By: Rebeka Bischoff / Reposted from: www.travelzoo.com

Even as someone who spends a lot of her life thinking about getting away (occupational hazard if you vet travel deals for a living), I confess: I’d never seriously contemplated a river cruise. However amazing the itineraries, I couldn’t imagine they left much room for some of the other things I look for in a vacation—especially those tucked-away local treasures that require freedom to explore.

But when one cruise caught my eye—and I couldn’t seem to look away—I decided the time had come to check my skepticism at the dock and spend a week on the Danube. (Yes, I know. Cry me an actual river.)

The vessel? Avalon Artistry II. And as anyone who’s ever traveled on it—or any of Avalon Waterways’ award-winning ships—might guess, it had me at hello. Or guten tag, as the case may be in Nuremburg, where I set off.

Read on to learn how wrong my preconceived notions were—and how right river cruising turns out to be for a huge array of travelers (present company included).

The crowd was the perfect mix

If I’m being honest, another reason I’d never imagined river cruises to be quite my scene was the—how to put it?—generationally homogenous passenger set I had pictured…right up until I boarded Artistry II and found everyone from mother-daughter duos to honeymooners to girlfriend groups.

And getting to know people happened totally organically, given the small group size (around 100 people total) and endless opportunities to mingle. Over cocktail receptions, excursions and meals (when you could sit on your own, but the group tables always seemed more fun), we shared pictures, travel stories and our favorite recommendations around the world.

I wound up making friends with everyone from cruise junkies to people who were all toured out from other kinds of guided trips and wanted to try something new.

This was no average field trip

I’d envisioned river cruising to be, basically, one extended field trip, complete with follow-the-leader programming, designated times for everything—and little freedom to wander off. My experience was anything but that. In fact, I quickly realized that my cruise was exactly what I wanted to make of it.

Avalon offers three categories of excursionsclassicactive and discovery — think guided tours of historic sites, mellow hikes through scenic terrain and immersive local experiences, respectively. People who like to plan could map out their days before boarding the ship, while more spontaneous travelers (yours truly), could make decisions last minute (up to the morning of an excursion).

And I don’t know why this hadn’t occurred to me before I boarded, but there’s always the option to skip the day’s included activities entirely and explore independently—or just take advantage of the considerable amenities on the ship (yoga, afternoon tea, board games and lounging on the Sky Deck, just for starters).

So whatever we imagined our own best version of vacation to look like, each guest experienced it.

You can get off the beaten path

For me, a trip isn’t complete until I’ve set out on my own and mixed it up with the locals. And Avalon’s Adventure Host—yes, that’s an actual job title, and a brilliant invention—was my key to doing exactly that.

There was the time I spotted a seemingly untouristed riverfront path in Vienna and had the sudden urge to explore. Milen, our Adventure Host, hooked me up with one of the ship’s bikes (plus his considerable local knowledge), and within minutes, I was cycling along a beautifully forested trail, not a tourist in sight—though the occasional swan did block my way.

Another standout was the time we were in Budapest, and Milen led me on a hike that showcased—to Insta-perfection, I’ll admit—both the hilly Buda side of the river and the flat terrain of Pest. The famously bustling city seemed surreally hushed, and I knew I was experiencing a magical side of it from our hilltop vantage point.

Once again: preconceived notions shattered.

Even with the amazing surroundings, I had to force myself to leave my suite

Spanning the full width and height of my suite, the sliding glass doors I found in place of an external wall made me feel like I was staying in an extension of the river. Each morning I woke up with views—from bed—that I could get only from the water. Picture kids playing in the riverfront yards of pastel homes that have been passed down through generations of Danube dwellers. Or gardeners tending to equally ancient castle and church grounds. We’ve all heard of “Europe Through the Back Door,” but this was Europe through the back dock…and I was hooked.

Of course, my suite was hardly unusual for Avalon. The line is famous for its innovative and spacious quarters, which were awarded Cruise Critic’s Best River Cruise Line Cabins title last year. At 200 square feet, the Panorama Suite (the kind I stayed in) is at least 30% larger than the industry standard. And there’s not a bad room on board, either: Avalon’s entire fleet consists of “Suite Ships,” meaning nearly every cabin is a suite.

The cruise was a foodie’s fantasy

Here’s another misconception I went in with: Traveling by ship meant forfeiting a lot of local flavor. But in almost every town we passed through, the chefs would disembark in search of seasonal produce, fresh specialty breads and other local market finds. The resulting meals, which ranged from Bavarian Sweet Mustard soup to Hungarian Chicken Paprikash, were so good, I got the recipes to take home with me.

Other amazing foodie experiences were arranged for us on board, too. In Austria, for example, a culinary expert named Bianca hosted a cookie tasting, hand-delivering the goods from a bakery in her small town. After setting out plates of eight options apiece—everything from powdered almond vanillekipferl to cocoa-covered schokobusserl—she encouraged us to take in the intricacies of each handmade treat. We then closed our eyes to heighten our senses of taste and smell, and giggled as we guessed at a succession of ingredients.

In Bavaria, the onboard beer tasting was a huge hit, complete with lederhosen-clad hosts who were, well, fonts of local beer knowledge. One takeaway: If you try nothing else there, make it the Gutmann Hefeweizen, aka “Bavaria in a bottle.” (And a side note for dedicated brewophiles: Avalon runs entire beer-centric cruises through Europe, where you’ll visit historic breweries, attend onboard beer lectures, workshops and tastings—and feast at an expert-led, brew-paired dinner.)

The culinary journey continued on land as well. As guides oriented us to each city we visited, they made sure to include the best local foodie finds. After a group walk past Salzburg’s Fürst chocolate shop, for example, I may have snuck back for the famed house Mozartkugel (marzipan and pistachio surrounded by nougat and dark chocolate).

I got bonus vacation time

Instead of traveling for hours on buses between cities or worrying about missing a train—as is my way—I enjoyed extra sleep, onboard workout classes and happy hour with friends. Better still, despite the fact that I visited no fewer than seven cities, I unpacked and repacked a grand total of once.

In fact, all the logistics were incredibly easy, mostly because Avalon handled everything from flights to airport transfers to meals and sightseeing. When I say I did not have to lift a finger except to pop another Mozartkugel into my mouth, I’m not exaggerating.

Ready to test the waters yourself?

Here are three things to know about Avalon Waterways’ European offerings:

They don’t require a limitless supply of free time. Or even a week. Among the 50 or so itineraries on offer, there’s a selection of 4-6 day Short and “Suite” getaways that are perfect for anyone who’s tight on time—or newbies who are river cruise-curious.

If you do have the time and inclination, you can tack stellar land-based extensions onto your cruise. Many of my fellow travelers spent two guided days in Prague prior to our cruise—an option I wished I’d added after hearing the stories.

Through mid-April, Avalon Waterways is offering cruises with a range of perks from complimentary airfare to $2500 off per couple to free extensions on select 2020 Danube cruises. Put otherwise: There’s no better time to discover the world through its rivers.

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Avalon Uncovers Dreamy New Ports and Possibilities on the Danube River

LITTLETON, Colorado – April 21, 2020 – The Danube River winds and bends through 10 countries to carve a historic path that unites fairytale villages, capital cities, cliffside castles and forested slopes for picture-perfect landscapes as far as the eye can see.  Along this legendary path, Avalon Waterways has created a boatload of extraordinary experiences for travelers. The river cruise line has unveiled five (5) NEW Danube River ports as well as three (3) NEW 2021 European river cruise vacations that feature Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria.

Spotlighting NEW Danube River ports:

  • ILOK, CROATIA: Surrounded by wine-growing hills, Ilok is the easternmost town in Croatia. Here, Avalon Waterways will invite travelers to delve into the town’s 1,000-year-old wine-making tradition and explore Ilok’s cultural heritage, protected by a medieval fortress.
  • GOLUBAC, SERBIA: Sitting high above the Danube River, just outside the Iron Gates, is the medieval Golubac fortress: One of the best-preserved fortresses in Europe. Here, guests will soon be invited to learn about the area’s tumultuous history, its ties to the Habsburg Monarchy and Ottoman Empire.
  • CONSTANTA, ROMANIA: An incredible, port city on the Black Sea, Constanta offers sweeping views and a seaside getaway. Here, travelers can soon explore the city’s Natural History & Archeological Museum for a glimpse into early Romanian cultures.
  • YBBS, AUSTRIA: Established in the 1300s, Ybbs acted as an important port for trade in the Middle Ages. Today, it serves as the entry point for the Danube to lower Austria. Avalon Waterways will be the first international cruise operator to stop in this village and invite guests to experience the area.
  • HAINBURG, AUSTRIA: This beautiful Austrian village sits 20 miles outside Bratislava and has a strong Habsburg history. Here, Avalon guests will have the opportunity to experience the area’s wetlands, castle and even its strong, Roman past.

Avalon Waterways’ NEW 2021 Danube itineraries – including those that feature new ports are:

  • NEW 9-Day Balkan Odyssey (from Bucharest to Zagreb)
  • NEW 9-Day The Danube from Croatia to the Black Sea (from Zagreb to Bucharest)
  • NEW 16-Day The Danube from Germany to the Black Sea (from Deggendorf to Bucharest)

“On our all-new Balkan Odyssey cruise, travelers will embark on an adventure along the Danube and Drava rivers for an unforgettable journey through time and tradition,” said Pam Hoffee, managing director of Avalon Waterways. “This itinerary is perfectly book-ended with two nights in both Bucharest and Zagreb and represents our Danube expansion, giving travelers more ports and more possibilities for their river cruise exploration.”

All cruise itineraries sail on Avalon Waterways’ signature Suite Ships which provide guests two full decks of 200-square-foot, one-of-a-kind Panorama Suites featuring the industry’s only Open-Air Balconies and beds facing the incredible views for which river cruising is famous.

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LITTLETON, Colorado – May 20, 2020 – In the last 10 years, river cruising has grown by 250 percent (250%), making waves in the travel industry and proving that, when it comes to bodies of water and ships, bigger is not necessarily better. Avalon Waterways has led the river cruise trend, unveiling for travelers an unforgettable fusion of distinctive sights, colorful cultures and enduring traditions while sailing aboard innovative and award-winning Suite Ships.

“Our guests know that it’s possible to cruise without a crowd, explore new cultures with ease and sail in intimate settings,” said Pam Hoffee, managing director of Avalon Waterways.  “Aboard our spacious, state-of-the-art Suite Ships, travelers enjoy the company of an expert Cruise Director, appealing crew-to-passenger ratios, the personalized attention they deserve and seamless dock-and-go sightseeing with insider tips and experiences only the locals can provide. River cruising is the perfect way to see and explore the world.”

So, what makes river cruising so special? Avalon Waterways lays out eight reasons this travel style has become a preferred way to see, experience and explore the world.

  1. Size is seismic. It matters. River cruise vessels are built to slowly ply the world’s weaving and meandering rivers. To port in storybook settings. To sail under centuries’ old bridges and squeeze between 12-meter-wide locks. Avalon Waterways’ floating “boatique” hotels hold an average of 150 guests, although some are much smaller. Suite Ships on the Mekong River, for instance, have just 18 staterooms, accommodating 36 cruisers. And, while fellow passenger numbers are low, Avalon’s onboard crew ratio is high. In fact, on every ship, the average guest-to-crew ratio is 3:1 which means travelers are privy to copious amounts of attention to detail with crew members easily and happily catering to guests needs, every moment of every day.
  1. See not sea. There’s a (big) difference. On a river cruise, travelers are not at sea. Instead, river cruises wind and bend through the heart of fascinating countries providing a panoramic view of the Old World. Always within a few feet of shore, on a river vessel, travelers pass clifftop castles, hillside vineyards, ancient villages, and capital cities. Every day – and night – travelers have quick and easy access to ports-of-call.
  1. Cruising focused on “to dos,” not crowds and queues. River cruise itineraries are destination-focused, with local guides who help travelers experience – and connect with – the world around them. Most river cruise itineraries also sail off-the-beaten-path, visiting small fairytale villages, quaint village squares and family-owned wineries, bakeries and restaurants, along the way. Further, queues are not news on the world’s rivers. Avalon Waterways’ excursions typically accommodate no more than 30 guests at a time, providing every traveler an immersive and authentic experience.
  1. Fresh air and perspectives. On board Avalon’s innovative and award-winning Suite Ships, guests on two full decks are welcomed with 200-square-foot Panorama Suites, each featuring a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that open 7-feet wide (the widest-opening windows in cruising). This wall of glass converts into an Open-Air Balcony, but that’s not all. No Avalon Waterways ship has interior-only cabins. Instead, every Deluxe Stateroom and Panorama Suite offer guests natural light and most feature beds facing the views for which river cruising is famous. Public spaces also provide guests room to move and views galore. And, Avalon’s Suite Ship Sky Decks run the length and width of each vessel (approximately 20 meters longer and 2 meters wider than a football field) with wide-open spaces, fresh air, and lounge chairs aplenty.
  1. Warm “welcomes” along the way. Avalon works tirelessly to engage with communities visited by hiring local drivers, guides and operators for land activities. This “give back” mentality extends to the purchase of local produce, wines, beers, and even bread, further connecting our guests to people, places, and culture. As a result of our partnership approach to tourism, Avalon Waterways has been actively pursued by new towns along the world’s rivers – always promising our passengers an authentic experience.
  1. Charting a new course in sustainability. The vibrant and beautiful natural surroundings of the world’s rivers are a benefit of river cruising. And, it is up to river cruise companies to preserve the precious environment and limit our footprint. As a result, Avalon Waterways has taken great strides to improve monitoring and measurement to reduce our environmental impact, to save water, to limit waste and to foster a sustainability culture among our crew and guests. This work includes supporting Ocean Cleanup in its unprecedented efforts to clean-up the world’s river and oceans.
  1. Ship-Shape Suite Ships. The world has changed but what remains certain is Avalon Waterways’ steadfast commitment to guest safety, comfort and peace-of-mind. To that end, the company has developed a new Avalon Assurance program, with help from its Global Health & Safety team, dedicated to ensuring that the cleanliness of all operations exceeds today’s standards from start-to-finish. The river cruise operator’s new Avalon Assurance program currently features seven major categories and protocols that span across guest experience touch-points – all of which are being shared, explored, reviewed and renewed, accordingly. Details can be found at http://www.avalonwaterways.com/avalon-assurance/.
  1. Not Everything in the World Goes as Planned … That’s why Avalon Waterways is prepared to offer the highest standards in the lowest situations.

“Avalon Waterways understands that our value and our service is measured by what we do when things go wrong even more than when everything runs as planned,” said Hoffee. “We are there for our guests, offering refunds for missed services, alternative sightseeing or the opportunity to rebook and try again another time. We are a long-term business, prepared to tackle short-term obstacles. Our hope is that travelers choose to explore the world with time and time again.”

For more details, click here: http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/5f41a0a9#/5f41a0a9/1

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Travelers wanting to see the world need only cruise down its legendary rivers. For those interested in seeing more of the world, there’s Avalon Waterways®. Our entire fleet of Suite Ships® proudly present Avalon Waterways’ unique Open-Air BalconySM—cruising’s only bed with a view, more space and 24/7 access to open-air cruising. When travelers pair panoramic scenes with the widest-ranging excursion choices in river cruising, they’re in for an experience as wide open as the view.
On an Avalon cruise, schedules give way to whims, leaving travelers the freedom to do exactly as they please, when they please. Whether enjoying a guided walking tour of one of Europe’s great cities, joining a cooking class or paddling a canoe, our Avalon Choice® selections of Classic, Discovery and Active excursions offer a wide range of possibilities. When travelers prefer to explore on their own, Avalon helps with recommendations, information and the gear they need, thanks to Adventure Hosts, an Adventure Center and AvalonGO mobile app. And when it’s time to refuel, Avalon’s FlexDining® program gives guests the choices they crave.
When travelers sail the world with Avalon Waterways, every day is an adventure and every adventure is up to our guests.
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Avalon Unveils New Active & Discovery Experiences for 2021

LITTLETON, Colorado – April 28, 2020 – Whether travelers prefer to paddle, pedal, paint, puree or ponder their way through Europe, on Avalon’s Active & Discovery cruises, every day is an adventure and every adventure is up to them.  And, in 2021, Avalon Waterways’ has announced that this exclusive series of customizable cruises is growing by 19 percent (19%) with more departures and a new itinerary.

“Untethered and full of included options, our innovative Active & Discovery vacations feature extraordinary activities that give travelers the choice they crave,” said Pam Hoffee, managing director of Avalon Waterways. “On these one-of-a-kind cruises, each day, travelers can choose from a selection of included ‘Active,’ ‘Discovery’ and ‘Classic’ excursions – an average of 23 of them – giving our guests unparalleled opportunities to customize their vacation.”

In addition to offering these popular itineraries on the Danube, Rhine and Rhone Rivers, in 2021, Avalon is adding a NEW Active & Discovery in Holland & Belgium cruise to its robust offerings.  On this 8-day vacation, some excursions travelers can look forward to include:


  • Guided mountain bike tour of the outskirts of Ghent
  • Hike through the Sonian Forest near Brussels
  • Architectural bike tour through historic buildings and hypermodern skyscrapers in Rotterdam
  • The Dutch countryside by bike, pedaling past polders, dykes, windmills and centuries-old villages, near Amsterdam


  • Guided visit of a family-owned, Netherlands oyster farm that’s been active since 1906 … While there, enjoy a taste of oysters and lobster
  • Guided tour of Graffiti Street in Ghent and become a street artist yourself
  • Belgian chocolate-making workshop
  • Delft tile pottery workshop in a characteristic painter’s room in Rotterdam


  • Guided walking tour through the winding cobblestones and canals of Middelburg
  • Central Grote Markt tour – A destination lined with 16th-century guildhall houses in Antwerp
  • Guided canal cruise through Amsterdam

“Priced from $2,349, our Active & Discovery vacations include more excursions – at the same cost – as other river cruise itineraries,” said Hoffee.  “They are the perfect choice for travelers who have a diverse set of interests; those who want to customize their vacation; those returning to a river for a new experience and multi-generational travelers with different passions and pace levels. There’s nothing else like them on Europe’s rivers.”

All cruise itineraries sail on Avalon Waterways’ signature Suite Ships which provide guests two full decks of 200-square-foot, one-of-a-kind Panorama Suites featuring the industry’s only Open-Air Balconies and beds facing the incredible views for which river cruising is famous.

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9 Reason to Do a European River Cruise

Do you want to travel to and go around Europe? Are you thinking of doing a European River Cruise and are not sure if it is for you? Wondering if perhaps a land-based trip would be better way to tour Europe? Than this Video should help!

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