No one goes hungry on an Avalon sailing.
Illumination's menu might best be described as Continental with local influences. Wines, produce and dishes from Austria and the Middle Rhine region of Germany are daily features. On a couple of early-morning strolls, I passed a crewmember heading back to the ship carrying fresh local produce, such as succulent strawberries and plump white asparagus, which later showed up on the dinner table.
Service was usually friendly and efficient, with a few bumps: Some servers struggled with the English language, and a few were pushy about taking orders quickly. And, while the included wine usually flowed freely, my request for a second taste of a lovely sparkling rose during a German food and wine pairing dinner was met with raised eyebrows and a firm no.
Passengers have four choices for breakfast: Early riser's breakfast, served from 6 to 7 a.m. and late riser's breakfast, served from 8 to 10 a.m., both in the Club Lounge, offering fruit, coffee, tea, juice and pastries. Room service breakfast, available for a surcharge of about $3 per person, consists of the same choices. The best bet is the buffet breakfast, which consists of European-style cheeses and cold cuts, yogurts, made-to-order omelets and eggs, fruit, breakfast meats, scrambled eggs and -- my personal favorite -- Bircher muesli, a traditional Swiss recipe of rolled oats, fruit and milk; sparkling wine is also served.
Between noon and 2 p.m., buffet lunch is set up in the main restaurant. On most days, weather permitting, an open-air bistro-style grill lunch is offered on the sky deck. Capacity for the outdoor seating is limited, so sign up early. Maybe food just tastes better served outdoors, but the grilled bratwursts, skirt steaks and chicken breasts, accompanied by corn on the cob and fresh salads, all hit the spot.
Buffet lunch in the restaurant has more choices. A typical spread offers salads, a hot soup, cold soup, made-to-order pasta, a carving station and hot dishes such as cordon bleu and broiled tilapia. Caesar's salad, a grilled dish and a sandwich with fries were also on the daily lunch menu. Save room for the best part of the meal -- dessert. The ice cream buffet of rich vanilla and a second varying flavor, offered daily, is complemented with condiments that range from chocolate sauce to flaked coconut. And don't even think about missing dessert on the days that offer tiramisu with chocolate sauce or the apple strudel with vanilla custard sauce.
Dinner is a four-course banquet, served promptly at 7 p.m. There's no option for arriving within a window of time. Seating is open, and most tables hold at least four people. Portions are sized to avoid that uncomfortable post-Thanksgiving-dinner feeling. Each day, a local regional specialty, such as Quarkkeulchen, a pancake-like dish, or Kartoffelsuppe, potato soup, is served. A healthy menu option is also offered, featuring items like summer vegetable soup, glazed cod and poached fillet of chicken with steamed vegetables. Grilled salmon and grilled chicken are available every night. Some favorites from my voyage: crispy roast duck leg a l'orange, the dessert cheese platter and cream of eggplant soup.
Oenophiles rejoice: Included white, rose and red wines accompany each dinner. Premium bottles of wine are also available for purchase, and passengers are allowed to bring their own wine onboard. (A corkage fee of about $13 applies to personal wine served in the dining room.)
Just in case three meals a day are not enough, coffee, tea, cake and sandwiches are served in the main lounge at 4 p.m., and late-night hors d'oeuvres are on offer in the main lounge at 10:30 p.m. Fruit, cookies, cappuccino, coffee and tea are available 24/7 in the Club Lounge.