging the memory.

Next stop was Regensburg, Bavaria, which is an amazing city of UNESCO World Heritage status due to more than 1300 buildings of historic interest. After a short walking tour we were given a couple of hours free time to explore. It was great to retrace our footsteps and see the sights without a crowd of people around us. There is a lovely old stone bridge which dates back to mid 1100s, the oldest of its kind in Germany. It seems the biggest claim to fame is the Wurstkuchl which we were told is considered to be the world's oldest 'fried sausage kitchen'. Who would want to argue with that? Actually we were more interested in visiting one of the newest department stores in town than eating sausage and sauerkraut. Haha! I must agree the city is a fantastic place to stroll around. Those who did make it to the Wurstkuchl were full of praise for the sausage and beer consumed there.

On return to the ship many of us took advantage of a chocolate tasting session. We enjoyed trying three different, delicious chocolate treats while our speaker shared some chocolate facts with us. Yum! After dinner our night was rounded off with a corny show by Hans, a One Man German Band, who had a massive moustache that looked like a broom under his nose. He had fun selecting 'volunteers' to play a variety of instruments he had hauled onboard. It was pretty silly but the crowd thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless. We made sure we were seated near an exit to make a quick getaway if he headed our way at any point.

While traveling to our next destination the following morning, an interesting presentation was held on the Main Danube Canal, with particular focus on the engineering of this waterway and the operation of locks. It is a fascinating aspect of this particular cruise as there are many locks to negotiate along the way.

The fascinating city of Nuremberg was our next point of call, with so much to see but of course we were not able to explore in depth due to lack of time. It has a long proud history yet will always have the legacy of reluctantly hosting the annual party rally for Hitler's Nazis over a six year period. As a result of this association the city had more than 75% of its historic buildings destroyed. Clearly much of the Old City has been restored as the town walls, towers and beautiful half-timbered houses look in great shape. We made a brief stop at the Nazi Party Rally grounds and found that the building and interior is in disrepair, a crumbling monument to their failure in WW2. We also checked out the massive Zeppelin Field nearby, a site larger than twelve football grounds put together, which was used for huge Nazi parades associated with the party rallies.

We were given an hour of free time away from this sad political history. We decided to visit the Toy Museum, a fantastic display specialising in German made toys which must be one of the biggest collection of its kind. The quality of the toys was brilliant and many still had their original packaging. We returned to the ship for a very popular beer tasting session, not my thing but well received by most passengers.

As the cruise progressed, the food continued to be wonderful. The crew are so professional and attentive, chef Orlando is highly skilled and his army of helpers do an excellent job. They try and include local specialties at every lunch and dinner along with beautiful wines and a selection of other beverages.

Bamberg was the next stop on our itinerary and what a beautiful town. Our dutch guide was great, very knowledgeable as she has lived in this town for many years and presented our walking tour with a sense of humour. She pointed out various places of interest including a fountain featuring Neptune which is known locally as the "Man with the Fork'. It is surrounded by stone seating referred to as the Ape Rocks, in deference to the usual zoo settings for Apes where they watch us watching them. I like that nickname, so apt. The Town Hall is an unusual tall half timbered structure which is perched precariously halfway along on a stone bridge, with water rushing under it. Local legend is that the bishop of Bamberg refused to grant land for the building of the town hall so the citizens rammed stakes into the river to create an artificial island for locating this landmark. Whatever the truth is, it is an incredible sight.

Most of our guides have mentioned that there is an old German (Austrian) saying that a wealthy person is Stone Rich or Rolling in Stones, a nod to the great value placed on Stone in medieval times. The half timbered buildings were a way to build relatively grand homes without the extra cost of stones for upper levels. I guess that is where our saying 'Rolling in it' comes from when we talk about people with pots of money. Interesting. (Well I thought so anyway.)

The afternoon schedule included a talk on the European Union so I decided to have a nap as I was feeling very weary. I had been battling hayfever for days which was progressing to a sore throat and it was all catching up on me. However I did book to go on the 3.15pm galley tour on the ship so set my watch to wake me at 2.30. I woke with a start at 3.21 pm to find that I had set my alarm for 2.30am! So much for my plans, oh well, back to sleep! I drifted in and out of sleep, waking occasionally to lie there watching the world go by through the huge windows in my room. My dinner companions later reported that the galley tour was great, highly organised and they were impressed with the cooking achievements in such a small space.

We woke the next morning to a beautiful view of a hillside palace in Wurzburg, complete with the most perfect reflections on the river. I was able to capture some stunning images of this view on my camera much to my delight. We started our explorations with the obligatory walking tour which I almost passed on, but ended up being glad that I went. Our guide Valerie is British but has lived in Wurzburg for over 20 years. She proved to be an extremely effective speaker, very conversational and funny with a droll sense of humour. We visited the Wurzburg Palace located in town (as opposed to the one on the hill overlooking the river) and she took us on a journey back in time as she explained all of the features of the palace and the habits of occupants and visitors. We were introduced to the Prince Bishop who ruled the town in the early 1700s, by all accounts a humble fellow given that he commissioned a ceiling mural above the Grand Staircase that may as well be entitled 'The World Pays Homage to the Prince Bishop'. Even the gods appeared to be praising his image in this mural. The World only had 4 continents at that time, all featured in different displays. America was shown to be the least important or civilised, while Europe was advanced well ahead of all others. On the origins of words, she mentioned that the men who came to the palace in the 1700s were expected to wear wigs. If a man had a very long wig this indicated he was very important, hence the term 'Bigwigs'.

We had a little free time to wander around town, taking in more splendid views with a leisurely stroll back to the ship along the river, just in time for more food. (In the unlikely event that anyone on board may starve...) Once that was done, we boarded buses for Rothenburg, a fantastic medieval walled town with narrow lanes and many half timbered houses. How lucky we were to have the same tour guide, Valerie, who entertained us on the bus to and from our destination. She gave us a bit of an orientation on arrival then we were cut loose to enjoy exploring for a couple of hours. It was a very hot day so nothing too energetic was on the agenda.

Jill and I checked out some of the shops around the central marketplatz (naturally), including a huge christmas shop and surprisingly emerged with no packages between us. We decided to head to the town walls for a trek above the houses which was a great way to see a different view of the town. We also had an ulterior motive, to find the horse and carriages so we could take a ride. No luck, so we did the female thing and asked for directions and next thing you know we were taking a leisurely ride around the outer streets, under a shady canopy. The ride took 25 minutes with two stops; one a toilet stop but for the horses, not for us, and the other at a huge water trough for a drink, again for the horses not us! On the return journey Valerie entertained us all with personal stories about her adjustment to living in Germany, her children's bilingual issues and other funny tales. This lady could easily do stand up comedy or after dinner speaking. (Take note Avalon, she would be great onboard as a speaker, especially on the cross cultural issues she has encountered.)

Our trip to Miltenberg was very leisurely as we were still sailing for half of the next day before we docked. Once again we were taken on a walking tour of the town, which is famed for its beer and franconian red wines. It is yet another medieval town, with many enormous half timbered houses lining the streets of the old town. The day we visited it was hosting a stopover of a very large contingent of cyclists who were following the way of a pilgrimage from town to town. They departed mid afternoon and the streets were very quiet in comparison. Back on board we had a local lady visit the ship to present a Vanilla Gipfel cookie baking demonstration. She managed to coerce a couple of the guys into helping her with this, and I noticed a few not so brave men quickly depart from the lounge once she announced she needed volunteers. Brigitte was very funny and lively so it was much more than a baking demonstration and whiled away an hour very easily.

Soon after we set sail for Rudesheim to the strains of Vangelis and the view outside my window was perfect; a white swan was floating by, the light reflected on all of the buildings giving a glowing effect, the green of the countryside looked even greener than usual and I spied canoeists on the river. Lovely!

That night the crew put on a show for us all in the lounge after dinner. They did a variety of funny skits as well as some musical moments. I guess all of these cruises do something similar as part of their entertainment. We got to see another side to the people who have been providing us with such professional service this past two weeks. They are a great bunch of people, very hard working. Many of them are married with children but barely see their families during the summer holiday season, They work long hours every day and most do a multitude of jobs, yet no task seems to be too much trouble for these easy going crew members. We also had a piano player each night, Nick, from Bulgaria. He has quite the repertoire, has a great voice and is a good musician so we enjoyed dancing along to his music most nights.

We particularly appreciated our next destination, Rudesheim, which was another leisurely day spent on the boat until lunch time. We boarded our Petit Train on leaving the ship and trundled into town, saving a long walk uphill. It was greatly amusing to see how close the train got to the chairs in the outside dining areas of cafes. Luckily noone was sitting in them as we passed. We had visions of sitting there, then moving backwards to stand up only to be cleaned up by a colourful little train. We have seen news reports of all manner of tourist tragedies over the years, but never by this method. Oh the embarrassment to be killed by le petit train!

On arrival at our destination, we waited to see which way our guide was going then headed in the opposite direction away from Siegfried's Mechanical Music Museum, before anyone spotted us making our escape. No reflection on this popular tourist activity but we had alternative plans! In my research I had found out there was a cable car that would take us to a lookout at a highly placed monument, which appealed to us more than an hour of antique musical instruments followed by coffee laced with brandy at the local Schloss. While I am sure that everyone enjoyed their music and coffee interlude, our journey above the terraced grape vines, with magnificent views of the town, the Rhine and beyond, was a perfect way to while away our time on such a warm summer's day. The Niederwald monument, commemorating the reunification of Germany in the late 1800s, was pretty impressive too. After our return journey we meandered through the streets back to the ship.

We set sail to Cologne through the most picturesque stretch of the Rhine River, with commentary on the Skydeck from Hendrik, pointing out the many castles and other places of interest along the way. The weather was perfect for viewing these sights; cameras and iPads were kept busy capturing the images of steeply perched fortresses and charming riverside towns.

Time was slipping by fast and before we knew it we were disembarking for our visit to Cologne. We chose to wander around the city centre rather than follow the guide as we have both been to this city in the past. We walked back to the ship through the old town, admiring the well maintained historic buildings and the river views. We had an early sailing that afternoon so headed back in good time to enjoy some people watching from the Skydeck. One couple was late getting back; Jill spotted them strolling slowly along the pathway before having to make an undignified dash for the boat with only minutes to spare after our Cruise Director Hendrik yelled out loudly to them. We had been warned previously that the ship would not wait for us if we were late so they were lucky to just make it. Once we set sail we had our final Port talk from Hendrik with special emphasis on disembarkation protocols. Hendrik's pre dinner Port talks were a fixture each day of the cruise along with Happy Hour in the Lounge, briefing us on the schedule for the next day and and what we could expect to see and experience.

We had our farewell dinner one night early given that many of the passengers would be out and about on tour in Amsterdam the following night. It was a very special dinner, featuring a parade of all the people who had carefully prepared and served our meals during the cruise and also to pay tribute to all of the other crew who work tirelessly behind the scenes. Three cheers for you all, you are a credit to your ship and to Avalon.

Our final destination of Amsterdam was reached overnight. We had a long day planned, starting with a canal cruise around this very lively and historic city. We have both been to Amsterdam previously so chose a country outing in the afternoon rather than further exploring the city sights. It was interesting to see the way that the land has been reclaimed from waterways for farming and housing. The farms had raised grazing lands punctuated by channels of water and I saw quite a few swans in the fields, a very strange sight. The farmhouses were square and the orange tiled rooftops were shaped like pyramids. We visited the town of Edam and wandered around checking out the pretty streetscapes of well tended houses. We then went on to Volendam, a nearby fishing village, with more neat little homes reflecting house proud locals. There were many sailboats on the water, a great sight as we walked along the dyke. It is a very touristy area with numerous souvenir shops, cafes and pubs. Our guide mentioned it is a busy place no matter what the season. Fortunately the charming backstreets were quieter so we escaped the crowds. There were channels of water covered in a type of duck weed, giving the impression it was a grassy pathway. Our guide was at pains to remind us of this, paranoid that one of us might mistakenly take a dip. We did spot a bicycle lying beside a pond covered in this greenery, and some orange and white tape had been stretched around the perimeter, serving as a warning to walkers to watch out.

We returned to the ship for our last dinner onboard, then away we went again, this time for an evening excursion to check out the historic city centre, most notably the red light district Amsterdam is famed for. I enjoyed the canal cruise more this time as the light was much better for taking photos. Our guide was adept at discussing the issues of prostitution and legal use of marijuana in Amsterdam. Even though the two are legalised, it appears that there is still a criminal element causing social problems.

For me, walking around this area is uncomfortable, not because of what the ladies are doing, rather because there is a feeling of treating them like they are creatures in a zoo by observing them. Any uncomfortable feelings are quickly wafted away by the strong smell of marijuana in these streets; we relax. Haha! There are cafes with special licences to allow legal smoking of dope, but clearly it is openly smoked everywhere else. This is all part of Amsterdam's culture and ways, so is something for visitors to be aware of, and hopefully show some level of respect as we move amongst the locals.

After our tour we gather with some fellow passengers for a last night of dancing to Nick's music, chatting and debriefing about our experiences over the previous two weeks. It is a credit to the Cruise Director that proceedings run like clockwork and it all appears so seamless and trouble-free.

I would like to make special mention of the lovely people who tended to our cabins behind the scenes. They work extremely hard over long hours and try to incorporate individual touches to make passengers feel special. I had brought along a tiny jointed cat toy on my trip as a piece of home to add to my room. Every night when I returned to my cabin after dinner, my bed was turned down by Anto, who also left a chocolate on the pillow and the little cat tucked up in bed. One day we were all thrilled to find that our towels had been expertly folded on our beds into animals, in my case a dog wearing my reading glasses and cuddling my little cat. These special touches along the way never failed to make me smile!

The next morning we rose early to ensure our cases were outside our room at 6 am. It is hard to sleep when you worry you may not wake on time. I had some last minute packing to sort out and pressed down on my case to close it, hearing a noise that I thought must have been a wake up call. Hang on, I didn't order a wake up call! I realised it was a toy yodelling Marmot that I had bought as a souvenir gift, serenading me from my luggage! I quickly rescued it and put it in my hand luggage, thinking it might alarm a baggage handler if it went off during transit. Wearily we headed to the lounge for a quick continental brekky before boarding the airport bus to catch a flight to our next destination. We were both so tired that we dozed off on the plane, however I woke up when someone close by snored very loudly! Oh dear, was that me? Haha! I forced myself to remain awake after that mortifying experience!

I hope this journal of my cruise experience highlights how wonderful the Magnificent Europe tour with Avalon Waterways is! Although I still favour traveling independently, I did enjoy the refreshing change of letting someone else take care of the detail, carrying me along on their journey.

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1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: May 2013

Embarking on the Panorama at Budapest we had only cruised to Vienna when unprecedented floods made further progress on the river impossible. Along with another eight cruise ships from other cruise lines we were stuck there. Avalon ... Read More

Embarking on the Panorama at Budapest we had only cruised to Vienna when unprecedented floods made further progress on the river impossible. Along with another eight cruise ships from other cruise lines we were stuck there. Avalon immediately sent letters informing us of the need to use buses and offering compensation. We were really disappointed since we loved our suite with lovely comfy bed and spacious bathroom and had grown to like the crew. The food was great and plenty of wine with dinner.

 

As it turned out we used the Panorama as a base for a couple of days with buses taking us to places we would have cruised to then we were taken to a top hotel in Saltzberg for a night before busing to Bamberg where we embarked on the Expression. We then toured from there for a couple more days before going to Mainz and the Hilton. Here we joined the Vista and cruised to Amsterdam. I can't speak highly enough of Nico our tour director who, along with Avalon had to change arrangements, get buses, restaurants and hotels for about 150 people almost by the hour. They ensured we were accompanied by experienced bus guides who were very good and along with the planned tours we were able to see much of what had been advertised without the comfort of relaxed cruising. All the passengers I spoke to were disappointed about not cruising for much of the time but were impressed by the efforts Avalon and Nico in particular made to give us a good tour. All said we would all use Avalon again.

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2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2013
I am motivated to write this review since the cruise was so outstanding. We were a group of 5 couples who are old friends.From the time we stepped off the plane in Prague and were met by the Avalon representative everything thing and every ... Read More
I am motivated to write this review since the cruise was so outstanding. We were a group of 5 couples who are old friends.From the time we stepped off the plane in Prague and were met by the Avalon representative everything thing and every day was like a well oiled machine. Management must be doing something right.Avalon transferred us to the Intercontinental Hotel in Prague. The hotel was in a perfect location for visiting this beautiful city. Two nights in Prague. We then transferred to the beautiful Panorama ship. Stateroom were well designed with plenty of storage space. The Bathroom with granite counter tops and a walk in shower was also designed with plenty of storage space. Our cruise director Mr. Akos Szalay was ever present and attentive to the guests. The crew members were friendly, professional and very attentive. The restaurant manager, Agos,did a fabulous job with the restaurant staff. I do not know how they can serve over 160 meals 3 x a day. Obviously, the staff works very hard. Our compliments to the chef "Orlando" for the quality and presentation of the the food. It was like eating in a 5 star restaurant. The ship is kept pristine clean from the staterooms to the decks. The included tour guides were excellent. This was our First River Cruise and it will not be our last.We will sail again on one of Avalon's Suite Ships. Our experience was so positive that I would never sail on a large cruise ship again. River Cruising is the best. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2012

14 Day River Cruise: Hungary-Holland

PREAMBLE:

After many a sea cruise, we finally did our first major River Cruise. We are two very seasoned travelers, both work paid and "on our own dime". In our late mid 60's, we have ... Read More

14 Day River Cruise: Hungary-Holland

PREAMBLE:

After many a sea cruise, we finally did our first major River Cruise. We are two very seasoned travelers, both work paid and "on our own dime". In our late mid 60's, we have been retired for over a decade (on average). Leslie does the photo work and I do the write-ups. We try to provide great detail of our trips and lots of pictures of the places we go. You will not find many pictures of us in the lot. This write-up is meant to share with our friends and family, help others who may consider a similar trip, to "payback" in some way the help we get from Flyertalk members to plan our trips and in some lesser way to entertain and inform those that for any number of reasons will not take such a trip.

We have changed our format at bit this Report. Rather than do the trip chronologically, sneaking in various details of sideline issues, this Trip Report is in 5 sections. The content and extent of the coverage will vary based on my notes, time and both my interest and my perceived interest of the various readers. The sections will be clearly marked, so feel free to skip those that might not interest you. The pictures can be found by the link at the end of Report. The pictures were taken from buses (seat, window, wires, wrong side, weather, and etc. being factors). Others were taken as we walked in groups on tour, or from the boat as we cruised down the 3 rivers and one canal. The Sections include: 1) Ground Transport; 2) Flights; 3) Avalon Panorama River Boat; 4) Our Trip, from boarding to disembarkation; and 5) Pictures. We have tried to minimize the overlap and repetition.

A note to those afraid of sea cruises or the "water", the river cruise described had no waves, feeling of boat movement nor should anyone feel "sea" sick. Further, the depth of much of the river was such that you could stand on the top deck and have water no higher than your waist IF the boat sank!!! Great alternative to sea cruises for those with such problems.

GROUND TRANSPORTATION:

We live in Escondido and flew out of San Diego Airport (SAN). Our flight departure was scheduled just past 6AM, so we were concerned about taking a regular shuttle to SAN. For a bit more ($200 total, RT with tip) we took ExecuCar. This assured us of a non-stop drive to the airport in comfort, with perhaps an upgraded driver (it was!). The driver had our schedule, was on time and did not break the speed limit (much). He handled the luggage and offered us water. We were questioned as to our temperature comfort a couple times along the route.

Our pickup on the return was a worry for us. We do not carry a cell phone, so we could only hope the driver made the adjustments for picking us up on July 4. Our plane out of Washington, DC was late about an hour. We should have been back before the fireworks started, but because San Diego had the 18 second embarrassment show, we arrived as people were leaving and traffic was a mess. We were grateful our driver was well versed in the street options and we did not have to make stops for other riders! We usually do not pay the extra for this service.

FLIGHTS:

We booked our cruise with air included. During the 9 months between booking and the actual flight, the airline group (DL) we were originally booked with and the final flights (UA/LH) were changed. The time also changed from a comfortable departure from SAN of almost 9AM to just after 6AM. Our seat assignments on UA, I had made online, had been changed. The three hour "rule" for arrival would put us there before the door to the AP would even open? Even 2 hours was well before the UA counter was open.

A couple of days before the flight, UA sent us an e-mail inviting us to check-in on line. I tried this several times, but to no avail. The system said there was a problem. We called UA with that information. They assured us that there was no problem, but we would have to check in with an agent and show our passports.

Upon arrival (3:45AM) at the airport we went to the roped line and became first in line. Others joined us for the wait, as employees arrived and went into the back room. There was a separate area labeled for those who were going to check-in on the machines. At 4:20AM, someone came out and told us that we should move to the other line if we wanted to check in by machine, that the agents would not be out for a while. We did not move, all the others in line did. The employee asked us why, and we told him our story. He told us that the agents would not be out in time for our flight, and therefore we should now move to the other line as guest number 80 or so!!! From first!!! We stayed. The people in the other line started to go to the machines to check in. There was a lady helping those people, so I talked to her. She took our paperwork and handled everything. One bag each was free, as this was part of an international flight. TSA went easy. Got machine scanned and never touched.

Our first leg was to Chicago (ORD). We had modest advanced boarding with my UA Explorer Card. The flight was 100% full and therefore left a little late. Those in the boarding area with "BIG" carry-ons were offered free checking at the gate! (that saved a lot of people $50 per bag). Many standbys were denied boarding. There was no food serviced on this leg, except for what you wanted to pay for. We brought sweet rolls to eat and used our 1-k drink tickets (from the past) to have some wine.

Our layover in ORD was long. We took the time to handle our eye drops (glaucoma), and I switched from my contacts to my glasses. We also took the time to have some lunch," just in case". Our next leg was from ORD to Frankford (FRA), Germany. We were in aisle 41 (no recline). The woman in row 40, with three kids managed to make our space even smaller by reclining all their seats. We had two aisle seats in the center section assigned for us by Lufthansa. The two girls between us were part of a larger group and were up and down like yoyos, but pleasant otherwise. Two babies in our area took turns screaming thru most of the 10 hour flight. It was a miserable 10+ hours (oh, for the days of first class and business class seats!). Our FF points have been whittled down and the <1% interest rates have changed our ability to pay to get all the best!

Our third leg was FRA to Budapest (BUD) Hungary. We had what we thought was a long time to between flights, but had it not been for the flight being a bit delayed, it could have been tight. The stroll from Concourse A to B8 was a nightmare. I have a bum hip, but try not to complain. It took about 45 minutes to make the transition. You need to go thru passport check (immigration?). Then a walk and multiple belt rides of about 3 blocks. Three elevator rides up and down with walks in between. Once at the gate, it was three short flights of steps to the buses. Finally, one additional flight of stairs onto the plane in the rain. Nice! The flight was a short mixed bag.

Once in BUD we obtained our luggage, again without directions, and we met with our Agent from Avalon. He took us, and several others, the 2 blocks toting our luggage (walking) where we loaded up on the bus to go to the "collecting hotel". The rules for buses had been changed and we had to walk to them, rather than they coming to us. We did not see our check luggage again until we got to our staterooms (good)! The hotel does not deserve a category to itself, so I will just say we had chairs, water and a long wait until, 3:45PM when they took us to the boat.

Our trip back was from Amsterdam (AMS) started with a 5:15AM wake-up call in our cabin. We did not have to put our luggage out until 30 minutes before our bus departure for the airport (none of that night before stuff like on a sea cruise aboard a megaship). We had a leisure get up and went to breakfast. Sheila and John showed up just after we were through, to see us off (you will hear more about them, but this was early for them!). At 6:45AM we were out and on to our 7AM bus to the airport. We IDed our luggage outside the bus, so we were assured of it coming with us (good)! It took about 45 minutes to get to the AP (AMS). The check-in process was very unusual for us. We checked our bags and got our boarding passes, but then headed for the gate without all the security procedures beyond passport control. Once at the gate, we sat down in the waiting area. There was a second wait area, at our gate, with security between. We sat and watched as the TSA equivalent, searched under all the seats, behind the curtains, in and around the equipment, etc. Once satisfied it was secure, they then processed all of us from the "open waiting area" to the secure area. Here we were scanned and wanded, but not touched. The carry-on luggage was screened. The plane was a single isle, 3 seats on each side, with business and first in the front. With plenty of time, the gate agents managed to wait until 22 minutes before departure to screen everyone. Once on the plane, the lead flight attendant continuously yelled at everyone to get to their seats and settle in. We missed our slot for take-off, and had to sit for 45 minutes or so before leaving. The flight to Washington, DC (IAD) was fine. Food offered, but declined by us (we had a big breakfast).

Our second leg was IAD to SAN. The plane is not scheduled for about 3 hours, and is expected to be in an hour late! Once thru immigration, we go thru a full scanning again (shoes and belts off, full "monte"). Next we go to claim our luggage only to recheck it. We asked at Customer Service about the certainty of our flight and are assured that it is in the air and will depart at 7PM. We were concerned because of the rules at SAN about curfew. The flight was fine. We had aisle-aisle across from each other. The plane was not full, but most of the empty seats were in economy+. Guess they charge too much for people to pay for the unused space. We are told not to upgrade ourselves. Our arrival is at just past 9PM, instead of just past 8PM. The fireworks show for July 4 was to start at 9PM, so our original schedule and the revised one should be fine, but the fireworks went off all at once and were over 18 seconds after the start! Horrible traffic! We were delighted to see our driver and our name sign once we got our luggage!

AVALON PANORAMA RIVER BOAT:

There are several river cruise companies to choose from. We choose Avalon, as they have a reputation better that the others (our research), and have newer ships, with greater comfort. Our ship was put in service in mid-2011. It holds no more than 166 passengers (we had 160). It is the largest of the ships making our trip, but some others carry up to 190 passengers. That space has to come from somewhere. Our ship has queen beds (most others offer smaller bedding). Our ship offers "balconies" (more later). Finally, Avalon promotes heavily in Australia (overwhelmingly the largest group on our boat) and we like traveling with them (7 trips to Australia and New Zealand, accounting for about 160 days for us)! The price was competitive, perhaps slightly more that some others...hard to compare. We did get a big discount off the 2-4-1 price Avalon offered by booking on line at Pavlus Travel (866-436-9445). We have booked many of our cruises with them. Agent Pam Tafoya (pam@pavlustravel.com). They have a referral program, but you will need to contact me by e-mail, or private message (flyertalk), as this gives you a bit more discount, but also gives me something on a future trip too. I do not want to use this Trip Report for my purposes. We do recommend you get a quote from them. We have not ever found a cheaper honorable vendor. No handholding here. If you are new to travel, you might want to go to a brick and mortar business.

Arrival Day: Some people had time to do a bit of sightseeing from the hotel, but most passengers waited for the transfer to the boat. Most people arrived on board between 4PM and 4:30PM. The boat is small enough to find your way around in short order, but someone took us to our room. At 6PM we had the mandatory lifejacket drill. This took only a few minutes. The lifejackets are stored somewhere on the sky deck and were handed to us are we came up the stairs. Attendance taken, by room number and it was over. Gave back the jackets and that was that. We were later told that the Danube River was shallow enough, that one could stand on the sky deck and be only a little wet in most places.

Next we went to the Captains welcome champagne orientation. Over the next 40 minutes or so we sat comfortably in the lounge, had a glass of champagne and were introduced to the crew section leaders. We were also give a rundown of the evening events and a bit on what is planned for tomorrow (a daily guide was left in our room each night for the following day). We were also given a brief on the ship resources, but again it is simple to get around.

Our next stop was dinner. As many of you know I maintain a "minimum food like list", and that will explain my discussion of food later on in this Trip Report. More on food later.

Next we went up on the Sky Deck to admire the views, lights and finally cooling temperatures (been 85 or so today and humid). The lit buildings are beautiful, almost surreal. Leslie takes some pictures and we call it a night about 10PM. We have been up about 35 hours without sleep!

Luggage: Our luggage was collected just outside the airport by Avalon, and delivered to our room. Everything in our two near 50# suitcases, and three carry-ons fit just fine somewhere in our cabin. When the cruise was over, our "to check" luggage was required to be outside our cabin only 30 minutes before our bus pickup time to go to the airport. We did ask and received 6 extra coat hangers (12 were originally in our closet) and one additional shower towel. Lots of room in the bathroom to store all your "stuff" and their fancy toiletries. The suitcase slides under the bed, making a great place for dirty clothes.

Our Room: We are in room 228. Our beds are made up as a queen bed, but separate duvets. They are the foam type mattresses. The bed and four plus pillows provided a great deal of comfort. The area between the end of the bed and our fully opening sliders (floor to ceiling) is small with a tiny table and one chair. Nearby is a settee. The desk for the chair can be put next to the tiny table to make a seating group for two (4 with the settee). To use the "balcony" you first imagine yourself sitting in your "living area/dining area" at the end of the bed. Now open the 3 pane sliders that overlap into one, leaving a massive opening to the outside. You are now sitting on your "balcony"! The opening has bars across to keep you or the furniture from ending up in the river! The upgrade does not exist on the first floor, only a window. I spent some time with my feet out the sliders on the bars sitting in "my" chair. You need to beware of the wall in the locks and ships being added on (more later). Opening the slider allows you to get plenty of fresh air and to waive at people along the shore line. The opening also makes for better picture taking. The biggest downside to this opening is the heat from the reflection off the glass. Closing the curtains and turning the AC on takes care of that while you are gone. The AC works well but did take a long time when we first arrived on board and they had left the AC off and the curtains open. The electricity (230 V, European plugs) required an adaptor, which we brought. Ours did not fit, but they gave us one to use. Lighting in the room is quite adequate, except when passing through some of the locks, under wide bridges or when a ship parks next to our sliders. The quality of lighting in the bath is very good. Hair dryers are provided. The bathroom has a shelf with a large lip to keep thing in place. It was adequate to hold our stuff and theirs. There are cabinets under the sink. The sink water flow is single handle and provides water temperature up to steaming. The pressure is good. The shower is an adequate size, but could be a challenge for some. Pressure, temperature and controls were all good. The toilet seemed a bit high and was the typical "shuttle lid, vacuum type flush". There are two built in kleenex dispensors and an extra roll of toilet paper in the cabinet. A mirror covers almost the entire wall in the cabin. There is a table with drawers and a mini-fridge filled with opportunities to spend money. There is also a bit of space for some of your own "stuff". Each side of the bed provides a night stand, with drawers and a light. There is a built in 3 door closet, providing lots of shelf and hanging space. There are a few extra-large suites on board, but we did not observe them. The room is serviced twice a day. Once in the morning they make the bed and deal with the towels and cleaning of the bathroom. The free water is replenished. Most of this happens while you are at breakfast or on shore. WE never ran into these people (they kept track of us!). You are greeted by everyone multiple time each day by most of the crew! There is a door hanger to prevent, delay or rush this process, but they seemed psychic! The room is again serviced in the evening during dinner. Your bed is turned-down, a candy added, perhaps a towel animal (not consistent), and the room squared away as needed.

Laundry: We used the laundry service, as the weather turned out to be much more consistently warmer that we had packed for. Leslie had 5 blouses done for 15 euros, and I have two shirts done for 5 euros. The service took less than 24 hours. The items were washed, pressed and returned on hangers. Rush orders were a 50% premium. Items were placed in a provided bag, forms filled out and picked up in your cabin.

Room Service: I do not believe there is any room service provided unless you are sick, for real. The size of the crew and cabins do not lend themselves to food served in this manner.

Computers: There are 2 computes provide for free in the lobby. No time limits were posted, but there seemed to be access available to everyone who needed it, except the most impatient. Most people had their own equipment and the ship provided free WI FI. There was also a printer.

Lobby: The lobby had some chairs for sitting. Tables with cold drinks were set up for those returning from tours. The Tour Director maintained a desk there. The "purser/problem solver" desk was located here. Lost and found was an area on the counter. Your shore-onboard passes were here. You pick up your listening devises here before each tour. Most sums of change were maintained to break a euro bill into coins. This was the area for most departures and returns (except when double parked, read later).

Bow and Stern: both areas were open to passengers to sit and enjoy the view. Great area to view the process of going thru the locks. No smoking was allowed at either of these two areas. Smoking was limited to a small portion of the Sky Deck. These were good areas to relax, have a drink or perhaps take some pictures.

Lounge: An area larger than the dining room. The space served many purposes throughout each day and night. While most of the eating was in the dining room, the early and late breakfast (continental), tea and late night snack are served here. The onboard entertainment was done here. The bar is located here. The daily briefings (port talk by the cruise director)are done in this room. The lounge has the piano. It is also open all day for......well, lounging! Happy hour in the area overlapped with the daily briefing before dinner.

Club Room: On the 3rd floor there is a room with the library, a multi-task coffee maker and some comfy chairs. Next door is the hair/nail salon.

Dining Room: Use by the passengers three times a day and but the crew for their meals at other times, as well. Breakfast was buffet. Eggs as you like and omelets were made as you waited. The balance of the items were available for self-serve pick up. 4 or more juices, water, coffee and champagne (included) were available every morning. Various fruit, rolls, toast (you toast it), and an assortment of hot and cold meats were also served. Beans, hash browns and some surprises were also served. Coffee and tea was served sometimes, but always refills were. Each day something "special" was also featured, ie French toast. The time for breakfast varied with the day's schedule, but was always preceded by the early breakfast and late breakfast in the lounge. Lunch was also buffet, but some order items were also available on the menu (these are the "everyday items for those not opting for the many other choices"...my list sometimes). Usually three or more mains, with several items that could be made into a main for some (salad). The carver was often turkey, or leg of lamb. Several deserts, including a few "ship made ice cream" were available at this meal. Coffee, tea and sodas were included. Dinner was menu service. It was a bit odd. You selected your choices and "ordered" what you did not want as well?! Each night the menu included a cold appetizer (opt in or out), a choice of a couple of soups, a salad (opt in or out), a hot appetizer (opt in or out), 3 mains (choose or opt out), and a variety of desserts (pick it NOW). At the bottom of the menu were the everyday items (my first choice most nights) which included a minimal size steak, Caesar salad, x and y. I had the steak and Caesar salad most nights because of my fussy eating (see prior disclosure). You can mix the main menu and the everyday items, which I did always. Many of the mains were passed by me because of a sauce or similar. Fortunately, they did not seem to mind substituting vegetables. Rice was often available to trade for the too common broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, strange potatoes or even stranger baked potato. Wine was included with dinner. A red, white and a rose were offered each night from different regions of our voyage (plus). A selection of beer was also included. A selection of pricy wines was also available for purchase. The wine flowed somewhat unlimited if you chose.

Daily Newspaper: Besides the ship paper distributed to your room each night with all you need to know for the following day, there is an 8 page newspaper (8 1/2x11)in the lobby for everyone. They are grouped by country.

Passengers and crew: Well over ½ of the passengers were from Australia. Those from the US and New Zealand made up the next largest group. Canada was well represented, as was to a lesser number, the UK. A few others, that may have lost their way, also came along. The crew was a mix of nationalities. Most spoke English. As you got to the engineering and boat operating group English faded. Surprisingly, the tour director's command of English was much less that he thought, so miscommunication occasionally took place.

Tours: Included in the fare is a tour of each port that we visited. As the boat is usually moored close to the main city center, the tours are often walking or a mix of bus touring, with an optional get off and continue on your own center city location. A few times we were let off with a bus back option at a set time. Many of the passengers chose to make their way back on their own, often a 5-20 minute walk. Generally, if a fee was changed, it was included. REMEMBER keep some coins or dollar bills with you for the restrooms! Required! There were optional tours available too. Sometime these overlapped the included tours, and often we in addition to the included tours. Payment (cc) was in Euros for these tours. We took two. The average was more likely 4. Two or three of the optional tours started by our temporarily stopping at a port, letting the passengers on tour off, and then going further down river to join them later at a different port.

Locks: This trip included passage thru 68 locks. Some took us up, some took us down. Unlike going thru the Panama Canal on a mega ship, this adventure you were "close-up and personal". The process is clearly viewed from the ship. Many of the locks were daytime passage, but we also did many at night. The locks make the trip timing a bit more-iffy. We often had to wait for passage.

Bridges: There are a lot of bridges to pass under. The passage of the boats is water level dependent. Warnings in the brochures discuss what happens in the event of swollen rivers. The height of the bridges vary from place to place and river to river, as well as water level issues. The Sky Deck is equipped with railings that fold down and the captains driving compartment (bridge) can be lowered into the ship. When these events take place no passengers are allowed on the Sky Deck.

Dress Code: Smart casual is the most formal, and on this ship that does not require a tie or jacket. Many wore such things, but even then only two nights even listed this dress code level. Again no woman would have to have a dress with her to be in "code" here, but would find many did wear one a night or two. Some shapes fit better into one kind of attire or another. No T-shirts or shorts at diner EVER, please.

Payments: Everyone had two accounts on board. The first account was for everything not in the second, and was payable by cc. The second account was for the Cruise Director. This account included all optional tours and his tip, if you wished to charge it. Tipping for some was included. For others, tipping was divided into two pools. The first for everyone on board except the Cruise Director, the second for only the Cruise Director. You can see the CR had his own operation. The job is Extremely difficult. He did it fairly well, with some glaring omissions, some of which I will relate to briefly in my report.

OUR TRIP, BY DAY

Our first full day in Budapest...we are still at the dock. At 8:30 we begin our first included tour. We bus through "Pest" first and then we cross the Danube to see "Buda" (yes, they are two cities). We are split into 4 groups on the buses and the tours. The buses have AC and comfortable seating. Photos from the bus on this drive are quite challenging.

The "Pest" side is the newer, Eastern side of the river and is where we are docked. It is a flat plain. We bus past Elizabeth Park, the Embassy area, the huge zoo with elephant feeding, the permanent circus building, City Park, the museum area and the SPA (Szenchenyi, mineral baths), etc. Our first stop is Hero's Square. There are massive columns and arches adorned by statutes of various important and some infamous people of Hungarian history. We had more than 10 minutes here, so Leslie took lots of pictures. We will have to see how many "made the cut". I apologize to anyone I might offend by poor spelling, but there will be a lot of challenging words, many of which I could not confirm in writing, so I just "went for it". We then drove past the Jewish Temple (the Great Synagogue), said to be the second largest in the world at +-2200 seats. It is hot and humid today (36 degrees).

Next we bus to "Buda" (the "old" or "original" city). "Buda" is on the western bank and is hilly. We cross over one of the nine bridges and head to the Castle District (Varhegy). If not in a car or bus, you can take the 130 year old funicular up this hilly area (see picture). Our destination is the section of the district containing the Fishermen's Bastion (the home of the first fish market), church and the Royal Palace. The views from this area are wonderful. The church is undergoing some face lifting, so it's a bit of a construction zone. An entry fee is required to inter a side area, as well as the bathroom. Where you buy the ticket is not obvious, but we were told to skip it anyway. The bathrooms are just under a US dollar, but the fee is in Forint (about 225 equals one $), the local currency. I had no change, but they would accept a $20 bill as payment, as well as a 5 # note from the UK resident behind me. As no change is available we passed, as did several others in our bus group. To get from the bus to the district, Bologe (our guide) took us up 6 blocks. He mostly stopped in the sun to do his presentations! Our driver, Thomas, and Bologe both did a mostly commendable job, but no one tipped them, as we all thought the tips were included. Again our Cruise Director dropped the ball in our orientation. It actually was three days in before he spoke about VAT!

We were back to the ship before noon to enjoy our first lunch. There were two optional tours offered this afternoon. The first was Szentendre and the second the Communist tour (fees required for all optional tours). One could also just walk off the ship and browse around town. This evening we were treated to Folklore performances by 8 professional dancers. It was quiet colorful and LOUD. The activity was held in the lounge, as was all the onboard entertainment. The troupe was in period costumes. The men wore full skirts and aprons (refer to pictures). They also played music. We were both entertained and informed. After the performance, we had our port talk about Bratislava (tomorrows stop). As usual this was followed by dinner, piano music, and late night snack. We spent some time on deck viewing the city lights until after 22:00. We left port about 19:30.

Our second full day (further reference will be just third, fourth etc, skipping day one) was in Bratislava. Breakfast did not start until 7:30.

We approached our first lock about 8:30 (Gabcikova). The process took about 30 minutes in total. Another boat was already in the lock waiting for us to join it (see pictures). The facility is quite large. Lots of equipment can be seen. Major power lines (from this operation?) crossed our area. We were raised up 40 feet. We have been thru the Panama Canal, but on a major ship. This time we were "close-up" and could see the whole operation. This is really pretty cool, but soon became "just another lock" before the trip was over.

A presentation of the itinerary and optional Excursions started at 9:30 by the Cruise Director. There was so much history presented that many passengers were snoozing or had glassy eyes. All requests for optional tours were required by noon (one could pre-buy some of these tours before leaving home). It was a lot to digest for those who did not do any pre-cruise research. The Cruise Director needed solid counts so he could arrange all of the tours for the trip to insure our fulfillment.

Boat parking is one of the big surprises on the cruise. There is limited dockage at each port. The popularity of river cruises has required boats to double, triple and more parking. Yes, at one port we were parked along three other boats. From our boat we went up to the sky deck to cross over to the next boat, then went downstairs to their reception to cross over to the next boat and then again to the reception to the last and out on the deck! When we returned two of the boats had left and the configuration had changed. This was repeated in a couple other ports! Watch your feet, if they are hanging out the slider in port, as another boat can come up and park next to you quite quickly!

Our included afternoon tour started about 13:15. Bratsilava, Slovakia is a city of "previous owners" and governments. Not until 1993 did Slovakia become a country on its own. Our tour started with a three block walk (rushed) to where the buses could park. We were again on 4 buses (color coded signs, assignment and communicators). This time a 5th color, white was added to the "yellow" bus. The white group became the group that need a bit more time to get around, or the so called "slow walkers". They had their own guide at each port, but shared a bus with the yellow group (the group we chose). The yellow and white groups were both half size so they were premium, in my opinion. It also allowed "marginals" to switch back and forth from day to day based on their condition that day. Our first stop was the Fortress (Hrad) that houses the National Museum. The bus first takes a drive thru the hills so we can see the "castle" from above (no chance for pictures). Once at the fortress, we are treated to a two block uphill walk. Fortunately the rain had stopped and the cobblestones were not too slippery (see pictures). Footing was still iffy, as the walkway had many areas buckled and or missing. We entered two massive doors into an open empty courtyard. There was no access to the building open here. Once back outside, a sign in Slovakian, told of where to buy a ticket and how to get in. That did not happen for any of us and was not included. Today everyone has change for the toilets (80 cents, and 26 stairs each way)! The views included down to the Danube River (see pictures). The bus took us back near the boat, where our guide helped some us find the ship. Here again, only a few tips were offered, as there was still confusion of those who thought they had prepaid tips (no offshore service tips were included in anyone's fares)!! This was particularly difficult for the Australians and New Zealanders, for whom tipping is a rare occurrence in their countries (round up cab fares, etc). A bit more than half of the passengers opted to go on the second half of the included tour, which was by foot. First we went to the Cathedral of St Martin. For centuries this was the coronation church of the kings of Hungary. The entry fee here is included in our tour. Once inside you can see why it is so popular. While many fine words can be used to describe its splendor, I still found it a bit redundant to the many such churches we have visited before. I must be getting "churched-out" for travel experiences. Our next stop is the old city. It is really hot and humid, my hip is starting to scream and I am worn out. Leslie continues on while I limp back to the boat. So as I write this, I have not seen the pictures yet either. On the couple block walk back to the ship, I pass the monument to those who died of the plague (1/2 the population at that time).

Tonight, after the port talk on Vienna and dinner, we have a classical music presentation with "Aphrodite's". Hans, our Cruise Director, again gave a rambling presentation filled with double negatives and misuse of the language. Listen, but verify! Dinner was a third night in a row that I selected the alternative "always available" mini steak and the Caesar salad. The music presentation tonight was certainly entertaining. The music was a rendition of works written in that area of Europe. There was a piano, 2 violins and a viola. Only one girl spoke English, and she had a great dry sense of humor. They played some pretty serious music, but the hip gyrations out of the speaker on occasion added a whimsical feel. The group was a highlight event in my opinion.

Stayed up late with John and Sheila again tonight. We are getting good sleep otherwise, but doing our eye treatments is difficult the number of times required each day. Been waking up early, doing my drops and going back to sleep.

Our third day we have early breakfast (7 AM) and depart for our included tour of Vienna at 8:15. Our groups start off with a bus ride along the Ring road. We eventually end up in the city center at St. Stephens Cathedral. We tour the Cathedral and take a walking tour though parts of the old city. . Our guided walk in the old city was only a couple blocks. Lots of upscale vendors have taken root here. Numerous coffee houses, ice cream shops (see picture), and bakeries fill many other stores. One bakery had a life size "bride" cake sculpture (picture). The ice cream in one shop was too pretty to scoop into! We are then let loose on our own. Those wishing a ride back to the ship could go with the guides back to the church or could meet at the church in an hour. Everyone else could do as they please and meet back at the boat. We had signed up for an optional tour at 13:15, so we opted to tag along with the guide (and a trainee) back toward the church. We dropped off when we were comfortable with our location, joining up again when the bus time came. The bus ride back to the ship made major use of the circular road around the old town that was built over what was at one time a moat around the town for protection. We passed the homes of famous composers, facades of the Nazi past, churches and museums. The pictures from the bus are not likely to be too good, as the bus did not slow down, lots of wires and we are only on one side. Once back at the boat, we have lunch and prepare for our afternoon optional excursion to Schonbrunn Palace.

Our optional tour (44 euro) starts at 13:15 on the bus to Schonbrunn Palace. Our bus drops us off a few blocks away, and we walk to the entry. Parking closer is not allowed, nor is drop-off. The walk is flat, and is filled with the guide telling us the history. Note: NO pictures are allowed inside. YOU will be required to check your bags, including purses of fairly modest size. The check area is not patrolled or guarded, although there are lockers with a refundable 1 Euro deposit for the key. The Palace was completed in 1743. There are a 1000 plus rooms.

The Palace served as the summer home of Maria Theresia (mother of 16 children, including Marie Antoinette). Today many of these rooms are rented as apartments, a few as commercial operations with several available for touring. The facilities are on about 250 acres. Large gardens also house a zoo, the Tiergarten Schonbrunn. It is very hot today. The tour starts out in the gardens (pictures). After a bit, our group is called to tour the Palace (admission included), but I decide to walk the couple kilometers to the zoo. Leslie does the pictures but none were allowed inside. I do the write-ups and I did not go in, so here you are on your own. The gardens are very large, allowing for many large groups to mass waiting their turn to go into the Palace. The Palace is somewhat crowded, but the spacing seems to work. The gardens have both paved and gravel paths. Fountains and statutes add to the trees, shrubs and flowers. The entry to the zoo ( http://www.zoovienna.at/en/zoo-and-visitors/visitor-information/) was a bit far from where I first encountered the walls, but I was able to see some Wallabies from a window. At 250 years, this is arguably the oldest zoo anywhere. Unfortunately, I did not have time to go in and enjoy the zoo. I was to meet the group after the tour of the Palace, before the strudel demonstration, or at least before the bus departure. As I start my walk back, I find a remote bathroom. New rules, 50 cents for men, free for women. I take a slightly different route, passing by a beautiful Japanese Garden. After a bit, I reunite with the group and go to the apple strudel making demonstration, tasting and a bit of coffee or tea. It is a tiny room in the cellar. Tables of two have four chairs around them. It was a fun 20 minutes followed by a blatant request for tips! The cost of this optional tour was 44 euros. Back on the bus and back to the boat.

We have our port talk on Durnstein and Melk when we returned.

A second optional tour leaves tonight at 19:30, to attend a Concert (@49 euro pp, 3 buses, so it is popular). We are not going, nor are John and Shelia, so we have a glass of wine and hold off on dinner to give the others a head start for their departure. This served the people on tour well, but we were the last to leave the dining room, perhaps not serving the wait staff so well.

Our fourth day we again have 7 AM breakfast to be ready for our 8:15 included tour of Durnstein. Approaching the town we pass a large castle up on a hill at marker 79. Most of the scenery along the river is made up of trees and flood plains in this area. We pass Krems and its suburbs, before reaching our destination. Just outside town is a "camping" park with RV's and tents. There is also a "marina". Leslie and I decide to skip the walks into Durnstein (60 minute tour), in order to catch up on my write up and her photo notes. We can see many of the buildings of the town from where we sit, outside the lounge, on the bow of the ship. There are 17 boats in town today, so there is a constant flow of passengers walking the road to town. Note: the white group was provided street train transportation into town. As town is very small, and very close, few people are missing it. Can you say souvenirs? We will be departing town by 10:45 AM.

Now we sail for Melk. During the sail there is a commentary on the Wachau Valley given on the sky deck, followed by lunch.

Our second included tour today starts about 15:00 and goes to the Melk Abbey. The bus ride to the Abbey is about 10 minutes. It is several levels of steps down from the bus park, as well as a couple blocks, to get to the entrance of the Abbey. A minivan is provided for the white group. There are many buses ahead of us, and the wait is nearly 30 minutes in the sun/partial shade. It is quite hot, but no rain today. We are provided a young guide for each group of 20 or so. The spacing is tight, but it is spaced. Unfortunately, individuals are also touring and they just mix/blend/pass as they choose. We see the great hall, the library (one of ten), the marble room, the church and a couple of others. The pace is quite fast. There are gardens to view but no time to do so. Note: you can get water bottles on ship and bring them on the tours...included. Most of us assume there was a planning failure, and that's why we did not get our planned time spot.

Back on board, we have an included wine tasting (3 tastes) presented by a representative of the wine industry in Wachau Valley. No one of our table of 4 found an acceptable wine. The presentation was made by a clearly inebriated presenter and was not a highlight on the trip. After this, even Hans' presentation on our next ports of Linz and Passau, seemed clearer than others.

After dinner most of the passengers were treated to a violin concert in the lounge. I chose to do my eye treatments, which have not been that well done some of the cruise.

Our fifth day we go to breakfast late, as all the passengers except a dozen or so (including us) are taking one of three optional excursions. These are all day excursions. The passengers will depart the boat in Linz around 8:15 AM and then rejoin us in the port of Passau this evening. There are 3 optional tours: 1) Salzburg (64 Euro); 2) Cesky Krumlov (64 Euro); and 3) the Lake District (64 euro). Rain coats and umbrellas are suggested, and were needed! It was raining heavily before the groups got on the buses and continued until about 10AM (our location).

The balance of the passengers had a leisurely boat ride on the Danube. We visited the third floor club room and sampled a horrible coffee. We did several locks. Approaching Passau, the Danube is joined by the Inn and the Ilz rivers. The Inn comes with a lot of silt. About 16:00 we arrived in Passau. Minutes later we went on the included tour of Passau. The tour is a walking one. The town is located on the Austrian and Czech border. The highlight of the tour was St. Steven's Cathedral. Burned down in 1662 and then rebuilt by Carlo Lurago. The organ has about 18,000 pipes (not a typo, eighteen thousand), 233 stops and 4 carillons. This is the largest cathedral organ. The city, besides its beauty, is famous for its Bavarian beers and its dumplings.

Tonight we have our port talk on Regensburg, before dinner.

Our sixth day and the first stop is Bach. It was scheduled at 8 AM, but we arrive an hour late due to some lock delays. This stop, like Lenz yesterday, is purely to let off passengers taking an optional tour (41 euros). The tour offered here is of the Danube Gorge. There are 3 buses for the tour, leaving about 3 dozen passengers on board (including us). There is no way to make up time on the river. We arrive in Regensburg about 1 ½ hours late.

The included tour of Regensburg is a 90 minute walking tour. There will be a later included tour of Regensburg for those returning from the optional tour. The walk is, as always on cobblestone and contains some modest steps and inclines. We visit Dom St. Peter. The Cathedral is still under renovations. Acid rain caused by the switching to coal in the area has played havoc with much of the town. The town is famous as a survivor of WW II. Much of the town was by passed by the bombing, as sausages and beer just did not seem like a good target. The tour ends at the Alte Wurstelkueche (old sausage factory), for included Bratwursts, sauerkraut and beer. Later there is a demonstration planned at the Drubba store of Cuckoo clocks. We were given a coupon for a small gift at Drubba, but it turned out to be a come on requiring minimum purchases. The sausages were very good (I said that?) as was the beer. Eaten outdoors, with a number of locals and visitors from the general surrounds visiting the city. A nice stop. The whole of the Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was a little tricky today, as the ship relocated while we were on tour. The new location enabled us to gain some time lost before.

Upon return, we have our sailing and port talk for our next stop in Nuremberg.

Tonight, after dinner, we are treated to entertainment with Hans O'Marusch in the Lounge. Best described as comedy-music, Hans spoke about 95% German in his act. He giggled a lot, sort of a bad clown presentation. When he picked up one of several different musical instruments and played, he was very good! His playing on the Pan Flute was a special treat. Part of the act was to have 5 men and then 5 women make up a band with odds and ends instruments. Hans, like some of the other entertainment onboard while sailing, got off at a lock later and was driven back to town.

Our day seven breakfast is later, and the pace seem to slow, but we know that will change. We have a lecture on board on the Main Danube Canal. Efforts date back to Charlemagne, who tried to connect the Danube to a smaller river a couple KMs away through a series of ponds. The process involved portage of the boats in between. Later the second King Ludwig started a 172 km canal in the 1830's, but by the time it was finished the RR had come in and this 100 lock canal was almost useless. Another 100 or so years passed, and Presidents Strauss and Streibi proceeded with a modern canal with only 16 locks. The work was paid 66% federal and 33% Bavarian Government. The cost approached 3 billion and was completed in 1992. The finished product was sold to four utilities in 1995 for 400 million euros. From the top to the bottom there is a 1400' difference. Three of the locks each make a 75' drop. Some of the area is channelized and you can look from the ship down and see car traffic! All this is necessary to cross the continental divide. This stretch has speed controls, no anchoring to avoid damaging the structures and is narrower than the Danube.

Lunch today is Bavarian themed.

At 14:00 the optional Nuremberg Trials (29 euros) tour departs.

Ten minutes later the included sightseeing tour of Nuremberg starts. The tour starts with a panoramic drive through the city. We next do a short walking tour in the city center on the Market square. The city underwent material bombing during WW II, eliminating most of its historic buildings. The city seems more noted for the Nazi war crimes trials than anything else.

We have the normal port talk of our next port, Bamberg followed by dinner.

Tonight our entertainment is Bavarian beer tasting in the lounge.

Our day eight starts with a 7 AM breakfast and arrival in Bamberg at 8 AM.

The included sightseeing tour of Bamberg starts with a coach ride to the city center for the start of a 90 minute walking tour. Access to the city is too far to walk to (rare). Our first stop at a church is omitted because of a funeral taking place. Our guide, a man of age beyond mine, was excellent. He freely shared his vast knowledge of the area and all its history and how that fit into the rest of the world! He actually took us on an excess of 2 hour tour. He often offered anyone who wished to go it alone, to do so. The first half of the walk was generally uphill. Bamberg is about 70,000 people. During the war the city had no manufacturing or war significance and therefore was largely unbombed. The City Government office is built over the river, as the Bishop at the time (all controlling) refused to cede any land!

We get back before lunch, eat and then a lecture on the European Union is offered in the Lounge. I skip it to do my write-up and rest. This was a tough tour. At 15:00, the first of 3 galley tours are offered. We avoid these as well.

This afternoon we go through the last of the canal and enter the first lock of the River Main. We are now back to more normal river banks, no more concrete walls. We have more hilly sides as well. Homes are built high above the river with great views (pictures).

The port talk with Hans covers Wuerzburg. He also lets us know about a form we can use to grade our tour guides. Now he tells us? Momma Mia is to be shown tonight with popcorn for everyone. The show is taken over by some soccer match (Italy vs. Germany), and no popcorn makes it around.

Side note: So far the cities we have visited in Germany are occupied by people who generally obey the traffic signals in the city, unlike most of America and many other countries we have visited.

Our day nine is yet another early breakfast. The view from our cabin is Kappele (a multi-spired church) and the Marienberg Fortress

The included tour of Wuerzburg starts with a short ride to the Residence, once home to the Prince Bishops. No photos are allowed inside, and large purses must be checked. The rooms are very ornate. Ceiling Frescos are enhanced by relief statues. Massive rooms are a tribute to the engineering greatness that allowed this building to stand since the mid 1200's and for its main halls to survive despite massive damage from bombing during the war to the other side of the building and wings. We had some brief time to visit the gardens before being split into two groups. One group, by far the largest continued with a walking tour of the central city (followed by a walk back to the ship). The second group (35+-) returned to the boat (us) joining the few dozen that had passed on the included tour.

Lunch offers an alternative (limited #, sign up required) BBQ on the Sky Deck. Having signed up, we had to return with the second group. The lunch included minute steaks, chicken, sausage, salads, corn and ice cream. Drinks were handled as if in the dining room, that is, you pay for beer and wine. Only 20 people came to the BBQ, which offers 40-50 max.

At 13:15 there is an optional tour to Rothenburg (39 euros). We pass.

Tonight we have our port talk on Miltenberg. The delayed showing of Mama Mia occurs, however the announced popcorn does not. Hans sometime offers, but cannot deliver. Did I say how hard his job is!?

We are still on the River Main. We were late getting though dinner, and took our remaining wine (3/4 glass) back to our cabin, no problem.

Our day ten has me with a bit of the sniffles. I start taking medicine, so drinking is over. Breakfast is a bit later today.

At 10 AM, we are treated to Tomy Temerson's performing on the Zither (picture). Such skills are quite rare. He played over a dozen musical pieces for us. He became the "best seller" so far with his CD's (10 euros), scoring sales of about 30. His last piece was Edelweiss, and we were encouraged to sing along. We are cruising the whole time, so we let Tomy off at the next lock. We are expected to reach Miltenberg around 11:30.

The included tour of Miltenberg is totally a walking tour. We are really in luck. The town is celebrating its 775th year anniversary! This small town of about 4,000 is bursting with about 20-25,000 today. The week-long celebration includes parades, encampments recreating the early days of the town, special exhibits, food and beer. No way to get lost. There are two streets paralleling the River Main. One has the building, the other the encampments. The Catholic Church (represents about 80% of the population) is right downtown. We visit it, as a refuge from the mob outside and a bit of shade from the heat. The church is quite plain, a relief from all the glitz of most (pictures). There is a Protestant church just outside town (2 blocks) that represent most of the balance of the community. We did not visit it. The city has one bridge over the River Main. The included tour took a bit less than an hour.

Tonight we have our port talk on Ruedesheim.

After dinner we are treated to the Crew show. I skipped the show in favor of getting some sleep and maybe kicking the sniffles. Leslie took in the show and has some pictures that made the cut for you to see. She said the show was mainly skits, with one of the crew playing the saxophone.

Our day eleven is an easy start day, with arrival in Ruedesheim not expected until 11:30 AM. We passed Frankfort early this morning. Note lots of things happen at night and early morning, which most people miss. One of the things about river cruising is the continual "stuff" to see, unlike sea cruises. There are still plenty of locks to pass through, but that will mostly end once we enter the Rhine River. We will also get rid of those pesky low bridges. After breakfast we make the transition on to the Rhine. During the change, we pass the City of Mainz. Rain once again joins and the temperature finally drops a bit. The Marker is about 500, where we enter the Rhine. Mansions dot the hillside on the right side (not ours). There are also lots of vineyards on the right. The water is much wider here on the Rhine. We see many more commercial boats. The number of birds starts increasing too (swans and herons). I am, and have been, surprised at the number of trees growing in the River, and here the great variety of trees. The weeping willow types are really spectacular.

Our afternoon (13:00) tour of Ruedesheim starts with an orientation drive on a street train. I am feeling a bit better and decide to join the tour. We end up at a Music instrument museum (WOW), where we are taken in too big a group and much too fast. We are not allowed to browse at our own speed or to stay behind to really get a good look at the displays. Seeing or taking pictures is very challenging in such a large group and with so little time. We are left to fend for ourselves for a bit, and then optionally to meet at the Ruedesheimer Schloss at 14:15 for wine tasting. The tasting was at tables, attended by too many people and held during all other activities at this very busy restaurant. The wines were average to us, and only three. One was very sweet and Leslie and I found it undrinkable. Everyone who went on the included tour were free to join the street train back to the boat at the appointed time, or to make their own way back.

We depart Ruedesheim at 17:15. Hans provides us with a narration on the "Romantic Rhine", later followed by his port talk on Cologne.

Our day twelve starts with 7 AM breakfast.

Today our tour is a 90 minute walking wonder into the oldest city in German (I regretfully stay behind to nurse my sniffles, rest my hip and do my write-up). The Cologne Cathedral is a highlight. There is the Domforum, an information center on the Cathedral.

At 14:00, there is a performance by "La Strada", said to be the best classical music performers on the Rhine. Again, Leslie attends and I pass. She graded the performance satisfactory. Music included 2 Violins and a guitar.

The port talk tonight is quite long. Covering both our next port, Amsterdam, and our eventual disembarkation. The talk is 15 minutes of history, 15 minutes on Amsterdam, and the important stuff was crammed into the remaining time.

We have our farewell dinner. A bit of show, but does not begin to look like the parallel on a sea cruise.

The food choices were the best, but the quality of the food and preparation, agreed by all at our table, was perhaps among the poorest. The Halibut was well overcooked, and had a few bones. Leslie's beef was tough. The scallop appetizer had one tiny scallop! The sorbet was bitter. My Caesar salad had no bacon. The baked Alaska was fine.

Our thirteenth day is our final full day on the cruise. We arrive in Amsterdam. The area is filled with boats and ships (Costa Romantic passes us). Other cruise ships and heavy commerce ships ply the waters.

Our included tour today starts with a five minute drive to the canal boat docks. We, after a horrible set of logistics, load onto our canal boats. The boats are designed for viewing, comfortable and we hire enough that no one is crowded. I am not missing this tour. The building, along the canals, are built on pilings. Many of the house lean one way or another as the "foundation" begins to show failings. Some of the buildings have major support members added on the outside to keep them from falling. Most of the buildings were storage for the port city until the rail came in and the city grew. Now these "storage" buildings are apartments. Buildings continue to be added, built in the water, often blocking the view from all other adjacent buildings. Zoning seem nonexistent. There are lots of construction cranes operating suggesting the economy is still viable here in Amsterdam. The next program is a diamond factory tour (anyone sales presentation?) which we skip. We opt to go back to the ship, while some decide to go it on their own. Many of the passengers have been to Amsterdam before and have targeted things they plan to do. Many are also staying for a post cruise few days.

Some places to visit include the Anne Frank house, Rembrandt's house, and many museums. We have a bit of packing to do, as do many of the 30% or so that return to the boat with us. We work on our write-ups, pictures, questionnaires, gratuities, as well as packing.

Tonight optional tour is the Red Light District. The buses live at 21:00 and return at 22:30. There are two buses going. The ride to the area was really quite nice. Unfortunately, we did not bring the camera, as we were told no pictures were allowed in the district. Turns out this is incorrect. No pictures are allowed of the "girls in the windows", but everything else is okay, including the shops that sell illicit drugs. The rules here are strange. A mix of drugs are okay to sell in stores. Of those not legal to sell, some are sold without a problem, others are not sold? The one rule that is enforced is no nudity visible on the street or alleys, even of the "girls in the windows". They dress skimpy, but no nudes. All negotiations are done at the glass doorway, with the door close. The girl then decides either to let in the gent or not. The tiny rooms have access to the street, and access to a hallway that houses the "bouncers". All rooms have panic buttons. There are several "clubs" in the area. Some provide dancing girls (and more?), while others provide various smoking options, coffee and food. The tour is not especially recommended. The area is filled with young and older kids, druggies, and drunks.

Our fourteenth day is one to say goodbye, and face the prospect of a length trip home.

Final thoughts: We enjoyed the cruise and recommend it to others. We hope the write-up and pictures provide enough general information to help you make a decision. The Report is long and undoubtedly full of typos, misspellings and hokey sentence structure. I did reread it twice and made lots of changes! Sorry for the balance. Hopefully these short comings did not cause you too much angst. Some statements, ie: largest, tallest, only, etc. are for the most part copied from handouts or other materials. The same can be said for the spelling for foreign cities, sites and referenced language. Happy travels!

PICTURES

Steps for Viewing Pictures in Webshots

1. To access pictures of our June and July, 15 day River Cruise - Budapest, Hungary to Amsterdam, Netherlands, with stops at the following cities: Bratislava, Slovakia, in Austria, Vienna, Durnstein, Melk and Linz and in Germany, Passau, Regensburg, Nuremburg, Bamberg, Wurtzburg, Miltenburg, Rudesheim and Cologne, (a couple of the cities are UNESCO World Heritage Sites), click on the link below. All of the cities included walking tours with visits to churches, palaces, museums, historical sites and gardens, to name a few of the highlights.

http://community.webshots.com/user/lagibson76

Click on the Danube, Main & Rhine River Cruise 2012 (615 Pictures) album, by clicking the Pictured Album with this title and "New" in Red.

2. Select "slideshow" (recommended) from the Box (in light green) to the right of the picture(s). (1 of 4 choices). Slide Show allows for about 5 seconds between each picture. You can sit back and enjoy without any other actions (except you may need to move the mouse every hundred pictures if the screen goes dark). The slide show will start immediately after the selection of that option. (to pause, see item 3 below).

3. While in the slideshow, one can place ones cursor just below the picture and select pause (from the pop up choices), you can also adjust the time between pictures or choose previous or next to view each at your own pace, there is a volume option shown also but there is no audio with this presentation. To return to the slide show select Play and it will continue from where you left off.

4. As explained above you may wish to select the pause option should you have an interest in reading any of the Information Signs, that have been photographed, which explain more fully about the next picture or the subject matter of the next several slides.

5. Alternative viewing. You can view the pictures at your own pace by clicking the first picture (to view it). Each additional picture maybe viewed in order by clicking on the small picture to the right, labeled "next". Continue through all the pictures

5. Once done (or anytime you wish) you can then exit the program in one of two

ways: (a) if you wish to pursue other options available in webshots, select

the "back to full album" to the right of the picture, or (b) if you are done then

just click the "X" in the top right hand corner of your screen.

 

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Sail Date: April 2012
We have arrived home after six weeks in Europe the first 2 weeks were cruising from Budapest to Amsterdam aboard the Avalon Panorama. Leaving Budapest April 25th 2012: We had arranged our own transfers from the Airport in Budapest due ... Read More
We have arrived home after six weeks in Europe the first 2 weeks were cruising from Budapest to Amsterdam aboard the Avalon Panorama. Leaving Budapest April 25th 2012: We had arranged our own transfers from the Airport in Budapest due to arriving 2 days prior to boarding. We stayed at the La Prima Fashion Hotel and were delighted with all aspects of this establishment we highly recommend it. We had a fabulous 14 days with the boat exceeding our expectations. Our cabin on the top deck was luxurious.The bathroom in our opinion is five star. The french balcony is some thing we would insist on in any future cruises it affords more room in the cabin and we were able to have the huge sliding door open most days. There has been some discussion about food and drink on the forum this led us to doubt our decision to book with Avalon, but we found the food and free flowing drinks at dinner were exceptional. We enjoyed the breakfasts and lunches equally along with the coffee bar in the rear lounge. We also enjoyed two BBQ Lunches on the top deck as sunny weather prevailed for almost the full trip. The crew did their utmost to make our holiday enjoyable with only a short time before they knew all our names. The Captain was always approachable when he wasn't busy skilfully guiding the ship into the many locks. Our cruise director "Andrew" was attentive and informative and on one occasion when the boat had been delayed during the night due to an electrical failure at one of the locks he organised buses to take us to Rudesheim, arranged lunch there for 150 guests all at short notice. This turned out to be one of the best days of the trip. The whole group joined in singing and at one stage a conga line was formed behind an impromptu band made up of passengers. There was entertainment on in the lounge bar almost every night it ranged from gypsy dancers to a one man band a string quartet and a solo Pianist while we didn't attend all of these those that we did were enjoyed immensely. The crew presented a show one evening this displayed yet more talent. Thanks to "AYU". for her Bali Dance !!!! but Cornel should stick to his day job. The cruise went far too quickly and we would recommend Avalon as a cruise company in particular Panorama as a fantastic Boat The small town and villages along the way were delightful and we took over 3000 photos.We won't go into too much detail, go and discover it for yourselves, but just a hint the beer in each place needs to be tried. A totally enjoyable experience. Was it worth the money? We feel that it was. . Where to next???? Start planning.!! Cheers Lyn & Pieter Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2011
We had the most horrible travel experience of our lives on the Avalon Panorama Christmas cruise in December of 2011. From beginning to end, this trip was a nightmare. Avalon began by making a mess of our airline reservations. Had to pay ... Read More
We had the most horrible travel experience of our lives on the Avalon Panorama Christmas cruise in December of 2011. From beginning to end, this trip was a nightmare. Avalon began by making a mess of our airline reservations. Had to pay a penalty to cancel their airline reservations and make our own. When we finally got aboard the Panorama in Nuremberg, we were herded like cattle into the main room where we had to wait interminably to be assigned our rooms. This was after a very tiring bus ride from Prague to Nuremberg. When we were finally settled in our cabin, we found that the elevator didn't work on the ship, and we are both senior citizens and found it very difficult to get around on the ship because of this. We were promised ethnic food aboard and that never materialized. The food service was like a cattle call. It was impossible to order only one course and have it served in a timely way. After arriving at Regensburg, we were given a heads up that we might not be able to go down the river due to the water level. That is exactly what happened, and we were driven all over by bus and missed the ports we were promised and were at last driven to Bratislava, not on our itinerary, and not to Vienna where we were supposed to end our cruise. I had purchased several extra days in Vienna, and had also purchased tickets to the Spanish Riding School over 14 months before the tour. We had to leave the tour after being taken to Bratislava in order to be in Vienna for the performance we had so looked forward to. The tour director, Robert, refused to help us get an extra night in Vienna, so we had to telephone directly to the hotel and they extorted 259 euros for that extra night. Then they charged us an extra 100 euros to stay in the same room for the extra nights. Avalon knew in advance that we wouldn't be able to sail down the river. Other cruise lines informed their passengers before leaving their homes and gave them options. Avalon did not do this even though they knew we couldn't have the cruise we paid for. We had purchased travel insurance and could have recouped all of our money had we known in advance that we couldn't sail down the river. Avalon has refunded two days of our cruise, but that doesn't even begin to repay us for the terrible bus rides, loss of several ports we were promised, and their general uncaring about the passengers' needs. We spent most of the time on crowded buses and in my opinion were robbed of what was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime cruise. My warning to future river cruisers is to book with anyone but Avalon. Viking informed their passengers ahead of time and I was told that other cruise companies did the same. Avalon did not!!!! Also, don't bother with trip insurance. I bought expensive trip insurance and tried to collect for the extra costs in Vienna due to trip interruption, and have heard nothing from the trip insurers. I feel that we were treated unfairly by Avalon and they have been giving us the runaround since we got back about what they were going to do to rectify this situation. A group of passengers on this cruise have been emailing back and forth, and the general consensus is that Avalon owes us four days worth of repayment due to the lost portions of our trip. They have told us that they need four to six weeks to "investigate" this situation. Why? They know what happened. Also, I was informed that those of us who wrote letters to Globus and Avalon would be treated differently from the rest of the passengers. Is this fair? I don't think so. My advice to any would-be river cruiser is to AVOID AVALON LIKE THE PLAGUE! Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2011
First of all, this was my very first river cruise experience. After studying for months different itineraries, river cruise lines, reviews, etc. I decided to go with Avalon for my first river cruise. It was better than expected. The ... Read More
First of all, this was my very first river cruise experience. After studying for months different itineraries, river cruise lines, reviews, etc. I decided to go with Avalon for my first river cruise. It was better than expected. The Avalon Panorama is a brand new river ship, it offers an interesting modern/elegant decor and ambiance. Mother nature even Embarkation process: it was easy and smooth. I spent 5 days in London, and then I flew to Basel and I did all the transfers on my own. Once I got to the ship, it seemed they were not expecting any passenger so early, but they were welcoming enough to smile and to help us with the luggage. A few seconds after, we got offered a glass of champagne. Reception Area: the lobby is simple, but elegant, the Christmas decorations were all over the ship. You were able to feel the Christmas Spirit right away, something kind of unusual to me. Stateroom: the stateroom was comfortable, quite and elegant, flowers and a water bottle on the desk, and a welcoming note laying on the bed. The size of the stateroom was appropriate, I would say bigger than expected. Bathroom: the bathroom was surprisingly comfortable and very well-designed, it reminded me to the elegant and spacious bathroom of the Azamara's Journey. I was not expecting so many nice amenities, including L'Occitane toiletries. Public Areas: the Panorama is an elegant ship, the interesting feature is that is quite modern at the same time. I've seen many pictures of different ships from various river cruise lines, but there is nothing similar to the Panorama, the carpet's colors, the curtains, the furniture and the artwork perfectly matched with the whole concept of the ship. The Library is nice, the lounge bar is bigger than expected. The elevator was not in service, it was decorated instead with Christmas presents and dolls. I guess that some people complained about it, as most fellow passengers were seniors. Food: the food was better than expected as well. Especially dinner, where you have a fair variety of main entrees, the food was quite good and they offer complimentary wine. Breakfast was abundant, different hot and cold choices, also you had complimentary champagne. Excursions: the excursions were excellent, the tour guides were knowledgeable and fun. The bust were brand new, very clean and in excellent conditions. The included excursions are one of the most attractive features of river cruising. The Christmas Markets are just magical and perfect. Service: I believe this is one of the strongest areas of the Avalon Panorama, even though the crew were very busy, they were friendly and most of the times had a smile on their faces. The Cruise Manager was very entertaining, he was not just friendly, but quite efficient at the time of recommending things to do, and when you needed to book an optional excursion at the last minute. Disembarkation: same process as the embarkation, very easy and smooth. I would definitely recommend the Avalon Panorama to my family and friends. River cruising is different from ocean cruising, it is a lot more low paced, enjoyable and you have the chance to meet nice people more in depth as most river ships have a capacity of 180 passengers or less. I definitely prefer river cruising to ocean/sea cruising. I would rate my overall experience as 9/10. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2011
This was our fourth river cruise and third on Avalon (fourth if you consider last year was a back to back). We were looking forward to celebrating Christmas and New Years in Europe as well as experiencing Avalon's newest ship. ... Read More
This was our fourth river cruise and third on Avalon (fourth if you consider last year was a back to back). We were looking forward to celebrating Christmas and New Years in Europe as well as experiencing Avalon's newest ship. Ultimately, the highlights were experiencing the wonderful city of Prague, making new friends and enjoying the view of the fireworks in Vienna from the Sun Deck. We did the pre tour in Prague and loved the city. The hotel was The Hilton, a nice convention hotel located a 20 minute from the center. We did not do the included tour and instead hired a personal guide who was wonderful. I would be happy to provide contact info if anyone is interested. Rooms at the hotel were large and modern and the staff very helpful. Breakfast was included and more than adequate. The bus ride to Nuremberg was uneventful and we arrived at the ship at five. The Panorama is a lovely ship. The design of the staterooms really maximizes space and views and the new beds are memory foam and very comfy. The new bathrooms are also lovely and we enjoyed the upgraded amenities. They have installed a very good in room entertainment system, and we enjoyed being able to listen to music or watch a late night movie in the cabin. Our cruise director, Jon Lupe, was the best we have had yet on Avalon and was both efficient and gracious. We saw some familiar faces aboard including Dan, the Hotel Manager, Johny in the dining room, Radu behind the bar and Peter, the dining room manager. Where the cruises really disappointed was the food. There was a noticeable cheapening in the quality and variety of food offered on this cruise compared to one year ago when we were very pleased with the food and wine served. Gone from the menu were rack of lamb, roast duck and the wonderful and flavorful fish dishes and soups. Instead we were served mostly bland and very small portions, much of which went uneaten. We were not the only unhappy customers when it came to the food served but everyone has different tastes and food is always subjective Wine was also cut off at the entrée, which was new from previous cruises. We were not sure if this was server related or a new policy. This was also a departure from previous cruises, as was the overall decrease in variety and quality of wine offered. I am also a big fan of cheese after dinner and looked forward to some of the excellent cheeses served previously. Both quantity and quality were noticeably less than in the past. We were aboard for New Years eve and the entertainment was quite a let down. Instead of music for dancing, the CD presented an hour long audience participation story telling. A group of us wandered across to the Vantage boat docked next door and watched as their guests enjoyed a live six piece dance bank and a table full of hot snacks. Vienna came to the rescue and many of us headed topside and enjoyed the truly spectacular fireworks display that lasted for forty five minutes. Another high point was Vasco, the houses musician, who grabbed a guitar and was joined by Dan one night for a rousing set of music. They were joined by two guests, one a pianist and the other a harmonica player and we all enjoyed a truly terrific impromptu jam session that was the best entertainment of the cruise. We all commented that we wished they had saved that for NYE. All in all, we found the ship beautiful with great appointments but were let down by the overall experience of the Panorama and hope it was just a random off cruise and not representative of fleet wide changes. Read Less
Avalon Panorama Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 5.0 4.7
Dining 5.0 4.3
Entertainment 4.0 3.7
Public Rooms 5.0 4.5
Fitness Recreation 4.0 3.6
Family 2.0 3.6
Shore Excursion 4.0 4.2
Enrichment 4.0 4.0
Service 4.0 4.5
Value For Money 4.0 4.1
Rates 3.0 4.1

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