In April I experienced my first river cruise from Budapest, Hungry to Bucharest, Romania with Avalon Waterways (say that fast 3 times!). I have to say not only was this one of the most relaxing vacations I have experienced, but the quality of the ship and the service of the staff was simply beyond expectations.
We had arrived 2 nights prior to boarding the ship; to give us a day of exploring Budapest (city tour included) and despite my passport being lost or stolen (full story of 24 hours of hell click here:) we managed to have a great time. Budapest is a beautiful city, like many in Europe it is rich in history and architecture and it has a heartbeat all on it's own that draws me in every time I visit.
We boarded the Avalon Luminary the following afternoon (temporary passport in hand) and were awe struck at the comfort and spaciousness of the ship. This was one of Avalon's 'older' ships; and I though to myself, I can't imagine how to improve this! We met all the staff, had our first "Port Talk" and got a great overview from our Cruise Director, Hendrik who had been with Avalon for over 20 years! Not only was the ship comfortable (oh-my-word: memory foam on the beds), the food incredible but the staff made us feel like part of the family in no time. Add on I was exploring 3 new countries, including where my father was from and I knew this was going to be a spectacular vacation without question.
How do I sum up this cruise in 500 words? Not sure I can but suffice to say exploring Eastern Europe, specifically Hungry, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania via the Danube was an excellent choice. The scenery was far more impressive then I had imagined it to be, and being as most of our ports were right in town we had lots of accessibility to get out and explore on our own. Avalon took us on several excursions, most were included and some optional and each one outdid the previous. They were comfortable coaches taking us to the sites, with local guides that had spectacular knowledge of the history and the area and were able to answer every question we asked.
One of the highlights for me was seeing the famous Dracula's Castle in Transylvania - it was an optional excursion that I simply could not miss out on. It was huge, towering ominously on the outside, admittedly a little less scary on the inside but still an impressive sight. My father was from Romania so my grass roots belonged in this country and oddly enough I did feel at home to a degree. My father is Hungarian by language and culture but due to a whole political history far too long for this blog, he has a Romanian Passport. Suffice to say I could see the cultural similarities and differences in Hungry and Romania, but did feel a bit at home with both.
I chose this vacation because I had not been to Eastern Europe nor had I experienced a River Cruise. The destination was fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable, and the river cruise simply put was ideal. Relaxing, so comfortable, excellent food and the little attention to detail on small things made it such a treat. Turn down service at night, but staff putting Mr. Pickles (my stuffed bull who goes everywhere with me) into bed with chocolate. Always accommodating my dietary concerns, helping me out initially with my passport crisis, and just the constant friendliness and helpfulness of the staff was priceless.
River Cruising in Europe and Asia is very popular right now and I can see why. Wonderful experience full of culture, new sights and the creature comforts of your own spacious stateroom with floor to ceiling windows, and heaps of space to take a quiet moment and enjoy the scenery and life as you sail by.
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