My wife and her elderly parents booked Avalon Waterways Blue Danube Discovery Cruise. This was intended to be a "trip of a lifetime" for my 88-year-old mother-in-law. My father-in-law, who is 90, had been saving for years to make ... Read More
My wife and her elderly parents booked Avalon Waterways Blue Danube Discovery Cruise. This was intended to be a "trip of a lifetime" for my 88-year-old mother-in-law. My father-in-law, who is 90, had been saving for years to make her dream a reality. Despite spending nearly $8,500, this dream, was instead a nightmare.
While they were still healthy enough to participate in such an adventure, my father-in-law, asked my wife and me to plan the trip and accompany them. After doing extensive research, I (unfortunately) selected Avalon Waterways.
To be fair and honest, I must report that the ship was very nice, the staff and crew were very accommodating, and the food was very good. HOWEVER, our experience was NOT EVEN CLOSE to the cruise that is portrayed in the slick advertising brochures and web photos. BUYER BEWARE!!!
So, back to the specifics of our experience. As I mentioned, this was intended to be a true trip of a lifetime for my 88-year-old mother-in-law. Highlights of that dream included: visiting Nuremburg and Budapest; sitting on the deck of the ship for hours and hours, just relaxing and watching the world go by; being pampered with exemplary service, and gourmet food; and the ability to see much of Europe from the deck of a ship, not driving around in vans or buses.
I want to clearly disclose that the root cause of the issues encountered was extremely low water conditions. Clearly, that is not something Avalon can control or is responsible for. HOWEVER, the manner in which they dealt with these conditions are the reason for our dissatisfaction and complaints.
We realize that changes to the cruise itinerary were necessitated by nature and are not Avalon’s fault. None-the-less, the actual itinerary was dramatically different than what we booked, and had we known this in advance, we would have never booked this trip. Although the Cruise Director and local staff did their very best, the manner in which Avalon handled this situation and the significant changes caused were disappointing.
We were initially informed of the itinerary changes and just 4 days prior to cruise departure. Although Avalon offered a 100% refund, at that point, we were already in Europe, so couldn’t cancel the flights, other bookings, nor utilize our trip insurance. We were stuck and had limited options. I did some research and found that the LOW WATER CONDITIONS WERE KNOWN FOR QUITE SOME TIME, yet Avalon chose to wait until the last minute (obviously to try and salvage their revenue from the trip). While this was good for Avalon, it was not for their passengers.
We even discovered that other competitors of Avalon's had contacted their customers weeks in advance, and several had even cancelled their trips and issued full refunds / credits in order to treat their customers fairly. Avalon, however, was focused solely on profitability.
The net result was fewer nights on board than we had booked and significant time in tightly-packed buses, rather than a full week relaxing aboard a luxury cruise ship, as envisioned and paid for. Specifically,
• We spent 6 nights on the ship, instead of 7, and 1 night in a dingy hotel. While it may not seem like a big deal, it is a 15% reduction vs. what we’d paid for; plus, for 88 and 90 year old people, packing, unpacking, lugging suitcases for a one-night stay is hard work and very undesirable.
• The hotel Avalon Waterways booked in Nuremberg was mid-level, at best, and in NO WAY comparable to the Avalon Artistry II. The rooms were tiny and lacked air conditioning. We had to sleep with the windows open to get air, but then were kept up all night due to the loud noises on the street. None of us slept a bit. Additionally, the food at the hotel was atrocious! Dinner was barely edible, and certainly not in any way gourmet; breakfast was simply terrible. Only the flies that were all over the food buffet seemed to be happy.
• If we had wanted a bus tour of Europe (which was NOT my mother-in-law’s dream trip), we would have booked that and paid a fraction of what we paid Avalon. Driving around on a cramped bus is not appealing to us, nor anything close to what we paid for. We would never sign up for that kind of vacation. The modified itinerary included 7 hours of bus time. This equates to a full day’s worth of bus time, rather than time relaxing on the deck of a luxury ship. While we understand the reason for this, it is not what we paid for. It was painful, and not pleasurable.
• Missing Nuremburg – even though Avalon did bus us to Nuremberg, we didn’t arrive there until 4:45pm and had prior, non-changeable bookings to depart very early the next morning (based on the original cruise itinerary). Therefore, even though we stayed overnight in Nuremburg, there was no opportunity to schedule a tour or even walk around to get to know the city. As a result, one more of my mother-in-law’s dreams was not fulfilled because of the changes to the itinerary.
Upon our return, in an attempt to provide Avalon with feedback and give them a chance to make this right, we contacted Avalon’s Customer Service. We advised them of the numerous issues encountered and of our dissatisfaction. We also provided abundant documentation, so there was no doubt about our representations. Avalon acknowledged that the product / service we received was not the one advertised or paid for, yet Avalon refused to accept any responsibility or even attempt to make this right.
The Rep asserted that they had already provided compensation in the form of a complementary concert in Vienna and a free walking tour of Linz (which we didn’t do since we’d paid for the concurrently scheduled Cesky Krumlov tour). While it is true that Avalon did provide us with a complementary concert in Vienna, this was not something of great interest, had a value of only $82, and was insufficient and insulting "compensation" (just 3% of our trip cost!) for a trip costing over $2,200/ea that had been dramatically altered and diminished.
After escalating to a supervisor and providing further documentation, Avalon simply referred us to their fine-print Terms and Conditions and suggested that if we were still dissatisfied, that we pursue legal resolution. While we could probably prevail given the facts and circumstances (based on discussions with a couple of lawyers in my family), this would be a very costly and time-consuming path to pursue. Clearly, the legal terms and conditions are stacked against the average consumer and heavily favor this BIG COMPANY.
So instead of pursing this expensive and time-consuming path, we feel compelled to advise and warn other potential customers before they spend their hard-earned money with Avalon and endure an equally distasteful experience.
In short, we would never have signed up for this trip had we known what we now know. If Avalon Waterways were a customer-oriented company, they COULD HAVE dealt with this like many of the other cruise companies did. For example, they could have:
1. Cancelled the trip entirely and offered refunds or rebooking on another departure that was as advertised
2. They could have contacted us BEFORE we departed the United States, advised us of the situation, and provided us with the option of joining this modified trip or obtaining a refund or rebooking on future departure
3. They could have provided a hotel (on the night they forced us to depart the ship early) that was consistent in terms of accommodations and food
4. And, even after the trip, their Customs Service could have offered an appropriate partial refund (or credit towards a future trip) as a gesture to compensate for the numerous issues we had
In short, The Avalon Artistry II is a very nice ship, with outstanding food, and professional accommodating staff. It is also very expensive. For that cost, one expects to receive the level of service and accommodations advertised, or to be treated fairly and properly compensated if / when something goes wrong. Avalon Waterways is simply more concerned about its profitability than its reputation and customers. BUYER BEWARE!!!! Read Less