ONBOARD THE AVALON POETRY II — Sunny days in Provence’s medieval towns paired well with an eager group of fully-vaccinated travellers onboard the Avalon Poetry II recently, for a memorable week experiencing Avalon Waterways’ Active and Discovery on the Rhone itinerary in France.
Steve Born, Vice-President of Marketing for Group Voyagers, which markets the Globus family of brands including Avalon Waterways, happily spoke to Travelweek about the river cruise company’s return to sailing.
Avalon’s Born and Chris Jones, Director of Marketing for the Globus family of brands hosted an international fam with media from Canada, the U.S. and Europe. The ship had 91 passengers on board (standard capacity is typically 128).
“For us it wasn’t a matter of consumer demand, it was a matter of access. We had plans in place since March 2021 to prepare for the day,” said Born.
For Canadians, Avalon Waterway’s current promotion is ‘Now is Our Time: Rekindle Your Love for Travel’ to encourage travellers to make plans to cruise again. Avalon is currently offering two-thirds of its European river itineraries.
Avalon Waterway’s Peace of Mind Travel Plan welcomes only fully-vaccinated passengers, and includes stringent health and safety policies. The crew is also fully vaccinated. Since July 27, when Avalon Waterways resumed sailing in Europe, there have been no passengers who have tested positive for coronavirus. Sanitization stations, onboard mask wearing when moving around the ship’s interior and regular temperature checks are daily habits for passengers. Avalon Waterways also provides PCR testing for Canadian passengers for their return.
Travel advisors needing the latest information about entry/exit requirements on any country can access the agent portal via Avalon Waterways’ website.
Avalon’s recent eight-day river cruise from Lyon to Port-Saint-Louis near Marseille, began at Lyon’s La Confluence, where the Saone meets the Rhone, and where the city’s newest neighbourhood of modern architecture, walking/cycling trails, shops and galleries can be found. The southbound route included stops at the picturesque towns of Tournon, Viviers, Avignon, Arles, Port-Saint-Louis and Marseille.
Committed to sustainable practices including the elimination of unnecessary paper newsletters, Avalon Waterways’ AvalonGo app provides updated information on everything from flights to excursions as well, and also includes a digital version of the ship’s daily newsletter with the day’s itineraries and perks. The app also provides an online journal that passengers can use to make notes while exploring, and information on the major sites of each port area for those who prefer to wander on their own off-ship.
Daily indulgences included options for walking, hiking and cycling tours, hosted by local guides eager to share tidbits of the area’s history and offer experiences within its natural landscapes. Some of the exclusive Avalon Waterways excursions include railbiking in the hills above Tournon, a cave tour of Grotte Saint Michel with a wine tasting, a ghost tour of the walled city of Viviers, visiting the well-known
Chateauneuf de Pape vineyard, and a painting class in Arles, the city that inspired Vincent Van Gogh. As Born said, “… it’s the seamless balance between cruising and land, the destination and how easy it is, that makes it memorable.”
Being onboard had numerous perks too, from dawn to dusk, whether it was morning stretching or yoga classes, grilled lunches on the sunny Sky Deck, (with post-lunch naps on a lounger) or French baking demos in the Panorama Lounge in the afternoon as well as entertainment every evening.
The main dining room hosts three meals a day, but diners can also enjoy lighter fare for lunch or afternoon tea in the Panorama Lounge, or tapas dinner when the space switches over to the Panorama Bistro.
The ship’s stern features the Club Lounge, open all day to passengers to access self-serve coffee or tea drinks, infused chilled water, fresh baked cookies and sweet treats. It’s a quiet place to read, gaze at the river or borrow a board game or book. The stateroom entertainment system is also fully-loaded with the latest films too.
Avalon Waterways launched its Adventure Centre in 2019. Each ship features an Adventure host, who offers fitness classes, plans and leads on-shore excursions, and helps guests create their own personal adventures. “Avalon invites cruisers to be choosers,” explained Jones. “Travellers can check out a bike for a scenic ride through town like I did in Lyon … or they can grab Nordic walking sticks for hikes to hillside vineyards … something I noticed passengers doing near Les Baux-de-Provence.”
Passengers can borrow bicycles, e-bicycles, resistance bands, Nordic walking sticks and access the fitness centre, as well as get advice from the Adventure host, whether they’re a newbie or planning a new fitness challenge.
Avalon Poetry II, which has been sailing since 2014, is one of river cruise company’s 13 suite ships, all with the company’s hallmark design of floor-to-ceiling stateroom windows which become open air balconies to enjoy those river views. Avalon’s virtual ship tours are a perfect tool for advisors to show clients why Avalon is decidedly different than competitors, said Born.
In 2022 Avalon Waterways will be expanding its Active and Discovery itineraries, and will debut its 14th ship in April, built in The Netherlands. A new series called Storyteller will feature authors and musicians, the first edition kicking off with celebrated Outlander author Diana Gabaldon, with a trip along the romantic Rhine from Basel to Amsterdam this month. Other authors featured in the series in 2022 include Candace Bushnell (Sex and the City) on the Seine, while Cheryl Strayed (Wild) and Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) will be on cruises along the Danube.
Born believes that advisors are in a great position to help relaunch travel. “It’s a sweet spot for advisors … clients have lots of questions and advisors have the answers and experience.”
For more details see avalonwaterways.ca.