I am two types of traveler: one that wants to go-go-go constantly hopping from one place to the next and one that wants to relax and enjoy my surroundings. I always thought that meant two different kinds of trips.
I'm happy to report I'm wrong.
It turns out river cruising is the answer. I can explore, bike, hike, take a cooking class, or kayak in a foreign country. Or, I can sit back, enjoy the scenery, indulge in the local cuisine, or lounge on the sun deck and watch the world pass by. All of these things can be accomplished on the Avalon Waterways river cruise.
If you're familiar with traditional cruising, then I have to say river cruising, particularly Avalon's Active & Discovery cruising, is very different. I recently boarded the Avalon cruise ship in Budapest and sailed down the Danube to Austria.
If you're worried about whether or not river cruising is for your travel style, check out this post and take the quick quiz to find out!
What Makes Avalon Different?
Many people think that river cruising is for a certain demographic. But as I shared videos on my Instagram story of biking through Budapest, canoeing in the river waters of Visegrad, and even singing karaoke in the lounge, it was clear that this river cruise is for all ages and interests. It’s safe to say there were people on board with way more energy.
Since 2004, Avalon has sailed throughout the world (mostly Europe) and has 16 ships offering suites and very large rooms. Avalon offers “Open-Air Balconies” which means you can open the windows all the way (7 feet!) and turn your whole stateroom into a balcony. Because of this, you have more space in your room. Your bed faces the window and you can enjoy the scenery as you cruise down the river.
Avalon offers “Suite Ships” which means rooms are spacious with ample seating, bathroom, and the space you need to relax and enjoy your vacation. Nearly all the rooms are their Panorama Suites which offer much larger rooms for everyone on board compared to other cruise lines.
Because you're sometimes docked overnight you have the option to take control of your trip and have substantial time to explore on your own. You can use one of the bikes on board to take on the city or village at your own pace. This is a wonderful, and honestly, unheard of opportunity. I'm often asked if you have enough time on a cruise to explore your destination and I say absolutely!
Why Active and Discovery?
Here's where Avalon really excels. Not only were there a myriad of activities and excursions to choose from, you can also pick an excursion based on your activity level. Want an interactive wine experience in a vineyard? Sure! Interested to learn the history with a guided tour in a museum? You got it. Want a more strenuous hike with a scenic view? You can do it.
What I was shocked by was that many of the excursions are included. You have a lot of options to choose from as well as additional activities that are an added cost. However, most of the activities were already included in the price.
I was especially impressed with our tour guides at the various stops. From the passionate “cave person” in Budapest who told me he'd, “rather be underground” to the kind guide at Engelhartszell who wove in stories every step of the way while showing us the tiny town attached to the abbey now run by just a few monks.
While the ship provides a beautiful and convenient setting to travel, I was really impressed with the amount of opportunities to get off the ship and explore on your own. Truly, this is a wonderful way to see the world.
On Board the Ship
On the Avalon cruise ship you have many different areas to hang out and explore. There's simply no bad place to sit. The ship is designed so that no matter where you are, you have a beautiful view outside. The lovely Panorama Restaurant offers seated breakfast, lunch, and dinner with helpful and friendly staff that serve you.
You can also have room service for breakfast and from your window facing bed. I also loved going back to the Club Lounge to play board games or get a coffee 24/7.
The Panorama Lounge offered comfy seating, a bar, a piano player, and even dancing at night. I loved coming here for happy hour and enjoying the scenery as we sailed.
I loved the shaded Sky Deck with plush lounge chairs where we could sit for an occasional grilled lunch with burgers, chicken, and grilled vegetables. Sailing down the Danube, passing the stunning Wachau Valley is the best way to see some of Austria’s most picturesque scenes: brightly colored onion dome churches, rows of steep vineyards, and fluffy green hills for miles!
There are also “Adventure Classes” offered on the Sky Deck like yoga, Pilates, and other exercise activities each morning. You have access to a small gym onboard so you have ample opportunities to get your heart rate up, on or off the ship.
My favorite feature on board had to be my spacious room. Inside you'll find a large, functional bathroom with premium L'Occitane toiletries, a TV offering over 100 different new and classic movies, and the incredible views out the Open-Air Balcony. The bed was exceptionally comfortable and I loved the ample room to to store my belongings.
The Food On Board
You'll find dishes for all types of eaters as well as features of the local cuisine from destinations you're sailing to. Our first night on board we had one of my favorite Hungarian dishes: Lángos! This fried bread is topped with sour cream and cheese and tastes divine.
I was particularly impressed with the soups on board. Delicately flavored to deliciously hearty soups were an option with nearly every meal. From cold soup at breakfast and lunch to warm and flavorful options at dinner – I couldn't get enough!
A choice of wines and beers are served alongside lunch and dinner and you can purchase mixed drinks. In addition, there's a happy hour offered each night before dinner with half priced drinks and signature cocktails.
The Club Lounge is located in the back of the ship and offers cookies and muffins as well as coffee and dangerously delicious hot chocolate. I loved going back there just before bed.
My Itinerary – Active & Discovery on the Danube
Whether I was frolicking the cobblestone streets, tasting Absinthe, or exploring a hidden cave, I was never bored. What I loved the most was not only the variety of excursions, but that so many were included!
Day 1: I flew into Budapest and spent the night in the gorgeous 5-star Hilton Hotel right next to the lovely Fisherman's Bastion. This was a great spot to explore the city on my own.
Day 2: I chose the “Wonders of Budapest” site-seeing tour which took me through some of the top sights in the city via bus. Then we had a private tour and opera show in the lovely Opera house. Our last stop was Central Market Hall. A large produce, fish, and fresh food market selling some of the most traditional items in Hungary.
After the market I had time on my own to explore, enjoy lunch in the city, and admire the beautiful architecture.
Having explored Budapest before, I wasn't sure what else I should see. But Avalon offered a unique cave experience and I jumped at the chance. I explored a part of the intricate caves carved out by the thermal waters responsible for the famous Budapest baths. We had an exceptional guide share his passion of the million-year-old limestone.
That night, we sailed past the beautiful Parliament building on to our next stop: Visegrad.
Day 3: I was up for an adventure, so I went on the “Danube Bend Canoe Adventure” where we paddled downstream starting in Visegrad. It was an exhilarating way to start my day.
After lunch we had a Galley tour of the boat, afternoon tea, and a happy hour. Each night there's a happy hour where alcohol is half off! Remember, wine and beer is included at dinner and lunch.
Day 4: Arriving in one of my favorite cities on earth, I hit the ground running to explore Vienna on my own. I did a bit of shopping, strolling, and toured Hofburg Palace.
Back on the boat, I grabbed a little lunch to fuel up for my tour to learn about the secrets of Absinthe! We visited a family distillery held in the oldest building in Vienna and tried some incredible Absinthe. I learned how it was made, produced, and the right ways to serve it.
I came back to my cool room (it's so nice to have AC on board!) and refreshed before my concert.
One of my favorite excursions of the trip was the incredible Classical music concert held in the glorious and ornate Palais Niederösterreich inside Parliament Hall. Despite being in Vienna many times, this was something I had never done and was one of the highlights of my trip.
Day 5: We stayed overnight in Vienna and still had a whole day to explore this beautiful city. I chose a walking tour of Vienna and learned hidden facts about Vienna, the culture, and even enjoyed delicious Viennese coffee.
We concluded with a tour of one of the most gorgeous museums, the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Not only did I learn more about Vienna's famous art collection, we heard many fascinating stories, such as how one of the art pieces went missing! Don't worry, it was recovered and is on display at the museum.
That night was a blast where I hit the trail and had a beautiful hike with a panoramic view of Vienna and ended with a traditional Heurigen wine tavern for dinner.
Day 6: We ventured to two new to me cities in Austria: Krems and Clam. First, I started with a wine world experience. A unique take on a wine tasting with an immersive adventure through the vineyard where we got to not only taste, but feel, smell, listen, and understand the process that goes into making wine.
We enjoyed a grilled lunch on board the ship and listened as our cruise director pointed out beautiful sights as we sailed down the Danube in the Wachau Valley.
That night we ventured over to Clam to meet the count and explore his very own castle. Lucky for us, we happened upon a rock concert taking place just below the castle! We could hear Foreigner sing “Hot Blooded” as we perused the ancient and detailed rooms.
Day 7: Today's excursion was an educational experience. I visited the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, one of the largest and most brutal work camps from WWII. While this was extremely sad, it was important for me to learn more about the history here.
To lighten up the mood, I ended the night with a tour of Linz. This is the third largest city in Austria and the walking tour included a pub hop as we learned the history of the city while indulging in beer and Aperol Spritz.
Day 8: My last full day on the ship we meandered down the river to the lovely small village of Engelhartszell. Here, I took a tour of the beautiful Abbey and had a tasting of the “Trappist Beer” made by the monks.
That night we had farewell cocktails and a toast to the trip as we sailed back to Linz to make our way home.
Day 9: I had a lovely last breakfast and then took a private coach to the airport to be dropped off directly at departures. I was sad to go but knew I had wonderful memories along the way.
I always enjoy traveling through Europe and seeing new cities, but doing it by boat is such a comfortable and convenient way to see the scenery. You can relax, enjoy, and know that your trip is taken care of.
River cruising is such a great way to see the world and I know I'll be back again and again!