St. Louis was my home for more than 40 years and during that time, I used Brentwood Travel for several of my world travels. Even though I now live in Florida, I still received excellent service from Travel Consultant Ashley Curry as I began planning a trip to Europe. In August of 2018, my wife Sue and I embarked on a wonderful 14-day river cruise across Europe from Amsterdam to Budapest aboard the Avalon Waterways ship Illumination.
We flew into Amsterdam and flew home from Budapest. At the Amsterdam airport we were met by the Avalon driver at the huge red and white checkered meeting place in the middle of the airport. Very easy to find the spot! Working with customs in Amsterdam and Budapest was very easy. They looked at our passport, asked us where we were going, stamped our passport and told us to “have a nice vacation”. It took no time at all.
We were immediately driven to our beautiful hotel, the Room Mate. Even though it was five hours before check-in time, they cleaned our room for us and we were settled in by 10:30 AM. Our hotel sat right on the harbor in the very heart of Amsterdam and we were able to walk everywhere we needed to go.
The next day our Avalon Waterways ship was tied up a mere 150 yards from our hotel’s front door. An Avalon representative picked up our luggage in the hotel lobby and when we checked into our room on the ship later that afternoon, there was our luggage already in our stateroom. Great service!
We can’t say enough good things about the crew and staff of the Illumination. They were friendly, fun and very helpful. Dining was always a pleasure because you were treated like royalty by the waiters. We all laughed at all the knives and forks and spoons set before us. I never quite figured our which fork or spoon to use with each course. The waiter was always switching my forks and spoons around because I’d use the wrong one. I should have brushed up on my table manners before I went. Fortunately no one else knew any more than I did. It was fun!
The ship was beautiful, modern, clean as a pin, and comfortable. We loved our nice big room with the queen bed facing the huge wall of windows. We saw dozens of cruise ships on our trip, and I can honestly say that our ship, the Illumination, was one of the most attractive ships on the river.
Life on an Avalon cruise is sightseeing at a laidback pace, and we liked that. No need to ever dress up and everything is casual. The only dress requirement was to wear slacks to dinner instead of shorts. Sue and I each packed a small 24” roll on suitcase, and we had more than enough clothes for the entire cruise. We did send out our laundry twice on the cruise to the ships laundry service, and it came back beautifully hung on hangers.
I had bought a square electric power adapter for our iPhone charger and our electric toothbrush, but it didn’t fit into the round electric outlets on the ship. Not to worry, the ship loaned me the correct adaptor. Furthermore, there were two USB connectors on the light switch next to our bed into which we plugged our iPhones each night to charge. That was unexpected and very convenient.
I love visiting cathedrals and beautiful churches. I have seen cathedrals all over England, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain, but I have never seen anything more beautiful that some of the churches I saw on this cruise. I was blown away. One of my favorite churches was the Alte Kapelle (translates to“old church) in Regensburg, Germany. It was plain on the outside but step inside and we saw this Bavarian Rococo style church built in the 18th century. I really enjoyed getting to hear the organ being played.
We loved sitting at the stern of the ship each afternoon and watch the world go by. Our ship could hold about 150 people but there were only 100 of us on board, so you could always find a nice quiet spot to yourself. The lounge was the spot everyone came to in the late afternoon at happy hour. There we would catch up with our friends and hear from the cruise director what was in store the next day.
We were always kept well informed. Each morning a schedule of the day’s activities was slipped under our door early in the morning, showing us what was in store for that particular day. When we went on a walking tour, the tour guide spoke into a small wireless transmitter, and each of us wore a small receiver with an earphone so we could always clearly hear what our tour guide was saying, even in a crowded space.
People were friendly everywhere we went and everyone spoke English. I had my iPhone translator app and never needed it. Sue accidentally left her purse on her chair in a restaurant, and the waiter chased us down the street to return her purse. We loved the restaurants we ate in. Most menus were in English, but the waiters helped us understand those that had no English translation.
If you are the athletic type, the ship had plenty of bicycles you could borrow to go off on your own if you wished. We had one group of a dozen passengers that biked on a bike path along the river for about 18 miles. The ship only goes about 7 miles per hour, so they could outrun us on their bikes.
The best views were always up on the observation deck sitting in the shade. And what beautiful views they were. I never tired of looking at the scenery. I live in southern Florida where there are no hills at all. This type of vacation is relaxing, unlike some vacations I’ve had that the moment I got home I felt I needed another vacation to rest up on. It’s ok to sit all day and do nothing and go nowhere and just watch the world roll by. One day we did just that and went off the ship on our own into town for an hour and that was just enough. You can be as active or restful as you want to be. You pretty much control your days.
If you go to Vienna, do yourself a favor and include the evening of classical music option Avalon offers. Even if you think you don’t really like classical music, you will enjoy the evening of music and ballet. You must not leave Vienna without having attended a classical concert. We loved it. They gave each of us a CD of the evening’s performance. I’ve listened to it over and over since I got home. Dress was casual, leave the tux at home. I sat there thinking “my daughter Allison used to play this music when she was a violinist in the orchestra in college.”
There was just issue we encountered but it was handled very well. Europe was so hot this summer (record heat) that the river water levels got so low that all ship traffic was halted in places. About four days into our trip we were told we would have to change ships because of low water conditions on the rivers we were to travel. Thanks to some heavy rains in Switzerland on day, we only had to change ships once, but we did spend the last two days of the trip on very nice Mercedes-Benz buses and staying in hotels. Mother nature always has the last word on river travel!
The hotels they arranged for us were five star, fabulous and beautiful. The fact that Avalon is part of the Globus organization explains why we were able to be placed into such nice hotels with a few days notice. They arranged for all our meals and gave us money to have dinner on our own in Budapest. Avalon went above and beyond to keep us comfortable and preserve our trip agendas. I have absolutely no complaints about how Avalon handled this situation of not being on the ship for the entire cruise.
No detail was left to chance. Everything was always perfectly organized. Our busses were on time, guides were always ready, and nothing felt rushed or unorganized. When I do another river cruise, I know I will choose Avalon Waterways.
Contact Ashley at 314-439-5700 Ext. 127 or send her an email to begin planning an amazing river cruise
with Avalon Waterways.
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