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.
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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.)
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.
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.
Wonderful Trip, Made Better with a Few of Our Own Deviations from the Itinerary