At the beginning of this month, I was a guest on board Avalon Waterways’ newest ship, Avalon View. I was invited by Avalon to experience one of their Active & Discovery itineraries on the Danube, but we will focus more on the itinerary in the upcoming weeks. Today, I want to talk about five ways that Avalon went above and beyond my expectations.
One of my favorite excursions was an early morning walking tour of Vienna that ended at the Kunsthistorisches Museum. I was fascinated by these old backgammon boards.
Avalon’s Active & Discovery itineraries usually have a choice of at least three excursions per port. While this can make decision making hard sometimes, it is nice to be given the power to control what you’re doing and seeing in port. This is also an asset for those traveling in groups who want to participate in activities at varying activity levels. For example, there was a man with mobility issues on our sailing who was cruising with his wife, son and daughter-in-law. Instead of everyone hopping on a bus and walking at the same pace around town, the “kids” were able to go off and ride bikes while the parents focused on excursions with fewer steps and stairs.
You can tell that Avalon’s ships are designed with comfort in mind. The lounge houses many couches where guests can relax with a book or position themselves to watch a local entertainer on board, but there were also many tables in the lounge – something that I often notice a lack of on river cruises. While the couches are nice and comfortable, the table and chairs are, again, sometimes a better option for passengers with limited mobility. It can be hard to shuffle around coffee tables and into the corner of a sectional, so I thought the table and chairs were both functional (as I like to play cards), and thoughtful.
On the first night of the voyage our cruise manager, Irena, made sure to tell us if we needed anything changed in our cabin – even with our mattresses or bedding. She assured us that they could always make the mattresses more firm or soft, and provide different bedding if what we had wasn’t suitable for our needs. It is worth noting, however, that we were both perfectly comfortable in our cabin and didn’t need to make any changes.
Fresh Baked Cookies & Snacks
Okay, I know this sounds a little bit ridiculous, but there are so many times that I’ve been sailing with people and they complain about the lack of snacks and food availability outside of meal time on river cruises. It is true, though you might be able to come by a rogue bowl of peanuts or crackers.
In the Club Lounge, there was always an assortment of cookies and usually a snack option, like mixed nuts. It was nice for Emma, who tends to snack more than I do, to be able to go to the Club Lounge after an excursion and grab a coffee and a small snack so that she wasn’t starving until dinner.
Avalon also offers a daily tea time on its sailings, with small sandwiches and an assortment of various cakes and pastries. Again, nice for those who need a blood sugar boost, or simply want to indulge in an afternoon delight.
A “small” van is all we needed to shuttle our group of 15.
Avalon’s commitment to the environment is the most obvious of any cruise company that I’ve worked with. Every time I talk to Pam Hoffee, Avalon Waterways’ President, the topic of sustainability always comes up. Avalon is continually making donations to The Ocean Clean Up, which uses solar powered “Interceptors” to clean up trash quietly and with no emissions on the world’s rivers day and night, and even presents information its partnership with the nonprofit in the lobby of the ships.
The ships in Avalon’s fleet are all equipped with water stations where passengers can fill up their reusable water bottles. I would say that Avalon encourages guests to use these water stations, but there is really no other option. If you forgot to bring your own water bottle, you can get a reusable bottle from reception for use while onboard. There are no plastic bottles on the ship.
This consciousness for the environment trickles down into the mindset of Avalon’s employees as well. On many excursions, we found ourselves in small groups of 20 or less. Instead of hiring big coaches to take us from our ship to our tours, our cruise director booked smaller vans. When I asked him if Avalon encouraged him to do that or if he took that initiative himself he responded, “It’s just common sense, isn’t it?”
Vladimir, the maitre d, also became Emma’s personal bodyguard. Here is is shielding her from a beef entree being served to the entire group.
I was absolutely blown away when it came to the adaptability and accommodation of the kitchen to my vegan partner. On the first day of the trip, we attended a meeting where Emma shared her dietary restrictions with the chef and maitre d. From that point on, Emma was practically escorted from the doors of the dining room to the breakfast and lunch buffets and given a personal tour of what she could and couldn’t eat.
Though this was an extremely thoughtful touch, Avalon also makes it very easy to identify potential allergens in dishes with an identification system – assigning different letters to different food allergens and listing them below a food’s name or description.
The chef on our sailing, Vedad, even went as far as to make Emma special soups. When a soup was made with cream, he would pull the stock aside and add coconut milk to Emma’s portion and finish out the larger portion for the rest of the passengers. He made Emma vegan deserts and canapes. He truly just went above and beyond. I’ve traveled with vegans before and they have never been given the care or attention that Avalon gave to Emma.
My fellow passengers asked me how I was going to review the ship, and if I would include any of the negatives of the journey. “What negatives?” I asked one of my new friends, Pam. “Well, I guess there really weren’t any,” she replied.
Not only did Avalon surpass my already high expectations in every way possible, but they seemed to do the same with the other passengers on board. Customizing the passenger experience to suit everyone’s needs and make sure everyone feels comfortable – that’s the Avalon Waterways difference.