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In addition to its two new Suite Ships in Europe next year, Avalon Waterways is expanding its exotic cruise offerings.
“There is tremendous growth in Europe,” said Patrick Clark, managing director for Avalon Waterways. “It is the core of all river cruise business, and we are expanding there, but Avalon’s going to be 11 years old. We have a lot of people who have cruised with us five, six, seven times and more — and they love our style, but they want to see something new. And the ships in these exotic areas are comparable to European ones, in luxury and amenities.”
Avalon is returning to the Nile River with the 150-guest Mayfair, and the line is offering a new ship partnership on the Amazon River with Haimark’s new 44-passenger Amazon Discovery.
Guests will have a luxury experience on both: Mayfair has a beautiful pool deck, a bar and elegant lounge area, a sauna, a steam room, in-cabin movies, Internet connection and bathrooms featuring tubs and dramatic decor. As for Amazon Discovery, accommodations run up to 597 square feet, and the ship offers a Rainforest Spa and a plunge pool with cushioned lounges.
In addition, Avalon is launching two new, 36-passenger Suite Ships on the Irrawaddy and Mekong rivers — Avalon Siem Reap and Avalon Myanmar. The line will also be offering small group experiences (with a maximum of 20 guests) on the Yangtze River.
The decision to put a ship in the Nile after two-year absence was not an easy one, Clark said. Avalon has been monitoring the situation through its operator in the area to understand security issues.
“Most of the time, visitors are well away from areas where security issues could exist,” he pointed out. “We wouldn’t risk our staff or customers.”
Clark noted that other river cruise lines are already operating in Egypt and have had no reported problems. Passengers of those river cruise lines are saying they can now easily visit places that previously would have had long lines. Keeping that in mind, Avalon is going back cautiously. The river cruise line is planning a departure every couple of weeks, rather than the former frequency of two departures per week.
“So far, it looks as though the market agrees — we have just announced it and are already seeing bookings,” Clark said.
On the Amazon River, Avalon is packaging a four-day, three-night cruise with visits to iconic Peruvian sites, from Cusco and Machu Picchu to Iquitos.
“Four days on the Amazon gives people a real experience of the flora and fauna there, without a lot of repetition, and the destinations in Peru are world-famous,” Clark said. “And it’s a very complete experience in 11 days. We’re seeing a growth in interest, partly because people are nervous about destinations such as Russia. Peru is more accessible and easy, and we’ve been able to lower our prices there.”
Clark said he also is seeing customers who have never taken a river cruise but are drawn to a particular exotic destination and want to see it in comfort and safety. These individuals may be history buffs and/or may have heard about a region from others, for example. To that end, Avalon will be offering products in Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, China, Egypt, Peru and the Galapagos Islands in 2016.
“So far, our 2015 non-European cruise sales have grown 18 percent over last year,” he said. “It’s still very early, but compared to where we were last year at this time, our 2016 non-Europe bookings have doubled.”
Avalon is looking for more new places to take its guests.
According to Clark, pricing is a key challenge on American lakes and rivers, where the cost of ships and crew drive prices high. Other vital factors — embarkation and disembarkation close to airlift and a variety of nature, cultural and historical experiences along the route — are simply not available on some of the world’s rivers.
Clark does, however, see future possibilities in India, North Vietnam and Africa.