Avalon Waterways Ships
OnboardAvalon is primarily aimed at the North American market and is designed for American tastes. (Its suite ships, which offer longer-than-a-week itineraries, are popular in the Australian market, as well.) Amenities include hotel-style twin beds that can be combined to form queens, nightly turndown service and 24-hour tea and coffee with cake or cookies. Ships have English-speaking crews and continental cuisine that appeals to the North American palate.
Breakfast is buffet-style with additional entrees cooked to order. Lunch buffets include two hot dishes, as well as soups, breads, cold cuts, salads and a generous dessert table. Passengers enjoy open seating for four-course dinners, with a choice of entrees (including vegetarian options) and complimentary red or white wine. Food focuses on regional selections and Western favorites.
European and Galapagos sailings provide entirely nonsmoking interiors, and smoking is restricted to specific areas on China and Egypt sailings.
The Avalon fleet doesn't aim for lavish entertainment. The European ships have congenial bars and lounges with piano music after dinner, as well as some local entertainment from musicians. Cruises include a captain's dinner and might offer special features like wine-tastings.
Avalon does a standout job with its onboard enrichment, focusing on the region through which each ship travels. Expert tour directors -- for example, an Egyptologist (on Nile departures) or naturalist (on Galapagos departures) -- deliver educational commentary as you pass through interesting landscapes. Local entertainment is also a feature on cruises outside Europe. When sailing the Yangtze, there might be lessons on Tai Chi, painting, calligraphy, mah-jongg or the Mandarin language, as well as the option of Western or Chinese massages.
As is generally the case with most river cruise lines, guided tours are included in fares, though tipping is encouraged.
About Avalon WaterwaysAvalon Waterways is owned by the Globus family of brands, a long-established, family-owned tour operator that serves more than 500,000 passengers each year with escorted tours around the globe. Other companies include Cosmos and Monograms. When Globus decided to enter the growing market for small-ship river travel, it created Avalon, introducing the new river cruise line in 2004. Since then, Avalon has launched at least one new-build each year. By the end of 2013, the cruise line will have 21 ships, 15 of which will be based in Europe.
Avalon Waterways FleetBy the end of 2013, Avalon will operate 15 ships in Europe and eight more vessels in the Galapagos, Mekong Delta, China's Yangtze, and Egypt's Nile and Lake Nasser.
Avalon's original two ships, Artistry and Poetry, are no longer in the fleet. Tapestry, which carries 164 passengers in 80 cabins and two junior suites, joined the line in 2006, followed shortly thereafter by its sister ships, 170-passenger Tranquility and Imagery, both introduced in April 2007. Tranquility and Imagery also debuted a new feature for Avalon -- an outside observation deck, just forward of the main lounge, which allows passengers an up-close-and-personal experience as the ship enters locks and passes under bridges. Each ship has 81 cabins and four junior suites.
Launched in spring 2008, 138-passenger Scenery, the smallest ship in the Avalon fleet, was the first in its new Scenery class. Four additional ships have since launched, including Affinity, Creativity, Felicity and Luminary.
Each of these European river ships offers four decks, including a sky deck for sunning and relaxing. Cabins, all outsides, measure 172 square feet and are among the largest on any of the river ships; junior suites are 258 square feet. Between 70 percent and 90 percent of the cabins have French balconies and sliding-glass doors with protective railings; remaining cabins have picture windows. Cabins come equipped with individual climate controls, flat-screen TV's, radios, telephones, mini-bars, safes and hair dryers. All the ships offer Internet access.
Avalon's newest class of ships, its Suite class, was introduced in 2011 with Avalon Panorama, an all-suite vessel. The ship's signature feature is its more-spacious-than-average staterooms, which measure 200 square feet and offer 11-by-7 walls of glass that slide back to turn the cabins into open-air balconies. Though these all-suite cabins are spacious, they're not true two-room suites.
Public gathering spaces include a sky deck, a large indoor lounge, a smaller indoor club lounge and an outdoor covered-seating area in the front of the ship, perfect for open-air sightseeing on rainy days. Interior design is contemporary chic, with lots of dark espresso woods highlighted with colorful modern art and deep orange rugs and furniture.
In 2012, Avalon introduced two more suite ships -- Visionary and Vista -- and in 2013 debuted Artistry II and Expression.
Beyond Europe, Avalon charters ships in Asia, South America, North Africa and the U.S. In China, it offers Yangtze River trips aboard Century Paragon and Century Legend. Each has 156 cabins, 40 suites and seven decks. All cabins have private balconies, and each ship is equipped with a library, pool, gym, cinema and business center that provides Internet access. Avalon offered its first Mekong Delta cruises in fall 2012 aboard 32-passenger Avalon Angkor. The ship's small size means it can navigate shallow waterways that most others can't, traveling all the way from Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City to Cambodia's Siem Reap (eliminating some seven hours of bus travel time from the cruise experience).
In Egypt, Avalon charters MS Mayfair, built in 2010, for Nile River cruises and also offers trips along Lake Nassar aboard Kasr Ibrim.
In the Galapagos Islands near Ecuador, Avalon passengers sail on 46-cabin Santa Cruz. The ship boasts a hot tub, observation platform for dolphin- and whale-watching, and a well-stocked library. All cabins are outside and offer air-conditioning, private bathrooms, hair dryers and safes.
In the United States, Avalon is working with American Queen Steamboat Company to offer paddlewheeling cruises along the Mississippi and other tributaries.
Fellow PassengersAvalon primarily targets upscale North American, U.K., and Australian passengers in their mid-50's and older. Four- and five-night river cruises are aimed at a younger (40-something) crowd. These shorter-than-average cruises also appeal strongly to first-time river cruise passengers.
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