As we sail into 2011, Europe remains a popular meeting and incentive destination, and more planners are discovering the joys – and value – of river cruising.

River vessels offer intimate and immersive cultural experiences – your attendees glide serenely down grand rivers through idyllic European villages and into the heart of grand cities. No need for transfers or tendering once you reach your destination – your vessel will dock right in the center of historic towns, so your attendees are just steps away from “Old World” treasures.

Planners also love the all-inclusive nature of river cruising – gourmet meals, complimentary wine and beer, free Internet access – even shore excursions are included on most new ships.

If you have a group of under 200, nothing beats meandering through the beautiful countryside on a sparkling new “floating boutique hotel”. A record-breaking number of new ships will be plying the rivers of Europe in 2011 and 2012, and they’re nothing less than stunning. These vessels boast amenities and service levels that rival deluxe European hotels. Here are three of the most innovative vessels that will raise the bar on 5-star river cruising:

Uniworld’s River Antoinette

Decorated in French chateau style, the opulent S.S. Antoinette boasts a 10-foot Baccarat chandelier in the lobby (formerly found in New York’s famous Tavern on the Green Restaurant) and fine Brazilian marble along the floors and walls. This vessel offers several unique-to-river-cruising features, including:

  • Suites with alcoves that can be converted from glassed-in conservatories to open-air balconies by pushing a switch
  • The first full suite to feature separate living and sleeping rooms
  • Butler service in the suites
  • A 20-seat movie theater with state-of-the-art flat screen Dolby surround sound, plush seats, a popcorn cart and assortment of hors d’oeuvres
  • A pair of all-weather rooms – the South Beach-like Leopard Bar and the elegant L’Orangerie, an indoor/outdoor dining venue. What makes them unique: the ceilings and windows can collapse on demand to pass under a low bridge
  • A glassed-in heated pool facility with gorgeous mosaic tiling, a wall of windows and an adjacent spa

Uniworld’s new 164-passenger S.S. Antoinette will begin 7-night Rhine River cruises between Amsterdam and Basel in March, 2011.

Viking River Cruises’ Prestige

The Viking Prestige will offer cutting-edge design, unmatched comfort and environmentally-friendly technology. Features of the 188-passenger river ship  include:

  • Cabins with floor-to-ceiling French balconies and sliding glass doors on the top two decks
  • The largest suites on the Danube, measuring up to 310 square feet
  • Hybrid engines to provide a quieter-than-normal, “green” ride
  • Public areas include a sun deck with 360 degree views, shaded sitting area and bar; restaurant with panoramic windows; observation lounge and bar; library; boutique; cafe
  • Free shipwide wireless Internet

Viking Prestige will begin 7-night romantic Danube River cruises in July, 2011.

Avalon Waterways’ Avalon Panorama

Avalon Panorama is set to revolutionize river cruising as the first “all suite ship” sailing the grand rivers of Europe.

  • The vessel features 64 Panorama Suites across its top two decks with 200 square feet of living space (30% more than the standard river ship cabin).
  • In addition to marble bathrooms, cabins include a large seating area adjacent to a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall panoramic window that stretches 11 feet wide and opens up seven-feet wide – a first for a river ship. When open, it will give your attendees the feeling of being on an open-air balcony.
  • Luxury cabin amenities include fresh flowers, premium L’Occitane toiletries and new Avalon-branded deluxe bedding.
  • Public spaces with floor-to-ceiling views; an expanded fitness center; spacious sky deck with premium lounge chairs, shade system and whirlpool; and open-air bistro for outdoor grilled lunches.

Fun Fact: The typical cruise ship balcony fits two to five passengers comfortably; at about 50 sq feet, the Open-Air Balcony on the Avalon Panorama will accommodate 15 persons.

Setting sail in May 2011, Avalon Panorama will offer 5 to 15-night Danube cruises. With enough lead time, you can charter this 166-passenger ship and customize the itinerary.

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