5 little things I wish every cruise line would copy from Avalon Waterways

2 weeks ago 8

To deliver a great experience, cruise lines have to get the big things right. For instance, they need to design ships that flow well and have venues that excite their customers, and they need to build enticing itineraries. They need to deliver great service.

But they have to get the little things right, too.

Indeed, it's the little things that can make all the difference between a good and a great cruise experience.

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I was reminded of that this past week while on board a preview sailing for Avalon Alegria, the newest vessel from river cruise line Avalon Waterways.

As I've seen time and again on Avalon sailings over the past two decades, it's a brand that gets a lot of little things right — in ways that I wish more cruise lines would copy.

Surprisingly, most of the things that I've listed below have not been copied widely by other lines, even though Avalon implemented some of them quite a few years ago.

Here are five little things that Avalon does that I'd love to see spread to other cruise brands.

Beds facing the view

AVALON WATERWAYS

If there is one thing that really sets Avalon apart from most of its competitors, it is this: The beds in most cabins on its ships face the view.

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It's not just the view-facing beds that make Avalon cabins special. It's the use of an almost complete glass wall along the view side of many of the rooms to frame the passing scenery.

This meant that while propped up in my bed on Avalon Alegria — which is based on Portugal's famously scenic Douro River — I could watch an ever-moving landscape of rolling hills, vineyards and centuries-old towns without ever turning my head.

This has been a defining feature of Avalon since it unveiled its first "panorama suites" specifically built with view-facing beds and giant glass walls on ships in 2011. Every one of Avalon's 16 vessels now has them.

It's such a wonderful innovation — traditionally, most beds in cruise cabins face sideways to an interior wall — that I wrote an entire story on why I still think Avalon has the best cabins in river cruising.

Yours-and-mine towels

GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

Is that wet towel on the bathroom hook yours or your companions? If you're as grossed out as I am about accidentally using somebody else's already-used towel, you'll love this second little unusual thing that Avalon does in its cabins. It stocks each bathroom with "yours-and-mine" bath and hand towels in two colors: white and brown.

The idea is that you claim one of the colors, your plus-one takes the other, and you never mix up your towels again.

Related: Avalon Waterways is known for offering active outings

If you're in the camp that feels like the bathroom best practice is to discard towels after just one use, this doesn't matter, of course. But for the increasing numbers of eco-conscious among us who hang our towels up for multiple reuses, it cleverly solves the problem of towel mixup.

Every time I see it on an Avalon ship, it makes me smile.

A breakfast tower of superfoods

GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

Bio linseeds, we're told, support a healthy heart and reduce the risk of a stroke. Basil seeds assist in reducing inflammation. Wolfberries help strengthen our immune system.

You can get all three of these superfoods, as well as several others, including sunflower seeds and chia seeds, each morning at the breakfast buffet on Avalon ships. They appear on a "tower of superfoods" that is usually near an array of fresh fruit, smoothies and other healthful breakfast options, accompanied by a sign that explains their health value.

It's part of a health-minded approach to dining at Avalon that also includes locally sourced items for the ship's daily menus and lists of 14 different potential allergens in dishes — including peanuts, gluten, crustaceans and lupines — that appear prominently on menus.

Additionally, the line's Avalon Fresh program brings a focus on artfully crafted salads, high-protein plates, and vegetarian and vegan specialties to the menus found on board.

Conversation starters in the lounge

GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

Struggling to come up with a topic to discuss with those strangers sitting across from you in the lounge? Struggle no more. Avalon ships now have prompts to help you get chatty.

As I saw on Avalon Alegria, coffee tables throughout lounges have little plexiglass trays holding cards with conversation starters written on their backs. Pick one up, and you have a ready-made topic to break the ice.

"Where would you volunteer if you had a free day tomorrow?" asked one of the cards I turned over while sitting with a group of strangers of both old and new friends in the lounge last week on Avalon Alegria.

I know my answer. What's yours? Next time we're on a ship together, let's discuss.

Spacious showers

GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

Finding oneself jammed into a not-quite-big-enough shower is a hazard of cruising. Space on ships comes at a premium, and many cruise ship bathrooms (and cabins) are relatively small.

However, Avalon long ago figured out a nifty trick to steal a little more space for the showers in its cabin bathrooms without taking away too much from the space available for the rest of the room. It angles one of the walls in its standard cabin bathrooms outward just enough to create a wider space for the shower.

The wall that is angled outward is the one shared with the bedroom area, and the angling cuts into the space available on the side of the bed in the bedroom area farthest from the door. It's a reallocation of space that really isn't noticeable to someone on the bedroom side of the wall.

The angling on the bathroom side, though, makes a big difference. The showers feel spacious.

Bottom line

The above list isn't all encompassing. I included five of my favorite little things that Avalon does on its ships. But the list could as easily have had several additional items. I love the way Avalon offers four mattress firmness options for its cabin beds, for instance — an unusual option made possible by using mattresses with different firmless levels on their tops and bottoms combined with different mattress toppers.

Avalon also has club lounges on its ships with complimentary espresso drinks and snacks that are open to all, not just elite customers. In one of my favorite little touches for an older demographic such as me (I'm just turning 55), the line keeps reading glasses at the entrance to its dining room for people who need a little magnification to read the dinner menu.

To sum up, Avalon Waterways does many little things that make for a better cruise experience, from positioning the beds in cabins to face the view to offering superfoods on the side in its dining room at breakfast. Other cruise lines might want to take notice.

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Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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