Stern's Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World, Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation, Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges, and The Indispensable Guide to Foreign Words and Phrases--by Steven B. Stern (Sponsored by Stern's Travel Guides, Ltd.)
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 OldTown's
famous Astronomical Clock built in 1410, Hradcany Castle Grounds, St. Vitus
Cathedral and the CharlesBridge, 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 PragueCastle 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.
.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
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
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,
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.
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