What an incredible trip we had. The weather was cold, but the scenery was beautiful and the cities we visited were all unique and intersting in their own ways.
Before we left, was getting a little concerned when we were within 10 days of travel and still no documents. They did show up on day 9. Avalon provided a travel bag and passport holder with the documents. We dutifully filled out our paperwork, emergency contact info, etc, but Avalon never asked for it or checked it.
Although we had not booked our air thru Avalon, and were supposed to meet them at a hotel 2 miles from the Zurich airport, they met us at the airport and provided transportation to the hotel meeting point. There was a room set up for us to hang out in until time to leave for the ship. The hotel had a restaurant with a breakfast buffet ($30 pp) and there was coffee and water available in the waiting area. An optional tour was offered to visit Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus, which we took. I think it was about $58 pp (they took and preferred US $ for optional excursions - much cheaper than if you paid in Euro's).
Lucerne was beautiful. There was about 10' snow on the top of Mt. Pilatus. We took a tram to the top of the mountain, a 40 minute ride up, and had about 45 minutes on the summit. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.
Caught the boat in Basel, and left port very quickly after. Didn't get to see much of Basel, just from the bus driving in, and the boat seemed to be docked in a fairly industrial area.
Monday morning woke up docked in Kuhl, Germany, across the river from Strasburg. Included tour of Strasburg started at 8:15 and included bus ride to center of city, a walking tour including a visit to the Cathedral and a canal boat tour. Had about 40 minutes free before catching the bus back to boat in time for lunch. Afternoon optional tours were to Alsace Wine region ($44 or 39 Euro) or the Black Forest ($49 or 43 Euro). We didn't do afternoon tour, but those who did were very positive about them.
Tuesday morning- Speyer, had free time to tour city on your own. The cathedral and city center were about a 5-10 minute walk from the boat. 5 if you knew where to go, 10 if you didn't. The cathedral has a crypt below built in the 11th century. Not as ornate as some of the others we saw, but still very beautiful. They have a Technical museum with a new Russian space shuttle, but there isn't time to visit unless you by-pass trip to Heidelberg.
Tues afternoon - Heidelberg. Walking tour of the castle. Our tour guide's headset wasn't working, so we didn't hear a whole lot, but it was okay. Had about 1 hour free in town to look around. Lots of souvenir shops here.
Wed.- Mainz in the morning. 90 minute walking tour started at 8:30 am and included the Gutenberg museum. After tour you had 45 minutes free to get back to boat. Not really enough time to see much of museum.
Wed afternoon to Thurs morning - Rudesheim. Included excursion was a tram ride into town, the Siegfried's Mechanical Musical Museum (better than I thought it would be) and coffee with brandy at the Rudesheim Schloss and a little free time for shopping. If you didn't catch tram ride back to boat, it was about a 30 - 40 minute walk, most of it thru the tourist shop areas along the old part of town and waterfront.
Wed evening we took the optional "German Dinner" ($54 or 48 Euro). Dinner was salad, soup, ham, potato salad, bread, and dessert, all served with wine. You had a choice of desserts. There was a band, played some german music, some American. After dinner, they got the group to participate in a couple of drinking games, a bell concert and then a congo line. Robert, the cruise director, had trouble getting us to leave at 9 pm when the program was over. Definately a fun evening, would do this one again.
Thurs morning we left Rudesheim at 10 AM and the rhine gorge scenery started immediately. It was freezing cold for us, most everyone was on the sun deck wearing coats, hats, gloves, blankets, but the scenery was so incredible they all stayed until lunch, at least.
Arrived in Coblenz at 2 pm. 90 minute walking tour and free time until 5:45. That night was the Gala dinner.
Friday was Cologne. The walking tour started at 8:30 am at the boat and ended at 10 am in front of the cathedral. You had the option of walking back with the tour guide or staying and sightseeing or shopping on your own. Lots of shops around cathedral. Left port at 12 to sail to Amsterdam.
Sat morning was in Amsterdam. 8:30 am tour left to catch canal boat for tour. Optional trip to Keukenhof at 2pm $49 or 44 Euros, didn't take, but did the 9pm tour to the Red Light District for $29 or 26 Euros.
Sunday morning we had to be out of our room by 8 am and off the ship by 10 am.
I really enjoyed the cruise experience. It was our first river cruise and totally different than going on a large ocean liner. I can understand all the people who complain about the food, it was definately the low point of the trip for us. We are not people who eat alot of haute cuisine. I can understand the people who do, but wish they would provide a few more options for those of us with simpler tastes. Even their chicken and salmon "alternative" options were soaked in whatever sauce the main option had. The breakfast and lunch buffets were usually decent enough, although not always very hot.
The beds on the ship were very firm. That's a nice way of saying hard as a rock. The one redeeming factor was the thick coverlets. We ended up sleeping on top of the coverlets for a little cushioning and using the blankets from the closet to cover up with.
The staff was wonderful, the attention to detail and friendliness of everyone was greatly appreciated. I heard several people say they were very generous in their tips because the service was so attentive.
We stayed in Amsterdam for a few days after, at the Park Hotel near the Rijksmuseum. Oh, yeah! If you ever get a chance, stay there. The beds are like sinking into a big soft pillow. We did alot of walking everyday, and couldn't wait to end the day and climb into those heavenly beds.