Small Ports, Big Impressions
If you think you won’t have enough to do on a river cruise, think again. The size of the ship assures that you can stop in quite a few cities, sometimes even two in one day. The towns we visited are what movie sets are made of. I fell in love with the canals and bike culture of Amsterdam, the winding streets of Cochem, and the wine village of Bernkastel. Also on our itinerary were the German towns of Cologne, Rüdesheim, and Zell as well as Luxembourg City and neighboring Remich.
Despite my excitement to set sail for all of these charming towns, an overnight stay on the ship in Amsterdam — complete with a festive embarkation dinner and musical entertainment in the lounge — offered the perfect breather to settle in and unpack without feeling as if I was missing anything.
Right after breakfast the next morning, still docked just a few yards from town, I partook in the relaxing (and included) canal cruise — a guided jaunt through the city’s charming waterways — followed by a guided walking tour back to the ship. The crisp air was typical of spring in Europe and offered the perfect weather for exploring.
We left Amsterdam that evening and sailed through the night, reaching Cologne the next afternoon. Here, I opted for a bike tour of this bustling city that included a stop at the must-see Cologne Cathedral, a marvel of gothic architecture and UNESCO World Heritage Site. I was equally impressed the next morning when we spent three hours navigating the Rhine Gorge, a stunning river scenery jaunt boasting dozens of castles and vineyards, which was wonderfully narrated by the ship’s cruise director, Jerome.
By lunch, we had arrived in Rüdesheim, one of Germany’s best-known wine towns, and I hopped on an invigorating cable car ride up to a wonderful lookout spot to spy the terraced vineyards that make this such a popular stop for wine lovers. After some time to explore on my own, I went back to the ship and readied for dinner as we set sail for our second port of the day, Engers.
Even though we arrived after dark, we were treated to an unforgettable private chamber music concert (included) in the town’s castle. Since we were spending the night in port and were docked within easy walking distance, I meandered afterward and found a few of my shipmates at a local watering hole where I momentarily set aside my newfound love of the region’s Riesling and enjoyed a local beer.
Leaving the Rhine River and entering the Moselle the next morning, we were treated to more castles and quaint wine villages dotting the riverbank. Our first stop was Cochem, which boasts markets and a fairytale-like castle atop the hill. I visited the Reichsburg Castle and its romantic interiors and grounds and then jumped in and out of an (included) walking tour, rambling around for a bit of shopping and soaking in the mix of medieval and modern in the landscape and architecture.
While we slept, the ship made its way to the neighboring towns of Zell and Bernkastel, one more charming than the next, which allowed me to feed my photography habit. In Bernkastel, the Weinmuseum ( Wine Museum) was the obvious choice to sample and enjoy the fruits of the steep wine slopes we had passed on our journey. It was the perfect happy hour before passengers gathered for the second-to-last night on the ship and the traditional Gala Farewell Dinner.
Early the next day, we arrived in Grevenmacher, Luxembourg, the point of departure to explore ancient Trier, just over the border back in Germany. There, a guided walking tour through the town — one of the oldest in Europe — visited monuments and the ruins of majestic Roman baths. In the meantime, the ship had sailed from Grevenmacher to Remich with some choosing to stay on board. I traveled back to my floating home via luxe coach, taking in even more of the pleasing vistas of Europe’s richest country. Before settling in, I indulged in some sightseeing in Luxembourg City with some new friends and enjoyed a hot coffee, which tasted as rich as the country is heralded to be.
Our last night on Avalon Visionary included a farewell cocktail party with the captain and a great dinner with the 120-plus other passengers, who were now as familiar as friends. Transferred to the train station the next morning, the cruise ended dreamily with a high-speed train ride and two overnights in Paris. Finding things to do in port was not difficult, as there are plenty of included excursions plus quite a bit of time to explore on your own.
In fact, I was lucky enough to experience Avalon’s new Active Discovery program, a unique mix of outings designed to immerse in the culture of a particular town. The program was already part of the company’s Danube sailings, but I was happy to play guinea pig to some trial runs on my trip, including a Van Gogh–inspired painting class in Amsterdam. When the program rolls out completely, other Active Discovery offerings will include cooking classes, bike tours, hiking, canoeing, and even conducting an orchestra. Hosting only 128 passengers, cruising on Avalon
Visionary felt more like sailing on a private yacht. The itinerary was full, but not too busy; the accommodations were comfortable, but not overdone; the food was varied and tasty, but not pretentious. And the entire trip lived up to Avalon’s “Relaxed Luxury” philosophy. So, if you’re contemplating a river cruise, I say, Do it! After all, when was the last time you did something for the very first time?
The towns we visited are what movie sets are made of.
From cruising the canals of Amsterdam (below) to sailing and hiking through picturesque towns to exploring architectural wonders like the Reichsburg Castle (below right), this river cruise offered something for every type of traveler.