IT’S TULIP TIME in the Netherlands and consequently, the rivers in this region are often bustling highways. We are fortunate though, as our Avalon Waterways river ship, the Imagery II, is the only one departing from the small town of Rechim in Luxembourg. The nesting swans, chirping birds and an array of waterfowl are our companions on this ship, which can carry up to 128 guests. With half-price cocktails during happy hour in the lounge and open-seating dining, we mix and mingle and make many new friends. We are, for this short time, a band of travellers immersing in the culture of three lands and two rivers as we head to the mighty Rhine from the tidy little Moselle.
The lands of Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and Germany hold great interest for many cruisers as there is opportunity to see places travellers may have barely heard of, especially on smaller rivers like the Moselle. The village of Grevenmacher, the medieval gem that is Bernkastel, and Cochem with its imperial castle offer winding cobbled streets and traditional half-timbered houses. They are also known for their wine, particularly the Riesling varietal.
We are entranced by picturesque views at each bend of the river and the vineyards on both banks, which seem as if they are poised at any given moment to tumble into the water. Massive castles on the remarkable Rhine Gorge always elicit many oohs and aahs and hundreds of camera clicks. The cruise director recites tales about medieval times and grand old dukes who lived in these parts and defended their land from marauding soldiers and invaders. These tales take us from the 14th to the 19th century and make these ancient fortresses, with their towers, ramparts and keeps, come to life.
There is much history in these parts and soaking it all up on a sun-filled day on the top deck of this ship is a delight. We sit in the warmth, sipping a local wine, happy to be gliding along under bridges and through a few locks as we make our way past lands of lore and legends and some of Europe’s most fascinating history.
Avalon has a fleet of ships in both Europe and Southeast Asia, all featuring renowned Panorama Suites with the widest-opening windows and beds facing expansive views. These wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling windows eliminate the need for an actual balcony as ships are often docked in a town or village or tied to each other while in port.
The suites and staterooms on every Avalon ship are well-designed and provide a comfortable home-away-from-home for one’s journey. The beds in particular, which offer a choice of four preferences ranging from firm to very soft, are a nice touch to ensure a restful sleep.
Local wines and beer are served at both lunch and dinner and the menu choices are wide-ranging, with buffets offered at breakfast and lunch and a set-served menu at dinner. And now guests can choose to dine in the evening at a relaxed time between 7:00 and 8:30 pm. Additionally, there is a more casual dinner service – bistro dining with smaller dinner portions – offered in the Panorama lounge, which is a popular choice especially after a long day of touring. A welcome new refinement was having the option to order a continental breakfast delivered each morning to one’s stateroom.
Avalon also offers Active & Discovery river cruises now along the Rhine and the Danube, as well as the Rhône in France. There is an Adventure Host available to interact with guests and lead Pilates, yoga, workouts, morning cardio, bike rides, hikes and general fitness consultation. A number of guests loved and took advantage of this new feature and there are also opportunities with Avalon Discovery to join in a lively cooking class, a local wine-tasting, a painting class or canoeing. A river cruise can be as active or as relaxed, as busy or as quiet as one pleases, all the while taking in some of the best river views.
And staying before or after your cruise is a chance not to be missed. With Avalon Your Way, guests can choose the perfect amount of time to stay in a number of towns and cities such as Amsterdam, Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Lyon and Paris. With Avalon’s sister company, Monograms, guests can expand their cruise even more. The Monograms experience allows one to delve more deeply into a destination with stays at centrally located and well-priced hotels and the expertise of a Local Host. Some sightseeing is included and guests also have time on their own. It’s the ideal start to a European experience.
Written by Vanessa Lee for Cruise & Travel Lifestyles (Winter/Spring 2020). Photos courtesy of Avalon Waterways.