An Insider’s Take on River Cruising

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If you’re like a lot of Canadian travellers, you love big ships yet are intrigued by river cruising.  How does river cruising stack up against sailing on the ocean – or on a much larger ship?  Here’s the insider’s view from Stéphanie Bishop, who heads up Avalon Waterways in Canada.

“Our clients tell us they love the fact that they unpack only once – yet experience so many cultures, so much beautiful scenery and enjoy such a diversity of food, all in one holiday,” says Stéphanie.

Avalon is a leader in river cruises, with 16 sparkling new ships in Europe, as well as vessels on the Peruvian Amazon, the Irrawaddy (in Myanmar, formerly Burma), the Mekong (through Vietnam and Cambodia), China’s Yangtze River, the Nile, and in the Pacific’s Galapagos Islands.

Even die-hard big ship cruise fans love sailing along at a leisurely pace in a smaller ship, where you’re never more than a few moments from your stateroom and the scenery is always close to hand.

Another plus is that you can simply step off your ship and find yourself in the heart of the action.  Embarkation and disembarkation is very fast and simple, especially compared to ships carrying over 1,000 passengers.

“It’s definitely about having a more intimate experience,” says Stéphanie. How intimate is intimate? Avalon’s custom-built European ships accommodate between 128 and 166 passengers.  Its ships in other destinations, with the exception of China and the Nile, accommodate less than 50 cruisers.

Without doubt Europe is the company’s primary destination. Avalon features a huge array of cruises along such legendary rivers as the Rhine, the Danube, the Seine and the Rhône. Passengers also love the fact that there’s no chance of sea-sickness, as you’re sailing along very calm waters.

On-board facilities include a stylish main restaurant and a casual Bistro for dinner, plus the Sky Deck for al-fresco lunches; a spacious bar/lounge; library with free self-serve coffee and tea; and small gym and beauty salon.

Unlike many of the big ships, there are no fixed seatings for dinners; and breakfast is your choice of a comprehensive hot/cold buffet – or complimentary continental breakfast delivered to your stateroom.

You also have the option of booking a themed cruise.  From Christmas markets to culinary, wellness to wine – even beer and golf! – a themed cruise is a great way to travel with like-minded folks.

“Another significant difference between Avalon and big-ship cruising are the included shore excursions,” says Stéphanie. “At each stop you have your choice of three styles of day trip:  a comprehensive tour with a local guide, usually on foot; the ‘must-sees’ highlights tour, leaving you with free time to explore on your own;  or a leisurely paced tour.”  There are also additional or private excursions available at extra cost, which can be pre-purchased in Canadian dollars.  And this year the company has added bicycles for use at each port of call – complete with helmets and maps.

Staterooms are surprisingly spacious, with the majority on Avalon European ships being their signature Panorama Suites, at 200 square feet — more than 30% larger than the industry standard. Each Panorama suite boasts a 3.3 m wide window wall, which opens over 2 meters to allow the sights and sounds of Europe into your stateroom.  Add a luxurious bed facing the window, a comfy sitting area, free movies on the flat-screen TV and marble bathrooms with L’Occitane amenities and you’ll see why travellers love sailing with Avalon!

So…are there any downsides, compared to big ship sailing?

Like all European river cruise ships, there are space limitations.  This means no big theatres or glittering casinos: evening entertainment is of the light variety, often featuring musicians or dancers who come on board for the evening.  Plus there are always lively and fun port talks from the Cruise Director, giving insider tips about tomorrow’s port of call.

In 2016 Avalon is offering 25 itineraries in Europe, five of which are  8 days’ duration: A Taste of the Danube (from Budapest to Vienna), The Romantic Rhine (from Amsterdam to Zurich or vice versa) Tulips of Northern HollandEssential Holland & Belgium, and Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches. The longest is the 24 day North Sea – Black Sea cruise from Amsterdam to Bucharest, or vice versa.

And the company even opened the books on its sailings for next year which are already selling briskly!

For more information and a free brochure visit;  call 1-800-268-3636; or see your travel agent.