Review: Paris to Normandy with Avalon Waterways
My first river cruise holiday - how exciting! I was booked on a round trip from Paris along the river Seine. I couldn't think of a better way to explore France's capital than meandering along the Seine, visiting Normandy's landing beaches along the way.
Day 1: Fly UK » Paris
After arriving at Charles De Gaulle, Paris we were met by an Avalon Waterways representative who showed us to our coach transfer.
After a comfortable 40 minute journey, we arrived at the ship - Avalon Tapestry II.
Now, I've experienced ocean cruising before, but the check-in process was nothing alike. There is no cruise terminal building, no queues - literally wander up the gangway, check-in at the reception desk and you're shown to your cabin (your luggage will follow behind). How good is that!
First impressions - I was very impressed with the size of the cabin, a 'panoramic suite' with wall-to-wall panoramic windows that transform the living space into a unique open-air balcony window (a French balcony). In fact, It didn't take me long to realise I prefer this unique balcony concept - it was the best of both worlds, whilst the window was closed I could still admire the views and I wasn't losing any cabin space from having an outdoor balcony.
Our beds were twin but can be made into a double; the choice is yours. The beds on Tapestry II (and many other Avalon ships) face the window so you can be lying in bed and sailing past beautiful little towns and watch the world go by.
The bathroom I thought was a very generous size with a large shower. There are luxurious L'occitane toiletry products for you to use throughout the cruise. Plenty of drawer space, plenty of coat hangers in the wardrobe and if you require anymore you just had to ask your cabin steward or reception. You have a choice of pillows soft or hard, nothing is too much trouble.
Best of all - the ship was located within walking distance to the Eiffel Tower, in fact, we could see it from our cabin window.
Our first afternoon was relaxed, after settling into our stateroom we had time for a quick drink in the lounge before a brief safety talk and life jacket demonstration (a mandatory exercise, which takes only 10-15 minutes).
At approx. 6pm all guests were invited to meet the Captain and his crew in the lounge for a pre-dinner champagne reception with canapés. We were introduced to the staff on the ship and the Cruise Director explained to us the day-to-day goings on, on board Tapestry II.
We were now sailing towards Vernon.
Dinner is served in the restaurant with waiter service daily, and let's not forget, wine and beer is included during dinner service.
After dinner guests are entertained in the lounge with musician 'Milan'. And in case you didn't eat enough at dinner, there are late night snacks served in the lounge at 10.30 pm.
Day 2: Vernon » Les Andelys
After a brilliant night sleep and a delicious buffet breakfast, we collected an audio set from reception and joined one of the coaches for today's guided tour.
This morning we were berthed alongside a Viking and Vantage ship. Which slightly changed the disembarkation process - rather than a simple stroll along our gangway, we walked up onto Sky deck of our ship, walked across the two ships next to us and then down the steps to reach the shore. It was a pleasant experience.
In Vernon we had a guided tour of Claude Monet's house and stunning gardens at Giverny. Inside this charming house, we got to see Claude Monet's collection of famous Japanese prints. In the gardens, we were able to walk across the famous Japanese Bridge and take lots of photos of his stunning Lily pond. Along the narrow street leading up to the gardens were a handful of art galleries, shops and cafes.
These audio headsets are fab - they come with one earpiece which allows you to listen to your tour guide as you stroll with the group. It beats crowding around your guide struggling to hear.
Back to the ship for lunch where we were met with hot towels to freshen us up and an ice cold drink.
For lunch, there was a choice; lunch in the restaurant or savoury crepes which were served in the lounge by the chef.
Today we had an hour of scenic cruising towards Les Andelys (arriving at 4pm). Along the way we sailed past the stunning Chateaux Gilard situated at the top of a hill, the view was breath taking - definitely worth sitting on Sky Deck.
When the ship arrived in Les Andelys we were given a choice; you could either have a tour guide or you could explore at your own leisure. We decided to wander round and explore the tiny cobbled streets on our own. Unfortunately, the shops were mostly were closed. But we had a look inside the local Catholic church that was tucked away in the street.
Back onboard we joined in a French Pastry Demonstration and Tasting and Tapestry II set sail for Caudebec.
Top Tip: Between 6-7pm most evenings we had 'happy hour' where drinks were half price - the perfect opportunity for pre-dinner drinks.
Day 3: Caudebec
Today was our first opportunity to see the Normandy Villages. We visited little quaint villages, Le Quesnay, Aizier and Vieux Port to see beautiful thatched cottages (a great photo opportunity).
Then the coach took us to Pont Audemer, where we wandered around the local market before heading back to the ship for lunch.
Once again, the staff greeted us with hot towels and an ice cold drink - fully appreciated; in fact, I wish I received the same greeting at home.
This afternoon there was an optional excursion to Honfleur (for a supplement of 57 euros).
After a busy morning exploring, we decided to spend our free time having strolling through Caudebec-en-Caux before relaxing on the ship.
This evening before dinner we listened to a very interesting lecture on World War II and Landing Beaches with Nigel Stewart to prepare ourselves for the trip to the Landing Beaches tomorrow.
We had a nightcap in the lounge with some piano entertainment from 'Milan'. But then it was time for an early night ready for our day ahead.
Day 4: Caudebec
There were 3 complimentary full day trips available today 1) American Landing Beaches 2) UK-Canadian Landing Beaches 3) Taste of Normandy.
All sound great - but off we went to the UK-Canadian Beaches. Our first stop was the Ranville War Cemetery - the British cemetery where we saw graves of the British/Canadian/Egyptian/French and others.
Our next stop was Pegasus Bridge/museum. Here we saw the old bridge and was given lots of interesting information from the superb tour guides. Then we went to the museum and watched a short film showing the gliders and the aircraft which were used.
A little later we went to Gold Beach for lunch. Back onto the coach and on to Juno Beach, where the Canadians landed. We looked around the museum and had a short film of the real life action which took place here. Outside we visited the German Bunkers and the beach for a few photos.
Our final stop of the day was Beny-sur-mer a Canadian Cemetery, we had a few minutes to look round and the coach driver gave us a fresh rose to lay on a grave.
It was a very moving day.
Back to the ship, it was time for dinner as we set sail towards Rouen.
This evening we were treated to some local entertainment; 'Rock the Boat with Fabrice and Bruno' in the lounge.
And of course, late night snacks were served at 10.30 pm.
Day 5: Rouen
After another scrumptious buffet breakfast, we opted to stroll through Roeun alone, as opposed to the guided walk. It was really nice to have the option actually - although mostly complimentary, none of the excursions are compulsory and you are free to enjoy each day as you like.
We visited the Cathedral of Notre Dame and opposite the cathedral was Claude Monets first art studio. We wandered around the streets until we came to Joan of Arc Square. The building was a very unusual shape and it had a statue of Joan of Arc outside. Inside there were lots of colourful stain glass windows.
Nearby were lots of food markets selling local produce from fruit, vegetables, fish, meats and a huge selection of cheeses. We stopped off for coffee in the square and watched the world go by. Bonus - it was a scorching hot day.
We returned to the ship for a fantastic BBQ lunch on the Sky deck with live music. What more could you ask for! After lunch, we hit the shops for a spot of shopping before having to be back on board for 5pm as the ship sailed for Conflans, Paris.
On board entertainment was 'La Stada String Trio' - Fabulous Classical Music performed by these three outstanding musicians.
This evening we signed up to have a look in the wheel house with the Captain, this was very interesting to see how the ship's navigation works. And then it was time for happy hour in the lounge before dinner.
Day 6: Conflans
This morning was an included excursion to Auvers-sur-Oise, the village where Van Gogh spent his last three months. We visited the house of Van Gogh, the fields, cemetery and the church of Dame d'Auvers that Vincent often painted. This was a great tour, very interesting with a great tour guide!
We were back on the ship for lunch and there was an optional afternoon excursion to 'Versailles' to visit the famous Palace (available for a supplement of 69 euros).
This was my chance to stay on board and enjoy the ship. Being an agent, I was given the opportunity to look at the different cabin categories - Tapestry II has beautiful staterooms.
A bonus to an afternoon on board - coffee and crepes were served in the lounge.
This afternoon we sailed further along the River Seine to Courbevoie (to pick up the guests that went on the Versailles excursion) then off to our final stop Paris.
This evening during happy hour we were given a disembarkation briefing from the cruise director followed by a fabulous Farewell Dinner in the restaurant. It was brilliant - staff were dancing in the dining room and tonight's speciality desert was 'Baked Alaska' - delicious!
We have had some brilliant evenings in the dining room - on board most river ships they operate an 'open-dining' system, whereby you can sit wherever you like, with whoever you like. It's a fantastic way to meet your fellow guests, make new friends and of course discuss your time on the trip!
Day 7: Paris
The perfect last day - it was time to explore the capital of France! There were a few excursion options - a couple complimentary and one with a surcharge. We chose a half-day coach excursion to see the key sights; the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Champs-Elysees/Arc de Triomphe. It was a perfect whistle-stop tour and had us back on board for a BBQ lunch on Sky Deck.
This left us with a free afternoon - so what better way to spend our time than visiting the Eiffel Tower. We travelled by Metro into Paris, it was 2 stops from the ship 1.90 euros. It was our opportunity to take lots of photos, shop and stroll back to the ship. There was no rush because the ship was docked here overnight.
We arrived back to the ship to find some people were using the whirlpool and others were enjoying the giant on-deck games. All great fun.
Tonight was Captain's farewell cocktail, we were greeted with a glass of champagne before being invited for dinner in the restaurant for the final time.
Day 8: Paris » Fly UK
Our luggage was outside our cabin for 8.15am, ready to be loaded onto the coaches.
We enjoyed one last breakfast in restaurant and departed the ship at 9.15am.
What a brilliant trip. I found no faults; the staff were amazing from start to finish, the trip as a whole was very well organised and the food was delicious throughout.
Want to know more? You can contact myself, Angela, on 0800 810 8220