Travel sellers who previewed Avalon Waterways’ two newest “suite ships” last week said the vessels’ spacious cabins, whose floor-to-ceiling windows provide spectacular views, will be a key selling point – along with the intimate nature of the river cruise experience itself.
The two newest additions to Avalon’s young and innovative fleet – the “suite ships” Avalon Visionary and Avalon Vista – were christened in Enkhuizen, Holland, last week. (See sidebar.) The newcomers bring Avalon’s fleet size to 13; all of the ships have been introduced since 2004.
Nicole Mazza of TRAVELSAVERS christens the Avalon Visionary
Like the 166-passenger Avalon Panorama, which launched last year, the Avalon Visionary and Avalon Vista each have two full decks of Panorama Suites. The 200-square-foot suites feature sitting areas and floor-to-ceiling windows that fully open.
The Visionary will operate eight-day sailings on the Rhine, and the Vista will offer 14-day cruises on the Danube and the Rhine.
Travel Market Report asked three members of the travel agency industry who sailed on the Visionary and toured the Vista to share their thoughts on the two new vessels.
What did you like best about these river ships?
"I enjoyed the suite concept. The cabin was spacious, and the floor-to-ceiling windows were perfect for watching scenery. The contemporary decor was perfect for my taste." – Arthur Balin, assistant sales manager and senior cruise consultant, Cruiseweb.com
"The clean, very sleek European contemporary design was amazing – the size of the cabins and the way they were appointed, with marble bathrooms and the bed facing the window. Every day you wake up with Europe right in front of you." – Nicole Mazza, chief marketing officer, TRAVELSAVERS
"The one thing that really stood out was the quality of the linens, the color coordination, everything selected very carefully, and the bathrooms with these marble counters. Furniture, linens, hardware were all high quality. And the way the panoramic doors opened all the way. Waking up and opening the curtains and having this beautiful view the width of your room." – Jozette Ridgeway, luxury cruise supervisor, World Travel Holdings (WTH)
"I love W hotels, and that's what it felt like walking onboard." – Nicole Mazza
What was the unexpected "wow?"
"The cuisine was more gourmet than I expected. And I consider myself a foodie." – Arthur Balin
"You come back to your room at night and there is soft music playing and on the TV is a (virtual) fireplace with a fire roaring in it – these kinds of small touches. They even worked with a local chocolatier to craft their own gourmet chocolate, which is waiting on your pillow every night. – Nicole Mazza
"The 'oh wow' factor for me was the difference in river cruising versus ocean cruising – how intimate everything is, the size of the ship, the people you meet and cruising a river. I felt like I could reach out and tap a man on his shoulder who was fly-fishing on the side of the bank.” – Jozette Ridgeway
Who would you sell these river cruises to?
"Someone younger. I would qualify the customer as someone in their 40s or 50s who likes more contemporary than traditional." – Arthur Balin
"We're talking about a smaller ship and extremely intimate. In general with river ships, I would love to see younger clientele onboard. Maybe (create) charter opportunities to expose the ships to younger clientele, people in their 40s and 50s.” – Nicole Mazza
What's the big selling point?
"The destination immersion. You are seeing land all the time, and you are in port much of the time, so you can explore. There's also value, with the excursions included and wine with dinner. And the small vessel environment helps as a major selling point. With so few people onboard, you make friends quickly." – Arthur Balin
"There are plenty of choices – dining options, pillow options, food options. Choice is big for them." – Nicole Mazza
"It's intimate experiences. These cruise directors and tour guides, they get down there with you. It feels so personal. You're not shuffled around with hundreds of people. You get to know the people who are onboard." – Jozette Ridgeway
Is there anything you'd change? Improve?
"Seven-day itineraries are good for younger clientele, people in their 40s. I think there's a market out there for it; not many lines are focused on it and they should be. I started river cruising seven years ago, and it's my favorite vacation option by far. It's about choice, destination, culture." – Nicole Mazza
"I hoped for a little more leisure time in the morning or evening. There was jam-packed activities, never a dull moment, but I kind of wanted a dull moment. It's wake up, tour, lunch, tour, dinner, and by that time you're exhausted." – Jozette Ridgeway