Still, ahead of my trip, I worried I would get a narrow sense of the region — after all, the itinerary is limited to destinations with river ports and what you can see during a few hours on a port call. I also thought I might get bored on a vessel that lacked the comforts of a big ship. In fact, the fitness room turned out to be the size of a large closet, and there was no swimming pool, just a whirlpool. And while the three-level Avalon Felicity was comfortable, it wasn’t luxurious.
Still, I was pleased with the trip and the at-your-service staff of 40 — a passengers-to-crew ratio of close to 3:1. Food was top-notch, with buffets for breakfast and lunch, and more formal sit-down dinners. The only downside: We had all of our meals on board with few opportunities to interact with locals. So whenever I got the chance, I had coffee or dessert in the towns. The good news: next year, Avalon Waterways will offer onshore dining options as part of its overall plan to personalize the experience.
My cabin, which I shared with my mother, was small but comfortable, with twin beds inches apart. Luggage had to be stored under the beds but there was enough cabinet space to unload belongings. But I spent very little time in my room. Most of my waking hours onboard were on deck or in a lounge looking out.
The highlight was sitting on the deck with other passengers as we passed by the romantic middle of the Rhine: the 40 or so miles between Bingen and Koblenz, Germany, that define our dreamy notion of the legendary waterway. There, our cruise director, Romanian-born Hans Beckert, offered a narrative of the string of medieval castles, quaint villages, and fortresses we passed. Not to mention the towering Lorelei rock named after the siren whose beauty distracted sailors. It’s where the river is the narrowest and deepest.
We visited a different port every day, sometimes even two. Sightseeing included walking tours, canal rides and tours of museums and churches. Occasionally the schedule felt stressful, with some departures just a few hours after arrivals. On the day we visited the German town of Mainz, after checking out an original printed bible in the Guttenberg Museum, we ran up the cobbled streets to look at Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows in St. Stephen’s Church, then sprinted back to the vessel for lunch before we set sail in the afternoon for Rudesheim, known for its wine. But that’s the tradeoff with a cruise itinerary: You don’t need to worry about getting from place to place, but you have to do it on a set schedule.
Still, most of the ports were right in town, so once we landed, rarely did we have to take a bus to get to our destination. And most onshore activities were included in the cost of the cruise, though there were a few options for additional fees.
One of my favorite outings was wine-tasting in Obernai, France. And I fell in love with Rudesheim, where we visited the enchanting Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet Museum that featured self-playing instruments dating back to the 18th century. I also took a cable car to the top of the steep, grapevine-covered hills and enjoyed a magnificent view of vineyards and the Rhine River.
Activities in Amsterdam included a tour of the Van Gogh museum and a canal boat ride. But we also took an optional, $33 two-hour chaperoned tour of the city’s famous Red Light district. Imagine three dozen tourists — many of them gray-haired retirees — gawking at the bikini-clad young women in the windows. A couple of times we were heckled by rowdy revelers.
Amsterdam was the cruise’s final port. We decided to stay a few days in the Dutch capital for more sightseeing, so we checked into a hotel near the port. I could see the ship from my hotel room’s window. Later the next day, I noticed the ship was gone, off with a new group of passengers on another adventure. I felt a twinge of sadness, but knew I would come back to the river again.