May 2015 - Avalon Tapestry II to Europe
This cruise was outstanding in every way -- the quality of the ship, the comfort of the rooms, the food, the excursions and, of course, the splendour of the country we were traveling through.
Because the Seine was high, we were not able to depart from Paris, but the bus ride to our first stop was short and comfortable, with a guide chatting to us on and off as we drove. Embarkation couldn't have been easier. No waiting in long lines. We were welcomed aboard and greeted by most of the staff and shown immediately to our room. River boat rooms are not large, but this was larger than most and very comfortable. Our sliding glass door turned our room into a balcony, from which we had a beautiful view.
Our cruise director, Jean Loup, was absolutely wonderful. He is funny, creative, informative and so organized. He teased us abour our early departure the next morning to go to Giverny and see Monet's gardens (8 AM PROMPT! on bus) but assured us we'd be grateful in the long run. He was exactly right, of course. We were one of the first groups to arrive and so many of our pictures don't have people in them at all. The gardens are breathtaking, one of the highlights of the trip. Jean Loup also gave us a special treat, buying local cheese and wine in Rouen for a wine and cheese tasting in the late afternoon and a lesson on certain French cheeses. It was great to taste the real Camembert!!!
As was Normandy. Jean Loup had arranged a special ceremony for us...the National Anthem as we faced the cemetary and the playing of Taps, as we faced the statue of the young soldier. Though the park does this ceremony regularly for groups that request it (we heard another before we left), it is still personal and moving. And our guide let us experience our time at the cemetary on our own, so that we had the opportunity to take it in at our own pace. She provided plenty of narration on the bus getting there and at the other stops, so we were filled with a sense of history as we walked around.
All the excusions were wonderful. Such an inspiring group of guides, filled with information, personal anecdotes, often a sense of humor and always vast experience. Only once did we feel too overwhelmed with minute detail. Most of the time, the guides sensed our attention span, allowed us time to take in things for ourselves at the same time that they gave us enough background to appreciate in greater depth what we were seeing.
The food was great, plenty of choice but not too much, as I've sometimes felt on ocean cruises. The staff was friendly, helpful and observant. (Wine and water were poured the moment a glass looked like it was getting dangerously low!!!!) The tables were set for four and six, which worked out well for everyone, giving us all a chance to meet new people.
Of course the country is beautiful -- lush, quaint, dotted with small towns, and wonderful in terms of the glimpse of another way of life it showed us as we glided along. Despite the reputation of the French being standoff-ish, we found everyone warm and welcoming. I had a few opportunities to pratice my French, though I found mostly the French responded to me in English.
This is the first river cruise we have been on, and we would travel with Avalon again in a heartbeat. In many ways, I preferred it to ocean cruising -- I thought the excusions were better; I like the intimacy of a small boat; I don't miss all the big entertainment (we did have some fun, light entertainment most evenings); I prefer the less overwhelming food choices, with excellent quality; and I enjoy the gliding on the river, seeing the country. I almost wish we'd been on the river longer!!!