As strange as it sounds, this cruise was actually a late addition to our European trip. We had booked an ocean cruise that started and ended in Amsterdam last year and, since the cost of the flight from Canada was significant, we allowed ourselves some extra time (two weeks plus) in Europe beforehand to see and do other things.
We had previously considered a river cruise and the Rhine itinerary was one of the ones that most appealed to us. When the idea of adding a second cruise to our trip was proposed, we initially balked at the cost but then, reasoning that we would have to pay for hotel and transportation to these sites regardless -- plus this way we got food, tours and entertainment -- we decided it made some sense. We were able to find a sailing with space on dates that not only worked for us but also delivered us back to Amsterdam a day before our other cruise.
We enjoyed the cruise very much. The shore excursions were great and we appreciated that they made use of earbuds and transmitters so we didn't have any problem hearing our tour guides. Our room was comfortable, the food onboard was good and the staff was great.
We only had limited time the day before embarkation to explore our departure city (Basel, Switzerland) and were glad we took the optional tour of the city. Basel is a lovely city and it would have been a shame not to have seen some of its highlights.
Embarkation went smoothly although that was, in part, because I had sent an email inquiry to the ship a day or two ahead and sorted out some confusion around when and where the tour would begin, what to do with our luggage, etc. (The information on the website indicated, in error, that hotel pick-up was part of the tour. Once this misinformation was identified, the Cruise Director agreed to reimburse us for the cost of a cab to the ship where the tour actually began.)
Disembarkation was pretty seamless too -- and we were lucky that our trip allowed for some extra time in Amsterdam beyond that included with the cruise.
While onboard, we stayed on the first deck, meaning we did not have the huge windows that Avalon prides itself on. We knew that and were fine with it. Although we may have been a tad envious of those on the other two decks who enjoyed that feature, we didn't really miss it and, given how much of the time we were not even in our cabin, I'm not sure the extra expense would have been worth it.
In cabin, our TV service included a choice of free movies, which was nice. Free internet was also included with the cruise but the network was quite slow at times.
As far as the ship itself goes, we have no complaints. The Vista is not a super fancy ship but it is pleasant and comfortable. The hot tub on the Skydeck was quite small but, as it was a bit on the cool side, I only know of a couple of people that ever used it. A bit later in the season more people might be tempted to use it and I really think it could only accommodate about 4 people comfortably and 6 if on very friendly terms.
The ship had a nice little room at the rear on the third floor where coffee, tea, hot chocolate and cookies as well as other snacks could be found. On hand were some books and games, making it a nice quiet spot to relax away from one's cabin or the lounge.
Also included with the cruise was wine, beer and pop with lunch and dinner. My husband may have gotten more of our money's worth from that than I, however, for other drinks it was nice to have a true "Happy Hour" each day with half price drinks.
We enjoyed every port we visited and found the shore excursions to be very good however it may be worth noting for anyone who thinks a River Cruise is necessarily super relaxing that, unless you opt not to participate in the shore excursions, there can be a LOT of walking (and on cobblestones)! We loved every excursion and would not have missed them but, overall, "restful" does not describe the trip.
The only negative I would have regarding the food is that, on embarkation day, some of the offerings for lunch looked to be a bit past their best (wilted lettuce and such). Thankfully, that was not representative of the rest of the trip and the wait staff was very patient and accommodating with special requests during dinner.
Standard onboard entertainment through lunch and dinner was a pianist. He was very good if maybe a bit under-appreciated. There were just a few nights (3?) when other entertainers performed but all were excellent. It would have been nice to have had someone special like that more of the nights.
Although I know that a few first time River Cruisers (like us) on this trip immediately said they were converts and would only do these now instead of Ocean Cruises, we did not feel that way. Personally, I rather like having some "off" (sea) days included in the mix but the River Cruise is still an experience I enjoyed very much and would gladly repeat if another opportunity presented itself.
Avalon itself was very good with all arrangements and tours being handled smoothly and professionally.
See above (in main review)