Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

InsightWhen Avalon Waterways unveiled plans in late May to launch what it called a "Suite Ship" -- the Avalon Panorama with 64 suites at 200 square feet each -- the very definition of what constitutes a river cruise suite was put into question.

"In an ideal situation, a suite should be a two-room situation," said Ron Santangelo, who served as president of Deilmann's North America operations for 13 years, and is now vice president of business development at Ama Waterways. "The word has been used and abused."

If a cabin just has "a sitting area," said Santangelo, it should be called a "junior suite."

"If you wanted to be a purist, that's the game," he added. "That said, no one's a purist anymore."

Indeed, river cruising takes its notes from the hotel and cruise industries, where the lines are also becoming increasingly blurred between what defines a suite, compared to a regular room or cabin. And while some feel that the term "suite" should really be reserved for cabins with two separate rooms, others feel the term suite is about a certain level of comfort and luxury.

"We took a page from the hotel and big-ship areas. From the hotel area, they define a suite as having a separate living area: sofa, chairs, some kind of area that can accommodate space beyond the bed," said Steve Born, vice president of marketing for the Globus Family of Brands, which owns Avalon Waterways.

"For Avalon, anything 200 square feet and above is a suite, and the reason is we use that extra space for a living area. Size does matter, but it's not just size but how you use it. It's how you manipulate that space to have the extra living area, which can really be utilized."

Part of what's at play is that there is no single definition of a suite in river cruising, so river cruise lines define the word themselves based on how they want to market and sell certain cabins.

"In river cruising there is no governing body that defines what a suite is," Guy Young, president of Uniworld River Cruises, wrote in an email. "This does leave the door open for different interpretation. In the case of Uniworld, there is a clear difference between our standard staterooms and suites."

According to Young, suites on Uniworld ships are typically 50% larger than regular staterooms and include a separate seating area. Suites are also defined with additional amenities such as free laundry service, shoe shine, bottle of wine on arrival, daily fruit and cookie plate, continental breakfast delivered to the room upon request and DVD players.

On Uniworld's River Beatrice, launched last year, and the River Antoinette, launching next year, Uniworld offers butler service in the suites, as well.

Looking at size, there will be eight suites on Uniworld's newest ship, Antoinette, at 294 square feet each and one owner's suite at 391 square feet.

Santagelo didn't seem to think the wide-ranging definitions in the river cruise marketplace could water down the implication of luxury the word suite is meant to imply or just create confusion.

"The word suite implies luxury without boundaries. The fact that everyone uses it in different ways is really not a liability," he said, adding that on Ama's new Amabella the suites are 350 square feet and are called suites despite not having two separate rooms.

The bottom line, said Santangelo, is that "on the newer ships there are a lot more of them," regardless of what you want to call them.

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