Avalon Visionary Entertainment
Because the main focus of river cruising is on ports of call, you won't find a lot that will convince you to stay on the ship while docked. Instead, shore excursions (included in the cruise fare) are offered -- sometimes more than once per day. On our sailing, we toured museums and other local landmarks in the off-the-beaten-path towns we visited. During our cruise in The Netherlands, we saw fields of colorful tulips, checked out the world's oldest planetarium, witnessed cheese being made and auctioned, and learned tons about the local history and culture. Guides were knowledgeable, friendly and spoke fluent English.
Note: Despite the high-tech feel of our onboard card/room key, the staff's only method of keeping track of who's ashore and who's back onboard while in port is a series of laminated paper cards with room numbers printed on them. If you forget to pick yours up before leaving the ship, nobody will know you're gone. Likewise, if you forget to turn your card in at the desk when you arrive back after an excursion, they'll think you're still in port, checking out the souvenirs.
As shore excursions begin early and are often tiring, nightlife isn't very popular onboard. That said, one night, Avalon offered after-dinner entertainment in the form of a Genever (alcohol similar to gin) and cheese tasting, hosted by local experts. Another night, an outstanding trio of local string musicians played everything from classics to gypsy music. Both events were well attended. On all other nights, evening entertainment consisted entirely of live piano music in the main lounge.
The main lounge, used for pre- and post-dinner drinks, alternative dining, and nightly entertainment, is located just forward of the reception desk. With its panoramic windows, it's bright and airy, despite darker furnishings of brown faux wood and chairs upholstered in deep red and gray. Various couches are also scattered about, boasting either red vinyl or stripes of red, black and gray chenille.
The main lounge is home to the ship's only bar, accented with red leather bar stools and a cream-colored marble countertop. Two beverage menus are offered -- one for wine, beer and drinks like juice and soda, and one for mixed drinks. The first list offers a variety of white, red and rose wine from Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland. Per-bottle prices range from 27 euros for a French rose to 180 euros for Dom Perignon Champagne; by the glass, you'll pay 3.80 euros. Mixed-drink items from the second menu range in price from 3 euros to 14.50 euros, but most hover around the 5- to 7-euro range.
On select "movie nights," movies are shown after dinner on the flat-screen TV in the ship's secondary aft lounge on Deck 3.
Avalon Visionary Public Rooms
The main doors to the ship feed directly into a small lobby and reception area, which is bright and welcoming. The reception desk faces a small gathering area with cream-colored leather chairs and a coffee table. Next to that, passengers will find two computers -- one Mac and one PC. They're free to use, as is the bow-to-stern Wi-Fi for those who wish to bring their own laptops for use throughout the ship. In our experience, reception was decent, and load times seemed faster than those on most other vessels.
The ship's secondary lounge is a small space at the aft of the ship on Deck 3. It's got funky burnt-orange carpeting, dark tables and black wicker seating with black cushions. This room also offers a small library of books and board games. If you're feeling peckish between meals, freshly baked cookies and a variety of hot beverages are always available there, along with fruit and juice during the day. This lounge is also the location for Avalon's past-passenger meetings onboard.
A first-aid kit is available at the ship's front desk, but there are no medical facilities onboard. Because river cruises sail so close to land, qualified medical professionals are only a phone call away in case of an emergency.
Self-service laundry facilities are not offered to passengers, but cleaning and pressing services are available for a fee. Prices range from 0.50 euro to 6 euros, depending on the article of clothing and service chosen.
The ship itself is wheelchair-accessible throughout, but passengers with limited mobility may find getting on and off the ship to be difficult, if not impossible, due to the types of gangway planks used while docked. The onboard elevator also does not go up to the sun deck, as low-hanging bridges don't allow for that sort of height. The line advises that anyone sailing on the ship should at least be able to walk up the gangway and one flight of stairs. None of the cabins is specifically wheelchair-accessible.
Note: Smoking is banned on all Avalon ships, with the exception of designated areas. On Visionary, these are outdoors at the very front of the ship, just outside the main lounge, and at the rear, just past the aft lounge.
Avalon Visionary Spa & Fitness
The top deck, the vessel's sun deck, spans the entire length of the ship. It offers one hot tub, a giant chess board and a decent number of sun loungers -- some covered to offer respite from the sun -- from which passengers can enjoy 360-degree views as they sail through tiny towns. A small area of covered tables and chairs is also available forward, just in front of the bridge. On nice days, this space sometimes hosts the line's Sky Bistro -- an outdoor eatery, which features grilled fare. One nice touch is that the front portion of Visionary's sun deck was designed three feet lower than the rest, allowing passengers the ability to safely remain outside when the ship passes under low bridges. There are no swimming pools or wraparound promenade on Visionary.
There is also no spa on Avalon Visionary, but a small salon is found near the aft of the ship on Deck 3, offering haircuts, styling, head massages, coloring and highlighting for both men and women. Manicures and pedicures are also available. Prices range from 6 euros for fingernail painting to 46 euros for highlights.
Passengers will find a very small workout room midship on Deck 1. It has enough space for one treadmill, one recumbent bike, one regular exercise bike -- all Life Fitness brand -- and a TV. There's also a tower of free weights offering increments up to 10 kilograms. Water and towels are available at no additional charge at the back of the room. No fitness classes are organized onboard.