This river line operates approximately two dozen comfortable, classy, well-designed ships in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Amazon for a mostly age 55-plus crowd. Avalon Waterways gets props for good tours (it organizes everything; no need for a guidebook) and creative special interest cruises — on topics including golf, wellness, wine, and beer. The fleet, with ships holding between 36 and 140 passengers each, includes two "Suite" classes where the majority of cabins are 200 square feet or larger and have beds facing sliding glass doors.
What We Love
The Library: On all river ships, space is limited due to the fact the ship has to fit into locks and under low bridges. But on its Suite Ships, Avalon makes the most of what it's got — including in this delightful, windowed room with a self-service espresso machine and views facing aft.
The Inclusions: Daily tours are included in the cruise fare (additional options are available for a fee), and so is sparkling wine with breakfast and beer and decent (and sometimes local) wine with lunch and dinner.
Fireplaces: It's a gimmick, but when you arrive back in your cabin at night, there's a roaring fire and classical music on the flat-screen TV. It's oddly soothing, even a little sexy.
Best Known For
Nice Cabins: Larger-than-average staterooms (most measuring 200 square feet) are one of Avalon's calling cards, and many on the line's 128-passenger Suite Ships come with either windows or an Open-Air Balcony — a whole wall of glass that slides open so you can catch prime views of, for instance, fairy-tale castles along the Rhine.
Tours: Avalon is affiliated with well-established tour company Globus, and that's a good thing. Certified local guides conduct tours that are above the norm. You may find yourself marveling at the insight and pride they show in local history and culture.
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Who It's Best For
Those Who Like Easy Travel: This is spoon-fed travel for an English-speaking, mostly American crowd, ages 55 to 70. Theme cruises tend to attract a slightly younger demographic, as do exotic itineraries such as those on the Mekong and Irrawaddy, both of which also have a more international passenger mix.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Alternative Dining Is Blah: The line makes a big deal of its complimentary Panorama Bistro, a reservations-only dinner option on Suite Ships featuring a tasting menu of a dozen small dishes. The thing is the chef's work from a corporate playbook, and the dishes are more pretty than delicious.
Wi-Fi Is Iffy: Wi-Fi is complimentary, but it can be slow and sporadic in some locations and is pretty much nonexistent on the Asian itineraries.
Fran Golden is a Cleveland-based contributor to ShermansCruise who also writes for USA Today.