Avalon Visionary, is one of Avalon Waterways' "Suite Ships." It is the sister ship to Imagery II, Tapestry II, Tranquillity II, Poetry II and Artisty II. Launched in 2012, the 361-foot-long, 36-foot-wide vessel carries 128 passengers and sails on various itineraries on the Rhine and Danube.
Although smaller than the 443-foot-long ships that sail the same rivers and carry more passengers, Avalon Visionary is big on style, boasting dark-wood finishes with pops of color and fun art throughout. Of the ship's 64 cabins, 52 are one-room suites that are 200 square feet apiece, about 15-percent larger than the industry average. Cabins are comfortably furnished, with the line's trademark "Comfort Collection Beds" offering memory foam mattress toppers and plush pillows and duvets. Surprisingly spacious bathrooms offer marble countertops, glass shower doors and L'Occitane bath products.
However, the biggest sell for these cabins is arguably the 11-foot-by-7-foot panoramic sliding-glass doors that turn the accommodations into rooms with open-air balconies. The beds face the river, and we find this really makes a difference as you view the scenery from your cabin. Other companies have since copied both the French balcony and beds-facing-the-window concept, but no one else has the combo and, for us, it's the best cabin on the rivers.
Breakfast and lunch are both served buffet-style, and the quality of available fare is very high. Dinners are delicious four-course meals with a local focus; they include the line's Avalon Fresh dishes, which are vegetarian and vegan in nature. Whether you're adventurous or prefer to stick to the "always available" menu, you'll find something tasty.
Overall, a cruise on this ship feels like a boutique hotel experience, thanks to its contemporary decor. The smaller size comes in handy, too, on itineraries such as the Moselle, as the ship can sail all the way to Luxembourg. (Larger ships are forced to stop in Bernkastel.)
Avalon Visionary is one of the line's Suite-class ships, which means all accommodations on two of the ship's three cabin decks are described as suites, albeit they do not have a separate bedroom and lounge area. Of the 64 total cabins onboard, 52 include the pair of 300-square-foot Royal Suites and the 50 200-square-foot Panorama Suites, both of which boast floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass doors that convert the cabins into wonderfully serene open-air balconies. (A railing is just outside, with no additional outdoor space.)
The remaining dozen cabins are categorized as Deluxe Staterooms, which clock in at 172 square feet.
The color palette for all cabins includes dark brown woods (desks, closets, headboards); whites and creams (walls, duvets and pillows); and burnt oranges (couches and chairs). Art adorns the walls above each cabin's twin beds, which can be pushed together to create one queen. Avalon's "Comfort Collection Beds" include memory foam mattress toppers and super-cushy pillows, making them some of the most comfortable beds we've ever slept in. All cabins can be made up in a double or twin configuration.
All cabins include desks, decently sized closets, safes, nightstands with reading lamps, stocked mini-bars (prices ranging from €2 for soda to €6.50 for 5cl/1.75fl oz. bottles of gin, whiskey or vodka, and €6.50 for a 25cl/8.97fl oz. bottle of wine), free bottled water daily, individual climate and loudspeaker controls, bathrobes, L'Occitane bath products (soap, shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, lotion and amenity kit), two colors of towels (a really great idea that's seemingly unique to Avalon, and really convenient when identifying which are yours if you're traveling with a companion), plug-in hair dryers, illuminated shaving/makeup mirrors and flat-screen TVs that offer a variety of movies, television shows, music, a ship webcam and info channel and nine different "fireplace" settings to help you relax.
There are also red panic buttons located in each cabin, but they should only be used in case of emergencies, and you need to be especially careful at night as they are situated right next to the lights for the bathroom. Other nice touches include a built-in clock on each in-cabin TV and a nightlight of sorts, which subtly illuminates the bathroom near the floor, so you can find it easily in the dark.
We did notice that noise from cabin to cabin was minimal, but we could hear folks talking in the hallway.
Bathrooms in all cabins consist of dark brown faux wood cabinetry, tan tiled floors and walls, and marble sink tops. All cabins offer showers only, and they're equipped with glass doors, rather than clingy shower curtains. Showerheads are large and detachable, and the water pressure is very good. All showers have a grab handle and good-sized wall-mounted soap dish that is large enough for several items.
Robes and slippers are provided in all cabins. The robes are removed for cleaning on the last night, but passengers can request they are left if they want to use them on the morning of disembarkation. Cabins are serviced twice a day. Every evening a daily newsletter is left in the cabin, outlining the following day's program, and on some nights there a little extras, such as a recipe card to take home.
Plugs in each cabin are European-style, so be sure to bring an adapter or two if you're traveling from North America.
There are no adapted or wheelchair accessible cabins.
Deluxe Stateroom: The ship's 12 standard cabins are located on the lower Indigo Deck, and although adequate, are pretty small at 172 square feet. There's no room for couches, chairs or coffee tables, and bathrooms are smaller than the other cabin categories. Closet space is comparable to what's available in Panorama Suites, however. These cabins have two fixed windows at water level and the bed is parallel to the wall with the windows, rather than river facing.
Panorama Suite: The 50 Panorama Suites are located on Deck 2 and Deck 3, the Sapphire and Royal Decks. Panorama suites have a sofa, glass coffee table and chair, located by the panoramic window. In all cabins the bed/s face out onto the river, which is not the industry norm. It's a great idea as it means passengers can relax in their cabins, or take a nap, and still keep an eye on the passing scenery. When the sliding door is open, giving you a full view of the river and a ton of fresh air, you won't miss a balcony at all.
Royal Suite: The Royal Suites, the ship's largest accommodations, are located midship on the port side of the upper Royal Deck. Each offer two flat-screen TVs (one that can be viewed from the bed and another that swivels to be watched by those lounging on the orange chenille sofa and chairs); a bookcase; a large bathroom with double sinks and a shower; a separate powder room with a toilet; and extra closet space.
All meals in all dining venues are included in the fare. Visionary has one main dining room, midship on Deck 2, the Sapphire Deck, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. An early- and late-riser breakfast, along with a light lunch option and afternoon tea, is served in the Panorama Lounge, on the upper Royal Deck. At night, with the exception of the welcome and farewell gala dinner, the rear of the Panorama Lounge is turned into a casual bistro-style venue serving tapas.
The wait staff consists of a small team of crew members, so you'll easily learn their faces and names over the course of your sailing, even though you might not necessarily have the same waiter or waitress every night. We found service to be terrifically attentive and friendly. All meals are open seating, and passengers can choose to sit where they want.
The choice of food at all meals is varied, often showcasing regional dishes from the areas being visited on the cruise. For plainer fare, there's an always available menu. Avalon recently partnered with Viennese chefs Karl and Leo Wrenkh to create imaginative vegetarian dishes -- labeled as "Avalon Fresh" -- for the ship's menu; there's a choice at every course. Other dietary requirements, such as gluten-free, can also be accommodated, and the menu has a long list of food options for different allergies, but it is best to provide Avalon with advance notice at the time of booking.
Juices, sodas and a selection of alcoholic beverages (beer and wine, both white and red) are available gratis during lunch and dinner. Pours are generous throughout the meal, and the quality is decent.
Dining Room (Deck 2): The main dining room is split down the middle by dark wood decorative shelving, and tan upholstered benches rest against either side of the divide. Tables with white tablecloths are placed throughout the space, accompanied by dark wood and blue upholstered chairs. Walls are cream in color, and carpeting features a blue, brown and cream floral pattern. Lighting is soft, and panoramic windows surround the dining areas, offering nearly 360-degree views. At the back of the dining room, you'll find a marble-topped buffet serving station, which is where breakfast and lunch buffets are located each day.
Buffet breakfast is served from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Don't let the buffet-style offerings fool you -- the quality is great, and you'll be able to choose from varied options that include cereal, oatmeal, fruit, cold cuts, bacon, sausage, hash browns, yogurt, pancakes and more. There's a healthy Avalon Fresh corner with all manner of seeds and berries to sprinkle on cereals, as well as a fresh honeycomb. Soy, rice and lactose-free milk are available. Additionally, there's an egg station where a chef will make a fresh omelet or scramble right in front of you. Each day there is a breakfast special, cooked-to-order and served to the table. This might be eggs Benedict, smoked salmon hash or, more unusually, rice pudding with cinnamon. Passengers can get their days off to a sparkling start with a mimosa, as there is always a bottle of fizz on ice at the juice station, and Aussies and Brits will be delighted to find the favorite breakfast spreads -- Vegemite and Marmite.
Lunch is also served buffet-style, and there is always a pasta and carving station where chefs cook and serve the pasta or roast of the day. Other choices on our sailing included vegetable and pasta salads; hot and cold soups; and chicken, fish, veggie and beef options. Desserts are served to the table and might typically include fruit strudel, Black Forest cake or ice cream. There's also a non-buffet, always-available menu that includes items like minute steak and Caesar salad. Times vary based on each day's activities, but the standard lunchtime is generally from noon to 1:30 p.m.
Dinner is served at a set time each night, generally around 7 p.m. Although passengers can choose their tables and tablemates, seating is also first-come, first-served, so if you're dining with a group, be sure to show up early. Some two-tops are available, and tables for six or eight can be pushed together to accommodate larger groups.
Menus mainly consist of four or five courses: appetizer, soup or salad, sorbet, entree and dessert. The menu is a combination of local specialties and international dishes, as well Avalon Fresh vegan or vegetarian options. Appetizers might include beef filet carpaccio, smoked tofu mushroom pate or grilled green asparagus with balsamic vinegar, followed by chicken consomme or creamy sweet corn soup with croutons. Typical main courses are roasted duck breast, pan-fried fillet of red perch on a mango relish or creamy spinach with a poached egg. To follow, desserts include chocolate cake in white chocolate sauce, ice cream coupe with lemon sherbet and vodka sauce, or fresh fruit. There is always a cheese plate, available in addition to or instead of dessert, with three cheeses. Everything was skillfully prepared and beautifully presented; we particularly appreciated that some of the Avalon Fresh items were also regionally inspired. Always available options -- Caesar salad, grilled chicken, grilled rump steak of beef and roasted salmon -- are included on the menu daily.
Welcome and gala dinners feature an amuse-bouche to start, and on these evenings passengers can expect to find dishes such as king prawn and lobster bisque and the ever-popular baked Alaska ice cream dessert on the menu.
Although the food is superb, the time between each dinner's many courses is occasionally a little long, particularly for North Americans. Don't expect dinner on this ship to be a short affair; on some nights, ours lasted as long as three hours.
Complimentary wines served with dinner are good quality and will always include a regional wine, such as Austrian Gruner Veltliner from the Wachau Valley. There is also a wine menu for passengers who want to try a different wine, or maybe celebrate a special occasion, and the list includes a Gruner Veltliner for €32 a bottle, or French Burgundy for €48.
Panorama Lounge (Deck 3): Early- and late-riser breakfasts are served in the lounge from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. respectively, and feature a choice of juices, fruit, pastries and croissants. From 4 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. there is afternoon tea, with a musical accompaniment from the onboard pianist. Along with coffee and a selection of teas, there are two types of sandwiches, such as ham and tomato or cheese and cucumber, a choice of two cakes and macarons.
Panorama Bistro (Deck 3): Every evening -- aside from the welcome and farewell dinners – the forward section of the Panorama Lounge becomes the Panorama Bistro, serving a light tapas-style menu. Available on a complimentary first-come, first-serve basis, the bistro seats 20 and passengers need to sign up in advance. Tables are for four people, so couples that are not part of a group of four will be seated with fellow passengers. The small dishes reflect food from along the river, so might include items such as smoked trout, goulash soup, schnitzel and an Austrian apricot dessert. Different wines are on offer and the waiters will make recommendations, but it is not a food-pairing menu and passengers can try all the different wines or stick to one or two favorites for the evening. The bistro dinner is served at the same time as the dinner in the main dining room. While it's a fun change from the usual main dining room format, the menu is set during the season for each river, and so you'll only want to go once per sailing unless you want to eat the same meal twice.
Club Lounge (Deck 3): For between-meal or late-night snacks, cookies and fruit are available in the ship's aft lounge, along with tea, hot chocolate, juices and an assortment of coffee beverages from a self-serve Lavazza machine.
Sky Bistro (Deck 4): For lunch on nice days, a portion of the ship's sun deck may be converted to Sky Bistro, an outdoor dining venue offering grilled fare. It wasn't available on our sailing, so we can't comment on the quality of the food.
Room Service: A limited continental breakfast menu is available for in-suite dining. Passengers can order coffee, tea, orange and grapefruit juice, croissants and Danish pastries by filling in the card left in the cabin and hanging it outside the stateroom door before midnight. They can choose the time to have breakfast delivered in increments of 15 minutes from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
The dress code for all sailings is listed as "smart casual," which generally means khakis and collared shirts or blouses. Jeans are acceptable on shore excursions, and comfortable shoes are a must. There are no formal nights, so gowns and tuxes aren't required. Passengers may swap out jeans for black pants or a skirt, but you won't see a lot of dresses or heels. Men do not need to bring jackets.
All tips for the cruise director and crew are included in the fares for passengers from certain countries, including the U.K. and Australia. For passengers from the U.S. the line recommends €3 per passenger, per day, for the cruise director and €12 per person, per day, to be divided among the crew (including room stewards, waiters, chefs and other folks behind the scenes). Envelopes are provided for passengers who want to pay in cash, and gratuities can also be pre-paid at the time of booking the cruise or settled with a credit card, with the rest of the onboard account, at disembarkation. You may also want to give local guides and shore excursion bus drivers a tip, so be sure to have some small denominations on hand. The onboard currency is the euro.
Passengers booking in the U.K., and living within 100 miles of their chosen airport, receive a free door-to-door return chauffeur service, which is included in the fare. For other passengers there are free airport transfers, and transfers from selected hotels, to the ship.
There is at least one free excursion each day. Fares also include soft drinks, wine and beer with lunch and dinner. There is free Wi-Fi throughout the vessel. Bikes are also available onboard for passengers to use free of charge in port.
Cruises on Visionary are port-intensive, so they're great for anyone who enjoys European history and sightseeing. Unlike sailings on ocean ships, voyages include the majority of shore excursions in their pricing. But it's important to note that, since river cruising focuses on the culture and history of the ports visited, there isn't much to do onboard, and the number and duration of shore excursions offered daily may leave you feeling a little more tired than you might after other vacations. Although, of course, passengers can pick and choose whether they want to go on all the included excursions or relax onboard. You will, however, be apt to feel enriched, enlightened and well traveled.
The main focus of river cruising is on ports of call, and a full program of shore excursions (included in the cruise fare) are offered -- sometimes more than once per day. On our sailing, we toured museums and other local landmarks in the off-the-beaten-path towns we visited. During our separate cruises in The Netherlands and on the Danube, we saw fields of colorful tulips, checked out the world's oldest planetarium, witnessed cheese being made and auctioned, went on a "pub crawl," toured abbeys and castles, and learned tons about the local history and culture. Guides were knowledgeable, friendly and spoke fluent English.
All passengers receive personal earpieces and are given receivers when they leave the ship on excursions. This means they don't have to cluster around guides to hear what is being said.
In addition to the included excursions, each itinerary will have a number of "premier" optional excursions at extra cost. On the Vienna to Passau cruise these included an 18-mile bike ride with a picnic lunch for €50, an evening waltz concert for €62 and a full day tour to Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic for €73.
Note: Despite the high-tech feel of our onboard card/room key, the staff's only method of keeping track of who's ashore and who's back onboard while in port is a series of laminated paper cards with room numbers printed on them. If you forget to pick yours up before leaving the ship, nobody will know you're gone. Likewise, if you forget to turn your card in at the desk when you arrive back after an excursion, they'll think you're still in port, checking out the souvenirs -- so you can expect a call to go out on the public announcement system. That said, the cruise director always reminds passengers to pick up cards and hand them back in.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
As shore excursions begin early and are often tiring, nightlife is usually fairly quiet on river cruises. That said, one night, Avalon offered after-dinner entertainment in the form of a Genever (alcohol similar to gin) and cheese tasting, hosted by local experts. Another night, an outstanding trio of local string musicians played everything from classics to Gypsy music. Both events were well attended. On all other nights, evening entertainment consisted of live piano music in the main lounge performed by the onboard musician, who sang American songs with a flat voice and a thick Bulgarian accent. This is one area where we think the line can improve; the after dinner mood on the ship picked up the one night that a groove band from Cologne boarded. When the musician began playing, the room cleared pretty quickly.
Guest speakers sometimes hop aboard at various points on the cruise. On our Danube cruise we had a hugely entertaining talk (and tasting) on wine from the UNESCO-listed Wachau Valley.
Panorama Lounge (Deck 3): The main lounge is located on the Royal Deck and is the ship's only bar, accented with red leather bar stools and a cream-colored marble countertop. The bar menu offers a variety of white, red and rose wine from Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland, priced from €3.70 for a glass of sparkling wine and €5.30 for a glass of still wine. Sparkling wine by the bottle ranges from €22.50 for the house fizz to €145 for a bottle of Laurent Perrier. Single spirits start at €5.20 for a 4cl/1.36fl oz. measure, or €9.10 for mixed drinks such as gin and tonic or whiskey and cola. The extensive list of cocktails is divided into "classic," "pre-dinner" and "after-dinner" (although, of course, you can drink them when you want!). The majority of them are priced at €9.90. There are also nonalcoholic "mocktails," starting at €6.80 for a fruit punch. Each day the bar features a cocktail and mocktail of the day, priced at €7.50 and €5.20, respectively. There is also a daily happy hour, usually from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., when all drinks are half price.
The main lounge, used for pre- and post-dinner drinks, alternative dining and nightly entertainment, is located just forward of the reception desk. With its panoramic windows, it's bright and airy, despite darker furnishings of brown faux wood and chairs upholstered in deep red and gray. Various couches are also scattered about, boasting either red vinyl or stripes of red, black and gray chenille.
Club Lounge (Deck 3): The ship's secondary lounge on the Royal Deck is a small space at the aft of the ship on Deck 3. It's got funky burnt-orange carpeting, dark tables and black wicker seating with black cushions. If you're feeling peckish between meals, freshly baked cookies and a variety of hot beverages are always available there, along with fruit and juice during the day. There is also an ice machine. This lounge is the location for Avalon's past-passenger meetings onboard. On select "movie nights," movies are shown after dinner on the large flat-screen TV in the Club Lounge.
The top deck, the vessel's sun deck, spans the entire length of the ship. It offers one hot tub, a giant chess board and a decent number of sun loungers -- some covered to offer respite from the sun -- from which passengers can enjoy 360-degree views as they sail through tiny towns. A small area of covered tables and chairs is also available forward, just in front of the bridge. One nice touch is that the front portion of Visionary's sun deck was designed 3 feet lower than the rest, allowing passengers the ability to safely remain outside when the ship passes under low bridges.
The main doors to the ship feed directly into a small lobby and reception area, which is bright and welcoming. The reception desk faces a small gathering area with cream-colored leather chairs and a coffee table. Next to that, passengers will find two computers -- one Mac and one PC. They're free to use, as is the Wi-Fi, available in cabins and throughout the ship, for those who wish to bring their own laptops and mobile devices. Reception was decent, and load times seemed faster than those on some other vessels.
A first-aid kit is available at the ship's front desk, but there are no medical facilities onboard. Because river cruises sail so close to land, qualified medical professionals are only a phone call away in case of an emergency.
Each day a selection of newspapers containing the main news from each country -- U.S., U.K., Australia and Canada -- are put out near the entrance to the main lounge. There is also a daily crossword and puzzle sheet.
The ship's secondary lounge, aft on Deck 3 has a small library of books and board games. (It was only toward the end of our cruise that we discovered lots more books and games in the cupboards beneath the open shelves!) This lounge is also the location for Avalon's past-passenger meetings onboard. With its comfortable black wicker seating and small open deck area outside, it's a quiet spot to read, do puzzles or take a nap.
Self-service laundry facilities are not offered to passengers, but cleaning and pressing services are available for a fee. Prices for pressing range from €3 for a shirt or blouse to €8 for a suit or dress, and dry cleaning is priced from €1 for a handkerchief to €6 for a skirt or slacks.
The ship has an elevator serving all three passenger decks, but it does not go up to the sun deck, called the Sky Deck, which has to be accessed by stairs. The line advises that anyone sailing on the ship should at least be able to walk up the gangway and one flight of stairs. None of the cabins is specifically wheelchair-accessible.
Smoking is only allowed on a designated area on the sun deck.
Children 8 years and older are permitted onboard, but there are no children's facilities or special activities offered for youngsters. (All cabins have a maximum occupancy of two passengers). Older children and teenagers, particularly those who enjoy history and don't mind long days, would probably be fine on this type of sailing, but there's not much else to distract them if they're bored.
The average passenger is in his or her 60s, although shorter sailings draw younger travelers. Avalon Visionary also hosts themed sailings, such as wine, beer or golf itineraries, which tend to attract a younger, sportier crowd. More than 50 percent come from North America and other passengers come from the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other English-speaking countries. English is the language spoken onboard.
There is no spa on Avalon Visionary, but a small salon is found near the aft of the ship on Deck 3, offering haircuts, styling, scalp massages, hair coloring and highlighting for both men and women. Manicures and pedicures are also available. Prices range from €11 for eyelash or eyebrow tinting, and eyebrow shaping to €35 for a wash, cut, style and dry or color. Passengers book appointments at the main reception desk.
Passengers will find a very small workout room midship on Deck 1. It has enough space for one treadmill, one recumbent bike, one regular exercise bike -- all Life Fitness brand -- and a TV. There's also a tower of free weights offering increments up to 10 kilograms. Water and towels are available at no additional charge at the back of the room. No fitness classes are organized onboard. The gym is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Number of Crew:35
Crew Nationality: International
Officer Nationality: International
Language(s) Spoken:< Multiple Languages
|The Avalon Visionary delivers an intimate setting, along with two full decks of suites featuring Wall-to-Wall Panoramic Windows that transform the living space into a unique Open-Air Balcony. With 200 square feet, Panorama Suites are more than 30% larger than the industry standard, giving you the rare opportunity to wake each morning to the enchanting scenery and fresh breezes. Onboard amenities include an Internet corner, complimentary Wi-Fi access, an expanded fitness center, and a spacious Sky Deck with premium lounge chairs, shade system, whirlpool, and the delightful open-air bistro.|
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