Live From Onboard: Avalon Tapestry II

March 26, 2015 | By | No Comments

Avalon Waterways' Tapestry II in Paris

This week I’ve joined the christening cruise of Avalon Waterways’ new Avalon Tapestry II, before it starts regular sailings from Paris to Normandy and across France (north to south). The naming ceremony, held on the banks of the Seine River in the beautiful village of Les Andelys, was cold and rainy but the ship is looking good.

Here are five things I like about Avalon Tapestry II.

1. River-facing beds

It’s so obvious, I don’t know why all the other cruise lines don’t do it — position the bed so it is facing the window instead of a wall. You can watch the world pass by, in ultimate under-the-covers comfort, without having to go sit on a balcony or even turn your head to the side. Maybe I’m just ridiculously lazy, but I reckon Avalon’s got the right idea.

Panaromic Views

2. Wide, space-saving sliding windows

As you can see, the floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows can slide open to create what Avalon calls an “open-air balcony.” Technically, it’s indoors, but you’ve got fresh air and 180-degree views, plus you’re always undercover and comfortable whether it’s raining (like it is today) or too hot (think Europe in August). Other ships’ balconies eat into your cabin area, blocking it off with a wall, and usually only give you a table-width of space out there anyway. Avalon’s suites really do feel much wider and more spacious. The majority (80 percent) of accommodation on Tapestry II comprise these Panoramic Suites, measuring 200 square feet, which is certainly larger than the norm. The windows are 11 feet wide and open more than 7 feet wide.

3. The Royal Suite

Yes, it’s more expensive, but it’s always one of the first to be booked. Fifty percent bigger than the Panoramic Suites, the Royal Suite has a separate sitting area, two sliding window “indoor-open-air” balconies, two TVs, a bigger bathroom with two sinks and a separate toilet. Ideal if you want to do some entertaining or simply to spoil yourself.

Tapesty Royal Suite

4. Only 128 passengers

Other river vessels carry up to 190 passengers, but Avalon Tapestry II is capped at 128. The line’s other ship on the Seine, Avalon Creativity, takes 140 passengers. I’m sailing with fewer than that — mostly other journalists and travel agents — but it’s a nice number for mingling.

Tapestry Bar

5. Modern decor, relaxing lounges

Understated and contemporary, the fresh decor is appealing and elegant without being fussy or gaudy. The rounded bar is great for sitting around for a chat, the club lounge is hidden at the back with a coffee machine and small library, and the observation lounge is a quieter outdoor escape at the bow. The main lounge feels more relaxed than on other Avalon ships, with more cushions and flower-lined dividers to separate the large space into cozier nooks. All in all, a very relaxing ship to help you enjoy France.

Observation Lounge

    Steal of the Week: Celebrity Choose-Your-Own Promotion

    March 26, 2015 | By | No Comments

    piggy bank sailing worldwide
    Everyone is looking for the deal of the century. So how do you choose the one that’s right for you? Check the Lido Deck each week to get the scoop on our favorite deals — then grab the phone and pack your bags.
    THE DEAL: Celebrity Cruises is offering your choice of bonus incentive when you book a cruise in an oceanview or higher category cabin on a sailing of three nights or more by March 31.
    WHAT WE LOVE: Promotions that offer your choice of bonus let you customize your cruise deal with what offers are most important to you. Whether it’s a free drinks package for two, prepaid gratuities or onboard credit of up to $300 per cabin, save up to $1,000 on select sailings with these bonus offers. If you’re already spending on a suite, you’re rewarded with all three offers, bringing the value way up. Unlike some promotions, this offer extends to sailings worldwide from the Panama Canal and Hawaii to Europe, Asia, Australia and beyond. Sailings are also valid from May 2015 through April 2017.
    WHAT GIVES US PAUSE: Spring into Savings, but do it by next Tuesday. Bonus offers are only valid if you’re staying in a cabin category other than an inside, and on a sailing longer than three nights. Offers do vary, so a shorter sailing in an oceanview will yield a significantly different amount of onboard credit than a slightly longer sailing in a balcony. Read the fine print or speak to your travel agent before deciding which cabin class to book.
    HOW TO BOOK IT: For all the nitty-gritty on these deals (including that pesky fine print), click here.
    Compare flight prices with our sister site TripAdvisor’s meta-search tool.
    * Looking for cruises for under $75 or even $50 a day? We’ve got ‘em listed on our Cheap Cruises page.
    * Get great cruise deals — and exclusive member offers — delivered weekly to your inbox.

      P&O Cruises’ Britannia: Hits & Misses

      March 25, 2015 | By | No Comments

      P&O Cruises' brand new ship Britannia

      It’s rare to get on a new ship and not find a few faults, or perhaps a better way of putting it would be, “to find a few areas that need tweaking.”

      Well I’ve got to be honest, I’m struggling to find any on P&O Cruises’ Britannia’s maiden voyage, which I joined halfway through in Monte Carlo.

      I spent the night onboard before the naming, and I also got a sneak peek when the ship first arrived in Southampton, but there is nothing like being on an actual cruise to really get a feel for a ship, its rhythms, its flows, its quirks and its special places.

      We’ve long been told that Britannia takes the most popular features on the rest of the fleet and redefines them in a modern setting.

      But what does that actually mean – and more importantly – does it work?

      My take on that is Britannia is the result of much research and passenger feedback, about really finding out what works and what doesn’t.

      So the stuff that does work — restaurants Atul Kochhar’s Sindhu and Olly Smith’s The Glass House — return in a big way. While at the same time, other features are dropped — for example, Marco Pierre White for the first time has no dedicated restaurant onboard. Perhaps tastes have moved on (though his hand can be felt in the main dining rooms) or P&O thought it was time for a change.

      So here are my thoughts on what works, what doesn’t and what could be improved.

      Hits

      Adam making pasta
      Action shot – pasta making at The Cookery Club onboard P&O Cruises’ Britannia

      The Cookery Club

      P&O has tapped in perfectly to our current national obsession with food, whether its provenance, celebrity chefs or cooking. So for the first time on a P&O ship, we have a cookery club at sea, run by Rob Cottam and Lizzie Kennedy. Warm, passionate and enthusiastic, these two are the perfect pair for The Cookery Club. Located on Deck 15 (bizarrely, next to the gym!), you get fabulous views and also people gawping while you cook. It’s fitted with the most up-to-date kitchen cookware, TV screens, speakers and a dining table. It fits 24, and more when they run the family classes. All the prep is done for you, as is the washing up. Rob or Lizzie guide you through the three-hour session, and you get to eat your creations at the end. I made pasta for the first time in my life and I felt that I’d really achieved something. And the best bit: it costs just £45 per person, which is a steal. This rises to £100 if your class is taken by one of the celebrity chefs.

      The Atrium

      A lot has already been said about this triple-height central meeting spot with the starburst sculpture in the middle, but just to add that when onboard it really does come into its own — at all times of day and night. It’s a beautiful space, it’s a meeting spot, it’s a relaxing spot, and it’s great for afternoon tea, pre-dinner snacks, a morning coffee or a late drink. It’s a stroke of genius, and without doubt the best part of the ship. It was also an inspired move on the part of P&O to move reception off the Atrium to a corridor, where it belongs. I predict other lines will follow suit.

      The atrium onboard P&O Cruises' BritanniaAtrium onboard P&O Cruises’ Britannia

      Single balconies

      For the first time, P&O has purpose-built single balcony cabins — 15 in all — in a dedicated corridor at the top of the ship. Not only was it a great idea to put all the single cabins together, but by creating single balconies, it’s a real recognition that a lot of cruisers travel alone and should not be penalized by iniquitous single supplements. They are a lovely design — each is square shaped, with a queen-size bed, a cupboard, a wardrobe, a desk and exactly the same bathroom and balcony as a regular cabin. However, I feel P&O did miss a trick in one aspect (see Misses below).

      single bed cabin
      Single cabin onboard P&O Cruises’ Britannia

      The Limelight Club

      Nothing new about a supper club, but as with many aspects of this ship, P&O has rethought it — dusted down the concept and given it a 21st-century feel — and it works. There are just 144 covers, and for £22 per person you get a leisurely three-course meal, followed by an intimate 45-minute performance from an artist, then the chance to speak to them at the bar afterward and get an autograph. Whether these artists float your boat (and to be honest I hadn’t heard of half of them), there’s something very special about seeing a performance in such an intimate venue.

      limelight club
      The Limelight Club onboard P&O Cruises’ Britannia

      Glass shower doors

      No more clingy curtains. Enough said.

      Misses

      As I said above, it’s hard to find things that don’t work, but you could argue there are some omissions.

      Limited speciality dining

      There are just four speciality restaurants — Sindhu, Epicurean, The Limelight (which is a supper club) and The Glass House — and arguably a fifth, The Beach House, but it’s more of an afterthought at the back of the Horizon self-service restaurant. I think a couple more would not go amiss. A family-friendly pizzeria and some sort of an East Asian eatery, either Chinese or a variety of Asian dishes and a sushi bar, would be welcome. Interestingly, P&O tried something similar on Ventura.

      Singles bar

      It was a great move to put all the single cabins in one corridor, but why not, as Norwegian Cruise Line has, give them their own bar? The library is placed rather oddly at the end of the singles’ corridor — that space could have been given over to a bar and the library moved to another spot.

      The position of The Oasis Spa

      I’ve been wrestling with this one, and I could be persuaded otherwise, but I’m just not sure it works where it is on Deck 5, right beside the reception. I’m not certain what the thinking was behind moving it from a more usual spot, high up near The Retreat and the gym, but for me it seems a little lost where it is. Not that it wasn’t popular or the treatments outstanding — I spent a lot of time in there — I just think it would be better at the top of the ship.

        Wanderlust Wednesday: Stepping into a Storybook

        March 25, 2015 | By | No Comments

        Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh, Scotland (Kreuzfahrtneuling/Cruise Critic Forums)

        Destination: Edinburgh, Scotland

        Why Go?: This fairytale city is full of surprises. But some of the more obvious landmarks like the Edinburgh Castle, St. Giles Cathedral and Greyfriars Kirkyard (shown) also make for worthy adventures. Check the tourist "musts" off your list, grab a malt beverage at Sandy Bell’s and make sure you leave enough time to soak up the lush countryside’s rolling hills, lochs and castles.

        Member: Kreuzfahrtneuling

        Every Wednesday, we’ll be taking you on a journey around the world to some of the most interesting places our members have trekked, swum or merely witnessed from afar while cruising.

        Whether these photos inspire you to plan a relaxing escape or walk on the wild side, we hope they ignite your senses and give you ideas for your next cruising adventure. If you have a photo you’d love to share, send it to us at photos@cruisecritic.com or post it in our member photo gallery. Feel free to send us your Twitter or Instagram handle. Maybe you’ll get a shout-out next #WanderlustWednesday!

        Find interesting places to visit based on region.

        Everything you need to know about planning a cruise.

        Explore Trip Reports of unique itineraries.

          Is 18 Percent the New Cruise Tipping Norm?

          March 24, 2015 | By | 26 Comments

          tip jar

          For those who keep track of their cruise bottom line (and isn’t that most of us?), considering automatic gratuities leveled by cruise lines is a necessary part of budgeting.

          And lately, tipping rates have been creeping upward, from 15 percent to 18 percent. While many cruise line spas have long added an 18 percent gratuity to services, now the lines are adding 18 percent to drink packages, bar bills and even specialty restaurants.

          Norwegian Cruise Line adds an 18 percent gratuity to all beverage and dining packages, including specialty restaurants. Celebrity Cruise Lines made the switch earlier this year, adding 18 percent to drink prices and packages. Royal Caribbean also charges 18 percent tip on its drink packages.

          Even for American cruisers used to a tipping culture, the increase does raise eyebrows. While tipping 15 percent to 20 percent in restaurant on land is the norm, many people only tip a dollar or two per round for drinks at a bar.

          The addition of 18 percent tip to the specialty restaurants that are Norwegian Cruise Line’s calling card has sparked several lengthy threads in the Cruise Critic forums. Many cruisers were concerned they’d be tipping their waiters twice — once in their daily service charge and once when they eat in a specialty restaurant.

          Cruisers react to new tipping polices

            Member Review of the Week: A Perfect Match

            March 24, 2015 | By | No Comments

            Seven Seas Navigator Balcony

            Cruise Ship: Regent’s Seven Seas Navigator

            Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

            Member: NJtripper

            Background: Steering clear of recreational activities and over-the-top formal nights, seasoned cruisers NJtripper and her husband found their perfect match on Regent Seven Seas’ 490-passenger ship. They were aiming for an intimate cruise experience with first-class service, peace and quiet and a flavorful itinerary — and luckily, they had no surprises.

            Onboard Highlight: With the best food and most comfortable bedding NJtripper ever had at sea, dining and their suite tie for first place.

            Port Highlight: NJtripper loved the variety of shore excursions and allotted time in each port. Clean and comfortable buses were a nice perk, too.

            Don’t Miss: The nightlife, which exceeded their expectations.

            Watch Out For: The ship’s size, if you’re sensitive to motion. NJtripper’s husband felt a little during a day of high winds.

            More: Read NJtripper’s full review for more details about the luxury small ship.

            For their efforts, NJtripper, rocvic, CruzPlatts, GV16126 and TLMS receive Cruise Critic logo items.

            Each week, we choose five cruise reviews written by our members, and showcase one as the Member Review of the Week.

            Read more reviews or write your own cruise review.

              Cruise Bartending’s Best of the Best Mix it up for Bacardi

              March 23, 2015 | By | 1 Comment

              bartender contest

              And now let us praise those unsung heroes of your cruise, the lowly barkeep.

              In these times of cleanses and CrossFit, it might be unpopular to admit that you’re the one buying an unlimited drinks package. Here at Cruise Critic, we go out of our way to stress that today’s ships are much more than party boats full of spring breakers. And it’s true, if you’re a teetotaler, you can easily enjoy a sojourn at sea without feeling like you’re missing out.

              That said, the perfect cruise ship bar can become your vacation hang, the place where everyone knows your name, at least for the next seven nights. Whether you day drink by the pool, sip martinis before dinner or boogie down late in the disco, cruise ship bars have you covered, with an air of hospitality that’s hard to replicate on land.

              Chief to this experience are the men and women who man the cocktail counters, dispensing booze with a smile and, on many ships, with a sense of style. I did a stint as a barkeep in London, and let me tell you, it’s hard to keep the drinks flowing for a thirsty crowd while still maintaining your cool. A great cruise ship bartender not only acknowledges your drink order, but also makes you feel at home while you’re away, enhancing your vacation mentality and letting you know that now, finally, is your time to relax.

              Every year, Bacardi Global Travel Retail, part of the famous rum company, honors the best of these barkeeps with the Bacardi Cruise Competition. In its 10th year, the contest encourages cruise line bartenders to come up with their own custom cocktails. The winner receives $5,000 and, as you’d expect, serious bragging rights. (Bacardi treats these finalists right, setting them up with several days out and about in Miami, as well as hands-on training sessions.)

              Sip by sip recap of Bacardi’s bartender competition

                Where in the World is Cruise Critic?

                March 23, 2015 | By | No Comments

                Children on a cobblestone road in Cuba (merc67/Shutterstock)

                Ship: Cuba Cruise’s Celestyal (Louis) Cristal

                Where: Cuba (Havana, Santiago, Holguin, Cienfuegos & Trinidad) and a stop in Montego Bay, Jamaica

                Who: Chris Gray Faust, Destinations Editor

                Why There? Canada-based Cuba Cruise is the first cruise line to allow Americans to visit Cuba through a partnership with several non-profit organizations, such as the Fund for Reconciliation and Development. I’ll be traveling on a People to People license, which stresses culturally oriented shore excursions and meet-ups with Cubans (although I’m sure there will be time for a mojito or two).

                We Can’t Wait: Long off limits to regular American tourists, Cuba has a mystique that sets it apart from the rest of the Caribbean. Even though the rest of the world has been able to visit, I’m looking forward to seeing the classic 1950s cars of Havana, listening to Cuban music and exploring the countryside.

                Cruise Critic’s trip list for the week…

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