Ports visited were very good. Food and portion sizes were also very good. The price of cocktails also represented a good value. Excursions can be informative, but sometimes guides are hard to understand. It's also difficult to follow the tours when there are several other tours happening at the same time. Some places (
Cabins were small because indoor space was taken up with outdoor deck which we barely used. French balconies are all you need on a river cruise. Food was good, service slow in the dining room. We had an over zealous waiter which was annoying.
It is impossible beforehand, to get the exact hours you are in a port on a river cruise. On a ocean cruise you can tell before you go the exact hours you are in a port. As with all river cruises the itinerary is tight, not enough free time, and too much bus time.
We chose this cruise so that we could see Paris during Christmas time and it does not disappoint. The decorations and store windows were magical. As the last cruise of the season we had the added benefit of a very excited crew ready to go home. The crew was spectacular, the food magnificent, and the excursions were very entertaining and educational. You might want to forgo the large Paris Christmas Village and visit the more authentic village markets on your Normandy excursions.
This was our first river cruise, and we really enjoyed it! We loved that the longship was smaller than a regular cruise ship. No walking through a smoky casino or schlepping a mile through a fake city just to get to dinner. It's more like staying in a small, nice hotel. Just cross the lobby to get to the restaurant, lounge upstairs, terrace, etc. We were definitely one of the youngest couples on the cruise (my husband and I are just shy of 40). Most couples were newly retired, and I'd say the average age on board was 60-70. There were maybe 3 other couples somewhat near our age. This didn't bother us at all, though. We're not the partying type. We really enjoyed everyone we sat with. They were from all different places (mostly US) and we had plenty enough in common to make friends.
One thing to point out first thing is how amazingly smooth river sailing is. I was worried that I'd experience motion sickness. On regular ocean cruises in the past, I was comfortable most of the time but if the ocean got rough at all, I might feel queasy. And even if I wasn't queasy, there was still that slight rocking sensation with the waves that one continues to feel even a couple days after the cruise. Not the case on the river cruise at all. I was surprised one night to look out and discover we'd begun moving! You cannot even feel the ship push off and begin. If I hadn't opened my stateroom curtain, I wouldn't have even known. It's pretty remarkable, actually. So for anyone who's always wanted to go cruising but has held back because of concerns over motion sickness, river cruising is for YOU!
The staterooms themselves are small but efficient, with plenty of regular plugs for US appliances (no converter needed) and even a couple of USB plugs. We chose a French Balcony room because we wanted the larger window. (We cruised in December, so never really opened the sliding door but it was still worth it to have the "wall of window" rather than a small window above eye level). I'm not sure that I'd pay much more to have an actual sitting balcony because we spent very little time in our room and there are plenty of places to sit with a wonderful view all over the ship.
The food was excellent. Forget your average, bland cruise ship buffet fare that most Americans will settle for. This is FAR superior. The Taste of Normandy lunch was especially good. Various French cheeses, mussels, etc. Red and white wine and beer are included with lunch and dinner. At each meal, you have the option to eat in the dining room (open seating...sit where and with whom you like) and order off the menu (usually 3 choices per course) or to eat more casually up in the Aquavit Terrace, which is essentially a window filled sunroom off the lounge upstairs, where the food is a little bit more casual. In either place, you can be comfortable. No meal was ever formal. Some people wore jeans to dinner, although I'd say the majority of people tended to clean it up a little for dinner. Most commonly, we saw men in khaki pants and a button down shirt or polo. Women might wear leggings, boots, and a cute top, and some had a skirt or dress pants. You'd really fit in no matter what. Some nights we dressed up a little more (the Captain's dinner did bring out more dresses and ties) and some nights we were tired after a long day of walking around and just stayed in our jeans but had nice sweaters or shirts. We fit in regardless.
The excursions were well planned, and the tour guides were fantastic. Working as a guide in France is really more of a profession than it is in the US, where it's more of a hobby. They really knew their stuff, and all had a great sense of humor as well. This cruise includes tours of a couple of small towns, a walking tour of highlights in Paris (Louvre is extra, which we did), and a visit to a couple of notable castles/homes. You'll use what they call a Quiet Vox, which is a little box you hang around your neck with an attached ear piece. This worked great, allowing us to hear the tour guide while walking around cities and such. We did every included excursion they offered, as well as a couple of the optional ones that appealed to us (farm visit, Louvre, Paris By Night). Many of the tours require a bus ride, so be aware of this. The trip to Normandy and the WWII museum was the longest (we were gone all day) and the bus ride each way was around 1.5 hours. However, they are very nice, comfortable coach buses, and we enjoyed listening to the guides tell the history behind whatever we were driving to see. If you need a front seat because of motion sickness issues, get out there early. The guides don't really like to save seats for anyone. Any tour that required us to be gone over lunch time included lunch at a restaurant. A really nice little extra touch was how we were welcomed back from nearly every excursion by a staff member standing at the door of the ship with a nice drink, or a cup of consomme or something like that.
One thing I would say I was a little surprised by is how little sailing we seemed to do. Granted, this specific trip is just through Paris so it's not sailing that far. But we moved mostly at night, and only twice, I believe, during the day so that we could watch the scenery along the Seine. I heard from other travelers, though, that many of the other river cruises are a little more scenic and involve more daytime sailing.
Nighttime entertainment is nice .Most nights it was a musician up in the lounge playing piano. They had dancing some nights. It's not a cruise ship type deal, though, where there's a giant show each night. But I'd say river cruising is different, with a different crowd. Although the trip is relaxing overall, we were still tired each evening after our tours and had no desire to stay up drinking or partying.
Here are the things I'd tell a friend to do/remember before taking this trip:
1) You might like to bring a small travel clock. For some reason, none of the rooms have an actual clock, so you'll need to use your phone. I found this annoying, and I know others mentioned it too. I want to be able to glance at a clock whenever I want, not have to find my phone to check.
2) Get some Euros before coming on the the trip, specifically $1 coins, because you'll be tipping right away (the shuttle from the airport to the ship, for example). You'll tip the tour guides and bus drivers, etc. They will break bills for you on the ship so you can have coins, but they won't exchange US money. (We used ATMs to get cash.) But next time, I'll make sure to have plenty of $1 coins on hand before I even get there so I'm prepared.
3) If you do the Paris By Night excursion, get out to the bus early and try to get the front seat. This is one time when it matters because you stay on the bus the entire tour (except for the stop at the Eiffel Tower, where you'll get out for pictures) and the view and picture-taking is the very best from the front seat.
4) If you want to bring some French cheeses home, they will vacuum seal them for you on the ship (customs requires this). Just ask the Maitre' D.
5) Consider spending some time touring Paris by yourself. With the excursions, I discovered we actually didn't spend a lot of time just walking around Paris on our own. I wish we'd done this. There just isn't a ton of free time around Paris unless you choose to intentionally build it in to your trip for yourself. They did offer a couple of different bus times into the city on the first day there, but we hadn't gotten our bearings yet (and had to deal with some lost luggage with the airline) and didn't take advantage of that. You'll want to do this at the beginning or end of the trip, because you're traveling farther out during the middle of the trip.
I was very impressed with my entire experience. If there was an area for improvement it might be in the hotel we stayed in. The contact person at the hotel (Pauline) had too much to do. Maybe another person would have helped.
The staff was a 10.........we were a little rushed to order dinner with no time to relax before our dinner was presented.......This was very similar to last year..........I would highly recommend to friends.
The Viking personnel were fabulous and did their utmost to retrieve the luggage the Air France never delivered the entire trip.
The itinerary was fascinating, especially the extension to Oxford and getting to experience Blenheim Castle, as well as Highclere and other spots where Downton Abby was filmed. Having the current Countess talk to us on our private tour was special. The Old Parsonage Hotel was delightful.
What a great way to see northern France and especially Normandy. I would have liked to spend more time there and in Paris but with all there is to see I don't know how you could do it in a week. All the amenities on the boat were top notch except for the internet, possibly Viking could have hard wire connection when in port and satellite when cruising. The staff was excellent!
The overall experience was impressive. This tour offered an educational and historical account of Joan d'Arc, the D-Day landing, Impressionist Artist Claude Monet, French architecture, Louis XIV, Napoleon and other rulers, and provided an easy and delightful tour of Paris and its cultural and famous landmarks. A great value for the money.
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