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German sausages sizzled on the grill as the sweet smell of corn on the cob permeated the air. The score to 2003’s “Master and Commander: A Far Side of the World,” blasted from the speakers, and vineyards ripe with Riesling grapes seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. I was on the deck of the brand-new Avalon Panorama, dining alfresco on the Rhine River and, although the temperature was quite cool for springtime, nowhere else could have been more inviting.\
“Every aspect of the Avalon Panorama was designed to please the senses,” said Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways. “From the ship’s modern design, use of natural light and clean lines to the vibrant colors that are now indicative of our brand, Avalon Panorama is the culmination of customer-driven, inspired design.”
The 166-passenger ship takes her name from the expansive views offered not only in public areas, such as the dining room, bar and club lounge, but also in the majority of its accommodations, which feature wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows that open, lengthwise, to about seven feet. According to Clark, windows in the 64 Panorama Suites and two Royal Suites open 50 percent more than the industry average in Europe, providing an unobstructed, panoramic view.
At 200 square feet of space, my suite felt roomy for a European river vessel, and — with space beneath the bed to hide my suitcase and a thoughtfully designed sitting area fronting the sliding-glass window — I never felt cramped. A comfortable bed, dressed in Egyptian cotton sheets and topped with a memory-foam mattress cover, faced both the window and a flat-screen television that hung unobtrusively in the corner. I was also pleased to find a fully stocked minibar and a room service menu for preordering a continental breakfast, one of nine dining experiences guests can have onboard.
Due to Avalon Waterways’ meticulous attention to client feedback, Avalon Panorama tends to share some amenities and attributes with larger, ocean-going vessels, elements that guests seemed to request time and again. I enjoyed chatting about these enhancements with other cruisers while sipping on local beers and taking a turn on the putting green, located on the Sky Deck, adjacent to the larger-than-life chess and backgammon sets, which are firsts for the line. The competitive set will also find themselves drawn to the Club Lounge with its selection of board games and a 55-inch, flat-screen television for playing Wii Sports, among other video games. Guests can also use the television and lounge for business presentations and meetings. In addition, the lounge features a complimentary cappuccino machine as well as a selection of tea, juice and fresh fruit that are available around the clock. The lounge’s wrap-around windows and comfortable wicker chairs ensure that guests won’t miss out on the views of the Rhine’s castles and vineyards as they pass by.
Those with a heartier appetite will appreciate the late-night bites served at the bar around 10:30 p.m. Early-risers have a breakfast all their own (as do those who prefer to sleep in), while a buffet breakfast caters to all kinds of guests — there’s baked beans and scrambled eggs for the British, crispy bacon, smoked salmon and an omelet station for American palates and baskets of fresh-baked breads set alongside a hulking jar of Vegemite to make the Australians feel right at home.
Australia and New Zealand are huge markets for the Panorama, according to Stewart Williams, president of Avalon Waterways, Australia, who reported that more than 90 percent of guests booked on the Panorama’s inaugural itinerary were from his territory.
“Ninety-seven percent of the Panorama’s 14-night Magnificent Europe [Amsterdam/Budapest] departures are sold for the year. It’s beyond our expectations,” said Williams during the christening cruise in mid-March. “We’re confident that the demand will continue.”
Space is still available on select holiday-themed cruises in December, including the five-day Christmas in Alsace & Germany itinerary, the nine-day Christmas in the Heart of Germany itinerary and the nine-day Christmas on the Danube itinerary.
Fast Facts: Length: 443 feetCrew: 43Guests: 166Avalon Deluxe Staterooms: 17 Panorama Suites: 64Royal Suites: 2