River Cruising: What’s Hot Now

Inside the spacious cabin of a river cruise ship in Myanmar.
Inside the spacious cabin of a river cruise ship in Myanmar.

River Cruising Resurgent: New Rivers,  New Ships

By Erica Garnett

A river cruise ship plying the Rhine River in Germany. Avalon Waterways photo.
A river cruise ship plying the Rhine River in Germany. Avalon Waterways photo.

Cruising into the new year can be as literal as you want it to. For those who do not take cruising lightly, such as former cruise line executive and trusted travel expert, Richard Bruce Turen, he appoints Avalon Waterways to be the best trip for a solo traveler.

With all of the new routes, accommodations and destinations the company has to offer this year, such as featuring the Rhine, Rhone and Irrawaddy rivers, new vessels with internal accommodations and capitalization on existing theme cruise favorites, there are many more eligible elements of distinction.

Unveiling the Je Ne Sais Quoi of France

Now, 95% more cruisers can sail France with Avalon Waterways. Two cruise ships are needed to accomplish this, one being the less than one year old Avalon Poetry ll alongside the new Tranquility ll. Cruisers will have the luxury of experiencing both ships during the fourteen night itinerary, featuring the coveted destinations of Lyon, Avignon and Arles.

The beautiful Rhone river in France.
The beautiful Rhone river in France.

The ships will be sailing along the new route of the Rhine Gorge to the Rhone River. The rivers are two of the most popular and diverse in France.

Wendy Perrin, travel expert and former Conde Naste travel writer considers the Rhine to have the most activity visible from the ship. “It’s like being on a highway of ships” is her way of describing the frequent trains spotted traveling along the riverbank.

It adds an essence of industrialism that the ubiquity of old-fashioned and scenic castles balance for a diverse viewing experience. Perrin notes that the Rhone contains the most castles in her experience.

The Rhone River is frequently traveled during the Avalon themed river cruises in France, such as the Jazz and Culinary river cruises.

The Return of Themed Favorites

For those as concerned with the sounds of France as much as the sights, the Jazz cruise provides entertainment on and off the ship. Local jazz bands in Arles, Chalon and Lyon, free time to explore the world-renowned Jazz Festival in Vienne, a on board jazz expert and special guests aboard the ship give the jazz enthusiast a beat they surely haven’t heard yet. The special guests of 2013 included Margareta Svensson and Seth Riggs.

A sixteen day culinary cruise, featuring a scenic sail up the Rhone river, gives cruisers a full plate of activities. Cooking demonstrations are provided as well as onboard tastings, lectures and a visit to a traditionally run French farm.

Aboard the Avalon Poetry ll, sailing from Burgundy to Provence, the eleven day Wine cruise features an exploration into France’s historic sites, preserved small towns, cuisine and all can be done with a glass of the country’s finest Merlot in hand! A wine authority will serve as a guide in proper wine etiquette and to help navigate the local wineries and tastings. Guided sightseeing of the capital, Lyon, Avignon, Arles and Viviers is included.

The special Art & impressionist cruise allows cruisers to engage in on board lectures on Impressionism and visit several historic places including the Musée d’Orsay, the Marmottan Museum in Paris and choose between a visit to Monet’s Giverny or Bizy Castle, and between a visit to Honfleurs or to an art museum.

River cruiser, Siem Reap on the Mekong river.
River cruiser, Siem Reap on the Mekong river.

Newly welcomed special cruises of 2015 are the Opera cruise and the Author cruise. The guest of honor for the author cruise is Patricia Schultz, author of 1000 Place to See Before You Die . The seven night, eighth day cruise features a book signing and guest lecture as the Avalon Expression sails the Danube from Budapest to Nuremberg.

Managing director of Avalon, Patrick Clark, comments, “We’re thrilled to extend our relationship with her to a group of lucky Avalon travelers-all of whom are sure to be as enamored with her, thanks to their shared passion of travel, as we are.”

Tips From the Experts

Perrin explains practical tips in terms of anticipation and preparation such as finding out in advance what stretches of the river are the most scenic. She suggests, brining rain attire for unpredictable weather, not being afraid to explore on your own and opting out of cruise organized group tours if you felt so inclined. Perrin says to always be in running equipt shoes around the ship for when you have to run to catch a veiw before it is passed by!

Depending on what destination you choose can effect the optimal time in which it is best to go. Turen, recommends the optimal time for a European river cruise vacation to fall between May 20th and June 15th or September 1st and October 5th. This is in an effort to avoid the early spring flooding from the snow in the Alps and the August crowds of vacationing Europeans.

A Culturally Rich Asian Experience

A three decker river cruiser in Myanmar, a hot new river cruise destination.
A three decker river cruiser in Myanmar, a hot new river cruise destination.

The careful planning that goes into planning a European river cruise vacation is irrelevant for those looking to travel from Ho Chi Minh City, China to Siem Reap, Cambodia. The new suite ships is the only ship in the industry to cruise all the way to and from the destinations along the Mekong River despite the water levels.

The other new suite ship, the Avalon Myanmar uses its smaller size to an advantage to cruise the upper Irrawaddy River throughout the season. Both ships were built and designed by local craftsman to the areas, reflecting the characters, symbols and traditions of Asian culture.

Avalon is hosting a fourteen day itinerary and ten night cruise in honor of its first time venturing along the Irrawaddy River. The cruise entitled, “Golden Myanmar and Alluring Irrawaddy” is from Bagan, Berma to Bhamo, Myanmar, with hotel stays in Yangon.

Opportunities include but are not limited to watching the sunrise from a Bagan temple, exploring local markets, taking a sampan ride at sunset in Amarpura, watching a traditional dance performance by firelight, visiting a monastery and presenting alms to the monks in Kya Hnyat and checking out a local farmer’s home in Kyun Dew.

Myanmar Interior Panorama Suite
Myanmar Interior Panorama Suite

Clark attributes, “the intimacy we offer travelers” to inspire “an unparalleled Asia vacation.”

Size Matters: The Suite Experience

The most common theme among Avalon’s upgrades in ships for 2015 is their range of sizes. At only 18 suites each, the Avalon Siem Reap and Avalon Myanamr use their smaller sizes to provide a close knit sense of community in a
reas rich with cultural diversity.

It also gives the cruisers an opportunity to see more for their stay because the ships can operate all year long.
All 36 suites on the two ships are 245 square feet of living space and contain open-air balconies with panoramic windows.

The windows measure fourteen feet wide and are positioned from floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall.

The retractable screen systems and doors sliding open a full nine feet stimulate the feeling of sitting outside. The private sitting area is complete with a love seat, chairs and a table. These Panorama suites account for 80% of staterooms on Avalon ships.

The company currently owns ten suite ships with rooms designed to be transparent to the outside. The Panorama suite experience gives cruisers two full decks of 200 and 300 square foot staterooms, each with an open-air balcony. The suites feature the only beds in the industry that face the windows for maximum viewing pleasure.

The smallest room in all avalon ships is 172 square feet, still larger than other rooms in the industry reaching as small as 135 square feet.

Ultimately, with approximately 128 passengers for 11 meter ships and 166 passengers for 135 meter ships, there are 15% fewer passengers than other cruise lines, ensuring cruises a close knit communal experience and one where their needs can individually be met.

Clark comments, “We’re just built differently.”

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Erica GarnettErica Garnett is graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with a double major in Journalism and Anthropology.

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