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A look at Avalon Waterways’ two new vessels. Words: David McGonigal.

If you were looking for a growth industry right now, you could do much worse than building ships for the rapidly expanding cruise industry. Newer and better vessels are being launched all the time – and that’s particularly true in the world of European river cruising. More Australians are discovering the joys of seeing Europe without having to worry about traffic or move from one hotel to the next.

Avalon Waterways launched Avalon Tranquility and Avalon Imagery in 2007, Avalon Scenery in 2008 and Avalon Creativity and Avalon Affinity in 2009. In 2010, these vessels are joined by Avalon Luminary and Avalon Felicity.

The two new vessels have quite different sail plans but are physically identical. Each carries up to 138 passengers in its 65 staterooms and four suites. Avalon says the staterooms, each a minimum of 16 square metres, are the largest on ships plying European rivers today.

As a look over either Luminary or Felicity reveals, there’s been rapid evolution in river-cruise vessels in recent years. There are wi-fi hotspots; you have your own bathroom, satellite flat-screen television and climate controls, and all staterooms are external, with panoramic picture windows or floor-to-ceiling glass doors leading onto French balconies.

Public amenities include a six-person whirlpool, a fitness centre, a hair salon, expansive Sky Decks, a lounge and bar, and a fine-dining area. Meals are open seating and complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks are served with dinner.

To make the most of the places visited, everyone gets headsets on which to listen to guided-excursion commentaries by local guides. There’s a cruise director on hand to help, and various lectures are offered on board.

Felicity and Luminary began making eight-day return voyages between Amsterdam and Basel in late May and July 2010, respectively. These voyages continued until October, with Felicity following this itinerary again from April until November 2011.

In 2011, Avalon Luminary offers an exciting variety of cruises, including an eight-day ‘Tulip Time Cruise’ through Holland, 11 or 13 days’ cruising on the Danube, 12 days between Prague and Paris, 13 days from Paris to Amsterdam, 13 days from Budapest to Prague, and 17 days from Paris to Budapest.

Over the coming 18 months, Avalon Waterways is offering a greater variety of cruises in Europe than ever before, aboard increasingly sophisticated vessels. If Avalon Felicity and Avalon Luminary are an indication, the future of European cruising is bright indeed.

FACT FILE

Cruise line: Avalon Waterways

Vessels: Felicity, Luminary

Max. passenger capacity: 138

Total crew: 39

Length: 110m/361ft

Entered service: May & July 2010