The world's most expensive book in the Gutenburg Museum in Mainz, a historic mustard factory in Cochem, an underground disco in an abandoned subway station in Frankfurt, and a toy monkey that plays the violin in the Mechanical Instrument Museum in Rudesheim - all are intriguing discoveries to be made on a Rhine and Moselle River cruise.
But even more attractive than that is the discovery that you can open the curtains in your new stateroom on board the Panorama and watch the castles drift by at 6:30 in the morning, still in your pyjamas if you like. That's the kind of sybaritic extension to the day that I can't resist.
It's not that I'm lazy - the rest of my day will be active and full, but the possibility of starting the day like this, with the window open to the fresh river air, and a cup of coffee from the cappuccino machine in the club lounge, is so appealing.
I'm not alone. When Avalon Waterways launched its new ship, the Panorama, in Frankfurt on May 14, it was in response to a growing demand for river cruising.
When Lisa Wilkinson, popular Australian media and television star, christened the ship, she was naming a boat that was already a hit. Even before the ship's official touring season began Wednesday, the first season of the Panorama was 98 per cent booked (there's still space on some of their German Christmas Markets cruises).
According to Cruise Lines International Association the cruise industry is the fastest growing travel segment in the world, and river cruising has had a compounded increase of 10 per cent a year since 2004. So popular are the river cruises that Avalon has already commissioned a sister ship, the Vista, to launch in 2012, along with a similar but smaller version, the Visionary, to debut at the same time.
The growth in river cruising is partly the result of a general increase in the number of people cruising, but is also due to the advances in design and upgraded amenities on the newer ships. Instead of the dark and small cabins of early river boats, like one I took in the early 1990s, new river boats have adopted many of the features of their larger ocean-faring sisters.
Panorama boasts the largest cabins in the industry, at 200 square feet, with full length floor-to-ceiling windows that open to French balconies, marble clad bathrooms, L'Occitane amenities, Wi-Fi throughout the ship, a full fitness centre, a large viewing deck and elegant gourmet dining. Wine and beer are included, as are excursions, guided walking tours and digital earphones.
The charm of the river cruise, though, remains its ability to give its passengers a close and intimate connection with the countries they visit. A variety of excursions offer more time ashore, with an emphasis on local culture. This all comes with the convenience of a cruise, your own comfortable room (and you only have to unpack once!), all-inclusive meals and access to the ship-board amenities. And rates for Canadians are lower than those for Americans, because of the strength of the Canadian dollar. All good reasons to take to the river this cruising season.
For more information, visit avaloncruiseline.com.
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