River cruises are a fun and alternative way of touring places like Europe, the Amazon, and Asia. A lot of people associate river cruises with an older crowd. However, they have exploded in popularity in recent years and you can now find a pretty even mix of age ranges on board. River cruises offer the comfort and luxury of boutique hotels and the convenience of train travel, making them especially appealing to honeymooners, too.
If you’re considering a river cruise for your next romantic getaway, you might be overwhelmed by the sheer number of options. In this article, we compare Avalon vs. Viking river cruises. Read on to learn about the subtle differences between the two so you can choose which is best for you.
Avalon vs. Viking River Cruises: Overview
Viking river cruises explore the many waterways of Western and Central Europe as well as the Nile in Egypt, the Mekong Delta in Southeast Asia, the Yangtze River in China, and parts of the Mississippi River in the U.S. Most of their fleet sails in Europe.
Viking also offers some packages that connect with their fleet of ocean liners, such as the Viking Fjords and Shores tour that combines a voyage through Scandinavian fjords with a cruise along the Rhine River. The shortest river cruise offered by Viking is 8 days long and the longest is 23 days.
Viking’s river cruise fleets consists of 64 ships worldwide, each one modeled after Scandinavian longships. Thanks to their sleek design, they’re able to navigate narrow waterways like the Douro River that flows through Portugal’s wine country.
Avalon has a fleet of 19 ships. In addition to sailing many of the same European rivers that Viking does, as well as the Mekong Delta, Avalon also offers tours of the Ganges River in India and the Galapagos Islands and Amazon River in South America.
Avalon’s shortest cruise is 4 days long while their longest cruise is 28 days. Avalon river cruise ships are said to boast the best views in the industry thanks to ingenious designs. Also because of how they are structured, the ships accommodate fewer guests than other river cruises so the decks tend to be less crowded.
Both Avalon and Viking run special cruises through the Netherlands and Belgium during the spring that showcase seasonal tulips in all their stunning colors, as well as Christmas market cruises during the holidays.
Avalon offers several cruises geared toward guests looking for something specific on their tour. They’re called “special interest cruise”’ and include Active Discovery tours for folks who like to keep moving and want an immersive cultural experience, wine and beer tasting cruises, culinary expeditions, Jewish heritage cruises, WWII history tours, photography tours, and the Storytelling Series which features celebrities that have an intimate knowledge of the area.
Both operators offer guests the option to extend their cruise with pre- and post-cruise land tours and hotel packages.
Avalon vs. Viking River Cruises: Cabins
Both Avalon and Viking have made a name for themselves with their luxurious cabins, but a few key differences set them apart. These can be the deciding factor when it comes to choosing between an Avalon vs. Viking river cruise.
Viking’s cabins come with the option of a French balcony or a veranda. French balcony doors open up the space nicely and let in some fresh air, but they don’t offer any outdoor space. Verandas, on the other hand, provide a bit of outdoor seating. Cabin bathrooms are spacious and come with heated floors and anti-fog mirrors.
On the other hand, cabins on Avalon’s signature Suites Ships all come with French balconies. The suites are much more spacious than Viking cabins, but don’t have any outdoor seating space. Additionally, Avalon provides each guest with a great view by configuring all of the beds to face the window instead of the wall.
Avalon vs. Viking River Cruises: Food and Drinks
Both cruise lines have a wide selection of dishes that are included in the cost of your ticket. Gourmet meals include familiar options and regional specialties. Non-alcoholic drinks, wine, and beer are included with lunch and dinner onboard both Viking and Avalon cruises. Guests are also welcome to bring their own alcohol on board, and Viking has an unlimited beverage package that you can purchase.
Meals are taken in the main lounge of Avalon’s ships and guests can choose to eat indoors or al fresco. Viking’s dining room is located in the Aquavit Terrace, a glass-enclosed space that can open up if the weather is nice.
Avalon might have the upper hand when it comes to culinary options. They have a barbecue on the top deck that gets used on warm, sunny evenings. They also offer guests a 15-course tasting menu that includes wine pairings. This set menu is served several times throughout the duration of the cruise and offered for free once to each passenger. Avalon also has more vegetarian and vegan options thanks to their partnership with the Wrenkh brothers who specialize in veggie dishes.
Avalon vs. Viking River Cruises: Entertainment and Activities
Viking and Avalon, like almost every other river cruise operator, offer one free shore excursion at every port. Mostly these free excursions are around 2-3 hours long and consist of walking tours that highlight popular tourist attractions of the area.
After that, passengers are free to explore the area on their own (Avalon has free bikes that guests can borrow, while Viking does not) or take part in an additional tour or activity for an added cost. These tours might include a visit to a museum, tickets to a play or show, a cooking or dance class, or a hike or water-based activity. Not every port of call includes these extra activities; they’re mostly reserved for towns that offer lots to see and do.
When the ship is sailing, there is plenty to do on board. Again, some of these activities are included and some incur an extra charge. Tastings, yoga, or a presentation are some typical afternoon activities, while evening entertainment might include karaoke or movie night, dancing, or a special dinner.
Alternatively, passengers can enjoy some quiet time enjoying the ship’s onboard amenities. River cruise ships don’t offer as much in this area as ocean liners, because they’re smaller and not as much time is spent on board between ports. That being said, Avalon does offer more amenities for guests to enjoy than Viking does, including a whirlpool on the top deck, a small fitness center, and a salon. Both cruise companies offer a well-stocked library on board.
Avalon vs. Viking River Cruises: Cost
The cost of your river cruise will vary by region, season, number of days, the type of stateroom you’re staying in, and whether or not you choose to purchase add-ons like extra excursions, pre- or post-cruise extensions, or drink packages. In general, river cruises cost more in Egypt, Asia, and South America than they do in Europe.
Viking river cruises cost between $2500-$3000 for 8 days in Europe, or roughly $300 per day. Fares run a bit higher during the holidays, and specialty cruises are more expensive than standard cruises. Viking has special offers several times throughout the year that can save you money, and booking at least a year in advance can save you around $200-$300 per week.
Avalon follows a similar pricing structure but is slightly more expensive. Their shortest European cruise (4 days along the Danube River) starts at around $300 per day. Special interest cruises are also more costly than standard cruises, around $500+ per day.
Avalon vs. Viking River Cruises: Atmosphere
Viking and Avalon are luxury cruise liners that attract a slightly older clientele interested in learning about the culture and history of the area. However, river cruises for young people are popular with travelers who have grown tired of backpacking from hostel to hostel. You’re likely to find a mix of passengers from every demographic between the ages of 35-65.
Since river cruises are much smaller than ocean liners, passengers can get to know each other better as the voyage continues; social events like karaoke nights and dance parties encourage guests to mingle. For this reason, river cruises are as appealing to solo travelers as they are to groups and couples.
Couples traveling with kids should keep in mind that while Avalon does permit children over the age of 8 onboard, there are no child-friendly entertainment options, kids’ menus, or child-minding services available. Viking River Cruises are not kid-friendly and all passengers must be over the age of 18.
Avalon vs. Viking River Cruises: The Bottom Line
Avalon and Viking river cruises are very similar in many ways. Both are luxury travel companies that offer comfortable accommodations, superb customer service, and gourmet meals while giving passengers the chance to see the world in a unique way.
Avalon river cruises are a better choice for passengers with a keen interest in specific niches like history or photography. They also offer more choices when it comes to entertainment and amenities and carry fewer passengers. If you’ve already visited Europe several times and are looking for something more immersive, Avalon might be for you.
However, Viking has more itineraries and gives you flexible booking options. If you’re traveling with a group or have a limited time frame, you might have more success finding a tour that works for everyone with Viking.
Not sure whether either of these is the right river cruise line for you? Check out articles on AmaWaterways vs. Avalon, Viking vs. AmaWaterways, Uniworld vs. Viking, Uniworld vs. Avalon, and Uniworld vs. Tauck, or talk to a river cruise specialist to find the perfect one for you.