Avalon Visionary, the newest of Avalon Waterways' five planned "suite ships," is also the tiniest. The 361-foot-long, 36-foot-wide, 128-passenger vessel was built as a sister ship to Avalon Panorama and Avalon Vista, but it's about 84 feet shorter than they are and carries 38 fewer passengers -- modifications which are necessary for the ship to sail its scheduled Rhine itineraries.
Although it's smaller in stature, Visionary is still big on style, boasting dark-wood finishes with pops of color and fun art throughout. Of the ship's 64 cabins, 52 are suites, and they're about 15 percent larger than the industry average. Cabins are comfortably furnished, offering memory foam mattress toppers and plush pillows and duvets. Flat-screen televisions offer a plethora of options (including nine fireplace settings), and spacious bathrooms offer marble countertops, glass shower doors and L'Occitane bath products. However, the biggest sell for these cabins is arguably the 11-foot-by-7-foot panoramic sliding-glass doors that turn the accommodations into open-air balconies.
Breakfast and lunch are both served buffet-style, but the quality of available fare is very high. Dinners are superb, and whether you're adventurous or prefer to stick to the "always available" menu, you'll find something tasty.
Overall, a cruise on this ship feels like a boutique hotel experience, thanks to its swanky decor and impeccable service. We were able to walk, with our luggage, directly from our cab to the ship without the hassle of baggage checks and security screenings. Even the check-in process was painless -- we just gave our name; it was that simple.
Cruises on Visionary are port-intensive, so they're great for anyone who enjoys European history and sightseeing. And, unlike sailings on mega-ships, voyages include shore excursions in their pricing. But it's important to note that, since river cruising focuses on the culture and history of the ports visited, there isn't much to do onboard, and the number and duration of shore excursions offered daily may leave you feeling a little less relaxed and refreshed than you might after other vacations. You will, however, be apt to feel enriched, enlightened and well traveled.