Now that we have been home more than a week, we have some further thoughts on our recent Avalon Waterways European river cruise vs. the previous ocean cruises that we have taken.
If you are looking for sightseeing, a river cruise is excellent for that. If you are looking for relaxation, we would recommend an ocean cruise.
We say this for a number of reasons:
- The river ship has limited facilities and space. E.g., there was a single hot tub on the Avalon Artistry II that was rarely open. The clearance restriction below the low bridges on the Main River necessitated its continuous closure. The whole sky (top outdoor) deck was closed most of the time for similar safety reasons. Hence if you stayed back on the ship rather than go ashore, there was very little to do.
- We all ate at the same time for dinner. There is little flexibility as there is only a single service. While we always had good seats and service, there was always a rush of folks to get to their favorite table which we found a bit nerve-racking at times.
- We opted for the Cat D cabin without the floor to ceiling windows which slid open. We found the cabin too small for 2 people at 172 sq. ft. Our friends the Clarke’s invited us to their Cat C “balcony” cabin and it felt much more spacious at 200 sq. ft..
- River cruises are naturally port intensive. Every day we had one and sometimes two excursions lasting 2 to 3 hours. There was a lot of walking up and down stairs and hills and usually on cobblestones. It was exhausting! We were amazed at the stamina of our fellow guests, many several years older than we are (mid sixties). However by the end of the week, I think it is safe to say we were all pretty exhausted and in need of some down time!
- The excursions run on a tight schedule. Bathroom breaks could be as much as 2 hours apart. Furthermore, if you did not have coins for entry, you would start to panic. There was little accommodation for people with mobility issues.
- The ocean cruise ships by their nature have many more public spaces, more flexibility in dining time (usually) and more “sea-days” to unwind, enjoy the ship and simply relax.
- The 45 locks or so we went through became repetitive. We often found ourselves staring at the dripping concrete side wall of the lock, only 18″ from our window.
What we liked on Avalon:
- the service and staff were great, going out of their way to ensure we had a good time and everything we needed – great sense of humour
- the entertainment was surprisingly good – a couple of local singer music nights that got us up and dancing on our tired feet
- the educational aspects – overall the quality of the tour guides and on-board speakers was excellent – we learned a lot about history, art, architecture and people
- wine was included with dinner
- happy hour every evening was great
- you can bring your own wine etc. on-board for consumption in your cabin
- a couple of theme meals e.g., German sausage with music/costume were well done
Suggestions for improvement:
- offer at least one spa day excursion, i.e., a half day visit to a local spa where you can sit and relax and soak those feet rather than walk, walk, walk
- the ship needs more public space(s) just to get away from the crowd and relax a bit
- at least one “river day” where you simply cruise and rest those weary feet
- security seemed lax at times, it looked pretty easy for anyone to walk on board and not be challenged while we were in port
- make it clearer up front that this is a “walking excursion” cruise and not suitable for people with mobility issues or weak bladders
- a little less detail – sometimes the tour guides were too detailed
- the white wine should be colder
- the tapas night was disappointing, nothing really appealed to us
Would we go on another river cruise? Not likely unless it was a more relaxed pace or a particular theme or region we felt called to. We prefer the increased flexibility, comfort, relaxation and incognito privacy of the larger ocean-going ships with greater choice of dining times, locales to hang out in and more sea days. Depends what you enjoy and are willing to pay for.