As veterans of several ocean cruises to many ports including, Europe, Alaska and the Caribbean, we decided to give river cruising a try for a change a pace. We were glad we made the choice.
We arranged our air, (Air France, would highly recommend them, free wine, even in coach} and pre-cruise extension, a lovely small boutique hotel near the Orsay and Louvre museum, independently. Avalon uses the Pullman Paris Montparnasse for their extensions, and unless you are traveling with a group that needs a block of rooms, I would not stay in the Montparnasse area for holiday. There are so many other wonderful choices in Paris in different price ranges. Research here on CC or Trip Advisor for ideas in your price range. Regardless if you pay for an air/hotel transfer through Avalon, Avalon has you arrive at the Pullman and transfers you to the Creativity for free.
The Ship --
The condition of the Creativity is pristine, everything is kept in top condition. We booked the Aquarium Class cabins, which were 17O sq. ft. the same size as all other cabins except the two suites on board. The cabin had two large windows, plenty of storage. The bathroom had plenty of room and was larger than many ocean ship bathrooms. Robes and slippers were provided. The cabin steward cleaned your cabin every morning, and then turned down your bedding, placed a chocolate on your pillow, and turned on the fireplace channel each evening.
Food and Wine --
Now for the most important aspect of any holiday. Food and Wine. We felt that the quality of the meals on the Avalon Creativity was better than any ocean cruise ship we have been on. Yes, the choice might be limited, and the portions slightly smaller, but the portions are still more than ample. We especially appreciated that much of the food came from the region. The bread, the cheese, the wine, all of the specialties of the region was served. One dinner there were two French chefs invited on board to prepare their specialties. Each night on the menu, there is a flag next to the choice of the specialty of the region. We usually chose that. The service staff was awesome. We found one waiter that we particularly liked and sat at his station each night. The wine offered is from the region also. How can you go wrong with French wine? The waiter and head bartender made certain your glass was always full. Never did we have to ask for more. The dining room was run very efficiently, with the chef, the maitre'd, and the hotel manager each in attendance watching over every aspect of the meal.
I just want to add that even though breakfast and lunch is listed as "a buffet", there is a menu on the table and you may order the special of the day from your waiter. I usually did this at lunch, because I prefer to eat a simple sandwich than a variety of rich foods.
There is a lounge where there is a fancy coffee machine similar to one found in Starbucks where you can make your own lattes, espresso, etc. Cookies and fruit and juice is also available. Each night they offer snacks at 1O:3O p.m. but we never looked because we were still full from dinner.
Ports and Excursions --
The management of the excursions on a river cruise is done by the Cruise Director. Our Cruise Director, Yvette did a wonderful job explaining all of the ports and different excursions. Our particular sailing had us arriving in Paris on Bastille Day. Which was wonderful!!! But, the problem was we had to arrive in Paris before Bastille Day because the all of the locks would be shut down and we wouldn't be able to arrive in Paris at all. Yvette was able to change some of the excursions so all excursions advertised were able to be completed. All the of the excursions, free and optional were excellent. The excursion to the Normandy Landing Beaches exceeded my expectations. The guides were well informed and passionate about the subject. On this day, lunch was part of the excursion, and was offered at a lovely restaurant, offering a lovely french lunch. The extra touch that I appreciated was that at the cemetery, each couple was given a rose to place at a grave. A special ceremony of the National Anthem, taps, and a moment of silence was given. It was very moving.
All the other excursions were very worthwhile also. Giverny, to experience Monet's gardens; Rouen showed you the half-timber houses and where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake; Also, in Rouen at 11 p.m. there is a special light show on the cathedral; Option tour to Honfleur, this is where we experienced some Normandy specialties, especially cider; Les Andelys, we walked up the hill to Chateau Gaillard, home of Richard the Lionhearted; Auvers-Sur-Oise, where Vincent Van Gough committed suicide; Versailles, you need to experience the palace and gardens in order to believe it; Paris overview tour, even though we were in Paris two days previously, this tour showed us many things we did not see. We also took the optional tour to Montmartre. When we returned from the excursion, crew members were waiting with wet washcloths and glasses of ice tea.
River Cruise Extras --
There were some special events that Yvette arranged for our pleasure on the boat. Our favorite was a classical music concert. Another outstanding event was a Normandy Beaches lecture on the evening prior to our excursion given by a well known historian. We learned much from Yvette's lecture on French wine and cheese. The crew member show is hysterically funny, you need to go. Going through the locks is an interesting experience, you will travel though several. Also, in some ports you will find the ship tied up with another ship. When this happens, if it is on your side of the ship you can't look out of the window.
Ship Demographics --
On our sailing, all ages were represented. There were several groups of friends and families cruising together. There were several couples in the fifties to sixties range. Cruisers came from U.S., Canada, England, Australia, and New Zealand. There were few elderly cruisers, and this particular itinerary is difficult for those with mobility or health issues. There is much walking over cobble-stones, and walking long distances from bus to venue.
Fitness and Recreation --
There is an exercise room containing a top quality exercise bike and treadmill. It is easy to take a jog directly from the ship. There is a hot tub onboard, it was open one day.
River cruising is for those who want an intimate experience with the location visited and your fellow cruisers. You can not be anonymous on a river cruise. The Avalon Creativity is the ship for you if you appreciate clean and simple furnishings, delicious food and wine, friendly and helpful staff, making new friends with like minded individuals. This particular itinerary is not restful, you are on the go each minute and enjoying it. My advice when choosing a river cruise is to choose your itinerary first, then look at the details offered by the particular cruise line second.