All meals in all dining venues are included in the fare. Visionary has one main dining room, midship on Deck 2, the Sapphire Deck, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. An early- and late-riser breakfast, along with a light lunch option and afternoon tea, is served in the Panorama Lounge, on the upper Royal Deck. At night, with the exception of the welcome and farewell gala dinner, the rear of the Panorama Lounge is turned into a casual bistro-style venue serving tapas.
The wait staff consists of a small team of crew members, so you'll easily learn their faces and names over the course of your sailing, even though you might not necessarily have the same waiter or waitress every night. We found service to be terrifically attentive and friendly. All meals are open seating, and passengers can choose to sit where they want.
The choice of food at all meals is varied, often showcasing regional dishes from the areas being visited on the cruise. For plainer fare, there's an always available menu. Avalon recently partnered with Viennese chefs Karl and Leo Wrenkh to create imaginative vegetarian dishes -- labeled as "Avalon Fresh" -- for the ship's menu; there's a choice at every course. Other dietary requirements, such as gluten-free, can also be accommodated, and the menu has a long list of food options for different allergies, but it is best to provide Avalon with advance notice at the time of booking.
Juices, sodas and a selection of alcoholic beverages (beer and wine, both white and red) are available gratis during lunch and dinner. Pours are generous throughout the meal, and the quality is decent.
Dining Room (Deck 2): The main dining room is split down the middle by dark wood decorative shelving, and tan upholstered benches rest against either side of the divide. Tables with white tablecloths are placed throughout the space, accompanied by dark wood and blue upholstered chairs. Walls are cream in color, and carpeting features a blue, brown and cream floral pattern. Lighting is soft, and panoramic windows surround the dining areas, offering nearly 360-degree views. At the back of the dining room, you'll find a marble-topped buffet serving station, which is where breakfast and lunch buffets are located each day.
Buffet breakfast is served from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Don't let the buffet-style offerings fool you -- the quality is great, and you'll be able to choose from varied options that include cereal, oatmeal, fruit, cold cuts, bacon, sausage, hash browns, yogurt, pancakes and more. There's a healthy Avalon Fresh corner with all manner of seeds and berries to sprinkle on cereals, as well as a fresh honeycomb. Soy, rice and lactose-free milk are available. Additionally, there's an egg station where a chef will make a fresh omelet or scramble right in front of you. Each day there is a breakfast special, cooked-to-order and served to the table. This might be eggs Benedict, smoked salmon hash or, more unusually, rice pudding with cinnamon. Passengers can get their days off to a sparkling start with a mimosa, as there is always a bottle of fizz on ice at the juice station, and Aussies and Brits will be delighted to find the favorite breakfast spreads -- Vegemite and Marmite.
Lunch is also served buffet-style, and there is always a pasta and carving station where chefs cook and serve the pasta or roast of the day. Other choices on our sailing included vegetable and pasta salads; hot and cold soups; and chicken, fish, veggie and beef options. Desserts are served to the table and might typically include fruit strudel, Black Forest cake or ice cream. There's also a non-buffet, always-available menu that includes items like minute steak and Caesar salad. Times vary based on each day's activities, but the standard lunchtime is generally from noon to 1:30 p.m.
Dinner is served at a set time each night, generally around 7 p.m. Although passengers can choose their tables and tablemates, seating is also first-come, first-served, so if you're dining with a group, be sure to show up early. Some two-tops are available, and tables for six or eight can be pushed together to accommodate larger groups.
Menus mainly consist of four or five courses: appetizer, soup or salad, sorbet, entree and dessert. The menu is a combination of local specialties and international dishes, as well Avalon Fresh vegan or vegetarian options. Appetizers might include beef filet carpaccio, smoked tofu mushroom pate or grilled green asparagus with balsamic vinegar, followed by chicken consomme or creamy sweet corn soup with croutons. Typical main courses are roasted duck breast, pan-fried fillet of red perch on a mango relish or creamy spinach with a poached egg. To follow, desserts include chocolate cake in white chocolate sauce, ice cream coupe with lemon sherbet and vodka sauce, or fresh fruit. There is always a cheese plate, available in addition to or instead of dessert, with three cheeses. Everything was skillfully prepared and beautifully presented; we particularly appreciated that some of the Avalon Fresh items were also regionally inspired. Always available options -- Caesar salad, grilled chicken, grilled rump steak of beef and roasted salmon -- are included on the menu daily.
Welcome and gala dinners feature an amuse-bouche to start, and on these evenings passengers can expect to find dishes such as king prawn and lobster bisque and the ever-popular baked Alaska ice cream dessert on the menu.
Although the food is superb, the time between each dinner's many courses is occasionally a little long, particularly for North Americans. Don't expect dinner on this ship to be a short affair; on some nights, ours lasted as long as three hours.
Complimentary wines served with dinner are good quality and will always include a regional wine, such as Austrian Gruner Veltliner from the Wachau Valley. There is also a wine menu for passengers who want to try a different wine, or maybe celebrate a special occasion, and the list includes a Gruner Veltliner for €32 a bottle, or French Burgundy for €48.
Panorama Lounge (Deck 3): Early- and late-riser breakfasts are served in the lounge from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. respectively, and feature a choice of juices, fruit, pastries and croissants. From 4 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. there is afternoon tea, with a musical accompaniment from the onboard pianist. Along with coffee and a selection of teas, there are two types of sandwiches, such as ham and tomato or cheese and cucumber, a choice of two cakes and macarons.
Panorama Bistro (Deck 3): Every evening -- aside from the welcome and farewell dinners – the forward section of the Panorama Lounge becomes the Panorama Bistro, serving a light tapas-style menu. Available on a complimentary first-come, first-serve basis, the bistro seats 20 and passengers need to sign up in advance. Tables are for four people, so couples that are not part of a group of four will be seated with fellow passengers. The small dishes reflect food from along the river, so might include items such as smoked trout, goulash soup, schnitzel and an Austrian apricot dessert. Different wines are on offer and the waiters will make recommendations, but it is not a food-pairing menu and passengers can try all the different wines or stick to one or two favorites for the evening. The bistro dinner is served at the same time as the dinner in the main dining room. While it's a fun change from the usual main dining room format, the menu is set during the season for each river, and so you'll only want to go once per sailing unless you want to eat the same meal twice.
Club Lounge (Deck 3): For between-meal or late-night snacks, cookies and fruit are available in the ship's aft lounge, along with tea, hot chocolate, juices and an assortment of coffee beverages from a self-serve Lavazza machine.
Sky Bistro (Deck 4): For lunch on nice days, a portion of the ship's sun deck may be converted to Sky Bistro, an outdoor dining venue offering grilled fare. It wasn't available on our sailing, so we can't comment on the quality of the food.
Room Service: A limited continental breakfast menu is available for in-suite dining. Passengers can order coffee, tea, orange and grapefruit juice, croissants and Danish pastries by filling in the card left in the cabin and hanging it outside the stateroom door before midnight. They can choose the time to have breakfast delivered in increments of 15 minutes from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.