Our cruise was over on Sunday morning and after breakfast we all assembled in the lounge to wait for our names to be called for debarcation. There were lots of hugs and tears and exchanges of email addresses and business cards as we took pictures of each other and said our goodbyes. Those with planes or trains to catch were shuffled out first. Then came a large portion of the passengers who were going to stay an extra day or two at the nearby Moevenpick Hotel. The last ones to leave were those who required taxis to their local hotels. At about 10:30am our taxi came and we noticed that we were the last to leave.
Several months ago one visitor to my blog asked “So how was the cruise?” So finally here are two answers to that question. Short answer: It was great! Long answer: let’s dwell a bit on each aspect of the cruise.
Avalon managed just about everything for us, including the air flight to Europe and back and the four days we spent in Zurich prior to our cruise. They put us up at the Movenpick near the Zurich airport which was a very nice hotel. And we decided to live on the middle of three decks on the ship, an upgrade to the lower deck but not as comfortable as the expensive upper deck. As we didn’t do much more than sleep and dress in this room, it was more than adequate. Ours was the first room on the left and just a short flight upstairs to the lobby and lounge or downstairs to the dining room. The first night was a little noisy with all the locks we went through between Basel and Strasbourg but we slept well for the rest of the trip.
They served primarily American food all week and we enjoyed the informal buffets for breakfast and lunch. The dinners were more formal and usually we had choices of between three and five entres. Wine was also free and flowing freely during dinner. I usually had a couple of beers every day in the lounge. Becks was on tap for three euros and you got two for one during the happy hour before dinner. They also featured one after dinner drink every night for a special price, usually between three and four euros. I remember having cognac one night and Benedictine on another. The other nights I stuck to beer or wine. There was also a cozy little lounge aft that was open during the day for coffee, tea and cookies and on some evenings for movies.
All the staff we encountered were very pleasant and we enjoyed the talent show they put on one evening after dinner. We tended to eat our meals with the same crowd at the same table every day and so we got to know our waiters and waitresses very well. Most of them were from southeast Europe — countries such as Bosnia, Romania and Bulgaria — and they all spoke excellent English.
Cruise Director and Tours
Dragan is a first-rate cruise director. He did a good job every night before dinner when he gave us a preview of what was coming up the next day. He also narrated the entire voyage past the castles on Thursday morning and was our tour guide for Speyer on Tuesday morning.
The tours and local tour guides were, for the most part, excellent. I particularly enjoyed the tours in Speyer, Mainz and Koblenz. The rainy weather put a damper on the tours of Heidelberg and Cologne. Rudesheim was only so-so and I didn’t particularly enjoy the cruise along the rivers and canals of Strasbourg, probably because none of the pictures I took through the dirty and reflective windows turned out well. The cruise down the canals of Amsterdam, however, was fabulous. On this boat there wasn’t too much glare and I was also able to take some shots through an open roof.
Here’s where I had some problems with Avalon. We had decided (primarily for budgetary reasons) before the cruise not to participate in any optional tour. The cost of these tours ranged from 21 to 44 euros per person. As it turned out, though, we wished we did go on one or two of these tours but we also think they should not have been at extra cost. In Strasbourg, for example, I would have preferred to spend the morning at the cathedral and environs and then the afternoon at an Alsace winery. But we spent an hour on the canal cruise which left only an hour or so to see Strasbourg and its cathedral. After lunch we went on our own back to Strasbourg and had a great time walking across town, shopping and picture-taking but we missed out on the optional Alsace wine-tasting tour that cost 36 euros per person. BTW, Dragan noticed that a lot of people were planning to go back to Strasbourg after lunch and so he ordered a bus to take us there and back!
We have been on three ocean-going cruises with 3000 passengers or more but this was our first river cruise on a small ship with only 130 passengers. And we loved it! I think before the trip was over we had conversed with most of the people on board. I was 72 years old last May, my wife a few years younger, and the majority of people seemed to be our age. We met a few couples in their 80s and I think the oldest person I met was a woman from New Zealand who was 89. There were also a few couples in their 40s and a couple of them brought their kids. About half of the passengers were Americans and those we met were about our age and were from places such as Oregon, Texas, Missouri, Connecticut and North Carolina. But the group with whom we ate our meals and partied in the lounge were mostly Canadians in their 50s and Australians slightly older (our closest Australian friend was 60 years old).
(1) History. I expected to learn a lot about the many towns along the Rhine where the people built their big cathedrals a thousand years ago. I didn’t expect to learn so much about the Rhine being the northeast border of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago!
(2) Weather. We hoped a mid-May cruise would be rain-free but that was not to be. It rained on six of our first 12 days in Europe (May 9 – 20), including 4 days of the eight days on our ship. There was not a drop of rain during the last ten days of our trip (May 21-30), though.
We spent three more nights in Amsterdam after our cruise and then traveled to Osnabruck for three more nights. The highlights of our next four days in Belgium were the reunions we had with two high school classmates. On our last full day in Europe we took the train from Brussels to Amsterdam (Avalon required us to fly back from either Zurich or Amsterdam) and we flew back home the next morning. During the next few weeks I will be posting articles about and photos from this second half of our trip.