The History of Avalon
Avalon Waterways traces its roots back to 1928. It was back then that the parent company’s founder, Antonio Mantegazza, used a rowboat to transport goods across Switzerland’s Lake Lugano. His business evolved into motorcoach tourism and expanded into an international travel brand.
Today, Group Voyagers had been a leader in escorted tours of Europe for more than 75 years — under well-known brands such as Globus, Cosmos and Brennan Vacations — but it was not until 2004 that the company launched Avalon Waterways and its fleet of royal-blue river cruisers.
The company claims to have been the first to have introduced floor-to-ceiling windows and French balconies on two decks of every vessel. The company also says it was the first to bring larger staterooms and deluxe hotel-style amenities to an entire fleet — and to introduce “Suite Ships” with open-air balconies.
The Avalon Waterways fleet expanded quite rapidly between 2008 and 2012, encompassing: Avalon Scenery (2008), Creativity (2009), Affinity (2009), Luminary (2010), Felicity (2010), Avalon Panorama (2011), Avalon Angkor (2012), Avalon Visionary (2012), and Avalon Vista (2012).
During those four years, there were also some ships that were retired to usher in a wave of newly-designed “Suite Ships” in 2011. Ships that have left Avalon’s fleet, include Avalon Artistry (retired 2010), Avalon Imagery (retired 2012), Avalon Poetry (retired 2010), Avalon Tapestry (retired 2011) and Avalon Tranquility (retired 2012).
Avalon Artistry II and Avalon Expression made their debut in 2013 bringing the total number of these revolutionary vessels to five including Avalon Panorama, Avalon Vista and Avalon Visionary.
The momentum for Avalon’s expansion has not slowed down. In 2014 three more vessels were added – Avalon Illumination, Avalon Impression and Avalon Poetry II.
And in 2015 Avalon Myanmar, Avalon Siem Reap, Avalon Tapestry II and Avalon Tranquility II entered the market.
Plans for 2016 include the addition of Avalon Imagery II and Avalon Passion.
Each ship in the Avalon Waterways fleet features an intimate dining room, a relaxing Main Lounge with panoramic views, a reception and internet workstation area, and a small fitness center and hair salon. Up top, an expansive sun deck allows guests to stroll and enjoy the fresh air, or relax in a deck chair and take in the ever-changing scenery.
I spoke with Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways, who says that Avalon is “just built differently.”
Avalon’s ‘Suite Ships’
Each of Avalon’s “Suite Ships” features two full decks of accommodations measuring between 200 square feet and 300 square feet. These are fairly large by river cruise standards. “Our smallest room fleetwide is 172-square-feet,” Clark says. “That’s a very important differentiator when you consider others in the industry have rooms as small as 135-square-feet.”
Each of these staterooms comes equipped with Avalon’s signature Open Air Balcony, a French-style balcony that opens wall-to-wall to turn staterooms into a giant veranda. Nearly 80 percent of the total accommodations aboard Avalon’s Suite Ships in Europe feature this innovative feature.
Avalon’s staterooms also feature beds that face the windows. “Everyone else has beds facing the wall,” Clark says. Avalon’s configuration was unprecedented until recently: Some of CroisiEurope’s new ships, including the Loire Princess, now feature the same design.
The first of Avalon’s “Suite Ships,” Avalon Panorama, debuted in May 2011 and pioneered the use of two full decks featuring Panorama Suites with floor-to-ceiling windows that open to create unique Open Air Balconies. And while the line states that 100 cruisers could fit within the spacious, 200-square-foot Panorama Suite, we wouldn’t recommend it. But let’s not split hairs — these are still some of the most spacious river cruise ships out there.
Staterooms features hotel-quality beds, satellite TV and bathrooms with full-sized showers. Ships also have complimentary WiFi Internet access, an expansive sun deck and fitness equipment.
The Avalon Onboard Experience
It’s nearly impossible for river cruisers to feature anything more than two dining rooms, max, but Avalon has gotten creative with timing to give guests seven dining options throughout the day. Continental breakfast is offered through room service — something you don’t see a lot on river cruisers.
Then there is the early-riser’s breakfast, the full main dining room breakfast, and finally a late-riser’s breakfast. There are usually two options for lunch (including an outdoor grill), and two for dinner, including the Panorama Bistro, which serves tapas-style, Mediterranean dishes for up to 24 people in a section of the main lounge.
Onboard, complimentary regional wines, beer and soft drinks are offered during lunch and dinner.
If I had to sum up Avalon, Clark says, the word “choice” comes to mind. A few examples: Guests can customize itineraries that range from 3 night to 22 nights; they can choose when to dine with the aforementioned seven dining options. “We view choice as a way for the customer to make each voyage their own,” Clark says.
Moreover, besides the default included shore excursions, Avalon offers custom options — for a fee — for those who want to do more. “We find that some people may have had a morning excursion, and rather than relax in the afternoon, they want to go on another excursion, so in select cities we offer options,” Clark says.
Another differentiating factor is that Avalon Waterways boasts the backing of the huge Globus family, which has been operating tours in Europe and elsewhere for nearly a century. This offers some practical value: Those who are members of Globus’ Journeys Club, for example, receive discounts and other perks for traveling within the family of brands. The brand’s large footprint in Europe also helps with operational infrastructure, such as guides and transport, theoretically enhancing the guest experience.
Avalon Destinations and Itineraries
The company also offers French wine country cruises on the Saône and Rhône rivers, as well as Christmas-market cruises from late November through December. Theme cruises are also on offer. These voyages aim to enhance the overall river cruise experience by providing insight into the history and culture of the surrounding area.
In more exotic destinations, Avalon Waterways offers cruises on two vessels in China (Century Legend and Century Paragon), both deployed on the Yangtze River by Century Cruises) and one in Egypt (Sonesta, cruising the Nile).
River cruises through Avalon Waterways are also available on the American Queen, which sails on the Mississippi River and in the Amazon aboard the Aria and the Amazon Discovery.
Though not exactly a river cruise, Avalon Waterways also offers itineraries on the Isabella II in the Galápagos Islands.
Questions about Avalon Waterways? Please ask in the comments box below.
Connect with Avalon Waterways
Live Voyage Report – Avalon Creativity On The Seine
- Day 1: Cruising La Seine From Paris to Rouen Through Art & History On Avalon Waterways’ Creativity
- Day 2: Two Overnights In Paris On Avalon Creativity
- Day 3: Monet, Monet, Monet: Impressions Of An Impressionist’s Gardens In Giverny
- Day 4: Roses & Ruins In Rouen, And A Young Lady Martyred & Remembered
- Day 5: A Trip To The Landing Beaches & A Stunning Discovery At The American Cemetery
- Day 6: Conquering Richard The Lionheart’s Castle
- Day 7: Avalon Creativity Cruise Review: Seven Days On The Seine, Does Avalon Measure Up?
Avalon Waterways - Europe Ships
Avalon Waterways - Asia, Galapagos & Amazon Ships
|Ship||Live Voyage Report|
|Avalon Myanmar (Irrawaddy River)|
|Avalon Siem Reap (Mekong River)|
|Century Legend (Yangtze River)|
|Century Paragon (Yangtze River)|
|Amazon Discovery (Amazon River)|
|Sonesta (Nile River)|
|Isabella II (Galápagos Islands)|
Read other articles on River Cruise Advisor about Avalon Waterways.