We booked our trip with Vantage 8 months in advance. We were traveling with 2 other couples and we were told there were only 3 cabins available for the cruise we wanted to take which would be close to D-Day. On the ship, we heard similar stories from other travelers. Vantage keeps their prices low because they don't use travel agents - you book directly with them. Their customer service has improved since 2009 when we traveled to China with them. You no longer have to wait on hold for hours to speak to a customer service representative.
We booked the Paris extension and were put up at the Hotel Meridien Etoile. Our plane arrived at 7:30am from the U.S. and we were in our rooms by 11:30am. The hotel is located across the street from the Metro -great for getting around Paris. Headed out to lunch then on to Montmarte, Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, Arc de' Triomphe , shopping at Louis Vuitton (bring your passport if you want a VAT refund). The second day in Paris we booked a dinner cruise (through Vantage cruise director at the hotel) on the River Seine which I highly recommend! See the City of Lights at its finest and see the flickering lights at the Eiffel Tower at 10 while it's sparkling in all it's glory.
Sumptuous buffet at hotel with bags out at 7:30am to be transported to River Venture. On the Museum D'Orsay to see exhibits while staff on River Venture is saying goodbye to last cruisers and getting ready for the next one. Arrived on boat at 12:30pm. Cabins were surprisingly spacious Magnifying mirror (3x) in bathroom, I home radio which will charge early model iPhones and iPads. Large screen tv. Large shower for river boat and strong water pressure. Good wifi, Le Occitane products, sewing kits - everything you could possibly need. Dinner was shrimp cocktail, cream of broccoli soup, choice of chicken, halibut - mousse ice cream or cheese plate for dessert. Always a vegetarian choice too.
Day 2 -
Vernon - everyone is assigned a bus, yellow, blue or green that you board throughout your trip. Depart at 9:15am for Giverny for a guided visit to Monet's house and gardens. Guide was an ex-pat, Lexi, who was most entertaining. Gardens and house were breathtaking, as well as ponds and lily pads. Lunch on boat at 12:15 then at 2pm depart for a home hosted visit. Very informative and fun to see how the French live. She served apple tart and hard cider - and some of her husband's private liquor stash. . . way better than the cider. Upon our return we were supposed to have a walking tour of Vernon but it was cancelled. Another fabulous dinner - sirloin or river trout, tiramisu, always ice cream or cheese plate.
French lesson for 1/2 hour followed by a lecture on Impressionism. Lunch then a walking tour of Rouen. Lots of stores closed in town because it's Ascension Thursday and most French take a 4-day holiday. Saw where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake and a few French churches. Two hour walking tour, then back to boat for Captains Gala Dinner. Free Drinks during cocktail hour. Dinner was Chateaubriand, followed by Benedictine and an impressive Creme Brûlée. Nice Gypsy Jazz Ensemble in the lounge following dinner.
Arrived in Caudebec-en-Caux about 8am, departed at 9am for two Abbeys, one was a ruin and the other is still inhabited. Optional tour to Alabaster CoastOne and a half hour bus ride there. Those who opted not to go were given cash by our guide, Ken, to buy cheese and wine for an impromptu party on the top deck. Lots of bakeries, little cafes and cute shops. Supposed to have a pub crawl, but were told there are no pubs to visit.
Day 5 LeHavre/Honfleur
Vantage claims to be one of the few ships to be able to dock in Honfleur, but the truth of the matter is they have never docked in Honfleur. Dock in LeHavre- 1/2 hour from Honfleur - quaint town with lots of ships, amazing architecture, gigantic farmers market going on - so much to do. We opted not to return to the ship at noon but to stay for lunch in town till 2pm - hundreds of restaurants overlooking the harbor. Returned to ship for an informative lecture on D-Day to prepare us for the Normandy beaches tomorrow. International night for dinner and movie "The Longest Day" complete with popcorn.
Day 6 Normandy Beaches
Depart at 8:45am for a 2 hour bus ride (wouldn't have been as long if we had docked in Honfluer). Most touching to see the vast sea of crosses of American soldiers who lost their lives in an effort to keep democracy alive. Vantage arranged for a ceremony honoring the people in our group who served in the military. Not a dry eye in the place. Had lunch in a restaurant where they could feed all of us in less than an hour, red and white wine, poached white fish, carrots and rice with a cream sauce and apple tart for dessert. On to Pointe du Hoc where you could see the impact of the bombs, lots of bunkers bringing the war to life. Finished the day at a museum at Arromanches. Lots of French re-enactors in American jeeps and uniforms. Good place for D-Day souvenirs. Guide passed out Madelines (sponge cakes, like twinkles without the cream) for the two hour bus ride back to River Venture. Dinner at 8pm.
Two hour bus ride to Bayeux to visit the Cathedral of Notre Dame and toured Bayeux Tapestry museum. The tapestry is a woven cloth which tells the story of William 11. Local guide gave us each 15 euros for lunch on our own, then back to ship.
Day 8 - Les Andelys
9:30am Apple Tart demonstration by chef. Docked in Les Andelys, a picturesque little town, followed by a walking tour to Chateau Gaillard, a medieval castle, overlooking the town - or you could opt for a gentle walk of the town. Galley tour at 4pm and bus departs at 6pm for LaGrange DeBourgoult, a private reception country estate where we were to have dinner. En route we stopped on a high hill with breathtaking views of the town and a tasting of Calvados. Nice touch Vantage!!! Views of the farm were incredible, we were greeted by the Normandy Folk Dancers who performed complete with accordion and fiddle. Food not great, but I think it gave the staff on the ship a little respite.
Day 9 Versailles
Lunch at 11:15am due to early departure - bus to Versailles at 12:30pm. Versailles was so crowded, difficult to see much due to massive numbers of people. Made aware of pickpockets and scammers. Returned to Conflans for Captains Farewell Reception - free drinks in the cocktail lounge.
Coach tour of Paris, including Notre Dame (4th or 5th Notre Dame we visited). Louvre tour not as crowded as Versailles. Mona Lisa was waiting for us. Great guide - only 6 people to a guide which made it very enjoyable.
Full breakfast starting at 5am. Luggage out of our room by 5:30. Everyone out of their rooms by 9am so they can get ready for the next group who will be boarding at noon.
Great trip by Vantage - Staff couldn't have been nicer and Vantage personnel (guides) did everything to make our experience memorable. Wouldn't hesitate to recommend this trip to everyone!!!!