Tag: Waterways

6 Stress-Free Cruises for First-Timers

By MM Travel and Tours in Travel


By: Elissa Garay / Reposted from: www.cntraveler.com

Looking to get your feet wet in the wide world of cruising?
With an overwhelming number of itineraries spanning the seven seas—on
ships of all shapes and sizes—it can be tough to find your niche for a
first-time cruise. Keep the high seas low stress by sticking to one of
these rookie-ready itineraries that are sure to please anyone in search
of their nautical stripes. Whether it’s gliding along European waterways on a sleek riverboat
or a quick jaunt to the Bahamas on a tricked-out mega-ship, when
setting out on these voyages, you can be sure that your first cruise
won’t be your last.

1. “A Taste of the Danube” River Cruise on Avalon Waterways

European rivers are the perfect place to the test the waters for would-be cruisers, thanks to calm waterways (no bouts of seasickness
to contend with here), intimate ships (rarely carrying more than 200
passengers), and port-intensive itineraries that showcase the best of
Europe’s cultural and historical attractions. While most river voyages
run a week or longer in duration, Swiss company Avalon Waterways
caters to first-timers with its series of “Short & Suite” three- to
five-night itineraries, perfect for those tight on time, budget, and/or
tolerance. Their three-night “A Taste of the Danube” offering sails
between cultural heavyweights at Budapest and Vienna, stopping for
excursions in Slovakia (at Bratislava) and Austria (at Melk and
Dürnstein) en route—where you might tour Melk’s 11th century Benedictine
Abbey or bike through the vineyards of Austria’s Wachau Valley.
Sailings in 2020 embark aboard a quartet of the line’s sleek, 128- to
166-passenger “Suite Ships,” known for their signature spacious cabins
that convert to open-air balconies via floor-to-ceiling, sliding-glass
doors—with beds positioned to face the passing landscapes. Sailings in May, July, and September–November 2020; rates from $810 per person; avalonwaterways.com

2. Quickie Bahamas Escape on Royal Caribbean Mega-Ship

The bigger-is-better crowd won’t be disappointed with a Royal Caribbean
sailing, the ultimate mega-ship line (its 26-ship fleet claims the
world’s four largest cruise ships, carrying more than 6,500 passengers
apiece), known for its multigenerational appeal and slate of whiz-bang
features. Give ’em a whirl aboard a beachy Bahamas sampler sailing, with
quickie three- and four-night voyages scheduled year-round aboard the
3,386-passenger Navigator of the Seas from Miami and 3,344-passenger Mariner of the Seas from Orlando (via Port Canaveral). Both runs incorporate a stop at the Bahamian capital at Nassau, gateway to attractions like the Atlantis, Paradise Island resort and the turquoise waters of Cable Beach, as well as at the line’s recently revamped private island
experience Perfect Day at CocoCay, home to North America’s highest
waterslide and the Caribbean’s biggest freshwater pool. Onboard, you’ll
be spoiled for choice of amenities, with dining, entertainment,
nightlife, and pools aplenty, and diversions that span surf simulators,
escape rooms, waterslides, glow-in-the-dark laser tag, and more. Sailings embark year-round; rates from $177 per person; royalcaribbean.com

3. Classic Med Sampler on a Tall Sailing Ship with Windstar

There’s
a reason sailors have been plying the Mediterranean for millennia—there
are incredible places to see and near-perfect at-sea conditions in
which to get there. Today, the trade and conquering mindset of yore may
not factor in, but idyllic ports and a touch of romance are just as
motivating, especially when swooping in below the billowing white sails
of Windstar’s intimate, 342-passenger Wind Surf. The line runs a standout port-intensive itinerary between two of the region’s blockbuster cities—Barcelona and Rome—with
a dreamy mix of yacht- and culture-flooded ports in the French and
Italian Rivieras wedged in between, including Palamos, Sanary-sur-Mer,
Monte Carlo, Cannes, Portofino, and Portoferraio. Bonus: The ship, which
is known on the culinary front for menus that feature creations by
James Beard-associated chefs, as well as its retractable water sports
platform, is in the midst of a facelift this fall, and will emerge in November with upgrades like a brand-new spa and wellness center. Sailings from April through September; rates from $2,699 per person; windstarcruises.com

4. Alaska Sailing with the Experts on Princess Cruises

With
its rugged snowcapped mountains and calving glaciers backdrop, met by
waters teeming with spectacular marine wildlife (where whales and orcas
abound), Alaskan waters are tailor-made to cruising. Discover “the Last Frontier” in expert hands with Princess Cruises,
which has been voyaging to Alaska for more than 50 years. The line
offers the most robust cruising calendar in the region (with eight ships
positioned here for the 2020 sailing season), plus its own railway car
and five wilderness lodges on shore, primed for its customized
land-and-sea “cruisetour” vacations. Their weeklong cruise-only
itinerary aboard Princess’s 3,560-passenger Royal Princess affords an excellent entrée to the best of Alaska, sailing between Anchorage and Vancouver,
and visiting Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan in between, along with a
day of scenic cruising in Glacier Bay National Park. On board, enjoy
Princess’s Alaskan signatures like “Cook My Catch,” where guests can
have the fresh-caught bounty from their salmon and halibut fishing
excursions prepped to their liking, or “Puppies in the Piazza,”
featuring onboard meet-and-greets with Alaskan sled dogs. In port, other
exciting excursions include a Discovery-branded “Deadliest Catch”
crabbing boat ride off the coast of Ketchikan. Sailings from May through September; rates from $669 per person; princess.com

5. Yachting the Caribbean on Seabourn

It’s little wonder that the Caribbean
is the most popular cruising destination in the world. Tropical temps
(a special lure come wintertime), gorgeous beaches, and a laid-back
lifestyle put forth a winsome combination, while the region’s
multi-island geography is conveniently explored aboard a floating home
base. Get there in style with the upscale mega-yachts of Seabourn: Both
their 458-passenger Seabourn Odyssey and Seabourn Sojourn
winter in the region, offering a range of 7-night-plus itineraries. The
shorter weeklong voyages, which start and end within the Caribbean,
sailing between Philipsburg, Saint Maarten, and Bridgetown, Barbados,
rotate featured ports, where excursions might include chef-led outings
in local markets, tours of UNESCO sites (the line is the official cruise
partner of UNESCO World Heritage), or beach BBQs, complete with grilled
lobster—as well as caviar, delivered by Seabourn waiters right into the
surf. Onboard, expect menus backed by top chef Thomas Keller
(paired with included-in-the-rates wines and spirits), a significant
spa space and wellness programming, and a plush, all-suite
configuration. Sailings from November through March; rates from $2,699 per person; seabourn.com

6. Baltic Sea Expedition with Viking

For some first-timers, the best way to enjoy cruising is to dive right in, and see—contrary to a popularly held misconception about the perceived superficiality of sailing—just how comprehensive a cruise vacation can be. Baltic-rooted and destination-focused Viking is most at home in Scandinavia, where its 14-night “Viking Homelands” voyage, aboard a quartet of sister ships (the 930-guest Viking Star, Viking Sky, Viking Sun, and Viking Jupiter, in 2020), delivers a well-rounded and immersive introduction to Scandinavia and its diverse, yet interconnected, Baltic Sea ports. On the eight-country itinerary between Stockholm and Bergen, Norway—where the ship overnights in each bookended port—port calls include Helsinki; Tallinn, Estonia; Gdańsk, Poland; Berlin; Copenhagen; and Alborg, Denmark; as well as an overnight in St. Petersburg, Russia. Plus, some scenic sailing through Norwegian fjords, along with a couple of off-the-path Norwegian stops, for good measure. (Bonus: you’ll get an included-in-the-rates excursion in each and every port). Back on the ship, luxuriate with complimentary perks like high-tea service, access to the LivNordic Spa’s Thermal Suite (complete with a mineral pool, dry/wet saunas, and snow grotto), and regionally inspired cuisine. Sailings from April through September; rates from $5,799 per person; vikingcruises.com

Book your next vacation today through M & M Travel and Tours! (810) 877 1814

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A Danube River cruise with Avalon Waterways

By MM Travel and Tours in Travel

By Keith Jenkins | Posted to VelvetEscape.com

A river cruise is something I previously didn’t consider as a means to travel and explore a place – the idea of being stuck on a ship with hundreds of other people and visiting places fleetingly didn’t sound appealing to me. That changed when I decided to give it a try several years ago. I enjoyed the experience more than I thought I would – the number of passengers was significantly smaller than I thought and there were many excursion options – and I’ve been on a few more since. So, when I was invited to join an eight-day Active & Discovery Danube River cruise with Avalon Waterways from Budapest (Hungary) to Linz (Austria), I didn’t hesitate for a moment. It turned out to be, arguably, the best river cruise I’d ever been on! A bold statement I know but I say this based on my prior experiences and how impressed I am with Avalon Waterways. Read on about my experiences during the cruise, the highlights and what impressed me most. Scroll down and you’ll also find a video which includes a tour of my suite and the ship, and highlights of the cruise.

My Danube River cruise with Avalon Waterways

Avalon Waterways is a luxury cruise company that operates a fleet of 16 river cruise ships, built in the Netherlands, which are based in different parts of the world, though primarily in Europe. I travelled on the Avalon Impression.

The Avalon Impression

These so-called ‘Suite Ships’ feature spacious staterooms with en-suite bathrooms and floor-to-ceiling windows for panoramic views. What I especially liked about the windows is that you can slide them open (almost fully) and the room turns into one big balcony! I also loved how the beds were positioned, facing the window, so I could just lie in bed and enjoy the views.

My suite on board the Avalon Impression. Love how the bed faces the large window.
The bathroom.
Enjoying a beer and the view in Vienna with the window wide open.

I explored the ship right after checking into my suite and found the elegant Panorama Restaurant, the cozy Panorama Lounge and Bar, a small gym and my favourite space: the Club Lounge, located in the back of the ship where guests could sit quietly or play board games while enjoying a soft drink, coffee or hot chocolate with fresh pastries.

The Panorama Lounge with its wall-to-wall panoramic windows.
The elegant Panorama Restaurant.
The Sky Deck had plenty of space for lounging, BBQ lunches, suntanning and there’s even a hot tub!
I also paid the Captain a visit!

Itinerary

The cruise started in Budapest before making its way up the Danube River at a leisurely pace to Vienna, then through the gorgeous Wachau Valley to Linz in Upper Austria.

The majestic Parliament Building in Budapest on the banks of the Danube.

The majestic Parliament Building in Budapest on the banks of the Danube.

We sailed past the beautiful Esztergom Basilica near Budapest.
One of my favourite things about a river cruise is sailing through the locks! My video below contains a time-lapse of the ship rising in a lock. Keep scrolling!
danube river cruise
Sunset over the Danube.
Sailing through the Wachau Valley, we passed many gorgeous towns like Durnstein.
The Wachau Valley is a beautiful region of hills, forests, castles, vineyards and quaint towns.
Linz at dusk.

Excursions

A broad variety of excursions were offered at every stop, most of which were included in the package, and there was quite literally something for everyone. The sporty guests could choose a host of hiking, cycling or canoeing excursions, whilst others could opt for cultural or historical excursions. It was sweltering in Europe that week so I opted for more easy-going outings. Here were some of my favourite excursions:

Retro tour of Budapest in Trabant cars

In Budapest, I went on a retro tour of the city in old Trabant cars, visiting places which still have the atmosphere of the Communist-era in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
The Trabant Retro Bar.
Sitting in a Trabant at the famous Szimpla Bar.

Read about the Farmers Market at Szimpla Bar.

Read about the historic baths of Budapest.

Soviet-era monuments at the Memento Park.

Medieval Knights Tournament in Visegrád

Medieval Knights tournament at the Visegrád castle. This was a fun event, expertly re-enacted by a group of hobbyists. From the castle tower, there were stunning views of the Danube.
The Knights in action.

VIP tour of the Fine Arts Museum in Vienna

The Fine Arts Museum in Vienna is absolutely breathtaking. Our VIP Tour took place before official opening hours which meant we had the whole museum to ourselves!
We had the museum to ourselves!

Cooking class at Andante in Vienna

We had a fun time making Viennese rolls at the Andante cooking class!
The Viennese rolls were delicious!

Visit to the St. Florian Monastery

The 17th century St. Florian Augustine Monastery is a must-see for any fan of Baroque architecture!
The monastery is massive and we could’ve spent a whole day there exploring the grounds and the adjacent village.
The amazing library in the St. Florian monastery.
The impressive Reception Hall in the monastery.
The amazing fresco on the ceiling of the Reception Hall.
Another highlight of the monastery is the church. We were treated to an exclusive organ concert in the church, an unforgettable experience!

Food

The food on board was terrific! The cruise package also includes beer and wine at lunch and dinner, which I thought was a great deal! Furthermore, I thought the drinks prices at the Bar were very reasonable – and those prices are further reduced by half during the daily Happy Hour!

Breakfast and lunch were buffets (with a cooking station) whilst dinners were lavish four-course meals (with choices for starters, soups, main courses and desserts). On certain days, a grill lunch was organised on the Sky Deck.

Delicious roast pork.
Fish with crispy skin.
Some pickings from the buffet for lunch.

One thing I appreciated was that guests were not bound by fixed meal times, and they could choose to have a full meal at the Panorama Restaurant or a simpler option at the Panorama Lounge. In addition, I really liked how the dishes (and wines) reflected the places we visited, allowing the chef to showcase local ingredients, recipes and wines.

What I loved about this Avalon Waterways Danube River cruise

AvalonGo app

Before I embarked on the trip, I downloaded the AvalonGo app on my phone and I was really impressed with its capabilities. The app contained my cruise itinerary, flights, destination information and tips for places to see, restaurants, etc.., as well as (offline) maps.

There’s also a very cool augmented reality function – view a certain street or place through the app and it tells you what you’re looking at!

The AR function in the app is really cool! I pointed my phone at this church and it showed me what it was.

Unrivalled variety of excursion options

I’ve never been on a river cruise that offered this many excursion options. As I said before, there was literally something for everyone! For instance, in Vienna, there was a walking+public transport tour (loved the fact that they used public transport for the tour), cooking classes, a Secret of Absinthe tour, a morning run tour, a bike tour, a guided hike tour, dinner at a wine tavern, a VIP tour of the Fine Arts Museum and more! To top it off, almost all these excursions are included in the cruise package! As you can imagine, it was sometimes hard to choose!

Excursion to the Austrian Wine World Experience in the Wachau Valley, one of the many included excursions.

Good mix of fellow travellers

On my previous river cruise experiences, I was often one of the youngest on the ship and the guests were mainly from North America. On this Active & Discovery Danube River cruise, there were about 120 guests on board and it was a good mix of age groups and different nationalities, which made the trip more interesting. I also met two guests who are avid Velvet Escape readers! I also appreciated the layout of the Panorama Restaurant, which features big tables for groups but also tables for two. This way, if you’re travelling alone or as a couple, you don’t have to mingle with other guests during meals if you don’t want to.

Involving local communities

This is something I’d not seen before. I was very impressed by how Avalon Waterways works with and supports local communities. To start off, local guides were utilised and I noticed that the tour and activity providers were primarily small businesses from the area. The Avalon ship has its own set of bicycles which guests could use freely but the bikes used for tours were always provided by the local tour company. Another example is the Medieval Knights tournament in Visegrád, which is run by a group of hobbyists who strive to preserve the medieval culture in Visegrád. Organising the tournament specially for Avalon guests helps them to keep their hobby and culture alive.

The Medieval Knights are a group of hobbyists who strive to preserve medieval culture and history in Visegrád.

Relaxed pace

Another thing I absolutely enjoyed was the leisurely pace of the cruise. Wherever we docked, there was often plenty of time to go out and venture on my own. In Budapest, I had the entire morning to myself before joining the retro tour in the afternoon, and in Vienna, I booked morning and evening excursions, leaving me with the whole afternoon to stroll around on my own.

Strolling around Vienna.

If you’re keen to explore Vienna on your own, check out my self-guided walking tour of Vienna for river cruise travellers.

The bed!

Oh gosh, the bed! It’s arguably one of the best beds I’ve ever slept in (top-5 for sure)! And it was pretty mind-blowing that I should find it on a river cruise ship! After my first night on board, I discovered that the ‘Comfort Collection Bed’ is specially-made for Avalon Waterways and guests can choose from four different options! I slept very well and it was a joy to lie in bed and watch the scenery pass by!

There are four different options to choose from for the bed!

Dedicated ‘Adventure Host’

In addition to the excursions, guests could also participate in yoga and pilates sessions on the deck, or join the dedicated ‘Adventure Host’ on bike rides, hikes or jogs. He sure kept the guests moving!

Commitment to sustainability

Another thing that really impressed me is Avalon Waterways’ commitment to sustainability. By encouraging guests to use the AvalonGo app (to check itineraries or access maps of places), they’ve reduced paper waste by 80%. In addition, the ships are fuel-efficient and a state-of-the-art sewage recycling system ensures that only clean water is discharged back into the rivers. The toilets have a vacuum system which further reduces water usage. Moreover, single-use plastics will be eliminated across all the ships by 2020. As part of this operation, all guests will be provided with refillable water bottles and there will be water kiosks stationed throughout the ships.

The crew

And finally, the crew! From the Cruise Director to the F&B and housekeeping staff, they were simply fantastic! They made sure the guests felt welcome and taken care of, and after a while they knew each guests preferences in terms of drinks or food. They really made my stay on board special.

The crew were always big on smiles!
One afternoon, I came back to my suite and found this cutie on my bed! A lovely touch from housekeeping! 

If you’re thinking of going on a river cruise, I can definitely recommend Avalon Waterways. In addition to this Danube River cruise, they have many more routes along other major rivers in Europe, like the Rhine, and in Asia and South America. I hope to do one of their Asia cruises one day. Pretty sure that would be amazing too!

Book your next vacation today through M & M Travel and Tours! (810) 877 1814

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River Cruising with Avalon Waterways: First Thoughts About Key Differences

By MM Travel and Tours in Travel


By Matt Long | Published to LandLopers.com

In the last 7-8 years, I’ve been on a number of river cruises not only in Europe, but also in many other parts of the world. My enjoyment with this style of travel isn’t unique either; interest in seeing the world from a smaller and more intimate ship has increased dramatically. I just returned from another one of these fun travel experiences, but sailing with a company that was new to me and on an itinerary that certainly wasn’t average. Since I’m in a position to compare and contrast with other cruise experiences, that’s what I want to do today and, in the process, hopefully share what the experience of sailing with Avalon Waterways on the Danube was really like. This isn’t a full review; that’s still to be published. No, rather I think that given just how many river cruise lines there are, that it’s first important to learn what makes some of them stand out.

What is Avalon Waterways

Founded in 2004, Avalon Waterways regards itself as a relaxed luxury cruise line that operates 16 ships in various parts of the world, but especially in Europe. Their ships are called Suite Ships, which I’ll detail more in another paragraph, but it means that their rooms are larger than the industry average and feature incredible panorama windows. From my own experience, they are a company that doesn’t fear innovation and offer unique experiences that do indeed make them stand out from their competitors. They also have a fierce commitment to the welfare of their crew and staff that, in turn, improves the guest experience in almost every way. Ships also accommodate slightly fewer guests than the industry norm, creating a more intimate and almost private experience. No, Avalon certainly isn’t your average cruise line and I think it’s the experiences off the ship that best prove that.

Active & Discovery

I sailed on the Danube from Budapest to Linz, Austria on one of the company’s Active & Discovery itineraries. Offered several times throughout the year on different rivers and ships, these itineraries are definitely not your average river cruise experience. These cruises are for guests who want to do and not just see and offer a wide variety of included-excursions that enable passengers to be active and fully engaged with the local cultures. As I learned, Active is no understatement and on my cruise guests had plenty of options including: biking in Budapest, hiking through national forests, jogging along the streets of Vienna, just to name a few. This is tempered by the Discovery side, which is very much focused on bringing local cultures to life in any number of ways. For me it meant learning some Hungarian in Budapest, taking a cooking class in Vienna and visiting a Trappist monastery in Austria followed by a beer and cheese tasting. When combined, the Active & Discovery itineraries feature some of the most engaging excursions I’ve ever seen, whether on a river or ocean ship, and nearly all were included at no extra charge. Looking back at it now, the excursions made an already fun experience so much more robust and engaging and it’s a concept I can’t believe more companies haven’t copied.

Cabins

Unless I am in a suite, I am nearly always underwhelmed by cruise ship cabins. They are what they are and over the years I’ve become accustomed to their compact size. Avalon is different though and for the company, it’s one of the major features that sets them apart from others. Onboard their Suite Ships, nearly all rooms are Panorama Suites and feature a much larger room size than the standard cabin on any of their competitors. When I walked in, it didn’t feel like a small river cruise cabin and, for me at least, that was the first test. What drew my eye instantly though were the massive windows, a standard feature in all of their Panorama Suites.

With the widest opening windows in river cruising, these wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows open 11-feet wide and, when combined with the innovative Open-Air Balconies, create an incredible feeling of bringing the outside in. To feature these views, the beds in the cabins actually face the windows, another unique design concept that shockingly hasn’t been copied by rival lines. Beds can be further personalized with a mattress and pillow menu, ideal for picky people like me who want a certain firmness in their beds. All together, these features come together to create a luxurious and infinitely comfortable experience the likes of which I’ve never seen onboard a river cruise ship.

Austria

The Intangible

I usually tell people that no matter their background or inclinations, there is somewhere in the world a cruise for them. I believe that strongly because I’ve been on a fair number of them and understand the different personalities that cruise lines possess and how those personalities greatly impact the travel experience. This was my first time sailing with Avalon and after more than a week with them, I walked away impressed. They feature many special touches I would expect in a luxury experience, but without any stuffiness or rigidity. The cruises aren’t just destination focused, they are guest-focused which, oddly (and sadly) enough is not the industry norm. Every guest was made to feel special, that their unique needs would be met, allowing them to enjoy their trip. Finally, all of these disparate features coalesce for me to create an intangible feeling that I can’t necessarily put into words. Avalon felt like a warm and welcoming space, a ship that would allow me to explore but also have fun. It all just felt right and sometimes in the travel experience, that’s enough.

As I mentioned in the introduction, expect a more comprehensive review of the sailing experience soon. I first though wanted to share not those quotidian details one might find on any river cruise experience, but the special attributes only found onboard an Avalon Suite Ship experience.

Book your next vacation today through M & M Travel and Tours! (810) 877 1814

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6 Incredible (And Active) Experiences Sailing the Danube with Avalon Waterways

By MM Travel and Tours in Travel

By Matt Long | Posted to LandLopers.com

Before my first experience sailing with river cruise company Avalon Waterways, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Intellectually I understood that I was on one of their innovative Active & Discovery itineraries and yes, I even pre-selected my excursions for the trip. But what that means really didn’t hit home until I actually sailed with them. Since this style of cruising is so different from my past river cruising experiences, today I want to devote an entire post to highlighting some of my favorite excursions and, in the process, show what makes Avalon so unique and definitely a lot of fun to experience.

Active & Discovery

I sailed on the Danube from Budapest to Linz, Austria on one of the company’s Active & Discovery itineraries. Offered several times throughout the year on different rivers and ships, these itineraries are definitely not your average river cruise experience. These cruises are for guests who want to do and not just see and offer a wide variety of included-excursions that enable passengers to be active and fully engaged with the local cultures. As I learned, Active is no understatement and on my cruise guests had plenty of options.

Budapest Retro Tour

This optional excursion offered by Avalon was one that I couldn’t wait to experience. The idea of exploring Budapest’s Communist past all while driving around in a vintage Trabant sounded like the perfect mix of active and historical immersion. Picked up in a 80s-era Trabant, our guide spent the afternoon taking us to a variety of different spots around Budapest, all the while sharing not just the history of the Communist era, but his own personal experiences as well. Whether it was touring a ruin bar, enjoying a spritz at the Trabant bar or walking through a grove of Communist-era statues, the afternoon was as educational as it was fun.

Wachau Austria

Wachau Valley Biking

This picturesque region of Austria is famous around the world for any number of reasons, but especially for its wine and the incredible outdoor activities available to visitors. Thousands of miles of hiking and biking trails wind around the hills and small villages that line the Danube, and I couldn’t wait to get out there and experience it all for myself. During our time in the Wachau Valley, Avalon offered any number of included active excursions to help guests enjoy this remarkable part of the world, but right away I knew that biking through the region was my best option. Stopping in Krems, Austria, our group left the Impression and joined our affable guides for a day out and about exploring Austria’s wine country. Throughout the afternoon we stopped at small towns and wine estates, learning more about the history of the region as we got our exercise for the day. I’m by no means an avid biker, but I thought the pace and route were fine and not too taxing. The group spent a little longer in the famous town of Dürnstein, where we had some free time to explore this gorgeous hilltop enclave and our guides even bought some local specialties to share with us. There’s no doubt that by the time we met our ship in Spitz that I was ready for a shower, but that just means it was a day very well spent.

Cooking Class

This was one of the few optional excursions with Avalon, which meant there was an additional fee required, but it was also my favorite experience of the trip. One of the best ways to learn about any new destination is through food. There’s no better way to understand culture, history and traditions than through the stomach, and in Vienna that meant joining a local chef as he spent the afternoon teaching us how to make a traditional Austrian meal. We were welcomed into the demonstration kitchen by our leader for the day, Nabeel. It’s no understatement when I say that he was one of the most entertaining people I’ve ever met and his sense of humor made the day the delight that it was. We were there to work though, and for several hours he led us through each step to create perfect examples of apple strudel, Wiener Schnitzel and all of the accompaniments. The best part came at the end though when we all sat down to enjoy the delicious meal we had created. I’ve consumed my fair share of schnitzel over the years, but this was one of the best perhaps because I had such an active hand in creating it.

Danube Hungary

Hungarian Hike

Why just visit a castle when you can first hike through a national park to get there? That’s exactly what we did while visiting the small Hungarian town of Visegrad. Walking through the middle of town, it’s hard to imagine that this was one of the most important towns of the medieval era, but it certainly was and remnants from that time can be found everywhere. Before admiring the history of the city though, I joined an active excursion for a hike up to the mountaintop on which the castle is perched. Danube-Ipoly National Park is one of the largest, and most popular, parks in the country, known in large part for its incredible views of the Danube Bend. After a not so difficult hike up, those were the scenes that rewarded us, as well as a visit to the castle and prison tower. It was a fun way to spend an afternoon and to burn off some of those calories consumed in Budapest.

Vienna Austria

Morning in Vienna

Since I had been to Vienna before, I wanted experiences that delved a little deeper into the city and help me better understand it. This included excursion did just that and more. Met by our local guide, he showed us around his city as it slowly began to wake up, giving us a unique perspective of Vienna before it got too crowded. With perfect morning light, I loved learning about the guide’s favorite parts of town, what he thinks about the city and more. It was an inside look into what is a popular tourist destination and a somewhat rare opportunity to truly understand what makes Vienna so very special. After a classic Austrian breakfast at a local coffee shop, we then visited the Habsburg Museum before it opened to the general public. There we enjoyed a private tour of the collection, learning about the various artworks and unique objects and enjoying the special opportunity for what it was.

Austria

Hike to the Oxbow

Staying active was a great way to counterbalance the incredible food I enjoyed throughout the cruise on the Danube, culminating in this final hike to one of Austria’s most picturesque viewpoints. The Schlögen Oxbow bend of the Danube is the river’s famous horseshoe bend and one of the most photographed spots in the region. Getting there and back meant a fairly steep hike, led by a local guide who knew the trails well. It was a fun way to spend time with my fellow passengers, get some exercise and of course enjoy the incredible views of the river and our ship. Staying active when I travel is important to me, even though it’s not something I’m fanatical about doing. By adding in some active elements to the river cruise, it created an experience that was totally unique and one that I know I’ll never forget.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time sailing the rivers of Europe, but so far none of my experiences were quite like the week I spent with Avalon. Their Active & Discovery itineraries are well planned, active, immersive and fun. It was the ideal mix of experiences, ones that I got to choose myself and, in the process, they created a trip that so far is one of my all-time favorites.

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