Avalon Impression Cruise Review by CdMAgFox
- Sail Date: April 2018
- Destination: Europe River
- Cabin Type: Panorama Suite with French Balcony
April 4th – 13th, 2018
~~~Arrival in Amsterdam – April 4th~~~
My KLM flight from Los Angeles arrived in Amsterdam this morning at 8:45 am, 15 minutes early. After some confusion about the exit structures used we finally departed the aircraft, eliminating the early arrival. The flight itself was good, only 9 hours 45 minutes, but I unfortunately thought the food services a bit lacking although the service by KLM was at its usual superlative level.
Upon departing the aircraft we were ushered down long, LONG hallways first through passport control and then more long hallways to our baggage claim, Belt 16 of 30! My baggage came around shortly on my arrival and I headed for the nearest bathroom! Having preordered my Schiphol Airport Shuttle ticket, I very quickly located my van at the terminal’s exit, and we were on the way.
Facing an unusual amount of early morning traffic, I got a guided tour through Amsterdam by our skilled driver, avoiding traffic tie-ups, finally arriving at the Grand Hotel Amrath shortly before 11 am.
As I had anticipated, it was much too early to check into my room, so I dropped off my luggage and walked the short distance around to the central location of Pancakes! Amsterdam for their delicious crepe-like pancakes and, as expected, I found a waiting line at the entrance.
The wait was only about 20 minutes and soon I was seated inside enjoying their traditional bacon and cheese pancake, the size of a large plate! It was everything that I had seen on the YouTube video I had viewed. Then it was back to the Hotel to wait for my room to be ready for me.
Finally at just after 2 pm, I was checked into my beautiful room, #608, on the first floor (which we would call the second floor) and laid down for a short rest before having to walk back around to the Stromma Dock where I have a prepaid Canal Dinner Cruise at 7:30 pm for 2 and a half hours. During my rest here is my hotel room I have heard it raining 3 or 4 times; right now the sun is shining so I may have a dry walk to the Dock.
~~~The Perfect Tour – April 4th~~~
My canal dinner cruise last evening was absolutely fantastic! Perfect weather - after an afternoon of on/off showers (with thunder) and sunshine. I was beginning to regret having made this booking. But at 6:30 pm, when I left the Hotel to walk around to the Stromma Dock, the skies were completely clear!
We were boarded right at 7:15 pm and given a flute of champagne to start things off. I found a table for two by the window and helped myself to the delicious heavy bread and real butter already on the tables and watched the boat fill up to capacity while enjoying my champagne, with an unexpected refill!
The captain, after introducing each of the staff aboard - including the female chef, departed the dock for our 2 and a half hour canal tour - with a four course dinner to enjoy - all prepared right onboard.
The first course was a Dutch potato salad - the best I have ever tasted! Wine was served - white or red - in what were to be “bottomless” glasses; my choice was white, a good French Chardonnay.
Then came a red pepper (Bell) cappuccino, served in a glass mug and quite tasty!
The main course was a choice between fish or veal; mine was for the veal and turned out to be quite delicious - perfectly cooked.
Then came dessert that involved sinful chocolate mousse. And still the wine kept coming! I was lucky to find my way back to the Hotel!
Our canal tour must have included every single canal in Amsterdam and started as the sun began setting. By the end of our tour, it was dark with all of the lights shining brightly. A perfect end to the perfect tour!
~~~Our “Walking Dinner” Last Evening – April 5th~~~
Last evening at 6:30 pm the 29 of us in the Travel Travel Group met for our “Walking Dinner” presented by the Grand Hotel Amrath, consisting of a four course dinner organized in various locations in this great, historic hotel, once the central location of different shipping companies of Amsterdam, dating back to the 1600s.
Led by an able guide, the granddaughter of one of the building’s architects, our first location was at the very top level beneath spectacular stained glass windows depicting naval scenes. Here we enjoyed our glasses of wine along with hors d'oeuvres
Then it was on to the building’s roof for the awesome view; one of our dinner courses was to have been set here, weather permitting. It wasn’t.
Down to main restaurant we then went for the main entree. Again viewing different parts of the Hotel not commonly seen. After more wine our meals were served, mine a grilled veal loin, tasty but on the tough side.
Next we were guided down to the cellar, once the location of the main vault, now used as a wine cellar, for our dessert course, a cake topped with delicious ice cream, and more wine, of course!
It was quite a dining experience as well as a guided tour of this historic building.
~~~The Avalon Impression – April 6th~~~
Today, Friday April 6th, we were transferred from the Hotel by coach to one of the four Amsterdam Piers where was docked the Avalon Impression, our home for the next 7 days. Promptly at 1 pm, with all the piles of luggage for our Travel Travel group of 29 loaded aboard, we departed the Grand Hotel Amrath where I had spent the last two nights.
The route from the Hotel to the pier was circuitous because of all of the canals and one-way streets in Amsterdam, but finally we reached our river boat and proceeded aboard for check in, which was accomplished quite rapidly, and soon I was comfortably settled in my comfortable Panorama Suite 227 on Deck 2. Unpacking went quickly and soon I returned to the Lounge on Deck 1 for a light lunch, served until 2 pm. Although I was a few minutes late, a helpful crew member brought me sandwiches and soup.
At 6:15 pm the Captain gathered all of us into the Lounge for his safety lecture, required by maritime law. He is quite young, I thought, to be Captain but was an excellent and entertaining speaker.
Soon thereafter the Impression departed Amsterdam for the overnight cruise to Rotterdam. Dinner was served in the Restaurant at 7:00 pm, consisting of four courses with wine served complimentarily. Afterwards I retired to my stateroom for an early-to-bed. Tomorrow would be a busy day in Rotterdam.
~~~Rotterdam – April 7~~~
Today, April 7th, we are in Rotterdam, the second largest city in the Netherlands. Completely destroyed by Nazi bombs in the Second World War, Rotterdam is entirely different than Amsterdam because of all of the modern reconstruction with high-rises, etc.
In the morning we had a walking tour from our riverboat at dock near the city center into the heart of the shopping district. They were getting ready for their Saturday Markets, with all the different shops. There was one huge building housing many, many shops selling everything imaginable. I saw one shop selling olives - dozens of different kids, and another selling spices piled up in perfect pyramid shapes. Fresh food was available and it smelled so good! Having seen enough of this, I returned to the riverboat and lunch aboard.
In the afternoon we all boarded buses for our trip to and visit of the Keukenhof Gardens, a wondrous place filled with blooming tulips and other flowers. Our arrival met some several dozens of other buses, and that was our clue as to how very crowded the place would be. It was!
The Gardens are quite extensive featuring a huge central greenhouse containing a myriad of blooming tulips of every imaginable color and size. Absolutely beautiful! My mother would have thought she was in heaven, where she is now.
Soon tiring of the extensive walking, I returned to our waiting bus, among the hundreds of others. Our departure time was scheduled for 4 pm and my arrival at the bus was only a few minutes early. Needless to say, the trip back to Rotterdam and our riverboat saw most passengers napping.
It was a relief to reboard our riverboat and get back to my comfortable stateroom with only a short time for a nap before dinnertime. It had been a long day.
~~~Antwerp and Brussels – April 8th~~~
After a morning walking tour into Antwerp, Belgium, which included a canal cruise on a small boat, as well as a visit to a local brewery - with several samples, we returned to our river boat for lunch.
An optional afternoon was to Brussels by bus, a journey of about one hour. Brussels is a larger city than Antwerp and our first stop was near the city center where, as is common, a Sunday Market was in progress. The buildings are magnificent in their ancient facade and every which way you turn is another photograph.
Walking was getting to be a challenge for me and my poor feet were really suffering. Fortunately it was soon time to return to our bus and the long ride back to Antwerp and our riverboat.
Another very full day filled with a lot of walking as well as extremely interesting sights to see.
~~~Ghent and Bruges – April 9th~~~
Another good day of weather. Yesterday was the warmest it has been since arrival in Amsterdam. Evidently our coming brought better weather!
Today our riverboat is docked in Ghent, Belgium. Our usual morning walking tour took us inside the city center with more old, magnificent buildings to view. I am running out of adjectives to use in describing the sights; it is just awesome to view these old cities with their towering church steeples and grand city halls. Ghent was no different.
The afternoon optional tour was to the city of Bruges, a real highlight of my cruise. We were bused from Ghent to Bruges and discharged near a park within walking distance of our first attraction, a boat ride around the canals of Bruges. Most enjoyable the ride was with lots of historic sights of homes, buildings, and monuments.
Then it was off the canal boat for another short walk to yet another local brewery. Housed in a rather old structure, this brewery was all prepared for us with several tables and chairs. We were served our first sample that was quite good, followed shortly by a second and a third - all good!
The last beer was an amber beer and much tastier - and stronger - than the previous ones. By the time it was time to leave most of us were feeling no pain! And a good thing because our return to the park and our waiting bus seemed interminable! My poor feet!
Needless to say, our return bus trip to Ghent saw almost all of us sleeping!
Getting back to our riverboat and to my own stateroom was a sheer pleasure! Again, just enough time for a short nap before dinner at 7:00 pm.
Yet another full and enjoyable day in Belgium.
~~~Middelburg and Veere, Holland – April 10th~~~
On Tuesday, April 10th, we were docked in Middelburg, Holland, after spending two days in Belgium. There was the usual walking tour offered into this rather small town but I decided not to join in, opting instead to give my poor legs some rest and recovery time.
Lunch aboard was my usual one in the Lounge with a good soup and other things, including delicious desserts, and a glass of wine, of course! Our riverboat departed this port soon after noon, headed for the nearby village of Veere where a tour of the Delta Works would be offered.
The Delta Works is a gigantic engineering marvel constructed in the 30 years since the devastating flood of 1953 in which 1800 drowned in one night. Over 6 miles in length, it forms a dyke with 26 adjustable gates that can be raised and lowered to prevent such flooding as happened in 1953.
Arriving by bus at the visitor center, it was then a log, LONG walk out to one of the many piers in the dyke in which were located many exhibits explaining the reason for and solution to the flooding problem from the North Sea. Already suffering from previous “walks”, my poor legs once again were called upon with the lengthy walk and the many stairs to climb. The engineering developed to accomplish this awesome task was incredible although offering it to other endangered locations in the world was turned down; New Orleans could certainly have made use of such a structure!
Then it was back on the bus - finally! - and return to the riverboat for much needed rest before our dinner. It would be a memorable exercise in endurance for me and my legs!
Dinner that night featured our on-board beer expert, pairing different beers with our menu choices. All of the several beers were good, I thought. The food on this boat has been very good in my opinion. Needless to say, it was an early-to-bed for me that night!
~~~Willemstad, Holland – April 11th~~~
Our last port to visit in Holland, before returning to Amsterdam, was another small village of Willemstad for which another walking tour was offered in the morning, and again I chose not to join in preferring to rest my poor legs from the previous day’s workout.
After enjoying my usual breakfast of a wonderful omelet, custom created by our expert egg station chef, along with bacon - eventually cooked crispy after numerous complaints, slices of fresh melon, cinnamon roll, and good coffee, I relaxed in my stateroom, taking in the marvelous views from the spacious windows. Before long it would be lunchtime and more food!
The afternoon was spent cruising the remaining distance to Amsterdam and the scenery drifting by was almost mesmerizing. This is the highlight of river cruising! Numerous barges were continuously passing by, one direction or the other, many having a small car parked atop the cabin at the rear; how they get the car on and off the boat escapes me!
As we approached Amsterdam the river traffic got heavier and we passed several vehicular ferries at riverside, waiting their turn to cross the water, with long lines of cars awaiting their turn. Not too many bridges along here.
We returned to the same dock from which we had departed 6 days earlier and docked alongside another riverboat that is common practice - sometimes as many as three boats would be docked side by side. Departing from one of the outer boats requires passing right through the lobby of the next boat, or in our case, going up to the sun deck and crossing onto that of the next boat, and then down to the dock. Very complicated!
Tonight would be the Captain’s Final Dinner since the following night - our last night aboard - would be inconvenient for those leaving the river boat early for their flights home.
Dinner was preceded by a cocktail party with champagne and hors d'oeuvres, with many farewells to other new friends made during the cruise. A very pleasant time for all. The serving staff has become very familiar to each of us and saying goodbye to them was difficult. Mostly from Romania, Hungary, Croatia and Slovakia, they were all extremely well trained, efficient and friendly. Excellent staff!
Our wonderful river cruise was almost over!
~~~Amsterdam – April 12th~~~
This morning our included tour started with a canal boat ride along the many canals that crisscross Amsterdam. Of course from where the buses dropped us off to where we boarded the canal boats was somewhat of a walk.
With everyone aboard the canal boat, which was fortunately enclosed, we traversed the main canal along with many other smaller ones observing, among other things, the many river boats permanently docked along the canals and now used as residences some costing up to a million euros.
We passed by many museums including the famous Rijksmuseum, now open after 10 years of being closed for renovation. We also passed by the Ann Frank House, probably the most popular of all attractions in Amsterdam. Along our journey we passed the Grand Hotel Amrath where we had stayed the first few days.
Lasting about an hour, our canal ended supposedly near the Heineken Brewery, the second attraction in our morning tour. I say “supposedly” because after disembarking the canal boat, we walked and walked a considerable distance, just what my sore legs did NOT need!
Being another popular attraction, the Heineken Brewery was already crowded with other tourists before the 100 or so of us arrived. We were each given a green rubber wrist band with two small “buttons” attached, later to be used to “purchase” our two beer samples.
The tour passed through a series of rooms, each with a live speaker, and then we came to a staircase up several stories! Did I mention my sore legs? In some of the rooms along the way were large copper drums once used for brewing.
We finally arrived at the top where we were ushered into another series of rooms, each equipped with awesome visual effects - computer generated, equaling an attraction at Disneyland. Many rooms had video games, photo booths, and other hands-on things to do. I was interested in the beer to come!
Finally working our way down - floor-by-floor, we reached the “sampling room”, or bar, where the little buttons on our wristbands were exchanged for a medium sized glass of nice cold Heineken beer. Time was limited, however, for the full enjoyment of both beers, and soon our group was called to depart. Fortunately, the awaiting busses were just across the street and we were soon loaded and ready for the return to our riverboat, and lunch!
Again I chose to have my lunch in the Lounge instead of the Restaurant and enjoyed the relative relaxation and quiet of the smaller crowd. There was always a good soup available in addition to salads, sandwiches and a hot entree - AND two different desserts, a cake and a mousse. Wine is always offered at lunch and dinner, and I certainly took advantage of that!
Optional tours were offered during the afternoon but again I chose not to join in, retreating to my Panorama Suite to relax, rest and start my packing - after a brief nap, of course. By dinner time I was all packed into my one suitcase, ready for the next morning’s departure, mine being at 9:00 am with my luggage to be placed in the hallway at 8:15 am. My KLM flight 603 was scheduled for 12:45 pm.
Dinner was somewhat a somber affair realizing this was the end of our adventure. Some people were leaving the boat as early as 4:30 am so this would most probably be the last time we would all be together.
The menu choices were not to my liking so I ordered the always-available veal steak, which turned out to be quite dry and quite tough - although being perfectly cooked to medium rare. I ate very little of it. Sitting at a table along with Joan and David, from Balboa Island, I said my goodbyes to many of my new friends, not knowing if I would see them in the morning.
And then it was over...
~~~Leaving Amsterdam – April 13th~~~
This will be my last journal entry for our “Tulips & Beer” Avalon River Cruise. Hopefully you have enjoyed sharing my experience.
First of all, I need to comment on the Travel Travel Cocktail Party that Janice and Debbie held for the 29 of us in our group. It was in the Club Lounge at the rear of Deck 3 on Wednesday, April 11th, from 5 until 6 pm, and was really an enjoyable get-together for us all. Our group has become even more closely acquainted during the past week and this was an occasion for a final farewell. Besides the “bottomless wine glass” of Avalon, we also were treated with snacks including cheese and crackers. Thank you, Janice and Debbie!
On the morning of our departure, Friday, April 13th, as I have previously mentioned, my luggage was to be placed in the hallway at 8:15 am; I put it out at 8 am and it was almost immediately taken away. Avalon is very efficient! I then went to the Lounge for a cup of coffee from the automated machine and to wait to be called at 9 am for departure. There I encountered others also on the same KLM flight to Los Angeles: Patti, Debbie, Lynn & Bruce.
At 10 minutes til 9 we were called by Bart, the Cruise Director, to board the bus to the airport. After identifying our piece of luggage, we loaded aboard for the 30-minute ride to Schiphol Airport.
This Airport is huge but, with the usual Dutch efficiency, everything is well organized and we soon found a kiosk in which to enter our flight information and receive our boarding pass. Then came a lengthy line to drop off our baggage. With that done it was time to go through security that is always a pain! Finally we were headed for our departure gate.
Our flight was to depart from Gate E5, which was a rather short walk into the terminal. Scheduled to depart at 12:45 pm with loading to begin at 11:30 am, our wait time was only an hour or so. I took the opportunity of the free Wi-Fi to update apps on my iPad that I had been unable to do on the boat.
Right on schedule we were boarded and comfortably seated on the Boeing 777 for the 10-hour flight to Los Angeles, and our departure was actually a few minutes early. The Captain came on the microphone to tell us that our flight time would be only 9 hours, 45 minutes. My Economy Comfort seat 10A was well worth the extra cost because of the extra 4 inches of legroom.
The flight went well with very little turbulence as we fly over Scotland, Greenland, the Hudson Bay, and down over Minnesota, Colorado and Las Vegas, arriving earlier than expected at 2:15 pm. The only problem was that there were no open gates at that time, requiring the plane to disembark remotely with transfer to the terminal by airport buses; so much for our early arrival!
Passport control went smoothly and then the lengthy line for Customs, which is now completely automated using monitors which take your photo. Then it was on to Baggage Claim and another long wait, due to our remote arrival.
Finally luggage began to make the rounds on the carousel and mine appeared very soon. Bruce helped me drag it off the carousel and, after saying my goodbyes to Patti, Lynn & Bruce, I was on my way out of the Bradley Terminal to locate SuperShuttle and my ride home.
After a wait of 30 minutes, my van showed up and I was on the way home with only three other people to be dropped off; I was next to last, at about 6:30 pm. It had been a long day!
So ends my adventure to the Netherlands and Belgium, and a very pleasant river cruise aboard the Avalon Impression.
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