EUROPEAN RIVER CRUISE BUDAPEST TO AMSTERDAM - 2018
All I can say is that it was everything it was advertised to be: spacious enough stateroom and bathroom even more so, very accommodating staff, gourmet food, smooth riding and quiet ship, good evening entertainment by locals 4 times, and nice choice of ports. As mentioned earlier, we saw 3 different ships. There some very minor differences; but all were equally fine.
Our stateroom was on the second deck and had a wall to wall window that opened (the lower deck's windows did not open). I originally booked a room on the lower deck. When I was stewing about whether to upgrade or not, the travel agent I was dealing with said it didn't really matter because you wouldn't be spending much time in it. That had some truth to it; but I was glad I upgraded. If nothing else, if I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep immediately, it was pleasant to sit along side the open window watching the world go by.
Breakfast and lunch were buffet style. Dinner was a four, and some times five course meal and deserving of the adjective gourmet. There was usually a choice of 2 appetizers, 2 soups, 4 main courses, and 4 or 5 deserts.
You could also always order a Caesar salad instead of the offered appetizers and a choice of three things, including what was called a beef tenderloin, instead of the the main course offerings. One evening early on I felt less adventuresome and ordered Caesar salad. It was the best I'd ever tasted; and ordered nothing but it the rest of the time. I resisted the tenderloin until the last night, but Jeanine ordered it often; it turned out to be a 1 inch thick cut sirloin that was cooked to perfection. Despite serving over one hundred guests, the food always came out hot.
You could have unlimited excellent beer and wine for lunch and diner. There was even champagne available for breakfast. I can see someone who doesn't drink would think they were being cheated.
Avalon was on my short list of English speaking cruise lines because they advertised that bicycles could be checked out at each port. I had no idea before hand how this would work out. Would the bikes be junkers that needed a lot of tune up before being ride-able, and how accommodating would the staff be when we requested them. The bikes turned out to be almost new, what Europeans call touring bikes, with multi-speeds and well adjusted shocks. The latter were handy over cobblestones yet didn't have that irritating bungee jumper action.
- Ice machines
The Luminary and Impression had ice machines just like any motel back home. It was surprising because ice is consider immoral, against the natural law, in Europe. They were a god-send because of the 95F heat wave the first 5 days. With all the exercise we were doing, a drink with two tiny ice cubes just wouldn't cut it. If the Visionary had an ice machine, I didn't see it. But by that time the heat wave was history.
- Acoustics in dining room and lounge on all 3 ships
It seemed that no attempt to mitigate the noise had been incorporated into ship design. The large number of people shouting to be heard made meal times almost unbearable. I spoke with the cruise director and he said they were aware of the problem and were trying to solve it. If so, the solution is still in the design stage. To be fair, this seems to be a standard feature of our brave, new world. Even upscale restaurants operate under the assumption that the louder and more irritating the environment, the more customer will spend. If I didn't think all cruise lines operate under the same assumption, this would be a “show-stopper” for choosing Avalon again.
- On board musician on all 3 ships
The musician in the lounge came equipped with a full array of electronic devices which he connected to a sound system. He then cranked up the volume to a level not appropriate to the situation, namely background music in a relatively small area. Playing “cocktail piano hour” music without electronic enhancement would have been more appropriate, allowing passengers to converse easily and add some class to the lounge. What we got was more like a hillbilly honky tonk. Since loud speakers were situated throughout the lounge, you couldn't avoid the noise. Note: I'm not critiquing the musician's ability or selection of tunes, only that it was too loud to enjoy it.
- Air conditioning
Normally, the AC was more than adequate. But during the previously mentioned heat wave, the sun would cause heat to build up between the wall-to-wall window glass and the curtain. Heat would leak through the curtain and the AC could not keep up. My advise is, unless global warming shifts from central Europe to the US Middle West, book a cabin on the right hand side when traveling east to west and visa versa.
As previously mentioned, due to low water conditions at 3 points, a cruise on the Avalon Luminary actually comprised 1 hotel, 3 different ships, and 3 portages. First we were put up in a luxury hotel in Budapest and then bused to the Luminary stuck in Komora, Slovakia. Then we were bused from Vilihofen, Germany to Regensburg where we met the Impression which turned around. Then we were put on a lower draft tourist boat from Ruedesheim to St. Goar, so as to not miss the most famous part of the Rhine, and then a bus to Koblenz where we swapped with the Visionary's passengers for the remainder of the cruise to Amsterdam. The bus portages ranged from ½ hour to 1 ½ hours. None of the shore or onboard programs were missed
I thought the situation was handled very professionally by Avalon; there was no Walmart Syndrome here (taking the cheap way out). In addition to receiving 15 Euros cash per person for lunches missed, $1250 was credited to my credit card for the inconvenience of having to pack and repack 3 times.
All European river cruise lines' literature and ads stress the possibility of disruptions due to low and high water. I don't know how other cruise lines would have handled it; but I have read reviews where passengers complained that once low or high water struck, they were stuck with buses and hotels thereafter. Avalon's performance is reason enough to try them again.
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- Best time of the year.
During the cruise I came to hate the crowds of cruise passenger, other tourists, and locals that seemed to be everywhere. It has always been conventional wisdom that Europeans all take vacation in August. Not only were you faced with the mob; but prices were supposed to be higher. In the past we always went in June; but seem to have gotten away from that. So maybe it might be worth thinking of June again.
Based on this year, it seems global warming has shifted from the American Midwest to Europe. This is another another reason for June. Not only heat, but drought and low water might be less likely in June.
- Avoiding the crowd
Since cruise lines and long distance bike routes tend to follow rivers, I found that you could quickly get away from it all on quiet, scenic bike trails along the river. This was especially true in Duernstein and Ruedesheim, places whose only reason for being is catering to hoards of tourists. The Maintal Radweg (Main Valley Bike Path) was my favorite. Even in Amsterdam I found a way to quickly get out into farm country biking along dikes alongside canals.
- Premier trains
We rode two top of the line trains: German Rail's Intercity Express and Austrian Federal Railroad's Railjet. This was the second time we ran into out of service air conditioning when it was needed on an ICE. Both reminded me of the economy section of an airplane. The Railjet reminded me of a NY subway at rush hour; all that was missing were straps. Needless to say I wasn't impressed and won't be too anxious to take them again.
- European based airlines
As mentioned earlier our KLM flight to Amsterdam was canceled and we were put on the next days flight where the extra leg room seats were not available. When I got home, I filled out a complaint form at the KLM website. Eventually, I received a call from a Delta agent who handles KLM business in the US. She said that “due to European Union laws” we were entitled to compensation that almost covered the cost of the ticket, this in addition to what I had paid for extra leg room. I was so shocked that I neglected to ask a few questions.
The main question was what would have happened if it had been Delta (or any other American carrier) that canceled. Would we have received the same treatment or would we have gotten the bum's rush. If the latter, then all things being equal, I would select a European carrier next time.
- Landing in the US
The return flight that went along with the KLM flight to Amsterdam had us on Delta changing planes in Detroit. I reasoned that that wasn't too bad because immigration and passport control would be quicker and require less walking than Chicago. What I forgot was that one had to go through security again in Detroit, negating any advantage. However, Detroit was not a bad airport.