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Sailing the Danube with Avalon Waterways
BY STEVEN B. STERN TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 19, 2017 10:21:57 AM  
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Sailing the Danube with Avalon Waterways

 

 

 

          During August 2017, I had the pleasure of traversing the Danube with Avalon Waterways which is owned by Globus Tours.

          Avalon was offering a three day pre-cruise option in Prague at the Prague Intercontinental  Hotel with transportation on day four to Nuremberg to board the Avalon Expression.

          We arrived at Prague airport late afternoon and were met my Avalon representatives and transported to the hotel. We  unpacked and then sought out a place for dinner. Avalon's Prague package did not include meals except for breakfast at the hotel.

          A guided orientation tour was offered the next morning visiting the Old Town's famous Astronomical Clock built in 1410, Hradcany Castle Grounds, St. Vitus Cathedral and the Charles Bridge, the oldest bridge in Prague. That afternoon we went out on our own and visited the Jewish Quarter and its three Synagogues and Old Jewish Cemetery, as well as the impressive Prague Castle with its surrounding palaces, gardens and monasteries.

          There was a charge for all other tours which included  a traditional Czech dinner and a folklore show with musicians and dancers at a local Czech restaurant (64 euros); a visit to Terezin Memorial site of the infamous Gestapo Prison, including the Ghetto Museum of Terezin with commentary from a local guide (54 euros); a visit to Castle Melnik, a medieval castle dating back to the 16th century which is still partly inhabited, including a Bohemian wine tasting with local cheeses (59 euros); a classical concert of the grand masters in the beautiful setting of the baroque Mirror Chapel of Clementinum built in 1725 as part of a complex founded by the Jesuits in 1556 ( 64 euros). We opted for the dinner and the concert. The visit to Terezin and Castle Melnik we did on our own. The second evening, we took the advice of the concierge at the hotel and attended a magnificent concert in the Old Synagogue featuring both classical and ethnic selections (3 euros).

          After lunchtime  on the fourth day, we were bused to Nuremberg to meet and board our ship. While on the bus, the tour guide filled us in on much of the history and geography of the region. Before dinner we were introduced to the officers and crew at a welcome reception.

          The Avalon Expression entered service in 2013 accommodating  166 passengers in 83 staterooms.  Sixty-five of the staterooms measure 200 square feet and have wall to wall panoramic windows with  sliding glass doors that open to  allow you to look outside along the sides of the ship; however, you cannot step out. The two 300 square-foot Royal Suites have two panoramic windows with  sliding glass doors. Sixteen  172 square-foot cabins on the lowest deck have small windows but no balconies.       

          All accommodations have a choice of bed configurations --two twins or one queen  (the Royal Suite has a king), bathrobes and slippers, three door closets with shelves for storage, writing desk/vanities with a mirror, complimentary Wi-Fi, well-stocked minibars (items at a charge), complimentary bottles of water,  in-room safes,  flat-screen TVs with English-speaking channels and a large assortment of movie options, and bathrooms featuring a full shower with a glass door,  a hairdryer and premium L'Occitane bath products. The Royal Suites have a small sitting area, a shower and double vanity in one bathroom and a toilet and sink in a small second bathroom. We had one of the 200 square-foot staterooms and found it quite acceptable, similar to an accommodation of similar footage on an ocean-going cruise ship.

          After settling in to our stateroom, we set out to explore the ship. On the Sky Deck, atop ship, were numerous lounge chairs, many with  awnings for shade, a tiny whirlpool, the navigation bridge, deck games and an open air bistro.  Immediately below on the Royal Deck were  suites and staterooms, the reception area, the Observation Lounge, the Panorama Lounge, bar and bistro, and a hair salon.  The large Panorama Lounge was the venue for before and after dinner drinks and music, as well as lectures. Additional staterooms and the main dining room and galley were on Sapphire Deck, and a small fitness center with a treadmill and two exercycles was below on Indigo Deck. 

          The per person price for our  7-night cruise ranged from $1,949 for the least expensive cabin to $3,448 for the Royal Suites. The pre-cruise was additional.  Although these prices are somewhat lower than on some of the all-inclusive riverboats,  the cost of the cruise can run somewhat more for  passengers opting for the special, non-included tours or who consume  alcoholic beverages.  In addition, the recommended  tipping per guest is 3 euros a day for the cruise director and 12 euros a day for the crew.

          Before dinner each evening, guests gathered in the Panorama Lounge at cocktail hour for the informative talk given by the knowledgeable cruise director which covered the program and tours for the following day. Although alcoholic beverages and soft drinks were not included, sparkling wine at breakfast, and wine, beer or soft drinks at lunch and dinner were gratis  A choice of a red and white wine was offered each evening consisting of mostly German vintages. A specialty coffee machine was available for guests around the clock.  

          Dinner was served with table service in an open seating at tables accommodating two, four, six and eight persons. Each evening there were two choices of appetizer, soup, salad, entr√©e and dessert.

          .Breakfast and lunch were served buffet style with a huge assortment from which to choose. Additional items were available from the kitchen.  The Panorama Bistro was an alternative dining venue offering lighter fare at breakfast and lunch. In the evening a  tasting menu was offered  here for guests with reservations. When weather permits, lunch is occasionally served at the open air bistro on Sport Deck.

          In the evenings, a piano player entertained for listening and dancing. Several evenings, local musicians, dancers and entertainers were brought aboard. The night we arrived in Vienna,  an optional classical concert  was offered.

         On board  guests could enjoy the fitness center, educational lectures, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, the Sky Deck whirlpool and games, the complimentary use of computers, and the well-stocked library. Bicycles and Nordic walking sticks were  available for check out.

          Of course the main interest of passengers was  sightseeing. Several tours were included at each stop, as well as the option for other excursions at a charge. We were given state of the art voice boxes to wear while touring so that we could hear the guides from a distance. What made the tours especially enjoyable was the excellence of the tour guides.

          The day after our arrival was spent in Nuremberg which is located on the Main-Danube Canal. Tours were offered to the Nuremberg rally grounds or to the nearby town of Roth. We opted for the special tour that included a visit to the Documentation Center where the history of the rise and fall of the Nazi party and WWII is told in a series of short films displayed in different rooms--quite informative and inspirational.

          The next day we left the Canal and entered the Danube River,  arriving in Regensburg, one of Germany's best preserved cities. Dating back to 77 a.d. as a Celtic settlement, the Romans took over in 179 a.d.  Remnants of the Roman occupation can be seen in the ancient Porta Praetoria behind the cathedral and the  16-arch Steinerne  Brucke, the oldest bridge in Germany. Sampling the wurst and beer at the Old Sausage Kitchen below the old bridge is a tradition for most visitors to Regensburg.  We were given vouchers to go there on our own. In the morning a complimentary walking tour was offered here. For 49 Euros, passengers could opt for an excursion to Weltenburg Abbey located on a peninsula directly below the cliffs of the Danube Gorge.

          Our next stop was Passau Germany, uniquely located where  three rivers merge. The city is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets lined with beautiful patrician houses. St. Stephan's Cathedral, a masterpiece of Italian Baroque architecture houses one of the world's largest church organs with over 17,000 pipes. An organ concert is given here each morning.  The two optional full day excursions  offered  were to  the Austrian city of Salzburg (74 euros) and the Bohemian town of  Cesky Krumlov(74 euros). Originally we booked the tour to Salzburg; however when we heard  that the weather forecast was cold and rain, we cancelled.

          After visiting Melk the next morning with a tour to the Benedictine Abbey, we proceeded on to Vienna. This portion of the cruise where the river flows through the picturesque Wachau Valley was  breathtaking. As the river winds around verdant hills and vine-clad slopes, laden with steep terraced vineyards, numerous ancient castles, fortified churches and battlement turrets emerge.

          That evening in Vienna, we attended the optional concert ashore featuring arias from Mozart, Strauss waltzes and others performed by a cast of top European singers, dancers and the original Vienna salon orchestra. (69 euros)

          In the morning the following day, we took the complimentary bus tour to Vienna  with a guide that pointed out the important points of interest. After the tour many of the passengers remained in the city to sample one of the many fine restaurants or coffee shops and to shop on the numerous shopping streets. Others headed for the Hotel Sacher to sample the world famous Sacher Torte. Main points of interest included the 700-year-old Hofburg Palace, St.Stephan's, a Gothic cathedral with a steeple that rises 450 feet,  the Museum of Fine Arts,  the State Opera House, the city park with the statue of Johann Strauss, and the  Prater amusement park with its famous Ferris wheel.

          That afternoon we took the optional tour visiting  Schonbrunn Imperial Palace, the former summer residence of the Imperial family, considered one of the most beautiful baroque palaces in Europe. (52 euros).

           Late that afternoon we sailed to Budapest our final destination, one of the most picturesque and interesting riverside cities along the Danube.  The capital of Hungary with a population of three million, it is actually composed of two cities, Buda and Pest separated from each other by the Danube and connected by a series of bridges. We docked on the Pest side, the location of most hotels, restaurants and shops.  We took the guided sightseeing tour the next morning taking in Heroes' Square, the hilltop Castle Hill in Buda with its outstanding view across the Danube, the 13th century Mathaias Church, the Liberty Statue, the Houses of Parliament,  the Jewish Synagogue, the oldest in Europe, and the community therapy baths. Optional tours offered included: Budapest's Night Lights (26 euros); Hungarian Countryside Experience with Wine Tasting (59 euros); and Gold and Glamorous Architecture, a visit to both the former home and workshop of glass painter Miksa Roth and the State Opera House (49 euros). 

          We were grateful to have two nights in Budapest, giving us an opportunity to stroll along the colorful riverside with its illuminated bridges, as well as the back streets with their outdoor cafes and shops.

          The next morning, we disembarked with the other passengers. We were quite impressed with the manner Avalon organized and arranged  transfers to the airport, making certain that each guest departed the ship three hours before their scheduled flight.

          Without question, our Avalon Waterways riverboat cruise provided a comprehensive exploration of the cities along the Danube. The area in which Avalon excels is the excellence of its tour guides and the manner in which they expertly organize every aspect of the cruise and pre-cruise segments.    Overall, we were delighted with our cruise and most impressed with the excellent service and concern shown for the comfort of the passengers.

 

by: Steven B. Stern

(author of Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges and Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation)

 

 
 
     
 
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