The Panorama Suites, at 200 square feet each, are significantly larger than those found on most river ships. The 11-foot-wide, seven-foot-tall wall-to-wall windows open to a gaping seven feet, with protective horizontal rails across the lower half. The concept appears so smartly simple that it's a wonder no one thought of this a long time ago. On my recent sailing, when I sat on the chair or lay on the bed (naturally, it faces the window), it felt as if I were outdoors. The sounds and smells of the shoreline -- horses neighing, ducks quacking, beer garden laughter, kids playing -- all wafted through the room as the boat cruised through the scenic tableau.
Going through locks was an up-close-and-personal experience: It was tempting to reach out and touch the stone sides as the cabin darkened. The only downside was that passing bugs and occasional less-than-welcome smells, such as farm manure and factory smoke, also became part of this open-air scene. But, even with doors closed, the cabin's expansive views made me feel connected to the outdoors. Yes, there were thick drapes to block the sights of waving locals, but it seemed a shame to cut off the ever-changing view, even at night.
The ship also offers 17 172-square-foot deluxe cabins outfitted with standard windows that offer limited views (read: no open-air balconies) and two 300-square-foot Royal Suites with panoramic windows.
Cabin design and decor throughout is simple yet elegant. All cabins have Avalon's signature "Comfort Collection," with orthopedic mattresses, Egyptian cotton linens, firm or soft pillows and fluffy European-style duvets. For some Americans, the lack of traditional sheets may be initially disconcerting, but I had no trouble getting used to the European system. Twenty-six--inch flat-screen TV's (each Royal Suite's duo of TV's has 26-inch and 31.5-inch screens) with several English-language news channels and movie channels (all non-news TV channels are in German) is standard; an odd offering is several channels of fireplace videos.
In the Panorama and Royal suites, long expanses of mirrors on one side make the cabins seem even bigger, although it can be confusing to watch the view both coming and going if the mirrors are within your sight line. The suites' couches and upholstered chairs (two chairs in the Royal suite) are sturdily comfortable instead of plush, and small tables raise and lower for easier in-cabin dining. The Royal suites also have separate toilets, twin sinks and king-size beds that can be converted to two twins. Panorama Suites and deluxe staterooms have queen-size beds that can be converted to twins.
Other cabin features include adequate shelves and closet space with lots of hangers, an in-cabin safe and a live orchid. On my sojourn, two liters of complimentary water were always at hand. A mini-bar that you can examine without getting dinged offers drinks only, which range from Coca-Cola for about $2.15 to spirits for $7.20.
Comfortably proportioned bathrooms are decorated with floor-to-ceiling marble and outfitted with L'Occitane bath products, hair dryers and cotton robes. A thoughtful touch is differently colored towel sets, so couples can easily recognize their own. Bathroom downsides are poor lighting that even a dedicated makeup mirror can't overcome and a pull-out trash container that often gets caught when closing.
Pack clothes that don't wrinkle, as there is no iron. Laundry service is offered; a shirt, for example, costs about $3.50 to wash and iron. Also, to handle the 220-volt electrical system, bring an adapter for charging electronics and/or a converter for appliances like curling irons.
Noise is not an issue, as the ship has been designed with special soundproofing materials.