One of my friends and I have been talking about taking a river cruise for years. Let's face it - those Viking commercials are very inviting. Now that my three kids are grown, in the spring of 2016 we decided now was the time to start planning. I first sent for brochures from several river cruise companies to compare intineraries etc. My friend and I have both travelled to Europe previously and wanted to go someplace new so we chose to take a Danube river cruise. I then met with a local travel agent who specificalizes in river cruises. She steered me away from Viking and helped me narrow our choices to AMA or Avalon. When she quoted out the price it was much higher than we had anticipated so we chose to watch and wait. By the fall of 2016 Avalon came out with a great sale - $1000 off per person + free air. That seemed too good to be true. I called the travel agent and we were booked within a few days! We ended up choosing this itinerary since it was short and we did not know if we would like river cruising. About a week after we booked my 27 year old daughter decided she wanted to go with us. She was able to get the single supplement waived and she booked as well. She could not get the single supplement waiver and free air but she was able to book on the same flights we were on so we could fly together.
We all absolutely loved this cruise!! Everything about it was wonderful. It was a nice mix of small towns and big cities. We added a few days to the end of cruise and took the train to Budapest. We wished we had chosen a longer intinerary that included Budapest so we could stay on the ship.
The ship: Our ship was the Avalon Passion. This was a new ship in 2016 and it was beautiful. Everything was sparkling clean and very tastefully decorated. The ship was actually much longer than I had anticipated. The rooms were spacious and that wall of windows was in the room was just awesome. We loved waking up in the morning and looking out at the river going by. The lounges, sky deck and dining room were equally beautiful.
The age of passengers: Our sailing had a mix of American, Canadian, British, Australians, New Zealanders, one mom/daughter from India and two young ladies from Korea. I had expected mostly retirement age passangers but that was not the case at all. There was a real mix of 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s on up. I am in my early 50s and I felt like one of the older people on the cruise. There were quite a few mother/daughter pairs and several groups of younger women traveling together. We had a wonderful time chatting with everyone and hearing about everyone's travel experiences.
Crew: I cannot say enough about how attentive and friendly the crew was. They went above and beyond on a daily basis. Our cruise director was Andrej (sp?). He was awesome. He was a kind person with a quirky sense of humor. His nightly port talks were always informative and entertaining at the same time. We added three days at the end of cruise and travelled on our own to Budapest. He gave us a Budapest map and recommended some sights and restaturants for us to see during our time there. So nice of him! Our server at dinner was Liza from the Phillipines. We sat in her section most meals since she was so nice and friendly. She got to know what we liked and we looked forward to seeing her at every meal. Valentin was the person who cleaned our room daily. He always had a smile on his face and left us a wonderful towel animal on our last day.
Food: My friend and my daughter are both vegetarians and I am a "meat and potatoes" kind of person so it is not easy to find meals we all like. Avalon started their Avalon Fresh menu offerings in 2017 offereing enhanced menu options for vegetarians which sounded like a good fit for our group. Each one of us ended up loving the food!! It was so nice to have a floating restaurant with awesome food each day instead of searching around for a restaurant in each city. Breakfast and lunch were buffet with loads of choices. We loved the Belgian waffles and made to order omelets at breakfast. We loved all the desserts too. Dinner had several choices and none of us had any problem finding something we liked. We tried different wines each night and Liza just kept filling our glasses. In addition to the meals every day about 4pm was cake time with several different cakes to try. And...on the third floor was a lounge with cookies and cakes all day long. I have to admit - we visited the "cookie room" on more than one night about 11pm.
Entertainment: We came on this cruise to sightsee at the various cities and were not expecing much in the way of entertainment. We did end up taking part in some of the nightly entertainment and it was really nice. Every night there was a piano player playing which was nice if you wanted to grab a drink or dance a little. One night there was a wine tasting demonstration which was perfect since we were sailing through the Wachau Valley past numerous vineyards. One night we had a singer/guitar player who played a mix of country and oldies. He was quite good and the dance floor was full for most of the night. The Australians were a bit rowdier than the rest of us and frankly made it so much more fun.
I cannot think of anything I would change from this cruise. I can't wait to take another Avalon cruise. I am hooked!
My friend and I were in cabin 207. It was the perfect location. Not too far from the front or back. The cabin was spacious with plenty of storage for both of us. The wall of windows was the best. We had the beds set up as two single beds so that did cut down a bit on the extra room around the edge of the beds. The beds were super comfortable. None of us had any trouble sleeping at night. My daughter was in aquarium class in room 106. We took a look at her room and it was of similar size except for the bathroom. That looked a little smaller. All of us said we would get the same level rooms on future cruises. Interestingly enough, all of the repeat river cruisers we met specifially chose the aquarium class rooms since you are in your rooms so little and they are so much cheaper.
This was our first walking tour and frankly it was our best. Our tour guide was from Passau and she was wonderful. She gave us tons of information and added personal touches too. The cathedral was stunning and so unexpected. We thought St Stephens in Passau was much nicer than St Stephens in Vienna. Before the trip I had never heard of Passau but it was really lovely and I am glad we had a chance to visit there.View All 218 Walking Tour Reviews
We chose to take the optional excursion to Czesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. It was about a 90 minute bus ride to get there and the scenery was fabulous. Avalon provided a guide on the bus so we had commentary along the whole way. Wonderful! At one point our guide had the bus driver drive past local farms outside of Linz and told us all about farming families in Austria. Very interesting and quite different than family farms in the US. Czesky Krumlov was quaint and beautiful. We were so glad we went. Our guide in CK was very interesting. We learned about CK but also about how the people of the Czech Republic are struggling to adapt to life after communism. We all felt like we learned a little bit about life in the Czech Republic - not just about Czesky Krumlov. We had time on our own and took the castle tour which was not so great. If we had it to do again we probably would have just wandered around the town instead of taking the tour. The guide was hard to understand and pretty boring.View All undefined undefined Reviews
The Abbey was absolutely beautiful! Our guide was interesting. Her accent reminded us of Arnold Swartzenager so that gave us a little chuckle. The highlight was seeing the sanctuary. It was stunning. We were there on Sunday so mass was going on so we stood in the back quietly while mass was ongoing.View All 182 Melk Abbey Reviews
We took the walking tour in Vienna to give us a quick overview. It was ok. To us, Vienna seemed like any other big city. There was an optional excursion to Schonbrunn Palace but the price was pretty high so we took the subway out and took the tour on our own for 1/3 of the price. The palace was stunning. We really enjoyed the tour and the gardens there. That was our favorite sight in Vienna. We did the optional evening concert with Avalon which was ok. I had checked out the concerts happening that day and I think we would have been better off going to a concert on our own. The Avalon concert was only for Avalon guests. The venue was beautiful and the musicians were talented but it was only an 8 person ensemble. We would have rather seen an entire orchestra at the Musikverein. If we had it to do again we would have gone to a more authentic concert on our own and taken the subway. The Vienna subway system was pretty easy to use.View All 183 Walking Tour Reviews