11th Sep 2024 | 5 nights | Avalon | Avalon Illumination
Arrive in Vienna to enjoy your Avalon YourWay vacation before your Danube River cruise begins. Start with a 2-night stay in the legendary “City of Music,” and enjoy superior hotel accommodations with complimentary breakfast, an expert Local Guide, and courtesy hotel-to-ship transfer. Join us for guided sightseeing, including the Imperial Palace, Vienna Opera House, and stunning St. Stephens Cathedral. You may otherwise choose to take an early morning walk for breakfast at a Viennese café, followed by an exclusive viewing of the Habsburg family’s private art collection at Vienna’s Museum of Fine Art. You’ll also enjoy a free day to leisurely explore the city at your own pace before boarding your Avalon Suite Ship®.You’ll first cruise to marvelous Melk for guided sightseeing in Austria’s Wachau Valley, including the magnificent Benedictine Abbey perched above the Danube. In Dürnstein, join a guided hike above the famed blue Stiftskirche steeple for breathtaking views. You’ll sail to the centuries-old Slovakian city of Bratislava. Take a guided tour of its cobblestone streets and Gothic cathedral. Your Danube River cruise delights with gorgeous views, concluding in Budapest, the “Pearl of the Danube.” Your way is the perfect way to experience the Danube’s incredible views along the legendary river with an Avalon YourWay vacation!
In developing its “suite ships,” Avalon Waterways, part of the Globus family of brands, faced the obstacles that all ships plying the rivers of Europe must conquer: how to provide passengers with balconies and more public open space onboard, while dealing with European river constraints. (Think varying water levels, low bridges, narrow locks and tiny docks.)
So, how did Avalon Illumination and its seven nearly identical siblings rise to the challenge? Magnificently. Each Panorama suite features an 11-foot-wide, seven-foot-tall wall of glass that can slide to reveal a gaping, almost magical open-air expanse. When the doors are opened, take my word, you'll feel as if the entire cabin was outdoors.
Freed from having to set aside space for dedicated outdoor balconies, the 200-square-foot Panorama suites are 15 percent larger than many river ship cabins, allowing room in each for a queen bed, a small couch, table and chair. An innovative slightly curved wall leads to larger-than-expected bathrooms, with lovely marble floors. These are the most common staterooms onboard Illumination and it's no surprise that reaction has been positive.
Public gathering spaces have also been maxed out on the 443-foot-long, 37.4-foot-wide ship with four decks. In addition to the ship-long sky deck, there's a large indoor lounge, a smaller indoor lounge and an outdoor covered seating area in the front of the ship, perfect for open-air sightseeing on rainy days.
Interior design is contemporary chic, with lots of dark espresso woods highlighted with colourful modern art and deep orange rugs and furniture. Think Scandinavian rather than French Provincial. A French influence can be felt, however, in the high-quality L'Occitane bath products -- which sport a delicious lemon verbena scent.
The staff were generally efficient and pleasant. Knowledgeable, English-speaking local guides led shore excursions (at least one daily excursion was included), and the excursions were enhanced with the use of wireless headsets.
Avalon Illumination sails on a selection of itineraries on the Seine, Rhine, Main, Rhone, Saone and Dutch waterways, which range from seven to 15 nights.
Country-club casual is the order of the day. Leave the jeans and T-shirts, as well as the opulent evening gowns and tuxes, at home. At dinner, understated cocktail dresses and jackets (sans ties) are appropriate. Bring good walking shoes.
You won't find any large-scale or lavish productions onboard Illumination, but live music is presented in the main lounge each night. A piano player is most common, but full dance bands are also offered. Accessible classical music performances are not to be missed.
A happy hour is typically held at the bar before dinner each night, with two-for-one and drink-of-the-day specials.
Daily educational seminars, led by the cruise director on topics like the history of the surrounding countryside or details about the next port, are held in the lounge or on the sky deck. Well-done handouts are available.
A daily guided shore excursion is included. Walking tours, which are usually about two hours long, are informative and interesting. Optional tours are offered, too, and vary, from a cycling tour along the Danube through the Wachau Valley to a full-day trip to Salzburg.
By river ship standards, the fitness area, which includes a treadmill, two stationary bikes and a set of free weights, is rather large. Free refrigerated bottled water is a nice touch.
The ship usually docks somewhere that offers a riverfront path, convenient for outdoor walking or running. Bikes are not available onboard the ship, but optional bike excursions are offered in Amsterdam and Dürnstein, Austria.
The ship's sun deck has lounge chairs, tables and chairs, a whirlpool, a small golf putting area and oversized chess and backgammon games. Four separate, shaded areas are provided.
A small salon with hair and nail services is also available.
Fans of clean-cut, contemporary design will feel comfortable in Illumination's boutique-hotel-style décor. The dark woods, creamy whites, beiges and rich reds create a swanky, elegant vibe.
From the understated yet stylish lobby, a curved, split staircase leads up to the third deck, and a five-step split staircase leads down to the second deck, giving the illusion of an extra deck and a larger, airier space. The lobby includes two computer terminals and a printer, and free Wi-Fi throughout the ship supports personal laptops.
In the ship's forward, the large Panorama Lounge has received a slight design makeover, with softer touches -- such as creating cosy seating clusters that are set off from the rest of the room by decorated see-through walls -- that make the spacious room feel warm. It's comfortably furnished with cushioned chairs and sofas, and a horseshoe-shaped bar, all surrounded by windows. The lounge serves as a gathering place for entertainment, lectures and happy hours. Two sets of screens and projectors, which drop from the ceiling, can be used for presentations.
Just forward of the Panorama Lounge is the Sky Lounge -- a small, alfresco area furnished with a series of tables and chairs; it's one of our favourite spots onboard.
At the bow of the ship is the smaller Club Lounge, where continental breakfast is served and the cappuccino machine, available 24/7, is situated. The room also includes a wide-screen, 55-inch television that swings out for presentations and is equipped with a Wii videogame system; a small but adequate library of books, running the gamut from "The Da Vinci Code" to "Lord of the Flies"; and board games like Monopoly, Yahtzee and Deal or No Deal.
Smoking is allowed only in outdoor areas of the ship where ashtrays have been placed. An elevator is available for those with limited mobility.
No one goes hungry on an Avalon sailing.
Illumination's menu might best be described as Continental with local influences. Wines, produce and dishes from Austria and the Middle Rhine region of Germany are daily features. On a couple of early-morning strolls, I passed a crewmember heading back to the ship carrying fresh local produce, such as succulent strawberries and plump white asparagus, which later showed up on the dinner table.
Service was friendly and efficient.
Passengers have four choices for breakfast: Early riser's breakfast, served from 6 to 7 a.m. and late riser's breakfast, served from 8 to 10 a.m., both in the Club Lounge, offering fruit, coffee, tea, juice and pastries. Room service breakfast, available for a surcharge, consists of the same choices. The best bet is the buffet breakfast, which consists of European-style cheeses and cold cuts, yogurts, made-to-order omelettes and eggs, fruit, breakfast meats, scrambled eggs and -- my personal favourite -- Bircher muesli, a traditional Swiss recipe of rolled oats, fruit and milk; sparkling wine is also served.
Between noon and 2 p.m., buffet lunch is set up in the main restaurant. On most days, weather permitting, an open-air bistro-style grill lunch is offered on the sky deck. Capacity for the outdoor seating is limited, so sign up early. Maybe food just tastes better served outdoors, but the grilled bratwursts, skirt steaks and chicken breasts, accompanied by corn on the cob and fresh salads, all hit the spot.
Buffet lunch in the restaurant has more choices. A typical spread offers salads, a hot soup, cold soup, made-to-order pasta, a carving station and hot dishes such as cordon bleu and broiled tilapia. Caesar's salad, a grilled dish and a sandwich with fries were also on the daily lunch menu. Save room for the best part of the meal -- dessert. The ice cream buffet of rich vanilla and a second varying flavour, offered daily, is complemented with condiments that range from chocolate sauce to flaked coconut. And don't even think about missing dessert on the days that offer tiramisu with chocolate sauce or the apple strudel with vanilla custard sauce.
Dinner is a four-course banquet, served promptly at 7 p.m. There's no option for arriving within a window of time. Seating is open, and most tables hold at least four people. Each day, a local regional specialty, such as Quarkkäulchen, a pancake-like dish, or Kartoffelsuppe, potato soup, is served. A healthy menu option is also offered, featuring items like summer vegetable soup, glazed cod and poached fillet of chicken with steamed vegetables. Grilled salmon and grilled chicken are available every night. Some favourites from my voyage: crispy roast duck à l'orange, the dessert cheese platter and cream of eggplant soup.
Oenophiles rejoice: Included white, rose and red wines accompany each dinner. Premium bottles of wine are also available for purchase, and passengers are allowed to bring their own wine onboard.
Just in case three meals a day are not enough, coffee, tea, cake and sandwiches are served in the main lounge at 4 p.m., and late-night hors d'oeuvres are on offer in the main lounge at 10:30 p.m. Fruit, cookies, cappuccino, coffee and tea are available 24/7 in the Club Lounge.
Avalon Illumination has 83 cabins -- 65 Panorama Suites, 16 Deluxe Staterooms and two Royal Suites -- across six categories. The majority of cabins measures 200 square feet and have queen-sized beds that can be configured as twins. There are king-sized beds in the two 300-square-foot Royal Suites. Cabins on the lower Indigo Deck have fixed high-level windows, and all the other suites on the Sapphire and Royal Decks have the aforementioned French balconies.
The Panorama Suites, at 200 square feet each, are a real stand-out on Avalon's "suite class" ships. They're significantly larger than those found on most riverboats. 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 is an up-close-and-personal experience: It was tempting to reach out and touch the stone sides as the cabin darkened. But even with doors closed, the cabin's expansive views made me feel connected to the outdoors. Yes, there are thick drapes to block the sights of waving locals, but it seems a shame to cut off the ever-changing view, even at night.
The ship also offers 17 deluxe cabins at 172 square feet, 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 décor throughout is simple yet elegant. All cabins have Avalon's signature "Comfort Collection," with orthopaedic mattresses, Egyptian cotton linens, firm or soft pillows and fluffy European-style duvets. Flat-screen TVs (each Royal Suite's duo of TVs 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-sized beds that can be converted to two twins. Panorama Suites and Deluxe Staterooms have queen-sized 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 litres of complimentary water were always at hand.
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 coloured 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 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.
English-speaking travellers who want to sail the world by river, exploring at their own pace.
Families with young children or travellers who depend on wheelchairs.
Avalon caters to English-speaking travellers from North America, the U.K. and Australia/New Zealand. The average age of passengers is mid-50s to 60s, but the mix varies by itinerary, and on four- and five-night cruises, you'll find more 40-something travellers and others trying out river cruises for the first time. Children ages 8 and older are welcome onboard, but there is no formal youth program.
No, not really. You can't wear shorts at dinner, but, other than that the dress code is casual. At dinner you'll see mostly open-neck shirts and slacks for men; slacks, skirts or dresses for women. Some people op to dress up a bit nicer, though still relatively casual, for the welcome and farewell dinners (only on Europe river cruises).
Exactly what is included varies somewhat with the itineraries. In Europe, Asia and South America, coffee and tea are available free of charge all day long. In Europe a choice of complimentary wine, beer or soft drinks is included with lunch and dinner, and sparkling wine with breakfast. On the Mekong, Ganges and Amazon rivers, select soft drinks and local beer/spirits are available throughout the day and wine is included with lunch and dinner. Wi-Fi is free (except in the Amazon or Galapagos, where it's not available), as is dining (including breakfast in bed and picnic lunches to take on shore) and all onboard entertainment and enrichment. Most shore excursions are complimentary, including the line's Active Adventure options. You'll pay extra for gratuities, salon or spa treatments, laundry, onboard shop purchases and some special excursions.
Shore excursions are at the heart of activities on any Avalon sailing. Options can range from active excursions, such as canoeing the Danube or jogging through Amsterdam, to cultural experiences, like following the life of an Austrian worker or taking part in an Amsterdam painting class. Passengers who prefer to explore on their own can use the AvalonGO app loaded with a list of nearby attractions and hours of operation, historical facts, maps and directions as well as local cafes, restaurants, bars and entertainment options. Onboard, most passengers attend enrichment sessions, and the Local Favourites program brings regional performances onboard, as well as classes: tai chi or Mandarin lessons on the Yangtze, culinary demonstrations in France, etc.
Inclusions may differ depending on region. Please check with our team.