(Arriving in Budapest sitting on the top deck. A memorable experience.)
It’s been a while since my last post. Looking back at those words, I think some lacked charity. I could have been a little more upbeat, but there you have it.
In the time since, I haven’t felt the motivation to write. I enjoyed the break quite frankly, but now it’s time to clear the cobwebs and resume.
We had a great time on the cruise. We really did!
Two weeks coasting downriver on on a river cruiser was certainly no hardship. Neither was it totally what I expected. Were my preconceptions blown out of the water (um . . . so to speak)? Well, no, not really. I enjoyed the experience though (we had a ball) and would recommend it highly with a couple of qualifications. First the qualifications (that probably say more about me than they do about the cruise experience):
It was undoubtedly elitist, travelling downriver in a cocoon of comfort while the hoi polloi went about their business in the towns and villages along the way. Rather than an opportunity to experience and interact with different cultures, it was more an experience in travel voyeurism where the natives were visible but kept at a safe distance. A kind of travel pornography if you will, but maybe that is going too far. A kinder way to describe the cultural dimension of the cruise might be as a kind of travel Disneyland where the punters float past scene after scene of romantic tableaux hiding paper mache and timber frames and also, incidentally, the reality of life in the communities along the Danube. Shore excursions saw us contained in hermetically sealed bubbles (a.k.a. tour coaches) or in tour groups; obedient little chicks following our guide. At least we weren’t required to wear the funny hats or name badges I saw some poor groups had. It was possible to do your own thing on shore, but mostly we didn’t bother, as we were in holiday mode and it took energy.
(Top: Bratislava. Bottom: Vienna)
Environmentally irresponsible too, for all I know. I don’t have the data on grams of Carbon Dioxide produced per person as I see the more aware (and priggish) tour companies preening about self righteously on their websites. No doubt it was not kind to the planet, all that diesel fuel keeping the lights, kitchen, air con and beer fridges humming 24 hours a day while we sailed blissfully downriver without a care.
So that’s the downside in a nutshell: Not the sort of travel experience we were used to. Too cosseted, too artificial, too . . . comfortable . . . well you get the drift I hope. But that’s not the whole story.
(Cute houses in Lower Hungary)
There was however, a big upside, and it more than compensated. We had a wonderful time just being in the moment. We didn’t have to plan anything, cook anything, buy anything (except drinks, and they were totalled up for payment at the end), walk very far except to our cabin. The meals were silver service and a serious threat to any lifestyle improvements you may have made before boarding. Food, food and more food; all prepared professionally by chefs and mighty hard to refuse.
Lying in bed at night with the curtains open watching the riverbank sliding past in the moonlight and listening to the gentle sound of the hull slicing through water is an experience like no other. No other, that is, unless you fall asleep without closing the curtains and wake in the morning with your ship moored next to a busy wharf with people walking past your floor to ceiling window which is open to the world, or next to another ship where staterooms like yours are a hand span away from your window. It pays to remember to close things up before you drift off to sleep.
(River bank in the morning. It is wonderful to wake up to such as this.)
There was another big upside. Tour coaches and guides notwithstanding, we simply would never have seen anything of countries like Serbia, Croatia and Bulgaria if we hadn’t been on this cruise. I can’t imagine we would ever have turned at at the border to any of them in a hire car. Which saddens me a little, as they are beautiful countries with a lot to offer.
Oh, and the crew were completely professional and attentive. I have never encountered such a group of people who were so focused on service excellence. They did this without being in any way obtrusive. Five stars of approval to them.
So, would I travel with this cruise company again? Absolutely and without hesitation. They do what they do very well. Provided you understand and are seeking the type of holiday experience they provide, you would have to be very hard to please if you didn’t enjoy it.
Cruise company: Avalon Cruises
Ship: Avalon Passion
Cruise: Danube Cruise between Vienna and the Black Sea (14 days).
Quality and Customer Service: 10/10
Holiday Experience: 9/10
(Moored at St George at the mouth of the Danube, looking out to the Black Sea)