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Stunning View of a Castle in a Panoramic Suite on Avalon Imagery II (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

Can You Stay Active on a River Cruise? Yes! Live from an Avalon Waterways’ Active & Discovery European River Cruise

Stunning View of a Castle in a Panoramic Suite on Avalon Imagery II (Photo: Marilyn Borth)
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Marilyn Borth

Sep 13, 2023

Read time
8 min read

Take any preconceptions you may have about river cruises not being "healthy" vacations and toss them right out the window. Contrary to popular belief, there are sailings out there that spotlight physical wellness and overall healthy living that are fittingly referred to as active river cruises -- and they're in the heart of Europe.

We’re on an Active & Discovery cruise with Avalon Waterways that has spent time on the Moselle, Rhine and Main rivers in Luxembourg and Germany. Avalon has increased these sailings by 600% since their introduction in 2017 because of how popular they had become with river cruisers.

The line’s Active & Discovery cruises aim to take guests to charming destinations along European rivers, while providing more daily excursion options than any other sailing -- all the while being more physical, too.

We came into the seven-day cruise on Avalon Imagery II with 65 other passengers, which began in Remich, Luxembourg and will end in Frankfurt, Germany, wondering this: Exactly how "active" are the Active & Discovery river cruises with Avalon? Would we get worn out -- or invigorated and challenged by the trip?

Here's what we have discovered so far and what you need to know.

What to Expect on Avalon’s Active & Discovery River Cruises' Excursions

View of Bernkastel from the Top Deck on Avalon Imagery II (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

First off: who are these cruises for? Avalon’s Active & Discovery cruises tend to attract those who are 45 years old and above, especially those who have health and wellness in mind. The excursions on these sailings are active but not overly – there is no rock climbing available, for example, but plenty of walking and some biking. Some sailings even offer kayaking in some ports.

And if you don’t want to take part in excessive physical activity at all, that’s your choice; excursions aren't forced. Our cruise had three included, guide-led excursion options to choose from in nearly every port: Active, Discovery and Classic.

While "Active" is self-explanatory, the "Discovery" excursions were geared toward hands-on experiences and the "Classic" excursions were more typical river cruise activities, such as a gentle walk or motorcoach tour.

We tried at least one of each on our trip. And while they were generally enjoyable, we noticed some inconsistencies in their level of physical activity.

Some Active excursions were rather short meanderings around charming, cobblestoned towns, while others involved 30-minute hikes up mountains at nearly a 90-degree angle (and I wish I was exaggerating). The latter was a hike in Cochem, Germany -- one that was solely labeled "a hike" without much warning of what was truly to come.

Our group consisted of six people, almost all of which were in their 50s and 60s -- and in great shape. We ambled through the heartwarming town of Cochem with our guide, then to our hiking trail's starting point. It was there that our eyes widened and jaws dropped. The hiking trail was straight up a mountain face with numerous stairs zig-zagging upwards.

Hiking on an Active River Cruise (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

Fortunately, there was a chair lift right above the foreboding trail, which was only mentioned as an option for the way down. I personally adore hiking, but this trek wasn't of any interest to me -- and certainly not in the humidity we were experiencing. All of us collectively shook our heads at the trail and opted for the chair lift -- both up and back.

While our guide was happy to appease us (and most guides are with Avalon), situations like these made it a smidge more difficult to decide which Active excursions would match our needs and even daily moods. We couldn't fully grasp how active we'd be on an excursion, which ostensibly ranged from almost no movement to training for the Olympics.

Panoramic View from the Mountain in Cochem (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

But it wasn't only the Active excursions that perplexed us in their inconsistencies. A Discovery excursion to a centuries-old mustard mill in Cochem, Germany was ho hum. It felt like a tourist trap, since nothing about it was local to the area; the mustard seeds and machines to make the mustard weren't even from Germany. While the mustard created was delicious, we felt disconnected from the region.

The "Active" and "Discovery" excursions felt similar in terms of physicality at times as well. There were moments where they both offered local wine tastings and light walks in towns, making it hard to gauge which would be more strenuous than others.

Our advice is to ask your guide before you set out from the ship how long and far your walk or hike is. Talk with them individually to decide if it's right for you. Fortunately, Avalon makes the excursion selection process flexible (but they do highly recommend booking in advance for planning purposes).

While the excursions were a bit "off" in terms of what the activity level would be like on occasion, they were highly educational, quality and flat out good fun. The guides were delightful and packed with both information and wit, making for generally enriching experiences.

One of my personal favorites was our guide in Bernkastel, who led us through the town and told us quirky facts, like how the shackles displayed in the main square were for punishing those who committed social misconducts. She also informed us that one centuries-old, half-timber home was built smaller at the base yet wider on top. Why? To avoid paying more taxes on the plot of land, of course.

Bernkastel Tour with Guide (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

While she made sure to educate us on the town wholly, she also kept it concise and light-hearted -- and quick so we had more time to spend at our local wine-tasting.

Other Ways to Be Healthy on an Active River Cruise with Avalon Waterways

Bicycles on an Active River Cruise (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

The shore excursions on your itinerary aren't the only ways for cruisers to be active during their sailing. Morning exercise classes, such as stretching and yoga, are offered once a day and are led by the onboard fitness instructor. These aren't too grueling and can be a great way to start the day.

Avalon also has a small fitness room onboard its ships. While it’s not large -- typical on river cruise ships, which usually have less than 200 people -- it has a treadmill, an elliptical, a yoga mat and some dumbbells.

Equipment is available onboard for independent use as well. Walking sticks, bicycles, e-bikes and binoculars can be rented by guests on their own terms in port. Note that each Avalon ship has 14 bicycles but only two e-bikes in total. We recommend reserving at least one day in advance for these, especially the e-bikes which go quickly.

Healthy dining options are available at every meal, too, which are labeled on menus as "Avalon Fresh" items. Avalon Fresh items were crafted in collaboration with Austrian chefs, who use local and fresh ingredients to create healthy (and delectable) dining options. The portion sizes for all dishes are spot on for healthy, mindful eating.

Avalon Fresh Menu Item with Mustard-Crusted Cod (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

As a heavy water-drinker myself, I must also mention the constant availability of drinking water onboard. Your room is supplied with two large bottles of water, which are refilled twice every day, and there are at least two water bottle refilling stations onboard. Not all cruise ships supply this (in fact, very few do), so this small yet meaningful gesture goes a long way in terms of healthy living -- and healthy cruising.

Tips for Taking an Active River Cruise

Local Wine Tasting in Remich Luxembourg (Photo: Marilyn Borth)

Bring Sunscreen and a Hat: Protect yourself from the sun and have sunscreen available and on. Don't forget those sunglasses and a hat, too.

Always Bring a Jacket: No matter what month you choose to sail on a European river cruise, be sure to bring some layers along. It can more often than not be chilly at nighttime, so bring a light jacket along for safe measure.

Pack Bug Spray: On occasion, it can be a little buggy either on your ship's deck or on your excursions, especially on hikes. Come prepared to ward off these nuisances and bring your preferred bug spray.

Wear Comfortable Shoes: Considering this is an active river cruise and one that is in Europe (think cobblestones, stairs and hills), wear comfortable shoes on your excursions. Hiking boots aren't necessary, but you should still wear a pair that is comfortable and breathable. We recommend athletic sneakers and sandals to fit any and all activities and activity levels.

Be Sure to Bring Your Camera or Smartphone: The views you will witness are simply extraordinary, so be sure to bring along your favorite gadget to document them to look back on in the future (and share with your family and friends to incite jealousy, of course).

Carry Necessities in a Fanny Pack or Small Satchel: We highly recommend having a comfortable yet small bag with you to carry your belongings on whichever excursions you do end up joining.

Choose Excursions in Advance: You can choose your excursions while onboard, but there is a significantly higher chance that your desired excursion(s) will be booked up. To help avoid this undesirable scenario, book your excursions in advance either on the app or online directly with the cruise line.

Bring Cash: On any European river cruise (or whenever you are visiting Europe in general), you should always have some cash on you -- specifically Euros -- because not every restaurant, bar or shop you visit on land will accept credit cards as payment.

Bring Along a Refillable Water Bottle: As mentioned above, your sailing will be rather active and there are refilling stations onboard. Bring your favorite refillable water bottle to stay hydrated, both on and off the ship.

Updated September 13, 2023
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