Avalon Waterways Review: European River Cruise

helene and me in Strasbourg

Summary: This is a Review of the Romantic Rhine (Northbound) river cruise with Avalon Waterways. We started in Basel, Switzerland, cruised up through France and Germany, and ended in Amsterdam. Here’s how it went!

I’d like to start this Avalon Waterways review off by saying I do not like traditional ocean cruises. My parents love them, so I went on a few as a a kid. One of my friends also got married on a cruise. I’ve tried my fair share of ocean cruises and I just can’t get behind them. My main frustration is usually being told when to be back on the boat and the fact that you can’t really explore much outside of the port city you stop in. I understand there are excursions, but you don’t really get the feel of the country that way.

BUT I really enjoyed this river cruise. Keep reading to find out why that is and what the differences are between a river cruise and ocean cruise.

The whole group in Strasbourg

How a Non-Cruiser Ended up on a European River Cruise

When you read that first paragraph, I bet you started thinking “why would this woman go on a cruise if she hates cruises so much?” And the answer is that my friends were going, so I wanted to go, too!

I did a group trip to Italy in 2019. Helene Sula of heleneinbetween.com hosted the trip with TrovaTrip and I had such an incredible time. It was my first time in Europe and I didn’t know anyone that was going, but I ended up making some of my favorite friendships to this day. So, when Helene said she was hosting another trip, there was absolutely no hesitation. I knew 5 people on this trip that were also in Italy, and I was meeting 19 new people.

–> Want to know more about that group trip to Italy? Read about it here! <–

Leading up to the trip, I was assuming I’d like a river cruise more than an ocean cruise because it would take a REALLY bad experience for me not to like something in Europe.

Colmar Chrismas Market

Avalon Waterways Romantic Rhine Route

Our cruise started in Basel, Switzerland. I flew into Zurich a few days early to adjust to the time zone and see some of Zurich before the cruise. I explored during the day and worked remotely in the afternoon (one of my favorite ways to travel!). On the day the cruise started, I took the train to Basel and got an Uber to the spot where the boat was docked.

Here are the places we stopped:

Day 1: Arrive in Basel and depart in the afternoon

Day 2: Breisach, Germany with either a Black Forest or Colmar excursion (during other parts of the year, it’s a winery excursion)

Day 3: Strasbourg, France with a walking tour

Day 4: Mainz, Germany with a tour of Heidelberg Castle

Day 5: Rudesheim, Germany in the morning and cruise in the afternoon

Day 6: Cologne, Germany with a walking tour

Day 7: Amsterdam, Netherlands with a canal cruise

Day 8: Wake up in Amsterdam and disembark

This is the Northbound route, but Avalon also does the exact same cruise going the opposite direction, Southbound.

Since we were traveling in the holiday season, our main focus at each of these destinations was Christmas Markets! We also enjoyed exploring the different cities, but we spent most of our time at the markets. That said, you can enjoy any of these places year-round. They all have a bit of a different feel, but they give you that quintessential European vibe.

Accomodations On Board

Since this is a river cruise, I was certainly expecting the boat to be smaller than an ocean cruise ship. It was MUCH smaller. I didn’t mind it because frankly, I was there to see Europe and I was hoping to spend as much time as possible off the boat.

This is a complete estimate, but I’d guess there were around 200 people onboard, so maybe anywhere from 50-100 staterooms. There was also a dining room and two lounges. That’s it! The dining room and larger lounge area were spacious, but there weren’t nearly as many areas to explore as an ocean cruise ship. Like I said, I didn’t mind this one bit. I actually liked that the boat was easy to get around and felt familiar rather quickly.

While small, the boat did have a feel of luxury. It was December when I went, so it was decorated with Christmas trees and tasteful decor. The rooms felt modern and everything was always clean. Like any cruise ship, the rooms were pretty small, but they did have a few larger suites with balconies or floor-to-ceiling windows.

Avalon Waterways Food Review

Since food is such an experience to me, this is my favorite part of any review. With Avalon Waterways, breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served at specific times during the day. They gave you the choice of eating in the formal dining room, or a more casual buffet-style meal in the lounge.

We ate in the dining room most of the time and the service was great. Every meal was different each day and they seemed to have a variety of things for all different diets and preferences. I thought it was nice that they changed the wine and food options based on where we were stopped that day. For example, when we stopped in Breisach, Germany where some of our group went to the Black Forest, they served Black Forest cake onboard.

Like any cruise, all the food was included and you could order as much as you wanted. The menu was broken down into sections: appetizers, soups, main dishes, and desserts with several options in each section. If you wanted, you could order one of everything on the menu!

Dinner typically started out with a selection of wine to choose from. After a few minutes, the waiter would come back and take our entire dinner order (everything from appetizers to main dishes), and they’d bring everything out in a timely manner. I liked that they did this so we could get ordering out of the way and not be interrupted after that.

One thing to note: wine and beer is included during meals, but all hard alchohol and cocktails are extra. Beer and wine is also extra when ordered in the lounges outside of the mealtime.

Zurich Christmas Market

The Issues We Had with Avalon Waterways

Of course, everything can’t be perfect. Any review I write is always going to have downsides and Avalon Waterways is no different. I wanted to share a few of the issues I had myself and that we had as a group. To be clear, I don’t think any of these warrent avoiding Avalon, but they are things to be aware of and to keep in the back of your mind when you’re making travel decisions.

Issue #1: Flight Desk

Avalon has a flight desk and they can typically get very discounted flights from larger US cities. I was flying from Seattle to Zurich and the cheapest flight I could find was $1200, but somehow, Avalon found one for $800 with Delta. It had one layover on the way there and a direct flight for the way back. I decided to take them up on their offer and book the flight through them.

About a month before my trip, I got the dreaded email that one leg of my flight was cancelled by Delta. I called Avalon to see what I should do and they said their flight desk was working on it and I’d be re-booked ASAP. I should have given them my preferences at that time, or at least asked questions, but I didn’t. When I got re-booked, my new departing flight had two layovers. I called them to see why that was when I could see one-layover options on Google Flights. They told me that was the only way they wouldn’t have to charge me extra since it was so close to my travel day. The flight desk prioritized not having to charge more over the number of layovers. This is exactly the opposite of what I would have preferred. I’d happily pay up to $400 or $500 to not have that second layover (personally, I am more than willing to pay for comfort and convenience).

I asked if there was any way they could change that flight to one where there was one layover and I’ll pay the difference. However, since that would be a “voluntary change” in their eyes, I’d have to pay the cost of the new flight AND a change fee of $300. This didn’t sit right with me, so I ended up keeping the flight.

Well, luck was on my side, because the morning of the flight, Delta sent me a notification saying the first leg was severely delayed and they needed to re-book my whole flight to one with only one layover.

That was a long story of caution to just say this: if you book your flight through Avalon (or any travel agent), make sure they know your preferences before they book the flight for you.

Issue #2: Transportation

The second issue our group had was the communication and transportation from the Zurich airport to the boat in Basel. I wasn’t personally affected by this, but Avalon had set up a shuttle for those of us who were flying in the day before, or the day of embarkation. The early group made it on the shuttle just fine and got to the boat in time. However, there was a later group (flights were NOT delayed, just later than the earlier group) that didn’t see anyone from Avalon waiting for them, and couldn’t get ahold of anyone from the company.

It turns out, the Avalon representitives had left for the day, even though there was another group that needed transportation. This story gets even wilder because the solution was for them to take a train from Zurich to Basel with compensation from Avalon, but they accidentally got on the wrong train! They were going to miss the boat, but the cruise director held the boat for them for a few extra minutes for them to make it.

Overall, these are minor issues, but worth noting for this Avalon Waterways review. Once everyone made it on the boat, everything was great!

Example of the daily newsleter onboard

Would I Recommend an Avalon Waterways River Cruise?

If you’re trying to see a few different countries in one trip, or if you’d like a structured trip planned for you, Avalon is an excellent choice! Overall, the boat felt luxurious, the food was great, and the staff were very accomodating. If you don’t usually like cruises, a river cruise might be for you (it was for me!).

The only type of situation I wouldn’t recommend a river cruise for is if you want to stay in one place for a few days to see the most you can. With Avalon (or any river cruise), you’ll only be in each location for up to a day. Just keep that in mind!

Did you find this Avalon Waterways review helpful? If so, please let me know in the comments, or over on Instagram!

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