by Vanessa Lee

We sat down with Stephanie Bishop,Managing Director of Globus Family of Brands in Canada and discussed what is new at Avalon Waterways,their award-winning river cruise brand.

Avalon_DanubeCourtesy of Avalon Waterways

The pricing for Avalon Waterways is in Canadian Dollars which is a great asset these days. How are agents responding to this and also how much of a cruise can be paid in Canadian Dollars to mitigate any currency fluctuations?

We’ve been fortunate to offer Canadian Dollar pricing since Avalon’s inception. Agents love this as they can counsel their customers with confidence while also making more money – it’s a win-win for everyone. Canadian travellers can pay for their cruise, the air and gratuities before they leave so it’s a fantastic advantage. We peg our Dollar to the euro and we purchase funds ahead of time.

Your gorgeous Suite-Ships have been a huge success due to the innovative design of the staterooms – please tell us more and why you believe they have done so well.

Meandering down the rivers is a huge part of the journey. Our Suite-Ships were designed based on our guest feedback and The View is everything. It enhances the experience and better views are just the beginning… our guests feel right at home on Avalon and with the bed facing the window – well that’s just outstanding. We have floor to ceiling Panorama windows, an open balcony rather than an external one, very large, well-appointed staterooms and luxurious marble bathrooms too.

Avalon Artistry II SuiteCourtesy of Avalon Waterways

What innovations or additions is Avalon Waterways adding to your onboard guest experience for the 2016 season?

We have craft beer tasting cruises which have proven so popular that they sold out quickly and overall, 29 themed cruises from culinary to festive to music and wellness. We have also added bicycles on the ships in response to guest interest and have some new itineraries: Essential Holland & Belgium and Enchanting Belgium.

Are you seeing more families cruise with Avalon and if so how are you changing your product to accommodate and also which rivers are the most popular for families?

What we are seeing is multi-generational families travelling. Not so much young children but rather young adults, their parents and/or their grandparents. A river cruise is an exceptional way to build on family ties and create lasting memories.

How is Avalon coping with the potential over capacity on the European rivers with so much recent growth and with entries from new river lines.

This way of travel remains the fastest growing style. We believe there are still opportunities for growth albeit at a slower pace than the past 10 years. Let’s face it, it was incredible. When I look back a few years ago and think about the days when less than half way through the year we had nothing left to sell, that was challenging. Looking forward, it’s a much better balance. We do have much more capacity and there are more cruise lines, however Canadians want to experience river cruising. It’s a special journey and as I always say, it’s an incredibility civilized way to travel.

Avalon MyanmarCourtesy of Avalon Waterways

Asia is proving extremely popular and you have recently launched a new river vessel in Myanmar too. Tell us more about the exotic river program for Avalon.

Yes our new baby on the Irrawaddy with a 14-day roundtrip Yangon itinerary is a truly exceptional journey of discovery. The Avalon Myanmar is a small ship offering big experiences with suites onboard, the air-conditioned Panorama Lounge as well as an open-air observation lounge plus a spacious open-seating dining room. And of course there’s the remarkable culture and interaction with the local people who are wonderful and very welcoming.

Are there plans you can share regarding any new itineraries for the European Rivers?

Every year we look at our options so new itineraries are always of great interest to us. Having said this, we are not willing to compromise. Our guests tell us they appreciate new travel experiences as long as they can count on the quality and experiences they’ve discovered with Avalon. We’ve been asked about more France programs, Portugal and the like however at this point, there are no plans in place.

A number of river cruise lines have become “all-inclusive” in recent years – what are Avalon’s thoughts or plans in this regard?

Some might view us as nearly all-inclusive. We always look to listen to our guest and partners feedback  first.  Many  like  the  fact  that  they don’t pay for other guest’s alcoholic beverages. Others like the convenience of not having to pay for wine or beer at lunch – a new feature being added for sailings in 2017. And for groups we can certainly offer sailings and departures which are all-inclusive if that is their preference.

Stephanie and Jann ArdenCourtesy of Avalon Waterways

And Stephanie, I know you have something special to unveil for our readers about a special event next year.

Yes we are thrilled that Jann Arden, Godmother of the Avalon Tranquility II will be joining us on a special cruise next year which is on the Avalon Tapestry II sailing from Paris to Normandy’s Beaches departing April 29, 2017. This journey will be very special as Jann will perform on the ship on one night in addition to hosting a CD signing session and a photo session. We have a few special surprises planned for this sailing as well and itinerary information is in our brochure under Themed Cruises – WPP 70429. This will be the event of the year for Canadians – so book early!

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