By: Clendon DuRapau, Travel Consultant
This spring, I embarked on my first ever river cruise. I chose a unique itinerary called Enchanting Belgium with Avalon Waterways focusing on the Maas River (also known as la Meuse in French) and the tributaries of Belgium.
Our journey began with a flight from Houston to Brussels. Upon arrival, an Avalon representative picked up a group of us all arriving at the same time. Avalon transferred us to the charming town of Namur where our ship named the Luminary (one of Avalon’s older ships whose maiden voyage was in 2010) was docked and awaited us. From the moment we were greeted by the Avalon representative at the airport, the rest of the vacation was simple and completely effortless.
On board and waiting for the other guests to arrive, a welcome reception with cocktails and canapés greeted us along with the opportunity to mingle with some of the other passengers. After being shown to our rooms and given our keys, a mandatory safety exercise took place and we set sail shortly after. Once settled in our cabin, my travel companion and I headed to happy hour to meet more travelers until it was dinner time.
My cabin was a French balcony cabin on the middle deck. Although I spent little time in my cabin, the French balcony was definitely a luxury to have when I needed a little bit of time away from everyone else to read or unwind.
Every day, I woke up in a new city and there was the option to go on one of the included shore excursions or to purchase the optional excursions. I highly recommend taking advantage of the trip to Ypres and Flanders Fields. It is such important history and not to be missed. Also, I recommend the excursion to the Keukenhof gardens if you go during a time of year when that is available. In your free time, definitely find an opportunity to have a Belgian waffle (both sweet and savory types!), copious amounts of the delicious Belgian beer available all around the country, and Belgian style fries!
All meals were included with the cruise, plus complimentary sparkling wine at breakfast and complimentary beer and wine at lunch and dinner. My friends and I were never once hungry and the meals were all top notch. Avalon definitely lives up to the hype in terms of the high quality, delicious meals.
The hospitality of the wait staff was incredibly personal and friendly; it didn’t take long for them to know me by name and to anticipate my needs at each meal. Our cruise director, Katy, was incredibly knowledgeable and charming and an absolute joy to travel with. I knew I could trust her to give me great advice on what to do with my leisure time when I felt like getting away and exploring independently.
I had a great time socializing and getting to know the other passengers aboard the ship who came from all over the world. I enjoyed how welcoming, non-judgmental, and fun my fellow passengers were. I felt right at home, even as informal and casual as I am, plus I was one of the youngest people on board.
At the end of the cruise, most people transferred to the airport to fly home. I stayed an additional week in Amsterdam with friends of mine who live there. If you have time to stay extra days in Amsterdam, please don’t miss the chance! It’s such a beautiful and amazing city with so much exploration, culture, food, and wonderful people to experience.
All in all, my first river cruise, Enchanting Belgium With Avalon Waterways, was an absolute success. Given the convenience of only having to unpack once, daily culinary masterpieces and gastronomical delights, well organized excursions, and sailing on a beautiful ship, it is now difficult for me to imagine traveling via any other vacation style.
By: Clendon DuRapau
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