After taking several sea cruises we decided to try out a river cruise. We chose this itinerary (Budapest to Bucharest with a land tour to Istanbul) because of the "less traveled" countries visited and the opportunity to see places a lot of people never go. We visited Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania before heading out to Turkey.
Our transfer and embarkation were very smooth - check in was a breeze since most of the other travelers on our boat had gotten on 2 weeks earlier in Amsterdam. There were a total of 101 passengers on board and about 89 of them did the full Amsterdam to Bucharest journey. Everyone was very friendly and open to us "newcomers", welcoming us into their already formed social circles at every opportunity.
I have to say with the exception of an handful of us in our 40's, the average age of the passengers skewed to 65+, but most folks were still very active and energetic.
The ship had basically 3 main passenger decks, 1 restaurant and 1 lounge. There was a small coffee area (vending machine-type service), and a library. There was a roof top deck with what looked like what could have been an additional bar, but we only saw this used on the nights they did al fresco dining (2 nights, had to reserve in advance).
Cabins were about what you'd expect and I will comment further in the cabin review.
Activities and Excursions - the onboard activities were pretty limited - there was yoga in the AM which initially I was excited about but it turned out to really just be stretching. The fitness instructor was very nice but explained she had to tailor her program to the age demographic so no one got hurt. there was a gym as well with 1 treadmill, a rowing machine, bicycle and some free weights. When there was evening entertainment, the pros were that they were usually local singers and dancers putting on traditional shows. The cons were this started to all look alike after a couple of days. The DJ/piano player onboard was more of a low budget Vegas lounge act with nothing newer than the 70's or 80's in his program.
There were excursions included every day which was nice, but most were of local churches and cathedrals. After a while it got tiring seeing church after church. Also most excursions were pretty sedentary - it got pretty tiring sitting on a bus all the time with minimal activity. There were a couple of optional biking tours which we did not go on, that were labeled as their "active" option, but folks that did them said it was not as much biking as they thought it would be - just short bikes interspersed with longstanding periods with lectures. The local guides however were very good I thought and provided a lot of good insight and commentary. They also did a good job of providing a balance between full day and half day tours as well as free time to explore on your own.
I do have to say our Cruise director was fabulous - very knowledgeable, efficient and caring toward all the passengers. He also handled an unexpected obstacle - the bombing at the Istanbul airport - with grace and concern. He was able to help passengers navigate whether they wanted to continue on to Istanbul, cut the trip short, or arrange extra days in Bucharest, and provide them with support and knowledge.
Now the dining, here the ship was hit and miss. Breakfast each day was the same buffet with an omlette station, and a few "made to order" options. The eggs on the buffet were consistently too wet for me to eat, so I opted for the "to order" option more often than not. Problem was it could be difficult to get a server to take this order since they were used to most folks getting the buffet. Also the bread and pastry options were consistently dry and fairly flavorless. Lunches were usually the best meal options with a good variety and many local dishes - again buffet was the only option here. Dinners to me were consistently bland and overcooked. We began to order all our meals with extra seasoning and needed to be sure the salt shaker was close at hand. The exception was when we signed up for the al fresco dining which was pretty good. They did offer each night a nice selection of local wines which were usually pretty good, and you could order a different one if you didn't like the selection that day.
Bar and lounge service were both excellent. Most drinks were included with the exception of some reserve wines and top shelf liquor.
Service overall was good, with the exception of the dining room which could be a bit slow.
Overall we did have a nice time, but it was a bit slow for us, and we were disappointed in the food. Not sure if I would book again.
Cabin was nice, but small as you'd expect. Our cabin steward did a great job of keeping things tidy. The weird thing is that the bed (double) was 2 singles pushed together - OK I get that but they made them up as 2 beds as well. So in the night we would fall into the "crack" in the middle, and get uncovered as the blankets were split in the middle of the bed. Bath was tight but functional.