For years, I looked at European river cruising as the province of retirees. Our Avalon Danube River cruise, though, showed us a different side of cruising, one we could easily get down with. Organized as an active cruise, our Avalon Waterways Danube River cruise single-handedly altered our view of what river cruising and river travel should be.
In this post, we share our Avalon Danube River Cruise review based on our experiences aboard the Avalon Impression. This includes an introduction to the concept of river cruising and what to expect on river cruise ships.
More than anything, though, this post highlights what’s different about Avalon and why it’s altered our view of what a river cruise through Europe should be.
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What Are European River Cruises
River cruises are a great way to explore Europe. Cruise passengers embark in one city, cruise up or down a river, and disembark in another city. They can last between a week or 10 days, although some are longer.
Each day, the ship will stop in one or more villages allowing passengers to explore the countries as they cruise. The cruise ship company will plan village tours and excursions, giving passengers the option to do as much or as little as they choose. Most European river cruises explore the Rhine River, the Rhone River, or the Danube River.
Why We Enjoy Cruising
I enjoy this way of traveling in Europe for a few reasons. First, I love the idea of unpacking my bag and moving into my cabin. I don’t like moving from place to place and having to pack and unpack every few days. It’s just a lot more relaxing.
Second, I like the idea of seeing small villages and towns that I wouldn’t find on my own or make a point of visiting. Some of the villages are ones I have never heard of before.
Most of all, it’s just a unique way of travel, one that combines exploration and relaxation – the best of both worlds.
Learn More About Avalon Waterways Here
Wondering what to pack for a cruise? Check out our European River Cruise Packing Guide.
What Is A Danube River Cruise
The Danube River is the second-longest river in Europe. It flows from western Germany and ends up in the Black Sea. It actually passes through a full 10 countries, including Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine.
River cruises, though, tend to focus on traversing Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia. This is some of the most stunning scenery in Europe. The cruises will pass villages, wineries, and mountains, all with a decidedly Germanic-feel.
Our Danube Itinerary
Our Avalon Danube Cruise started in Budapest, Hungary, and ended in Linz, Austria. We passed through Slovakia although we didn’t stop there. We stopped in Danube river cities including Visegrad in Hungary. In Austria, we visited Vienna, Krems, Grein, Engelhartszell, and Linz.
Our cruise took nine days, but the first night we stayed in a hotel in Budapest. Avalon also runs the cruise in reverse, from Linz to Budapest. Sometimes we spent a night in a location and other times we just popped in for a few hours.
Typical Danube Cruise From Budapest To Linz
A typical Danube River cruise from Budapest to Linz will stop in Vienna, but the smaller towns and villages might differ. Avalon attempts whenever possible to find unique places to dock for a few reasons.
First, they want to provide interesting experiences for their passengers. Second, they are always conscious about the effect of the cruise on the local towns. If one town becomes too popular, it will be overrun with passengers. This is not sustainable for the local community, so they might vary their route over time.
Talking with the crew on board, I loved some of the ways the Avalon (and its parent Globus) is really focused on sustainability. This was just one example.
Most Danube River cruises will stop in Budapest, Vienna, and Linz as well as a handful of other towns or villages. Every European river cruise company will include a handful of excursions as part of the cruise.
Normally, this includes walking tours of villages but also might include a winery visit, visits to monasteries and cathedrals, and other cultural points of interest.
Traveling On A River Cruise For Food And Drink
To be honest, this doesn’t really appeal to us. We travel for food and drink, so many of the typical cultural-related excursions just don’t fit our travel style. Mostly, though, we’ve been traveling Europe for 20 years and we live in Europe.
I don’t feel the need to visit every cathedral or museum we see. I like learning about a culture through food and drink. Most Danube River cruise lines just don’t fit our needs.
What Is Active Cruising
There is a trend in the cruising world to create something known as an Active Cruise. Overall, particularly with European river cruise companies, passengers tend to skew older. Some cruise companies are trying to create more active itineraries in order to attract younger passengers.
Avalon Waterways Active & Discovery does just that. Their goal is to create cruise excursions that are exclusive, that allow passengers to discover a destination in a deeper way. They also focus on getting passengers active and that includes opportunities for hiking, cycling, and kayaking. Avalon runs a handful of these cruises in different European destinations each year.
What Is It Like For A Non-Active Traveler On An Active River Cruise
When I first heard “Active & Discovery,” I wondered how we would do with the itinerary and excursions. We don’t generally hike. I really don’t like cycling. We don’t get along well with each other when kayaking and avoid it in order to preserve marital harmony.
Instead of traditional active excursions, we chose those that were more in line with the discovery part of Avalon’s Active & Discovery. This included activities more in line with how we like to travel – on our stomachs. It also helped us to learn something about the local culture in a way that appeals to us.
What Are Active & Discovery Excursions
We reserved enough excursions to keep ourselves active and to make the most of the trip, but not so many that we were exhausted by the end. We wanted downtime as well.
Excursions In Hungary
In Budapest, we took a Retro Tour in old-school Hungarian Trabants, a Communist-era car. The tour included a stop at a ruin bar as well as a visit to the famous Memento Park to check out all of the Communist-era statues.
Before leaving Hungary, we hiked up to a small castle, enjoyed a local liquor called palinka, and watched a Medieval Knights Tournament. We even took turns trying to throw an ax (I did better than Eric).
Excursions In Austria
While in Austria, most of our excursions focused on learning about the local culture through food and drink. This included traditional dishes, wine, beer, and liquor. We spent two nights in Vienna, which gave us a chance to explore the city more.
Avalon set us up on a tour to learn about absinth and other local liquors and schnapps. We hiked through Austrian vineyards and ended the evening with a traditional Heurigen dinner, involving platters of grilled meats and local Austrian wine.
In Krems, we visited an Austrian winery with one of the most unique wine tours we’ve seen. That’s saying something. Together, we’ve been to well over 100 wineries together but this was our first 4-D wine tour experience. We even took a Viennese cooking class where we learned to cook traditional Austrian dishes like schnitzel and apple strudel.
We explored the local pubs in Linz and even met a count. Yes, a real count! During our visit with Count of Clam in the village of Clam they were hosting a concert series. While speaking with the Count and learning about the castle, Foreigner played in the background.
The cruise ended with a final stop in Engelszell, where we visited a Trappist Abbey to try their beer. Trappist beer is only made in 14 monasteries around the world and we visited one of them.
Avalon Waterways prides itself on the number of excursions that they offer each day that are included in the cruise price. That said, some of the excursions we booked cost extra, often in the range of $39-79 per person. It’s best to reserve these excursions ahead of time because often space is limited. There are plenty of options for activities that are included in the cruise price. The offerings are set up as Active, Discovery, or Classic, and there are plenty to choose from.
What’s Different On Avalon River Cruises
This was not our first European river cruise, but it was my favorite ship and cabin. This was not just because of the excursions but because of the ship as well. Overall the ship is very contemporary in decor, which I liked.
Most of the Avalon cabins onboard the Avalon Impression are Panorama Suites. Avalon developed a unique way to maximize cabin space, by eliminating balconies in favor of more space in the cabin. On its face, this sounds like a bad idea. But, what Avalon did was to create wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, which made the whole cabin feel like a balcony.
Considering during our first river cruise we had some bad weather we never once used our balcony. During our Avalon cruise on the Danube, we spent a lot of time actually enjoying our “in room” balcony.
This also meant that we could even enjoy the view from our bed. That’s because the bed actually faced the window, not a boring wall. This was one of my favorite parts of the cruising experience. Relaxing in bed, with a view of the Danube and the countryside in the distance.
What Was The Food Like On Avalon’s Danube Cruise
I was super impressed with the food onboard Avalon’s Impression. Not only did we learn about the local dishes and drinks during our excursions, but the food onboard skewed local at most meals. With some of these dishes we had the “normal” ones in Budapest or Vienna and then ate them on the cruise, and the cruise ship versions were spot on.
When cruising in Hungary, the chef arranged typical Hungarian dishes including goulash, but even lesser-known dishes like hortobágyi palacsinta, a savory, stuffed crepe. They even managed to whip up langos, which is well-known Hungarian street food, often referred to as “Communist pizza.”
See our Budapest Food Guide for more information.
When cruising in Austria, we ate more Austrian and German-influenced dishes. Of course this included schnitzel and all sorts of sausages. It also included Wiener Backhendl, kind of like Austrian fried chicken and various types of noodles and dumplings, my favorite.
See our Austrian Food Guide for more information.
Questions To Ask When Considering A Luxury Danube River Cruise
When looking at Danube River cruise companies, there are a few questions to ask and things to research. Regardless of the number of excursions you choose to take, you will be spending a good amount of time on the boat, so choose wisely.
When looking at luxury river cruises in Europe price is important. If possible, I would invest in a quality ship in order to enjoy your time onboard and ensure great excursions and experiences. The Panorama Suite we had on the Avalon Impression starts around $4500 per person. This included all meals as well as beer and wine during meals. It also included water, coffee, and tea.
Avalon also offers Active & Discovery cruises on the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Mainz and back as well as one the Rhone River in France.
We don’t generally focus on sustainable travel, but what we learned onboard the Avalon Impression was impressive. Guests can choose e-documents over printed ones to avoid paper and plastic use. Everything a guest does Avalon donates to The Ocean Cleanup. They are dedicated to using technology to limit energy use and consumption. There were no plastic straws onboard, which I LOVE seeing. They are also working on using refillable water stations on board for next year. These only scratch the surface!
*This trip is a project managed by iambassador in partnership with Avalon Waterways. As always, Food And Drink Destinations maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. Learn more about Avalon Waterways Active and Discovery Cruises where they help you explore more while cruising.