TRAVEL: Trip down Germany’s Rhine River with Ann Rickard
THE luxury of waking in a comfortable wide bed beneath a floaty white doona to lazily watch a kaleidoscope of Europe's charms glide past your panoramic window as you cruise one of its stunning rivers is a luxury beyond all travel fantasies. .
Yet this is the way it is for guests on board Avalon Waterways' newest river ship, Imagery II.
All two entire decks of spacious suites with their marble bathrooms have wall-to-wall windows that slide back to transform your suite into one large alfresco balcony and - this is the luxury without measure part - the bed faces the window.
This spanking new river ship was christened on the Rhine by Godmother, Judy Bailey, a New Zealand television personality.
The choice of a Kiwi to bless the ship was natural seeing as New Zealand is one heck of a big market for European river cruising, followed quickly by Australia (of course.)
The unprecedented growth in river cruising has astonished everyone in the travel industry, even Avalon Waterways' management who are frantically building more new ships to keep up with demand.
You will understand this phenomenon once you have cruised on one or more (or all) of Europe's celebrated rivers.
It is the easiest, most comfortable and extraordinarily scenic way to see some of Europe's iconic cities, its picturesque towns and too-cute villages.
Your long sleek ship pulls up in the heart of things, you just step off and you are right there, say in Paris, Budapest, Prague or Strasbourg...and you have only had to unpack once and let someone else look after all your needs, while you are moved smoothly and effortlessly from one country, one city, one town, one European highlight after another. .
A cruise along the Rhine on board Imagery II glides you past some of Europe's prettiest charms. Lie on that big bed or sit at your lounge area by the open windows and watch the Hansel and Gretel half-timber houses glide by.
Sip champagne in the spacious lounge with its designer decor and floor-to-ceiling windows and count the number of castles you pass (42 on one stretch) and then try to comprehend how the locals work those myriad vineyards that stretch so vertically on steep hills that rise regally from the riverbanks.
There is fascination and history on each side of the river and the cheerful cruise director will give you commentary as you sit back after a breakfast of, say scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, or a lunch of five-star highlights utilising fresh local produce.
Dinner is always an extravagant affair at white-clothed tables gleaming with glassware and sparkling with cutlery, although you are not required to dress to the nines (smart casual is the go) and you are served multi-courses of gourmet food by super-friendly staff brandishing unlimited bottles of local wines.
After dinner is all about smooth entertainment around the piano in the lounge - not a bingo card in sight.
It's all tres chic, and with no children on board, tranquillity is guaranteed.
Shore excursions are a simple matter, with Avalon's buses waiting for you at each stop, and local guides eager to take you into the heart of Europe to explore flourishing wineries, trawl ancient castles, visit impressive museums, gawk at mighty cathedrals, indulge in shopping or a enjoy a night of classical music.
Themed cruises are planned: wellness, adventure, culture. There is much to look forward to.
Among the multiple choices of shore excursions each day, there is always one at no cost.
Extras abound on bord Imagery II - from home-baked cookies, cakes and donuts available 24 hours a day, to gleaming new coffee machines dispensing the really good stuff, to luxurious L'Occiton products in the marble bathroom, to the little surprises left on your pillow each evening after turn down.
Imagery II will cruise mostly on the Rhine presenting eight day Romantic Rhine itineraries between Amsterdam and Basel. River cruising just went up yet another notch.
For full itineraries, bookings and more information see your travel agent or visit: avalonwaterways.com.au