In October 2022, Alka – part of our Sales team in New Zealand – travelled to Europe for her first Avalon river cruise on the Active & Discovery on the Danube from Croatia to the Black Sea itinerary.
Before I embarked on my very first river cruise, I had heard so much about how wonderful this travel style and experience is. I had never been on any river cruise during my travel career, so was very excited for this journey. I can tell you that it did not disappoint and was even better than I expected!
Travelling the world and experiencing destinations, cultures, sights, smells, food, people and languages is a passion that I love to indulge in. I have travelled by train, plane, automobiles and ocean cruises however, I have to say, river cruising is one of the travel styles that I enjoy the most.
My Itinerary – another first – through Eastern Europe
I had not been to this part of the world, so what better way to see the unknown than onboard a river cruise? This itinerary was 10 days and sailed from Zagreb to Bucharest. I spent the first few days exploring Zagreb (highly recommend having pre- and post-accommodation with your river cruise) before making our way on a coach to Osjik to board our ship, the Avalon Passion.
Eastern Europe is certainly full of history with many battles and wars for land and power. Our itinerary took us through Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and each had its differences. The whole area was influenced by the Roman, Ottoman and Hungarian cultures. There was definitely a post-communism and cold war feeling, and some parts were industrial but fascinating. For example, Bucharest was certainly a cosmopolitan city with all the trimmings of nightlife, restaurants, rooftop bars, designer stores and they even have their own version of the Arc de Triomphe. After all, Bucharest is known as the Paris of the East!
Service with a smile
From the moment we boarded, staff were there to make us feel so welcome, comfortable and at home. As the Avalon motto goes “happiness flows”, and the staff embody all that there is to make us happy. From waiting outside your cabin to clean your rooms morning and evening and the amazing barman waiting to serve your favourite wine or cocktail, to the reception staff who are there to help day and night and staff managing the dining venues who ensure your glass was never empty! One must make special mention of Vlad, our Cruise Director. He was there for all of us from start to finish, always on hand to assist with land excursions, issues or special requests. He was so patient and never got flustered.
Feel at home in style
Avalon truly embodies the feeling of luxury, yet never being pretentious and ensuring you can be yourself, feel relaxed and at home in style. Do as much as you want or as little as you want. I was able to be casual during the day, yet I could dress up a little at night. It was all up to me! The ships are well appointed with plenty of space, a modern, simplistic, yet sophisticated, design, and have less people onboard compared to ocean cruises. You can mix and mingle with fellow travellers, or enjoy some quiet time in your room, the Club Lounge or the Sky Deck.
A room with a view and my happy place
What can I say? The beds face the view with your Open-Air Balcony that opens right up to give you the best scenery in town. You can hear the river when sailing with fresh air blowing into your cabin while sipping on a glass of champagne. I loved that I could lie back on my bed and see the view outside. This was my happy place to unwind and enjoy the sights. My cabin also had so much space with a sitting area, wardrobe to unpack and a large bathroom with beautiful L’Occitane amenities. It really became my home away from home.
The food – sensational!
Let’s just say, you never go hungry! The quality of the food was of such a high standard, catering for all dietary requirements. There are several dining venues for whatever you fancy on the day: the main dining room serving 5-course à la carte meals, the Panorama Bistro offering a lighter option, morning breakfast in your room, or a BBQ at the Sky Grill. The cuisine was exceptional, and the menu changed often to fit with the region you are sailing through.
Exploring with choice and freedom
Having never been to Eastern Europe, I was excited to get a feel of what it was like, the people, sights, history and culture. What I really loved about the guided excursions is learning from our local guides who are a wealth of knowledge and give you an in-depth commentary. Often when I explore on my own, I never really get to hear all the stories of a bygone era, political views, how people live, the economy and so much more. This part of the world is so rich in history with its wars, communism, the poor versus the rich, and leaders that engaged in opulence and dictatorship.
The highlights for me were:
- Sailing through the Iron Gates
- Seeing the gorgeous castles and forts along the river
- Visiting an excavated village
- Seeing how each town or city was so vastly different from the other (like thriving Zagreb and Bucharest, to the small villages of Lepenski Vir and Vidin)
One of the great things about Avalon is that they never expect you to do all the included excursions so you can choose to have a day exploring on your own or enjoying being onboard the ship.
I would also like to mention our Adventure Host, Fidel. Every cruise has an Adventure Host that provides exercise classes in the morning, bike rides, walking tours and can assist in organising bikes, binoculars and walking sticks. I especially enjoyed the stretching classes each morning while onboard.
Why did I love my Avalon river cruise so much?
For so many reasons! I was relaxed, travelled in luxury, enjoyed good company, great food, fantastic service, loved the staff onboard and my Panorama Suite, and got to experience a diverse and interesting destination. I unpacked once and felt spoilt and special. I was not rushed, could do what I wanted, had ample free time, sailed through amazing sights and scenery and knew what I was getting from my accommodation, the ship as my transport, included sightseeing, meals, drinks, exercise classes, entertainment and much more. I knew exactly what I was paying for and would do it again in a heartbeat.
Go on and try river cruising, it is a complete holiday! Take a look at our full range of river cruises here.