World: Cruisin’

Smaller ships = more ports of call

By Vivian Vassos

Creativity Sky Deck.jpgRiver cruising is one of the most intimate ways to see some of Europe’s hi-storied and spectacular locales. In some cases, it’s right up close and personal, cruising literally by the good citizens’ backyards.

I found myself doing just this, one weekend in the late summer, on the newly christened MS Avalon Creativity. I was there to experience this unique event hosted by the multi-award-winning travel companies Globus and Avalon Waterways and, yes, champagne really is involved.

A select group of journalists had been invited to take the inaugural voyage of the Creativity, which would, post-christening, spend its water-borne time sailing on thavalonchampagne.jpge company’s “Romantic Rhine” cruise – an itinerary the ship will cruise through the end of 2009. In 2010, the Avalon Creativity will move to Western Europe, cruising Avalon Waterways’ new Grand France and Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches itineraries.
It’s a whirlwind trip, as alas, I will not be cruising too far down the rivers but only having a quick preview of what spending a few days on this ship will be like. Like a hotel, the ship has a concierge (or cruise director, I suppose), and each evening, she leaves a list in our rooms of events and happenings for the next day.

We start off with a cockcreativitycabin.jpgtail welcome and a tour of the ship. With 68 staterooms at a surprisingly generous 172 sq ft (bigger than some hotel rooms in New York City!), and 2 suites at 258 sq. ft. – the rooms also feature floor to ceiling sliding glass doors to catch the view as it meanders by, well-appointed bathrooms and a flat screen TV that also displays real time video of the outdoor surroundings – the Creativity is like a floating boutique hotel. After an evening out in Amsterdam, where Creativity is berthed, we’re tucked in for good night’s sleep. Sometime in the night, however, the captain starts her engines, and sails her stealthily out of Amsterdam and into the river’s open waters. When we wake up, we’re well en route to Hoorn, a 14th-century example of medieval Europe, and a lovely walking town. The open-air market stalls, piled high with bright yellow cheese rounds and fresh herbs and vegetables, is in full swing, and the fishmonger’s catch is tempting.

Back on board Creativity, we’re free to roam the decks, enjoy the mid-afternoon sail to Volendam for the official christening on the open-air Sky Deck, which is equipped with lounging chairs, a Jacuzzi and waiters that will refill your beverages at a glance or spend some quiet time in the luxury library-like club lounge.

As we make port in Volendam, a Netherlands fishing village that’s taken on a weekend getaway for urbanites vibe, the sun bursts through the clouds as if right on creativityamsterdam.jpgcue. After an hour of strolling though the tourist-laden town, the Christening attendees enjoy a reception on the dock alongside the Avalon Creativity waiting for its own close up. This event marks the company’s eighth new ship in Europe since 2004. “In five short years Avalon has established itself as a major European river cruise operator,” said Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways. “Our ships are modern in design, showcasing contemporary appointments and state-of-the art technology.” After a brief yet inspired speech by the ship’s official godmother, she releases the rope and Cheers! The Champagne has struck the hull with a smashing success, and there’s bubbly all round.

Visit to get a virtual tour, complete with 360-degree views, of the Avalon Creativity’s sister ship, the Avalon Scenery.

“Cruising with us provides travelers big benefits including a more intimate, small ship experience, close proximity of attractions and great value,” said Clark. “Our prices include accommodation, meals, unlimited complimentary local wine, beer or soft drinks with all on-board dinners, regional entertainment and unparalleled land excursions. Not only do travelers appreciate knowing what their vacation will cost before they go, agents benefit with strong commissions from this all-inclusive style of travel.”

For cruise ideas and a look at Avalon’s cruise deals for 2010, visit