PHOTO: Avalon Waterways’ Avalon Visionary docked adjacent to Viking River Cruises’ Viking Vili. (photo by Jason Leppert)

Prior to sailing on Avalon Waterways this week, I had experienced AmaWaterways, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Viking River Cruises.

I am now well versed in the product thanks to the exceptional Avalon Visionary.

It’s hard to differentiate in river cruising. More often than not, vessel dimensions are nearly identical, and the orientation therein is very similar. It’s not like the difference between, say, the 5,479-passenger Harmony of the Seas and the 930-passenger Viking Star on the oceans.

Viking River Cruises’ ubiquitous Longships are 443 feet in length as are a number of Avalon’s 16 Suite Ships exactly 443 feet in length. Viking’s carry 190 guests while Avalon’s accommodate 166.

Some, including the Avalon Visionary, are actually a bit shorter at 361 feet, giving them an even smaller guest capacity of only 128. This intimate size is closer in line with Uniworld’s Joie de Vivre that can also accommodate 128.

Viking effectively maximizes the usable volume to include more cabins with four full-length decks and a blunt bow, but Avalon is efficient in its own way.

So-called suites, (actually median-level staterooms), are comparable in square footage but wider and feature the best in riverboat cabin layouts. They do not include outside verandas like Viking and AmaWaterways but do feature floor-to-ceiling windows that open to become French balconies for beds to wonderfully face.

Bathrooms are also the best at providing the most room to shower, dry off and use the toilet or sink independently of each other—not something that can always be said.

To a degree, Avalon is a a bit of a hybrid between AmaWaterways and Viking. The Visionary sports the split mezzanine levels (i.e. four stern decks offset by three bow decks) and warmer decor of Ama while being a tad more limited in programming a la Viking.

READ MORE: Viking River Cruises’ 2017 Viking Longships Review

There is only one dining room onboard the Visionary with the means of extending service in the lounge and outside like Viking, but there are really no dedicated venues beyond. For the most restaurants including room service, travelers will need to upgrade from Avalon’s premium product to Uniworld’s luxury one.

As for food, flavor profiles are very good, while selections are adequate as well—far more choice per menu than on Uniworld. Viking’s fare skews a bit more regional, however, with Avalon’s featuring local cuisine only occasionally.

Avalon also stands out for having a sizable secondary observation lounge at the stern with a 24-hour coffee station and snacks. The forward observation lounge itself is impressive thanks to glass that’s uninterrupted by vertical pillars.

Shoreside considerations are another area where Avalon operates differently.

Included tours often require the use of wireless audio receivers with an earpiece. Rather than needing guests to charge their own nightly, when they are liable to forget, Avalon issues them fully charged by color assignment before excursions. This way they are ready to go and already assigned to the proper radio channel for each guide. This is how the rest should do it to avoid any confusion.

READ MORE: Adventures by Disney Sailing with AmaWaterways AmaKristina Review

I only wish Avalon had a means of scanning guests on and off the ship electronically (like AmaWaterways and Uniworld) instead of needing them to take analog cards with them so reception knows when they are ashore.

All of this is to say that Avalon Waterways is great on details. There are even different colored his and hers bathroom towels in the bathroom.

The company is gathering many of the industry’s best elements together while introducing a number of its own, and guests will be mighty happy with the results.

This post first appeared on TravelPulse.

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