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Quirky Cruise
October 24, 2015

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: Avalon Waterways

Avalon Impression. *Photo: Avalon Waterways

Snapshot: Avalon entered the fast-growing river cruise market in 2004 and is owned by the Swiss-based Globus family of brands that also includes Cosmos. The line aims for the upper end of the river cruise market and is adding new ships with suite features that are unique to the line. Avalon operates a large number of riverboats on a vast range of European itineraries (nearly three dozen) as well as relatively new programs in the Galapagos and along the Peruvian Amazon, the Nile, Irrawaddy, Mekong, and Yangtze.

European Rivers:

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers: AVALON IMAGERY II (built 2016 & 128 passengers); AVALON PASSION (b. 2016 & 166p); AVALON TAPESTRY II & AVALON TRANQUILITY II (b. 2015 & 128 p); AVALON IMPRESSION (b. 2014 & 166p) AVALON POETRY II (b. 2014 & 128 p); AVALON ARTISTRY II (b. 2013 & 128 p); AVALON VISTA (b. 2012 & 166p); AVALON VISIONARY (b. 2012 & 128 p); AVALON LUMINARY & AVALON FELICITY (b. 2010 & 138 p); AVALON PANORAMA (b. 2011 & 166p) AVALON AFFINITY (b. 2009 & 138p), AVALON CREATIVITY( b. 2009 & 128p) & AVALON SCENERY (b. 2008 & 216 p).

France and the River Soane at Lyon. * Avalon Waterways

Passenger Profile: Most, age 50 and above, hail from the U.S., Canada, Britain and Australia with some younger passengers on the shorter itineraries.

Passenger Decks: All riverboats have four decks, and an elevator connects the two main cabin and public room decks.

Price: $$  Expensive

Included Features: Most shore excursions, WiFi (including in cabins), minibar with bottled water, regional wines and beers with dinner, sparkling wine at breakfast, coffees, teas and hot chocolate throughout the day, cabin TV with English-speaking channels and 100 movie options.

Itineraries: Many cruises last from 7 to 14 nights but there are some as short as 3 to 6 nights, then add a land portion at one or both ends of the cruise. Springtime tulip bulb season cruises along the intricate waterways of Belgium and Holland; French rivers include the Seine, Rhone and Soane; the Rhine with or without the Moselle; combine the Rhine and Rhone between Amsterdam and Cote D’Azur; the Upper and/or Lower Danube, the latter including, on some cruises, sailing all the way to the Danube Delta just in from the Black Sea. Longer itineraries may cover, for instance, the Upper Rhine and then via the Main, Main-Danube Canal and the Danube all the way to Vienna; with the granddaddy of all from the North Sea to the Black Sea (22 nights).

Why Go? River cruising conveniently takes you in one conveyance to a vast array of cultural, historic and scenic sites with so many of Europe’s major capitals (Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade) and most picturesque towns growing up along the banks.

When to Go? Most cruises operate from April to through October, with in warmer countries, some beginning in March and ending in November. Christmas markets cruises also have increasing appeal.

Moselle River, Germany & France. * Photo; Avalon Waterways

Cabins: All riverboats except the five built between 2008 and 2010 are designated Avalon Suite Ships and come with larger cabins and substantially different configuration, for example the 200 sq. ft. Panorama Suites and 300 sq. ft. Royal Suites in which the beds face a large 11-foot glass expanse that slides open to the outside railing, rather than arranging the beds, as most do, parallel to the windows. The sensation gives your entire cabin a feeling of a cozy, protected balcony with a clear view to the outside. The remaining five boats offer four 258 sq. ft. Royal Suites with a similar layout but where the TV interrupts the continuous glass window, and 172 sq. ft. Avalon Deluxe Suites. All Indigo Deck (lowest) deck cabins have small rectangular windows set high in the wall as they are located just above the waterline.

A 200 square-foot Panorama Suite. * Avalon Waterways

Public Rooms: All riverboats share a forward Observation Lounge, forward Panorama Lounge and bar, aft facing Club Lounge, and main dining room. The Sky Deck is laid out stem to stern with open and covered deck space for lounge chairs, whirlpool, Sky Bistro for light meals and navigation bridge.

Dining: The pattern for meals is pretty much the same throughout the fleet of European riverboats, though the boats built in the last few years have more sophisticated alternative meal set ups. The food is geared for those who would like to branch out and taste regional offerings or stick with what one likes to eat at home. Breakfast has an open window of times to cater to early risers or those who want to sleep in. Breakfast and lunch are buffet with the latter available at the top deck Sky Bistro (a grill), inside the Panorama Lounge (light fare) or in the big-windowed main dining room. Dinner is served here as well, while those wanting something lighter than a served three-course, can frequent the Panorama Lounge’s more informal setting.

Activities & Entertainment: Excursions ashore may be on foot when the dock is convenient to the destination or otherwise via bus. On board entertainment will showcase local musicians and singers after dinner and special interest talks while underway. All vessels have a top deck whirlpool and small fitness centers on the lowest decks. New for 2017 are Active Discovery cruises on the Danube that offer hiking, biking and canoeing and opportunities to explore an ice cave or salt mine and take archery lessons.

Special Notes: While this high-quality fleet is of basically a similar design, and the itinerary likely the deciding factor, having a bed configuration that allows you to wake up and linger between the sheets while watching the river scene pass above your toes just may dictate an Avalon Suite Ship.

Along the Same Lines: Other European riverboats line.

Avalon’s cruise tour programs to South America and Asia are briefly outlined below:

GALAPAGOS & AMAZON

Avalon Waterways charters Metropolitan Touring’s 42-passenger ISABELLA II (b. 1979 and reconstructed 2000) for a 4-night Galapagos cruise that adds up to a 9-day cruise with the inclusion of sights in and around Ecuador, a 15-day cruise tour that combines the 4-night Galapagos cruise with a land tour to Cusco and Machu Picchu (Peru) and Quito (Ecuador), and a 19-day cruise tour with the addition of the Amazon including day cruises on the river. The ship’s cabins are all outside and apart from the Master Cabin, all open to a side deck rather than an interior corridor. Departures are throughout the year.

Isabella II cruising the Galapagos. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

Avalon charters the 43-passenger Peruvian-flag AMAZON DISCOVERY (b.2015) for 3-night cruises of the Peruvian Amazon from Iquitos, to look for wildlife in the river and the surrounding rain forest landscapes plus village visits both combined with a land tour to Lima, the capital of Peru and Cusco and Machu Picchu. The river boat’s 237- and 253-sq. ft. cabins with huge floor-to-ceiling picture windows are spread over two of the three decks. Beds may be configured as twins or king-size. In addition, there is one single and a 597-sq. ft. suite that faces forward. Public spaces are an indoor and covered outdoor lounge, aft dining room with large view windows, a spa, small gym and plunge pool. A 24-hour medic is aboard. Departures are roughly two a month 9 months out of 12 (not July, August & December).

The silt-laden, surging waters of the Upper Amazon. * Photo: Ted Scull

The silt-laden waters of the Upper Amazon. * Photo: Ted Scull

EGYPT

The Nile:

Avalon’s chartered Sonesta St. George. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

9-night Egyptian cruise tours, operating year-round, include hotel stays in Cairo for the museum and the Pyramids, Sphinx and Memphis that bracket a 4-night Nile cruise to Luxor, Aswan, Edfu and Kom Ombo. The Sonesta St. George offers 47 deluxe cabins at 236 sq. ft. and 10 suites measuring 473 sq. ft. All accommodations have French windows that allow you to stand at the rail and let breezes enter. The well-appointed five-deck vessel has an observation lounge, main lounge, dining room on the lowest deck and a Sun Deck with ample seating both covered and open and a small pool.

SOUTHEAST ASIA & CHINA

Mekong River:

The monumental archaeological site at Angkor Wat, Cambodia is often the first stop on a SoutheastAsia/ Mekong River itinerary.* Ted Scull

The monumental archaeological site at Angkor Wat, Cambodia is often the first stop on a SoutheastAsia/ Mekong River itinerary.* Ted Scull

Avalon Waterways operates the 2015-built, 36-passenger AVALON SIEM REAP cruising directly between Ho Chi Minh and Siem Reap (near Angkor Wat), the latter when the lake’s water levels permit. The riverboat’s 245 sq. ft. cabins, located in two decks, all open to the outside with 14-foot sliding glass doors and windows. A forward-facing covered lounge give a 180-degree and connects to an interior air-conditioned panorama lounge with bar. The aft dining room seats all at once for buffet breakfasts and lunches and served dinners. The menus offer both Asian and western dishes.

The itineraries combine a 7-night cruise with a hotel stay and sightseeing at both ends that can add up to 13- to 22-day cruise tours to include Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Halong Bay in Vietnam; Luang Prabang In Laos; and Bangkok, Thailand. Departures are January to March and June to October.

Myanmar and the Irrawaddy River:

Avalon operates its own riverboat some 1,300 miles along the Upper Irrawaddy River from Yangon and hotel stay in Yangon, Myanmar’s capital adding up to 14 days and an extension to Bangkok that creates a 17-day cruise tour. The 36-passenger AVALON MYANMAR was completed in 2015 and takes up tp 36 passengers. Sights visited along the river are pagodas, Buddhist monasteries, and riverside villages where the local activities produce candy made from palm trees, pottery, and food from adjacent farms. These itineraries operate August to December in 2016 and January-April and August-December in 2017..

a 245-suare-foot suite aboard Avalon Myanmar. * Avalon Waterways

The well-fitted out riverboat offers 245-sq.ft. Avalon Suites spread over two decks where the twin or king-size beds face a 14-foot-wide wall of glass that opens to a railing and the world outside, similar in layout to many of the line’s European riverboat fleet. A forward open-air covered lounge shares the Mandalay Deck with an adjacent enclosed lounge and an aft dining room. The Sky Deck’s lounge is covered and next to the spa treatment room and gym.

China and the Yangtze River:

Avalon takes space for up 20 passengers on two Yangtze River vessels that combine a 3- or 4-night, 650-mile cruise between Yichang and Chongqing into 11- and up to 17-day cruise tours that include major sights in China such as Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, and Hong Kong on the longer cruise tours. The 7-deck riverboat CENTURY LEGEND, completed in 2013, handle up to 392 passengers (oops, higher than QC’s 300-pax max!). To personalize the cruise portion, all meals, apart from the farewell banquet, take place in the Sun Deck VIP restaurant. Meals feature Chinese buffets and a la carte Western dishes. Wine, beer, and soda are complimentary at dinner. Cabins (266 sq. ft.) are all outside with balconies and separate bathtubs and 24-hour access to an Executive Lounge. Boat’s amenities include an indoor swimming pool (unusual feature), library, game room, cinema, and gym.

Sailing upstream into the Yangtze's Three Gorges. * Photo: Ted Scull

Sailing upstream into the Yangtze’s Three Gorges. * Photo: Ted Scull

All land tours are private to Avalon and land extensions do not exceed 20. Itineraries extend from April to October, though some specific tours do not include the searingly hot months of mid-June to mid-August.

Contact: Avalon Waterways, P.O. Box 3219, Highland Park, MI 48203;  Avalonwaterways.com; 877-380-1540

TWS

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Posted In:

Africa, Amazon Basin, Asia: East Asia, Asia: Southeast Asia, Austria, Cambodia, China, Cruise Regions, Ecuador, Egypt, Europe, Europe, the Mediterranean, French Rivers/Canals, Galapagos, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Mekong River, Myanmar/Burma, Norway, Portugal, Rivers Ship & Line Reviews, Russia, Ship & Line reviews, South America, Switzerland, Uncategorized, Vietnam


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