We chose to do a Rhine River Cruise to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. It could not have been more perfect. Our cruise was "The Rhine and Moselle" which is several days longer than the basic "Romantic Rhine" cruise. The entire experience from booking the cruise to airport shuttle at the end of the cruise was was wonderful.
We flew into Amsterdam on the first day of the cruise. We found the local reps at the airport who walked us over to our bus whereupon we were delivered to a hotel within a short walking distance of the center of Amsterdam. We had a large meeting room in which to relax while waiting for boarding time. This was a good time to start meeting others in the group. My wife and I chose to walk into the town center which is maybe 3/4 mile away. An easy walk. We returned to the hotel and were shuttled to the ship, which was docked right behind the hotel. We did not sail that night because a canal boat tour of Amsterdam was included the next morning. We sailed about lunch time that day.
I'm not going to review all the stops along the way other than to say that every 'port of call' was lovely, with INCLUDED local tours every day. It was much like taking a tour by motorcoach except that you bring your hotel along with you. It made for a very pleasant,, no worries, experience.
We were very fortunate with the weather. It was a bit cold for the first three days but it then started warming up. Cool mornings and mild, sunny afternoons. Several days were forecast with 70%-80% chances of rain but they never materialized, other than maybe a very light, brief sprinkle.
Our Cruise Director, Karolein, was a treasure. Extremely knowledgeable, hard working, funny. She took care of every detail for us. The captain was a soft spoken, easy going guy that could do stand up comedy on the side. The two beautiful ladies at the reception desk, Bea and Oana, were a joy to work with. All of the restaurant and bar staff were friendly, charming, and very helpful. We especially liked working with Shady, Constantine and Michael in the lounge. They also acted as bartenders in the dining room at dinner time. We always sat at Ovi's table at dinner. He was a very attentive and graceful server.
We always had breakfast in the dining room, a light lunch in the lounge, and dinner in the dining room.
The food was amazing in all respects. Seven or eight choices of entrees each night as well as a selection of starters, soups and desserts. We had a top notched Chef on board.
Unlimited wine and beer is included with dinner. There were four selections of included wines each night including at least one from the local region. I am very much into wines and I found them all to be excellent. They were not stingy with the pouring, either.
There is a Happy Hour in the lounge each day with half price drinks. Apparently, they have recently changed their policy because you no longer have to order two of the same drink to get their "2 for 1" special at Happy Hour. All drinks are simply half priced.
The cabins were smallish but no smaller than the average cabin on ocean going cruise ships. We opted up to the second floor, mid ship. All cabins on decks two and three have "French balconies." Not a balcony that you can go out on but you have large sliding glass doors that give you the open air feel of a balcony. We enjoyed this very much. The bathrooms were larger than most cruise ships and there is a real glass door instead of a thin plastic curtain that tends to stick to you. The beds had memory foam mattresses and were extremely comfortable.
There are four suites on the ship but a quick inspection showed that, other than a very small sitting area, the suites didn't seem to be much bigger than the other cabins.
Entertainment on board was limited to a quite talented,resident pianist/guitarist who played in the lounge during lunch, happy hour and after dinner. There were a few outside entertainers who came on board some nights. One standout was a wonderful singer. She did ten songs representing ten nations of Europe- in the original languages. It was a great show, as was a duet of two singers one night. Lots of dancing to their singing. Overall, though, people tended to retire shortly after dinner ended at 0900.
We only signed up for two optional excursions: One was a German feast complete with beer, schnapps, an "oompah" band and dancing. It was a lot of fun though our "group meal" food was not really representative of the region. The other option we did was a drive through the wine region of Alsace which included a visit and free time in a beautiful, walled village and wine tasting at a local vineyard. We very much enjoyed this.
Disembarkation was painless, other than having to get up at 4:30 for our 0600 shuttle. But they had a full breakfast buffet open early for us that morning. We loaded up and departed at 0600. We arrived at Zurich airport about 0715. Plenty of time for our 1010 departure. At that time in the morning we zipped right through check-in, security, etc. Zurich airport is huge and spread out so you will be glad to have the extra time Avalon allows for you.
We met lots of very nice people on the ship and became great friends with two couples: Kevin and Carmel from Australia, and Gary and Lisa from Canada. (We are from Texas, ourselves.) We all did pretty much our own thing but ate dinner together every night. Great fun. All the travelers on the ship were quite nice. Well.... there always has to be "THAT GUY!" Right? By day two he was telling everyone he talked to that he was an American Express Travel Agent (from Georgia)who was "inspecting the ship" and he was very vocal about how terrible he thought the food was. He bragged about going to the kitchen "just like Gordon Ramsay" and demanding that Chef cook him something he could eat. He then criticized for that, too. He quickly became "personae non grata." No one wanted anything to do with him and even his lovely wife kept her distance from him most of the time. He rarely was seen eating meals in the dining room. It seems that he was buying bread, cheese, and lunch meet in town when we were ashore, and eating his food in his room or in the rear library lounge. He never participated in any activity. He wasn't missed.
Overall, it was a delightful experience and we look forward to taking another cruise with Avalon in the near future. I highly recommend it!