After two cruises on Uniworld, we decided to try Avalon. We liked their "panorama suite" design. Sadly, that was the only thing outstanding about our Avalon experience.
Our "journey" started with "check-in" at the Hotel Intercontinental in Vienna. By this time, we had already been in Europe for 3 nights, on our own. There was a large window to check bags in, from 8am to 3:30pm, but this entire process really messed up any possibility to do anything meaningful on that day. (With Uniworld, we were actually able to present ourselves to the ship itself, at any time during the day. They also had light snacks available in the lounge.) Not the case with Avalon. There was a conference room, at the hotel, with chips, peanuts, water, and coffee. We were required to be back, at the hotel, at 3:30, so we could be bussed, as a group, to the ship. Again, having to schedule events around this time frame, was inconvenient. As we had travel cards, we could have easily traveled to and from the ship much easier on our own.....but, that wasn't an option.
Moving on to orientation......there were only 50 people on our cruise. We were assembled in the lounge, where our cruise director gave us a brief overview of the ship, and upcoming cruise. We did the mandatory muster drill, and then were escorted to our rooms by a staff member. Basically, this involved......"here's how your room key works," and, "here's your room"......our luggage was then delivered, one piece at a time.....(Now, comparing to Uniworld, we got an overview of the room, outlet locations, "how-to's", and, our luggage was already in our room when we arrived).
Cabin: We had a Panorama suite on the middle deck, 4 cabins from the rear of the ship. The cabin was very spacious, and we loved that the bed faced outward (though we were often rafted, and couldn't open the curtains). The bathroom was also very spacious, and well appointed. The bed was comfortable. The couch and chair, not so much. There was a minibar/fridge, which we used to keep our own water cool. Hanging closet space and shelf space was adequate, but there really weren't any drawers. The desk chair was uncomfortable, and had a solid back, which made it difficult to pull in and out. We were provided with two large bottles of water at the beginning of our trip. We had to fill the ice bucket ourselves. Comparing to Uniworld, this cabin was a clear winner with regard to space. The Uniworld beds are much more comfortable, and the staff much more attentive with Uniworld. However, factoring in rafting makes the extra $$ for the suite not worth the concept.
Public space: Avalon's decor is more contemporary, and simplistic, than Uniworld. However, it is also much less comfortable. From the dining room to lounge, the furniture was very uncomfortable. The seating on the sundeck was also of inferior quality to Uniworld. By the end of our cruise, my husband said, "Give me the brothel look anytime!"
Shore excursions: honestly, we really didn't participate in many of these. The first day (the hotel day mentioned above) didn't include any. The second day, we remained in Vienna. Tours included a morning city tour (we were on our 3rd day, so did the Spanish Riding School in the morning, and Schonbrunn Palace-on our own-in the afternoon). The third day, we started off with the Durnstein walking tour, but as there were 4 ships there, the one street was pretty congested, so we opted to walk to the castle ruins. We sailed to Melk that afternoon, and did do the Melk Abbey excursion, which we thoroughly enjoyed. Day 4 took us to Cesky Krumlov. After 45 minutes, we left that tour, as we hadn't even made it across the river yet, and our guide was more focused on telling us where to shop and eat, than about the city itself. The last day was a short city tour in Passau, but we opted to climb to the castle on the right side of the city, and the church on the left side. We did meet up with the tour guide afterwords, with members from our cruise, and enjoyed a beer. In general, since we are "young" river cruisers, we like to get out and do our own thing.
Food: Is always subjective, but Avalon certainly was mediocre to average here. Variety, and quality, were lacking. Choices were few, and didn't really reflect the local cuisine. Thank goodness there were menu items for breakfast and lunch, because the buffet offerings were of cafeteria quality. The beer/liquor selection was equally underwhelming. Lastly, there was no "open seating" with regard to time. We were "asked" to proceed to the dining room for dinner, 15 minutes after the appointed "start" time.
Entertainment: "Typical" regular piano player/singer. We had one night of special entertainment, in Melk, from a man from New Zealand, who played guitar and sang 60/70/80's music. He was very good, but sadly, only played for an our, and was gone......The on board musician wasn't good, at all, and often played, and sang, the same songs over and over. When he wasn't playing, the music choices were awful. When we asked the bartender about it, he said they had a playlist provided by corporate......
Staff: Despite there only being 50 passengers aboard, the staff seemed very unengaged. Most really didn't seem to care that much. There were a few waitstaff that went out of their way, and learned our likes/preferences, but that was it. The front desk staff wouldn't initiate conversation, and would only reply if spoken to first. Housekeeping would store their carts in the halls, and their "uniforms" looked like something they had worn to bed the night before (t-shirts and casual, pull-on style pants)
General Avalon comments: As noted, we had done two Uniworld cruises previously, one pre all-inclusive, and one after they went all-inclusive. This is my observation of Avalon. They are too corporate focused, and not customer focused. There is a place for procedure, but, in the river cruise business, the customer has to be attended to, and they don't do a good job here. From their regimented check-in, to bussing to the ship.......I'm not sure how other lines handle it, but Uniworld definitely gets the nod here. The "approved" music list in the bar......Also, their headset system, not nearly as good as Uniworld's, and they kept them at the front desk, instead of in the cabins.....I can't imagine the chaos this would cause on a full ship, as it caused chaos on our less than half-full one!
Also, their passenger tracking system leaves a lot to be desired. With Uniworld, we would scan our room cards in and out, with an electronic card scanner. With Avalon, they give you small laminated cards to carry offshore with you. On the Durnstein-Melk day, there was a notice to not turn in your card if you planned on doing the afternoon excursion (Melk). So, we didn't.....the cruise director had seen us come onboard, and came up to the sun deck to retrieve our cards.....he said, "You didn't turn in your cards" I said, "When we left this am, there was a sign up telling us not to!". Perhaps one of the most disappointing parts of our cruise, and one where corporate prevailed over customer, was on the last full day of the cruise. We were enjoying a beautiful morning of sailing between Linz and Passau, and the crew was assembling furniture, running wire, etc, on the sun deck, in anticipation of the next sailing, which was chartered by Goodyear. In addition, once we reached Passau, we attempted to come back to the ship, only to find them loading supplies for the next sailing. It was a chore to get to our cabin, with the staff heaving crates of water bottles down the hall. While I realize it has to be done sometime......they do kick you off no later than 10am, and don't let anyone on again until 4pm on embarkation day! And, in this case, they had an entire day between our disembarkation and the next cruise's embarkation.
In closing, I didn't feel like a valued passenger......Avalon did nothing to make me feel special, and did nothing to make me want to be a repeat passenger. Read Less