Setting sail on the Avalon Felicity: River cruises in Europe

Measha Brueggergosman commemorates launch of Avalon FelicityYou’ll remember her from the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympic Games – the stunning young New Brunswick woman whose voice lifted our country to new heights of national pride – but in Volendam, Holland, for a few shining moments in late March, Measha Brueggergosman was something entirely different.  The statuesque opera star became the godmother of the Avalon Felicity, a high-end river cruise boat setting sail on its maiden voyage along the rivers and canals of the Netherlands.

“Godmother to a ship?” said Brueggergosman, “Incredible.”

River cruising aboard the Avalon Felicity in Europe

River cruising is quickly becoming the most popular form of European tourism and the Felicity – the newest member of the nine-ship Avalon line – will be particularly popular with North American cruisers because like all its sister ships, it offers a completely English speaking program, delivered by fluently multi-lingual staff.  For those whose French is less then fabulous, or whose German is completely non-existent, knowing you’ll be understood in English is key.  The large numbers of Canadian passengers expected to sail on the Felicity made the selection of Measha Brueggergosman a brilliant move.

Small-sized ship: The Felicity is small – just 110 meters long – and built to accommodate a maximum 138 passengers.   With 40 staff members, the ship has just one lovely dining room, one comfortable lounge and bar area and another coffee lounge. Most of the upper deck, however, is occupied by a spacious open air sunning area, with a covered outdoor grill and hot tub, so there ‘s never any need to jockey for lounge chairs.  There are more than enough to go around.

Avalon FelicityEntertainment & offerings: The size of the Felicity dictates much about its atmosphere and its guest offerings.  Unlike a Carnival or Celebrity cruise ship, the Felicity doesn’t have grand scale floor-shows in the theatre each night.  In fact, it doesn’t have a theatre at all.  Instead, the Felicity’s passengers hear performances by local musicians who come aboard from the nearby cities and towns.  The result is that passengers gain a first-hand understanding of local culture while the artistic communities gain a huge boost of support. 

Fine dining & local cuisine: The four and five course menus at dinner each night give a range of choices featuring local and world cuisine and the breakfast and lunch buffets also offer cooked-to-order options.  The food is good, and the wait staff is attentive.  You won’t miss the massive buffets of the larger ships – but you’ll certainly notice that there aren’t any lineups!

Shore excursions included: When the Felicity docks each day in its various ports, passengers take part in shore excursion tours included in the overall ticket price.  While some special excursions do have an additional cost, each day there is something interesting to do  – for free.  Those who have experienced other cruises and racked up huge additional charges for shore excursions, will find this a particularly appealing aspect of smaller-style river cruising.

Cheers to the brand new Avalon FelicityRoomy cabins: While the size of the common areas on river cruise ships may be smaller than on their large-scale cousins, the layouts of the cabins and staterooms are generous, all have windows and most have sliding glass doors that offer both fresh air and great views.  Because the cruising is done on rivers and canals, rather than on the open ocean, seasickness is never a problem and passengers simply walk off the gangplank when the Felicity pulls into port, with no need for tenders to ferry anyone ashore.   If the town center is further than a short walk from the pier, buses are provided and English-speaking guides are always on hand. 

The Avalon lineup of river cruise destinations is impressive, ranging from the Danube, to the Nile, to the Yangtze, to the Galapagos Islands and more.   Patrick Clark, Managing Director for Avalon, reports that the 2010 season for the Felicity, which will be cruising in Europe, is already more than 90 percent booked.  Most of those who’ve booked are North Americans – many are Canadian.

It was appropriate, therefore, that as she sent the bottle of champagne crashing against the Felicity’s hull at the christening ceremony, godmother Measha wished her well with a special Canadian touch: “It is with heartfelt Canadian pride and sincerest humility that I christen you Avalon Felicity.  May you hold safe her crew and all guests who sail on her.”   

Planning a cruise vacation? Check out the Trip Builder where you can request a quote local travel agents who are waiting to offer you custom prices on your trip.

Liz Fleming is an award-winning Canadian travel journalist who specializes in adventure, health and wellness and learning travel. For more from Liz, go to: Liz Fleming’s Travel Tales

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