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Avalon Waterways - Cruise Line Review

Avalon Waterways - Luxury River Cruises

Avalon Tranquility cruising the Main river

The Globus Group has been a leader in escorted tours of Europe for more than 75 years — under well-known brands such as Globus, Cosmos and Brennan Vacations — but it was not until 2003 that the company launched Avalon Waterways and its fleet of small river cruisers. In 2011, Avalon Waterways will operate nine modern, new ships in Europe.

All offer such big-ship amenities as accommodations with hotel-quality beds, satellite TV, bathrooms with full-sized showers, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors in most staterooms, and even French style mini-balconies. Ships also have Wi-Fi Internet access, an expansive sun deck and fitness equipment.

Avalon Waterways operates on the Rhine, Main, Danube, Mosel, and Rhône rivers.

The company also offers French wine country cruises on the Saône and Rhône rivers, as well as Christmas-market cruises from late November through December. Theme cruises are also on offer. These voyages aim to enhance the overall river cruise experience by providing insight into the incredible history and culture of the surrounding area.

The 21st century river cruise: a luxury experience

by Michelle Baran

European river cruising takes place in what is, at maximum, a 38-by-410-foot vessel, dimensions dictated by the locks and bridges the vessels must past through and under along Europe’s rivers.

But even within that box, the 21st century river cruise experience has evolved.

“If you compare the amenities of the Avalon Artistry [built in 2004] at introduction with the Creativity at her christening [in August],” said Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways, “we have added an elevator, rear club lounge, whirlpool on the sundeck, sundeck grill and outside forward viewing area; increased the percentage of floor-to-ceiling windows/French balcony staterooms; enlarged the shower; added flat-screen TVs, additional dining options — the late-riser breakfast, afternoon cake and coffee and an alternative lunch option — and added beer or soft drinks as a choice with wine at dinner.”

Avalon Waterways among Travel & Leisure’s top five river cruises

As part of its 15th annual World’s Best Awards, Travel + Leisure ranked the top five river cruise lines.

The 2010 results, released on July 8, ranked river cruise lines as follows:

• Abercrombie & Kent, Score: 91.72
• Avalon Waterways, Score: 90.09
• Tauck World Discovery: 89.83
• Viking River Cruises: 85.33
• Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection: 85.14

Readers were asked to rank river cruise lines based on these six characteristics: cabins, food, service, itineraries/destinations, activities and value.

Avalon makes fleetwide upgrades

Avalon Poetry cabins 200-300

Avalon Waterways will be upgrading its entire fleet of river cruise ships with more comfortable bedding, new l’Occitane toiletries and additional amenities.

All ships will feature Comfort Collection by Avalon bedding, which will provide travelers with a choice of pillows as well as orthopedic mattresses, mattress covers, European-style duvets, Egyptian cotton linens, extra blankets and bed configuration options.

Avalon will also be adding L’Occitane toiletries, robes and slippers in each room, fleetwide.

“In 2011, our ships will entice all five senses,” said Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon.

Additional enhancements include improved woven carpeting and fresh flowers in each cabin, flat-screen televisions with more news and entertainment options, and 3G high-speed Internet service.

Avalon Waterways enhances dining options in 2011

Avalon Tranquility Dining Room

Avalon Waterways plans on making several upgrades in 2011 to the onboard dining experience on its fleet of river cruise ships in Europe.

Among the enhancements will be a new focus on serving local and regional ingredients on all ships. Additionally, Avalon will add a cheese option to its restaurant service.

Avalon also plans on offering cruisers more healthy options including low calorie, low sodium and glucose-free items. There will be a new night fare service at 10:30 p.m., when guests can grab one last treat before bed.

New at the breakfast buffet will be complimentary sparkling wine and a made-to-order egg station. Guests will also have the option to order continental breakfast in their cabin and have drinks delivered to their cabin throughout the day. Complimentary cappuccino, espresso, latte and Lavazza coffee will be available to Avalon passengers throughout the day.

In 2010, Avalon introduced alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink packages that can be pre-purchased. In 2011, the company is introducing celebration packages, giving cruisers the chance to commemorate a birthday or anniversary in their room with several celebratory cuisine selections.

Avalon to have open-air suites on new ship

Avalon Panorama to feature wall-to-wall panoramic windows

Avalon Waterways is introducing a new river cruise ship in May 2011, the Avalon Panorama, that will feature 64 newly designed, 200-square-foot suites on the top two decks.

That will be in addition to 17 staterooms, measuring 172 square feet each, on the lower deck.

The suites will have a seating area adjacent to an 11-foot wide, floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall panoramic window. “The whole suite becomes an open-air balcony,” says Patrick Clark, managing director at Avalon. This is a “new look at how the space on the ships is used.”

Avalon employed a new interior design team to tackle the Panorama’s design features, which will include marble bathrooms, new Avalon-branded bedding called Comfort Collection by Avalon, and a love seat-enhanced sitting area in the suites. Additionally, there will be fresh flowers in each stateroom and premium L’Occitane body products.

The Panorama will also feature a lounge, dining room, hair salon, sky deck fun pool and open-air bistro for outdoor, grilled lunches. In addition, the Panorama’s fitness room will be more expansive, with additional equipment.

There will be flat-screen televisions, fully stocked mini-bars and safes in all staterooms and suites as well as laundry/ironing services.

The Panorama will sail Avalon’s 14-night Magnificent Europe itinerary from Amsterdam to Budapest for most of 2011. It will also sail Avalon’s Christmas markets itinerary during the holidays.

Avalon christens tenth ship in Europe

Sister ship Avalon Felicity Forward Loungeby Michelle Baran

And, she’s off! Avalon Waterways christened its tenth ship, the Avalon Luminary, at a ceremony in the fishing village of Hoorn in the Netherlands last week.

The Avalon Luminary features 65 staterooms and four junior suites. The ship’s staterooms measure 172 square feet, and 90% have floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass doors. The junior suites are 258 square feet each.

The Luminary cabins also feature flat screen televisions, Comfort Collection by Avalon bedding, a mini-bar, safe, laundry and ironing services. The ship has a fitness room, library, hair salon and gift shop, as well as a club lounge, Jacuzzi and a Sky Grill for open-air lunches on the sky deck.

Arriving from the Den Breejen Shipyard in Holland, the Avalon Luminary marks the company’s tenth new ship in Europe since 2004.

In attendance at the christening were Thomas Ritter, CEO of Seehandlung, the financing company for the Avalon Luminary; the ship’s captain Michael Hoffman; as well as Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways.

“Inspired by design, our ships are crafted to entice all five senses,” said Clark. “Some enhancements, including deluxe woven carpeting, bathrobes and slippers and premium L’Occitane products in our staterooms are subtle. Other offerings, such as Avalon-branded premium bedding, large staterooms and a perfect balance of warm interiors with natural lighting and panoramic views are distinctive and unexpected. Combined, all elements provide travelers with a unique feeling of space, freedom and comfort.”

Sister ship Avalon Felicity Deluxe CabinFollowing the christening, the new vessel set sail on an inaugural Romantic Rhine cruise. The Luminary will sail the two 9-day itineraries between Amsterdam and Basel, and between Zurich and Amsterdam (both called Romantic Rhine) for the remainder of 2010. The ship will also sail Christmas in the Heart of Germany, Christmastime in Germany & Austria and Christmastime on the Danube.

The Luminary is already 92% sold for 2010.

The Avalon Luminary will sail more than 10 Avalon itineraries throughout Europe, including the Tulip Time Cruise, Central European Experience, Magnificent Europe, The Blue Danube Discovery, The Legendary Danube, Windmills, Vineyards & Paris and a wine-themed cruise on the Rhine and Moselle rivers.

The Avalon Luminary is the sister ship to the Avalon Felicity, launched in May 2010, Avalon Creativity, launched in August 2009, and Avalon Affinity, launched in May 2009.

In May 2011, Avalon will be launching the Avalon Panorama, marking a new design for Avalon ships with 200-square-foot suites on the top two decks featuring floor-to-ceiling panorama balcony doors.

Why River Cruising In Europe?

River cruising in Europe - Avalon Tapestry in Cochem

In 1992, Europe’s age-old maritime landscape changed dramatically. It was that year that the Main-Danube Canal opened, connecting the Continent’s main arteries — and along with them, all of Europe.

The completion of the canal spawned grand cruise itineraries from Amsterdam to Budapest — and beyond. An engineering marvel, the 106-mile Main-Danube Canal permits modern-day vessels to travel from the North Sea to the Black Sea, opening up more than 2,200 miles of river and exposing today’s travelers to life along the banks.

Tributaries and smaller rivers flow into the main arteries to provide additional opportunities not only to reach deep into the heart of the Continent but also to explore some of its more remote regions.

The opening of the canal also meant that no longer would travelers need to sit with their noses pressed against the windows of busses as they moved from one destination to the next. Instead, travelers admire the scenery from the ship’s sun deck as they are transported along with their accommodations.

Nor would travelers have to obligingly put out their luggage by 7 a.m. (or earlier) to be loaded onto the motorcoach before it set off to the next destination. River travelers unpack only once during the course of their cruise as they move from one city to the next.

River cruising emerged to introduce an entirely new concept to Europe: that of floating hotels that journey between destinations. In its simplest form, a river cruiser is nothing more than a barge with a hotel on top.

For many travelers, the slow chug along the river is just the right pace for getting the lay of the land. Sitting on the top deck of a ship under brilliant blue skies, you gaze on fabled landscapes dotted with castles, villages and vineyards. A flight of stairs down, and you have all the amenities of a modern hotel — restaurants, bars, lounges, fitness facilities, spas, internet access and comfortable staterooms.

Avalon Waterways River Cruising in Europe - Avalon Scenery Aft LoungeRiver cruises offer opportunities to step ashore in fairy tale towns and fabled cities. Immerse yourself in contemporary culture, and learn something about the history of the towns along the Continent’s greatest rivers.

The season runs March through the end of December, beginning with Tulip Time Cruises in Benelux countries and ending with Christmas Market Cruises in Hungary, Austria, and Germany.

The majority of itineraries are seven nights, though longer cruises are available. Book one year in advance, if possible, and consider cruising March through May or September through December, when the crowds are thinner and airfares may be more reasonably priced than during peak periods.

River cruising is perfect for those who want a relaxed grand tour of Europe and for cruisers who want to explore Europe beyond the coastline. River cruising presents the grandeur and charm of Europe as well as the indelible landscapes that inspired Europe’s great artists. Few things in life can beat the views of Europe over the ripples of Continent’s rivers.

An Uplifting Experience
A series of 16 locks lifts river cruisers nearly 1,400 feet above sea level as they transit the Main-Danube Canal to cross the Swabian Alps, south of Nürnberg, and Europe’s Continental Divide.

Good To Know
Some river cruisers overnight in ports and cruise during the day; others cruise during the night and tie up in port during the day. Both approaches allow for dinners ashore and late-evening strolls into town.

Barging Is Not River Cruising! - How Barging and River Cruises Differ

Avalon Creativity - Cabins 200-300

Make no mistake. River cruises and barge cruises are completely different beasts.

Designed specifically to transit locks along the way, modern river cruisers are long and narrow, as are the locks themselves, which measure more than 600 feet long but are only about 40 feet wide.

Barges typically are smaller and with fewer frills and amenities than river cruisers. Whereas river cruisers may carry more than 100 passengers, barges range from a few passengers to few dozen.

What River Cruises Offer
The opening of the Main-Danube Canal in 1992 not only spawned the birth of river cruising as we know it today but also spawned the birth of the contemporary river cruise vessel. There are more than 100 river cruisers operating on Europe’s rivers. A “building boom” since 2000 has seen the introduction of more than 50 new ships.

Because of the canal and the locks, river cruisers are quite narrow, and this poses challenges for designers.

Though some river cruisers feature balcony staterooms, many retain the real estate that would be allocated for balconies to create more expansive interior space. Some river cruisers do feature balcony staterooms, where you can sit and watch the landscape pass, but take solace if your stateroom does not feature a balcony: Nearly all vessels feature a broad expanse of sun deck only a deck or two up.

The typical river cruiser design is four decks, including an upper sun deck, with two to three decks below it featuring a series of staterooms on each side of the ship. Staterooms typically feature a queen-sized bed that can be reconfigured to two single beds, television, storage space and a small, but often well-appointed, bathroom with shower and often no tub.

Public rooms typically include restaurant, lounge, spa and fitness center. While other features vary, some cruisers offer wireless internet access; bicycles for use on shore; whirlpool; sauna; and at least two river cruisers in operation today feature swimming pools.

River cruisers are essentially barges with an integrated hotel above and typically carry 100 or more passengers. Some river cruisers are (nearly) all-inclusive, meaning that wine and beer are served at lunch and dinner (one cruise line offers beer one morning of each cruise at breakfast), and some form of shore excursions, such as a guided city walk, are included.

Prices are competitively priced, and you should expect to pay from $200 per person per day to $400 per person per day depending on ship, itinerary and level of accommodations.

What Barge Cruises Offer
One of the big differences between river cruisers and barges is the amount of territory they cover. Barge cruises usually span six days and typically cover fewer than 50 miles of river a week, whereas river cruisers may cover few hundred. Transiting the locks can be time-consuming, and passengers often prefer to walk or bicycle along the canal’s banks (often outpacing the barge). Activities such as hot-air ballooning, horseback riding, guided tours, tennis and golf are offered, some for additional costs.

A barge usually cruises within one region of one country (usually France) whereas river cruisers can travel through several countries and on several rivers during the span of one sailing.

Barges typically have only one deck, smaller staterooms than riverboats and a combination dining room and lounge. Barge staterooms almost always feature private facilities.

Barges are usually all-inclusive, with drinks, fine wine and champagne, gourmet cuisine (using fresh, local ingredients and cooked to order), pick up and drop off from local airports, train stations and hotels, shore excursions and entrance fees included in the cruise fare. Bicycles are often available for use on shore. Some barges feature Jacuzzi, pool and exercise equipment.

Although barge cruises are offered in Belgium, Germany and Holland, France is the most popular destination.

Whereas you may think of river cruising as a floating hotel experience, barge cruising is more of a country manor house experience.

Though most barges are staffed, there are self-drive barges. Small groups, such as family or friends, may book the entire barge, or barges may be booked by individuals, preferably liked-minded people who don’t mind sharing space in a small setting.

Barge cruises can range from $350 per person per day to more than $1,000 per person per day. These are for six-day weeks, because one day is reserved to prepare the barge for the next group of people. Whole barges can be chartered from $15,000 to more than $50,000.

River Cruising Is Not For Everyone

Avalon Imagery - Budapest

River cruisers and barges are evolving in such ways that it’s hard to imagine that anyone could be ill-suited for them. And with more than a hundred vessels in operation, the on-board ambience spans such a range that there are ships to suit most travel preferences and lifestyles.

Some vessels emphasize elegance; others emphasize a relaxed on-board (read: casual) lifestyle. Travelers can find river cruisers that rival Europe’s finest boutique hotels at one end of the spectrum while at the other, it’s possible to cruise Europe’s rivers much like an independent traveler who opts for basic accommodations and dining.

Still, river cruising is not for everyone. Non-smokers, in particular, beware. On some vessels smoking is allowed in public areas. And while smoking may be restricted to a particular area, such as to one section of the lounge, sensitive travelers still may be offended. Be sure to ask whether smoking is permitted on the ship — and if so, where. If smoking is permitted in the lounge, the social hub on many ships, you may want to consider looking at other river cruise companies or consider other forms of vacation.

Families traveling with infants or with small children may find river cruising to be less than ideal when compared to other forms of cruise travel. While ocean-going ships often have baby-sitting services and children’s programs, river cruisers typically do not. That said, barges are popular options for families, as the smaller vessels typically carry family-sized loads — from six to 24 passengers.

The physically challenged will want to look for vessels with easy access from ship to shore and elevators; not all river vessels feature them.

If you’re the type who dreads the thought of dining with others each evening, then river cruising may not be for you. Few, if any, river vessels offer room service, and even fewer offer alternative dining venues as on the big ships.

That said, some ships now feature tables for two. Also, you can choose to use the vessel only as a floating hotel, skipping the dinners on board and dining ashore instead.

Those who want to thoroughly absorb the cultural milieu of European cities may find river vessels restricting. After all, the vessels do have schedules to keep. If you’re occasionally spontaneous and could envision yourself wanting to stay a few unplanned extra nights in a city, you may find your ship sailing without you.

If you’re accustomed to ocean cruising and require all of the big-ship trappings, then you may find river cruising a bit boring. River cruisers are smaller and feature fewer facilities. Entertainment is on a much smaller scale, if it exists at all, on river cruisers. Shows may consist of nothing more than crew talent performances.

Single travelers often will pay higher fares if they choose to occupy a double cabin alone, unlike at hotels.

For the majority of people, however, river cruising will provide an exceptionally satisfying experience.

While barging is aimed primarily at small groups of like-minded people (often friends or families), increasingly river cruisers are seeking to appeal a wide range of interests. Some river vessels offer theme cruises, such as gardening, golf and history. Other river cruisers carry bicycles on board so that active travelers may cycle once ashore.

FAQ - River Cruise Questions

by Ralph Grizzle. An award-winning travel writer, and recognized cruise ship expert.

What is river cruising?
River cruising has been an increasingly popular form of leisure travel in recent years. River cruises are one-week or longer, overnight passenger cruises on vessels that range in size from a small four-passenger canal barge to the largest passenger river vessel afloat, the 396-passenger Victoria Jenna, which operates on the Yangtze River in China.

European river cruising takes place in what is, at maximum, a 38-foot-by-410-foot vessel, dimensions dictated by the locks and bridges that the vessels must past through and under. European river cruisers generally range from between 100 and 200 passengers.

Where do river cruises go?
River cruises travel along many of the major rivers in the world. In Europe, the Danube River is second in length only to the Volga River in Russia. The Danube is one of the most popular rivers to cruise along, and many river cruises include the Danube as part of their itinerary.

The Main, Rhine, Moselle, Elbe, Rhone, Saone and Seine are also popular rivers in Europe for river cruising.

Elsewhere in the world, the Amazon River in Peru and Brazil, the Nile River in Egypt, the Yangtze River in China and the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia are also popular river cruise destinations.

How does barging and river cruising differ?
Barges typically are smaller and with fewer frills and amenities than river cruisers. Whereas river cruisers may carry more than 100 passengers, barges range from a few passengers to few dozen.

What amenities are there on river cruise ships?
Amenities vary, but standard on most river cruise ships are a restaurant, bar and lounge, library and sky deck.

Most river cruise ships have a fitness center with a few pieces of fitness equipment and possibly a sauna. There is often either a hair salon and/or a masseuse on board.

Some ships might have a whirlpool; others, like those on the Nile, almost always have a dipping pool on the top deck.

Increasingly in Europe, ships are adding elevators and smaller, alternative dining lounges at the aft of the ship. Outdoor grilling on the top deck is also becoming more popular on newer ships.

What are the cabins like?
In the past, river cruisers were defined by small cabins and twin beds, not an ideal choice for honeymooners. But cabins have improved tremendously in recent years. They are becoming more spacious and more like luxury ocean-going vessels, with comfortable beds and bedding, and well appointed bathrooms.

That said, there is often more limited storage space for luggage and clothing in cabins than there would be on luxury cruise ships. The cabins generally come outfitted with TVs, safes, bathrobes and slippers, desks and also increasingly more have sliding doors and French balconies. There are also higher numbers of larger suites being built on river cruise ships.

How do river cruises compare to luxury ocean cruises?
Luxury ocean cruises typically are defined by spacious staterooms, fine dining, an all-inclusive product, including beer, wine and spirits, gratuities and shore excursions on one luxury cruise line (Regent Seven Seas Cruises). River cruisers don’t quite match the luxury standards of ocean-going vessels, but river cruisers do come close.

Will there be a pool?
Not always. Some ships might have a whirlpool; others, like those on the Nile, almost always have a dipping pool on the top deck.

What is there to do on a river cruise?
River cruising consists of three main activities: dining, cruising and touring.

The majority of meals are served on board in the restaurant or in alternative dining areas like the smaller aft lounge or on the top deck. Sometimes meals will be at restaurants or other dining venues at various ports of call.

Cruising from one destination to the next often takes place at night while passengers are sleeping, but sometimes the cruises will also sail during the day, giving passengers an opportunity to relax or enjoy the scenery.

The main purpose for river cruising though, is to tour the various towns, cities and ports along the way. There is a fair amount of walking on river cruising during informative walking tours. There is often usually free time to roam the port towns as well.

Some river cruise ships in Europe carry bikes on board for people to ride into town or from one port to the next.

What is the food like?
The food on river cruise ships in Europe is generally very good. It is European-influenced cuisine.

Breakfast and lunch are usually buffet style. Breakfast usually consists of cereals, yogurt, fruit, pastries, egg dishes, meats, juices, tea and coffee.

At lunch there is often a salad bar, soups, several hot and cold dishes and desserts.

Dinners are generally three-course meals with table service. The cuisine often ties in the local dishes of the region passengers are sailing through.

What is the river cruising demographic? Who will I be cruising with?
River cruising appeals strongly to baby boomers and matures. That said, a wide range of people river cruise. Some river cruise companies have family-friendly sailings for people traveling with children. The introduction of bikes on board is also enticing younger cruisers. There is a wide range of nationalities on board, generally from English-speaking countries, including from the U.S., Canada, England, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

Is river cruising right for me?
River cruising is not for everyone. Non-smokers, in particular, beware.

What should I pack for a river cruise?
Pack as light as possible due to storage limitations in the cabins. Pack for variable weather, meaning layers, taking into consideration that even during warmer months river cruising can be windy during sailings. Pack comfortable shoes for walking. And pack for nicer occasions like concerts or performances on shore, or more formal dinners on board.

Is river cruising kid-friendly?
Some river cruise companies have family-friendly sailings for people traveling with children. But otherwise, not very. There is not much for younger children to do on board, in terms of games or activities.

Is there Internet on board?
Most river cruise ships in Europe either have wireless Internet access on board or are trying to get it installed. Be warned, connection can be spotty and is often not 100 percent reliable.