Avalon Cruises Along

New river line christens new ship, details differences from competitors

By: Ana Figueroa

MAINZ, Germany It’s not every day a river vessel gets christened with an oompah band playing in the background. But, that was the scene when Avalon Waterways introduced its new European river-going vessel, the Artistry.

A division of the Littleton, Colo.-based tour operator, Globus and Cosmos, Avalon began operations in Europe earlier this year with the 146-passenger Symphony. With the launch of the 178-passenger Artistry, built by German shipbuilder Premicon, Avalon hopes to establish a “new standard in river cruising,” said Mike Schields, Avalon’s managing director.

Avalon is targeted exclusively at the North American market, which has become accustomed to “bigger, better and newer ships” in the traditional cruise arena, Schields said.

“It’s time for river cruising vessels to offer the same level of amenities that you’d find on a larger cruise ship,” he explained during a hosted christening cruise on the Rhine River.

Though the weather during the christening cruise was dreary, the Artistry was a welcoming and floating five-star hotel for her first passengers. She also lived up to Schields’ claim about “setting standards.” The vessel is 426 feet long, and as wide as allowable on the European waterways that will be her home: the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers.

But where the Artistry really makes a splash is in cabin size standards measure 172 square feet while two junior suites are 258 square feet.

The vessel’s decor is elegant and upscale, with a unique, two-story lobby adorned with a spiral staircase and skylight. Cabins feature lots of light wood paneling, built-in cabinetry, granite bathrooms and extra spacious closets. All cabins are equipped with satellite television, offering U.S. and international programming; mini-bars; hairdryers and safes. Cabins don’t have Internet access, but there are Internet terminals elsewhere on the ship, and the crew will give passengers directions to Internet cafes at each stop. The Artistry has no triple occupancy rooms, but does offer connecting cabins on each of her three passenger decks.

In addition to cabin size, the Artistry is also setting standards with cabin design. Seventy percent of the cabins (all those on the Royal and Sapphire Decks) come with so-called French balconies that include a sliding glass door spanning the width of the room. You can’t actually step out on the balcony, but you can lean out, against a protective railing.

The wall of glass provides a great view of the dense forests, castles, vineyards and picturesque villages along Europe’s rivers. In fact, the windows might be too revealing. On the christening cruise, the Rhine was surprisingly bustling, with barges, cargo ships and ferries whizzing close by. More than one barge operator craned his neck to gawk curiously into the Artistry’s windows. (Perhaps an unwitting travel agent flashed him while dressing for dinner.) Cabins on Indigo Deck lack the French Balconies, but do have picture windows, which are larger than portholes.

Cuisine on board the Artistry is tailored to North American with a little Continental flair thrown in. Breakfast is a Euro-American smorgasbord, of breads, sausages, cheeses, fish, eggs, yogurt and pastries. Lunch includes soup and sandwiches, a choice of hot entrees, and a dessert, cheese and fruit table. Dinner is a tad more formal, with passengers choosing from a set menu selection of three appetizers and three entrees, plus a range of desserts. Wine is complimentary at dinner. Though not yet up and running during the christening cruise, the Artistry will feature an enrichment program consisting of lectures, wine tastings and local entertainment, on each cruise. Activities will take place in the Artistry’s cozy lounge, surrounded by windows, a bar and small dance floor.

On top of the ship, the Sky Deck offers patio chairs and tables, and an unobstructed view of the sights along the river. The Artistry also has a small workout area and hair salon, as well as a whirlpool tub. Massages are available.

Because of its affiliation with Globus, guided tours at each stop are included in the base fare of every Avalon cruise. “Globus has a 75-year history of superior travel experience. Who better than Globus to come in and offer a seamless, cruise-land experience? If we had started this company from scratch, it would have taken us a much longer time to build up the brand name,” Schields said.

Speaking of brand name, Globus owns and is the exclusive distributor of Avalon Waterways. But, the company has a partnership agreement with Amadeus Waterways, distributed by Brendan Tours. (Brendan and Globus own equal interests in the Artistry, which is being leased from Premicon.)

Schields explained that agents can actually book Avalon cruises four different ways. “If they’re a cruise-only agency, they can book through Avalon Waterways or through Amadeus Waterways. Both companies sell into each other’s inventory. But, if they’re in preferred relationships with either Globus or Brendan, then by all means, book through them,” Schields said.

“The bottom line is that everyone is booking the same two ships,” Schields said. “It’s like a Star Alliance code-share-type agreement.”

Avalon will introduce its third ship, the Poetry, next year.

All About Artistry

Company: Avalon Waterways
Size: 426 feet
Year Built: 2004
Passenger Capacity: 178
Plugging In: 220v, with dual 220v/110-120v plug in the bathrooms for shavers. Hits: French balconies offer a wall-sized window on 70 percent of the cabins. Large standard staterooms are 172 square feet.
Misses: Octagonal showers in the otherwise spacious cabin bathrooms might be a tight squeeze for hefty passengers. No elevator or wheelchair ramp.
Itineraries: For its inaugural season, the Artistry will cruise three different itineraries The Blue Danube Discovery, a 14-day cruise from Budapest to Nuremberg, with three nights in Prague; The Legendary Danube, 12 nights, from Nuremberg to Budapest, with three nights in Prague; and Magnificent Europe, a 16-day cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest.
Cost: Fares include air from New York, and start at $2,833 for The Blue Danube Discovery, $2,433 for The Legendary Danube and $3,750 for Magnificent Europe.

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