Poetry in motion: river cruising with Avalon Waterways

Date Posted: 26/03/2014

Avalon Poetry II docked in Cologne, Germany.

Pictured: Avalon Poetry II moored in Cologne, Germany.

Rebekah Tailor was invited to the twin christening ceremony of Avalon Waterways’ new suite ships Avalon Poetry II and Avalon Impression, with the opportunity to find out why this luxury river cruise product is great for groups.

Stepping off the gangplank and on to the cobbled quay at Dordrecht, there was a distinct buzz of excitement in the air as a crowd gathered for the twin christening ceremony of Avalon Waterways’ new suite ships, the Avalon Poetry II and the Avalon Impression.

The sense of expectation was even matched by the weather, as a momentary break in the grey skies allowed bright sunshine to stream down to where godmother of the Avalon Poetry II, Dr Katherine Grainger CBE - London Olympic Gold medallist - would release the customary bottle of champagne to shatter against the ship’s bow.

I’ve never attended a ship’s christening ceremony before, and there was a shared consciousness throughout the guests on board that we had witnessed a truly special event.

Two days previously we had set sail from Cologne, Germany on the inaugural cruise of the Avalon Poetry II, which would wend its way north along the Rhine and through the Dutch waterways, calling at Arnhem, Willemstad, Dordrecht and Amsterdam.

Introducing Avalon Poetry II

Along with sister ship Avalon Impression, the Avalon Poetry II is the newest suite ship in what’s reportedly the youngest fleet of cruisers on Europe’s rivers.

Described by managing director of Avalon Waterways UK, Alan MacLean, as: “a true high-end floating hotel experience”, Avalon’s suite ships boast modern and contemporary luxury. And it’s hard to disagree.

The food is of a quality you’d expect of a five-star hotel, and the lounge areas - complete with hot drinks facilities - are light, spacious and comfortable. It’s the Panorama Suite accommodation however, which arguably sets Avalon apart from its river cruising counterparts.

Group Leisure's Rebekah Tailor pictured with the Poetry II's godmother, Olympic gold medallist, Dr Katherine Grainger CBE.

Pictured: Group Leisure's Rebekah Tailor pictured with the Poetry II's godmother, Olympic gold medallist, Dr Katherine Grainger CBE.

While some ships may compromise on cabin meterage for the sake of its guest areas (perhaps with the justification that you won’t be spending much time there), the Panorama Suites on Avalon Poetry II are each 200-square-feet - its angled walls ensuring optimum space. Each boasts floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall glass windows which slide to create open-air French balconies.

The simplest of touches, but one which makes the world of difference is the fact that the bed faces out towards the window. What a luxury to sit up in (the incredibly comfortable!) bed and gaze out at the scenery as you glide by.

And if it’s these simple touches which make for the sweetest pleasure, the list is lengthened by the L’Occitane products in the bathroom, the beautiful orchid on the desk top, and the ‘fireplace’ setting on the flat screen television - switched on by the crew in the evening for a welcoming, homely feel.

In addition to the 50 Panorama Suites on the Sapphire and Royal Decks, there’s also 12 deluxe staterooms on the lower Indigo deck plus two Royal Suites at 300-square-feet.

Additional features comprise a Sky Deck with Jacuzzi along with a Sky Bistro for outdoor, grilled lunches when the weather is fine. The open-seated dining room offers a buffet breakfast and lunch, with waiter service for the evening meal.

A really nice option for groups of up to 20 people is to book an evening dining experience in the Panorama Bistro off the main lounge - a great setting right at the bow of the ship, where a choice of smaller, tapas-style dishes will be served with complementary wines.

If I was to summarise my experience of the Avalon Poetry II, it would be easy to comment on its contemporary feel and modern interiors. It’s a high-end product boasting luxury amenities to enhance your stay. But more than that, its comfortable surroundings tender a welcoming and homely feel, and it’s this which ensures a first class river cruise experience.

Keukonhof Flower Gardens

Pictured: Keukonhof Flower Gardens.

Daily excursions to suit all interests

Avalon’s included sightseeing excursions remain diverse to appeal to a variety of interests. Docking at Tiel on the Friday morning, there was a choice of visiting Arnhem for the Airborne Museum and Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery, or the world-renowned 19th and 20th century art collection at the Kröller-Müller Museum.

Likewise from Dordrecht, guided excursions explored the visually stunning Keukonhof Flower Gardens or the Kinderdijk windmills for first-hand experience of the Dutch water management systems.

For me, the highlight of our mini-cruise was a walking tour of immaculate Willemstad, a small historic town in the Dutch province of North Brabant. Stepping straight off the ship, a short stroll will lead you past the picturesque harbour and through the pristine avenues lined by quaint houses towards the unusual octagonal church and the 17th century Mauritshuis.

What can Avalon Waterways offer your group?

With benefits including one free place for every ten passengers booked, in addition to discounted rates, Avalon Waterways is keen to promote its river cruise holidays to group travel organisers.

I spoke to UK general manager David Binns, to find out why Avalon’s product is great for groups.

Group Leisure: What do you think sets Avalon Waterways apart from other river cruise operators?

David: Number one is the quality of the ships, and particularly in comparison to our competitors, the size of the staterooms. On the Avalon Poetry II, most rooms are 200-square-feet, whereas onboard a lot of our competitors they’re 130 to 140-feet and you have to upgrade a few times to get to the same standard of cabin. It’s also the quality of the cabins and the furnishings - the little touches like the bed looking out towards the window so you’ve got nice views going past.

Willemstad.

Pictured: The octagonal church at Willemstad - this excursion was a personal highlight of the mini-cruise.

Plus so much is included in the price. There’s excursions every day, and it’s full board with snacks throughout, so there’s a lot of things to push Avalon in front of everybody else.

Group Leisure: How would you summarise the product?

David: It’s like travelling through Europe on a five star hotel, so you’ve got the furnishings and the food - both the quality of a five star hotel, and every day you’re arriving in a brand new destination.

The idea of the Suite Ships is of pure luxury. There’s so much space in the staterooms, with plenty of storage and places to hang things - it just adds to this idea of a floating five star hotel.

The beauty of a river cruise is that you tend to dock in the city itself, so if you don’t fancy doing the organised excursions you can wander into town yourself and spend a bit of time doing whatever interests you; whether it’s exploring or just enjoying a drink.

Group Leisure: Have you always offered benefits for groups or is this something you’ve introduced recently?

David: Group travel is an important part of the river cruising industry as a whole, so yes we’ve always offered something for the groups market but possibly in the past we haven’t been as proactive in the UK as we’d have liked to have been. We welcome groups, although as the ships fill up quickly you are advised to book well in advance.

Group Leisure: So what group benefits do you offer?

David: We offer one free place for every ten passengers, and for the group travel organisers we can often offer familiarisation trips. We’ll fly them out to Amsterdam or Cologne for example so they can inspect the ship in port before publicising the product to their group.

Panorama Suite.

Pictured: Avalon Waterways' Panorama Suite.

Once on board we can organise private cocktail parties and get togethers. The Club Lounge we’re sitting in now at the rear of the ship can be used for lectures if it’s a special interest group, general welcome meetings, whatever they want. Plus if a group wants to sit together at dinner we can organise that.

Group Leisure: Do you have any particular messages you’d like to communicate to our readers?

David: Just that we can do the whole extreme of chartering an entire ship for a large group, or can easily accommodate smaller parties of 20 to 30 people. Certainly if you charter a whole ship you can have some control of the route and your itinerary and we can tailor-make the excursions.

If it’s a smaller group joining a ship, we can arrange for a dedicated coach for your excursions, we can provide gifts in the rooms - we will personalise your trip with these different touches.

There’s also no pre-requisite that the group has to start in the same place. If you want to have some people coming from Heathrow, some from Manchester, some from Birmingham, it’s no issue whatsoever.

River cruises on Avalon Poetry II in 2015

Next year the Avalon Poetry II along with the Avalon Tapestry II (launching in 2015) will sail a range of cruises on the Rhone, Saone and Seine.

Poetry II will sail an 11-day Burgundy and Provence itinerary from the Cote d’Azur to Chalon-sur-Saone from March to September, or a combination of this itinerary on the 16-day Grand France cruise.

Useful contact:

Avalon Waterways:
0800-668 1802
www.avaloncruises.co.uk/group-bookings

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