My wife and I sailed on the Avalon Tranquility II April 18 through April 25, 2015. It was a North bound sailing on the Rhine from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The Tranquility II was launched on ... Read More
My wife and I sailed on the Avalon Tranquility II April 18 through April 25, 2015. It was a North bound sailing on the Rhine from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The Tranquility II was launched on April 2, 2015; this is was only the third sailing of the ship. This was our first river cruise.
Overall, the cruise and the ship were fabulous. The crew and the service were fantastic…especially the cruise director, Karolien.
We flew into Zurich a day early and stayed at the Avalon pre-cruise hotel – the Moevenpick Airport Zurich. (See my review on TripAdvisor dated April 28, 2015 entitled "Good Hotel; the Restaurant Service Needs Improving. Directions using S-7 to Zurich". The bus from the hotel left at 3:30 PM; we were at the by around 4:30 PM.
We were escorted to our cabin be the staff. Our bags were delivered about 10 minutes later.
The ship was beautiful. It was elegant, contemporary and comfortable. (In Amsterdam, we docked next to a Uniworld ship. I’ve always heard that Uniworld was top-notch. Looking through the windows of the public areas we could see crystal chandlers and ornate furniture. It looked like my grandmothers living room – no thanks).
The layout of the ship is kind of a “split-level”. The main deck with reception and the main lounge is a half a deck down from deck 3 and half a deck up from deck 2 The dining room is a half a deck down from deck 2 and a half a deck up from deck 1.
There are six steps between each of these decks. The only problem that I saw with the ship design is the height or rise of the steps. I believe that a normal step has about seven inches. My estimate of the steps on the ship was about a nine inch rise.
Most of the passengers on the ship were older. (My guess is that the average age was about 72). You could tell many had hip and knee problems and had trouble walking on the excursions. People struggled to climbs the short stair cases. Yes, there is a small elevator; but, I never saw a passenger use it.
Hygiene was encouraged on the ship. There is an alcohol-based sanitizer dispenser at the door that passengers are asked to clean their hands with upon returning from shore. There are two sanitizer dispensers one each side of the entrance to the main dining room which passenger are reminded to use before each meal. After a few days, passengers were complaining about dry skin.
The cabin was beautiful, tasteful and very functional. There was a lot of hanging storage in the closet. There were also some shelves on the side of the closet where the safe was located. (I found the safe a little tricky. The first couple of times that I opened and closed it, it didn’t catch. I would come back the cabin and find the safe opened. Then I realized that I had to hold the safe closed with one hand and punch in the code with the other; and, then you have to wait to see the word “success” on the display. Otherwise, there was a good chance that the door didn’t catch properly).
Drawer space was limited to three drawers in the desk and a very small drawer in each nightstand. Lighting in the room was great. The beds were high enough to store suitcases.
There is a mini-bar on the left side of the desk. It is well stocked. There is enough room in the fridge for two or three small water bottles. Housekeeping checks the inventory each day. Be careful about removing items from the fridge to make room for your own things. You will be charged for missing items on a daily basis. Avalon provides two (one liter) bottles of water in cabin and replaces the bottles throughout the cruise…a nice touch. There are at least two ice machines – one by the entrance to the main dining room and one in the rear lounge on deck three.
We requested that the bed be put together. There was a placard on the bed when we first arrived that, if you didn’t want the duvet cover, you could request a traditional sheet and blanket set up. I found the duvet too warm for me. So, I requested the sheet and blanket setup. The only problem is that they don’t have queen/king size blankets. There are two blankets in the cabin on the shelf above the safe in the closet. They are twin size blankets. Housekeeping laid the twin-sized blankets perpendicularly across the bed. There was no spread on top. It worked; but, it wasn’t pretty.
Speaking of bedding, I read somewhere that Avalon uses TempurPedic mattresses. The mattress was the most comfortable bed that I had ever slept on. We both awoke with no backaches or pain. The pillows were great also. (Unlike the pillows in the Moevenpick).
The HVAC system was very good. You just had to interpolate the Celsius marking for Fahrenheit. The room was always comfortable.
The bathroom was large and beautiful. There is a storage area with shelves on each side of the sink. The wastebasket pulls of the center of the counter. There is a narrow glass shelf on the mirror. We really enjoyed the use of the provided bathrobes and slippers. The shower was very good. But, my wife wished that there was a seat or a step to aid in shaving her legs. One hint on the shower…when you first turn the shower on there is a button or detente that stops the knob. The shower at that point is a gentle spray. If you press the button down and continue to turn the knob more, you get a stronger spray. (It took us a half a week to figure that out). One nice touch in the bathroom was that there were lights at the top of the mirror and another set of lights under to overhang of the counter for floor lighting. They made for a good night light.
The only real problem we encountered was the toilet stopped working just after lunch on Monday. The problem was fixed by the time we returned from our afternoon excursion. The toilets work on a vacuum system and there was a problem (a loose fitting or something) with the system. Some passengers reported sporadic issues with the toilets prior to that.
A word on cabin position…we were in room 210 on the port side of the ship. We felt that it was perfect. It was far enough away from the main lobby and not too far back that it was a hike to get to your cabin. I don’t really think that port or starboard cabin locations make much difference. There was scenery on both sides. Some nights we moored facing the river and some nights we tied up facing the town. (The only time that was really an issue was the night in Rudesheim. There are train tracks along the river. There were trains every four to five minutes all night long. My wife didn’t hear them; but, they kept waking me up. I’m not sure if we were on the starboard side it would have been any better.
I really didn’t think that we would open the wall-to-wall sliding glass doors much. But, we had them open every day. It was a nice treat.
Shortly before 5:00 PM on Saturday, the cruise director came over the speaker system and announced that we were waiting for three passengers. I learned latter that the significance of that was the captain was anxious to get underway. There are 14 locks between Basel and Amsterdam. Nine of those locks are between Basel and the first port of Strasbourg. The time that it takes to get to Strasbourg depends on other river traffic using the locks. We made Strasbourg on time; but, we learned the next day that it took over five hours to get through one lock.
There are some very low bridges leaving Basel and the crew had to drop the railings, and all the structures (including the captain’s bridge) to pass under the roadways. So, we were not permitted on the Sky Deck during the sail away.
The safety exercise and ‘welcome aboard’ reception took place in the main lounge.
The food at dinner was generally very good. There was a choice of two appetizers, two soups and two entrees each night. Plus there were three or four entrees that were always available. The soups were excellent. The only entrees that I had that were a little off were a veal roast that I thought was over cooked and a cod entrée that I thought was tasteless. Deserts were good.
On the last night, neither of the main entrees appealed to me. So, I ordered the tenderloin from the items that are always available. It was surprisingly good.
The first morning I was up early, so I tried the “Early Riser” (6:00 AM – 7:00AM) breakfast in the main lounge. It was juice, coffee/tea and pastries mainly. There may have been a cereal. I can’t remember. The full breakfast buffet usually runs from (7:00 AM until 9:00 AM) in the restaurant. My hint for both the breakfast and lunch buffets is to sit at one of the tables first and read the menu. There are always daily specials like eggs benedict, blue berry pancakes, etc. that you have to order from the wait staff. At lunch there is a sandwich special on the menu.
The breakfast buffet had a little bit of everything. The only thing that I believe was missing was American cold cereals. There was Muslin and oatmeal; but, that was all I saw. There is bacon cooked two ways…soft cooked and crispy. And, there is always a chaffing dish of scrambled eggs. They had an amazing cook doing eggs to order. He had about five pans going preparing omelets, fried eggs, etc. Plus there were soft cooked eggs. My favorite breakfast item was the Belgium waffles. Again, you had to order them from the menu; they are not on the buffet.
By the way…there is one menu per couple. So, you have to share.
The lunch buffet usually had a meat dish plus a carving station, about four or five vegetables. There is a pasta station on the starboard side of the buffet line (looking forward) only. Don’t expect, Southern Italian, red-sauced pasta. It’s not there. It was mostly spaghetti or Linguine lightly dressed with something like a pesto, al Olio (olive oil and garlic), or something similar. Twice the menu listed gnocchi; I never found it.
My wife and I are not fans for a full-hot meal for lunch. So, we usually opted for the sandwich. A “light lunch” was usually served in the lounge at lunch time. It was usually, soup or pasta and a sandwich. On a couple of occasions, they offered a “grill lunch” up on the Sky Deck (weather permitting). It consisted of grilled chicken, minute steaks, corn on the cob, salads, sausages, and burgers. They can only handle 20 passengers at a time (the number of tables) and you have to sign up for it. But, if they offer it, it is a nice change of pace.
The ship also experimented with a dinner alternative that they called a “Bistro Dinner”. It was a tapas-style (small plates) meal held in the lounge. We never did it. So, I can’t comment on it.
The entire staff was great. They always greeted you wherever they saw you. They were all pleasant and friendly. The people at the reception desk could not do enough for you.
Service for the first and second nights at dinner was unbelievable. Your wine glass was never empty. (My only gripe was that the wait staff asked you if you wanted red or white wine before you had a chance to look at the menu and decide what you were having that night). Courses flowed like clockwork.
On the third night, the dinner service was much slower. We talked about it with our table mates and one gentleman pointed out that it was the first night that they tried the “Bistro Dinner”. That meant that they had to pull wait staff (and split the kitchen) to serve up in the lounge. I don’t know if it meant anything, but that night I spotted Peter, the restaurant manager, at the reception desk and I mentioned to him that I thought that the service was much slower at dinner. He thanked me. They offered “Bistro Dinner” several more times. I never noticed slow service after that.
Our favorite place on the ship was the bar. (Okay, I’m half Irish). There were a couple of stand-out crew members that handled the bar. First was the bartender – Aneta. She was fast and efficient; and, she knew what she was doing. Every day at happy hour they would have a drink special. One day it was Mojitos. I never saw anyone crank out drinks that fast. Plus she was sweet, personable and fun. After the first night, she had our room number memorized. The “class clown” of the cruise was a waiter named Iro (like hero without the “h”). He was also a lot of fun.
I’ve read a review that knocked Avalon’s level of service because most of the crew is mainly East European. (In total, the crew represented 11 nations). I don’t believe that is true. I would rate the level of service an A+.
Guidelines for tipping are included in your cruise documents. I found out while on the cruise that you can either pre-pay the tips or charge them to a credit card. If I knew that, I wouldn’t have gone to the bank to get extra Euros. We were talking to hotel manager (Mr. D) one day. He explained that, aside from the cruise director), all the rest of the crew splits the tips equally – from the officers down to the dish washers.
I wasn’t expecting much in the way of entertainment; so, I was pleasantly surprised. The on-board entertainer was a gentleman name Rumen. He played piano and accordion; plus, he did a little signing. One group of passengers from Australia really liked his Tom Jones songs and begged him to play them each night. We had a scheduled appearance of Armand and Margaux – a French Accordion team. (It may sound corny, but they were pretty good). One night, the cruise director arranged an unscheduled appearance of a violin trio. They were excellent. The crew show was funny and entertaining.
There was a Happy Hour almost every day before the Port Talk and diner. Drinks were half price. It was pretty well attended. But, this wasn’t really a party crowd. Unless there was special entertainment, the lounge was pretty dead after dinner. There was a group of Australians, my wife and I and one or two other people.
There is a flat screen TV in the room. I wasn’t planning on watching much TV; but, I would have liked to have caught up on world news. There were about eight English language news channels – all from Great Britain. Most seems to be focus on European business. The world could have been at war and we would not have known it.
On the last day sailing from Cologne to Amsterdam, we had a lot of time to kill. I thought that I would watch a movie. But, the TV didn’t work. (It was fixed by that evening). I latter found out that many people problems with their TVs. They just didn’t work. In Cologne, the crew was seen bring about 10 new TVs on-board. The rumor was that some of the TVs that were installed during construction were incompatible with ship’s system. The only real use that the TV got was that housekeeping would turn the TV to one of the ten “fireplace” channel each night as the turned down the beds. The music selection on the TV was horrible. One category was called “Bar Selections 1 through 4”.
On the other hand, the internet Wi-Fi service on-board was very good. You need to get a password from reception. I signed on once and remained connected throughout the cruise. The only thing that didn’t work was when I attempted to stream a movie. I don’t think that there was enough band-width.
Excursions – Included
When you arrive at your cabin, you are provided with and ear piece and lanyard. They are for wireless audio system used by the guides during the tours. Each excursion will have between three and five color-coded tours to break the passengers into more manageable groups. The system worked well; I was impressed by the quality and range of the devices. The “yellow” group seemed to have a high frequency of dead receivers. But, the guides usually have a spare receiver or two.
The ear pieces, on the other hand, are painful. After about 20 minutes you are tempted to rip the thing off your ear. I thought that it was interesting that Avalon wanted the ear pieces and lanyards back at the end of the cruise.
In general, the included tours were all very good and interesting. There is an “easy walking” group for each excursion. In Koblenz, we got drafted into an easy walking tour because there were too many in the “red” group and no one in the “white” or easy walker group. The tour leader was interesting. He was a college professor, a lawyer, an author and a poet. But, we only covered about a four square block area in Koblenz and he beat each location to death with way to much detail and his personal poems.
In some cases, I’m not sure what the “easy walker” group bought you. At the Heidelberg castle for instance, all the groups had to climb a rather steep, cobblestone path up to the main castle level.
My suggestion to anyone planning on any of these cruises is to start walking at least a mile a day a month before the cruise. You do a lot of walking. And, most of it is on cobblestone walkway. Walking on cobblestones is very strenuous.
Personally, my favorite day was Speyer. We had the morning to ourselves to walk into town and explore. That gave me plenty of time to compose and properly frame photos. I didn’t feel rushed and I felt that we got a flavor for the town. We started walking around 9:00 AM. The shops didn’t open until 10:00. We were back on board by 11:30.
The one tour that I could have done without was the visit to Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum in Rudesheim. It was corny and some of the music was way too loud – BRING EAR PLUGS. This was the only tour where I remember that they walked you through the souvenir shop to exit the building. After that, there was a short walk to the Rudesheim Schloss for Rudesheim coffee. (Coffee with Asbach brandy, whipped cream and chocolate).
The sail through the Rhine Gorge was magnificent. Unfortunately, it was the coldest and windiest day we had on the cruise. A lot of people on the Sky Deck took blankets from their cabin to stay warm. Karolien narrated the trip, explaining each castle and point of interest, for over two hours.
Excursions – Optional
We did the Zurich City tour on our first day. I was mainly a way to kill time waiting for the bus to Basel and the ship. It was worth it.
The Excursion to the Alsace Countryside was fun. We stopped at a small winery and tasted four (all white – this is mostly a white wine growing area) wines. Then we stopped and walked around the medieval town of Obernai. The tour guide (Terry) was very good.
In Rudesheim we did the German dinner. It is held in the open courtyard of the same restaurant were we had the Rudesheim coffee early. It was like a wedding. There had to be 250 people there, including passengers from two Viking ships that were in port. The band played all types of music besides German. The lead singer did some Neil Diamond and Elvis songs. They encourage audience participation with a drinking game where five people lined up and drank Schnapps from cups mounted to a long board. And, there was a parade around the restaurant with audience members play instruments. The food was a fixed menu. It was salad, and a plate of four sausages with sauerkraut and potatoes, plus desert. There was white and red wine on the table. You probably could have asked for beer; but, no one in our group did. Would I recommend it…probably not? The town is an easy walk from the ship. (You do have cross train tracks). And, there are many restaurants in Rudesheim.
We signed up for the Keukenhof Flower Exhibition. The timing was good; the flowers were in bloom and even the flower mosaic of Van Gogh was in full bloom. My issues with the tour were first, the crowds…attempting to enter the garden was like being in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. And second, the traffic getting out of the garden and back to the ship was frustrating. (We almost missed Happy Hour!)
As I mentioned, this was mainly an older crowd. Most people were retired or semi-retired. There was only one couple from Brazil in their 30’s. They looked like they were bored out of their minds most of the time. I don’t know who recommend this cruise to them; but, they got some bad information. On the night we docked in Cologne (about 11:30 PM) they were waiting by the lobby door ready to go ashore. There were bars and clubs, within a couple of blocks of the docks. I guess they couldn’t wait for some real nightlife.
Everyone was very friendly and everyone got along well. The hotel manager said that the passengers represented five nationalities. I estimate that they were British, Australian, Canadian, American and the couple from Brazil.
My wife and I loved this trip. We loved the ship, the crew and the fellow passengers. We especially loved the cruise director Karolien who made each day so special. One of her key phrases was “No panic, no stress” and that’s what this cruise was.
I highly recommend Avalon, the Tranquility II and this cruise. Read Less