Avalon Impression One Week River Cruise Along the Danube April 2024

Our first ever river cruise, and what an amazing week it was! This review covers our whole gluten-free eating experience on board the gorgeous Avalon Impression. We were fortunate enough to have incredible weather as well, so we had a wonderful time sailing the beautiful Danube river from Budapest to Vilshofen. Read on to find out how Avalon cater for anyone who needs to be gluten free.

Avalon Impression

Avalon Impression has been sailing since 2014, and we were highly impressed with the ship. We had 149 passengers on board, out of a potential full capacity of 168, and there were around 45 crew members. Obviously, these figures are hugely different to ocean cruise ship numbers, and it meant that we got to interact with the majority of crew not only only on a daily basis, but frequently throughout the day. This meant they quickly got to know us, and those in food service positions quickly recognised that we were two of many passengers sailing that required a gluten-free diet (more about that to come!). Even the captain of the ship was extremely hands on, we saw him bringing bikes back on board after an afternoon cycling excursion, and one morning as we were leaving the ship he was jumping into a large refuse container at the dock trying to make more space to fit more refuse in! The crew all worked extremely hard, and it felt like a very personal service, much more so than on ocean cruises.

We were in the cheapest cabin, which is on the lowest deck, and has small windows rather than anything that can open or a veranda. I’ve seen it called ‘aquarium class’ before, which made me laugh! However, the windows were bigger than we had anticipated, and we were thoroughly impressed with our cabin. We would definitely be happy to travel aquarium class again! You also get a bit more privacy when you’re docked up right beside another ship (I’m talking only a couple of centimetres between them) assuming you remember to close the curtains!

There are a total of 4 decks, the top one being the open air sky deck. There are cabins on the remaining three decks. There is one lift for those with mobility issues which goes between decks 1 and 3, but you do need to walk up the stairs to be able to get to the open air deck.

Booking and Prior to Cruising

I booked this trip through a travel agent who was offering a very good deal. River cruising tends to be more expensive than ocean cruising, although there is often a lot more included. This was a relatively short notice booking – two months before we cruised, and so we got a great package holiday deal including flights.

When speaking to the travel agent, I informed them of our dietary needs, and these were passed onto Avalon. I also had to fill out a special needs form (possibly due to some mobility issues I have), which the travel agent sent me. There was also space on the form for dietary needs, so I filled them in on the form as well. I always say it’s better to be over prepared than under prepared.

I did my usual Google searching for information, and came up with a few bits of info, but not a huge amount. One thing I did glean is that there is a special diets meeting on the first evening, and also that all menus have allergen markings.

Special Diets Meeting

This is something I’d read about before boarding, so asked reception staff about it straight away. They confirmed that it was on at 5.30pm in the Club Lounge, and this was also advertised on screens in the Panorama Lounge.

We were surprised at how many people attended the special diets meeting, the Club Lounge was pretty full. The head chef and restaurant manager told us that it was very common to have a lot of gluten-free passengers onboard, and reassured us that we would be well catered for. They explained that all of their soups and sauces are made gluten free, and that they use a lot of naturally gluten-free food. Later on in the cruise it was explained to us that they don’t always know the allergen status of things they buy fresh from the food markets (Hungarian sausage was an example one lunch-time), but if not known will err on the side of caution and not consider it to be gluten free.

During the meeting, they take notes of every single passenger they speak to, and what their particular dietary requirements are. They also take a note of their cabin numbers. It felt very personalised and reassuring that they were doing all they could to ensure that they could cater for every single passenger on board, no matter what their individual requirement.

The head chef and restaurant manager were extremely helpful throughout the cruise. We would be brought the menus at breakfast time, then have a chat with them and make a pre-order for dinner, and sometimes lunch as well, depending on what was on the menu. The chef gets off at every port and buys fresh produce from the food markets, and the quality of food was very high. Far higher than any ocean cruise we’ve been on. It’s not that ocean cruise line food is bad, it’s just a little more mass produced, with thousands of passengers on board that need feeding at the same time.

Here is a photo of the allergen chart Avalon use. Each dish then has the appropriate letters of the allergen it contains. d is the code for gluten.

Where Are Meals Served?

Unlike ocean cruise ships, which tend to have multiple dining room plus numerous other additional cost restaurants, there simply isn’t space for those on a river cruise ship. That means that it’s really simple to know where you’re going to eat, as there are limited options!

On Avalon Impression the main dining room is on deck 2.

One side of the main dining room

This is the only place you can get breakfast, which is served buffet style, with a further small selection of cooked items you can request. Lunch and dinner are also served in the main dining room, with lunch being buffet style and dinner being a sit down multi course meal. Below are the lunch and dinner menus for the main dining room.

There is also the Panorama Bistro on deck 3, which is located at the front of the Panorama Lounge and Bar.

The area with the white tablecloths towards the front is where food is served

Here you will find a smaller selection of the same lunch and dinner dishes you will find in the main dining room. Great if you’re wanting something quick, or just can’t be bothered to have a full sit down meal! Here are a selection of light lunch and dinner menus served in the Panorama Bistro:

If there is good weather on your sailing, then you might be fortunate enough for the crew to set up a grill style lunch at the Sky Bistro on the top deck. We had one during our sailing, and it was fantastic. Here is the Sky Grill Menu Apr 12.

Chef George preparing the feast at the Sky Bistro

Finally, a quick mention of the Club Lounge, at the rear of deck 3. Here you can find hot drinks 24 hours a day, and there are things like cookies, nuts, and similar snacks. Sometimes there were things that were marked gluten-free, but we didn’t take any of the snack items, just stuck to the hot drinks.

So, to recap, main dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and Panorama Bistro for an alternative more casual approach to lunch and dinner. Nice and easy to remember!

On your first and last day on board, lunch is only available at the Panorama Bistro. It is put out nice and early so that if you’ve got a flight later in the day you can still get some food. Similarly, if you arrive at the ship early on the first day (we got there around midday) there is also food available.


I’m going to start with lunch, as it’s the first meal we had on board the ship. On the first day, lunch is only available in the Panorama Bistro, and the selection of food did look as if there could be a bit of cross contamination. We asked a member of staff what we should do as we were gluten free. They went and asked the chef, and returned and told us that they would make us some gluten-free sandwiches. These took a little while to come, but were really good. The also brought us some gluten-free cake as well!

For the remainder of our lunches (except for the last day), we ate in the main dining room. Usually we would have seen the menus at breakfast time, so would place a pre-order if nothing suitable. Because I am also vegetarian, mine tended to be a ‘surprise’ (which I was happy with, but if you’re not I’m sure you could order something specific), and in the style of the country we were on. For example, Hungarian goulash which was made vegetarian and gluten free for me.

Lunch is provided buffet style in the main dining room, but it’s a lot more spacious and well laid out, so cross contamination wasn’t really an issue. Everything was also allergen marked. Depending on the menu for the day, sometimes we were happy to take it from the buffet, and other times it would be cooked and brought out from the kitchen for us. You can see how spaced out the dishes are in the photos, especially the salad bar. I’ve tried to show a selection of things we saw on offer, including the allergen cards that go with them. As my husband is a meat eater, he always double checked the meat with the chef, as sometimes the full allergen information was unable to be obtained when bought from the food markets. He would often find that although there was a d on the allergen card, that they were able to confirm that a particular item was in fact gluten free and safe for him to eat.

You can also order burgers with fries, including a vegetarian burger, and the chef confirmed that these were all gluten free with a replacement bun/bread.

Avalon prides itself on using fresh, seasonal produce, and theming the food to the country they’re travelling through. All the food was delicious, and really fresh. As I mentioned before, the quality of food in our opinion was a big step up from ocean cruising.

Lunch on the last day was similar to the first, in that it was a selection of dishes in the Panorama Bistro (I think it was actually the same dishes as the first day as well). Again, these were all allergen marked. We were there when the food was set out as we had a late afternoon flight, so were able to eat from the buffet without risk of cross contamination. The chef was also fantastic, as there was a beef and vegetable pie topped with cheesy mashed potato that was marked as gluten free, but obviously not vegetarian. My husband enjoyed it very much. It wasn’t very busy, so I asked a member of staff if it might be possible for me to get just a portion of the mash, as I wasn’t able to eat the pie. A short while later a beautifully presented plate of mash was brought out to me. I was seriously impressed!

Sky Deck Bistro Lunch

We were fortunate enough to have glorious weather on our sailing – a surprise for early April! It was announced one evening by the cruise director that the next day they would be setting up a grill in that area for lunch. This was basically BBQ style, with lots of fresh salad options too.

We got up there a bit early, so were able to quiz George, the head chef about everything. He confirmed that pretty much everything on the grill was naturally gluten free, but told me he was going to get my veggie burger cooked in the kitchen to avoid contamination from the meat. I thought this was really considerate of him. He also confirmed that the wedges, which had a d on the allergen marking, were in fact gluten free too.

It was lovely to experience eating outside, and the food was really tasty.


We ate all of our evening meals in the main dining room. On the first evening, we had attended the special diets meeting, and informed the head chef and restaurant manager about both being gluten free, and me also being vegetarian. We asked about dinner that first evening, and were told that something would be prepared for us, which it was.

After that, we would be given the menu at breakfast, and make a pre-order. As is usual in most restaurants both on land and on ships, the dishes that tend to be marked as gluten free are more often than not meat or fish, which I can’t eat. My husband can, so his meals were easy to order. For me, sometimes the vegetarian dishes could be adapted to make them gluten free, and other times I was given a surprise dish. The meal was always delicious. I had told the chef I don’t eat parmesan, as it generally isn’t vegetarian, so parmesan wasn’t used in any of my meals.

Gluten free rolls and bread were always brought to us (it depended on available stock as to what we got), which was the same as breakfast and lunch as well. The server soon got to know us as gluten-free people, and at dinner we sat at the same table every night so that we got the same server. Monica was our server, and she took excellent care of us, always going through things on the menu and confirming dishes were gluten-free as she brought them out to us.

There was always a gluten-free cake available (I think some of these were bought in), and sometimes other desserts too.


Served in the main dining room with a selection of hot and cold items served buffet style. These were all allergen marked, and again, due to how things were laid out, it was easy to see if cross contamination would be an issue or not (and in general it really wasn’t, as they use so much naturally gluten-free food). There wasn’t any gluten-free cereal available, and we didn’t manage to accurately find out whether they don’t have it normally, or they were waiting for it to arrive (our cruise was only their second of the season, so they were still missing some items. The gluten-free beer didn’t turn up for a few days either!).

The jams were in shared bowls, so we didn’t use those in case of cross contamination (people using the spoon to put it on their normal bread for example). I’m sure we could have asked for some from the kitchen if we’d have needed. There were individual sealed portions of Nutella and peanut butter, which were great. The butter/margarine were also individual portion packs. You may spy some sachets of brown sauce in the photos – these are ones that I brought from home.

There was an egg station where you could get fried eggs or omelettes made fresh. There was also a small menu available every day for cooked items. There were only 3-4 choices, and the bottom one changed every day. After seeing crepes on the menu the first day, I asked the restaurant manager if we might be able to get some gluten free ones at some point. He said he’d have a word with the chef, and the following morning we were presented with amazing crepes. We were also given gluten-free French toast one morning, and on another day there was GF rice pudding, which my husband enjoyed (I’m not a rice pudding fan). On the last day it was Spanish omelette, and this was also gluten free.

Room Service Breakfast

A small selection of items are available to order (for no extra cost) for breakfast, and I fully intended to do this for us, but ended up completely forgetting! River cruises are pretty full on – it’s usually a new place every morning, and excursions tend to head out from about 8.30am, so it just went out of my mind until we were packing at the end of the cruise.

The selection was mainly pastries, yoghurt and toast, so I’m certain that if we had put the breakfast hanger out on our door and written gluten free that we would have been catered for.

Afternoon Tea

Every afternoon in the Panorama Bistro there would be sandwiches and cakes available. In general, we were either not hungry or out at a port so didn’t really partake other than a couple of days. We asked about gluten-free, and were brought cakes. I’m sure if we had been more specific we would have been made sandwiches as well, but we really didn’t need them.

Happy Hour/Drinks

Avalon Waterways advertises that they operate a happy hour every evening, where house beer and wine, certain cocktails and soft drinks are free. On the package that we had, drinks (both alcoholic and non) were also included with lunch and dinner. We also happened to be on a wine lovers cruise (I didn’t know that when I booked it!) and had three wine tastings onboard included, plus a dinner towards the end of the cruise with wine pairings with every course.

Happy hour didn’t operate on the first evening, so if you’re only there for the free drinks, then don’t get caught out! Other than that, it was a pleasant time to spend in the Panorama Lounge, with the cruise director coming in towards the end to talk about the following day, and giving information about the ports and excursions (the majority of which were included, and excellent). Dinner would then follow on from that.

I had seen from my research that gluten-free beer was available on the bar menu. Unfortunately it hadn’t arrived at the start of our cruise, but it was picked up a few days later when we stopped in Vienna. They only had one crate delivered though (and I believe it was only 12 in a crate), so it only lasted 24 hours!

When the gluten-free beer did arrive, staff were happy to include that within the happy hour, even though it was only supposed to be draft beer. My guess would be that because a zero alcohol bottled beer was also included, that they were happy to include the GF beer.

For lunch and dinner, then any beers and wines were included, so again, we had the GF lager (until it sadly ran out).

Wine Tasting/Pairing (only on specific cruises)

As I mentioned, ours was a wine lovers cruise, which I was unaware of when booking. Fortunately, we are indeed wine lovers, so this was a massive bonus!

On our first full day on board Avalon Impression, there was an included excursion which was a coach based tour of Budapest in the morning, a small amount of free time, then wine tasting in a traditional cellar. There was some food included, and already laid out, and we expected not to be able to eat anything at all. However, the main plate was cheese and salad bits, and this was all gluten free. There was some traditional Hungarian fried foods and of course bread, but these were all in separate dishes. When we made staff aware that we were gluten free, they also gave us a red plastic card as a visual indicator on the table. Give that we hadn’t told anyone beforehand, we were really pleasantly surprised. The wine was delicious, and of course we ended up buying a bottle, and enjoying this later on in our cruise.

There were three other wine tastings held on the ship, and two of these included food. One was cheese, and the other was chocolate. The cheese was gluten free, although I chose not to partake as it was cheeses I either didn’t like or were more likely to contain animal rennet. My husband therefore enjoyed double cheese with his wine!

For the wine tasting with chocolate, we asked the chef a couple of days before if he knew if the chocolate would be safe for us or not. He didn’t know, but said he would find out, and if not would try to get some for us. Whilst we told him not to worry, as we were perfectly happy to enjoy the wine without chocolate, true to his word he discovered that the chocolate being used was a ‘may contain gluten’, and so when getting off the ship to purchase the fresh produce, he also bought us (and the other gluten-free people on board) some different chocolate that was safe. We were so impressed and grateful for this, he really did go above and beyond to cater for people with specific dietary requirements.

There was another really thoughtful moment (not wine based, but doesn’t fit in with any other section in the blog so may as well put it here) when on the last evening, there was a big thank you to all the crew, and each team were brought out and paraded round the Panorama Lounge so that passengers could give them a huge clap to show their appreciation. Canapes were served at this, and our server from dinner, Monica, came and found us and brought us gluten free (and vegetarian for me) canapes that had been made specially. What wonderful service.


Our first experience of river cruising was fantastic, and the gluten-free experience really was outstanding. In both our opinions, the food we ate far surpassed anything we’d eaten in a main dining room on an ocean cruise ship, and we were both hugely impressed.

Yes you have to ask questions, and ask to see the menus so you can pre-order, but that’s very standard. Most people would be asking similar questions when going to a land based restaurant if it wasn’t 100% gluten free, as you have to make sure things are safe. I know that people don’t like doing that, but it does make life a lot easier. Having the special diets meeting was also extremely helpful for that, as you were able to have that one on one discussion with the chef and restaurant manager about your specific needs.

We both tend to be forward thinking people who like a plan, so when we heard that one of the wine tastings were with chocolate, it was second nature to us to try and find out beforehand if it was going to be safe. I have no idea whether the chef would have bought safe chocolate if we hadn’t asked (although maybe we weren’t the only ones who asked, as there were numerous GF passengers on board), but we were extremely grateful that he did. However, it also wouldn’t have ruined our cruise if he didn’t!

The GF beer arriving late and then only lasting 24 hours was a bit unfortunate, but everywhere is suffering with supply issues, so we’re just glad that we did get some at some point to enjoy.

Overall, I can’t say enough positive things about our experience. We’ve definitely caught the river cruising bug, and enjoyed everything about it so much that we’ve booked another one. This is with a different cruise company, so they have a lot to live up to as Avalon were excellent. Avalon Impression, you certainly made a lasting impression on us!

Below are just a few of the glorious sights we saw whilst sailing the Danube. Budapest lit up at night was an absolute highlight.

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