Launched in 2015, the 128-passenger Avalon Tapestry II is one of Avalon Waterways' "Suite Ships," a term that reflects the company's pride in its all-suite accommodation.
In truth, most of Avalon's suites combine the sleeping and living area in one room, but they are indeed larger than the average river ship cabin. And it really does feel much bigger because the limited space is not compromised by a balcony. Instead, the lovely views and fresh air are enabled by wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, slide-open windows.
But Avalon's main claim to fame is its river-facing beds, which is what truly sets it apart from the rest. Rather than looking at a wall, passengers can watch the passing scenery from under the covers. This small but significant difference can have a huge impact if you like to sleep in or relax in the comfort of your own room. It's enough of a reason to book the ship.
The overall decor is contemporary and elegant, much like a modern four- or five-star hotel. The onboard experience includes dining from a nightly menu, club and main lounges with indoor and outdoor seating, a bar, fitness room and beauty salon. Ideal for summer sailing, the Sun Deck has a whirlpool and a barbecue for alfresco lunches.
Fares include WiFi, beer, wine and soda/soft drinks at onboard dinners, 24-hour tea and coffee, sparkling wine at breakfast and most shore excursions. Additional tours can be purchased separately; these are often more special experiences, such as a visit to the Palace of Versailles. Avalon offers an option to book flights with your cruise, but "cruise only" options are also available for passengers who want to make their own travel arrangements.
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Based in France, Avalon Tapestry II attracts travellers who share a fondness for French food, wine, culture and history. Paris, as the embarkation and disembarkation port for its Seine River cruises, adds a touch of glamour to the experience, but there's a casual vibe on the ship. The Normandy sailings appeal to people with an interest in World War II, sometimes including returning veterans or their families who want to see the famous landing beaches; however, the itinerary is varied enough to suit a wide range of tastes.
Although it's an American company, Avalon Waterways sees passengers from Canada, Australia, the U.K. and other English-speaking countries. On longer itineraries, such as the 16-day Grand France, Australians make up 25 percent of the mix. The majority of passengers are couples aged 60-plus with an increasing number of younger cruisers. Avalon suits those who like to socialize, as the restaurant is set up to encourage table-sharing and the bar is busy an hour before and after dinner.
Passengers should be fit and mobile enough to walk along the gangway and for shore excursions, which sometimes traipse across uneven ground, cobblestones and steps. On coach tours, you may be getting on and off the bus at several stops. Onboard, the ship has an elevator but it does not go up to the sun deck, which is only accessible by stairs; therefore, people with a disability or mobility issues should consult Avalon before booking.
Dress is casual and relaxed onboard and ashore. After a day of exploring on land, many people change into something smarter for dinner, but jeans and shorts can be worn in the restaurant. For the gala dinner and captain's cocktail evening, ladies usually wear a dress or black pants with a sparkly top, and men may opt for trousers and collared shirt but not necessarily a jacket or tie. There are no formal nights.
In Normandy, warmer clothes and a rain jacket are advisable, as this region in northern France is notorious for its changeable weather. A cloudy morning can turn wet or warm within minutes. In the south of France, pack light, summer clothing, a hat and sunglasses, and your swimwear for a dip in the whirlpool. A jacket is always recommended for breezy days on the Sun Deck as it can get windy when the ship is sailing.