You know a travel experience is great when a week later you are saying, “we should be at happy hour overlooking the Budapest Parliament now,” or “aw, right now I’d be doing morning yoga on the ship and then having coffee overlooking the river.”
On our Avalon Waterways Danube River Cruise, the memories still very much linger on!
I miss the ease and effortlessness of our Avalon Danube River cruise. For parents, having every day (and meal) planned out for you is a dream, especially when it also involves taking care of your kids. It allows you to completely unwind, reconnect to what matters, and have fun.
I’m an independent woman for sure, but sometimes independent women just need to be taken care of, in a way that includes four course fine dining meals paired with outstanding wine; scenic sails; and tours through historical cities and vineyards.
Without a doubt, you are taken care of on Avalon Waterways, in a way that makes you feel like you’re part of a family.
We sailed for eight days on the Danube River from Vilshofen, Germany to Budapest, Hungary passing through Austria on the way.
We partnered with Avalon Waterways to experience what a river cruise experience as a family would be like, and in this guide we share our honest review of the experience. As always, our thoughts and experiences are all our own!
In this post, we’ll share the experience on the river cruise ship and what you can expect from a Danube River Cruise with Avalon Waterways. In the next post, we’ll break down the itinerary so you can see the fantastic stops and experiences we had at each port.
And, we’ve also written a post with lots of insights on what this European river cruise was like for families, so check that out too!
- About Avalon Waterways
- Avalon Waterways Green Practices
- Things to Love about an Avalon Waterways Danube Cruise
- 1. Suites with Panoramic Views
- 2. Outstanding Food on an Avalon River Cruise
- 3. Spacious Sky Deck with Hot Tub
- 4. The Stunning Scenic Sails on the Danube River
- 5. On Board Activities, Amenities and Entertainment
- 6. The Flexibility and Diversity of Avalon Excursions
- 7. Complimentary Wi-Fi
- 8. Exceptional Service from Avalon Crew
- 9. Three – Four Countries in a Week
- What Other Passengers Liked
About Avalon Waterways
Firstly, here’s a little about Avalon Waterways…
They are a luxury river cruise line are owned by Globus Travel, who we have previously partnered with on the following tours: Ireland, Jordan, and Northern California. We love the brand and their product and quality of customer care, which is why we keep working with them!
One of the best things to love about Avalon Waterways is they have smaller ships. This means less people, more space, bigger and better rooms (see below), and more opportunities to speak to many of the other passengers and crew.
A few stats: Our Avalon Visionary ship was 361 ft in length, has 52 suites, and 12 staterooms.
They have a wide variety of river cruises in Europe of various lengths and styles sailing down some of Europe’s most scenic and interesting rivers.
We joined the 8 Day Legendary Danube Cruise which typically goes from Nuremberg, Germany to Budapest, Hungary.
However, unfortunately on this cruise, the Danube River was unusually low (hello climate change!) This meant the ship could not get into Nuremberg. So, we left from Vilshofen just south of Nuremberg.
Avalon were excellent about this unexpected itinerary change, compensating everyone by offering opportunity to take the optional excursion to Salzburg or Czech Republic at no additional cost and giving everybody 30 Euro to spend in Regensburg.
I don’t feel like I missed out with these changes, we instead got to do a little bit more in compensation for it. Making sure you’re happy is something I’ve seen time and time again with Globus tours.
While we chose to do a Danube River Cruise this time around with Avalon Waterways, you can also find river cruises on some of the world’s most famous rivers.
They offer cruises in Asia, such as Siem Reap in Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam along the Mekong River or sailing down the Ganges in India.
In Africa, you can sail down the Nile River in Egypt or even meander down the Amazon in Peru, South America.
In Europe, they sail down the largest rivers in the continent, such as the Seine, Rhone and Rhine Rivers. So even if you don’t fancy the Danube, you can find a river cruise all over the world with Avalon Waterways.
But before we dive into what there is to love about your experiences on board the ship, I want to first recognize an important thing about Avalon.
Avalon Waterways Green Practices
We love it when we find companies who make an effort to offer eco-tourism practices. So, let’s give a round of applause for Avalon’s sustainability practices.
Here are some ways that Avalon Waterways helps to offer a more sustainable travel experience…
- In every room, you get two glass bottles of water that are regularly topped up during the day. (They were very elegant too, like scotch bottles!) There are Be Well water refilling stations on the ship that also have vitamin infused water.
- It’s encouraged to have your own refillable water bottles, as Avalon does not use single use plastic! Don’t worry if you don’t have your own – or it breaks like mine did – they have stainless steel water bottles they will give to you!
- Avalon also communicates the most important information via the AvalonGo App, the TVs in your room, the cruise director on the mic, or with a printed itinerary on the desk. This has helped reduce paper waste by 95%.
- They support locally produced food and beverages, reducing food miles and supporting local economies.
- Avalon’s entire fleet of ships has received the Green Award for meeting the high safety and environmental standards.
- LED lighting is installed throughout the ship, and they purchase shore power while docked so they can turn off generators and reduce further emissions.
Things to Love about an Avalon Waterways Danube Cruise
Admittedly, this is the only European river cruise we’ve experienced so far. But we paid careful attention as to how other passengers were enjoying the cruise and their comments, and observed many other cruise companies along the river to compare.
Avalon has set the bar very high for us in terms of a high-quality river cruise experience in Europe.
1. Suites with Panoramic Views
What’s not to love about the wall to-wall, floor-to-ceiling panoramic sliding glass doors of your suite?
This Open-Air balcony is unique to Avalon and a highlight of this river cruising experience. It’s seven feet wider than other cruise ship balconies and brings you right up to the water’s edge.
The suite is also unique as the beds face the river view – most other cruise ships face the wall. Note, these open–air balconies and wall-to-wall panoramic windows are in all Panorama Suites.
I especially loved how you could not see your neighbor, unless you were both hanging out the wall to wall panoramic window. Looking at other river cruises go by; they had small balconies to sit on and their neighbors were easy to see. It just didn’t look private, elegant, or dramatic.
We loved having the doors open for that inside outside feel, especially when sleeping at night for the cool air. Don’t worry about messing up the AC, it automatically switches off when you open the door (another green practice check!)
What a treat waking up and watching the Budapest skyline go past while lying in bed.
Not only did you get these sweeping views outside the window, but the way the room was designed meant that your views extended beyond into the full-length mirrors on the side of the cabin.
So, if you wanted to work at the desk and turn your back on the view, you’d still see it through the mirrors in front of you, how cool!
We also had a small sitting area to enjoy the view with our coffees, with in-room breakfast or while working. Your sitting-area table is adjustable so you can set the height to your exact comfort level.
There’s also a TV in the room with box office on demand and boombox sound…which we did not use once as there were far too many other great things to do.
We all agreed that the Comfort Collection beds were extremely comfortable. They have four levels of mattress firmness – very soft, soft, firm or very firm, which you can request before arrival – and a soft pillow to go with it.
Savannah rejected my attempts to pull her into early morning yoga on several occasions because she was too comfortable in bed sleeping!
All these incredible features and open-air views do not compromise space – rooms are 30% larger than industry standard.
After three weeks living out of our suitcases in hotels and moving every three days around Italy and France, it was a dream to unpack all our belongings once and have plenty of closet space for them. We even had space for all our tech equipment in the office drawers. And there was plenty of space under the bed to hide our suitcases!
I could even unpack all my toiletries in the surprisingly spacious private bathroom. It was quite an elegant bathroom with marble countertops, glass-enclosed showers, and plush towels.
The provided toiletries smelled like heaven, which was one of the first things the girls commented on – they loved washing their hair with the French L’Occitane products. Rooms also come with fluffy robes and slippers, which are perfect for making the early morning dash to the back Club lounge for coffee to take back to the room (For the girls it was endless hot chocolates!)
- If you have your sliding doors open a lot – which we did – you’ll want to be careful of your possessions. One knock could send them tumbling into the water. No big deal just don’t put electronics in precarious positions!
- You may not want to sleep with your door open if your room is facing port. I’m sure the risk is very low, but someone could climb on in, although challenging as it’s still not right up to the land’s edge. We had ours open, but we made the kids close theirs.
- Unless the curtains are drawn, you may not want to walk around naked, you will be seen. I’ll never forget the “scenic” view I had one night at dinner, when a fellow Avalon ship sailed past right when a man walked up to his window sans clothes.
- Sometimes your room view may be blocked when docked in port. They sometimes have to double park the ships. This only happened once for our room, but twice for the girls. It’s still worth getting one of these rooms. We loved sailing into Budapest in the morning and watching the skyline appear from our comfy bed!
- For lower budgets, there are staterooms on the lower floor of the ship, that have windows above the water level. Good news is, you get incredible views from all other floors on the ship, so you can spend more time there than in your room!
2. Outstanding Food on an Avalon River Cruise
There is nothing worse than being on a vacation, researching endlessly to find a quality restaurant that fits your budget and suits all tastes and dietary considerations in the family, only to finish the meal in distaste because the food was terrible, the service poor, and you wasted your money!
This is what I loved about the dining experiences on Avalon. You knew without a doubt each meal and snack would be great. It competed fiercely with Italy for some of the best food on our European trip, it was definitely more diverse!
I nearly cried on our first day back home to reality when I walked into the kitchen to prepare dinner.
My sausages and mash just does not live up to the Avalon standard of four course, fine dining, quality food matched by superb local wine – and my service is no match for the friendly and funny servers we had every evening in the dining room.
Once you check in, put your wallet away as all meals are included for your entire river cruise. What does that mean exactly?
Breakfast + lunch + afternoon tea + happy hour + dinner + all-day snack + coffee bar. You will NEVER go hungry on an Avalon Waterways cruise.
I was more than happy to walk off the ship a couple of pounds heavier. But, if I walked off an ocean cruise after 8 days, I would be way heavier.
The food on the Avalon river cruise (and Europe in general) was healthy and clean mostly made with produce coming from local farms. So, enjoy yourself, as Julian our server said, “You’re on holiday, let go and eat more!”
There are plenty of active things to do while on the cruise. (I shredded the extra pounds really quick.)
Regional Food & Wine
I’m sure, like me, you love experiencing local food and wine when you travel. I was worried about missing this by eating each day on the ship.
But I didn’t need to because they have a wide selection of regional dishes on the menu each day for you to choose from.
Each dinner course has about 4 selections – to suit all tastes and diets – some will be regional, some will be Avalon specialties, and some will be regular appearances like steak and grilled chicken for those with plainer taste buds.
The wines also change every evening, so you’re always tasting something new with your meal, and they are mostly from the region that you are traveling through.
I LOVED drinking only clean European wines with no California wines to be seen! I don’t even drink them in the US; I’d be horrified to see them on a Europe river cruise.
Another comforting and positive aspect of the food on our Avalon river cruise is that I knew every meal coming to me would be gluten-free.
If you have dietary issues, you will be looked after too, including vegan and vegetarian. There is a meeting with the chef when you first board to let them know of your specific requirements, and all staff are informed.
My evening servers let me know how to adapt any meals that weren’t specifically noted as gluten-free (everything is labeled).
During afternoon tea and our welcome and goodbye cocktails, they delivered gluten-free hors d’oeuvres and desserts without me having to ask.
Usually, I’m treated with disdain or annoyance so to be cared for like this was heartwarming. To be able to eat this well as a gluten-free person as well is something I’ll remember. I am very grateful to the chef and his team.
Happy Hour and Afternoon Tea
New on Avalon river cruises in 2023 is complimentary Happy Hour! Every afternoon about an hour before dinner, guests flock to the panorama lounge for selected cocktails, beer, and wine to enjoy with views and conversations. It was a great way for us to interact with other passengers, who were so nice and covered a wide range of ages and nationalities.
I tried a couple of different cocktails, but mostly I could not go past the margarita – it was so well made with fresh lime juice. Craig also enjoyed his Old Fashioned.
Kids can also get mocktails. The girls always appeared from their free time (usually enjoying their space in their own room) for their Fruit Punch and Avalon Fizz.
The other daily event our girls ensured they did not miss was afternoon tea. Again, in the panorama lounge was a large selection of cakes, sandwiches and yummy sweets. The girls would pile their plates with black forest cake, cheesecake, chocolate mousse, and macarons – perfect after a day of exploring.
How can you beat a cruise that moves from afternoon tea, to happy hour, to a fine dining evening?
Flex Dining Options
Avalon has FlexDining on the ship giving guests the option to choose where they eat.
We could not resist the restaurant every night as we loved the elegance of a four course, fine dining meal paired with exceptional wine and service. The servers made us laugh so much and we enjoyed their company.
The restaurant had wide windows and was also at level with the water, so we loved those evening dinner views.
Other cruising friends we made enjoyed having dinner in the Panorama Bistro where they had small sampling plates of the meals we had downstairs.
Lunch was usually more buffet style casual in the Panorama lounge. On some days when the weather and views were fantastic, the chefs prepared us a wonderful BBQ lunch on the SkyDeck.
For breakfast, there is a buffet in the restaurant with any breakfast food you can imagine from baked beans, to pancakes, omelets, sausages, cereal, yogurt and even vegemite! You can get sparkling wine also if you’re in the mood.
Or, there are options you can order from a menu like Belgian waffles or eggs benedict.
And of course, you can have breakfast in bed. It’s a simpler continental breakfast perfect for a desired lazier morning.
The panorama and club lounge have an all-day espresso machine and hot chocolate. And the club lounge has 24-hour snacks like mixed nuts, cookies, and cakes of the day. Yep, our girls did multiple midnight raids of this, they loved having their own room and the independence to roam around. We felt completely safe letting them do that.
3. Spacious Sky Deck with Hot Tub
There are no swimming pools on a European river cruise, but there is a hot tub with an expansive view!
We enjoyed sitting in there on an afternoon sail, and intended to get in there in the evening but were distracted by the evening entertainment.
The SkyDeck has ample space for you to sit and relax with loungers, tables and chairs under canopies, comfy couches up front for uninterrupted 180-degree sailing views.
There is also a giant checkers/ draughts game that we enjoyed playing, and it’s the perfect spot for a cornhole competition that our Adventure host ran on one of our afternoon sails.
Want a drink up there? Of course, you can. We loved sitting on the Sky Deck during Happy Hour. Staff will deliver your drinks to you as they don’t want you walking up and down stairs without your hands free. Safety is paramount for them!
There is also an elevator on board the ship if you don’t want to use the stairs.
Savannah even took herself up to the Skydeck one morning at 5am to watch the sunrise over Budapest!
4. The Stunning Scenic Sails on the Danube River
You’re river cruising in Europe, of course you want to experience a scenic sail. Most of the sailing is done overnight but there were two times on this Danube River cruise that we had a scenic sail.
Avalon designs the itinerary that way so you don’t miss it.
Our scenic sails were from Passau to Linz and from Melk through the picturesque Wachau Valley to Vienna. It was incredible sailing through this gorge and seeing the little villages on the edge of the river that looked like colorful paintings.
On our scenic sails, our cruise director, Csaba gave commentary, so we knew what we were looking at.
And one time, he had us all lined up at the edge of the boat to throw coins at a statue on a small island as we came out of a lock for good luck! It was loads of fun and only one of us on the ship hit the target for luck.
I loved how the smaller nature of the river cruise gave us the opportunity to do things like this as if we became a group of friends, not just separate passengers.
I know on massive ocean cruisers with thousands of people they have big sail away parties and dancing entertainment, but it’s hard to connect with others when you’re doing it with 3,000 strangers. When there are 56 of you, it’s far easier to feel part of a family.
During the lull parts of the scenic sails we played games like giant draughts, or a corn hole tournament with the rest of the cruisers.
Don’t miss the opportunities during the sailing (at all times) to watch the ship go through the locks. We went through 12 of them, two of them were double locks, meaning two ships going through at once.
It was amazing how fascinated we all were with the locks. Just be warned, it does take 20-45 minutes, so you don’t leave your dessert on the table to rush to the first one!
5. On Board Activities, Amenities and Entertainment
As mentioned, on the Skydeck were games like giant checkers, draughts and cornhole, and a whirlpool.
The ship also had board games and shelves full of reading books in the Club lounge. There’s a fitness center and an Adventure Host holding morning yoga classes, which I really enjoyed attending.
There are also bikes you can take out at any time to explore on land if you enjoy cycling. We also had fantastic evening entertainment:
An English Broadway singer who once performed as Fontaine in Les Mis and Eva Peron in the West End London, not only sang beautifully, but was also hilarious. Savannah LOVED this show and bought her CD and had a photo with her.
Another evening we had an Australian singer who lives in Austria come onboard to sing a variety of songs we all danced to.
We also had a Slovakian duo play some classical tunes and demonstrating some of their own Slovakian instruments.
And, for our farewell gala evening, we had a fun song and dance party competition, which Savannah ended up winning. It was a wonderful evening of dancing with the other passengers and some of the crew. We may have all had a little too much good wine that evening – except for Savannah of course!
On night one we had a welcome sail away reception with a champagne toast and hors d’oeuvres, a safety briefing by the captain, and a welcome speech by the cruise director. There was also a similar gathering for our farewell.
I loved how both acknowledged and celebrated all of the crew on board the ship. They were introduced, paraded through the room, and applauded. Not only did this help me appreciate the staff more and feel like I was part of a bigger family, but it was another sign of why we align with a company like Avalon Waterways.
6. The Flexibility and Diversity of Avalon Excursions
I love how the focus on river cruising is more on exploring the destinations than being stuck at sea – in this case, at river – for days.
You don’t need a lot of bells and whistles on board because multiple destinations await. I mean, this is the purpose of traveling in Europe, right? To see Europe!
On ocean cruises, most of the excursions are for an extra (expensive price) and can often be booked out. Then you’re left to your own devices with a short time limit to get the tender back to the ship moored out in the harbor.
With Avalon River cruises, daily excursions on land are included, and no tender needed.
Included Classic and Active Tours
We took a classic historical and history cruise, which meant our included activities were generally guided city tours with some free time after. All of the Avalon tours have true local guides – those either born there or lived a long time and have a passion for sharing the legends and stories behind the sites.
They also had optional active tours, offering you an alternative way to explore the destination. It was usually a hike or a bike ride. We really enjoyed these unique experiences with our adventure host, Hristo, who made sure he took plenty of photos of us as we hiked to stunning viewpoints or cycled along the river.
What was great about traveling as a family, was we could split up to enjoy whatever tour we liked. Craig and I often did a tour with either Savannah or Kalyra or, sometimes, one of us got to go on our own, while the other took both girls, like when I did a Budapest winery tour, and Craig and the girls did a food tour.
There was loads of flexibility and if the girls were a little older (16+), they could have gone on an excursion without us. It also felt like we got to experinece all of it as we shared our spearate experiences (including photos) when we joined up again on the ship.
It also means we got to experience even more to share with you, and help you choose the best activity for you! (stay tuned for that post!)
Avalon also has popular Active and Discovery cruises with even more activity choices including painting classes, cooking classes, and kayaking tours.
At several of the river cruise destinations, Avalon offers optional excursions that cater to different interests. They do incur an extra fee that’s quite reasonable.
They were fun activities like visiting famous palaces, day excursions to other cities, and food and wine tours.
Do Your Own Thing
You also don’t have to do any of these tours, choosing instead to explore on your own, take out some of the ship’s bikes, or just relax onboard.
You can do this at any time when docked at port, either before or after your excursions on land. On one evening, Craig and I ducked out for a drink in the square in Linz, Austria while the girls hung out in their cabin (their choice).
And it was easy to come and go as you please. You just walk off the ship straight onto land and back again.
The crew can offer helpful suggestions on what to do and the AvalonGo app has street directions, restaurant recommendations, entertainment venues, and local information to help you explore local without getting lost.
Don’t worry about getting left behind by the ship. Avalon has an easy check out and check in system, where you scan your room key every time you leave and come back so they’ll always know whether you’re missing or not.
Stay tuned, we’ll have a separate post sharing the different excursions we did at each stop on the river cruise.
Here’s what to look forward to: historical city tours, wine tasting in Budapest, bike riding in Vienna, hiking in Passau, classical music concerts in Vienna, and delicious food tours.
7. Complimentary Wi-Fi
Although this might not matter to all passengers, it did for us, and our teen daughters! We had traveled two weeks in Europe before this trip without Wi-Fi. It made it quite challenging for us to do our work (we do work and travel) and attend to other important travel related tasks.
It was so handy to have easy access to the internet onboard our cruise.
Avalon also provide Avalon Go Beyond personal hot spots. These are unique as they act as your headset to hear the tour guides amongst the noise and crowds of cities, but they are also a personal wi-fi hot spot meaning you can be connected off the boat as well.
Note: We did not get to experience the hot spot feature of this device due to techincal isses being resolved to ensure adequate guest safety and optimal experince.
8. Exceptional Service from Avalon Crew
I’ve mentioned several times already how great the crew on board our ship were. It makes a difference to sail with people who are kind, friendly, funny, and want you to have a great time. We appreciated their service and the little things like;
- Honoring my gluten insensitivity.
- Keeping an eye out on our girls and their friendliness towards them.
- Making sure we were always well fed and drinks were full.
- Smoothies brought up to us at the end of our yoga class.
- Joking around with us during service and even joining us on some tours.
- Our cruise director, Csaba always making sure the cruise ran smoothly, we were well informed and looked after, and having a good time.
- Saying goodbye and greeting us each time we left the ship and returned.
- Flying the Canadian flag for Canada Independence Day and bringing out a celebratory cake for Canadian passengers at dinner, and then doing the same three days later for USA Independence Day.
- Captain Thijs taking time to talk with the passengers, letting them sit in the sailing deck for views and photos, having a farewell drink with us, and taking us out on a dinghy to a small nearby beach for a swim when we arrived early on day one.
- Taking care of our luggage when we checked in and out.
- Organizing transfers from the airport, and so much more.
9. Three – Four Countries in a Week
There’s nothing like a European trip to increase your country count. Before arriving in Germany for the cruise, we visited France and Italy, which involved multiple plane, train and automobile trips whilst lugging suitcases and backpacks around.
I loved how once we boarded and unpacked; the ship effortlessly sailed us through three European countries. Craig and Savannah actually clocked up four countries as they took a day trip from Linz to Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic (by bus).
And, while we did not cover each port of call in-depth, I feel we saw and did a lot. I enjoyed visiting places I never would have thought to go before and discovering ones I’d like to go back and explore more in-depth, like the Wachau Valley and Vienna.
It also allowed me to visit Budapest – a place I’ve always wanted to go but could never find a way to get there. I feel like two days there was enough, but it did introduce me to Hungarian wine (which I had never heard about before) and now I’m curious to explore more of Hungary and see what lies beyond the Budapest borders.
Our 80day Danube River cruise was a perfect blend of enjoying both journey and destination.
What Other Passengers Liked
We spoke to several other passengers on board Avalon Waterways. We are very positive people – I could be labelled a Pollyanna (unapologetically) and can enjoy any kind of travel experience. so wanted to ensure we had the pulse right that Avalon Waterways was exceptional.
Here are some of their comments that reflect how Avalon could be one of the best river cruises in Europe:
- When I compared to other cruise companies, Avalon offered a much better all-round experience.
- I’ve experienced different river cruising companies before, and Avalon is way up there. Absolutely fantastic experience.
- The guides were exceptional and made the tour.
- The excursions were a lot better and more diverse than other cruise ships we looked at.
- Some other river cruises aren’t all inclusive so when you add in all the extras and compare them, Avalon was much better value.
- We found great deals for Avalon we couldn’t resist.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The only time I heard anything different was mostly about certain tours that didn’t resonate because of preference, or the weather that impacted our day trip to Salzburg. It was a downpour that limited what we could do in our free time. Not much you can do about that!
And everyone raved about the service, the views, the food, the entertainment, and the generosity of complimentary Happy Hour!