Avalon Waterways has been launching what it brands ‘Suite Ships’ since 2011.
Avalon Envision, the 13th in the series, was named last weekend, with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of global phenomenon Eat Pray Love, doing the honours as godmother. The 166-passenger ship will sail the Danube on a series of 10 and 12-day itineraries.
The light and spacious Suite Ships are a tried-and-tested formula by now and for good reason: they tick a lot of boxes. The cabins, for example. It doesn’t seem like rocket science but Avalon was the first river cruise line to arrange its cabins so that the bed faces the window rather than the wall. Its Panorama Suites – the main cabin category on board, making up 67 of the 83 cabins – are a decent size, at 18.5 square metres, with a whole wall of glass that slides back to create a balcony effect. You could, if you were so inclined, just lie in bed and watch the scenery drift by.
Expanses of glass feature all over the ship. The Panorama Lounge is flooded with light and the forward section that’s allocated to the Panorama Bistro promises to be a change of scene from the main dining room for lunch. This space, too, is surrounded by glass, while the sunny Club Lounge aft on Royal Deck is a popular place to sit, read and drink coffee on the other Suite Ships.
Avalon attracts a mainly North American audience, although with a good smattering of Australians, New Zealanders and Brits. Like most European river cruises, the target market is baby boomers and older, but a series of imaginative, more active excursions means Avalon’s appeal is broader. A lot of Envision’s cruises are bookended by hotel stays in cities like Budapest or Prague, too, which is a bonus if you’re looking for a more in-depth experience.
Avalon is also hot on cultural immersion. Excursions and activities are divided into three categories: Classic, Discovery and Active. Classic is standard sightseeing, while Discovery covers more in-depth pursuits like sampling local sausage and sauerkraut, or wine tastings, or cookery classes, or lectures on board. Active excursions, coordinated by an onboard Adventure Host, include hiking, kayaking and guided bike tours. Sometimes, additional activities appear on the daily programme; a pub crawl of the edgy ‘ruin bars’ in Budapest, for example.
A lot is included on Avalon’s European cruises. Wine with dinner, for a start – and decent wine, not the mass-produced Romanian labels served on cheaper European lines. There’s even champagne on the breakfast buffet. A choice of tours is offered each day. Bicycles and walking poles are available for guests to use, the wifi is free and crew tips are covered in the fare.
If Avalon’s other Suite Ships are anything to go by, the food on Envision should be something to look forward to. In 2017, the cruise line entered a partnership with Karl and Leo Wrenkh, two Austrian chefs specialising in gourmet vegetarian food from sustainable sources. The initiative, Avalon Fresh, means that creative, tasty vegan and vegetarian dishes feature on every menu, reflecting the region in which the ship is sailing, alongside more classic fare – an initiative that’s right on trend in today’s health-conscious world.