Is a River Cruise for Me?

Sarah Freeman on 31 August 2019
Cruising is now the fastest growing holiday sector in the UK and there’s a plethora of cruise ships and destinations to choose from, so I knew I wasn’t going to be spoilt for choice, it was more a case of how do I pick the right one for me. Given river cruising is the new comer and I’ve always been fascinated with castles and medieval cities, I plumped for a cruise down the infamous Rhine. There are a number of operators who offer tours, but I was enticed by Avalon’s full width sliding windows and the fact she offered an “Active Discovery” cruise so there were lots of great trips included as part of the price and in addition we could pre-pay for gratuities.

My mum was coming along for the holiday, and cruising is perfect for multi-generational family holidays as it offers something for everyone, no matter what your age or interests. We flew to Amsterdam direct from the UK, a very quick flight and once you land it’s only a short taxi ride to the port. Once you get to the docks it’s a little confusing as there were a number of river cruise ships all docked but we finally spotted our ship and took our cases up the gangway. I think the first thing that struck us about the Avalon Panorama was her size, she was much bigger than expected, especially for only having 148 passengers on board and at no point during the course of the cruise did we ever feel crowded by people. In addition to two dining areas, there was a choice of three indoor/outdoor lounges and multiple areas to sit, we loved the expansive top deck the most with lots of chairs and loungers, a hot tub, giant chess and backgammon game plus a small pitch and putt area.

Check in was quick, we enjoyed a complimentary drink while our room was prepped (if we hadn’t had booked our excursions there was an excursion desk where we could have sorted them) and then the staff brought our luggage down. The room was lovely, twin beds facing huge 12 ft windows, bedside cabinets, under bed storage for your luggage, a desk, full wardrobe, mini-bar, great sized bathroom with shower and a lovely settee and chair in front of the balcony. Later that afternoon once everyone was on board, we all met for a Welcome Drink, said hi to the crew including the captain and went through a mandatory safety briefing. Each evening thereafter, there would always be a Port Talk and Disembarkation Brief by the Cruise Director so you understood what was happening the next day, where to meet etc.

As with all cruises all your meals are included, so get ready to indulge on a daily basis, full cooked breakfasts with a buffet fit for a king, multiple buffet options for your 4 course lunch and then al la carte 5 course dinners with waiter service. Plus if you were peckish in the afternoon, they also served cakes and hot drinks at 4pm to help you bridge the gap until dinner at 7pm. The nice thing was you also enjoyed wine, beer or soft drinks with your meals so it meant our bar tab was really very small at the end of the trip. It was also great to see that it wasn't fixed dining, so you could decide when to eat (between a couple of hours) and were free to sit at whichever table you wanted - so we ended up dining with different people each evening and made some wonderful friends from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

I have to praise the staff on board, what a wonderful group of people from all over Europe, always friendly with a welcoming smile, nothing was too much trouble and they worked so hard. Some of the staff had some really interesting backgrounds , for example our waiter one evening was the Hungarian youth kayaking champion.

Prior to the cruise Avalon give you access to a cruise personaliser (this isn’t as comprehensive as an ocean cruise) but allowed us to input our emergency contact details, gave us access to pre-select not only the included excursions and any optional excursions, gave us details on which dock the ship would be harboured at and also instructions of how to download the Avalon app (a nifty little app that gave you local maps for each port of call, attraction information and a ship finder). Every night in your room you also received a printed Daily Newsletter, this was brilliant as it gave full details as to what was happening the next day, what time the ship was sailing, meals times, excursion options etc. Our cruise was to take in some of the best ports of call, starting off in Amsterdam, next we’d visit Arnhem, followed by Dusseldorf, Cologne, Koblenz, Rhine Gorge, Rudesheim before disembarking in Mainz. See my next blog for some of the great sights we saw.

The excursions were really well organised, at the start of the week we received lanyards and ear pieces and then every day collected a newly charged speaker unit so we could listen to the local guides. Walking sticks were on offer for anyone needing assistance as were giant umbrellas for any rainy days. It was nice that there were multiple tour options each day which meant that the group size was never larger than about 20 people, so it was conducive to making friends and logistically easy to enter all the various attractions.

Disembarkation day was really smooth, while we had to be out of our rooms for 9am (as the ship was taking on new passengers for its return journey to Amsterdam), we were able to leave our cases on the ship and have another day exploring Mainz before the reception team arranged for a taxi to the airport for us.

If you’re unsure about cruising, taking a river cruise is the perfect introduction to this popular type of holiday. Being able to unpack just once and yet be able to visit multiple destinations was fantastic, enjoying 5 star service and fine dining every day, being able to relax on board or go off ship and explore each port of call made the trip extremely flexible. I can’t recommend cruising enough, so much so I’m already researching where to go for 2020.