I’d always enjoyed my holidays in Austria, but on my Danube river cruise with Avalon Waterways, I think I fell in love with Vienna most of all. I was seduced by the rich architecture and culture of Austria’s capital, for centuries the heart of the Habsburg empire. I lingered in the elegant Viennese coffee shops and browsed the vibrant markets selling everything from flowers to found-in-the-attic antiques.
Our river cruise continued on the Danube with stops at the pretty villages of Durnstein and Grein with its 18th century theatre and castle on the hill. At Melk we visited the magnificent baroque abbey, before ending our mini-cruise at Linz, Austria’s former European city of culture. There was plenty to discover in the scenery and places we visited, but the experience of being on board Avalon Visionary was also most enjoyable.
Since many different river cruise companies offer a similar Danube itinerary, here are some of the reasons you might consider booking your Danube Cruise with Avalon Waterways.
1. Spacious staterooms with river views
I enjoyed staying in a comfortable Panorama Suite with floor to ceiling windows which slid right back to create an open air balcony with my own private river view. Sometimes at more popular destinations there would be another boat moored side by side which meant the view was into someone else’s cabin, in which case you needed to remember to shut your curtains before changing for dinner!
I loved the early morning views most, when the boat had been travelling overnight and I would wake to see the sun burning off the river mist and pretty houses passing by, before we arrived and moored up in time for breakfast. The mattress was super comfortable and was arranged so that you could lie in bed looking out of the window, or sit on the small sofa with a drink on the table to watch the world drift by.
My stateroom was decorated in a burned orange scheme with dark wood furniture and plenty of mirrors over the desk and inside the wardrobe. The decor was quite masculine and although burned orange is not my favourite colour I thought the overall effect was modern and sophisticated. I loved my bathroom with a mottled brown marble surface and large bottles of all my favourite l’Occitane toiletries. The shower enclosure was spacious, with a powerful shower that was a pleasure to use. There were thoughtful touches such as different coloured towels so that you would not get them mixed up with your partner and everything was kept beautifully clean by the cheerful housekeeping staff.
2. Eat local on your cruise
One thing that makes my heart sink, is seeing a menu that is so international that you wouldn’t know which country you are in. Not so on an Avalon cruise where they take a lot of care to design menus that reflect the local cuisine, although of course there are a choice of dishes to suit all tastes. Being in Austria we could have a Weiner Schnitzel and Spätzle at lunch and I tried a desert of Kaiserschmarrn which was made of sweet pancakes with a compote of local plums. In the wine choices at dinner there were also local wines and I chose a delicious white Grüner Veltliner Domäne Wachau, from the Wachau Valley that we were passing through.
Avalon are taking the concept of ‘Eat Local’ a step further, as they introduce their Avalon Fresh concept with an emphasis on healthy cuisine that both reflects and gives back to the local communities. The company sources from local food suppliers where possible, to ensure the freshest of ingredients. To develop the healthy options on the menu, Avalon have been working with Austrian chefs Leo and Karl Wrenkh, whose cookery school we visited, to develop a choice of vegetarian dishes.
At the cookery school we had great fun cooking a range of simple but delicious dishes with head chef Leo Wrenkh including fish and meat dishes, although the Wenkh brothers are known for their inventive vegetarian cuisine. We chopped the veggies, sizzled the steak, pan fried the fish and lemon slices, sprinkled the herbs, stirred the risotto tirelessly and were finally rewarded as we sat down to lunch with all the different dishes to share. The food was so tasty and we were all happy to take the credit for our our efforts, albeit with Leo’s expert guiding hand.
3. Getting Active, Feeling healthy
These days many travellers are looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle balance while on holiday, rather than ending their cruise feeling like a stuffed turkey. On my Danube cruise I was able to try some of the new Active Discovery excursions such as canoeing and cycling which were great fun and a good way to bond with other guests. Cycling in a group, we took the path by the river which curved through pretty villages and vineyards, until the impressive monastery at Melk came into view. After cycling the 30km from Durnstein to Melk I was really looking forward to my dinner that evening and felt I deserved every mouthful!
I also tried a canoe excursion from Durnstein where we were taken up river and then could canoe back to the ship, taking in the beautiful river views of the castle on the cliff and the picturesque village. Any fears of getting wet in an unstable canoe were dispelled as the two canoes were put together with boards, to create a stable arrangement that could take six people, so we could all chat and have fun together.
Our canoe guide accompanied us on a paddleboard and took us to a viewpoint opposite Durnstein to enjoy the views from the opposite bank. There is a small gym on board the ship but personally I prefer to incorporate my exercise into the trip through activities such as walking and cycling, that allow me to see more of the place I’m visiting. Read more about getting active in Austria’s Wachau Valley.
4. Experiences that give a sense of place
One of the joys of river cruising is that you get so much opportunity to see new places and discover their stories. Unlike sea cruises where there is plenty of entertainment to keep you busy on board, on a river cruise the entertainment is found in the places you visit.
Travel experiences that allow you to meet the locals and uncover their customs and traditions are very popular and Avalon is increasingly offering excursions that go beyond the typical walking tour. One of my favourites was a bread making class in which we became bakers for the morning, mixing the dough, allowing it to rest (time for a cup of coffee!), then plaiting and pinching into the traditional Viennese rolls sprinkled with poppy and pumpkin seeds.
The rolls were baked and we proudly bore them back to the ship where they were served to fellow guests for lunch. Other guests on my cruise came back having tried their hand at conducting an orchestra (move over Vienna Philharmonic) and even learned to waltz in the lovely Eschenbach Palace in Vienna where we later enjoyed a concert with opera, ballet and the music of Strauss and Mozart.
5. A relaxed and friendly atmosphere on board
There was a lovely atmosphere on board which started with the helpful and good humoured attitude of the staff. Among the guests there was also a happy holiday mood with plenty of opportunity to make new friends and chat to other guests about the day’s activities. As on other river cruises, the dress code is relaxed and although most guests dressed up a little for dinner, there’s no need to pack your evening gown or tuxedo.
In the dining room there was a free seating arrangement which meant that you could sit at a table with whoever you wished at each meal. At different meals you might sit with your own friends or with other guests who soon became your new best friends. The excursions were also a good way of meeting people as we bonded over the dough kneading in a bread making class or shared a canoe to paddle down the Danube.
6. More is included in the price
When booking any cruise, one thing you need to check is what’s included in the price you pay, since the extras can really add up. That’s fine if you know in advance and have budgeted for it, but not so great when you find yourself stung for unexpected costs.
With Avalon you get a lot included in the price and could probably get away with paying hardly anything above the holiday price if you wanted to. Here’s what’s included;
- Some excursions, such as a guided tour of the places you visit which will be tailored to your activity level with an active group and a gentle walker’s group. Some more active excursions may also be included.
- Excellent quality wines, beers and soft drinks at dinner and soft drinks at lunch. I was pleased to find that from 2017 wine and beer will also be complimentary at lunch as I think for many guests a glass of wine with their lunch is part of the enjoyment of being on holiday.
- Return flights and airport transfers to take you to and from the ship
- A privately chauffeured transfer service to take you to and from the airport within a 100 mile radius.
- Wifi, which as a blogger was most welcome and I found was pretty fast. Even if you’re not travelling with a laptop like me, many travellers these days use tablets and mobiles to browse the internet and keep in touch with loved ones when they travel.
- On board gratuities. I personally prefer this approach as we British can get a bit anxious about when and how much to tip and find it more relaxing knowing that it’s been taken care of and is included in the price.
So what extras will you need to budget for?
- Some specialist excursions, for instance a cookery class or cycling excursion.
- Drinks from the bar before or after dinner.
- Laundry services if required as there are no self-service laundry or ironing facilities on board.
- There was a hairdresser on board where you can also have a manicure.
That’s not a huge amount of extras and depending on how you like to spend your cruise, you could get away without spending much above the holiday price. The item that would probably add most to your bill are the special excursions and to give you an idea of the cost, on my cruise these ranged from around €50-60 per person for a half day or around €70 for a full day excursion.
7. A door to door service
As part of the Avalon Service you get picked up from home (within a 100 mile radius) and transported to and from the airport, which really means the holiday starts when you step out of your front door. As my return flight from Salzburg arrived in the evening it was a real treat to know that I would be met at the airport and taken back to Bristol, so that I could get back the same evening, rather than worrying about public transport or staying somewhere overnight. For me this meant I could also be at my desk the following day as normal and not lose a working day. The service is individual to you, so you won’t have to share with other passengers or be delayed while they are dropped off.
So as you see there are plenty of things to recommend an Avalon river cruise and the Danube cruise is a great choice if you are new to river cruising, since there are so many beautiful places to visit along the river. Most of the guests on board my Danube cruise were couples and groups of friends aged 50+ with quite a few around their 70s and the cruise caters well for the active mature traveller. An Avalon river cruise will appeal to those who want to travel in comfort and luxury, enjoying a rich cultural experience with plenty of opportunities to stay active on their holiday.
Read about more River cruise experiences
Information to plan your cruise
The Avalon Waterways 9 day ‘Active Discovery on the Danube’ cruise from Linz to Budapest (and reverse itinerary) is priced from £2483 per person to include a selection of activities (based on 16 October 2017 departure). Cruise highlights include Linz, Grein, Durnstein, Krems, Vienna, Bratislava, Visegard and Budapest. Discover more on the Avalon Waterways website.
If you require a hotel in Austria at the start or end of your cruise check out my Hotel Booking Page powered by Hotels Combined. If you require any airport parking services, I recommend APH Airport Parking and Hotels, a leading UK provider of airport parking, hotels and airport lounges.
For more information to plan a holiday in Austria, visit the Austria Tourism website
Thanks to Avalon Waterways who hosted Heather for a 4 day taste of the Danube cruise from Austria to Linz.
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