Elizabeth Gilbert Christened a New All-suite Cruise Ship in Budapest — Here's an Inside Look
On a sunny April day on the Danube in Budapest, a new 443-foot baby docked near the city’s Széchenyi Chain Bridge received a blessing for her future life of travel from acclaimed author Elizabeth Gilbert. Acting as godmother to the Avalon Envision, the newest river cruise ship from Avalon Waterways, Gilbert christened the vessel with a bottle of Torley — Hungary’s most famous sparkling wine. Her blessing spoke to the promise of curiosity and discovery: “May we all be changed for the better by what we discover along this river.”
The new Avalon Envision welcomes guests on board with rich gray, gold, and violet decor inspired by Dutch interior designer Liane van Leeuwen, original art in common areas by Dutch artist Eelco Maan, and cabin paintings by Dutch artist Sofie Fisher. Cuisine includes Avalon Fresh menu options, premium coffee and spirits, and versatile FlexDining venues, including the casual Panorama Bistro, al fresco Sky Grill, or the elegant, glass-walled Dining Room that provides river views during meals.
Related: My Favorite Place: Elizabeth Gilbert
Library books, cards, and board games are favorites in the Club Lounge (which is also an ideal place for afternoon tea or coffee and cookies), and the Observation Lounge affords the perfect vantage point to watch the world go by. The expansive Sky Deck includes a whirlpool, premium lounge chairs, shade awnings, and deck games, so travelers always have an option for exercise and fresh air while sailing.
“For the first time, our entire fleet in Europe and Southeast Asia is comprised completely of Suite Ships,” says Pam Hoffee, managing director of Avalon Waterways. The new Avalon Envision is the company’s 13th Suite Ship in Europe and 16th worldwide. These signature ships feature 200-square-foot Panorama Suites on two full decks with open-air balconies that have windows that open wide. Even better, beds face the views.
For the 166 guests on Avalon Envision, there are 65 Panorama Suites and two larger Royal Suites (300 square feet), as well as 16 smaller deluxe staterooms that measure 172 square feet. The wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows in the suites open 11 feet wide, blurring the line between outside and in on beautiful weather days when guests want to relax in their own rooms yet not miss the scenery and fresh air of the outdoors.
In 2019, the company has added an Avalon Adventure Host to all 2019 European cruises. With help from the host, guests can check out a bike for a ride through town, grab a Nordic walking stick and get hiking directions to a hillside vineyard or castle, find a kayak excursion on the river, or even a complimentary fitness class on the Sky Deck.
Also new in 2019 is an Avalon Choice menu on every river cruise itinerary, giving travelers their pick of a wide array of included excursions, from classic sightseeing to immersive discoveries, and active adventures. And while river cruising allows the luxury of relaxing and letting the beautiful views roll by, when it comes to excursions, everyone has a different preference. Always lured to adventurous pursuits, I chose active options from taking a bicycle tour of Budapest to going underground in the Szemlő-hegyi and Pál-völgyi caves.
“My favorite moment in the caves was discovering that our guide had a strange dark wit, so I stayed near him because I wanted more of that,” says Gilbert. “There was one point when we walked down the mountain through a children’s park and he suggested that we go down the slide. I had canvas pants on, and they slowed me down, so I joked that we should have been told to bring our slidey pants. Without blinking, he said ‘I am very sorry we did not provide you with slidey pants.’ I look for those moments. They give me the opportunity to get to know people and be delighted.”
More opportunities to dig deep into delight exist through the Avalon YourWay program launching in 2020, making it easier for travelers to extend their river cruise vacation with land itineraries that match their preferences without having to organize it all. Avalon takes care of details like ship-to-hotel transportation, hotel accommodations, and sightseeing, letting guests immerse themselves in vacation relaxation.
Before my time aboard the Avalon Envision, I never considered myself a cruiser. With extensive experience on small craft from surfboards to paddleboards and kayaks to sailboats, my only two cruising experiences have been on small ships. While they fit my personality far better than the behemoth cruise ships, set dining times, the feeling of a lack of flexibility, and smaller rooms made me consider forever passing on future opportunities. Now, I’ve reconsidered my position.