(5:45 p.m. EDT) -- In a dual ceremony Friday, Avalon Waterways christened Avalon Visionary and Avalon Vista, the two newest riverboats in the line's Suite Class.
Amid cheers and applause from nearly 200 passengers and crew onboard both ships for preview sailings, Champagne bottles smashed, and garlands of blue and white balloons strained against their moorings in the strong winds of Enkhuizen, the Netherlands, where the event was held.
"A ship starts from an idea, and that idea has been turned into steel and wood," said Berghart Lell, Avalon's director of operations.
"For us, it's a special occasion -- a dual christening," added Avalon managing director Patrick Clark.
Line officials joked that a coin was flipped to determine which ship would be christened first -- and apparently the smaller Visionary won.
Nicole Mazza, an exec for TRAVELSAVERS, a marketing organization serving travel agencies worldwide, was the godmother for Visionary, which is shorter than Vista and carries only 128 passengers -- a modification necessary for the ship to more easily sail the Rhine.
Meanwhile, Vista, the 166-passenger identical twin of 2011's Avalon Panorama, was christened by Canada travel industry expert Vanessa Lee.
Cocktails, dinner and a spectacular spread of desserts and ice sculptures followed the ceremony, and fireworks completed the night.
Friday's dual christening was another statement from a river industry riding a wave of explosive growth. In April, competitor Viking River Cruises broke a record by christening four riverboats simultaneously. River operators including Grand Circle Travel, Uniworld and AMAWATERWAYS have also debuted or will debut new hardware in 2012.
Avalon Visionary begins its official season of eight-night Rhine cruises next week. Avalon Vista will feature 11- to 13-night sailings on the Danube.
In addition to standard cabins, "Suite Ships" offer two decks of what the line is calling suites (300-square-foot Royal Suites and 200-square-foot Panorama or Junior Suites), complete with 11-foot by 7-foot sliding-glass doors, which turn cabins into open-air balconies.
Avalon currently has two more Suite Ships in the works; Avalon Expression and Avalon Artistry II are slated to debut in 2013. Expression will be a 166-passenger vessel, similar to Avalon Vista and Panorama, and, like Visionary, Artistry II will carry 128 passengers.
--by Ashley Kosciolek, Copy Editor