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Avalon Tapestry II

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Launched in 2015, the 128-passenger Avalon Tapestry II is one of Avalon Waterways' "Suite Ships," a term that reflects the company's pride in its all-suite accommodation.

In truth, most of Avalon's suites combine the sleeping and living area in one room, but they are indeed larger than the average river ship cabin. And it really does feel much bigger because the limited space is not compromised by a balcony. Instead, the lovely views and fresh air are enabled by wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, slide-open windows.

But Avalon's main claim to fame is its river-facing beds, which is what truly sets it apart from the rest. Rather than looking at a wall, passengers can watch the passing scenery from under the covers. This small but significant difference can have a huge impact if you like to sleep in or relax in the comfort of your own room. It's enough of a reason to book the ship.

The overall décor is contemporary and elegant, much like a modern four- or five-star hotel. The onboard experience includes dining from a nightly menu, club and main lounges with indoor and outdoor seating, a bar, fitness room and beauty salon. Ideal for summer sailing, the Sun Deck has a whirlpool and a barbecue for alfresco lunches.

Fares include Wi-Fi, beer, wine and soda/soft drinks at onboard dinners, 24-hour tea and coffee, sparkling wine at breakfast and most shore excursions. Additional tours can be purchased separately; these are often more special experiences, such as a visit to the Palace of Versailles. Avalon offers an option to book flights with your cruise, but "cruise only" options are also available for passengers who want to make their own travel arrangements.

Based in France, Avalon Tapestry II attracts travellers who share a fondness for French food, wine, culture and history. Paris, as the embarkation and disembarkation port for its Seine River cruises, adds a touch of glamour to the experience, but there's a casual vibe on the ship. The Normandy sailings appeal to people with an interest in World War II, sometimes including returning veterans or their families who want to see the famous landing beaches; however, the itinerary is varied enough to suit a wide range of tastes.

Dress is casual and relaxed onboard and ashore. After a day of exploring on land, many people change into something smarter for dinner, but jeans and shorts can be worn in the restaurant. For the gala dinner and captain's cocktail evening, ladies usually wear a dress or black pants with a sparkly top, and men may opt for trousers and collared shirt but not necessarily a jacket or tie. There are no formal nights.

In Normandy, warmer clothes and a rain jacket are advisable, as this region in northern France is notorious for its changeable weather. A cloudy morning can turn wet or warm within minutes. In the south of France, pack light, summer clothing, a hat and sunglasses, and your swimwear for a dip in the whirlpool. A jacket is always recommended for breezy days on the Sun Deck as it can get windy when the ship is sailing.

The hub of activity is the main lounge, where welcome drinks, music, dancing and daytime lectures take place. This large, open space has wonderful natural light and uninterrupted views as almost all the walls are floor-to-ceiling windows. There are plenty of comfortable sofas, cushioned chairs and small tables.

A stylish, semi-circular bar has several stools placed around the rim to encourage socializing before and after dinner. The bartenders are jovial, but the drinks are not free. Beer, wine and spirits are sold by the glass. A pianist plays every afternoon and evening, and in one port a French singer comes aboard to perform. During the day, the cruise director or local historians give presentations about tomorrow's port of call.

Both ends of the room have a tea and coffee station. This is also where early risers can find breakfast pastries and fruit in the morning, or cakes and cookies for an afternoon snack. At the far end of the lounge, side doors provide access to the bow, which has an outdoor seating area offering great views.

Shore excursions may include bus and walking tours of Paris and historic cities such as Rouen, a guided visit to the gardens of Giverny and lunch at Château de Bizy. Some highlighted tours, such as trips to Normandy's landing beaches and the coastal town of Honfleur, involve up to two hours of driving to reach the destinations. QuietVox headsets are used so that all passengers, whether in small or large groups, can clearly hear the guides' commentary.

The Sun Deck has an outdoor barbeque (called Sky Bistro), a small whirlpool, giant chess and backgammon, an abundance of deck chairs, lounges and tables and a couple of shaded areas. In front of the wheelhouse is another seating area with views over the bow.

Indoors, a small salon provides basic hair and beauty services at additional cost. A fitness room, free of charge, is equipped with two stationary bikes, one treadmill, yoga mats, light weights, towels, water and a television.

At the main entrance is the two-deck atrium lobby and 24-hour reception desk, where passengers check in and assemble for shore excursions. A glass cabinet displays souvenirs, guidebooks and Avalon-branded items for sale.

A quiet place to escape with a book or a hot drink is the Club Lounge at the rear of Deck 3. In the corner, there's complimentary tea, coffee, hot chocolate, juice, iced tea and water, plus sweet snacks such as cookies, croissants and apple turnover. Along the other wall is a selection of books, board games such as Scrabble, Monopoly and backgammon, and newsletters containing reprinted articles from newspapers in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia. Tables, chairs and sofas face the back window, providing panoramic views of the river.

Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship. The self-service laundry is also complimentary, with laundry detergent provided.

The ship has a lift, but it does not go up to the sun deck, which may be an issue for passengers with limited mobility.

All onboard breakfasts, lunches, dinners in the main restaurant, as well as afternoon tea, snacks, tea, coffee, outdoor BBQs and one degustation meal at the Panorama Bistro, are included in the cruise fare. Pre-selected wines, beer and non-alcoholic drinks are complimentary at dinner; soft drinks and soda are free at lunch. Other beverages can be purchased from the bar.

On the lower deck, the Tapestry Dining Room welcomes passengers with a wine display at the doorway and the freedom to choose your own table. Options include small tables for up to four people, round or long tables for six people next to the windows and a line of tables down the middle that could be joined together to accommodate as many as 20.

Self-serve buffet breakfast (from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.), lunch (usually from noon) and waiter-served dinners (from 7 p.m.) are held in this restaurant. From 6 a.m. and in between meals, passengers can help themselves to croissants, muffins, pastries, fruit, tea and coffee in the main lounge. A light lunch, such as sandwiches and salads, can also be found here from noon.

Breakfast consists of freshly baked breads and pastries, fruit, yogurt, cereals, bircher muesli, smoked salmon, bacon (separated into soft or crispy), sausages, baked beans, hash browns, pancakes, vegetables, scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, cooked-to-order poached eggs and omelettes, as well as a cheese platter and sparkling wine.

Lunch and dinner in the main restaurant offer a wide selection of meat (including a daily carvery), seafood, salads, soups, pastas, vegetarian options, cheeses, cakes and ice cream. Passengers can eat as much or as little as they like. Lunch is a self-serve buffet, but dinner sees waitstaff bring out each starter, entrée, dessert and drinks. An alternative light lunch is offered in the Panorama Lounge or (weather permitting) at the Sky Bistro's grill on the top deck. Francophiles, be warned, the food is more American than French.

To savour the taste of other regional specialties, head to the Panorama Bistro, the alternative dining venue. An area of the upstairs lounge is sectioned off at night for an intimate dinner for a small number of passengers. With seating limited to five or six tables, bookings are essential for this degustation-style experience.

The fixed tasting menu, accompanied by complimentary wines, includes a goat cheese crème brûlée, guinea fowl terrine, roast saddle of lamb with olive crust and a poppy seed and apricot cake.

Sporting arguably the best design in European river cruising, Avalon's cabins have 11-foot wide, wall-to-wall, sliding windows and queen-size beds positioned to face the river. The result is that the whole room is transformed into something better than a balcony because the view is 180 degrees and not obstructed by a railing, and instead of squishing onto a narrow deck, you can relax on your bed or a comfy chair. The climate can also be controlled as the sliding window opens to let the breeze in or not, while the ceiling protects from sun or rain, and air-conditioning adjusts the temperature.

Spread across two decks, 52 Panorama Suites measure 200 square feet, which is about 30 percent larger than the industry standard. Another 12 Deluxe Staterooms, at 172 square feet, are still more spacious than many others. The two huge Royal Suites are 300 square feet and feature king-size beds, a separate sitting area and full-size bathrooms.

Each cabin has a small table with two chairs by the window, bedside tables and a long desk. Amenities include three-door closets, flat-screen TV with movie channels, 220-volt outlets (two-pin plugs) and bathrobes and slippers provided for use during the cruise. Stocked with L'Occitane toiletries, fluffy towels and a hair dryer, bathrooms have tiled showers with glass doors, marble countertops and lots of storage. All passengers receive nightly turndown service and complimentary bottled water every day.

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