This was our first river cruise and we recommend it and plan on river cruising again. We chose Viking because the catalog we received in the mail included an itinerary we had always wanted to do. The age demographic is largely 70+ . Being considering younger we did make friends and connect with others our age
We departed December 8, 2013 on the Paris Normandy cruise. We visited with family in UK prior to the trip so we did not do the pre stay or post stay in Paris. We did add on transfers once we arrived back in CDG and were very well taken care for our 30 minute ride to the ship. Our cabin was a corner one next to the staircases but was very well laid out and spacious and we liked it over the conventional cabins down the hall. Great storage and use of space. The staff were extremely courteous and helpful throughout the duration of the cruise. Each evening there was a debriefing of next day excursions or ship program. Very well organized. You leave the ship - you turn in your room key and get a pass which you turn in upon your return. This was a very efficient way of figuring out who was on or off the ship.
There is only one dining time and it is open seating. The food was very good. Not excellent but very good. The portions are not those you would find on ocean liner cruisers, which is fine unless you are there for a food frenzy. The food was always elegantly presented . They tried hard to make it regionally based upon the day's visit. The breakfast buffet was very generous but repetitive, however, you could order a la carte. We lunched in the dining room most days vs. the buffet. I feel the lunch menus could have been a little bit more imaginative and did get the feeling that we were at the end of the season when coming to menu creation. At the captain's farewell cocktail they ran out of hors d'oeuvres after being passed to only half of the lounge. When pointed out they did bring more to the entire lounge. I admit I am a food and service snob and did note that one time they used a saucer as a serving dish and I suspect that the crab meat on crab cake night was fake crab meat. To my husband's delight one day they did serve hot dogs :(n For wine lovers such as us ...we would very often buy a bottle of wine at the many local wine shops and they either corked it right there at the shop or the ship would do it for you. There was not any question bringing it on board and they were happy to offer a corkage service at no charge.
The entertainment on board is limited. There was a resident piano player who was somewhat engaged. They did have a spirit of Normandy night with local entertainers which was good. Most nights we were tired from daily activities we crashed after dinner. They did offer some "cultural" activities during sailing. Some things they listed as on board events were pretty lame. Would have liked to seen more educational topical info as in lectures relating to upcoming stops.
The excursions were excellent and the guides were all fabulous. We opted not to do the intro to Paris half day tour the first day since we had been to the cite several times before and explored Montmartre and Ile st. Louis instead. Visit this small island on the seine by foot when you walk to the left side of Notre Dame and over the bridge. It is literally far from the madding crowd of tourists with small, and I mean, small restaurants and shops. Be sure and get ice cream! Beautiful gift shops and galleries. The Metro is extremely easy to use and in fact if you take the walking, get acquainted, walking tour the first day and the guide instructs you on how to use the Metro. Taxis are very expensive and Metro is the way to go.
Our first excursion out of Paris was to the site of Vincent Van Gogh's last days. This particular day was bitter cold and we did not layer properly. Loved all we learned about this very troubled and brilliant artist. Rouen is great shopping. Wish there had been more to the Joan of Arc site. We did take advantage to leave the ship for dinner and dine at a local restaurant recommended by the ship. A Petite Auberge. A delightful culinary experience at what we thought was a very reasonable price. Recommend doing this to get a true local flavor outside of the ship dining experience.
The highlight of our cruise was the visit to the Normandy Beaches. It was somewhat of a pilgrimage for us after losing my 95 year old Father-in-law this year who was a survivor of the Battle of the Bulge. You can read and study in history books, or online, but when you are there it is totally incredible. Very emotional day. They had a ceremony for our tour group at the monument which was very poignant. The day of the castle tour I chose to shop the two gift shops with other female companions. Two nice shops for last minute gifts. My husband did the castle tour which is ancient ruins on hillside and a challenging hike for most. This is a short 2 hour dock.
The final day was Versailles. Our other reason for picking this itinerary. We opted for the whole day tour and I think this was a mistake. Unless you did not complete all you wanted to see in Paris prior to this point then opt for the half day tour. I really regret doing the full day. Half day or full day you get to see the same tour of Versailles Palace with free time to browse the gardens and gift shop. The whole day gives you 1.5 hours in the town of Versailles for lunch and shopping. Quaint but just more shopping and eating. Back to Paris on the bus and they drop you off for 2.5 hours at the Champs Élysées and return you to the boat at 0630 pm in time for dinner on the last night. Meanwhile the boat sails from Conflans to Paris during the afternoon and you leisurely enjoy the afternoon on the river.
The coaches were all very clean. Follow the tipping guide .......if you are lucky enough to get Thierry as your guide in Paris or Versailles you are blessed and consider that a huge bonus. He is very entertaining!
Dressing tips: Dining dressing is casual. Many do not change from day clothes. The captains toast/dinner was really no different than any other night. Ladies ..just take a different scarf and jewelry and wear the same outfit. Layer for those excursions at this time of year. Temperature in the cabin was a little erratic. I do have to say the linens and bed comforters were super soft and comfortable.
On a final note. They only gave us a two hour window for check in at CDG and it was a very tight time frame. Long lines at check in and security and when we arrived at the gate they were boarding the plane. No duty free shop time! Would we travel Viking again? Possibly...it was great value for the money but I would explore other river cruises first.