(4:30 p.m. EDT) --
As Europe's river cruise industry moves into its busy season, Avalon Waterways unveiled its newest ship Monday. Avalon Expression, the company's fifth all-suite Panorama class ship, officially launched in a low-key but heartfelt christening ceremony on the dock at Koblenz, Germany.
It says a lot about Avalon's approach to river cruising, which focuses as much on what its passengers see onshore as it does in providing comfortable accommodation onboard, that Expression's godmother was Patricia Schultz, author of the iconic bucket list travel guide “1000 Places to See Before You Die.” The choice of Schultz, a veteran world traveler who nonetheless is a cruise virgin, was meant to reflect the company's destination-focused mantra.
At the christening ceremony -- the second this year for Avalon, which launched Artistry II, a smaller sister ship, a few weeks ago -- company managing director Patrick Clark said “a christening is a time that reminds you that what starts as steel, metal and glass … comes together into a beautiful new ship.”
The Panorama-class ships, which accommodate 166 passengers, are state-of-the-art. Billed all-suite, 80 percent of these vessels' cabins are larger than average. They have all the comforts of home and then some. Quality linens, a wall of floor-length windows that peel back to create a balcony-like scenario, dedicated seating areas with tables large enough for dining and marble bathrooms with roomy showers are signature features.
Avalon, like many other river cruise lines operating in Europe, is on an expansion tear; in 2014, the Panorama class will get three more new ships identical to Expression and its siblings. This doesn't include near copies Visionary and Artistry II, both new in the past year or so, that are simply slightly smaller vessels (122 passengers) with the same amenities and features (they're designed to cruise in European waters that can't handle the larger ships).
Clark said Avalon expects to order more Panorama-class ships for delivery in 2015 but could not provide specifics. Demand, he said, is inspiring such expansion. Expression, for one, is 90 percent sold for this year (with only a handful of cabins left on late season voyages). Avalon Expression will sail Amsterdam to Budapest and Amsterdam to Nuremberg itineraries.
Avalon, created in 2004, is one of the river niche's newest cruise lines. In less than 10 years, though, it's embarked on an aggressive new-build program (in addition to the Panorama class ships, it also features the five-vessel series Scenery Class). Avalon charters vessels for river and adventure trips in other parts of the world ranging from the Mississippi River to the Mekong Delta.
Avalon Waterways is part of the massive Globus travel company, which owns other tour operations such as Globus, Cosmos, and Monograms.
--By Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief
Avalon Waterways Christens Expression, Eyes Major Expansion
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