This 10-day cruise was the second of the 20-day back-to-back Treasures of France: A Grand River Journey from Normandy to Provence Vantage River Cruise. We sailed down the Saone and Rhone Rivers visiting the ports of Chalon Sur Saone (overnight,) Tournus, Macon, Lyon (2 overnights,) Vienne (overnight,) Viviers/Avignon (2 overnights) and Tarascon, (overnight.) We flew home from Marasilles, France.
After a five-hour coach ride from Vernon, France that included a stop for lunch compliments of Vantage, we arrived at our deluxe ms River Discovery II, a 179 passenger, 46-crew riverboat docked in Chalon Sur Saone, France. The boat entered service in 2012. Our staterooms were ready immediately and staffers carrying our luggage escorted us to our rooms. We enjoyed light refreshments in the Captain’s Club. Then, we explored the charming town and its attractions on our own, within walking distance of our boat. A Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party followed by safety, ship and port briefings with the Captain, Hotel Manager and Cruise director were held in the Peppermint Lounge. After dinner, we unpacked and took a stroll outside.
The ship was lovely and the public areas were quite attractive and comfortable. Our French Balcony 165 sq, feet Stateroom #307 (same number as our previous cabin) was well appointed. It contained plenty of storage with two large wardrobes, deep drawer and shelf space. Two end tables flanked the comfortable bed covered with two fluffy comforters and additional pillows. Two chairs, a desk, small table (with ice bucket and complimentary bottles of water daily,) wall artwork and plenty of lamps with good lighting completed the decor. There was a safe and hair dryer in the room. The bathroom containing a large shower had a generous replenished supple of high quality shampoos, conditioners, soaps, shower gels and body lotion. The towels were fluffy and replaced as needed twice daily. The only thing missing was a mini fridge. Our very friendly cabin steward, Kevin was efficient, very accommodating and kept our stateroom spotless. Nightly chocolates on our pillows were a nice touch as was the elephant towel animal one night.
The boat has complimentary ship-wide Wi-Fi. Coffee, hot chocolate and ice are available at conveniently located 24 hr. machines. Complimentary bicycles are available for passenger use in ports. The boat has an elevator or a hydraulic lift chair between decks for passengers with special needs. Unfortunately, the riverboats are not wheelchair accessible due to the width of gangways in European river ports. We did have one wheelchair bound passenger and the staff accommodated him nicely to his satisfaction and that of his aide. There are no medical facilities on board although there is an AED defibrillator. As President Club members, having traveled with Vantage on at least three trips, we received a laundry allowance, which was an excellent benefit that we appreciated and used.
Our food onboard was delicious; the presentation was artistic. Breakfast was always a buffet with a few different items each day. Lunch was also a buffet but most days you could also order off the menu. I always ordered the delicious chilled soups and pasta dish when available and went to the buffet. Spaghetti Carbonara was a standout for me. For dinner there were several delicious choices in addition to the standby entrees always available such as Salmon, Chicken, a Vegetarian dish and Steak. Our party of four was completely satisfied with the food offerings. The service was always very friendly, professional and efficient. Complimentary wine, soda and beer are freely available at dinnertime. Open Seating Dinner in the elegant Compass Rose Restaurant is served at 7 pm. The Captain’s Club has alternative lighter dining by reservation. This more intimate dining area has a retractable roof and beautiful views of the river. President’s Club members and Owner’s Suite and Deluxe Suites passengers may use in-room dining. Special meal requests are honored but must be received prior to sailing. Special occasions are celebrated in a grand way at dinnertime. Dress for dinner was casual except for the Captain’s Gala Dinner when most men wore jackets. We all enjoyed an included local lunch off the boat on our port stop in Tournus.
Although very port intensive, the staff found time for some interesting onboard activities A Galley Tour, Wheelhouse Tour, Introduction to French Language and Culture Talk, French Waterways Presentation, Cheese, Wine and Bread Presentations (with tasting and sampling,) Santons (local high quality figurines -not a buying opportunity) Lecture & display and a Silk Painting Demonstration. The Crème Brulee Presentation and tasting was fun with recipes hand out afterwards. Guest lecturer Olivier Pachot gave an interesting lecture on France Today that evoked many questions and comments by the packed audience.
There was some outstanding entertainment on board including the extremely popular, Gypsy Night, dancer and musicians, the wonderful classical recital with La Strada, a lively French Evening with accordion music, and energetic dance music with the “Party Band.” One night we also had “The one and only ms River Discovery II Crew Show“; another night a movie was shown. A popular and fun activity was the after dinner Pub Crawl in Avignon with our lively Cruise Director, George and Concierge, Maya. The highpoint for me and for many others was the scenic sunset sail with commentary into the magnificent city of Lyons. We all gathered in the Peppermint Lounge, aft deck or the Captain’s Club to photograph the sights along the way.
On such a small ship, we became quite friendly with all the passengers and the entire staff including the senor officers. My husband thought that this was the best thing about the cruise. It certainly added to our enjoyment. George did a suburb job as Cruise director; he was everywhere and always available for conversation or help. Service throughout the ship was excellent from the front desk, to the dining room, the lounges and housekeeping. The passengers were mostly older Americans with some younger passengers as well.
Complimentary Quiet Vox Audio Headsets were perfect on all the sightseeing tours. Most tours - 17 between the two cruises including those on coaches were included. Not only were they worthwhile and educational, they were just plain fun and we looked forward to them daily. I took two exceptional optional tours to Pont du Gard in Avignon ($65) and the Medieval Village of Perouges ($59.) in Lyon. Our most unusual tour was a visit to a local goat farm that included a wine tasting with goat cheese. Visiting the Pope’s Palace and taking the Secrets of Avignon were other highlights as was our city tour in Lyon. We saw beautiful cathedrals, chateaus, castles, vineyards, quaint medieval cities, towers, abbeys and bucolic countrysides as we sailed along the winding waterways. Maya, our competent Concierge was onboard to help passengers handle individual arrangements or dinner reservations in each of the town.
How did this cruise differ from the previous one? Well first, the weather was warmer and sunnier as we headed south. We did more daylight sailing. There was more wine tasting, too and visits to vineyards. Of course, the cities differed and we passed through 14 locks as we navigated the rivers. Both cruises were equally rewarding.
I highly recommend this Vantage river cruise. Vantage was the only company that offered this combination of two back-to-back river cruises through France for a total of 20 days in France. By combining the two cruises we saved $789 per couple than if purchased separately. Both cruises exceeded my expectations and I looked forward to a future trip with Vantage Deluxe World Tours. My one disappointment was that the included ride on the famous TGV high-speed train to Dijon & guided walking tour for our connection between the two cruises did not materialize and hadn’t been done for at least three years. Vantage needs to remove this from its literature.
Using the Smart Pay Plan, we saved 10% off the cost of our cruise. Vantage offers the lowest price per day of all the river cruise companies that we compared. Passengers receive a 5% Travel Reward that may be used on a future trip. Vantage will add the newest luxurious 6-star ship, ms River Voyager in 2016. If you have not taken a river cruise, I hope that this review motivates you to consider one. There are different river cruise companies to choose from and from what I heard talking with passengers from the different boats, all are excellent. Remember that river conditions may affect your cruise. Photos of the boat and photos of the destinations will follow