Q – We see that Avalon is really low in the riverboat ratings but we are really interested in the fact that they offer beds that face the river instead of balconies. Are we naïve (it will be our first cruise) or is this the advantage it would seem to be. I can’t imagine anything nicer than gliding down a river propped up in bed with a cup of tea. How do you feel about this so-called “Avalon Advantage”?
A – First, let’s correct some erroneous impressions. We rate the leading river boat lines and sort of ignore those of inferior quality. If a company does not appear on our list of rated lines, you might want to ask why. Avalon is not an all-inclusive line. They are a more affordable alternative to the very top tier river boat options. But make no mistake – they are highly reputable, they are financially secure, and they have a number of very real advantages that make them unique. Two that we will highlight here (see our full review) are one of the newest river boat fleets in Europe that includes a new “Panorama” class of vessel that has some serious innovations including beds that face the water.
Here is where Avalon is unique. Their competitors assume that their guests want balconies – French or American. The river boat marketing people have trained the consumer to believe that balconies are better than windows – and they can charge a premium for such cabins. But wait a moment – here comes Avalon and they have a new proposition. What if we assume that actually looking at the river in comfort is what guests really want? What if, instead of balconies, the guest cabins could be larger – say an average of about 200 sq. ft? What if the lack of a balcony would allow panoramic floor to ceiling windows that can be opened?
Let’s carry the logic a bit further (really hope we’re not boring you – this subject fascinates us): Locks in Europe can be under 40′ wide. Boats built for Europe’s rivers have serious width restrictions. This means that most river boats have to face their beds sideways because so much of the width of the cabin is taken up by the balcony. The Panorama class on Avalon does not have that problem. With the space they save by avoiding balconies, they can have beds that face the water as well as bathrooms that provide additional room. In fact, one Avalon admirer was heard to brag that you can actually drop your soap in an Avalon shower and stoop down to pick it up, an act that would be physically impossible on some of their competitors.
So should everyone sail on Avalon? Of course not. You are off the boats most of the day and it gets dark at night. That does not leave a lot of time to lie in bed as the boat sails. During the day, you may well be tied up to other boats and you would need to keep your window shades closed, unless you are a Democrat. Avalon charges for many extras and their clientele is a bit lower on the “Sophistication Index” than some of their competitors. But bottom line – they have done some really good work reimagining river boat construction and they should be applauded for their efforts. We have always believed that fresh air is more important than a chair on a balcony. The sliding windows accomplish the fresh air issue.