Avalon expands to India with Ganges cruises

For 2019, Avalon Waterways has packaged Ganges River cruises in several itineraries.

For the cruise portion, guests board the 56-passenger Ganges Voyager for a six-day, roundtrip cruise from Kolkata.

The cruise heads north from Kolkata to visit Kalna, where passengers will take a rickshaw ride to the historic terracotta temple complex, and smaller villages where they will observe brass-making, saree weaving and idol making. Avalon will also offer a visit to a farmer’s home and to a rescue shelter for cows, in addition to the region’s stately sites, such as the Hare Krishna centre in Mayapur.

The Ganges Voyager is an all-suite vessel with accommodations ranging from the 260-square-foot deluxe suite to the 400-square-foot Maharaja suite. There is air conditioning throughout, a lounge and bar, a restaurant, gym, two spa treatment rooms and a partially shaded observation deck.

Avalon joins a handful of other river cruise companies and tour operators that have begun offering Ganges River cruises in recent years. Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection launched its Ganges program in 2016, and G Adventures started selling Gange’s cruises in 2015.

Christening season is upon us

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Viking Cruise multiply River Cruise ship Christening
It’s that time of year again: River cruise companies are rolling out the red carpet and getting ready to smash Champagne bottles against their newest vessels as christening season gets underway. So what, if anything, will be new this year?

As anyone who has been on at least two or three river cruises may know, river cruise ships are confined by length and width dimensions that are dictated by the locks and bridges along Europe’s inland waterways; in essence river cruise ships are all very similar in size and can only include so many onboard features and amenities.

Well, sort of. If the ships were so totally the same, travel media and travel sellers wouldn’t bother to make our annual pilgrimages across the pond to see what’s new and different among all the new European river inventory. We are heading over there to scope out whatever tweaks and adjustments river cruise lines are making. And while I don’t know what all the possible surprises that await this spring may be, I can tell you what I’ll be looking for in terms of fresh takes on river cruise ships so that you, too, can be on the lookout.

Always high on the list is food, of course. Despite the limited amount of space on river cruise ships, lines have increasingly been making efforts to amplify and expand their culinary offerings. So, this christening season I’ll be taking a close look at new and different takes on dining venues. Crystal in particular has ambitious plans for multiple dining venues on its forthcoming “river yachts”, slated to launch this summer. And Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has teased us with some serious new dining ventures, as well, on its latest creation, the S.S. Joie de Vivre, launching later this month in Paris; think a Bistro resto; special al fresco dinners; chef’s table, farm-to-table dining; and something it’s calling a “progressive dinner” involving a tour of the vessel.

Next up is public spaces. As I tour these freshly christened vessels, I’m always looking for new and unique features in the lounge and bar areas, perhaps in the spa and fitness room or on the sun deck. Lately, river cruise lines have been breaking up these spaces to offer more diverse options. So maybe in the entryway to the lounge, there might be a new library or sitting room (something AmaWaterways has implemented on its newer vessels). Is there a new pool or whirlpool element? Not a lot of vessels in Europe have pools because of the unpredictable weather, so if there’s a pool, that’s noteworthy.

And then, of course, there’s always the up-close-and-personal inspection of the staterooms and suites. Are there balconies off of the cabins? Are they full, step-out balconies or French balconies? Are the staterooms relatively roomy or pretty petite? What about the furnishing and decor: pretty standard or rather distinct? What kind of toiletries are stocked in the bathroom? How comfy are the beds? These are some of the questions I’ll be arming myself with.

Off the ship, the excursions are key and often are what truly make the river cruise memorable. River cruise lines have been working to offer more active and interesting shore experiences, so I’ll be looking for those “wow” activities, meals hosted in charming venues, fun hiking or biking trips that raise passengers’ heart rates or more interactive outings, such as cooking classes or encounters with locals.

Lastly, there is, of course, the service  the people element. I will be looking out for whether there are new policies or service enhancements available, such as a concierge or butler service, another area where river cruise companies have been upping the ante.

All told, when christening season is through, we should have a better sense of some of the new trends emerging on and off the vessels and a reaffirmation of the fact that even within a relatively confined space there is always room for progress and innovation.

Victoria, Century Cruises assure their Yangtze vessels are safe

The Victoria Sophia was not far from the Eastern Star when the latter ship capsized on the Yangtze.

As search and rescue efforts continued Tuesday following the capsizing of the Chinese river cruise vessel Eastern Star on the Yangtze River, two of the largest Yangtze River cruise operators serving the U.S. market said that their passengers and vessels are safe.

“Despite heavy rain and wind, Victoria Cruises’ fleet had not experienced out-of-the-ordinary navigation issues. The Victoria Sophia, which was downstream from the Eastern Star in nearby Wuhan when the tragedy occurred, is sailing on schedule and reports manageable conditions,” New York-based Victoria Cruises said in a statement.

While it’s too early to determine exactly what went wrong on the Eastern Star, Victoria Cruises executives said the tragedy underscores the need for higher safety and inspection standards on the Yangtze.

The Eastern Star was a much smaller vessel in comparison to most of the Victoria ships, yet it was carrying nearly double the number of passengers that Victoria vessels carry, according to Victoria Cruises.

The Eastern Star, at 2,200 gross tons, was carrying 405 passengers, five travel agents and 47 crew members for a total of 457 people aboard when it capsized. By comparison, the smallest vessel in the Victoria fleet is the 198-passenger Victoria Grace, which is 3,868 gross tons. The largest ship in the Victoria fleet is the 378-passenger Victoria Jenna, which measures 10,680 gross tons.

Chinese river cruise line Century Cruises, which provides charters for several U.S. river cruise companies and tour operators including Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Avalon Waterways, said that its vessels do not normally sail on the stretch of river where the Eastern Star capsized.

Century Cruises vessels normally travel between Chongqing and Yichang, and the capsizing took place further downstream near Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province, noted Richard Xie, director of marketing and sales for Century.

Century also said that its vessels have a much larger gross tonnage-to-passenger ratio than the Eastern Star. The smallest vessel in the Century fleet is the 186-passenger Century Star at 4,255 gross tons. And the two largest vessels in the fleet, the 398-passenger Century Legend and Century Paragon, each measure 12,516 gross tons.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the Chinese passengers [onboard the Eastern Star] as we pray for their safe rescue,” James Pi, chairman of Victoria Cruises, said in a statement. Rescue attempts are underway with many pitching in to support emergency workers, including local fishing boats.

“This is just too sad,” said Xie. “We feel sorry for those who have not been rescued and make the best wish to all of them.”