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Avalon Waterways has announced that it will add two more suite ships — Expression and Artistry II — to the Vista and Visionary, which will be launched in May in a double christening ceremony. The two newbuilds will continue the design of the 166-passenger Panorama, launched in May 2011, with its unusual construction featuring two decks of 200-square-foot Panorama Suites and 300-square-foot Royal Suites. The concept utilizes 10-by-7-foot glass walls that slide open to turn the stateroom into an open-air balcony. The Vista will sail 11- and 15-day cruises on the Danube and the smaller Visionary will offer the eight-day Rhine River itinerary.
Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways, said that the new ships increase the cruise line’s emphasis on connecting with people and local culture. Clark noted that the design is part of a trend toward offering more choice for the travel agent and the consumer as well as different styles and more brand distinction in the marketplace for the maturing river cruise industry.
The new Suite Ships are doing very well — in March Vista’s load factor rested at 96 percent and Visionary’s at 91 percent — but Clark said that the new tonnage is not putting the line’s other ships in the shade.
“For this year, Visionary is now showing a 91 percent load factor on the Rhine River and Christmas markets cruises, and Felicity, launched in 2010 before the Panorama design emerged, had exactly the same,” he said. “There is a slight price difference, but the destination plays a strong part in customer choice, and France and the Moselle River are doing well, along with cruises on the Rhine and Danube rivers.”
Clark said that the line is seeing strong interest already in 2013 for FITs, charters and affinity groups, which are increasing, and incentive business is coming back.
Steve Born, vice president of marketing for parent company Globus, noted that the line’s 2013 introduction of the new Avalon Choice allows guests to personalize its cruises from beginning to end, representing an advance in its experiential offerings similar to the line’s new ship design.
Guests can choose from three tour types: the new Essential Sightseeing, Traditional Sightseeing and Leisurely Sightseeing. Essential Sightseeing gives travelers a basic orientation with the must-sees, then time to explore on their own; traditional is just that — a guided tour; and the leisurely option features slower tour pace, allowing cruisers to take everything in. In addition to offering guided bike excursions in several European ports, Avalon will also offer guests Nordic walking sticks in2013. Finally, 2013 will bring complimentary alternative sightseeing experiences with the line’s new Guest Services team, made up of the cruise director and the front desk staff focusing on passengers’ special interests and also helping with shoreside dining options.
Avalon Choice Dining at every meal gives cruisers a number of options from experiencing the local culture at special culinary events to a la carte dining and multiple venues onboard and off.
New in 2013, foodies will have access to food, beer and wine tastings, samples of the destinations’ famous delicacies; and local chefs will come onboard with regional dishes.
Timing is also flexible, with Avalon offering cruisers everything from daily early- and late-riser breakfasts to afternoon tea, and Night Fare, a version of the late-night buffets on seagoing ships, is served at 10:30 PM.
“In addition to enjoying breakfast, lunch and four- or five-course dinner in an elegant dining room surrounded by panoramic windows, Avalon travelers can take pleasure in a light dinner with local specialties and regional wines in the new, charming Panorama Bistro,” said Clark. “This is in addition to the already popular al fresco lunches at the outdoor Sky Bistro. And for those travelers lounging in their rooms, continental breakfast is available via room service.”
Finally, next year, as part of the new Avalon Choice program, guests can attend exclusive onboard Culture & Cruise activities such as demonstrations by local artisans, talks by local experts and performances by local entertainers onboard.
“With Avalon Choice, we’re not just designing our ships and cruises with our travelers in mind,” said Clark. “We are developing them for our cruisers to design and customize themselves. In short, we’re elevating Avalon beyond the ordinary river cruise experience by helping our travelers create an extraordinary small ship cruise vacation.”