Avalon Waterways - River Cruising in the 21st Century

| August 13, 2010

21st-century European river boats offer the amenities of modern cruise ships; Internet and balconies included.

The Avalon Affinity - one of the vessels in the Avalon style.

While struggling for recognition in the 1990s, European-style river cruising had a renaissance in the new millennium. It is now the fastest growing segment of the cruise industry; for reasons are many and varied.

It was already a good value when the first lines started offering English-only cruises decades ago, but back then riverboat staterooms typically had non-opening windows, menu options were limited to "meat or fish for your entrée?" and there was no Internet access unless your port of call had a Web café.

But there were good aspects already in place. You were always in sight of the shore, making the journey far smoother and visually interesting, and the shore tours and meals were all included in the cruise fare.

But the chrysalis began when the primary focus shifted to the American market. Today, Euro-river cruising is one of the most convenient and obliging means of European travel for Americans possible; Especially with state-of-the-art lines like Avalon Waterways, where all 10 the vessels were built in 2004 or later. These beautiful boats have capacious suites with French balconies, bow to stern free Wi-Fi Internet access and gourmet meals prepared by regional chefs who shop in local markets daily.

Avalon's Beginnings

That Avalon Waterways is owned by well-established travel leader Globus Tours of Littleton, Colorado, should come as no surprise. Euro-river cruising is essentially a modern version of the old fashioned "motor coach bus tours" Globus began offering decades ago. Globus had to get into the river cruising or risk being left behind.

Motor coach tours allow a few dozen tourists to sit on small, bouncing chairs and watch the world through reflective glass. Luggage must be lugged into different hotels for unpacking and repacking daily. Precious daylight hours are spent riding in buses just to reach the next attraction and more precious hours, in the most popular cities, are spent sleeping to recover from the days of traveling. Each meal is taken in a different restaurant - often with unpredictable results.

But with the advent of river cruises means your accommodations and restaurants now travel with you, available virtually 24-hours/day. Even better, the nights once spent in hotels to recover from a day of travel are now used to move you effortlessly from one destination to the next - while you sleep. Not only does this eliminate the tediousness of travel, it gives you far more waking hours to see the sights as you wake up in a new location every day.

And due to creative river cruise lines like Avalon Waterways almost everything described is now even better. River cruise vessels have taken tips from the larger cruise industry and put a new focus on customer comfort and convenience.

The New Euro-River Cruise

When a company has been offering tours for 80 years it is safe to assume they know a few things about Europe such as the best sites and the guides to hire. So, when it came to river cruising Avalon had the choice of re-selling an already established cruise line (as other tour operators do), but they couldn't use the advantages they had cultivated over the decades that way. So, Avalon chose to start from scratch; Since just 2004 Avalon Waterways has created an entirely new fleet of ten brand new river cruise vessels, each of them state of the art.

But when you see the brand new Avalon Panorama, the first all-suite river boat scheduled to debut in May 2011, you have to admire her intuitive design. She is 443 feet long, has 47 crew members and two full decks of 64 Panorama Suites of 200-sq. ft. apiece, each with open-air balcony suites where not only is one wall entirely made of glass for the best scenic cruising imaginable from your own stateroom - but they even found a way to turn the bed in such a way that this glorious view greets you first thing in morning. The view from your stateroom is so amazing you could stay in bed all day long and hardly miss a thing. Panorama also has 17 standard staterooms and 47 crewmembers.

Layout for the Avalon Panorama Suite Avalon Panorama "Royal Suite"

Now, the boats built in 2004 like the Avalon Artistry (the oldest vessel in the fleet) are beautiful vessels with gourmet restaurants, comfortable staterooms and opulent, inviting public rooms. All of their boats offer French balcony staterooms, full Internet access, spacious private bathrooms and comfortable queen size beds.

The Panorama Suite on Avalon Panorama offers 200 sq. ft. and an open balcony

The balcony is 11-feet wide by 7-feet tall with sliding glass doors that open up completely to transform the entire stateroom into an open air balcony and every component of the room, including the bed and bathroom positioning, was designed to optimize the view from these rooms. Panorama's rooms are 30 percent larger and the views 50 percent more expansive than the industry average in Europe.

But if you really want to splurge there are two 300 sq. ft. Royal Suites with a king-sized bed, an extra wide French balcony, also an entire wall of glass, a large flat-screen television, a mini-bar refrigerator and a bathroom with a double sink, an extra large shower and a private toilet area.

Both suites on Panorama come with:
  • Deluxe beds with premium mattress covers
  • Egyptian super-combed cotton linens
  • European-style duvets
  • Hairdryer
  • L'Occitane bath amenities
  • Spacious 3-door closets with shelves for ample storage
  • Easy under-bed luggage storage
  • Flat screen satellite TV with movie channels
  • Alarm clock
  • Make-up mirror
  • Direct-dial telephone
  • Bathrobes & slippers
  • Well-stocked mini-bar
  • Complimentary bottled water
  • In-room safe
  • Large mirror in bathroom
  • Marble countertops in bathroom

The Avalon Panorama will be christened in May 2011 and will sail the popular 14-night Magnificent Europe (Amsterdam/Budapest) itinerary for most of 2011. It has a beautiful dining room with all meals included; breakfast and lunch typicaqlly served in buffet style with full waiter service for dinner. There is an upper viewing deck; and a beautiful full-service spa and fitness center on the bottom deck.

The dining room on Avalon Panorama

The inaugural cruise of Panorama is already sold out, but there is room on the following cruises. The smaller 200 sq. ft. Panorama Suite costs brochure rate is $5750 per person for a 15-day cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest (this is twice as long as the average European river cruises). The Avalon Panorama will also sail the enchanting Christmastime river cruises that are getting more popular every year.

The Skydeck viewing area on Avalon Panorama

But even if you choose to sail on one of the nine older ships you still get the benefits of recent upgrades Avalon will have made to its fleet as of 2011. All Avalon staterooms and suites will offer premium bedding including a choice of pillows, orthopedic mattresses, high-comfort mattress covers, European-style duvets, Egyptian super-combed cotton linens, extra blankets and bed configuration options. There will be L'Occitane toiletries and quality robes and slippers in each room, fleet-wide. All of Avalon's spacious staterooms feature large storage spaces for additional comfort and other "comfort touches" like complimentary bottled water and fully stocked mini-bars.

The whirlpool spa on Avalon Panorama

In addition to the flat-screen televisions offering a wide selection of satellite news and entertainment, each Avalon vessel now features 3G unlimited, high-speed Internet service. This is extremely important to people like me who need to work during every vacation.

A Variety of Destinations

Avalon offers European cruises on their modern fleet of river vessels as short as four days from $949 (not including airfare) on the Danube from Vienna to Budapest, or five days from $1279.

There are several Christmas cruises available, which feature visits to many of the unique German traditional Christmas markets which are open from November through Christmas Eve. Some of them, such as Prague, actually stay open into early January.

Tulip time in Holland and Belgium is another river cruise tradition every April. These cruises take you roundtrip from Amsterdam to Arnhem, Antwerp, Ghent, Middelburg and Rotterdam. Tours are available to Brussels, Bruges and other notable sites nearby.

There are seven and eight day summer cruises in France, heading either north along the Seine or south along the Saone. Either way, the cruise will immerse you in French culture and cuisine for a highly memorable vacation. Or you can combine them for a 15-day Grand Tour of France with Paris as your pivot point between the two cruises.

The Magnificent Europe cruise typically offered on Avalon Panorama and other vessels.

Ship Amenities:

  • Wall-to-Wall Panoramic Windows
  • Sky Deck with premium lounge chairs and shade system
  • Wi-Fi access
  • Expanded fitness center
  • Non-smoking interior
  • Elevator
  • Headsets for all guided shore excursions in Europe
  • English-speaking crew
  • Sightseeing with a Local Guide
  • Cruise Director
  • Onboard lectures, activities & nightly entertainment
  • Room service available featuring Continental breakfast and beverages
  • Sky Deck whirlpool
  • Internet corner
  • Hair salon

Off the Beaten Path

Avalon also offers tours of China from 11 to 24 days. A four-day Yangtze River cruise from Yinchuan to Chongqing, part of each Chinese tour, gives you a chance to see the Three Gorges Dam - the largest in the world.

With the Egypt package you begin in Cairo to visit Giza and then fly back to the temples of Karnak and Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. You then cruise to Aswan (below the dam at Lake Nasser) and then fly to Cairo again at the end of the cruise.

Ecuador and the Galapagos packages include the Galapagos Islands famous for natural history plus a variety of tour options in South America including Peru and the Amazon.

For these three exotic destinations Avalon uses vessels from other cruise lines and local tour operators.

Here are the individual ship schedules:

  • Nile - Year-Round
  • Yangtze - April through October
  • Danube - April through December (themed cruises in Oct and Dec)
  • Main-Danube Canal - April through December (themed cruises in Oct and Dec)
  • Moselle - April through October (wine cruise in August)
  • Rhine - March through November (Tulip time cruises in March and April; Music cruise in Oct; wine cruise in Aug)
  • Rhone - March through November (wine cruises in Aug and Oct; Jazz cruise in July)
  • Seine - March through October
  • Saone - March through October
  • Galapagos Islands - Year-Round

I haven't had a chance to try an Avalon Waterways riverboat cruise yet, but I am certainly looking forward to the day I can. You can get more information here: www.avalonwaterways.com.

Go here for a previous article about Avalon Waterways from August 2009.

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