Avalon Waterways traces its roots back to 1928, when Antonio Mantegazza used a rowboat to transport goods across Switzerland’s Lake Lugano. His business evolved into motorcoach tourism and expanded into an international travel brand: Group Voyagers, Inc. – parent company of Avalon Waterways.
This consortium of well-known brands such as Globus, Cosmos, and Brennan Vacations has been a leader in escorted tours of Europe for almost a century, but it wasn’t until 2004 that the company launched Avalon Waterways’ fleet of royal-blue river cruisers.
The Avalon Waterways’ fleet expanded quite rapidly, eventually introduced newly designed “Suite Ships”. Today, the Avalon fleet encompasses nearly two dozen vessels. In Europe, Avalon Waterways operates on the Rhine, Main, Danube, Douro, Moselle, and Seine, as well as French wine country cruises on the Saone and Rhone rivers. Avalon also offers sailings on the Mekong, Ganges, Nile, Amazon, and in the Galapagos.
Each ship within the Avalon Waterways’ European fleet features an intimate dining room, a relaxing Main Lounge with panoramic views, a reception area, and a small fitness room. An expansive sun deck allows guests to stroll and enjoy the fresh air, or relax in a deck chair and take in the ever-changing scenery. And while it’s nearly impossible for river cruisers to feature anything more than two dining rooms, Avalon is creative enough to offer guests multiple dining options throughout the day.
Avalon’s “Suite Ship” accommodations measure between 200 square feet and 300 square feet apiece and are equipped with Avalon’s signature Open Air Balcony – a French-style balcony that opens wall-to-wall, transforming staterooms into a giant veranda. These Open Air Balconies are found in nearly 80 percent of the total accommodations aboard Avalon’s Suite Ships in Europe.
When we sailed with Avalon, I we were absolutely blown away when it came to the adaptability and accommodation of the kitchen. On the first day of the trip, we attended a meeting where we shared our dietary restrictions (one of our party is vegan) with the chef and maitre d. From that point on, Emma was practically escorted from the doors of the dining room to the breakfast and lunch buffets and given a personal tour of what she could and couldn’t eat.
Flexible dining times ensure guests don’t miss time to explore, you can stay out in town and come back to the ship a bit later for your dinner. Dinner can also be set up practically anywhere you want per request, with light dinner offered in the lounge every night.
Avalon’s ships are designed with comfort in mind. The lounge houses many couches where guests can relax with a book or position themselves to watch a local entertainer on board, as well tables to play games. Couches are nice and comfortable, the table and chairs can be better sometimes for passengers with limited mobility. It can be hard to shuffle around coffee tables and into the corner of a sectional.
The Cruise Manager will assist if anything in the cabin needs to be changed – Avalon can always make the mattresses more firm or soft, and provide different bedding if needed. (It likely won’t be needed, the beds are seriously comfortable.)
Avalon’s Active & Discovery sailings offer more excursion choices than its traditional itineraries, with added components to appeal to an active group of travelers. The choice of unique excursions offered provide the chance to immerse oneself in the culture of the region through bike rides, canoe and kayak trips, hikes, and so much more – like a visit to an essential oil factory, participating in a Medieval Knights tournament, an olive oil tasting (yum!), art & cooking classes, even a wine tasting in a cave.
Avalon also offers a multitude of themed cruises, from beer and wine cruises to photography cruises. Particularly special are the line’s Storyteller Series cruises, which allow guests to sail with some of their favorite authors.
One differentiating factor for this cruise line is that it boasts the backing of the huge Globus family, which offers some practical value: those who are members of Globus’ Journeys Club, for example, receive discounts and other perks for traveling within the family of brands. The brand’s large footprint in Europe also helps with operational infrastructure, such as guides and transport, enhancing the guest experience.
Read other articles on River Cruise Advisor about Avalon Waterways.
Last month, I sailed the Danube with Avalon Waterways. During the sailing, I sat down with Cruise Director, Istvan, to chat about the Danube, Avalon’s Active & Discovery program, and more. Listen to the podcast.
Britton’s recent story about Avalon struck a chord with readers. Responding to 5 Ways Avalon Waterways Goes Above & Beyond, which Britton wrote after her May Danube sailing on Avalon View, our friend Ben Rich was one of several readers who felt compelled to write about his experience on Avalon.
For a European vacation to write home about, Avalon Waterways has announced a new Storyteller Series cruise for 2024: Cheers to 50 Years! A Storyteller Cruise & Birthday Celebration with Jen Hatmaker.
Next week, I am headed to Budapest to sail with Avalon Waterways on the Danube. I first sailed with Avalon Waterways in 2021, when I was invited to sail the Rhone River on an Active & Discovery itinerary. These “A + D” itineraries have quickly become my favorite way to travel because of the type of travelers to whom they cater and the fast-paced style of travel that they offer.
When visiting historically rich and architecturally beautiful cities day after day, Avalon just wants to make sure that its guests get to do and see as much as they want in each destination. For those who want a more traditional river cruise experience, with mostly classic sightseeing excursions and tours, or even a more curated experience like a wine or culinary themed cruise, Avalon offers a variety of other itineraries ranging from 3-nights to 20-plus night combination cruises.