Two weeks ago, Tim and I boarded the Avalon Illumination in Budapest, Hungary to cruise up the Danube River. This is our first experience with river cruising. This itinerary is called Magnificent Europe. It spans 3 rivers and 68 locks over a 14-night cruise. As we boarded the ship, we were efficiently and warmly welcomed on board and settled in.
Our stateroom suite is large with a sitting area and triple sliding doors that open into an in-room balcony. The bathroom is also spacious, for a cruise ship, with all the amenities and high-end bath products.
A river cruise experience is different from both ocean-going cruises and coach/land tours. There are less than 200 passengers on board and it is very easy to get to know your fellow travelers at meals, happy hour or on excursions. On this ship passengers represent at least 5 different countries, so it is a very international mix. You only have to unpack once and then you have your home-base for all your touring.
Today, we are on the Danube/Main/Rhine waterway, which makes it possible to sail from the Black Sea to the North Sea on rivers through a series of locks. Our stops on the Danube included Bratslava, Slovakia, Vienna, Austria, and in Germany: Passau, Regensburg, Nuremberg, and Bamberg. The last three stops have been on the canal.
These stops have shown us the history of the area from Medieval times to present day. A few areas are still figuring out life without the iron curtain, while others, such as Nuremberg are using their WWII history to attract visitors to their town which has been rebuilt after extensive bombing. History is not the only aspect of the journey. We have also learned about the culture and agriculture of the river. We took an optional wine tour outside of Budapest and had a wine tasting of Austrian wine on board ship. As we passed into Germany, we were offered a beer tasting experience. You can not visit this area without trying the large variety of sausage as well.
Life on board ship is very relaxing, as the pastoral countryside slips by on shore there are lounges and decks to sit and chat with other passengers while watching the view or listening to a lecture from a local expert.
All land excursions are optional, but included in the cruise. If you want to stay on the ship and read a book to take a day of rest, you have that option. The food is excellent and has a wide variety to choose from. There are several people on board with special diets restrictions and they have commented that the chef and crew are very accommodating.
Over the next week we will visit ports on the Main and Rhine Rivers and finally end our journey in Amsterdam. You can follow our pictorial journey on my Facebook page as well.