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Trip Report Vienna to Bucharest on Avalon "Imagery" Danube cruise

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We have just returned from our first river cruise. We have done several Ocean cruises, but this was the first time on a river. We picked Avalon because the timing worked for us, and it seemed like a good company. I believe this was one of the earliest times of the year that they have cruised this part of the Danube. The cruise started in Amsterdam. Some people went all the way to Bucharest, others ended in Vienna, and many of us began in Vienna. I think its two very different cruises. The first part, must be like all the brochures of beautiful Bavaria, castles and a blue Danube. From Vienna to the Black sea is quite different. These many countries have gone through two serious wars, Russian occupation and the break up of Yugoslavia. Its much more "3rd. World". Interesting, if you like history and the clash of cultures and religions. Avalon offered very good included tours of each stop. At least 4 busses, each with a guide and driver. One bus dedicated to those who could not walk well.
The tour director and the entire staff were fabulous. We created a private tour with our own driver and guide at one stop were we wanted more flexibility and the cruise director organized it for us.

But there are drawbacks to Avalon in my opinion, and things future/potential passengers should be aware of. They may or may not be of importance to you. We were quite disapointed in the quality of the food. There was plenty of it. But quantity isn't quality. Breakfast and lunch were always very good. Dinners left a lot to be desired. We were surprised at the boring cuisine. Vegetables were defrosted and warmed up with no herbs or sauces to make them even marginally interesting. Fish and meats were also not cooked with any imagination. Coffee was beyond bad. Even in the little machine where you could get any type of coffee any time of the day, it was instant espresso powder, not real espresso. There were plenty of fresh vegetables available in cities along the way, so why they chose to use frozen ones is a mystery. I happen to like eggplant. Its also almost a staple in the regional diet, yet not once did it arrive at the table fully cooked. Raw, or undercooked eggplant is not particularly good.

Internet access was a huge problem. We needed to have contact because of business concerns at home. Some people didn't need it at all. The cruise from Amsterdam to Vienna had wondeful internet access. However, from Vienna to Bucharest it was spotty at best. This was frustrating because one paid for a plan and access and rarely got it. If Avalon had offered it free on this leg because of reception problems, then no complaints. But to pay for a service one doesn't get is not good. Nor did they offer to refund the charge. We found that on shore the local McDonalds always had good and free WiFi serive. But who wants to spend precious shore time sitting in a McDonalds?

The Imagery was build in 2007 I believe. Its unfortunate that the public rooms have restricted views. The dining room had no windows facing the upcoming river, and the lounge which was located right over it, also had somewhat restricted views. At one point we tied up to a Viking ship, the Primadona. It was slightly older. The dining room faced the upcoming river with huge views of what was coming. The lounge was in the back of the ship so you could see the river behind you. It had huge windows for the view. The staff, however was not that professionally dressed, and in checking their menu, it looked as boring as ours. We heard that because of financial difficulties due to the economy, they had cut prices and offered "deals" to get more passengers, and this had affected quality. I don't know if that is true or not. The ship was slightly older and seemed a bit larger. From what we could see you had a mini balcony you could go out on. The Avalon ship had floor to ceiling sliding doors, but no baloncies.

If you are new to cruising you should figure in the expense of tipping. For each bus tour, included in the price of the cruise or extra, one tips the guide and the driver. Avalon asks that you tip the cruise director 3 Euro a day per passenger.....and believe me he earns it. And 12 Euro a day per passenger to be divided up among all the staff. Optional excursions can be up to 50 Euro a person each.

Over all, I personally would not do another river cruise. I didn't like having only one restaurant on the ship and one seating for dinner. That got to be boring. I prefer ocean cruises on small ships like the Oceana vessels where there are more choices of restaurants and dining times. I do think Avalon staff was fabulous. Patient, smiling, professional and very good at what they did. If you are going to chose this part of the Danube, be sure and know what you are going to see. Its not picture perfect like the first part of the cruise. I enjoyed what we saw, but many on our cruise were shocked and surprised......altho the history lesson of what wars can do to modern countries was sobering to us all.

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