My husband and I took the Paris to Normandy cruise on the Baroness in late July 2009. We have been on many ocean cruises but this was our first European River Boat cruise. There is another detailed review of this cruise on Cruise Critic. I will only report some additional things:
• Odd room numbers have better views while docked
• Our room was at the very back of the lower deck and on the evenings when the boat was moving there was a significant amount of engine noise. To be fair, people in the very front on the top floor complained about loud talking in the lobby while they were trying to sleep at night. • I loved the self serve coffee/cappuccino/tea/hot chocolate machine. I bought some cinnamon at a grocery store at our first stop and this added a nice touch to the cappuccino.
• Bring a travel mug with a lid. When I got the cappuccino, I could fit two of them into my mug and walk around with the top on. I like big mugs of hot drinks, not the smallish mug size that they provide.
• Bring a cork screw. They do not care if you buy bottles of wine for consumption in your cabin but you will need a cork screw. If they open the bottle for you, you will be charged a corkage fee. I called Uniworld in advance and asked about carrying on wine and drinking it in my cabin. They said "No Problem". At our first stop we bought 2 bottles of wine for 3 and 4 Euros. It was very good even at that low price.
• The house wine at dinner was very good. I think we had around 4 glasses each night. They were there filling your glasses as quickly as you could drink it. There was no skimping on the included wine.
• The food was VERY good. Ocean cruises are more about quantity and less about quality. The food on this cruise was the opposite - more quality, less quantity. The only legitimate complaint that I heard on the trip was about the small portions at dinner. To be fair, no one asked for seconds. I asked our waiter if anyone ever asks for seconds and he said that passengers usually don't ask for 2nds or for 2 entrees, etc. By the end of the cruise, we were asking for a 2nd roll or an additional appetizer, etc. The meat portions are about the size of a deck of cards which is the correct portion size. The problem is that Americans eat way too much and restaurants serve enough for at least 2 people when you order one entrEe. So if you're hungry, ask for a 2nd entrEe. On the night we had lamb, after the fact, my husband was sorry he didn't ask for 2nds. He loves lamb and doesn't get it often and was disappointed with the serving size of his lamb that night.
• If you want to use one of the bikes, you have to reserve them well in advance. We asked to use them at the first stop and were told that they were reserved for the entire day, but the bikes sat outside the ship unused almost all day. Turns out, that they are big and heavy and most people had trouble maneuvering them and brought them back early. So if you are told they are spoken for, I would go back and ask during the day. The best day to ride the bikes is at the first stop in Les Andyles. This is a quiet typical French village.
• To my surprise, Paris was so nice! It was clean, easy to get around. I've always heard that Parisians don't like Americans and won't talk to you unless you speak perfect French. This couldn't be further from the truth. We wandered around a lot and everyone was so friendly and very willing to assist us. I was amazed at how much there is to see in Paris. I definitely plan to return to Paris and finish seeing the sights (hopefully on another river boat cruised).
• Optional Excursions: a. Versailles - a must do, you won't be sorry. b. Cider Farm - I don't think anyone thought this was worth the money. No one in our party liked the food and since it wasn't apple picking season (which is the Fall), there was nothing to see. They just talked about what goes on. I think it was a waste of money. Overall, the trip was wonderful. We met many wonderful people, ate great food and drink, saw wonderful sites and learned a lot. There are 4 - 6 itineraries I've picked out and can't wait to go on another one. My only regret is that more Cruise Critic members are not taking these cruises or not writing about them. I've learned so much from the members and enjoy sharing my knowledge. If anyone has a specific question, please don't hesitate to ask.