Avalon to Expand Discovery Cruises

Avalon Waterways is planning to expand its Active Discovery tours to the Rhine River in 2018, according to managing director Patrick Clark.

The pre-booking success of Avalon's "Active Discovery on the Danube" cruises -- which feature outdoor pursuits and local culture -- has led the line to look at expanding beyond the Danube, Clark explained.

Speaking at this year's World Travel Market, in London, Clark said: "Discovery tours have been about attracting a new clientele, and it's also a lifestyle choice. It's for those people who think a river is too sedentary, so rather than just adding bikes and hikes we thought we'd add this discovery aspect.

"The response has been great and early bookings are looking good, so we plan to add more departures and go onto a new river, which would be the Rhine."

Active Discovery tours aim to get passengers beyond the typical tourist offerings, with for example, experiences such as learning to waltz in Vienna, hiking a World War II smugglers' trail on the Austrian/German borders, or canoeing on the Danube.

We got a sneak preview of what's in store when we sampled one of the excursions in April.

Family Cruising

Clark also spoke about Avalon getting into the increasingly popular family segment, but ruled it out for the foreseeable future.

"We get families on certain itineraries, such as Christmas Markets cruises, and for some of our special interest cruises such as music, but we haven't done a partnership with anyone or launched a dedicated brochure. We're watching to see if there will be enough demand. The vast majority of our clientele are baby boomers and we are focusing on multi-generational cruises."

The line does offer three 'Taste of the Danube' cruises, which are short (three days) taster cruises, which Clark said were also proving popular with families who wanted to try out a river cruises, often as an add on to a land-based holiday.

"We see the demographic skew down on these shorter cruises, and we will continue to watch that pattern," Clark added.

He also said that Vietnam and Cambodia were proving to be particularly popular destinations for 2017: "There is just one ship, but our exotic offer has really taken off," he said.

Asked why Avalon wasn't building any new ships next year, Clark replied: "Let's let demand catch up with supply. There has been a lot of new ships in the past few years, so let's make sure what we have got is right. We are looking at a new build in 2018, but as a replacement."

--by Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor