Last spring, my wife and I took a 15 day River Cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. We booked the cruise through our travel agent choosing Avalon based on their strong recommendation. We paid dearly for this trip and had high expectations for a peaceful high quality cruise down the Rhine/Danube. Well if you have read any of the other reviews for river cruises in Europe during June of 2013, you will quickly learn what happens when there are river water level problems.
I'm not complaining about the fact that the flooding in Europe was beyond anyone's control. My disappointment is in the way that Avalon dealt with the situation. After an initial 4-5 days of river cruising as we had imagined, it became apparent that the river was very high and there would be problems ahead. Instead of telling the passengers the situation, Avalon chose to mislead us by promising a move to another ship further up stream where we could complete our cruise in style. In the meantime we began being bussed to the destination on the itinerary. In fact the alternative ship ended up being just a hotel along the route. Ultimately we were bussed from city to city, ship to hotel, hotel to ship until we hit most but not all of the requisite destinations (sum under water). Avalon never offered any other option to the passengers. Constant bussing spread a cold among the passengers to the point where most were sick a good portion of the trip.
Avalon clearly had one agenda. Hit the destination promised no mater how poor the quality of the experience just to protect their revenue. In the end they offered a token refund falling far short of the quality lost.
Since this experience, I have done some research about the river cruising industry and can offer the following cautions for those contemplating a trip like this.
1. The cruise lines have been building bigger and bigger ships to maximize revenue.
2. These big ships can only fit through locks, canals, under bridges, and shallow water under the best average conditions.
3. If water gets higher that average or lower that average at any point along the route, the ship will have to stop and wait for conditions to improve.
4. Once the ship stops, the cruise line will begin bussing you to reach the promised destinations so they can say they completed the trip as advertised.
5. In the end, the cruise line cares only about their revenue stream and will sacrifice your comfort and the quality of the experience.
So if an expensive bus trip is your cup of tea, you should enjoy a river cruise. Just don't expect transparency or options should things go sour.