Joining Avalon Expression in Amsterdam

Avalon Expression docked in Amsterdam on Tuesday, September 12, 2017. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Dutch capital of Amsterdam is, without a doubt, one of my favorite European cities. It’s hard to not fall in love with the narrow, slanted buildings that line its canals, and with its plethora of attractions, both famous and obscure. The Dutch passion for life is on display at every turn. Foodies will love Amsterdam’s amazing culinary scene, while history buffs will delight in its world-class museums. Bicycles outnumber cars, coffee is served in cafes, and asking for the nearest “Coffee Shop” will get you marijuana-related goods instead of a latte.

Before your cruise, Avalon sends out an excellent documentation package. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I’ve been coming to Amsterdam now for five years, and its status as a capital of European river cruising is only growing. Today, I’m here to embark on another river cruise, my first-ever voyage with Avalon Waterways. Over the course of the next week, the 166-guest Avalon Expression will whisk me down the Rhine and Main (pronounced “mine”) rivers, bound for Nuremberg, Germany.

The full itinerary:

Avalon's Magnificent Europe - Amsterdam to Nuremberg

DAYPORTACTIVITY
September 12, 2017Amsterdam, NetherlandsEmbark Avalon Expressionin Amsterdam
September 13Amsterdam, NetherlandsCulinary Walking tour in Amsterdam's Jordaan district; Dutch Painting Class
September 14Cologne, GermanyCologne Off the Beaten Path
September 15Rudesheim, GermanyHiking and Wine Tasting
September 16Miltenberg, GermanyHiking and local flavours excursion
September 17Wurzburg, GermanyHike to Marienberg Fortress
September 18Bamberg, GermanyCity cycling tour & Rauchbier tasting
September 19, 2017Nuremberg, GermanyDisembark Avalon Expression

My KLM flight touched down at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport just before eight this morning. By the time I’d retrieved my luggage, Avalon’s representatives were already waiting outside the arrivals hall, waiting to whisk me to the Avalon Expression.

Most river cruise ships in Amsterdam will conveniently dock adjacent to the Passenger Terminal Amsterdam (PTA), where oceangoing ships making the trek to the Dutch capital tie up. It’s also just a five-minute walk from Amsterdam Centraal Station, which offers rail connections to Schiphol Airport and beyond, along with local transit just outside.

Guests disembark the coach from Schiphol Airport and embark Avalon Expression. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Avalon Expression, however, was tied up further to the west, on Westerdoksdijk near the Room Mate Aitana hotel. At first, I thought this was a major negative – until I actually timed my mid-morning walk from the ship.

From the pier, you can walk to the Centraal Station in just 10 minutes, or to the heart of old Amsterdam in just 15 minutes. It’s maybe two or three minutes longer than the other river cruise docking locations near the PTA, without the hustle and bustle of being docked next to ten other river cruise ships. Here at our Westerdoksdijk location, it’s only the Avalon Expression that’s tied up.

Further beyond Amsterdam Centraal that lies a world of museums, cafes, and some incredible English-language bookstores. If you’re wandering around at night, Amsterdam has a supercool cocktail and bar scene. Head on up to the Doubletree by Hilton next to the Centraal Station for a great view of the city from the top-floor SkyLoungeAvalon Expression is docked near the Jordaan district, home to the super-cool Haarlemmerdijk shopping area and, further south, the moving Anne Frank House. You’ll want to buy tickets for that online well in advance of your visit.

Welcome Aboard!

Welcome aboard! Avalon Expression’s Reception Desk is located just off…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…the main entrance lobby, with access to passenger staterooms and other decks visible via the staircase (an elevator, out of frame, is on the right of the stairs). Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Built in 2013, Avalon Expression is one of Avalon’s Suite Ships; a class of vessel that has its origins in the 2011 launch of the Avalon Panorama. This class of ship introduced the Wall-to-Wall Balcony concept, along with a host of other features that have become the backbone of Avalon’s fleet ever since.

At 443 feet in length, she’s on-par size-wise with Viking River Cruises’ Viking Longships, though she carries 24 fewer guests. That means everyone can find a seat in the ship’s spacious Main Lounge, which is done in shades of red with earth-tone accents and walnut wood paneling.

Avalon Expression’s main dining room is a particularly inviting place. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

It’s all about the details: carpeting is particularly vibrant and interesting aboard Avalon Expression. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

While her décor isn’t going to overly wow you, it does create an onboard atmosphere that is soothing, relaxed and understated. Avalon Expression also has some additional niceties, including an onboard Hair Salon; a Fitness Centre; a hot tub located on the Sun Deck; and six bicycles that are available for guest use.

Guest corridors are attractive and use wooden accents to break up the space. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

My favorite space so far, during the few short hours I’ve been onboard: the aft-facing Club Lounge. While other lines have turned similar spaces into alternative restaurants, Avalon has mercifully left these aft-facing lounges as they were intended. It’s a great space for reading, or enjoying a cup of coffee while the rivers of Europe pass by.

Home Suite Home Aboard Avalon Expression

Welcome home! My Panorama Suite, number 333. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

There are 16 riverview staterooms and 67 suites aboard Avalon Expression, the latter of which feature what Avalon calls a “Wall-to-Wall Panoramic Window with Open-Air Balcony.” In layman’s terms, this is a French balcony that spans nearly the full width of the room.

My room, 333, is a Category P Panorama Suite located on Royal Deck 3 aft.  Clocking in at a spacious 200 square feet, it is generously-sized and attractively appointed. Décor is stylish and contemporary, but classic enough that it’s going to age very well. Closets, doors and trim are dark walnut, while walls are a nicely-textured eggshell white. Earthtones accentuate the carpeting and soft furnishings. The whole package gives the room a soothing tone by day and night.

Measuring 200 square feet, beds have been placed on an angle to face the windows…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…while not interfering with the room’s spacious feeling. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

When you first walk in, you’ll immediately notice the bed that has been cleverly angled to face the room’s Wall-to-Wall Panoramic Window. If you’ve ever dreamed of lying in bed with a cup of coffee in the morning while Europe’s majestic scenery slides by, this is the room for you.

Three closets are nearest to the entryway door, and should be enough for a couple travelling together for a week or two thanks to Avalon’s relaxed dress code. No need for the old suit-and-tie here; just keep the jeans and shorts out of the dining room and you’ll do just fine. Avalon published a great blog a few years back with packing suggestions that’s worth a read before your next Avalon river cruise.

A huge plus: one of the nicest river cruise ship bathrooms you’re likely to see. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Complete with L’Occitane toiletries…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…bathrooms in Avalon’s Panorama Suites are well-designed…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and even feature a generously-sized stand-up shower. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The bathroom in these Panorama Suites is particularly impressive. Clad entirely in marble, it is very humanly-sized, with a large vanity area; stand-up shower with glass door; and the requisite toilet. A reed diffuser positioned above the toilet is a nice touch (and smells fantastic), as are the L’Occitane toiletries. It’s big enough that you could fit two people in here at once (a rarity on the rivers of Europe), but you probably wouldn’t want to.

Let me just say how amazing Avalon’s beds are. I made the mistake of sitting down on it this afternoon, and jetlag nearly got the better of me. It’s like resting on a giant pillow.

Bottled water is provided complimentary…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…while a fully-stocked minibar…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…is reasonably priced. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

All told, this is a wonderful room that’s cozy, comfortable, and delivers exactly what the line says it will. Is it a suite in the truest sense of the word? Not really. I’m one of those old-school sticklers that believes a suite should have more than one room, or be overtly large, or have swanky amenities that other levels of accommodation don’t offer. Calling this room a suite is a bit of a clever marketing tactic, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that these Panorama Suites are pretty great rooms.

Welcome Home

Up on deck, a lifeboat drill was held this evening before dinner. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The first night of any river cruise is always a bit low-key, and that was the case tonight onboard Avalon Expression. I was able to unpack my luggage before the obligatory Safety Briefing, which was held on the Sun Deck at 6pm. The briefing was quick and efficient, and in no time, guests were enjoying Cocktail Hour in the Lounge as the crew introductions were made.

After a wonderful dinner filled with local Dutch specialties in the ship’s main Restaurant, I headed back to my stateroom, fully intent on watching a movie before bed. I didn’t get far: Avalon’s Comfort Collection Bed took over and within minutes, I was out cold.

Not a bad way to end the first day onboard!

Avalon Expression’s dance floor would only be deserted on embarkation night. After that, it boasted some of the best nightlife on the rivers of Europe. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from onboard Avalon Waterways’ Avalon Expression continues tomorrow, with a full exploration of the city of Amsterdam before setting sail on the Rhine. Follow along with our latest cruise adventures on Twitter: @deckchairblog.

Avalon's Magnificent Europe - Amsterdam to Nuremberg

DAYPORTACTIVITY
September 12, 2017Amsterdam, NetherlandsEmbark Avalon Expressionin Amsterdam
September 13Amsterdam, NetherlandsCulinary Walking tour in Amsterdam's Jordaan district; Dutch Painting Class
September 14Cologne, GermanyCologne Off the Beaten Path
September 15Rudesheim, GermanyHiking and Wine Tasting
September 16Miltenberg, GermanyHiking and local flavours excursion
September 17Wurzburg, GermanyHike to Marienberg Fortress
September 18Bamberg, GermanyCity cycling tour & Rauchbier tasting
September 19, 2017Nuremberg, GermanyDisembark Avalon Expression
 

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