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Cruise Ship Information
A brand new kind of ship, the Avalon Panorama set sailed in 2011, with max 166 number of river cruise passengers, taking inspired design to a whole new level. A unique Suite Ship, the Avalon Panorama was the first of its kind in the industry with two full decks of suites featuring a Wall-to-Wall Panoramic Window that transforms the living space into a unique Open-Air Balcony.
 
As you cruise along Europe's finest rivers, enjoy the fresh breeze and enchanting scenery from the comfort of your suite. With 200 square feet, the Panorama Suite is more than 30% larger than the industry standard, and it gives you the unparalleled opportunity to wake up each morning facing the magnificent passing scenery.
 
Exciting onboard amenities include a complimentary Internet Corner and Wi-Fi access, a well-stocked library, an expanded Fitness Center, and a spacious Sky Deck with premium lounge chairs, shade system, whirlpool, and delightful Sky Bistro. This riverboat sails to Austria, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Hungary, and Slovakia.
 
Atmosphere on board
Fans of clean-cut, contemporary design will feel comfortable in Panorama's boutique-hotel-style decor. The dark woods, creamy whites and beiges and rich reds and burnt oranges create a swanky, elegant vibe.
 
From the understated yet stylish lobby, a curved, split staircase leads up to the third deck (watch your step -- these stairs can be tricky), and a five-step split staircase leads down to the second deck, giving the illusion of an extra deck and a larger, airier space. The lobby includes two computer terminals and a printer, but free Wi-Fi throughout the ship also supports personal laptops. Warning: Don't plan on working or even keeping in constant touch via e-mail on this cruise, as the Wi-Fi often cuts out in the more rural areas of the itinerary.
 
In the ship's forward is a large lounge that's comfortably furnished with cushioned rattan-inspired chairs and sofas, and a horseshoe-shaped bar, all surrounded by windows. The lounge serves as a gathering place for entertainment, lectures and happy hours. Two sets of screens and projectors, which drop from the ceiling, can be used for presentations.
 
At the bow of the ship is the smaller club lounge, where continental breakfast is served and the cappuccino machine, available 24/7, is situated. The room also includes a wide-screen 55-inch television that swings out for presentations and is equipped with a Wii video game system; a small but adequate library of books, running the gamut from "The Da Vinci Code" to "Lord of the Flies"; and board games like Monopoly, Yahtzee and Deal or No Deal.
 
Smoking is allowed only in outdoor areas of the ship where ashtrays have been placed. An elevator is available for those with limited mobility. On river cruses most memorable thing to remember you will not having to get out of bed to watch the changing view.

Family with Kids/Teens
Children under the age of eight typically are too young to fully enjoy a cruise vacation. Because of this and for the safety and enjoyment of all passengers, Avalon Waterways do not accept children under eight years of age. In addition, please note that there are no special arrangements or activities for children on their ships
 
Past Passenger Programs
Avalon Waterways Past Passenger Program is called the Journeys Club. Journeys Club is the frequent travelers club for the Globus family of brands. Through it, Avalon will reward their frequent travelers with attractive perks. Cruisers must enroll in the club to receive benefits including exclusive promotions, special perks, and customized service.
 
Fitness And Spa
By river-ship standards, the fitness area, which includes a treadmill, two stationary bikes and a set of free weights, is rather large. Free refrigerated bottled water is a nice touch.
 
The ship usually docks somewhere that offers a riverfront path, convenient for outdoor walking or running. Bikes are not available onboard ship, but optional bike excursions are offered in Amsterdam and Durnstein, Austria.
 
The ship's sky deck has lounge chairs, tables and chairs, a whirlpool, a small golf putting area and oversize chess and backgammon games. Four separate, shaded areas are provided. A small salon with hair and nail services is also available.

Food & Dining

Like on most river cruises, no one goes hungry on a Panorama sailing. Unlike so many cruises, however, the galley doesn't serve mounds of pedestrian, high-caloric foods that cause instant regret.
 
Panorama's menu might best be described as Continental with local influences. Wines, produce and dishes from Austria and the Middle Rhine region of Germany are daily features. On a couple of early-morning strolls, I passed a crew member heading back to the ship carrying fresh local produce, such as succulent strawberries and plump white asparagus, which later showed up on the dinner table.
 
Service was usually friendly and efficient, with a few bumps: Some servers struggled with the English language, and a few were pushy about taking orders quickly. And, while the included wine usually flowed freely, my request for a second taste of a lovely sparkling rose during a German food and wine pairing dinner was met with raised eyebrows and a firm no.
 
Passengers have four choices for breakfast: Early riser's breakfast, served from 6 to 7 a.m. and late riser's breakfast, served from 8 to 10 a.m., both in the Club Lounge, offering fruit, coffee, tea, juice and pastries. Room service breakfast, available for a surcharge of about $3 per person, consists of the same choices. The best bet was the buffet breakfast, which consisted of European-style cheeses and cold cuts, yogurts, made-to-order omelets and eggs, fruit, breakfast meats, scrambled eggs and -- my personal favorite -- Bircher muesli, a traditional Swiss recipe of rolled oats, fruit and milk; sparkling wine was also served.
 
Between noon and 2 p.m., buffet lunch is set up in the main restaurant. And, on most days, weather permitting, an open-air bistro-style grill lunch is offered on the sky deck. Capacity for the outdoor seating is limited, so sign up early. Maybe food just tastes better served outdoors, but the grilled bratwursts, skirt steaks and chicken breasts, accompanied by corn-on-the-cob and fresh salads, all hit the spot.
 
Buffet lunch in the restaurant has more choices. A typical spread offered salads, a hot soup, cold soup, made-to-order pasta, a carving station and hot dishes, such as cordon bleu and broiled tilapia. Caesar's salad, a grilled dish and a sandwich with fries were also on the daily lunch menu. Save room for the best part of the meal -- dessert. The ice cream buffet of rich vanilla and a second varying flavor, offered daily, is complemented with condiments that range from chocolate sauce to flaked coconut. And don't even think about missing dessert on the days that offer tiramisu with chocolate sauce or the apple strudel with vanilla custard sauce.
 
Dinner is a four-course banquet, served promptly at 7 p.m. There's no option for arriving within a window of time. Seating is open, and most tables hold at least four people. Portions are sized to avoid that uncomfortable post-Thanksgiving-dinner feeling. Each day, a local regional specialty, such as Quarkkeulchen, a pancakelike dish, or Kartoffelsuppe, potato soup, is served. A healthy menu option is also offered, featuring items like summer vegetable soup, glazed cod and poached fillet of chicken with steamed vegetables. Also, grilled salmon and grilled chicken are available every night. Some favorites from my voyage: crispy roast duck leg a l'orange, the dessert cheese platter and cream of eggplant soup.
 
Oenophiles rejoice: Included white, rose and red wines accompany each dinner. Premium bottles of wine are also available for purchase, and passengers are allowed to bring their own wine onboard. (A corkage fee of about $13 applies to personal wine served in the dining room.)
 
And just in case three meals a day are not enough, coffee, tea, cake and sandwiches are served in the main lounge at 4 p.m., and late-night hors d'oeuvres are on offer in the main lounge at 10:30 p.m. Fruit, cookies and cappuccino, coffee and tea are available 24/7 in the club lounge.
 
Entertainment
You won't find any large-scale or lavish productions onboard Avalon Panoroma, but live music is presented in the main lounge each night. A piano player is most common, but full dance bands are also offered. Accessible classical music performances are not to be missed.
 
A happy hour is typically held at the bar before dinner each night, with two-for-one and drink-of-the-day specials. Drinks, especially beer and wine, are reasonably priced: A glass of beer at the bar typically costs about $4.50, while wine is about $5.70, and a martini about $10.80.
 
Daily educational seminars, led by the cruise director on topics like the history of the surrounding countryside or details about the next port, are held in the lounge or on the sky deck. Well-done handouts, such as a map of all the castles visible from the ship between Koblenz and Rudesheim, are available.
 
A daily guided shore excursion is included. Walking tours, which are usually about two hours long, are informative and interesting. Tours of specific sites, such as Siegfried's Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum in Rudesheim and the Benedictine Abbey in Melk, are also included. Optional tours are offered, too, and range in price from about $40 per person for a guided tour of Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum to about $103 per person for a full-day tour of Salzburg with lunch.

Staterooms
More inviting than the public spaces, cabins have a cheerful cherry red and white color scheme and elegantly marbled loos. Apart from the two 350-square-foot Royal Suites, cabins on the top two decks are all a roomy 200 square feet with an 11-foot-wide wall of windows. Small tables and settees just beside the windows make for pleasantly breezy sitting areas, but the comfy beds, all of which face outside, are the best spots for river-viewing.
 
The Panorama Suites, at 200 square feet each, are significantly larger than those found on most river ships. The 11-foot-wide, seven-foot-tall wall-to-wall windows open to a gaping seven feet, with protective horizontal rails across the lower half. The concept appears so smartly simple that it's a wonder no one thought of this a long time ago. On my recent sailing, when I sat on the chair or lay on the bed (naturally, it faces the window), it felt as if I were outdoors. The sounds and smells of the shoreline -- horses neighing, ducks quacking, beer garden laughter, kids playing -- all wafted through the room as the boat cruised through the scenic tableau.

Going through locks was an up-close-and-personal experience: It was tempting to reach out and touch the stone sides as the cabin darkened. The only downside was that passing bugs and occasional less-than-welcome smells, such as farm manure and factory smoke, also became part of this open-air scene. But, even with doors closed, the cabin's expansive views made me feel connected to the outdoors. Yes, there were thick drapes to block the sights of waving locals, but it seemed a shame to cut off the ever-changing view, even at night.

The ship also offers 17 172-square-foot deluxe cabins outfitted with standard windows that offer limited views (read: no open-air balconies) and two 300-square-foot Royal Suites with panoramic windows.

Cabin design and decor throughout is simple yet elegant. All cabins have Avalon's signature "Comfort Collection," with orthopedic mattresses, Egyptian cotton linens, firm or soft pillows and fluffy European-style duvets. For some Americans, the lack of traditional sheets may be initially disconcerting, but I had no trouble getting used to the European system. Twenty-six--inch flat-screen TV's (each Royal Suite's duo of TV's has 26-inch and 31.5-inch screens) with several English-language news channels and movie channels (all non-news TV channels are in German) is standard; an odd offering is several channels of fireplace videos.

In the Panorama and Royal suites, long expanses of mirrors on one side make the cabins seem even bigger, although it can be confusing to watch the view both coming and going if the mirrors are within your sight line. The suites' couches and upholstered chairs (two chairs in the Royal suite) are sturdily comfortable instead of plush, and small tables raise and lower for easier in-cabin dining. The Royal suites also have separate toilets, twin sinks and king-size beds that can be converted to two twins. Panorama Suites and deluxe staterooms have queen-size beds that can be converted to twins.

Other cabin features include adequate shelves and closet space with lots of hangers, an in-cabin safe and a live orchid. On my sojourn, two liters of complimentary water were always at hand. A mini-bar that you can examine without getting dinged offers drinks only, which range from Coca-Cola for about $2.15 to spirits for $7.20.

Comfortably proportioned bathrooms are decorated with floor-to-ceiling marble and outfitted with L'Occitane bath products, hair dryers and cotton robes. A thoughtful touch is differently colored towel sets, so couples can easily recognize their own. Bathroom downsides are poor lighting that even a dedicated makeup mirror can't overcome and a pull-out trash container that often gets caught when closing.

Pack clothes that don't wrinkle, as there is no iron. Laundry service is offered; a shirt, for example, costs about $3.50 to wash and iron. Also, to handle the 220-volt electrical system, bring an adapter for charging electronics and/or a converter for appliances like curling irons.

Noise is not an issue, as the ship has been designed with special soundproofing materials.


Tipping
Gratuities are not included in the price of the cruise and are entirely discretionary. If it is a wish to reward good service we recommend 3 euro per passenger per day for the cruise director and 12 euro passenger per day for the crew, which will be divided amongst all of the ships personnel.
 
Euros are used on the ship. The line recommends three euros per passenger, per day, (about $126 per couple for the 14-day sailing) , about $504 per couple for the 14-day sailing for the crew, which is divided among the personnel. It is also customary to give local guides one or two euros.
 
Gratuities envelopes will be left in staterooms the day before the cruise ends, and a designated box for envelopes will be in the reception area when passengers are leaving the ship. It is also customary to acknowledge good performance by a local guide with a tip of 1 euro per tour.
 
Fellow Passengers
American/Canadian/UK/Australians and New Zealanders. An Avalon passenger is typically near retirement age or retired. They enjoy experiencing and learning about new places and seeing new sights. They have an interest for history and culture. An Avalon passenger enjoys relaxed, quiet environments with fine food and wine on offer.
 
Our recommendation
It has just one restaurant and strict meal times. Food is somewhat bland, and although house wines are free with dinner, they’re lousy (buy your own ashore). On sunny days in port, festive barbecue lunches are served on a shady section of the sky deck; there’s no extra charge, but it seats just 50, so sign up as soon as one’s announced. Bright and functional, without much flair. With its sleek dark woods, minimal and no-nonsense furnishings, and smattering of potted palms, the Panorama could pass for a mid-priced chain hotel.