We arrived on our own a couple days prior to the boat's departure, allowing time to see a bit of Amsterdam and adjust a bit to the 6 hour time zone change. We were to meet at Crowne Plaza City Center as a staging point. River cruise boats share many docking berths and often were stacked up three abreast in Amsterdam. We availed ourselves of one of the pre-cruise excursions that was not included in the comprehensive itinerary. Zaanse Schans is an open air museum where everything was moved there but is historically correct. There are several operating windmills there and we visited the cheese farm and saw a demonstration in the making of Klompen, traditional Dutch wooden shoes. Upon our return we were taken directly to where our boat was docked.
The Tranquility was berthed second out, so we passed through the inboard ship to arrive to our "home away from home" for the next 8 days. Guests are greeted with either a champagne or juice cocktail upon arrival along with many smiling faces. People were queued up and then escorted to their staterooms. The check-in is much less extensive than the larger cruise ships, and rightfully so. Remember, there is typically 160 passengers, not the thousands they have to deal with on the mega-liners. No security cards, photo ID's or any of that. Relax, you're in good hands. We arrived to our stateroom, and our bags were there awaiting us. The room, though smallish, was well laid out. Our beds were together, made up as a queen. Since I was traveling with my mother, we had requested the bed be separated. The person that escorted us to our room assured us they would be separated by the time the evening meal was over. We settled in and unpacked our belongings and readied for the evening meal.
The cruise director, Hendrik, was absolutely outstanding. He was professional, very personable and most knowledgeable. The cruise director on a river cruise does a lot more than staging Bingo games and keeping things lively. They ensure tour buses and guides are where they need to be, handles the booking of optional excursions and much more. The one point they stressed is: "This is YOUR vacation! Do as much or as little as you desire." And they mean it. No, the boats don't have a cinema, yes, there's movies on a couple of the channels on the tv in your stateroom, but we were never bored. Open the curtains and sliding glass door and enjoy the view and fresh air!
There were only a couple issues with our room. The first one, the bathroom door wouldn't close tightly. The latch didn't line up with the lock. I mentioned it to them one day and the following day, when the issue was still unresolved, I called them again. The front desk informed me the engineer came but couldn't see a problem. I waited while they both arrived, showed them the problem (thankfully it popped right open on cue.) They scratched their collective heads and I said "Well, if you can get me a flat file, I just need to shave some of the metal from the door's jam so the lock fully engaged in the jam." Well, obviously they didn't have me do the work, but the engineer returned a couple minutes later with a couple files in hand. After a few millimeters of metal framing where rasped away with the file, the door latched properly and that issue was behind us and hopefully all future passengers in stateroom 319. (It is a relatively new boat, let's not forget.)
There was nearly unanimous agreement in the fact that when the boat is docked, particularly between other boats that the rooms can get quite warm. Remember, our cruise was in April. Overly warm shouldn't be an issue. Once underway, the temperature controls located in the room maintained the temperature just fine.
The other issue that we and other passengers had was with the extreme firmness of the beds. They are a high quality foam mattress with a thin mattress pad and bottom sheet. Then a duvet is on top. No top sheet is used. Apparently this is standard practice in the Netherlands and European cruises, as it was standard practice everywhere we stayed. At any point, the foam mattress was so firm, it was literally unsleepable for me and was quite hard for my mom. I "engineered" yet another "make do"... In the closet, Avalon had light blankets. I tried folding the duvet and basically used that as a feather bed pad underneath and then used the blanket for cover. It worked well and when others mentioned their concerns over the firmness, I told them of what we tried and they later thanked me for the idea. (As a note, I have relayed this information back to a Globus U.S. vice president and she assured me she was going to hurriedly pass this information on to their world HQ in Switzerland.) They truly seem to be very responsive to concerns and issues.
What's it like on board? Casual and relaxed are to terms that come immediately to mind. Do you WANT to wear a tie? or a jacket? Go ahead. No one else will have one on, but if that's what you want to wear, go for it! A tux? don't bother unless you plan on attending something fittingly formal off ship to require it. It was a bit cool for shorts on our day excursions, however the boat's staff wouldn't have blinked an eye at you. I took one pair of jeans, the other 4 pairs of pants I carried along where casual pants that could be mixed and matched with the 5 collared shirts I brought. My mom dressed similarly, with smart-casual wear and fit in perfectly.
Meals... Breakfast and lunch are both served buffet style. Breakfast has an egg station where you can get your omelette's or eggs cooked to order. Bacon, link sausage and ham seemed to always be available for the meat eaters. Some mornings there would be pancakes, others waffles or french toast. Plenty of cold cereals were available along with fresh fruits and yummy pastries with a variety of jams and marmalades. Try their "vitamin" juice for breakfast instead of your standard OJ (yes, they have that too, along with hot teas, ice water and coffee) Lunch... again, buffet style but always something with a "local flair" and then more "americanized" food available. Every bit of the food they served was absolutely first rate. This was one reason I chose Avalon over some of our other options in European river cruising; the quality of their food. Sadly, our first head chef, Peter was only on board for 3 days in that position. He was replaced by Executive chef Kai. Food quality remained wonderful throughout. Evening meal. What a treat. You aren't assigned any special seating. Set with whom you choose, or at a quite table for 2 or 4 if you prefer that. The night prior, there will be a menu in your stateroom for you to fill out. Drop it off at the front desk the next morning on the way to breakfast so they can tally the results. It is strictly to give the chef and all his crew an "idea" of what people will be eating the following evening. You can change your mind on anything right up to the time you are at the table and place your order. The complementary wine served with the evening meals varies from night to night. Always a white and a red. There was only one red that I wasn't fond of and all the whites paired nicely with the meals. This is your vacation. Dinner is not rushed. They don't have to clear the room for a second seating, so the evening meal often took a relaxing 2- 2 1/2 hrs. Enjoy and savor your time at the table.
The final full night on the river (night 7) they had the "Gala meal". They don't call it a Captain's dinner due to the captain. His native tongue is not English and he speaks it hauntingly and slightly broken. Rather than place him in the uncomfortable position of hosting a table where questions he doesn't understand, or is unsure of how to reply, they forgo that painful experience for something pleasant for all. So the Captain and the Cruise Director along with Elke and Monika (head of house services and head of restaurant floor) meet the passengers as they go to enter the restaurant, again with either sparkling wine (not sure if it's from the Champagne region of France or not) or a juice. They greet you, allow for a quick photo, then you're off for a memorable meal.
Unlike large cruise ships, they do not offer midnight buffets, room service (well, you can get room service for breakfast for additional fee) and try one of each main course of evening's meal. Fear not, you will not starve or feel deprived. After the meal is completed, if there is any main course left over, a couple servers quickly pass around the floor to see if you'd care for another taste. I'm a "healthy eater" (not meaning I eat particularly healthy, just a LOT! LOL) I never felt deprived when I left the dining area.
There are a couple small issues with breakfast and lunch. That's more due to the layout of area. There tends to be some bottlenecks. If you're patient, they work themselves out. Again, due to feedback from many of the passengers, they said they were going to evaluate that issue and hopefully by the time you read this, those issues have been cleared away.
Overall boat impressions? It's a new boat, having just launched last year. I would expect no wear and tear, and there wasn't any evident to my eyes. There is crew assigned to cleaning and they are thorough! Yes, the boat has the sanitizer stations near the entrance to the dining area. Use them and keep the potential of health issues to a minimum.
The bar... ahhh, the bar and lounge. When scheduled, Zarko, the pianist is there playing tunes, and doing a very decent job. One night, 3 musicians boarded. They were called "La Strada" (sorry, I can't find any other information about them using search engines, but if you enjoy classical music,they were an AMAZING treat and we both bought their cd's)
Firstly, let me affirm that I am in no way being paid to say the following! LOL. They don't rip you off! On the large cruise lines, it's like they see how many ways they can part you from your funds. Here I could get Ilie or Peter, the bartenders to pour me a LARGE Heferweisen (filtered or unfiltered, Sir?) and it was a very reasonable 3.80 euros. No place on the bill to leave a tip, so I paid a visit to them near the end of our cruise to show my appreciation. Beer on tap? even more reasonable. Mixed drinks, made potent and, again, quite reasonable. I don't want to give the impression that I spent every waking moment when not otherwise involved in the lounge/bar. On my second visit, Ilie asked "the usual?" After deciding the first visit that the Heferweisen was to my taste, apparently that was "my usual"... which was perfectly fine with me! After about the third visit they had my room number memorized so I didn't even need to remind them of that! Ah, the pleasures of being on a cruise where you're a person and not herded around like cattle. If anyone would like to see photos of both the boat and some of our experiences, you're welcome to visit webshots and look at some of my photos I have posted. Also, feel free to contact me should you have questions concerning something that I may have overlooked.
It was VERY pleasant cruising with 159 other passengers instead of the "heard mentality" I have felt on the large cruise lines.