Avalon Creativity, the line's eighth new-build, debuted in 2009. Inside and out, the lines are clean and contemporary, though a bit stark for some. It's much like the lobby of a major Swiss bank: beautiful carpeting and marble, wood paneling and inlays, a bit short on art. Gracefully spiraling stairways and a vest-pocket elevator link the interior decks at midship. Ample glass keeps the interior bright and airy during daylight hours.
Avalon Creativity cruises along France's Seine River, offering overnights in Paris before heading down this beautiful tributary to Monet country, stopping in places that range from the cathedral cities of Rouen and Normandy (for its military history) to Monet's Giverny.
Expedition cruising and river cruising share one aspect: each "stalks" its prey -- whether wildlife, as in the former, or art, culture and history for the latter. In either case, the "horizon" is never more than spitting distance away, so lots of viewing space is a must, and Creativity has floor-to-ceiling glass walls in 90 percent of its cabins.
Central to the concept of all these vessels is shore touring, and on Avalon Creativity, Globus' pedigree shines through. Invariably, the guides who shepherded our daily tours spoke virtually unaccented, nearly perfect English. As well, onboard enrichment was truly a highlight of our trip, with a wine- and pate-tasting, and a lovely classical concert being among the most memorable events.
The restaurant on Creativity accommodates all passengers in a single, open seating. The room is a long, narrow rectangle, running lengthwise from side to side at the forward end of Sapphire Deck (Deck 2 of four decks). Outer walls are given over to large windows. With no actual artwork on the walls, the room has a bit of a stark feel to it, but the carpeting was quite modern and handsome, with gold and blue spirals accenting a warm, cocoa-brown background. The chairs are upholstered to pick up either the blue or gold accent colors.
Dining schedules are structured as a single seating, rather than open-seating, though in true open-seating fashion, you can dine with whomever you wish.
Breakfast in the restaurant is served buffet-style, with all the usual choices: yogurt, bread, pastries, fruit, cereal, an egg station, steam-table eggs, breakfast meats, hash brown potatoes, cold cuts and cheese.
One thing we did especially like about the buffets during both breakfast and lunch was that each food item was keyed to its particular dietary characteristics -- such as low-calorie, low-fat, high-fiber, etc. -- by a system of color-coded borders on the dish identification signs, which were displayed next to their serving stations.
Lunch each day was a semi-buffet or, in other words, serve-yourself salad, hot and cold soups, and dessert stations, augmented by a couple of steam-table entrees. These pre-prepared and reheated options were the most disappointing dishes served onboard. They often included grilled or pan-fried items, such as fish or wiener schnitzel -- items which should be served soon after preparation.
The single made-to-order station was the pasta station, which doubled as the vegetarian option. Though this was a decent choice for lunch, strict vegetarians -- especially vegans -- should take a cue from the fact that, on six out of seven days, these pasta choices included eggs, dairy, cheese, fish or shellfish, and they should check with their travel agents regarding dietary needs, or be prepared to limit themselves to the salad bar at lunchtime.
In addition to the buffet presentation, lunch always included two standing orders -- either minute steak with fries and garden vegetables or a sandwich selection (which changed daily), also served with fries. These two choices were consistent winners, and the fries were crispy and addictive!
Another option -- and a popular one -- was the grill on Sky Deck (the ship's highest deck). This grill-to-order facility served delicious bratwursts, mouthwatering cheese-filled sausages and either pork or beefsteaks. Achieving the requested degree of doneness for these cuts of meat -- often a quixotic quest on cruise ships -- was easy. The main problem with the grill was that it was limited to 40 passengers, so signing up first thing in the morning on any day you wished to lunch in the grill was required. Unfortunately, there was no effort made to check attendees against the signup sheet, a flaw which passengers figured out a couple of days in, creating crowding problems.
While chefs vary by journey (depending on contract limits), the dinners we had on Creativity were absolutely delicious. There are three choices of entrees (a meat or poultry dish, a fish dish and a vegetarian selection). There's also a short list of standards that you can order every night.
Though not listed officially in cruise documentation, it is possible to ask the maitre d' to serve one of the standard menu items from the dinner menu in your cabin during regular dinner hours.
Besides the dining room, Creativity has only two public rooms -- the forward and aft lounges. Each has ample window exposure, which is absolutely essential for any near-shore itinerary. The furniture is comfortable, and the number of tables is generous, relative to the size of the rooms. Each room has a particular focus. The larger, forward lounge has a piano for entertainment and audio/video hookups for lectures and enrichments. The aft lounge is more like a small library, serving as a venue for mini-Continental breakfast spreads. This room has a number of bookshelves and board game cabinets. Nothing is locked, so books and games are available 24/7. Each of the lounges has a small outside deck for those who want to do their sightseeing alfresco.
A small area of the reception lobby is devoted to a pair of desktop computers with Internet access. Wi-Fi is available in most places on the ship, and it's complimentary, but before you get too excited, understand this: it works sporadically. We gave up on trying to use the ship's system and, instead, made a game out of trying to log into free hot-spots ashore as we sailed by. (We succeeded in finding Starbucks stores on two occasions, as well as RV campgrounds from time to time.)
Creativity's 70 cabins fall into two configurations. There are 68 standard cabins, each measuring 172 square feet, and two Junior Suites at 258 square feet each. All cabins are double-occupancy -- even the Junior Suites. Suites have coffee tables and sofas in the additional space, but the sofas do not convert into beds.
All 59 of the cabins, including the two suites, on Royal and Sapphire Decks -- the top two accommodation decks -- have floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass doors that open onto French balconies. All told, these represent 84 percent of the total complement of cabins. The remaining 11 cabins on Indigo Deck (the lowest passenger deck) have only small, rectangular windows set near the ceiling in the outside wall. Since river cruising places the ship close to shore nearly all the time, the window size and placement in these lower cabins is a major drawback.
Standard cabins are cozy but large enough in size that we never felt cramped. Storage space is ample, with hanging bars, drawers and shelves in the closets and multiuse drawers in the desks, dressers and end tables. Storage space in the bathrooms was among the best we've seen, with shelving below and along both sides of the vanities. Both suites and cabins have separate shower stalls with glass doors. No accommodations have tubs. Bathrooms in suites are larger, and details are a bit more upscale (marble versus faux slate floor tiles, granite versus ceramic countertops). Bath amenities are limited to the "big four": bath gel, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion.
Decor is utilitarian -- beige for the most part. There is little art, but a bold, red, graphic carpet adds a pop of color to the rooms. Cabin amenities include European-style high-thread-count linens and down-filled duvets, plush cotton robes, safes and hair dryers. In each cabin, there is a mini-bar, which is manually checked and refilled by the cabin steward. There is also a 32" flat-screen TV with European and English-speaking news and entertainment channels.
Onboard currency is the euro. Gratuities are paid in cash; the recommended amount is 3 euros per passenger, per day, for the cruise director and 12 euros per passenger, per day, pooled for the crew.
Simply put, this is not a family-appropriate ship. There are no triple cabins or provisions for entertaining youngsters. Avalon maintains a minimum age of 8 for younger passengers.
Creativity's evening entertainment offerings are adequate if not exciting. There is a solo pianist who plays background music before and after dinner, and local talent was brought aboard on a couple of occasions (singers, small classical ensembles, etc.).
However, the daytime offerings delivered were superb, ranging from dynamically presented talks on history, art and culture to fun port talks. Handouts were also excellent and included hand-annotated port maps. These materials made it easy to know exactly where we were and which landmarks we were passing.
The daily, gratis, off-ship walking tours were almost universally superior. The ship issues passengers personal headsets, which plug into wireless receivers. The off-ship guides are issued microphones and transmitters so that each group of about 20 passengers gets a private tour, conducted through a discreet wireless link.
There are, in addition, a handful of optional shore excursions for which there is a charge (averaging about $45 USD). We found these inconsistent. Some -- such as the excursion from Rouen to Honfleur -- weren't anything special. Others, such as a trip to the well-touristed Giverney, which was timed first thing in the morning to give us private access for a time, were outstanding.
Passengers consist mostly of older couples (55-plus) who are well-traveled. Many have come to Avalon through prior experience with Globus, so the land-touring aspect of the cruise may hold a higher priority for them. We also met a number of English-speaking travelers from Australia and the U.K. Avalon's experience is not designed to be compatible with families (especially those with younger children).
Since so much time during daylight hours is spent off-ship touring (much of that on foot), daytime wear is dictated by time of year (climate) and comfort. As well, many European itineraries include visits to cathedrals and churches, so conservative clothing or cover-ups should be brought by those who don't wish to risk being turned away.
Evening dress is the typical casual but elegant. There are two evenings that are slightly dressier -- the Captain's Welcome Aboard and Farewell evenings. Passengers' dress on these two nights ranges from jackets and ties to slacks and sports shirts or sweaters. Women's attire for these dressier evenings ranges from cocktail dresses to pantsuits. Though the onboard dress code is fairly relaxed, it is never a bad idea on this type of European itinerary to bring semiformal garb (sports jacket and tie for men), as the opportunity sometimes presents itself to enjoy dinner ashore at restaurants with dress codes.
|Fitness and Recreation|
There is not much to satisfy the fitness aficionado onboard Creativity; as with most riverboats, you get your exercise in port. There is no spa/massage facility, but there is a tiny workout room with two machines -- a treadmill and a cross-trainer. Sky Deck (the uppermost deck) has a hot tub and central sunning area with plenty of loungers, and there is ample space around the periphery for those who feel compelled to jog onboard, though there is no marked or designated track. Unusually, Avalon ships have beauty salons.
Many of the tie-up points along the riverbanks have pathways or sidewalks paralleling the river that are ideal for jogging or walking, and there is usually enough time in port to do so.
However, we did miss shipboard bicycles, which are typical for many river cruises, though the size of Creativity may make them impractical.
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