We had a wonderful time with Ama Waterways for my wife's 50th. birthday going from Budapest to Nuremberg, so thought we would try a river cruise again, this time with Avalon Waterways for her 60th. from Amsterdam to Basel.
The best thing about this cruise was the food - when we travelled with AMA previously, the food was somewhat bland, but, other than the last night when presumably the chef was off and the option was mainly pasta which came missing some of the ingredients and barely warm, the food on the Avalon Panorama was excellent. Having said that, there was an advert on the Avalon web-site for a tapas/tasting menu option which we had planned to take for the 60th. birthday evening - when we checked in however, we were told that this was no longer being offered - the only option being a reduced menu buffet in the lounge.
TIP: On the welcome evening drinks, trays of hors d'oeuvres were offered, but we only managed to get one each, as the waiters seemed to be encouraging the larger groups to take as many as they wanted so that they could clear the trays and get down to the dining room, so if you want more than one, we suggest that you take a handful!
Now on to the difference between AMA for Christmas Markets cruises and Avalon - when we travelled with AMA, the Christmas theme was everywhere, from the decorations, to an evening decorating the tree, meeting Santa, chocolates being left in your shoes if you left them outside your cabin door at night and mulled wine being available when you returned form each trip - with AMA it really felt like Christmas.
With Avalon however, there was a half-hearted attempt at decoration, instead of mulled wine we had tepid herbal tea awaiting us on our return, and whereas the Cruise Director with AMA was always there helping out and offering suggestions, the Cruise Director on Avalon Panorama was rarely available - preferring instead to spend most of his time sitting looking at his lap-top and, even if you asked a question, he would answer it and then go straight back to his lap-top - we wondered if his linguistic limitations (he is French and clearly struggled with English) were the issue, although he announced later in the cruise that he was leaving for another job.
The difference between the two cruise lines was made even more evident, as frequently we were moored alongside the Ama Magna which really was lit up like a Christmas Tree, whereas on some nights when coming back to the Avalon Panorama, we had difficulty seeing the way on slippery decks and stairs.
Now on to other issues with the Avalon Panorama:-
Check-in: For some reason the cabin which we had booked in the Summer through Avalon's U.K. company was not allocated to us and we were asked to switch to another cabin - we refused, and after some delay were advised that the cabin was now ours and without warning a bottle of Sekt awaited us in our cabin after Dinner.
Excursions - all of the Dutch and German guides were excellent, providing well-informed tours which involved just the right mix of fact and humour and with plenty of time to "do our own thing" - unfortunately the same cannot be said of the French guides (Heidelberg and Colmar) - my apologies if we seem to be anti-French, but it is just the way the guides were (we have lived and worked in Paris, so there is no anti-French feeling - France is a place that we truly love and visit each Summer) - anyway, back to the French guides - the first, older, woman seemed slightly scatty, flitting from one idea to the next, so we rarely actually learnt anything. The younger woman (Colmar) seemed to think that she was handling a group of school-kids - taking us to the toilets just after we got off the bus and pushing us to use them and then insisting that we lined up two by two to make it easier for her to count us - we almost expected to get detention if we said the wrong thing - maybe she should apply for a job as a school-mistress/stewardess on British Airways!
N.B.: We didn't go on the Black Forest trip, preferring the shorter trip to Colmar, but those that did go, came back complaining that not all of the promised stops were possible due to some of the guests being too slow - maybe there is a need to separate the group between those who are more mobile and those who are not and adapt the stops accordingly?
As for the excursions, the best was to Rudesheim, particularly the mechanical organ museum - not normally our thing, but the guide was outstanding (a member of the family that owns the museum) and a talented singer.
Entertainment - the resident musician was excellent on all of the instruments that he played, however after listening to him on the first night, on the next night it became clear that he could only play a limited range of music, as he only had backing tracks for one evening of music - we suggest that these be extended to provide a degree of variety - I'm sad to say that, whereas we would have been more than happy to spend each evening in the lounge/bar, after a couple of evenings we moved to the coffee-lounge - AMA Waterways had a disco which, in hindsight, was better, as the music changed each night (with a few regular favourites of course) and made for a more relaxing atmosphere.
Check-out: When we left the AMA waterways vessel, there was a line of people helping guests with their luggage (the Captain took ours! - by the way the Captain on the Avalon Panorama was rarely seen and no Captain's Table).
By contrast, there was only one person handling a coach-load of guests disembarking, so we had to carry our own bags off the boat to the waiting taxi.
Summary: It was good to try a different cruise-line and the dining was truly memorable (other than that last night when standards plummeted), but if we go on a Christmas Markets cruise, we want to feel Christmassy, so next time we travel (probably the reverse of our original cruise with AMA Waterways), we will definitely use AMA waterways.
Cabin was OK (Steward was WONDERFUL, even down to making a birthday cake out of towels!) but while having a bed facing out to the side is great for viewing the sights as you go past, we're not so sure about sleeping.
Issues with noise at night with rattling coming from the ceiling, also door rattled incessantly, so were forced to wedge a face-cloth in the door to get some sleep.
Water stopped flowing in toilet, so had to get an engineer to fix it twice.
TV not working when we arrived - quickly fixed.
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