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River cruises are growing in popularity, drawing many of their passengers from ocean-going cruises and land tours and two tour giants — Globus Family of Brands and Tauck — have not been slow to act. Both tour operators are bringing two ships each into the market this year. With growth comes sophistication, and the new river vessels are emerging with features from elevators and Wi-Fi to large balcony staterooms and luxurious bath amenities to meet the expanding market.
Among the river vessels to be christened in the past 12 months are Tauck’s 118-passenger Swiss Sapphire, officially named in Antwerp, Belgium last April, and its sister ship, the Swiss Jewel, which debuted late last month. Globus’ Avalon Waterways’ 138-passenger Avalon Affinity is scheduled for christening on May 9, to be followed in July by Avalon Creativity.
The Swiss Jewel’s christening brought three generations of the Tauck family onboard, including godmother Kiki Tauck Mahar, who is the daughter of company chairman Arthur Tauck Jr. and the wife of Tauck CEO Dan Mahar.
The four-deck, 361-foot-long Swiss Jewel has all outside staterooms, with an unusually large number of large luxury suites — 14 — each at 300 square feet with marble baths. There are also seven junior suites. All staterooms have plasma televisions, safe-deposit boxes, individual climate control, minibars, plush bathrobes, slippers and L’Occitane bath amenities, and 85 percent have floor-to-ceiling windows and French balconies. The ship’s retractable high-tech bridge allowed stateroom designers more freedom and creativity, while also enabling Wi-Fi access.
Dining onboard the Swiss Jewel is open-seating, and the riverview Lido Bar provides an alternative venue with lighter bistro choices. Select room categories offer in-stateroom breakfast. Meals also include some regional cuisine at local restaurants, and evening entertainment is a mixture of music, enrichment lectures and folkloric performances offered onboard.
Tauck’s three sister ships — Swiss Jewel, Swiss Sapphire and the 2007 Swiss Emerald — will share 12- to 24-day itineraries this year, including a 15-day cruise between Budapest and Amsterdam with rates starting at $5,390; the 12-day Blue Danube cruise beginning at $3,990; the 12-day Budapest to the Black Sea itinerary, starting at $4,290; the 19-day Prague to the Black Sea itinerary beginning at $7,690; and the 24-day Grand European itinerary, starting at $8,990.
Avalon Waterways is also preparing to unveil two new ships in Europe in 2009 — the Avalon Affinity in May and the Avalon Creativity in July. Patrick Clark, Avalon’s managing director, said the company’s new ships and itineraries represent more than $100 million in growth to meet increased demand.
“Our ships are more modern in design, showcasing contemporary appointments and state-of-the art technology,” Clark said. “All staterooms measure 172 square feet and 90 percent boast floor-to-ceiling windows and panoramic sliding glass doors, while junior suites are a spacious 258-square feet.”
The Avalon Affinity, the second of five new Avalon ships planned to debut between 2008 and 2010, will have a dramatic, Dutch-themed christening in Volendam, the Netherlands, making her entrance from a distance while participants await her arrival on a 1910 Royal Dutch Marine steamship.
The Affinity’s godmother, Suzanne Hall, senior director at Ensemble Travel Group, will wear a traditional Dutch outfit, down to the wooden clogs, when she christens the ship. Hall has more than 30 years of industry experience and is currently responsible for the creation and marketing of several of Ensemble Travel Group’s private-label product lines besides helping to oversee the organization’s preferred supplier partnering process. She serves on the Luxury and Marketing Committees of Ensemble Travel Group, presides over the Ensemble Hotel & Resort Collection Advisory Council and co-chairs the Ensemble Travel Group Preferred Supplier Advisory Council. Her extensive background in the travel industry includes management roles with several tour operators, including CIT Tours and IST Cultural Tours.
The 138-passenger Affinity will be the smallest ship in Avalon’s fleet, but she has all of its signature amenities, with an elevator, hotel-style beds with duvets, Egyptian cotton linens, flat-screen satellite televisions, minibars, safes, individual climate control and large wardrobes.
Avalon Affinity will sail eight itineraries in 2009. The eight-day Romantic Rhine from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Basel, Switzerland, cruise is priced from $1,989. The eight-day Romantic Rhine from Zurich, Switzerland, to Amsterdam is priced from $1,889. The new eight-day Christmas in the Heart of Germany from Frankfurt, Germany, to Prague, Czech Republic, is priced from $1,709. The Avalon Creativity, which debuts in July, will sail the two Romantic Rhine itineraries.
Travelers and agents can now take a virtual tour of the Avalon Affinity at AvalonWaterways.com/difference.