Cruise Expert Lisa Ramsay recently returned from a wonderful no-fly river cruise with Riviera Travel. This was her first time experiencing a river cruise, and travelling by Eurostar!
Lisa wrote a daily blog, so read on to see how it went, and what her impressions of the Seine were.
June 2022 – Riviera Travel’s The Seine, Paris & Normandy River Cruise
Day 1 – Arrival in Paris by Eurostar
I boarded the local train from Cradley Heath to London Euston via Birmingham. I only had to take a short 10-minute stroll to St. Pancras to board the Eurostar for Gare du Nord in Paris. Even though the station is now very busy, we came in plenty of time to go through passport and security checks and produce our COVID credentials. When you arrive, there is absolutely no difficulty because immigration for entering France is handled in the UK.
There was a store on board where you could buy drinks and food, and the train was really pleasant. In just over two hours, we reached Paris. I must admit, I was a little nervous about going “under the water,” but it passed quickly.
You either keep your bags with you at throughout the journey or you can make porterage arrangements in advance.
We were met at Gare du Nord by our cruise concierge (Christine), and we boarded the coach to travel across Paris to our lovely floating hotel, the exquisite MS Jane Austen. My initial reaction was “Wow!” I had no idea what to anticipate because I’ve only ever done Ocean cruising before. I was quite aback by how roomy it was. It is so laid-back and informal, whilst also giving the atmosphere of a country house hotel.
As we awaited being summoned for check-in, the friendly, cheerful employees gave us a welcome drink upon arrival. I am staying in a Standard Cabin on the Ruby (middle) deck. With a floor to ceiling sliding window that creates a French balcony and brings the outside in, it is a tastefully furnished, cosy room. There is a great bathroom, as well as a lot of storage. Additionally, it contains a dressing table with a mini-fridge, a safe, and tea and coffee making amenities. Additionally, each cabin is equipped with a hairdryer, an umbrella (just in case), and a refillable water bottle that is yours to keep. There was no need to pack much in the way of toiletries, since the bathrooms come with Crabtree and Evelyn products (Diamond deck cabins had L’Occitane).
The same type of cabins are available on the Diamond (upper) deck; in addition, there is a Standard Cabin grade with a fixed window on the Emerald (lower) deck, which is excellent if you don’t anticipate staying in your cabin for an extended period of time – Riviera Travel actually offers a number of these cabins (subject to availability) with no single supplements, so they’re great if you’re travelling alone or with a friend and just want your own space.
There are also suites, which are just huge! They have a lovely sitting area, bathroom with double basin and large shower, and a double length floor to ceiling window with sliding door.
After a quick wander around the ship, we met for pre-dinner drinks back in the lounge before moving down to the dining room. If you book Riviera Travel’s Plus Package, then you get an aperitif voucher each evening to use. We sampled the cocktail of the day (well why not?!), all in the name of research…
The buffet-style dinner we had tonight was excellent, but Georgi, the maitre d’, told us that the best is still to come! A few of the guests had experienced travel delays, so they didn’t want anyone to miss out on our first night’s supper, which would typically be the Captain’s Welcome Dinner. A vegetarian in our group who cannot eat mushrooms, and one of our group members who is gluten intolerant, both agreed that their options were great and that they had received attentive service. The eating area was spacious and had views of the Seine River on all sides. There were options for table sizes, so you could choose to be social and meet new people, or there were only tables for two if you preferred. There’s no set table each evening either, so you can be flexible, and have a change of view. Dinner was served between 7pm and 9pm, so again really flexible on when you ate.
It was time for bed, after returning to the lounge for a nightcap and some relaxing music performed by the in-house pianist, Plamen. My pillow had a small piece of chocolate on it and my bed was made up. The attention to detail are what set this experience apart.
I just so happened to sneak a peek out of my balcony and saw the Eiffel tower shining and lit up. Such a great way to begin the week! I’m going to have a great night of sleep so that when tomorrow’s first port of call comes around, I’ll be prepared.
Day 2 – Les Andelys
We had breakfast with a view and a relaxing morning after travelling through the night. There were both hot and cold options available at the breakfast buffet, along with bakery items like croissants and fresh breads.
We entered some locks, which were incredibly fascinating to observe, and then savoured our delectable buffet lunch (again with so much to choose from). The first included tour was then scheduled to begin. The coach picked us up at the ship’s pier and transported us there. Richard the Lionheart erected Château Gaillard in 1196, and the remnants of the castle provide the most breathtaking views. Following some incredible photo ops, visitors had the choice of returning to the vehicle (for the less mobile) or taking the walking tour back to the ship.
Before boarding for afternoon tea, we took a short stroll around Petit Andelys, a charming town with half-timbered homes and stores in the mediaeval style, where we were in awe of the church’s stunning architecture.
This was delicious of course with a choice of sandwiches, cakes and pastries (bring stretchy clothes!). The black forest gateaux was to die for!
Then, Carmen, our fabulous cruise director, provided a brief overview of what we may expect in Rouen the following day. We checked that each other’s headsets, or ear whispers as they were also known, were operational and tuned to the appropriate channels for our group. These are a terrific concept since they ensure that everyone, including those at the back of the group, can always hear the tour leader. Some members of the group had trouble using their hearing aids with the single, over-ear speaker that was initially given. So, you can also use your own earbuds if you’d like.
Before dinner we had a Captain’s welcome drink in the lounge, where we were introduced to the management team. This would normally take place on the first evening but, as already mentioned, this was delayed as there were some passengers that experienced flight disruptions. The food is amazing tonight. I went for asparagus bouillon soup, beef rib (which just fell off the bone!), followed by chocolate lava cake. Bye bye waistline! Lol!
We moored at Rouen around 9pm, so wanted to make the most of our time here. We went for an evening stroll into the city, and found a little café bar for a Vin Blanc. Evenings are low key on board, with a musician playing in the lounge, whilst you enjoy a drink and chat with fellow passengers, and recharge ready for our walking tour of Rouen after breakfast in the morning.
Day 3 – Rouen
Wow! What a wonderful place Rouen is. A great mix of old and new with stunning cathedrals or Notre Dames… Did you know that there are over 80 Notre Dames in France? No, me Neither! Our fabulous tour guide for today, Benjamin, told us this, along with many other interesting facts and fascinating stories from history. We discovered Richard the Lionheart’s heart is buried here, and it’s also where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake! The guides were so knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and had us engaged the whole time. They take great care to make sure the whole group had caught up, crossed roads safely and any questions were answered.
Grim history aside, the city is just beautiful! Artisan chocolatiers, great shopping (with names like Longchamps, Kookai and Morgan to name but a few, and even a C&A!), multiple museums, stunning cafes and restaurants. I would love to come back and explore more!
Back on board it was time for lunch, as we set sail for Caudebec, where we will stay for 2 nights. I just watched the world go by from my French Balcony for a while, until it was time for afternoon tea (yes, more cake!), followed by a talk about our long day of interesting excursions and plan of action for tomorrow. I loved that we were so organised and everything was thought of for us. After some relaxation and chill out time, it was off to dinner in La Brasserie, offering a special menu in a more intimate dining room at the back of the ship. 5 courses of yummy loveliness, all included in the price! You just need to book your table at reception.
After a wonderful dinner it was off to bed, ready for an early start (8:30am coach departure).
Day 4 – Bayeux Tapestry, D-Day beaches and British Normandy Memorial
We started the day off with an early breakfast, picked up our packed lunch, and were on the coaches for 8:30am. We are moored next to another river cruise ship so we just needed to walk through the middle of their reception to get on land. Very easy, and an opportunity to be nosey too! This happened sometimes at the busier ports.
First up was Bayeux, home to the famous Bayeux Tapestry, telling the story leading up to the battle of Hastings in 1066. The 70-metre long tapestry was fascinating and impressive. Complete with pre-recorded commentary, it was fab to slowly walk along it with the explanation of the story playing on a hand-held personal phone-type device. We also had a tour of the Romanesque cathedral, which was stunning inside, with stained glass and beautiful icons.
After tucking into our packed lunch, which was a choice of sandwiches, salads, fruits and sweet treats; we headed across to the memorial cemetery for our first in a series of World War II tours. This was so hard to put into words how it made me feel. I shed a tear at the sheer volume of white headstones, reading the names and ages of those brave soldiers that fought and sacrificed their lives, so we could live ours today. I will be eternally grateful.
We then moved down Arromanches, to the landing beaches, and learned about an amazing feat of engineering put in place to get the troops ashore on 6th June 1944. Looking over at that beautiful beach, it was hard to comprehend what happened there 78 years before. Overwhelming, very humbling, but incredibly interesting. After a short film and walk around the museum, full of artefacts and explanations of what happened, we headed up to the newly opened British Normandy Memorial. Again, this stunning memorial left us speechless and emotional seeing the volume of names, and visiting the site where these souls gave the ultimate sacrifice for their King and Country.
I write this whilst on the long drive (2 hours) to Caudebec back to the ship. I’m so thankful to have had this opportunity to visit those incredible places today and anyone who is thinking of visiting, go for it. This is the perfect way to do so.
Back at the ship it will be a quick change and ready for another sumptuous dinner and relaxed evening on board to reflect on what I have experienced today.
Day 5 – Honfleur
This gorgeous fishing village was a hive of activity, and we visited on market day (Saturday)
One side of the market sells clothes, accessories and crafts, and the other was for allllll the food. It was bustling!
The harbour was lined with restaurants and cafés. The half-timbered buildings and reflections they make on the water were absolutely beautiful. It’s no wonder Eugine Boudin was inspired to paint, giving way to the birth of impressionism.
The small cobbled streets were just so beautiful, I could have wandered around all day. It wouldn’t be right to leave without sampling some Calvados (Normandy brandy), so a café stop was required. This local liquor is not for the faint hearted!
Back on board for lunch and the ice-cream social in the lounge. There’s also time for a sunbathe on the upper deck, and a little dip in the pool before dinner. There were plenty of loungers and outdoor seating to just sit back, watch the world go, and soak up the glorious sunshine (there’s shade too for those that wanted). The little golf pitch and putt section was fun too.
Entertainment this evening was a quiz with a difference. In order to get extra points, you had to dance to the music questions! All the guests got involved, and it was great fun.
Day 6 – Vernon & Monet’s Garden
Today was a very short drive to the home of impressionist artist Claude Monet.
The stunning garden bursting with colour was a gardener’s delight, with many guests saying this was the highlight of their trip.
The house is open to explore, and is full of replica prints. It offers lovely views down onto the gardens from the upper floors. The walk around the waterlily pond made it feel like you were in the famous painting.
Giverny is a beautiful village with many art galleries and museums with cafes to sit back and admire the view. You could also venture up to see the tomb where Monet and his family are buried.
We had 3 hours to explore the house and gardens, which was required as it got very busy as the morning progressed. I would suggest exploring the house first, then onto the waterlily pond and gardens.
Back on board for lunch and free time to explore Vernon before our information talk on disembarkation. They do this today so as to not take time away from our time in Paris tomorrow. Some of the gang took the bikes along the cycle path and the rest took time to chill for the afternoon. It was so relaxing.
Dinner was delicious (as always!), followed by entertainment from the crew. It was a lot of fun, and you can tell from their faces they really enjoyed it. There were songs, dances and a little cheeky joke story from hotel director Roland. Such a funny guy… and I can’t mention him without letting you know there was a boutique gift shop on board (open 7pm-11pm). He might have mentioned this a few times… Lol! After a dance, and some drinks, it was off to bed. After all, it’s Paris tomorrow!
Day 7 – Paris
So here it is, the last day… and we start with a panoramic coach tour of Paris ticking off all the major sights and monuments of the city.
After getting dropped off at Jardin de Luxembourg, we decided to use our free time to go on our own walking tour. Most of the group re-joined the coach for an Eiffel Tower photo stop, before having lunch back on board.
Our self-guided walking tour (8 miles round trip back to the ship) took us via the Pantheon, Notre Dame, the Louvre, Place de la Concorde and the Eiffel Tower. It was safe to say we were all exhausted by the time we got back to the ship and, in hindsight, maybe we should have taken the Metro or a taxi back, but you live and learn hey! At least we burned a few of the calories off!
A lovely last evening was ahead of us, with a Captain’s Farewell Dinner and drinks reception. What a finale the dessert was! Baked Alaska brought in by the crew with music and sparklers.
Our Captain then surprised us with a sail up towards the Eiffel tower to watch the light show that goes off every hour from 10pm- 1am. A truly wonderful end to an amazing trip. I was amazed when the wheelhouse collapsed to enable us to get under the low bridge. No standing on top deck, or you would lose your head!
This evening we were given an envelope for gratuities in our cabin. These are totally at your discretion, and anonymous as there was a box on the reception desk to pop your envelope in. Suggestions are made on the letter that is left in your cabin, along with a little parting gift and your pillow chocolate. Whilst I’m on the subject of tipping… the envelopes in the cabin are purely for the crew, and are split between them all, so nobody is forgotten. The Riviera Travel staff had their own envelopes if you wanted to leave them a tip too, but again totally at your discretion. You can also tip the drivers and local guides, if you feel they did a wonderful job. If you don’t have any Euros left (like I didn’t!), the tips for the ship’s crew can be charged to your onboard account – just ask at reception and they will add this for you.
Day 8 – Au Revoir!
On our final morning we had to leave our suitcases outside our cabin doors by 9am, complete with colour-coded labels to differentiate between each flight or Eurostar departure. We were then able to chill in the lounge, or up on deck, until we were called for our coach at 10am.
Those leaving on the later flights were able to go ashore, and were even provided with a light lunch in the lounge. The coach took us back to Gare Du Nord, offering up our last sights of Paris, before joining our Eurostar train back to London. Security and passport control took a while as we cleared both French and UK borders but was very straightforward and that was a wrap.
If anyone is thinking of taking a river cruise, I can highly recommend it. Such a great, relaxing way to see so much with very little effort and only unpacking once. I feel culturally richer, relaxed and knowledgeable on all things Riviera river cruising so get in touch to book your own adventure. This is a great product with so many inclusions. Riviera Travel were fantastic throughout, and the cruise is such amazing value for money without compromising on the quality and experience. I would recommend upgrading to the Riviera Plus cabins and drinks package, if you like a glass or 2 of wine with your meals. It just adds to the experience.
With holiday happiness guaranteed, they even bring you home if you’re not happy by day 2, with a full refund!! But with a 99% score on Reevoo you can see the guests just love them! In fact, I spoke to many guests on board who are on their 3rd, 4th, 5th and more Riviera Travel holidays, and it’s easy to see why! With no surcharges and a price guarantee it’s best to get your booking in early as these ships only hold less than 150 passengers (slightly more on the River Douro).
Thank you Riviera Travel for such an invaluable experience and thoroughly enjoyable week, I will never forget.
Au Revoir (for now)
Thanks for reading!