We booked this about 18 months ago to celebrate a milestone birthday. We had been told at that time that Avalon did a drinks package like most of the other lines, but when they eventually replied to my many calls and emails, they said they were no longer doing this. This was disappointing, as they only include wines, beer and soft drinks with dinner.
24 hours before we were due to leave we had a call to say that due to low water levels in the Danube delta, we would have to spend two nights in Bucharest instead of one and meet the ship somewhere else. They offered what we thought at the time was a reasonable amount of compensation, and in any case we were staying (we thought) at the Athenée Palace Hilton so how bad could it be? When we arrived at Bucharest my husband's luggage was missing. The airline said it would come on the next flight and they would deliver it. Then Avalon took us to the Ramada Plaza, half an hour out of the city in an area with no shops or restaurants. It was a dump. There was no power when we got there and it took over two hours to fix the problem. During this time the power was going on and off and an elderly lady in our group got stuck between floors in the lift. We refused to use the lift to our 7th floor room until they could assure us that the power was fixed. No refreshment was offered apart from a small bottle of water and some of our group had been travelling for over 24 hours. When we complained they eventually produced some tiny sandwiches and to glasses of tap water (which we had been warned not to drink) - but only for us. I felt sorry for the poor lady from the lift, who was very traumatised. Their attitude to this was poor. They tried to fob us off with a tale of the power outage being citywide and due to the high temperatures, but the people in the Pullman two minutes away said they hadn't had a problem.
Our no smoking room stank of smoke. They did change the room but in the second one the safe didn't work and the lights blew with an almighty bang and the bedside light bulbs were not replaced. Breakfast was horrible and we had to be bussed for dinner to the Pullman down the road where the rest of our group were staying ( a MUCH nicer option, but even there the food was only average.) When my husband's luggage arrived early on the second day they refused to bring it up to the room. this was not by any means the 5* luxury we had paid for.
Then they informed us that it would be a 315km (about 200 miles) trip to the ship. This is how I spent my birthday- 6 hours on a bus. It turned out that the ship was at Calafat, some 795km farther up the Danube than where we were supposed to start. Avalon had carefully forgotten to mention this!
We had not been told that this was actually two cruises back to back so we had to get off the ship on the transfer day. We didn't mind too much because we went with those transferring to Vienna and had an extra afternoon there. It did mean that we had to suffer the lengthy life jacket drill again though.
The public rooms on the ship are noisy. I get up early and had to suffer loud muzak in the lounge with my early morning coffee. They turned it down a little when I asked, but not off (and I was the only person in there at the time). During the day there were particular groups who insisted on having loud conversations and there was nowhere quiet to read or enjoy the scenery other than our cabin ( where you only get half of the view.) The "entertainer" - a rather average pianist, played at various intervals during the day which just added to the noise. There were several other entertainers, including a rather poor classical group on the first leg and a good one after Vienna. We had a singer who sang show songs and a zither player, who we had seen previously with Viking.
The guided tours were mostly fairly good, but there were a few times when the guides were so boring we left the group and did our own thing, On one occasion the guide in Bratislava refused to tell us where the meeting point for the bus was and insisted that we stay with her. This meant that we lost about two hours' free time seeing things we were not interested in as we had seen Bratislava before. The Amsterdam guide was equally poor but fortunately we already knew our way round and went off on our own as we were not relying on a bus.
Avalon included some extra trips which you would normally pay for to make up for missing so much of the start of the cruise, but my husband isn't very mobile and in the 38 degree heat, climbing steps and slopes didn't appeal so we were quite happy to remain on board and see bits of the river we had missed previously. There was an excursion to the Danube gorge and Weltenberg Abbey which we enjoyed.
Moorings were not always in the centre of things and at one point we found ourselves by a large scrap metal facility! I have known worse, however (with Scenic last year, when we were frequently in such places and miles out of town.) They sailed past Wertheim and bussed us 40 minutes back to visit the town - not sure why. Due to very low water in the Linz / Passau area, we had to keep sailing solidly for two days, often at walking speed with only 30cm of water under the ship, as levels were forecast to drop still further and they didn't want to get stuck (as a freighter did the following day). This meaant that we missed Durnstein and Linz, the only two stops we had not previously visited. Avalon did stop to drop people off for a visit, but then they spent 4 hours in the heat on a ferry with no air-con travelling through the Wachau valley, then visiting Grein. People who did this wished they had stayed on board like we did because they didn't enjoy such a long day.
Food on board Illumination was disappointing. It was hardly ever hot and the breakfast buffet never changed. When we complained they said there were 64 items on it but I don't enjoy pickles, raw peppers, salads, soured cream and boiled rice for breakfast and got very fed up with the few hot items which were always the same. Lunch was a buffet. Salads were poor - mostly just lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber with the odd mixed or dressed thing. They often served the same meat or fish for lunch and dinner and we had perch at least 10 times during the trip. The gala dinners were both the same. At dinner there was a meat choice, a fish choice (mostly perch or cod) and a vegetarian one. They seemed to buy in job lots of vegetables - first eggplant, which appeared at every meal except breakfast for the first 10 days or so, then carrots, then green beans. One of the starters was always Caesar salad (which everyone hated) and it was also available as a main course. Steak, chicken and salmon were available each day too. There were usually two desserts and cheese. Cheeses were largely of the rather rubbery tasteless sort but there were a few good ones like Roquefort. We grew very bored by the lack of variety after 3 weeks. Wines were average. On board drinks prices were steep, but there was usually a half-price happy hour before the port talk each evening, when they were more reasonable but still not cheap. A gin and tonic was over 4 Euros even at half price!
On the whole, I wouldn't recommend Avalon. Their admin is poor and they don't seem to understand what British people want from what is a pretty expensive trip, especially compared to ocean cruising. They cater far too much for American tastes. I know they had to find hotel accommodation at short notice when the water levels were low, but they had been low for a while ) and I think they had left it until the last minute instead of having a Plan B for such events, which happen pretty regularly. In view of this, I don't think much of the compensation they offered. Had I known all this would happen at the Black Sea end, which was the main reason for doing the cruise in the first place, I would have cancelled. I wish I had!
Illumination is a nice enough ship if you like black and chrome. The cabins are bigger than average and had a small but not comfortable sofa and chair. The bed was quite comfortable as it had a soft mattress topper and the pillows were good. Bathrooms are smallish but the shower is an OK size. Our bathroom floor was never cleaned all the time we were on the ship and the toilet was not cleaned under the rim. Used glasses were often left in the cabin.
A stunning city. It would have been better if we had been a little nearer the chain bridge, but the market was interesting.
Another beautiful city, but very expensive. The Zentralfriedhof cemetery where the great composers Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert and Strauss are buried is beautiful and worth venturing onto the U-bahn and tram system for.
didn't get to stop here due to low water.
A pretty place. the included sausages were nice but a little undercooked for our taste. I'm glad we didn't pay 9 Euros for them!
Have been before so we have seen the Nazi rally grounds and the old town. Didn't think it was worth traipsing round in the heat to see it again.
Cologne is a dump and could be anywhere. the cathedral is the only bit worth seeing.
A really interesting city, once we left the boring walking tour and did our own thing!