Being owned by the tour operator company Globus, Avalon has solid tour operating skills backing it. You can expect well-executed excursions and VIP access to popular venues where Globus has long-held connections (don’t be surprised if you skip the line at tourist hot-spots like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or at the Rijksmusuem in Amsterdam).
Avalon is also big on flexibility. In 2012, the company introduced what it calls the Avalon Choice program, the idea being to offer passengers the ability to personalize their cruise a bit more, for instance with more dining options (such as additional venues and room service), bedding options (such as choice of pillows and bed configurations), and sightseeing options (more on those below). With MyAvalon, the company’s online service center, passengers can pre-register for their cruise, pre-select included excursions, choose and pre-pay for optional excursions, set bed configuration preferences (joined or separated beds), and select special celebration packages.
Avalon is definitely making a run at that middle-of-the-road segment of the river cruise market, travelers who don’t want or can’t afford the more luxury lines but who also like the idea of sailing on sparkling new ships with some of the latest amenities. If that sounds like you, read on.
Resources: Avalon Waterways benefits from the fact that it is owned by a large travel company which translates into great value for Avalon passengers. Also, should any itinerary changes or complications arise, a global operations team is on-hand to create a quick fix.
Views: Avalon’s trademark floor-to-ceiling panoramic sliding glass doors in the staterooms on its 10 Suite Ship class of vessels offer sweeping views of the passing scenery, further enhanced by the fact that stateroom beds on Avalon ships face outwards towards said sweeping views.
The Suite Life: With over 60 suites measuring 200 square feet or more, Avalon gives you more room to spread out than other river cruise lines.
O Lacking Character: While competitors have created stronger identities (Uniworld is flashy, Viking is Scandinavian-modern), Avalon ships are lacking more defining characteristics, making it hard to distinguish between the Avalon ships themselves as well as what makes Avalon different or better than others.
Not Great for Eaters with Issues: Avalon states in its pre-cruise documentation that dietary requirements cannot be guaranteed on our vacations. If you have allergies or intolerances, you’re better off booking elsewhere.
There’s something very straightforward and no-fuss about Avalon. If you like clean, contemporary design, well-executed itineraries and solid cuisine, Avalon Waterways is probably a good choice for you. The line’s undisputed hallmark lies in their Suite Ships, which prioritized personal space over passenger capacity. Avalon’s ships never feel crowded as a result, and guests spend more time relaxing in their suites. Avalon also offers upscale amenities like marble bathrooms and L’Occitane bath products, minus the pretention.
Avalon’s primary strength, though lies in their itineraries, which are comprehensive in Europe (with options that range from just a few days to several weeks in length) and include sails to exotic locations like the Amazon or Vietnam’s Mekong River.
Avalon once stated that their new Panorama Suites were so big, you could fit 100 cruisers into the room and still have space left over, presumably to breathe. While we don’t recommend doing that, we do have to agree: On average, Avalon’s staterooms and suites are larger than the competition. They’re also quite nice, with beds that have been designed to face the floor-to-ceiling windows that can fully open to let the sights and sounds of Europe in.
Those compliments aside, Avalon isn’t as inclusive as other river cruise lines are: Yes, Wi-Fi access is complementary throughout the day (with the corollary that it may not work) but bottled water will cost you extra, as will beer and wine with lunch. (And bringing your own wine on board will nail you with a corkage charge.) Beer and wine are provided gratis with dinners on board, while soft drinks are free of charge at lunch. All this doesn’t make the Avalon experience a bad one, just less inclusive than most.
Avalon passengers span a wide age range. According to the company, 22% of passenger are 69-plus; 24% are ages 59 to 68; 21% are in the 50 to 58 range; 20% are ages 34 to 49; and 13% are between 19 and 33. They’re predominantly American, with a handful of Canadians thrown into the mix. You might find the odd Aussie or Brit looking very, very lost; Avalon is primarily marketed at a North American audience.
Avalon’s greatest strength lies in its varied itineraries around the globe. Those looking to add on a short European river cruise onto a more extensive land tour will be happy to know that the company operates European river voyages that are as short as four or five days, while travelers looking to extend their voyages can easily find itineraries lasting two or more weeks.
While Avalon’s primary focus is Europe (indeed, all of the line’s company-owned ships sail within
The borders of the Continent), the line works closely with their partners to provide voyages to the Mekong River (Cambodia & Vietnam); the Irrawaddy River (Myanmar, formerly known as Burma);
And ocean cruises around the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador.
Most river cruise ships don’t include room service, and if they do, it’s only for the top-of-the-line suites. Avalon, however, will serve you a tasty complimentary continental breakfast in your room, if you so choose. Otherwise, the line offers a varied breakfast in the main dining room for both early and late-risers (everything from smoothies to made-to-order eggs). Lunch offers up buffet-style food stations, with the possibility to dine in the Open Air Bistro on ships that are equipped with it. Dinners are typically four or five courses prepared with a blend of European and North American tastes in mind, and a Late Snack is served around 10:30p.m.
While Avalon’s food is of a high quality, the company’s relatively hardline stance on dietary requirements is unusual in an industry famous for bending over backwards to accommodate guests. The company says it will make its best effort to accommodate dietary requirements, but precedes that with the disclaimer that it makes no guarantees. If you have severe allergies, we’d recommend taking a cruise line that can offer better peace of mind.
During sailings, Avalon embraces the cultural immersion aspect of travel with lectures by experts in various relevant fields for instance, a World War II historian comes on board during the company’s Paris-to-Normandy sailing on the Seine River to give an in-depth talk about the D-Day landings passengers will visit on the itinerary. There are also food and wine tastings to give guests the opportunity to try regional cheeses, charcuterie and wine varietals you’ve never heard of especially the German ones! There is also the occasional arts, craftwork or cooking demonstration, with the latter always ending up being a highlight.
The line offers a series of complimentary shore excursions in every port of call. Passengers can see and pre-select their excursions through the MyAvalon program, an online registration option that allows passenger to pre-order their tours, whether they’re included or not (the company has a minimum of one included tour at each port). Avalon offers Essential Sightseeing guided tours, which hit the blockbuster sites; Leisurely Sightseeing guided tours, for those that want to go at a gentler pace; and Independent exploration options for those who want to explore on their own.
Each of Avalon’s European-based river cruise ships offers complimentary bicycles for guests to use while ashore. This is a great value, particularly for those who enjoy touring independently or those who are interested in keeping physically fit on their voyage. All those delicious desserts and local wines can really pack on the calories.
While Avalon doesn’t cater directly to kids, the line does welcome them at certain times of the year with special voyages designed specifically for families travelling together. These are typically offered during the summer months to coincide with school breaks, but some shoulder-season voyages are also usually available. Throughout the year kids above age 8 are welcomed, provided they share a stateroom with a full-fare paying adult.
Onboard entertainment is typically confined to a pianist who performs each evening in the main lounge, or local acts that are brought on board in select ports of call. Later in the evening, a DJ might take over to get the dance floor moving, and the dance floor can get pretty hopping, depending on the passengers. In general, though, the entertainment can be hit or miss.
There is rarely slack service on river cruises and Avalon is no exception. The Avalon crews find that delicate balance of being helpful but not overly so. Avalon recommends gratuities of 12‚ per guest, per day, for the ship’s crew, and 4‚ per guest, per day, for the ship’s program director. Gratuities can also be pre-paid at the time of booking, or settled on board by cash or credit card.
Avalon’s fleet consists of 18 river cruise ships, the vast majority of which were built after the 2011 introduction of Avalon Panorama. Avalon Imagery II and Avalon Passion are the line’s two newest vessels, having debuted in 2016.