Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Never too much of a good thing

Avalon expands European river cruising

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SSLqWE'RE building more."

Those were the words of Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways, as he prepared to christen and launch his two newest river cruisers: Vista and Visionary. He's talking about two more of his all-suite ships, which have been a sales hit this year. They will come in 2013.

"Right now, these ships and our first all-suite ship launched last year, Panorama, are 95 per cent sold out for the season," said Clark.

The two new cruisers christened last week will be on the rivers of Europe this year and, by 2013, Avalon will have 12 ships on European waters.

Avalon was the first to build an all-suite ship, Panorama. The smallest cabins on the lower deck are 172 square feet. That is the size of most regular staterooms on ocean-going vessels.

Suites on the second and third decks are 200 square feet, with a few larger (300 square feet) royal suites.

My favourite feature is the wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling windows that open, along with a bed that faces the river. That means a chance to have breakfast in bed and watch world go by... well, at least Europe

Clark explained it this way: "Our cruisers Panorama and Vista carry 166 passengers in the same space that many carry more than 190, affording us the opportunity to expand our public spaces and our stateroom sizes."

Size is the only difference between the two ships that were launched last week. Vista will carry 166 passengers as it cruises the Amsterdam-to-Budapest route along with the original version of these ships, Panorama. Visionary, the smaller of the two new ships, has room for 138 passengers.

On this christening cruise, we did not stray any farther than Holland. From Amsterdam, we took in the ports of Hoorn. Next stop was Lelystad and the Batavia Shipyards, where replicas of some of the great sailing vessels of the 17th century are being built. Then it was on to Enkhuizen, the port city selected for the christening ceremonies.

The ships' itineraries were split so we didn't get to see the smaller Visionary until we arrived at Enkhuizen for the christening.

When you christen a ship, you have to have a godmother -- it's tradition, you know. In this case the godmother was longtime cruise writer and publisher... and a Canadian. Vanessa Lee's picture will adorn the lobby of Vista in perpetuity. Godmother for Visionary was Travelsavers' Nicole Mazza from the U.S.

With all these new river ships, don't expect to see a race to build the biggest. The locks on the rivers determine a maximum size because the ship has to be able to clear bridges and fit into locks on main European rivers. That, along with a shallow draft to handle low water, means the maximum length of a river ship is about 440 feet.

With identical cruisers Panorama and Vista sailing in opposite directions on the popular Amsterdam-Budapest route, if they ever encounter low or high water, the ships would simply transfer passengers from one to the other and continue on the way back. Yes, it's already been done.

To ensure the river cruisers keep coming to their ports, cities and towns are ramping up their infrastructure to handle this booming side of the cruise business.

-- Postmedia News

Visit portsandbows.com for daily updates on the latest cruise news, best deals and behind-the-scenes stories from the industry. You can also sign up for an e-mail newsletter on the site for even more cruise information. Phil can be contacted directly at portsandbows@gmail.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2012 D4

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