“Don’t worry about spending too much time on your brush stroke, Van Gogh always made his movements quick,” says Tatyana, our art instructor for the afternoon. It’s our first full day in Amsterdam after embarking on Avalon Visionary and we are standing at easels in Westerdok, the very same neighborhood where Van Gogh created his only two paintings during his 8-year stint in the city. Initially designed to be Amsterdam’s main railway station, Westerdok served as docklands until about six years ago, when the neighborhood took a residential turn with ateliers and apartments taking over a former dock space.
Our morning was spent in typical sightseeing fashion, cruising along the 17th century Canal Belt taking in the city’s iconic sites. But it’s the immersive experiences like a Van Gogh painting class in one of the not-so-frequented neighborhoods that left a lingering impression of this trip to Amsterdam, one that I could physically take home in the form of a sunflower-themed painting.
“Guests have told us ‘Please don’t take me to another church, take me where locals go,’” says Terri Burke, managing director at Avalon Waterways. “The whole essence of listening to our guests and creating a vacation that’s built upon what their desires are is the driving force behind our decision-making, because in the end, it’s not our river cruise, it’s their vacation.”
Dubbed Active Discovery, Avalon is expanding this new concept from the Danube to a river just as popular—the Rhine—with two new Active Discovery itineraries (starting at $3,249 pp) for 2018. In addition to painting classes on the 8-day journey from Amsterdam to Frankfurt, travelers can soak up culture in the form of a hike along the Rheinsteig trail, passing through vineyards and forests near Eltville, Germany; or touring the maze-like corridors of the lava city of Mendig, an extinct volcano and coal mine. For your clients, it’s not only a way to see the rivers from a different perspective, it also gives travelers and seasoned river cruisers a reason to come back and experience the Rhine and Danube a second or third time around.
“We see that people are looking for choices and the ability to do what they want on their vacation, so that brought us to coming up with Active Discovery, creating itineraries that include more of the active options, as well as the deep cultural immersion,” explains Pam Hoffee, Globus Family of Brands’ chief product and operations officer. “People are looking to do things that are unique and that really gets them into the heart of the destination; activities that are off-the-beaten-path and immersive.”
All in the Family
Over the past two years, Avalon’s passengers could customize their cruise with pre- and post-tour options from Monograms, one of the four other companies that falls under the umbrella of Globus. Monograms’ business jumped by 44 percent, and Avalon plans on offering something similar next year with tour options from Globus. “The overall packaging, it’s something that as a family we’re very close to because we’ve got the four brands and we know that you can put these things together back-to-back,” Hoffee explains. “It wasn’t always intuitive for the consumer or the agent, so we thought let’s make this easier, let’s take the work out of it and package it together, putting in the transfers so guests can easily get from one vacation to the next.”
What’s Ahead for 2018
• Solo Supplements Slashed: As solo travel continues to increase—with 10 percent of Avalon’s guests falling into this category—the river cruise line is waiving single supplement fees for all of its European departures.
• Rise in Themed Cruises: Due to high demand, Avalon is adding 45 percent more special interest cruises next year, including four beer-themed trips like Danube Dreams for Beer Enthusiasts; Burgundy & Provence for Wine Lovers; and the new Tulip Time
Cruise for Garden Enthusiasts—an 8-day roundtrip voyage from Amsterdam along
the Dutch waterways.
• Revamped Menu: New culinary director Joerg Penneke (whose background spans three decades working at award-winning restaurants) is completely redesigning the menus across the fleet with the help of Austrian-based culinary superstars, the Wrenkh brothers. Keep an eye out for the new Avalon Fresh menu items, which weave in local ingredients from small farms and markets along the river for a mix of healthy vegetarian and vegan options.
Avalon Waterways: avalonwaterways.com