As with most river ships, the River Adagio price includes a daily city walk or excursion, which you take in groups with your program director or a local guide. On our tour, each group consisted of about 38 people, and buses took us into towns that weren't within walking distance of the port. Personal headsets were issued at the beginning of the trip, and we brought them along on group trips.
Your enjoyment of River Adagio -- and river cruising -- could depend on how you feel about group travel overall. I found that the city walks, particularly those given by our program director, gave me a decent overview of the port and invaluable insight into the idiosyncrasies of the various countries. In Vidin, Bulgaria, for example, the program directors found a local woman who had been personally affected by the country's economic crisis for us to talk to. Time permitting, my husband and I would break off on our own from the group, and try to have meal or a drink elsewhere in the city. This meant that we missed several lunches onboard, however, and most cruisers on the trip preferred to follow the schedule to the letter.
Every Grand Circle cruise includes a meal hosted by a local, and most offer a visit to a charity project supported by the Grand Circle Foundation. Ours took place in Osejik, Croatia, a town that's still recovering from the Homeland War with Serbia. We enjoyed our lunch, put together by an unemployed former factory manager-turned-bed-and-breakfast owner. He didn't speak much English, but he was personable, and the food he served -- from a menu suggested by the cruise line -- was delicious. As a translator, a young teacher from the town stepped in and answered all of the questions that our group had about modern life. It proved to be a fascinating addition to a cruise itinerary, although the experience varies on how open your hosts are. A concert held by students at local school that receives funds from Grand Circle highlighted the company's good deeds, although listening to Croatian children sing American songs does little to enlighten one about the culture.
Several optional excursions are offered on each cruise. As with an ocean cruise, passengers should compare prices when possible to see if they can do the activity for less money on their own, particularly in larger cities. We visited the Terror House Museum in Budapest for a fraction of the price that the cruise line charged, although that did mean that we had to do some walking. In Bulgaria, we paid $85 each to visit Veliko Tarnovo, as the trip to the country's former capital would have been difficult to do on our own from the port of Ruse.
Back onboard, program directors supplemented the city walks with reams of handout reading material on subjects from Yugo cars and Romanian beers to the importance of rose oil in Bulgaria. Lectures from outside experts, on topics like Hungarian Traditions or the life of a World War II survivor, proved more hit-or-miss. But even when a topic bombed, the program directors did their best to make it up to inquisitive passengers. When one lecture about the plight of Roma women in Serbia proved inadequate, the program directors provided a full handout about "gypsies" for passengers the next day. The four directors also sat down for a question-and-answer session about growing up under communism, handling tough and often personal questions with aplomb. TV documentaries about Tito, Ceausescu and a surprisingly fascinating film about the Hungarian Olympic water polo team rounded out the enrichment. We left the ship feeling like we had undertaken a graduate seminar in post-communist Eastern Europe -- which is precisely why Grand Circle passengers choose the line.
During our sea day -- there's usually only one per itinerary -- a lesson on the Cyrillic alphabet was available to those who wanted it. You won't find typical onboard activities like trivia games and crafting. After the daily touring and educational programming, passengers are just too tired for additional structured activities.
Of course, River Adagio's trips aren't completely focused on excursions and lectures. Toward the bow, the third-floor lounge is the ship's social hub, with comfy armchairs and tables positioned around a small dance floor. River Adagio's onboard musician plays a limited list of standards and light rock songs during the afternoon, at Happy Hour and most nights after dinner. The lounge is also where the bar is, and different drink specials were offered every night around 6 p.m. Folk dancers came onboard twice during the cruise, one troupe from Serbia and another from Slavonia, and there was a ship-sponsored dance contest one evening. A cruise show, featuring skits from the crewmembers, attracted a full house. As you might expect, the line does not attract a late-night, partying crowd.
River Adagio has four decks, with the interior laid out in a split-level formation. You enter the ship on the third deck, where there's a hotel-style front desk that's manned 24 hours a day. This is where passengers also find the all-important flipboard, which outlines the day's activities, as well as the concierge desk, where program directors lay out educational materials about the country and answer questions about excursions and tours. Simple black-and-white photos of landmarks along the lower Danube decorate the walls, along with some strategically placed maps of the ever-changing Balkans.
A short double staircase leads to a closed-in library on one side and the gift shop on the other. People tended to cluster in these areas with laptops, smartphones and tablets because they were the only places you could get weak Wi-Fi signals while in port (and even then, connectivity -- while free -- turned out to be extremely iffy or nonexistent). There is no computer room onboard.
While Grand Circle warns passengers that their cruises feature plenty of walking over cobblestoned streets, there is an elevator that runs between the various floors. On all river cruises, however, water levels can affect gangplank slope, and those with disabilities would be advised to consult with the company before booking.
The onboard fitness room has a treadmill, bike and an elliptical machine. It's open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., although on my cruise, I saw more passengers taking long walks and doing laps around the extensive upper deck. The fitness room also has a sauna, steam room and whirlpool tub, but the staff only fill the latter when needed, and 30 minutes' notice is required.
The ship has a masseuse onboard, offering several types of treatments that include reflexology, deep-tissue, aromatherapy and kerala ayurvedic. A one-hour basic Swedish massage costs 39 euros, and you can pay at the end of your cruise. There's no hair or nail salon.
The extensive sun deck has covered areas where shade is available, although there is no bar, pool or food service on top. Loungers, tables and chairs are set up for individual and small group relaxation, and smoking is allowed.
While the company says that children older than 13 can come on their trips, families with teens would not be comfortable on River Adagio, as the cruise is geared toward post-retirement couples and singles. (Very few people on the cruise I took were still working.) Occasionally, a couple or adult child might travel with an older parent, but that is the exception, not the rule.