MBAVALON200x115 Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran is aboard the new Avalon Panorama. Her first dispatch follows.

One year ago, the team at Avalon Waterways and parent company Globus had a novel idea. They detailed the design of a sliding glass door that would essentially transform staterooms into open-air balconies and alleviate the need for an outdoor balcony that eats up crucial cabin square footage.

The resulting 200-square-foot staterooms were unveiled over the weekend during the christening cruise of Avalon’s new ship, the Avalon Panorama, and for all intents and purposes, the indoor/outdoor, window/balcony concept works.

Isn’t it funny sometimes how such a seemingly simple fix can solve a problem that had been stumping the river cruise industry for sometime now?

River cruise operators, restricted by the confined measurements of river ships, were forced to choose between balconies or larger staterooms. Instead, Avalon decided to try to let passengers have their cake and eat it, too.

The ship has 64 of these "Panorama Suites," as Avalon calls them. (The 17 lower-deck cabins measure 172 square feet and only have window portals, as is common on lower-deck cabins that sit partly below water level.) The larger staterooms feature a small sitting area, beds that face toward the panoramic windows and a marble bathroom with standing shower.

While on many river cruise ships there is often only one or two movies offered in the staterooms nightly, Avalon’s new entertainment system offers a menu, complete with TV, music and movie options for guests to choose from.

Avalon now offers room service for breakfast, and there is a minibar in the staterooms.

To give you a firsthand look at the newly designed stateroom, I shot a video tour of my room.

Indeed, the Panorama staterooms exemplify how close to true comfort and luxury river cruise cabins have become. And it’s been a long journey, one that we know is nearing its end when the few complaints about the new staterooms included their low lighting, the overabundance of European channels on the TV (the ship does, in fact, sail in Europe) and the European power outlets (vs. having American or Australian ones, since Avalon predominantly sells to those nationalities).

We've come a long way from the days of (often valid) complaints on river cruise ships that the showers were tiny, and there was nowhere to store baggage, among other design and space flaws.

I’ve heard of, but thankfully never experienced, a bygone era when toilets resided within the shower. I have a picture in my head, and it’s not a pretty one.

I’d rather river cruise in a world of marble bathrooms, comfy bedding and hell, why not a loveseat, balcony window wide open, as the castles of the Rhine River glide by?


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