Posted June 9th, 2013, 10:29 PM
JKGourmet - Welcome to this CC site. We're your "neighbors" over in Surprise (AZ). I believe all the poster have given a very fair and unbiased view of the way river cruises are in Europe. Each of their experiences is somewhat based upon whether their particular cruise "lived up" to the expectations they had before boarding (or subsequently "modified", once they got underway).
I went on a 13-day cruise last year with my 94-year old Dad. He's in pretty good shape for 94, but he IS 94. He had no problem keeping up with the pace on most every walking tour we went on. We had a variety of excursions we could pick in each town and we selected, based upon what sounded "reasonable" for us to both do. With a 94-year old Dad, you can make a pretty good guess of my age, as well (I have my very own Medicare Card
I found the staterooms to be on the "smallish side" and we paid a whole lot extra for the largest stateroom (I wouldn't embellish it by calling it a "suite"). You indicated right up front that you're not part of the "Penhouse Crowd" and that you don't place too much, or exclusive, emphasis on the staterooms. That's good, because you'd probably be disappointed. My advice - don't waste money on an "upgraded" stateroom. The river cruises are very port-intensive and there won't be any "sea days". On a river cruise, your stateroom is primarily the place "you sleep" and change clothes.
The meals onboard are adequate and I found the house wines to be fine. Again, if your own personal "bar" is not set too high, you should be quite pleased with the majority of meals and complimentary spirits that are served. When we took our Avalon cruise, we could have purchased an all-inclusive drink package. It would have been another waste of money. At nearly $400/PP, we could not have possibly drunk enough to "get our money's worth". As the others have said, you can always walk into a local "package store" in one of the many towns you'll be visiting and bring something of interest back to the boat with you. Dad and I always had a bottle of our favorite single-malt in our stateroom and had no problem taking a tumbler of it up to the sky deck. Absolutely no problems encountered doing that.
The biggest problem you might encounter (and something they're dealing with right now) is what's happening "off the boat", not "on" the boat. The rivers in Europe are not as "constant" as the ocean. Sometimes there are high water levels, sometimes low water levels. Sometimes in winter or early spring, the rivers are frozen, and you may even have to deal with 100-year flooding (like what is happening right now in central Europe). All four of these conditions might/will have an adverse impact on your individual cruise itinerary. Do some research beforehand. You can plan as much as possible, and still get a nasty surprise.
Generally, you'll have to pay the full fare well in advance of the cruise and you will have extremely limited options for getting that money back, in case environmental conditions get nasty and turn your expected river cruise into a "bus ride" from port to port, instead. Just be aware that those things may happen. Otherwise, you will most likely have a wonderful time. Regards.