TRAVEL: River cruising Europe in wall-to-wall luxury
IF EVER there was a holiday designed specifically for us mature folks, it would have to be river cruising.
There are many reasons for this, more about them in a minute, but the top one would surely be: no children on board.
We love children, most of us seniors are doting grandparents, but we don't love the little tykes when they are running amok around the decks and lounges on a ship.
River cruising is not designed for children, there are no facilities for them, they'd be bored.
It's all about us, and we are not going to feel guilty about it.
River cruising suits those of us who enjoy the ease of being moved smoothly from one place to another, those who love to unpack just the once, who adore being pampered and wined and dined to the brim. Those who love a no-bingo-or- extravagant-theatre policy, those who are more the gather-around-the-piano type.
Avalon Waterways' newest river ship, Imagery II, has just been launched on the Rhine, formally christened by "godmother", New Zealand personality, Judy Bailey. It now awaits your pleasure.
You are going to love this spanking new ship with its Suite Ship policy: two entire decks of roomy suites with marble bathrooms complete with L'Occitane products, and more space than any other ships cruising Europe's great rivers.
What you are going to love beyond all the many loveable details on board Imagery II, is the wall-to-wall windows in your suite, a whole wall that slides back to transform your suite into one large alfresco balcony and - this is luxury without measure - the bed faces the window.
Think about that.
You wake up each morning in a comfortable wide bed beneath a floaty white doona to lazily watch a kaleidoscope of Europe's charms glide past your panoramic window.
If you (or better still, your mate) has padded quietly to the elegant lounge at the aft of the ship, where a gleaming coffee machine will dispense any coffee style of your choice, and he brings it back along with a big home-baked cookie to enjoy in bed, well, you are going to be in holiday heaven aren't you?
And your exciting day hasn't even started yet.
The unprecedented growth in river cruising has astonished everyone in the travel industry, even Avalon Waterways' management who are frantically building more ships to keep up with demand.
Avalon Waterways does not let its ships age. When they are only just past juvenile stage, they are sold or sent off to ship graveyard.
Hence, all Avalon's long sleek river ships are modern and fresh. None more so than Imagery II.
The decor is contemporary and restful with tasteful and luxurious object d'art and contemporary art works at every turn.
The lounges and dining room are fitted with up-to-the-minute furniture with exquisite fabrics.
On the expansive top open-air deck, the sun lounges beckon, and a small spa sits beside a giant deck chess set. The chef even grows his own herbs in pots up on the deck.
You will never be short of something exciting to do on Imagery II as her itinerary stops at some of Europe's most beautiful cities, towns and villages.
And the ship docks right in the heart of things. You have only to walk off (easy, no big gangway, just a flat walkway) to have Avalon's private buses with local guides waiting a few steps away to whisk you into the heart of Europe's excitement, history and culture.
There is always at least one free shore excursion at every stop, and a host of others to suit all tastes, whether it is exploring flourishing wineries, trawling ancient castles, visiting impressive museums, gazing at mighty cathedrals, indulging in shopping or a enjoying a night of classical music.
Themed cruises are planned: wellness, adventure, culture. There is much to look forward to.
On our itinerary, stops included Wiesbaden in Germany, where a walk of the old town Mainz took us through centuries of German history, and where the spring flowers and rows of daffodils made us feel even more welcome.
At Lahnstein in Germany, we were taken to the Marksburg Castle where local guides led us through the vast and gloomy halls of this great castle and gave us vivid insight into life in the middle ages (very uncomfortable it was back then, no electricity or running water, but at least plenty of servants to empty chamber pots.)
In Ruedesheim we were taken by open air cable car to the top of Niederwald Forest to walk slowly back down through myriad vineyards just starting to sprout green in the spring, and where an alfresco picnic of local sausages and beautiful bread complemented many glasses of Riesling in the bracing air.
At Strasbourg it was a private cruise on a glass domed bateau-mouche past the exquisite timber houses, before free time at the mighty Strasbourg Cathedral.
After every excursion there was a warm welcome back on board Imagery II, with the crew greeting us like much-missed friends before showing us the lounge where coffee and cake waited.
This Romantic Rhine cruise on Imagery II glides you past some of Europe's prettiest charms: Hansel and Gretel houses, endless vineyards stretching high on rising hills, and too many castles to count (although we tried, got to 42 at one stage.)
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 indulgent 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 crew brandishing unlimited bottles of local wines.
To shut the door on your spacious suite after every rewarding day and big evening, to watch a (free) movie or catch up with world news on the television is just another of the many small pleasures.
Comfort is what most of us prioritise for our travels as we age. Followed by ease of getting from A to B. Imagery II provides the lot.
Avalon Waterways offers river cruises across Europe including the eight-day Romantic Rhine itinerary travelling between Zurich and Amsterdam.
Highlights include Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Rudesheim, the Rhine Gorge, Koblenz and Cologne. Departures in 2017 now on sale, priced from $3462 per person twin share.
FLY WITH CATHAY: Until May 31, 2016, Avalon Waterways is offering return economy flights to Europe with airlines including Cathay Pacific from $789 per person with all 2017 European cruises of 7-14 days. Cruises of 15 days or more are available with free return economy flights. www.cathaypacific.com.au
For full details and bookings see travel agents, or for information visit www.avalonwaterways.com.au
Deluxe Stateroom: from $3462 per person twin share
Panorama Suite: from $4371 per person twin share
Royal Suite: from $5421 per person twin share