14 Days of Euro River Magic
|Reviewer Rates This Cruise
Avalon Vista Cruise Report July 22 -Aug 5, 2012 Budapest to Amsterdam
by Ken Montgomery - Irvine, California
The purpose of this review is to give details about this particular cruise (Avalon Vista - Budapest to Amsterdam) that are not available from Avalon or anywhere else. Half the fun of a cruise is the preparation & anticipation. The times that the Vista arrives and departs various river ports depends on the times the boat can get into various locks. Also, the various cruise boats coordinate their land visits with each other so they don't all arrive at the main feature of the port at the same time, so access to Tourist sites will also dictate schedule.
Sunday - Day 1- Embarkation In Budapest
We dropped the bags at Intercontinental Hotel between 2 & 3pm. There was a ballroom for our use until the buses were to take us to the boat at 3:45. There were no announcements or briefings prior to boarding the bus for the 5 minute ride to board the boat. You need to check-in at the Avalon desk in the lobby, but you could skip the ballroom experience and just visit the town and meet at the buses on the street at 3:45.
All 140 passengers are welcomed with a short glass of iced tea and shown into the lounge. Once everyone is in the lounge they take groups of people 4 or 6 at a time to Reception for registration. You give them your passport and they give you the cabin cards and a porter shows you to your stateroom. That's it! The luggage arrives in about 30 minutes. You can get your passport back the next day. You give them your credit card later in the cruise.
At 6pm the safety drill is conducted followed by a introduction of the officers and a briefing by the Cruise Director.
One not so great thing about River Cruising is "rafting". There are not enough dock spaces for all the cruise ships in most river ports. So, you'll often find another boat rafted to you and this, of course, wipes out your view for as long as you are rafted.
In Budapest we had a "rafter" next to us the whole time we were in port. So half the staterooms on the Vista, had a great view of the stateroom on the other ship! Oh well, you can always go to the Sun Deck to see the view. All River Cruise boats on the Rhine and Danube do this.
Monday - Day 2 - Budapest - Vista provided a free motor coach tour of the City which included a small amount of walking. It included drive-bys of many famous buildings, squares and monuments. We had 2 stops, one at Freedom Square and one at Castle Hill. The buses were first class and included an audio system so you could hear the tour guide even if you were a few hundred feet away, a great system. We returned to the dock at 11:30.
In the afternoon, Vista offered two excursions for an extra fee. We took the Jewish History in Hungary tour. The tour lasted 3hr 45 minutes, which was 3 hours too long. Skip this tour, it's depressing and boring, lots of walking around the Jewish quarter and looking at old crummy buildings. The Great Synagogue was impressive, the museum was boring and the walk was a waste of time.
At 6:15, we had 30 minutes of Hungarian Folk Music & Dance.
The Vista left Budapest at 7pm on its way to noon docking in Bratislova.
Tuesday Day 3. Woke up to cruising on the Danube. The river banks were mostly forest with an occasional house. Went through one lock in the morning during breakfast.
10 am briefing on optional tours for the rest of the cruise. You have to decide by 1:00pm today about the optional tours you want to take, which is difficult to do without more information. I will write reviews of these optional tours to help you decide ahead of time. One of the tougher decisions is the Linz-Passau optional tours. There are 3 tours that leave at 7:30 am from Linz. After discharging the passengers taking the optional tours, the Vista takes off on a 7 hour sail to Passau with 10-20% of the passengers remaining on board. Those passengers get a 1 hour guided tour of Passau at 4pm. The buses from the 3 optional tours arrive at the boat at 5 pm and the ship takes off. We have decided to stay on the ship and skip the optional tours. I'll let you know how that works out.
1:30pm - Tour of Bratislava Bus/walking. 2.5 hour tour. City highlights including the Castle. Easy Walking tour of old town. The rest of the afternoon is on your own. A very good local entertainment program was provided after dinner in the lounge.
The Vista left Bratislava at 11:45pm.
Wednesday Day 4 Vienna
We docked at 7:30am, some distance from the tourist areas. Our included City tour left at 8:15, returning at 11:45. The guide takes the group through St Stephens Cathedral, then they walk you around pointing out things and then you have about an hour of free time.
After lunch we took the optional Schonbrunn Palace tour, leaving at 1:15, returning at 5:00pm. Photography is allowed on the grounds but not inside the palace. The 45-minute palace tour has very little ventilation, thus it really gets warm inside, people were sweating profusely. Check your jacket at the coat check. There is also a 30-minute Strudel making demonstration where you get a cup of coffee and a slice of strudel.
It rained in the morning, but cleared up in the afternoon. The Vista provides golf umbrellas at Reception which are way better than the small ones we packed.
After an early dinner (6pm vs the normal 7pm), we took the optional concert trip arranged for the various Avalon boats in Vienna. This place also lacks ventilation and it was very warm and stuffy even though the weather outside was cool & wet. (Guys, don't wear a sport coat and long sleeves, a nice golf shirt and slacks is fine). The concert was very good, featuring the music of Strauss and Mozart. The performance was conducted by a 13-piece orchestra with 4 additional dancers and singers for various pieces.
The boat departed for Durnsten at 11:45pm.
Thursday Day 5 Durnstein & Melk
Ship arrived in Durnstein at 7:30am, guided walking your of this small ancient village left at 8:30 lasting an hour. That left us an hour to further explore the town on our own. The boat left the dock at 11:00am for Melk. This is a beautiful stretch of the Danube.
Melk - (day 5 afternoon)
2:45 pm - A very good tour of the Abbey including the most amazing Melk Church. Buses took us up the hill to the Abbey. Most people chose the 20 minute downhill walk thru the town back to the boat.
At 6pm there was a Wauchau Valley wine tasting program with several generous wine samples. The boat left the dock at 7:30pm.
Day 6. Friday Linz to Passau
We arrived in Linz about 7:30am and the 110 people taking the 3 optional tours left the dock at 8:15 and the boat took off as soon as they were gone. About 30 of us stayed on the boat and had a very relaxed day looking at the ever-changing scenery of the Danube. We went thru 3 locks. It was a great day to read, work out and answer your emails. The boat had to skip Passau as the water was too low for docking. We went further up the Danube and picked up the optional tour passengers at 5:30pm. The people on the 3 optional coach tours all had a great day also We left right away for Regensburg, Germany.
Day 7 Saturday Regensburg, GR
Entered the Main Danube canal Arrived at 7:30. Took the optional tour of the Danube Gorge, a 4-hour coach and sightseeing boat with a visit to the Weltonburg Benedictine, another beautiful church. The coach ride was 45 minutes each way.
The Vista provided free guided walking tours of Regansburg in the morning and afternoon. The walking tour takes you to the city's nearby highlights and left free time for going back to the impressive cathedral. Vista gave each passenger a voucher for a snack of sausages, sauerkraut and beer at a restaurant along the Danube. It's too much food for a snack, so sharing a plate works better. The boat left the dock at 5:30 pm on the way to Nuremburg.
Day 8. Sunday Nuremburg
Spent last night and the first half of today cruising the Main-Danube Canal, going up locks until this morning when we started going down locks on the way to a 2pm docking in Nuremburg. In the morning we had an interesting presentation on the Canal, a project completed in 1992 that connects the Danube with the Rhine via series of locks and a manmade trench connecting them. Boat docked at 1pm, not close to town.
Included coach tour left at 2:00pm showed us the sights and left 30 minutes free time. Most stores closed on Sunday. Lots of community action to watch. Back to boat at 5:00pm, ship left at 5:30pm. At 6:00pm there was a free Bavarian beer tasting event on board. Went through lots of locks on the trip to Bamburg.
Day 9 Monday Bamburg
Arrived about 7am, the included tour left at 8:45. Mostly a walking tour with 1 hour free time for shopping. The old town is a little hilly and the pavement is most cobblestones. Busses returned to the boat at 11:15.
Their is good shopping in Bamburg and enough time for it.
The boat left Bamburg at noon and entered the Main River heading downstream towards Wurzburg. We had a lecture in the afternoon about the European Union by a "lock-hopping Professor of History", from Regensburg, who gets on and off river boats at various locks and uses a portable bicycle to move between locks and to get back to his car.
The afternoon cruise on the Main was beautiful.
Day 10 Tuesday Wurzburg
Boat arrived at 7:30. The included tour left at 8:30 am. The first stop was the Wurzburg Palace, called the Residenz. It has the most spectacular rooms. No photography is allowed inside the palace. A short guided walk around the old town and then 45 min free time and you walk 15 min easy back to the boat.
Day 11. Wednesday. Miltenberg
Boat docked at 11am, 5-minute walk to tourist area. At 1:30 the included walking tour took place. The tour was 90 minutes, then you had plenty of time to climb up to the Castle and explore the town. Good shopping for a small town. Back to the boat by 5:45, the boat left the dock at 6:00pm. Beautiful sail down the Main.
Day 12. Thursday Rudesheim am Rhein
Arrived at noon- the included tour left at 12:45, back to the boat by 4:15, boat left the dock at 4:30.
The included tour was a short bus ride to the Museum of Mechanical Music. From there you could take the chair lift up the mountain to a gigantic monument celebrating the 1871 German Unification. The view from the monument is spectacular.
The afternoon sail down the Rhine is loaded with castles. This is the most interesting section of river so far. This is the time for your 200mm telephoto lens. The cruise director narrates this section of river.
Day 13 Friday Cologne
Arrived in the early morning. Included motorcoach tour left at 9:00 am. A short bus ride to the Cologne Cathedral was followed by a 90 min walking tour ending at the Cathedral. You had free time to tour the cathedral and other parts of downtown and a 20 min walk back to the boat. The boat left Cologne at 1 pm, headed for Amsterdam.
Day 14 Saturday Amsterdam
Arrived 7:00 an, included canal tour left at 8:15am. This tour was followed by a Diamond Cutting Tour, concluding at about 11:00am. We walked an interesting 20 minutes back to the boat.
After lunch we rented bicycles right across from where the boat docked (there are several possible docking locations in Amsterdam. The City is designed for bicycles, but it is easy to get lost. Just follow the signs back to "Central Station". They charged €5 for 3 hours, a good deal.
Day 15 Sunday - Disembarkation
You had to be out of your room by 9:00am and off the boat by 10:00am. Half of the boat used a transfer from Avalon and the other half took cabs to the airport. Reception will line up a cab for you at a time certain. You wait in the lobby with your bags and the cab driver comes onto the boat and helps you with the luggage. It cost about €50 plus tip to get to the airport and takes about 20 minutes.
1. There are several 220 outlets in the cabins, so bring your converter and a northern or southern Europe adaptor.
2. Ship & tour departure times are amazingly on time. Timing is dictated by their reservation is the various locks the boat went through. If you miss your lock reservation, you might have to wait 2 or 3 hours for your next chance.
3. The Vista uses audio receivers and ear pieces when you are on a tour organized by Vista, so you can wander away from the tour guide and still here their comments. It seems like all River Boats use this system.
All passengers on this trip were from English speaking countries. On board announcements were made only in English. There were no children on board even though this cruise was in July and August. A child would be really bored. The passengers ranged from 50 to 80, with 65 being the likely median age. More than half the passengers were from Australia & New Zealand and were the nicest people.
Crew - The crew was great and they all worked 16 hour days or more. Even the Captain and 1st officer carried bags and did manual work as well as their own jobs, which they performed very well.
6. The Cruise Director Hendrick Jan Dadema (Netherlands) was outstanding, very organized, he is not trying to sell you things or direct you to a certain jewelry store. He works very hard and is never flustered. He has many funny stories about his 30 years as a tour guide. He has time for everyone and his desk is in the lobby, so you can always find him working on details of the cruise.
7. Laundry - no dry cleaning is available, but 24-hour laundry service is. The costs are typical cruise prices, underwear & t-shirts €1,5; shirts €2,50, socks €1,0.
8. Dress - during the day - shorts and casual shirts - dinner- pants and a quality golf shirt or other respectable shirt. Some guys wore sport coats for the Captain's Welcome Dinner, but not many. With laundry service, you can get by with 4 shirts for evening wear and 2 pair of pants. For day wear, bring several quick dry t- shirts and cargo shorts. Wash the t- shirts in the shower and let them dry. You will sweat thru these shirts daily as most of the old palaces have no ventilation and can be warm and there are big crowds of people. Wear a good pair of walking shoes as the cobblestones are tough on sandals.
Leave the sport coat at home. One long-sleeve dressy shirt is good to have. A jacket is needed at night while on the deck. Use the umbrellas provided by Vista while on your daily tours.
9. Food - the food is very good and it's very well presented. There is free wine with dinner. Breakfast and lunch are buffets, whereas dinner is served and is usually 5 courses. I didn't hear any complaints about the food.
10. Fitness Center - 4 cardio machines and a rack of dumbbell weights. There is a weight bench. The room has a TV and water bottles & towels.
11. Photography - this is great trip for photos, especially inside churches, which are quite ornate and often spectacular Some churches have good lighting, but most need shutter speeds that are below 1/20th unless you really push the ISO. I used a portable 5.5' high tripod where it wasn't too crowded and I had enough time to set up. Usually there was enough of both if you looked for it. A good time for these shots was during the lecture from the tour guide inside the church. 100 mm was about as long a lens as you'll need. You'll need a polarizer filter for bright outdoor shots. and for shooting inside the bus. Don't forget your remote shutter release for use with a tripod. The palaces generally had enough lighting for handheld shooting.
12. Coughing- many people got a cough on thus trip. Many wound up going to a doctor for antibiotics or even hospital stays. The Cruise Director seemed used to handling these cases. If you missed the ship, you just took a cab to the next port or lock (which could be costly).
13. Port or starboard cabin?
We had a port-side cabin and since we traveled mostly northbound, we had afternoon sun shining into the cabin, which really heated up the room. Quite often we had to close the block - out curtains to keep the heat out of the room, which eliminated the beautiful view you paid for. If I had my choice, I would take a starboard-side cabin on the Budapest to Amsterdam cruise and vise versa.
Boat comfort - this was our first river cruise after 9 ocean cruises. It was amazing how comfortable being on the river was. You hardly ever felt any motion, only when you nudged into a lock or dock.
Overall impression - a wonderful experience in all ways, 5 stars. I’m glad we did a 2-week cruise, as the first 7 days went by so fast. The ports are amazing, a great mixture of European capitals with their palaces and splendor and big city action. The small ports offered a great glimpse into the Europe of 1000 years ago. It's amazing how well the old buildings have been preserved and restored.
Irvine, CA, USA