March 10, 2013

Avalon River Cruising

I  travelled with Avalon Waterways last summer on their Burgundy and Provence cruise southbound on the Saone and Rhone Rivers. After a two-day stay in Paris we were transferred by motor coach to the town of Chalon-sur-Saone to board our ship, the Avalon Scenery.

Avalon Scenery

Quayside in Chalon-sur-Saone, France

The Avalon Scenery has 67 staterooms and 2 suites, accommodating up to 138 passengers - much smaller than cruise ships sailing the seas. The first area a passenger sees upon embarkation is the reception area where they are warmly welcomed on board by members of the crew.


Passengers are then directed to the lounge to await their cabin assignments.  This is where port talks and the evening entertainment take place. Some of the entertainment on our cruise included music, dancing, a documentary on Vincent Van Gogh, Gypsy guitars and a talent show put on by the crew.


Beverage packages can be purchased before leaving home, but I found the included beverages to be ample. I only bought a few additional drinks from the bar during the Happy Hours, when 2-for-1 specials (like Kir Royale) were featured. All purchases made onboard are paid for at the conclusion of the cruise, including the bar, gift shop and optional shore excursions.

Lounge Bar

Our stateroom was spacious and very comfortable. The beds can be configured as two twins or a double. Rooms include air-conditioning, a mini-bar, TV, alarm clock, telephone and a safe. A bathrobe and slippers are also provided for each guest and complimentary bottled water (essential when touring southern France in July) is replenished daily. Extra bottles of water can also be obtained from reception prior to departing on the excursions. 

The beds were a little narrow, but very comfortable, with Egyptian cotton linens and European-style duvet. And when you return from dinner each evening, the beds have been turned down and you'll find the next day's newsletter and a sweet treat waiting for you.

Twin bed configuration

The bathroom was stocked with a hair dryer and premium L'Occitane products in a refreshing Lemon Verbena scent (shower gel, shampoo, hand lotion). We never ran out of hot water and I was impressed with the ventilation system - the mirror didn't fog up while taking a shower!


This cruise takes you through prime French wine country and the room is also outfitted with glassware for those essential onshore purchases. (You'll need to purchase a cork screw, though.)

We had booked an upgrade to a cabin on the Sapphire Deck with floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors and French balcony. Even though we didn't spend much time in the room, I enjoyed the views and thought it was worth the additional cost (for our 7-night cruise, $536). But be careful – sometimes the ship must double dock and you could wake up with another vessel parked right outside your window. Make sure you're fully dressed before you open the drapes!

Double Docked in Avignon

The Scenery's sun deck is outfitted with tables and chairs, as well as loungers beneath a shade canopy and a whirlpool. But when approaching low bridges everything must be lowered and access to the deck is restricted.

Sun Deck
Bridge across the Rhone River

There are also a number of locks on the both the Saone and Rhone Rivers which enable ships to navigate the changes in altitude as they make their way to and from the Mediterranean Sea. The only time I noticed any motion from the ship was while we were in a lock. Occasionally the vessel lurches a bit, but the river itself is very calm and should pose no problems for those who suffer with motion sickness.

Approaching a Lock on the Rhone River

Some days grill lunches are available on the sun deck, but the opportunities are limited by both the weather and low bridges. We were fortunate to enjoy one of these lunches while in Lyon, but the one planned for Avignon was cancelled due to the strong mistral winds. Only about 30 people can be accommodated so be sure to sign up early.

Grill Lunch on Deck in Lyon

During our afternoon of sailing from Tournon to Viviers, we had a good opportunity to get better acquainted with our vessel We signed up for the Wheelhouse Tour, where our captain explained the ship's radar system and demonstrated how the ceiling of the wheelhouse could also be hydraulically lowered for passage under low bridges.

View from the Wheelhouse

Then we visited the ship's Galley and gained a new appreciation for what the crew can accomplish in such small quarters.

Ship's Galley

You'll never go hungry on board a river cruise. The day begins with a large breakfast buffet served in the dining room, including both hot and cold items. (I always started with the pain au chocolat and a cafe au lait.) A couple of mornings we added a morning glory (sparkling wine and orange juice). A smaller selection is also made available for early and late risers.

Lunch is another full buffet including pasta and carving stations, and each day a different special is available to order. Soft drinks and mineral water are included, but beer and wine are not. One day a crepe luncheon was set up in the lounge - a fun alternative.

Crepe Luncheon

Dinners on board the ship normally begin at 7:00 p.m. with one open seating. This meal is table service rather than buffet, and there are lots of options to choose from. The menu changes daily and features regional specialties.

Dining Room

The meals on the cruise were varied, delicious and visually appealing.

Dinner on the Avalon Scenery

And always accompanied by a generous beverage service. Beer, wine (red, white and a rosé) and soft drinks are complimentary with dinner.

Dinner Wine Service

If all of this food is not enough, there's also a 24-hour self-serve beverage station in the aft lounge which also includes fruit and cookies. And trays of hors d'oeuvres appeared in the lounge later in the evening. Thank goodness for all the walking we did on the shore excursions!

Each town visited includes a walking tour but there were additional optional excursions offered from Macon, Lyon, Avignon and Arles. The cruise director is available to assist you with your plans.

To follow our travels through France day by day, start at our first day in Paris.

Visit the Avalon Waterways web site for more photos of the ship and current information on the Burgundy and Provence cruise.

Next:  Avignon and the Pont du Gard

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