It’s my first time on a river cruise, and although I’m not yet convinced I like it better than big-ship cruising, I’m certainly intrigued. Most itineraries have no “sea” days, the ships are much more intimate, and passengers focus mainly on destinations instead of racing to and fro onboard to hit the casino, production show and bingo all in one night.
So, what are my initial impressions of river cruising and Avalon Waterways‘ newest “Suite Ship,” the 128-passenger Avalon Visionary?
Plain and simple: The ship is tiny but cute. It’s a copy of 166-passenger sister ships Avalon Panorama and Avalon Vista, but it’s shorter than both by 20 meters — a modification necessary so the ship can sail the Rhine. Its shortened layout translates to a smaller main lounge and slightly fewer passengers (128), meaning cruisers are even more likely to have an intimate experience onboard. That could be both a blessing and a curse for someone like me who’s traveling alone; although it’s impossible to hide out undetected without confining yourself to your cabin, it’s a great way to meet new people.
Is my Junior Suite (known as a Panorama Suite on other ships) really a suite? One of the selling points for Avalon’s trio of Suite Ships is that they offer mainly suite accommodations. Although my cabin is beautiful and certainly far beyond adequate, I’m finding that it’s similar in size to what you’d find on many big-ship cruises when booking an oceanview or balcony. Royal Suites, which are the largest, are certainly worthy of the title, but standard cabins, which are the smallest, definitely aren’t. The 11-by-7-foot sliding-glass doors are amazing, though, offering stunning views and an open-air atmosphere.
Avalon seems to have taken its passengers’ feedback into account when creating Visionary. The ship offers things like noise-cancelling ceiling panels in its lounges, and the forward portion of the sun deck was designed three feet lower than the rest, allowing passengers to safely remain outside as the vessel passes under low bridges.
Overall, the decor (mainly dark brown faux wood with tan accents and pops of color like red and blue) is just the right amount of upscale. You won’t find crystal-encrusted staircases or massive chandeliers, but you will find little touches — like under-the-sink night lights in each bathroom, umbrellas by the main desk for use during rainy shore excursions and ’round-the-clock cookies in one of the lounges — that make a world of difference.
Shore excursions and wine (with dinner) are included in the cruise fare. Although river cruises tend to cost a bit more than big-ship sailings, it’s worth it to know you’re less likely to see a huge onboard bill at disembarkation.
The level of camaraderie onboard is comforting. It’s obvious that the entire staff thinks of itself as one large family, and they do their best to treat passengers that way, too. Another refreshing tidbit is that, on embarkation day, I was able to walk from my cab right onto the ship — no hour-long queues or security area holding pens. While there certainly is a check-in procedure, it was a pleasant surprise not to be treated like a criminal. To me as a river newbie, it speaks volumes about the nature of river cruising.
Want to know more about river cruises? Visit our river & canal cruises page.
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