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I have a secret…I’m addicted — to river cruising. When I’m not on a river cruise exploring Europe’s medieval cities, I’m planning my next one. Here’s what you need to know about a river cruise: You dock in towns inaccessible to bigger ships, you are close-enough to shore that you can watch local life unfold and see, from your cabin or lounge, the houses, forests, and castles that nudge the shore, and experience the culture firsthand.
As our ship pulled away from its slip on the Seine, most of the 100-plus passengers scurried to the upper deck to watch the Eiffel Tower and France’s “statue of liberty” disappear from view. We sailed off under the sunniest of blue skies and as city life gave way to country life, I thought, “I’ve never seen Paris from this perspective before.”
River cruise ships, plying the great waterways of Europe, are intimate communities where the destination is the focus, not the ship. Guests became friends, chatting with one another, and listening to lectures or the music of local performs who came onboard. You feel as if you stepped into a Grimm’s fairytale when you river cruise. You can sip cappuccino in a sunlight lounge, savor great varietals of local wines, and sample regional cuisine during meals onboard. The atmosphere is intimate and the gastronomical experiences are exquisite.
This sailing brought us along the Seine, from Paris back to Paris with intriguing stops along the route.
River cruise ships, no wider than the locks they pass through, dock in the hearts of medieval cities and towns, not in gritty commercial ports. For many of us whose passion for travel borders on the obsessive, stepping off a small ship on to a little street near a historical center is what travel is all about.
Leaving Paris, we set sail for Vernon and our excursion to Giverny, immortalized in paintings of Impressionist Claude Monet. Monet’s gardens and the water lily pond remain much the same as he captured those images on canvas. Giverny is tranquil with its bright colored gardens.
Our next destination: Rouen, Normandy’s picturesque capital noted for its cathedral interpreted by the Impressionists. Rouen is a city as much a feast for the culinary senses as it is for cultural focus.
We docked just a block from the historical heart of Rouen, minutes from the cathedral and the spot where Joan d’Arc was burned at the stake. We were so near to the heart of the old town that I wandered off on my own after a leisurely breakfast at a riverside table.
The following day, still docked in Rouen, I took the Omaha landing beaches excursion, riding by bus through the dairy-soaked Normandy countryside. Cows grazed in the open pastures that source the cream and cheeses that define the area’s agricultural economy.
I probably stopped at every cheese, Calvados, and caramel shop I passed in Normandy. Food souvenirs are the reason I tote bubble wrap whenever I travel. The Normandy World War II landing beaches are haunting with their Allied flags flying at attention. Standing on the sand looking to the sea, I imagined the thousands of young men trying to make their way on to the beaches on D-Day, many of whom never made it beyond the sand. We followed the landing beaches with a visit to the American cemetery, a reflective place but not as haunting as Omaha Beach was.
From Rouen, we sailed back toward Paris, stopping in the historic towns of Les Andelys and Conflans. The highlight from my point of view was the excursion to Auvers-sur-Oise, the quaint village where Vincent van Gogh spent the last weeks of his life. Many of the van Gogh pieces in the Musee d’Orsay were donated by the family of Dr. Paul Gachet, the doctor who treated van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise.
The paintings were “payment” to Dr. Gachet for his services. It was still daylight in the evening when our ship returned to Paris. While other guests were dressing up for their final onboard dinner, I strolled over to a grocery store for the cache of mustards and wines that would remind me of Paris when back at home.
WHEN YOU GO
River cruises run from 7 to 25 nights and many itineraries of seven-night cruises can be combined for longer cruising. We recommend a pre- and/or post stay in Paris. Your experienced travel advisor will navigate you to the options that meet your needs and lifestyle and provide you the best overall value with prices comparable to online booking!
Consider a “themed” river cruise, such as one focusing on wines, culinary or art. These cruises do not cost more. River cruise lines such as AMA Waterways, Uniworld, Avalon and Tauck, market to English-speaking travelers. The onboard staff and crew are fluent in English as are local tour guides.
Shipboard dining is always a bounty of options. Flexibility of menu and seating times are nice features. Wine is included at dinner on most river ships, and champagne at breakfast is common, as well.
Cabins along the river cruise lines offer upscale bathroom amenities and cozy Turkish cotton robes.
River cruise ships have coffee and tea corners, usually accompanied by sweets, and free internet is available onboard. There are always special promotions that your expert travel planner can help you take advantage of.
Spring cruises bring blooms, summer lures passengers to the sun decks, fall glows with color and the harvest, and December celebrates the holidays in style. Now is the best time to book and take advantage of the special deals and amenities available to Bonjour Paris subscribers.
Donna Manz fell in love with river cruising from her very first cruise. From this passion was born a career in travel planning. Her clients appreciate her expertise, knowledge and commitment to their best interests. She thrives on making sure that small details and preferences are taken into consideration and that her clients receive the best value. Mentioned in river cruising articles in Condé Nast and online blogs, she writes for a chain of community papers in Vienna, Virginia. Donna’s article on Amsterdam’s food won her a travel blog award in the fall of 2012.