Most people envision huge ships sailing to remote tropical islands when they think about taking a cruise, but river cruises are a fun adventure in their own right.
Known for their fleets of luxury vessels and stops in fabulous locations, Uniworld and Avalon are both cruise lines recognized throughout Europe, Asia, and South America, but which one is right for you?
Whether you’re considering a river cruise for your honeymoon, family vacation or solo trip, we’ve pitted these two companies against each other to help you make the best choice for your next river cruise getaway.
Let’s start by breaking down each one.
Uniworld is a luxury river cruise company operating in multiple riverside cities across Europe and Asia, including India. Additionally, they offer river cruises departing from Peru and Egypt. On top of river cruises, Avalon lets you combine a leisurely riverboat cruise with a journey via train to some of the most spectacular places in the world like the Swiss Alps and Transylvania with their river and rail packages.
Their fleet consists of 17 ships that can carry between 110 and 165 passengers. Each vessel is outfitted with luxury accommodations, sun decks, swimming pools, and gourmet restaurants. Suites are on the small side compared to ocean liners but are surprisingly spacious, and each one is uniquely decorated and comes with a fully stocked minibar. Thoughtful add-ons like luxurious bath products and fresh fruit delivered daily by butler service add to the luxury experience.
Cruises vary in length from about a week long to nearly a month long with a couple of longer sailings sprinkled in throughout the year. The Rivers of the World 2023 cruise sails from Cairo to Lisbob over 47 days. In 2024, a 55-day voyage is scheduled from Lima, Peru to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Much like Uniworld, Avalon offers river cruises across Europe and parts of Asia, Africa, and South America. They vary in length from 4-28 days. They also offer special interest cruises that highlight the best of whatever you’re passionate about, whether that’s literature, wine, history, nature or photography.
18 ships in Avalon’s fleet boast some of the best views in the industry. Many of their ships feature what they call their Panorama Suites. Beds in the Panorama Suites are positioned to face their large floor-to-ceiling windows and roughly 80% of them include a spacious open-air balcony. Avalon’s cabins are around 30% larger than other river cruises.
While the Panorama Suites certainly don’t give guests much of a reason to leave their rooms, there’s always the option to get some fresh air and take in the views from their open-air sky deck, which includes a whirlpool, or from a comfy chair in the observation lounge. If you’d rather stay indoors, you can still take in the scenery from the Panorama Lounge.
Because of their larger rooms, Avalon river cruises carry fewer passengers than Uniworld’s vessels do.
Uniworld vs. Avalon: Cost
Uniworld cruises are all-inclusive and cost roughly between $2000 and $4000 per person, depending on the length of your cruise, what’s included in your itinerary, and the time of year you choose to go. Holiday and themed cruises, for example, tend to be a bit pricier than a standard river cruise.
If you want to stay longer in a certain city, either before or after your river cruise, select Uniworld cruises come with the option to extend your experience by adding accommodation for a few extra days in historic cities like Prague, Paris or Jerusalem.
Avalon river cruises have a bit of a wider price range. Prices start at just under $1000 and can go as high as $7000. Like Uniworld, they are all-inclusive of shore excursions, meals, and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks during mealtimes only. For some cruises that begin in Europe, the cost of your ticket is inclusive of airfare.
If you want to score the best deal, you can book through a river cruise agent who knows all the secrets to land you a great price.
Uniworld vs. Avalon: Entertainment and Activities
Unlike ocean cruises where sailing between destinations can take days, river cruise destinations are much closer together. More of your time will be spent on land exploring, eating on board, listing to talks on board or sleeping, so there isn’t much in the way of onboard activities. Libraries and lounges allow guests to indulge in a bit of reading or socializing between destinations. Shutterbugs will have no shortage of photo opportunities as they sail past the stunning scenery.
Since the destinations provide most of the entertainment and activities, the cruise doesn’t make as much of a difference. The main difference is the numbers. Avalon will have fewer people on each excursion because fewer people are onboard.
When you arrive at your destination of the day, you’ll head out on a land excursion. Enjoy guided walking tours, sample some of the local cuisines, or take in a show. You’ll meet locals and take part in the daily activities they enjoy like dance classes or checking out a local festival.
Uniworld passengers will get to enjoy museums and other popular landmarks without overwhelming crowds thanks to private after-hours tours. Fun nights out are planned in cities with bustling nightlife scenes, like Amsterdam and Prague.
While river cruises tend to be more adult-oriented in general, Uniworld’s family cruises are tailored more towards children and include kid’s menus, movie nights, game rooms, and complimentary bikes to use during the day. Family cruises also offer a few onboard activities for junior and teen cruisers. Cooking and language classes are geared more toward older children, and while the website does mention that they offer activities suitable for kids as young as 4 years old, it doesn’t specifically mention what those activities are.
Avalon lets passengers choose between 3 types of excursions – classic, active or discovery tours. Classic tours pair you up with a local guide who can show you the area’s most famous landmarks and explain the history behind the location. Discovery tours are more immersive, offering activities like painting or cooking classes. Active tours are, you guessed it, more active and are geared towards passengers who want to spend their day ashore biking, hiking or taking part in some other activity that gets the blood pumping.
Excursions are optional and are booked outside the hours of included activities, so passengers never have to give up an activity they paid for in favour of a more niche excursion. If you would rather spend the day exploring on your own, their AvalonGo app can give you recommendations for things to do, places to eat and directions. Complimentary bikes are available to use on land. There is also an onboard fitness center and yoga and pilates classes so folks can get in a bit of movement onboard and still partake in a more leisurely activity.
Avalon cruises welcome children as young as 8, but there are no kid’s programs or facilities offered, so very young children might get bored after just a couple of days.
Food and Drink
Both tour companies’ fares are all-inclusive. Uniworld even offers unlimited drinks including fine regional beer and wine and handcrafted cocktails made with premium spirits. Menus are inspired by the region you’re visiting and prepared with local ingredients. Although menus are panned, they can be adapted to suit dietary requirements or preferences as long as you provide enough notice before sailing.
Avalon cruises offer more choices with its FlexDining program which features flexible seating times and more menu options. Onboard an Avalon cruise, guests can enjoy a breakfast and lunch buffet, or choose to order a la carte at the two other onboard restaurants. Afternoon tea is served daily, and each dinner features 4 gourmet courses expertly prepared by world-class chefs. Complimentary wine is served at dinner and featured cocktails are prepared by an in-house mixologist.
For cruises in Asia and South America, local dishes are provided for lunch and dinner, but Western options are also available. Most dishes are prepared with a North American palate in mind, so you don’t need to worry about going hungry if the local flavors don’t agree with you.
River cruises are somewhat slow-paced and leisurely, and while they’re a great place to socialize while on holiday, they aren’t party boats. They tend to draw an older crowd who aren’t in a rush and want to appreciate the landscape. Nature lovers and photographers flock to river cruises.
With so many striking similarities, it’s hard to say whether one river cruise is ‘better’ than another. It all comes down to where you want to go and what kind of experience you want to have. Both companies offer visits to spectacular places and a wide range of immersive activities to take part in, and while luxury accommodations are guaranteed no matter which company you go with, Avalon is slightly more upscale. However, if you want to bring kids along, Uniworld offers cruises with families in mind.
If you still have trouble deciding, work with our river cruise specialists. They are the experts in finding the perfect river cruise to suit every traveler.