Last week, the annual Cruise 3Sixty convention for press and travel agents was put on in the beautiful city of Vancouver, British Columbia, and river cruising played a big role in both the conferences that were held and on the trade-show floor, as river cruise lines sought to explain the different itineraries, options, and ships available to clients.
During the conference, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Patrick Clark, Managing Director at Avalon Waterways about all things river cruise. He started off by saying that the key to Avalon’s success to date has been what the line calls “Choice Cruising,” from the kind of stateroom passengers want (one or two balconies, river view) to their preferred style of dining (restaurant vs. al fresco). That level of choice has clearly resonated with guests, Clark said. “We’ve hit it right, because response has been good.”
He pointed out that what started out largely as a niche segment of the overall cruise industry is growing steadily in popularity, something you already know as loyal readers of River Cruise Advisor, and that the potential for future growth in the river cruise sector is enormous.
“There are more waterways in the world, and more ways to explore them,” Clark told River Cruise Advisor. “Guests [who have river cruised in Europe] will come to us and say, ‘Where else can we cruise?’”
For those guests, Avalon has a staggering array of options. One of Clark’s personal favorites is the line’s offerings along the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia. An enthusiastic speaker with a wealth of knowledge, he lit up when describing the region. “It’s still new. It’s an emerging market destination. But you’re there to see the culture, the people, enjoy the food, and enjoy these amazing places like Angkor Wat.”
He was also quick to attribute much of the line’s success in the region to the staff manning the company’s Asian ships. “Servers are typically Burmese or Cambodian,” he said, “because they have a good sense of service. They’re very genuine.”
Clark was also forthcoming about Avalon’s Suite Ships, which resonated with guests following the debut of the Avalon Panorama in 2011. It’s not that their previous vessels weren’t desirable; the Avalon Panorama took the company in a new direction, blending a mix of style and function that has helped to give Avalon a distinctive voice in the industry.
One of the defining features of the Avalon Panorama was the inclusion of wall-to-wall balcony staterooms. French balconies that can open fully to transform the stateroom into an entire open-air balcony.
The differences, Clark said, between having a step-out balcony on an ocean cruise and on a river cruise ship are numerous. Based on our river cruise experience, we would agree with him. On a deep-ocean cruise, balconies became desirable because of long days at sea and, frankly, their ability to afford some private deck space. On a river cruise, with so much of the day spent in port and no real days spent “at sea,” Avalon has largely resisted the urge to put step-out balconies on its newbuilds, preferring instead to devote that space to the interior of the stateroom.
The line also has a stunning lineup of Theme Cruises in the works for next year and beyond. One of the most popular so far has been the introduction of a Beer-themed river cruise that will include brewery visits, tours, tastings and informative lectures on the history of brewing as the ship makes her way through the heart of Germany and Austria.
Avalon has also created a golf-themed cruise that will include three special golf outings, but with all the regular shore excursions for those who may not be as crazy about the sport. The golfer can golf, the non-golfer can enjoy a walking tour or a wine tasting.
History buffs, though, will want to head to France next year aboard Avalon’s WWI Heritage cruise that commemorates the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. Clark told us demand for these sailings have been strong right out of the gate, as the region not only marks the centenary of the start of the First World War, but also the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
More information on Avalon Waterways can be found by viewing our complete Avalon Waterways Company Overview here on River Cruise Advisor.