Saturday, April 14, 2012

Avalon Creativity - Paris to Normandy Beaches - PRE-CRUISE, 9 April 2012

Avalon Creativity – Paris to Normandy Beaches – PRE-CRUISE, 9 April 2012

We arrived to Paris, France, at about 2:45pm on 4/9 after a brief layover in Frankfurt.  Our flights on Lufthansa were on time and comfortable.  The plane configuration was 2, 4, 2 in economy, so we lucked out with 2 seats off to the side.  Lufthansa served us two full meals with dinner being a choice of pasta or chicken and of course you can enjoy complimentary beer, wine and some cocktails throughout the flight – even in economy.  After dinner they offer coffee or cognac.  The breakfast meal was an omelet with onions and peppers on top (that were easily pushed off to the side if you didn’t want them) along with some fruit and a roll.

We pre-arranged transportation from the airport to the hotel with Olivier Tan, a local driver who we met during our visit last year.  He met us with a sign at the baggage claim exit and took us to his clean, comfortable Mercedes van that easily seats 7 guests.  Our trip to the hotel was quick with light traffic throughout Paris due to the day-after-Easter holiday. 

The Mercure Paris Centre Tour de Eiffel was our home for one-night pre-cruise.  This hotel was conveniently located 2 blocks from the base of the Eiffel Tour!  We walked through the local neighborhoods that evening and found a corner café – Boulangerie de la Tour Eiffel – to dine at for dinner and wine before walking back to the hotel.  We went back out after dark to view the twinkling lights on the Eiffel Tour that occur every hour on the hour after dark. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Are you ready for a Taste of River Cruising?

Short on time but looking to do something spectacular – like taking a European Vacation?

Then you’re ready for a “Taste of” River Cruising!

Visit 3 countries and 7 cities in 5 days while only unpacking once!

Sail aboard the “Suite Ship” Avalon Panorama as she cruises the magnificent River Danube!

Avalon Waterways ~ Taste of the Danube
April 24, 2013, 5-day River Cruise from Budapest to Vienna

Day-by-Day Itinerary

Day 1 ~ Arrive in Budapest, Hungary (Embarkation)
Flights must depart the US on 4/23/2013 to arrive before 2:00pm on 4/24/2013. Welcome to Hungary’s exciting capital! This afternoon, board your river cruise vessel and meet your crew at a welcome reception. (Dinner)

Day 2 ~ Bratislava, Slovakia
A morning to relax on board and marvel at the beautiful scenery on both banks of the Danube. As you cruise upriver, Hungary is on your left and Slovakia is on your right. The two countries share the Danube for a 58-mile stretch, with the border in the middle of the river. Situated at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, Bratislava is the dynamic capital of Slovakia. The charming Old Town with its Town Hall and Mirbach Palace as well as gothic ST. MARTIN’S CATHEDRAL should not be missed. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

Day 3 ~ Dürnstein, Austria – Melk, Austria
This morning our first stop is Dürnstein, known for the magnificent baroque Stiftskirche with its blue façade, lying right in the heart of the Wachau wine region. Above town are the ruins of the castle where England’s King Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned in 1192. Explore this picturesque little town on your own or choose from a number of optional excursions. Melk’s magnificent BENEDICTINE ABBEY dominates the town from its commanding hill site, and is one of Europe’s largest monasteries. The view from the terrace over the Danube and surrounding countryside is breathtaking! (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

Day 4 ~ Linz, Austria – Grein, Austria
Linz, Austria’s third-largest town, lies on both banks of the Danube and is an important industrial town and busy river port. Culture is an important part of life in Linz. The composer Anton Bruckner lived here and Mozart’s Linzer Symphony was composed in the city. Choose from a variety of optional activities today. In the late afternoon, arrive in the attractive country resort of Grein, which is nestled at the foot of a bluff in the shadow of its castle. Time at leisure to enjoy the small town atmosphere. The turreted houses on the main square make excellent photo material. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

Day 5 ~ Vienna, Austria (Disembarkation)
Your vacation ends with breakfast this morning. Departure flights should not leave before Noon. (Breakfast)

What’s Included?

  • Complimentary Regional Wines, Beer and Soft Drinks with dinner
  • Complimentary Sparkling Wine and Juices with breakfast
  • Complimentary Internet corner and shipwide Wi-Fi access
  • Excursions and/or guided sightseeing, plus some optional excursions available in some ports
  • Deluxe Accommodations including Egyptian cotton linens
  • Premium L’Occitane bath amenities
  • Gourmet Dining with open seating
  • Self-service 24-hour beverage station with complimentary tea, hot cocoa and premium coffees and cappuccinos
  • Fitness Center
  • Complimentary in room bottled water

Amazing Early Booking Prices
Savings of $500 per person over the regular prices!

Sail in a Category B – Panorama Suite ~ 200 square feet with 11 feet of windows and balcony doors that open a full 7 feet.
Only $1306 per person (plus $72 per person for gov’t fees/taxes).
Upgrades to higher categories available.

Not interested in an open-air French balcony and want to save some money?
Cabins available from only $849 per person plus gov’t fees/taxes.

Reserve your cabin now at these great rates!  Deposits are only $250 per person and are refundable until October 24, 2012.  

Need airfare?  Contact us for pricing and availability.

Have a few extra days to add to your 5-day cruise?
Start you trip with a pre-cruise stay in Budapest where you can try and buy famous Hungarian Paprika and shop for locally hand-crafted fine porcelain.   

Got an extra day available?  Follow your cruise with a night or two enjoying the Austrian capital city of Vienna where you can visit the Imperial Schoenbrunn Palace or take in a Mozart/Strauss concert in a historical venue. 

Call for options and prices! ~ 800.345.8190

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Norwegian Breakaway ~ Breaking News

Norwegian Cruise Line Unveils Major New Innovation on Norwegian Breakaway: 
The Waterfront and 678 Ocean Place

Wide range of indoor and outdoor venues on three dynamic decks create a whole new complex at sea that enhances guests' connection with the ocean

Miami   -    Mar 14, 2012   ---   
The Waterfront on Norwegian Breakaway
Norwegian Cruise Line today unveiled a major innovation in ship design: The Waterfront and 678 Ocean Place on its newest ship, Norwegian Breakaway, launching in April 2013. This new concept includes an oceanfront boardwalk lined with shops, restaurants and bars, combined with three expansive, flowing decks of dining, bars, entertainment, gaming and more. The Waterfront and 678 Ocean Place will take cruising to new heights and offer an unparalleled experience with a unique connection to the ocean.

"With our newest ship, Norwegian Breakaway, we are continuing our tradition of innovation with a brand new ship design that will provide our guests with a unique experience unlike anything else at sea," said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian Cruise Line's chief executive officer. "The heart of Norwegian Breakaway and the elements that truly set it apart are The Waterfront and 678 Ocean Place. Guests will enjoy al fresco dining while admiring the beauty of the ocean, along with the excitement and exhilaration of three expansive action-packed decks, as everything is designed to flow seamlessly."

Located on Deck 8, The Waterfront is a revolutionary outdoor experience that adds a whole new dimension to the line's signature Freestyle Cruising, by offering a number of seaside venues that feature breathtaking views and a sense of connection with the ocean. The hub of the ship is 678 Ocean Place, a space that uniquely flows, intertwines and connects three decks of daytime and nighttime amusements. There will be a total of 17* dining venues combined on both 678 Ocean Place and The Waterfront, along with 12* bars and lounges. Norwegian will also introduce a new dining concept on Norwegian Breakaway, Ocean Blu, the line's first ever all-seafood restaurant, which will include a premium raw bar, along with a separate sushi bar.

The Waterfront
The Waterfront will feature eight outdoor dining and lounging options, including signature Norwegian favorites like Moderno Churrascaria; Cagney's Steakhouse; La Cucina; Shaker's Cocktail Bar; Malting's Beer & Whiskey Bar; and the newest addition, Ocean Blu on The Waterfront, with outdoor seating and a special takeaway menu. The Waterfront will also feature another first for Norwegian - a gelato bar serving a selection of flavors of the delectable frozen treat. Guests will enjoy this creamy confection as they take a leisurely stroll along The Waterfront. A yet-to-be-announced entertainment venue will also have an outdoor space.

678 Ocean Place
On Deck 8, 678 Ocean Place connects the excitement of The Waterfront outdoor spaces with interior dining venues for Moderno; Cagney's; Shaker's; La Cucina; Malting's and Ocean Blu, including the raw and sushi bars.

An elegant modern take on an ocean-inspired theme with a glamorous feel, Ocean Blu is the newest addition to Norwegian's Freestyle Dining lineup. Featuring a premium raw bar and a sushi bar, Ocean Blu will offer seafood lovers a culinary treasure.

"In a recent guest survey, our guests chose a seafood restaurant as the number one type of restaurant they would like on board our ships," said Sheehan. "We listened to that feedback when planning the dining on Norwegian Breakaway and will launch Ocean Blu as our newest signature restaurant concept."

La Cucina celebrates the Tuscan countryside and will continue to serve Norwegian's delicious Italian dishes to guests who choose dine either al fresco on the outdoor patio on The Waterfront, in the main restaurant or the interior terrace option, giving guests the opportunity to dine along the interior walkway beneath twinkling lanterns, exposed wooden beams and greenery.

Moderno Churrascaria is Norwegian's signature Brazilian-style steakhouse. Whether guests dine indoors or out, they will feast from a huge salad bar, followed by a variety of grilled and slow-roasted meats that are carved tableside by passadors. Overlooking the Manhattan Room is another Norwegian signature establishment, Cagney's Steakhouse, which will feature succulent grilled steaks, perfectly cooked double cut lamb chops and other steakhouse favorites. Guests will dine in style amidst warm wood tones as they enjoy watching the chefs prepare their meals in the open kitchen. Located between Cagney's and Moderno, Prime Meridian will offer guests the opportunity to order a signature cocktail and soak in the action taking place around them on 678 Ocean Place. Guests will also find retail outlets, the photo gallery, and the Humidor Cigar Lounge on Deck 8. A three-story open atrium with an exquisite LED chandelier with light changing effects will serve as the centerpiece of 678 Ocean Place with openings to all three decks and glass staircases connecting the levels.

Spanning more than 18,000 square feet on Deck 7, the contemporary Breakaway Casino will have a stylish sophistication created by the use of rich materials, luxurious ornamental lighting and highly decorative artwork including gold tiles and upscale finishes. Breakaway Casino will offer guests the opportunity to try their luck on more than 300 of the latest slot machines; along with 26 gaming tables featuring poker, black jack, roulette and craps. With the most rewarding Casinos At Sea Players Club program, there will be something for everyone, from the novice to the high roller. Bar 21, located adjacent to the Casino, is a stunning, intimate bar featuring video poker and multiple plasma television screens.

Reminiscent of a private New York City supper club, The Manhattan Room is a complimentary restaurant on Deck 7 that will feature a dance floor as its focal point. As guests dine on cuisine that reflects the elegant and romantic nature of the room, they will enjoy live music and dancing. The two-story high restaurant showcases floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows looking aft.

Due to the popularity of the noodle bar on Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Breakaway will feature Shanghai's Noodle Bar, the largest noodle bar at sea. This exciting dining concept will offer all counter seating around an open kitchen and will serve traditional Chinese noodles, wok-fried dishes and dim sum.

Another guest favorite, O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill, returns on Norwegian Breakaway. This complimentary 24-hour a day neighborhood sports bar and restaurant will serve classic American favorites and comfort food. It will feature a giant two-story screen, perfect for watching sports and movies, along with miniature bowling, pool and air hockey tables and interactive games.

A popular hotspot on several Norwegian ships, Bliss Ultra Lounge has been re-designed on Norwegian Breakaway to resemble a true hotspot, similar to trendy New York clubs. Guests will feel the excitement as they walk through the LED-lit tunnel entrance to the illuminated bar, LED walls and pulsating dance floor where they will dance the night away.

Savor, one of the three complimentary main dining options on Norwegian Breakaway, will feature cuisine that is traditional with a contemporary flair. Across from Savor, is where guests will find Taste, another complimentary main dining venue. Taste will serve a variety of culinary delights to please every palate. Both restaurants feature clean lines and upscale, contemporary décor. Located between Savor and Taste is Mixx Bar, the perfect, pre- or post-dinner gathering place, with a modern twist to a classical design.

Norwegian's signature Teppanyaki restaurant will continue to dazzle guests on Norwegian Breakaway with the addition of a traditional Japanese rock garden, featuring bamboo plants and bonsai trees to promote a pleasing aesthetic ambiance. With 96 seats surrounding 12 flat top grills, Teppanyaki chefs will showcase their knife-wielding skills while cooking exhibition-style Japanese cuisine. Guests will be amazed by the masterful chefs while they enjoy an appetizing meal.

Le Bistro, Norwegian's signature French restaurant, will feature an elegant indoor setting, along with a European sidewalk-style dining opportunity which will overlook the social hub of the ship, 678 Ocean Place. Guests will marvel at the three-story cascading LED chandelier above them, along with the constant flow of people as they dine on classic French favorites.

Within the Atrium, located on Deck 6, guests will find a two-story video wall along with the Café and Bar at The Atrium. The Café will offer specialty coffees and fresh baked treats. The Bar at The Atrium will feature mixed drinks, along with a self-service wine bar. The Shore Excursion Desk, Internet Café and Art Gallery will be located in close proximity to the Atrium, along with two meeting rooms, card room and library.

Additional dining options and bars not located within 678 Ocean Place will be announced in late April. There will also be a number of exciting entertainment venues located within 678 Ocean Place that will be revealed at a later date this spring.

Entering service in April 2013, Norwegian Breakaway will sail from her year-round homeport of New York City to Bermuda in the summer and The Bahamas & Florida and The Caribbean in the winter. 

*One dining venue and one bar will be announced at a later date, along with all of the entertainment venues.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Not Your Grandma’s River Cruise

Back when we took our first cruise (has it really been over fifteen years?) the standing joke was that cruises were for the “over fed and nearly dead.”  That was already an outdated stereotype way back then, but the cruise lines were still working hard to dispel that image.  Years of adding rock climbing walls, zip lines, family programs and high-tech amenities have worked wonders: cruising is now seen as appealing to everyone of all ages from kids to grandparents.

Then came river cruising.  Even as the “new kid,” river cruising seems to be saddled with a similar stereotype – especially when it comes to the age of the passengers.  In all honesty, the river cruise product initially seemed to be designed for an older clientele – mostly for two reasons:  itinerary length and price.

In the early days, river cruises focused on longer itineraries including pre and post land stays.  While these are fantastic vacation opportunities, a lot of people who are not yet retired can’t take off that much time in one stretch.  Now, the river cruise itineraries feature several seven day options and even a few four or five day river cruises.  And all of those pre and post stays have become optional.  Get the time change to work in your favor, and make the most of your vacation time! 

At first glance river cruising may look more expensive than ocean cruising, but we found that a lot of the things we end up spending money on when we go on the big-ship ocean cruises are already included in the river cruise price.

  • Almost every port includes a shore excursion and sometimes you’ll get two ports in one day.  A lot of big-ship excursions cost $50-$100 per person or more, so this can add up fast!
  • Included unlimited internet access!  Okay, sometimes it’s limited by the terrain (poor signal in the locks) but we’ve been known to spend a lot of money for shipboard internet.
  •  Cappuccino, espresso and other specialty coffees are always included and always available.

  • Bottled water is included and new bottles show up in your room every day.
  •  Included champagne and mimosas are available with breakfast every morning.
  •  Free-flowing wines and beer are included with dinner every night.  The wines are from the region you’re cruising through that day and are chosen to compliment the menu.  When they offer us “red or white,” we usually want to try both.  The servers happily get more wine glasses and will keep pouring as much as you want.  This can add up to an incredible value pretty quickly!

Don’t get us wrong, river cruising is not to be confused with a “party boat,” but when your ever-attentive server just keeps filling up the glass (or glasses!) we enjoy a lot more wine than when we’ve purchased our own bottle.  Plus the people we meet on river cruises have great stories and many are well-traveled making the dining experience even more enjoyable.

There are also now a number of appealing activities on the river ships that we rarely see the “older folks” taking advantage of, but are nice additions to the onboard options.  Almost all river ships include a small gym (treadmill, stationery bike, free weights, often a small sauna) and many of them have a hot tub or small swimming pool.  Some of the ships will provide bicycles for you to use in the ports if you so desire.  The entertainers on the ships are happy to adapt the music in the evening and play well into the night; we’ve heard everything from classical to crooners and hits from the 50’s to the 80’s to brand new music being played.  And if you’re looking for even more nightlife, the crew can direct you to the clubs they go to when the ship has an overnight or late departure in any given port.

While major river cruise providers like Viking River and AMAWaterways are working hard to offer amenities that appeal to a larger age range, we feel one line is noticeably reaching out to the “younger (ages 30 – 55) market,” and that is Avalon Waterways.  From their inspiring viral video advertising, their internet social media presence, and their use of the newest trends including QR codes in their ads (that’s the little square with all the dots in it that people use with their smartphone to access information), Avalon seems to “get it”.

So it’s time to prove the stereotypes wrong.  We’d like to invite cruisers, travelers, and vacationers of all ages to experience river cruising!  It’s a fantastic way to immerse yourselves in the destinations you visit.   And you can visit 7 European cities in 3 countries all within 5 days on board a river cruise.  Who’s ready for a taste of river cruising?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Avalon Creativity ~ April 2011

Avalon Waterways
Avalon Creativity ~ 4/19 – 4/26/2011
Paris roundtrip to the Beaches of Normandy
After a fantastic river cruise aboard Avalon Creativity April 19-26, 2011 roundtrip from Paris through the enchanting French countryside to the historic beaches of Normandy, we can’t wait to go back.  We’ll be escorting a group on the same ship and itinerary for the April 10, 2012 sailing!


We flew into Paris Monday, the evening before the cruise, and stayed at the Pullman Paris Montparnasse, the same hotel that Avalon uses for its pre-cruise packages.  (The rush-hour cab ride from the airport was long and expensive.  We would recommend looking at the train; there’s a main station right across the street from this hotel.)  The hotel looked recently refurbished and the staff was polite and helpful.

We headed out to explore the neighborhood just as the lights were coming on and the cafés were filling up.  We decided to have dinner at le Relais de l’Entrecote.  It’s easy to order because all they serve is Steak Frites (steak and fries) and the do it extremely well.  You get several slices of perfectly cooked steak with their secret-recipe sauce and a mound of the best-tasting French fries you’ve ever had (of course they just call them fries).  When you finish that, they just bring you another plateful!

After some more wide-eyed wandering we went to the Montparnasse Tower, the only skyscraper in Paris proper.  From the 56th-floor 360° observation room we had an unbelievable view of the city and a perfect seat for the Eiffel Tower twinkling light show at the top of the hour.

At 8:30 the next morning, Tuesday, our Cruise Director, Jean-Loup Domart, was set up in a large lounge in the hotel; beverages were available, luggage was being staged for transfer to the ship, and carry-on bags could be safely stored here.  Included transfers to the ship would begin at 3:30 in the afternoon and passengers whose flights arrived this day were brought here from the airport to relax.  You could also purchase an optional tour to the Eiffel Tower that left at 1:30, included access to the second observation deck with no wait in line, and then transferred you right to the ship.

We elected to head out on our own a little more.  The Montparnasse cemetery is a city unto itself and the mementos left daily at the grave of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre were fascinating.  We explored the Latin Quarter and numerous parks culminating in the Luxembourg Gardens and a nice lunch at La Gueuze, which turned out to be a Belgian restaurant.

The Ship

When we reached the Avalon Creativity we found a sleek vessel with sharp, contemporary décor.  The focus of the ship however, is obviously to turn your attention outward, towards the passing scenery.  All of the public areas are surrounded by windows and the floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door in most cabins turns your entire room into a balcony!  And on top of it all is the Sky Deck with ample seating and unobstructed views everywhere you look.

Our cabin (228) was the Avalon-standard generous 172 square feet (suites are even larger) including a relatively spacious bathroom with a great shower stall.  There is ample storage in both the cabin and bathroom but, oddly, it was all cabinets – a few drawers would have been nice.

The Club Lounge aft on deck three features always-available coffees and teas, fresh fruit and cookies as well as a small library and a number of board games.  Opposite this, forward on deck three, is the main Lounge, home to the bar, plenty of comfortable seating and the ship’s entertainer, keyboardist Mitko.  Big ship cruisers will enjoy the fast, friendly service here and love the absence of automatic gratuities!

The Lounge is the main gathering place on the ship for organized functions.  We had daily port talks from our Cruise Director and outside entertainment brought aboard including a classical music trio (La Strada), a D-Day and Normandy historian (Nigel Stewart) and a local pastry chef who taught an éclair cooking class.  Entertainment highlights of the week were the crew show and an authentic French cheese tasting seminar.

On deck two just below the Lounge is the Dining Room where all meals are open seating, encouraging interaction with your fellow travelers.  On our voyage, all 136 of the passengers were from the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand; all were well-traveled and eager to share their stories.  Most of them were primarily land tour travelers – there were very few big ship cruisers in the mix.  It seems that ocean cruisers have yet to discover the joys of river cruising.

Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style, each with an item or two that can be ordered from the galley if desired.  The breakfast offerings didn’t change much and could get a little repetitive on a longer voyage.  Surprisingly, the complimentary sparkling wine and mimosas offered at breakfast went largely untouched.  The lunch buffet has plenty of variety and always included freshly made pasta and hand carved meat.  As an option on several days, weather permitting, they offer lunch outside up on the Sky Deck featuring freshly grilled steaks and sausages.  This is delicious, don’t miss it!  Due to limited space (only 36 seats) they ask you to sign up for this ahead of time and to give other passengers first chance at it once you’ve experienced it.

Dinner is an event with five-course meals (seven courses on two of the nights) and free-flowing wines from the region you’re cruising through.  All of the food is freshly prepared, attractively plated and properly portioned.  Most importantly, it all tastes great!  The chef does an outstanding job making sure the courses all complement one another as well as the wines.  Interestingly, the breads are about the only thing not prepared from scratch in the ship’s galley.  When asked about this, chef Michael Baptiste responded, “We’re in France.  They bake the best bread in the world.  Why would I bother?”  He’s right, the bread is fantastic!

The Ports

The ship remains docked in Paris for the first two nights.  Wednesday morning there was an included sightseeing tour of Paris.  The motor coach wove its way through traffic and made sure we got the best views of all the important monuments in this magnificent city while a local expert provided a running commentary of the stories behind everything.  There were a couple of stops at the best photo spots and the option of being dropped off in the city to explore further on your own rather than returning to the ship for lunch.

Wednesday afternoon you could elect to purchase one of two optional guided tours.  One went to the Louvre, arguably the world’s greatest museum.  The other went to Versailles, palace of Louis the 14th.  We’re glad we went to Versailles as part of the tour.  The crowds and long lines would’ve been somewhat daunting on your own and the included communication devices made following the expert guide so easy!  (Every passenger is given an earpiece to use for the duration of the cruise.  Prior to each tour you get a small receiver to plug your earpiece into while the guide speaks into a microphone.  We couldn’t believe how much these simple devices added to the quality and enjoyment of the tours!)

Wednesday evening, in lieu of dinner aboard the ship, you could purchase an optional trip to dinner and a show at Moulin Rouge, the infamous Parisian cabaret. Those who opted for this excursion came back with rave reviews!

Early Thursday morning we sailed from Paris and the crew was on hand up on the Sky Deck to make sure everyone ducked as we passed under some very low bridges.  The views of the city were great, but the people living on all manner of house boats along the Seine were the focus of many a camera.

Thursday afternoon we docked at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine and had to choose between two included tours.  One went to Chateau Malmaison, the 17th century castle that was a favored retreat of Napoleon I and his first wife, Josephine.  The other went to Auvers-sur-Oise, the town where Vincent van Gogh spent the last months of his life.  Seeing reproductions of his paintings displayed in front of the buildings and landscapes that inspired van Gogh, right where he would have stood to paint them, really gave the artwork so much more meaning.

After the tour, we spent some time exploring the warren of cobblestone alleys in town and found a small bakery where we picked up some local pastries and macaroons.

Friday morning we docked in Vernon, and once again had to choose one of two included tours.  One went to the tiny village of Giverny to visit Claude Monet’s house, studio, gardens and famous water lily pond.  The other included a walking tour of Vernon followed by a trip to Chateau de Bizy for a tour of the palace and gardens.  That afternoon we had a couple of hours to explore Vernon on our own and get in a little shopping.

Saturday morning we were docked in Rouen and enjoyed an included walking tour of the city.  From the massive gothic Cathedral to the Great Clock-Tower, from the half-timbered 15th century houses to the square where Joan of Arc was martyred, there seems to be no end to the sights and history of this town.

Saturday afternoon you could elect to purchase an optional trip to the historic port of Honfleur.  The tour included stops at a huge Salt Barn now used as an art gallery and the 500-year-old Church of St. Catherine, the oldest wooden church in France.  We had time to explore the marina and its surrounding cafés and shops where we picked up some of the local specialty, salted butter caramels, at La Cave Normande.

On Sunday we had to again choose one of two included tours, both day-long trips to Normandy.  The “Taste of Normandy” explored the countryside and small towns and included features like Camembert cheese, Calvados apple brandy and famous tapestries.  The “Normandy Landing Beaches” was an incredibly moving and educational experience.  We visited Gold Beach and learned about the extraordinary engineering feat of mobile harbors at the Arromanches Museum.  At Pointe du Hoc we saw the broken, cratered countryside – the result of days of continuous bombing – and climbed through shattered concrete bunkers and the surprisingly intact German command center.  We went to Omaha Beach, the scene of the heaviest fighting of the D-Day landings, and finally to the American Military Cemetery for a moving ceremony among the final resting place of 9,387 brave soldiers.

Monday morning we docked in Les Andelys, a picturesque little French village overlooked by the remnants of Chateau Gaillard, a fortress built by Richard the Lionheart in the 12th century.  You could choose between two included walking tours; one through the town to the church, parks and gardens, the other a more strenuous hike up to the Chateau.  After the tours there was still time to stroll along the river and visit the bakeries, shops and cafés.

Monday afternoon (and on through the night) was spent cruising back to Paris with more magnificent views of the beautiful passing scenery.  Always keep your camera with you, as you never know what amazing sites you’ll be sailing past!!!

Perhaps the best way to describe this river cruise is by using words like enriching, engaging, informative, fascinating, and emotional.  We learned so much, and we enjoyed it immensely!


We were spending an extra day in Paris after the cruise and the ship’s ever-helpful staff arranged for a taxi to pick us up and take us to our hotel Tuesday morning.  The Hotel Mercure Paris Haussmann Saint Augustin is a cross between the old (tiny elevator, windows that look right into the next building) and the new (included high speed Wi-Fi, flat screen TV).  The staff was very friendly and helpful and the location between the Champs-Elysees and the Madeline was fantastic.

We found the Metro convenient and easy to navigate as we made our way up to the Montmartre area.  We saw the world famous Moulin Rouge and wound through steep streets surrounded by amazing architecture.  The Place du Tertre was crowded with artists and packed with tourists, but just a couple of blocks away we discovered Le Deli’s Café.  This quaint little restaurant was just outside the crowds and we were treated to a huge, delicious lunch at a good price.  After visiting the magical castle Sacré-Coeur at the summit of Montmartre, we began working our way back down with stops to browse and shop.  Among all the various souvenir shops though, La Cure Gourmande stood out like a beacon in the dark.  This little store, with its bright colors and displays out of a fairy tale, sold an amazing array of cookies, candies and chocolates available nowhere else.

After another Metro ride we window shopped along the Champs-Elysees and stopped at Ladurée, home of the world-renowned perfect Macaroon.  Later that evening we had dinner at Le Saint Augustin; good food and a great spot to people-watch.  The hotel arranged for a private van to pick us up the next morning and take us to the airport at a reasonable price.  It was hard to leave the city of Paris behind as there is so much more we wanted to experience…we’ll be back.

This was our 41st cruise but only our 2nd river cruise.  With river cruising we’ve found the personal touch and attention to detail that we miss from our big ship cruises of ten or more years ago, plus an up-close, in-depth experience that really enhances the destination.  There was just so much to see and absorb on this trip that we would have enjoyed more time at almost every stop!  If anyone else is interested in joining us, we’ll be escorting a group aboard the Avalon Creativity for the April 10, 2012 sailing of the same itinerary.  Happy cruising!