Avalon Waterways Active Discovery Rhine Cruise Review
I am what is known as 'New To Cruise'.
I have travelled the world a fair bit but never thought about a cruise, let alone a river cruise!
When I was given the opportunity to travel on Avalon Waterways from Amsterdam to Mainz I jumped at the chance. I love a city break and I also love guided tours! I will regularly book extra tours whilst I am away to see more of a destination so it sounded like this type of holiday would suit me down to the ground!
When I found out it was an 'Active Discovery' cruise I immediately asked the question of myself 'Am I even fit enough for this active cruise?'.
Being new to cruise I had so many other questions before like:
• How windy is it on top deck whilst we are sailing?
• Do I need to bring any toiletries?
• What plug sockets do they have on board?
• How much spending money will I need?
• Can you feel the ship moving while you're in bed?
• When they say smart/casual, am I going to stand out if I veer more towards the casual side?
All of these questions will be answered...
Day 1 - UK to Amsterdam
After arriving into Amsterdam airport we were instantly met by a lady wearing an Avalon Waterways jacket holding an Avalon Waterways sign - so easy to spot! We had only travelled from the UK but I would imagine, after a long haul flight to an unfamiliar airport, a friendly face with a sign we recognised would put you at ease instantly!
We waited in the airport while our private coach pulled up. Whilst there we put our cabin number (found on our paperwork) on a luggage tag on our suitcase so that once on the coach, we no longer had to worry about it until it was time to unpack!
The transfer took about 30 minutes and, when we arrived dockside, I thought the ship, Avalon Panorama, looked stunning. The weather not so much, but we could tell immediately that it was a lovely ship.
We stepped on board and had a seamless check-in, even as a group of 7! The reception area instantly felt really welcoming and homely. We were then shown to our cabin - a Panorama Suite - with an overview of how everything works and where everything was! It made for a refreshing change to have someone show you to your room without hovering awkwardly at the end waiting for a tip!
There is all the usual things you would expect in a hotel room - TV, safe, Wi-Fi (which works throughout the ship), mini-bar with some lovely extra touches including two different scented l'Occitane toiletries, reed diffusers and even fresh flowers which made the room smell really nice! I also didn't need any extra plug adaptors as there is a hair dryer in the cabin and my phone plugged into the USB sockets provided.
The thing that stood out for me the most was the view! We were docked right in the centre of Amsterdam, just to the right of Central Station! The position couldn't have been any better, and if you were to pay for a hotel this close to the centre, it would probably be quite expensive, yet on a river cruise you have all your meals, tours and so much more included too!
I unpacked as soon as I could, which was easy as there is a lot of wardrobe space, (and loads of hangers) plus space under your bed for your suitcase (even a big suitcase like mine)! After a quick freshen up we met in the lounge for the safety briefing. This covers what to do in case of an emergency and how to call for help. We then had an introduction to the Captain and the Cruise Director explained what we will be doing over the coming week and asked us to pick our excursions for the next couple of days. I was surprised with this as I expected to have to pick all my excursions for the entire trip, not just the first couple of days! During the talk the waiters came round with a glass of fizz for everyone and some canapes which was a nice touch!
Once the talk was over we made our way downstairs for dinner. The restaurant is plenty big enough for all guests and we picked a table for 8 against the windows. We were docked next to another river ship so that was our view during dinner but it didn't matter as I knew that wouldn't always be the case.
The food we had was delicious! As we were docked in Amsterdam there were some Dutch dishes on the menu and there was also a good selection of other things too. Not one person in our group struggled to choose anything! There was a starter, soup, main, dessert & coffee. The portions are small enough so that you don't feel like you have eaten too much but still have enough to them to feel like a good meal. For me, the balance was perfect. All of the food tasted very fresh and to the quality of a nice restaurant. Our wine was constantly being topped up with dinner and beer and soft drinks are also available. The dress code was very relaxed. Everyone had made an effort but there was nothing too formal. Most of the ladies wore dresses and the men wore trousers and a shirt or polo shirt.
Once we had finished dinner we headed up to the lounge for Happy Hour where all drinks are half price! The cocktail menu is huge! They are also split into Active, Discovery & Classic cocktails which is fun - the same as the excursions! Most of the cocktails are €9.00 each. We only had one cocktail before we went to bed as it had been a long day!
Being WOW'd by this ship didn't end there! The beds are SO comfy! They feel like you're sleeping on a cloud. The room was fairly quiet but with some external noise which is to be expected when you're docked right in the city centre on a Saturday night, however I did sleep very well!
Day 2 - Amsterdam
For my included shore excursion today I had booked the Active Guided Jogging Tour.
I got up for breakfast and headed down early so I had time for a leisurely breakfast before my run. There is a menu with breakfast specials on, and also a smoothie of the day, plus all your usual breakfast buffet items - cooked breakfast, cereal, bread, fruit, yogurts even sparkling wine! I had porridge with strawberries and seeds ahead of the run.
After breakfast we met our guide in reception. He looked like a marathon runner, so I was concerned about the pace we would be running at! We set off and I couldn't have been more wrong. The pace was very manageable, even for me who only does the odd bit of running here and there, and never for very far!
The group was small and the guide was excellent, showing us the main sites and also taking our pictures on the way. We also asked a few questions and he was able to answer them so he was clearly very knowledgeable!
Once back on the ship I noticed there had been some 'All Aboard' signs put up on the main doors which show the time we needed to be back on the ship before sailing. As I was back slightly earlier than the other girls I decided to try out the gym! There are a couple of treadmills, bikes and a selection of dumbbells, skipping ropes and some mats. Not a huge gym but we were on a river ship, so it could never be that big but it is adequate for a good workout!
Post gym, I walked up to the back of the ship to the second lounge with a coffee machine, selection of sweet treats, books, games, newspapers and a TV, all available throughout the day.
After a quick coffee I went back to my room for a shower. The shower was warm in seconds and I didn't expect the water pressure to be as good as it was!
As we were still docked in Amsterdam we thought we would walk back into the centre! The weather was a bit overcast but the city is still a really nice place to visit with so many sights!
After a couple of hours we went back to the ship and it was time for our evening meal. Once again the food was really good. There was a couple of people in our group who didn't fancy anything off the main menu but fortunately you can always choose to have either salmon, chicken or beef with the sides of the day. That night it was baked potato and seasonal vegetables - all cooked to perfection!
Whilst we were eating the ship started to sail away. It moved quicker than I was expecting being 'new to cruise', but I think I was just comparing it to the little tourist boats I have been on in the past and the ship is so big!
We were told in the briefing on the first night that there was only one lock on the stretch of Rhine we sailed and it was going to be on this night. A few of the girls and I grabbed our blankets (found in our room) and a glass of wine and headed to the top deck. I then answered my first question when I found out that it wasn't that windy up on top deck. No more windy than walking down the side of the river! It was really interesting to see how it all worked and experience how smooth it was afterwards we headed to bed. In the room there is a slight noise while the ship is sailing and the only thing I can compare the noise to is rain tapping on the window. It isn't anything too intrusive and was absolutely fine to sleep through.
Day 3 - Arnhem/Nijmegen
This morning we woke up in Arnhem. After breakfast we got on a coach and drove to the National Park De Hoge Veluwe for a guided hike (the Active option). Our guide was very knowledgeable about the wildlife, the trees and all the food and berries growing in the forest. The tour lasted just over an hour and covered 3km. We went off the beaten track so you would need good mobility as we had to climb over some fallen trees and in some places the ground was uneven.
Whilst we were on the tour the ship repositioned to Nijmegen so the coach took us there and we arrived just in time for lunch.
After we had eaten we walked into the city. There are a lot of shops in the centre and you could easily spend hours looking around them!
My friend and I wanted to explore some of the older streets and look at some of the historical buildings so we headed off in search of some history!
After walking down some tiny cobbled streets and looking in some of the more independent shops we saw a park with an older looking building there so went to have a look. The park was really nice and even had some animal enclosures with goats, deer and a couple of aviaries! There was a pond in the middle and the fish in it were huge! Walking around the park while the weather was okay was better than going from one shop to the next (especially as I didn't have much room in my case for new clothes).
It started to rain so we thought we would make our way back to the ship to get ready for dinner.
Day 4 - Düsseldorf
This morning we woke up already docked in Düsseldorf. We had been sailing through the night and I hadn't even noticed!
When I opened the curtains I could see the Rhine Tower so I knew, once again that we were docked right in the city centre!
After breakfast we met our guide in reception for the Discovery option: Bites & Highlights tour. As soon as we stepped off the ship the guide, Hannah, began telling us the history of Düsseldorf in a very funny and charming way. She clearly knew a lot about the city and wanted to share her knowledge and passion with us! She pointed out some of their famous churches, some statues and the historical buildings whilst on our way to the first stop: Uerige Craft Brewery. They brew their own beers on site in a very traditional German pub! We were all treated to a half pint of bitter or a rhubarb drink if you didn't want the beer. I chose the beer, just for the experience! We were also passed a hard boiled egg and told there was a specific way to eat it. We took the shell off and took the yolk out, mixed the yolk with mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper then put the yolk back into the egg. The finished product was surprisingly nice and actually went quite well with the bitter!
Our second stop was to a mustard shop which sold all different types of mustard including a garlic flavour, red wine & plum and tomato to name a few. All the flavours we tried were yummy and we even got a jar to take away with us!
Our third stop was to a street cafe who brewed their own coffee. There we had coffee and a cake and the sun finally made an appearance so it was nice to sit outside!
Our last stop was to a bakery called Hinkel which was filled with bread and smelled amazing! We all had a Florentine Pastry and they were so delicious I think I could have eaten the entire tray! The bakery is an unbelievable 250 years old(!), and they sell out of all the bread they make almost every day and whatever they don't sell goes to charity!
Once the food tour was over we headed back to the ship for a light lunch which was, of course, German themed - we were in Germany after all!
After a quick bite we headed back into the town for a short walk. The sun continued to make an appearance and as we wanted to enjoy the ship we walked back, grabbed a coffee from the lounge at the back of the ship and sat up on the top deck! Sitting on the top deck is like sitting in a bar, on a sun lounger, in the centre of town with waiter service! It was a perfect afternoon!
Day 5 - Cologne/Engers
We woke to a brand new city: Cologne! Once again we were docked right in the centre and this time my room looked out to the city meaning as soon as I opened my curtains a jogger went past! Whoops!
After breakfast we met our guide for our Discovery excursion: a visit to the Chocolate Museum. She walked us there pointing out some of the sights on the way - we even managed to spot the cathedral!
When we arrived at the museum the guide passed us over to the chocolate guide who took us round the museum explaining how chocolate is made, where it all comes from and the different types of chocolate - she even gave us all the ingredients to try separately which was interesting - I much prefer them when they are all mixed together though!!
After a visit to the gift shop, buying more chocolate than I think the luggage limit will allow on the way back, we walked back to the ship. Our 'All Aboard' time was 12:45 but we arrived at 12. Walking towards the ship we could smell the most incredible food and it turns out it was coming from our ship! There was a BBQ on the top deck. This was the only day the sun was really out and the staff were all keen for us to enjoy it. This was the BEST BBQ I have ever tasted. There was perfectly cooked steak, chicken, corn on the cob, burgers & salad - everything you could ever possibly want from a BBQ, with vegetarian options too!
We set sail as soon as we had finished lunch and as the weather was so nice we took a bottle of wine and some snacks to the sun loungers and watched the world go by with a glass of wine. This was the most perfect part of the trip for me! Sitting on the sun lounger with a glass of wine watching the beautiful scenery pass by!
After dinner, once in Engers, we were all invited to a concert at Schloss Engers. The concert was performed by a pianist and a violinist and they were both amazing. They played classical music which was perfect for the setting. With all the big windows in the room open and the sun setting outside it was a really nice evening out.
Day 6 - Koblenz/Rüdesheim
This morning we arrived in Koblenz while we ate breakfast. Today I had opted for the Classic excursion: Koblenz & Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. We met our guide in the reception and she led us off the ship and into the city. Koblenz is a really pretty city with lots of cobbled streets filled with shops, restaurants and bars. She told us lots of stories about the city and about their sense of humour. One of the stops was to a fountain called Schängelbrunnen. This is a fountain of a small boy spitting water on passersby and caught some of our group by surprise. One of the other stops was to a statue of a policeman next to a market trader! This one again has a very funny story to go with it! Our guide then took us to the cable cars to head up to the fortress. She gave us the tip to look for the cable car number 17 as this one has a glass bottom and we were lucky enough to get it! Not for the faint-hearted but it gave us some great views of the Rhine underneath!
Once at the top the views from the fortress were amazing and the guide showed us where we had walked and also pointed out some famous bridges over the river!
Whilst we were in Koblenz our ship had moved on to Boppard so we joined it there and then sailed on to Rüdesheim. This section of the Rhine is what is known as the 'Romantic Rhine'. It is lined with castles and little towns and villages. Unfortunately for us the weather wasn't great but we sat up on the top deck under a canopy anyway! Our Cruise Director came up to the top deck and gave a running commentary of the scenery which gave the sailing an extra dimension which was great. The commentary was also played through the speakers in the lounge so you didn't have to sit out in the rain like we did!
As we were approaching the Lorelei Rock we were offered a Lorelei Cocktail at happy hour prices. It was a great idea from the bar staff!
We arrived into Rüdesheim at 5pm and took the road train to the centre in search of the famous Rüdesheim Coffee! Once again the weather had taken a turn for the worse but as it wasn't cold we headed for a bar with undercover outdoor seating. The coffee arrived and we did not expect for it to be prepared at our table! The waiter put the brandy into the cup, lit it with a match then added the coffee, put whipped cream on top and then chocolate sprinkles. It was amazing!
Once back on the ship we headed to the lounge for the Port Talk and we were told that the next day we wouldn't be heading to Mainz as planned, we would be staying docked in Rüdesheim for the day and transport would be provided to take us to Mainz instead. Since we had already headed into Rüdesheim and we had seen how nice it was we were actually quite pleased as we wanted to walk around the town a bit more!
During dinner we sailed to Bingen for a Private Reception at Rheinstein Castle. Unfortunately we were still sat in the restaurant chatting and enjoying our food too much and we missed the departure time for the visit so we didn't get to experience this but after speaking to some of the other guests afterwards they said it was a great experience and everyone had a great time.
Once everyone was back on the ship we sailed through the night back to Rudesheim.
Day 7 - Rudesheim/Mainz
If we didn't already know that the itinerary wasn't going to the original plan, we wouldn't have even noticed - everything ran very smoothly! After breakfast we met in reception. The rain was so heavy so we waited for about 15 minutes before setting off. We met our guide for this mornings Discovery excursion: a tour of Eltville with Wine Tasting and she took us to the coach. We arrived into the town and armed with our Avalon umbrellas, we walked into the town. We walked down lots of cobbled streets looking at some of the old houses which are really pretty - even in the rain! Our first stop for our wine tasting was to J. Koegler for a dry white wine. Our guide explained where the wine came from and as she is an American but teaches German she had some fun with us teaching us how to say different German words, such as the 'Cheers'! The wine we had was really nice too, even if it was only 9:30am! Our second stop was to Weinhaus Krone for a medium white wine. Once again the wine was delicious and we sat outside on the terrace (thank-fully undercover) and had a great view of the Rhine. Between stops two and three our guide took us to a rose garden and explained how Eltville is also known for its roses as well as the wine! It's also a really popular wedding venue, and there were people starting to arrive for a wedding that day so we left to make room for them. Our final stop was to Cafe Glockenhof where we were treated to a glass of fizz and also a couple of chocolates! Perfect!
We were supposed to be docked in Mainz in the afternoon, but as we weren't Avalon put on some coaches to take us into the town. The weather was miserable so we headed to the shops for some retail therapy! There are a lot of shops there and we could have easily spent a lot longer than we did. There are many bars lining the river in Mainz with deck chairs outside and we couldn't help thinking that on a nice day that would have been an amazing place to sit by the river for a relaxing afternoon/evening watching the sunset!
Once back on the ship everyone headed to the lounge for a Farewell Gala Dinner. This is the night where everyone likes to dress up and even though the food had been wonderful throughout the cruise, the chef pulled out all the stops!!
Our last day!
We headed for breakfast a little earlier as we all still needed to pack and get our things ready. There was a sign up in reception which said our name, what time we were due to leave and also some coloured tags. We took our coloured tags and once packed we just had to put our suitcases outside our room with the coloured tag on and the staff took care of the rest. I did this then headed to the reception to check out. I went to pay off my bar bill which after a week of cruising came to €20.07!! I thought it would be more than that so I was very pleased! As my gratuities had been pre-paid, I put the voucher into the envelope delivered to my room into the letterbox on reception.
Once checked out we all decided to head back to Rüdesheim for lunch. We had eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner on the ship every day since arriving and so wanted to try something a little different. Also, Rüdesheim has so many nice looking cafes and restaurants that it would have been a shame not to! After doing a little bit of souvenir shopping including a visit to the Christmas shop we walked back to the ship to wait for our transfer. As we were a group of 7 we had a coach to take us to Frankfurt and the staff from the ship took our suitcases to the coach for us!
There were a couple of other people on our transfer who were also going to Frankfurt airport too but the coach was huge so it still felt like a private transfer!
For me the whole trip was amazing from start to finish and I would recommend, without hesitation, a river cruise to anyone who wants to see more of the world in one trip. I loved that we only had to unpack once and I have ticked so many cities off my wish list within a week. I learnt so much about the Rhine, the history of the towns surrounding it and also wine! You'll see throughout the blog I stopped mentioning the food - it was consistently delicious and there wasn't anything I could fault! All the staff on board were so nice and couldn't do enough for you! My room, the Panorama Suite is one of the nicest rooms I have ever stayed in! With the panoramic windows and ever changing views there is no land based hotel you could ever stay in that would compare! Also, aside from my bar bill of €20.07, the only other spending money I needed was for souvenirs! Another reason why river cruising is such great value!
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