“You can do anything you want. You’re on vacation.” You hear this plenty of times, from the cruise director, from the friendly steward. It seems you really can with Avalon Waterways. A couple who had just finished their jaunt aboard the Avalon Poetry just hopped right on the Creativity’s maiden voyage. Flexibility is a running theme here, and it works to everyone’s advantage.
Avalon’s commitment to this ease in river cruising—coupled with its affordability and dedication to agents—has made the brand come out on top despite trying times. The Creativity and others in its family are enjoying increased demand this year, a sure sign clients are enjoying their experience as well as the river cruise’s soft hit on their wallets.
“Our North America operations will finish 2009 with more passengers than 2008, a remarkable feat in this environment. It says a lot about the popularity of the travel style,” says Patrick Clark, managing director, Avalon Waterways. Another plus for agents? The different segments of the “all-inclusive” type of Avalon cruising are commissionable.
Creativity is one of Avalon’s new ships for 2009, with those floor-to-ceiling windows you instantly can’t live without. Indeed, it cannot be easy going back to big-ship cruising once you’ve had that close connection to your surroundings, in and out of the ship. This is where big-ship graduates move on in order to have a more personal experience, where wine flows and those pretty European landscapes are close enough so you can forget your camera’s zoom. It’s a more adult experience as well, with no kids under 8 allowed.
The ship itself is a beauty, with floor-to-ceiling windows on two decks, a Club Lounge and spacious (really!) staterooms with Egyptian cotton linens, flat-screen satellite TVs, mini-bars, safes, modern bathrooms and large closets. The sky deck has a “fun pool” and, when weather permits, is the site of a very popular Grill Lunch for up to 40 people—a sign-up sheet for this outdoor treat fills up fast each day. “Casual elegant” is the best way to describe the decor and the mood throughout the voyage.
Another plus is that basic excursions of port towns or cities are included, usually as walking tours. In the case of the Romantic Rhine itinerary, these include an exploration of Heidelberg—the former center of the world—which enjoys an uninterrupted history of more than 10,000 years; a traipse and shopping time in Strasbourg, the capital of the Alsace region; and a walk through Cologne and its imposing gothic cathedral. There are also paid optional excursions—though not many—priced very reasonably and offering an added glimpse but they really are “extras,” not really a necessary part of clients’ essential river cruise experience.
Avalon is introducing two new ships in Europe in 2010, the Felicity and Luminary, bringing the European fleet total to 10. But rather than just grow its fleet or itineraries, Avalon is providing choices of all tastes and travel levels for a diverse group of travelers. Responding to growing interest in cruising Western Europe, in 2010 Avalon will offer almost 100 departure dates from the English Channel to the Mediterranean, as well as two additional ships for France. The company is also now cruising Normandy and Côte d’Azur. Other popular small-ship cruise destinations include Austria, Belgium, China, Egypt, the Galapagos, Germany, Holland, Hungary, and Switzerland.
“And in 2010, we’re developing shorter itineraries to reach first-time river cruisers, time-starved travelers and those wanting a more value-centered small-ship cruise vacation,” Clark explains. “We just unveiled 4- and 5-day itineraries on the Danube River (for 2010).” Starting at less than $1,000, the Taste of the Danube sails between Vienna and Budapest. “Our Taste of the Danube vacation is phenomenally priced and well-balanced, offering travelers the perfect introduction to river cruising, the fastest-growing style of travel.”
Old pros or clients who want to spend more time in a destination also have a wealth of options. Next year will also see a continuation of Avalon’s popular food-, wine- and music-themed vacations (including new music-focused getaways), plus almost 20 opportunities for cruisers to add a 3- or 4-day extension to their cruise to visit Oberammergau and enjoy the Passion Play.
There are also lots of pre- and post-cruise packages available. Monograms—Globus’ independent travel arm—is catering to first-time travelers with more options in length of stay, pricing and destinations, not just loads of alternatives in Europe, but also Asia and North and South America. The company has also increased the number of cities where its “Local Host” services are available, because the assistance of a local expert is not only a big plus for all travelers, but especially for first-timers who get hands-on advice on sightseeing, arrangements for excursions and answering questions. The entire experience—before, during and after the cruise—is headache-free, a big plus for so many types of travelers.