We opted to book the Burgundy & Provence river cruise (26 July - 3 Aug) on the Avalon Scenery through a travel agency since we were on a separate trip to Paris the week before with a corporate group.
We took the TVG (train) from Gare Lyon Paris on the morning of the 26th of July to Arles. The TVG was a smooth and quite ride with about four stops along the way. We arrived in Arle around 1:30 pm. The train station in Arles is about a 5 minute walk to where the Scenery was docked. Knowing that check-in wasn't until around 5:00 pm we headed for the ship anyway to see if we could unload our luggage. When we arrived at the ship, the receptionist told us we couldn't check-in, but was more than happy to hold our luggage. Two crew members went out to the dock and retrieved our luggage. From that moment on I knew the service on board the Scenery was going to be good. We headed to the old town in Arles for lunch for which there were numerous cafes to sit and relax. At about 4:30 we headed back to the ship and checked in. We had the ship to ourselves for about an hour before the buses bringing the remaining passengers in from Monaco. First thing we notice was how clean and well maintained the Scenery is. The second thing we notice and experienced throughout the cruise was the Staff. I can't say enough about the quality, friendliness, and professional service that we experienced during this cruise, from the receptionist, cruise director, to George the bartender (very important), to Indra, probably the best server we have ever experienced on any cruise. He knew that I enjoyed a beer with dinner, and from the first day on, I never had to ask. That evening during the welcome party we learned that the ship was only half full (bad for the crew, but good for us). We were all surprised at that announcement. I really expected a sold out cruise.
FOOD - All I can say is that I didn't have a bad meal while visiting France, and that includes the Scenery. The food was good, not the greatest, but good. Breakfast and lunch was buffet, while dinner was a 5 course sit down. Wine and Beer flowed freely. We found the soups to be really good.
LOUNGE - We normally closed the lounge up each evening with our new found Aussi friends. Avalon was smart in keeping the drink prices reasonable. You could get a beer and or wine for about 3.5 euro. Mix drinks would run around 7 euros. All could be charged to your room.
CABIN - Our cabin was 202, about mid-ship, first cabin on the second deck (perfect spot). The cabin was small with a french balcony, but had plenty of storage both in the cabin and bathroom. Luggage fit easily under the bed. It had a flat screen TV, small frig, and ample lighting. Bed was very comfortable.
ENTERTAINMENT - Each evening they had a piano player (Angel), but would have like to see them spin some records every now and then. Only so much piano music you can dance to. They also brought in the Gypsy Kings (what's left of them) - and they were good, to a French female cabaret singer who should retire. But she gave her best. The crew performed some funny skits one evening.
OTHER AREAS - The outdoor upper deck was very spacious, but because of the numerous low bridges and locks, it seems the canopies and railings were down more than they were up. They also have a hot tub, which was nice on one of the cooler evenings. We only had about three good nights of warm weather with no winds where we could sit outside and really enjoy the cruising portion.
PORTS OF CALL: We enjoyed all the complimentary walking tours Avalon provided. They lasted about 2 to 3 hours. They kept the groups small, great tour guides, and headsets. For those who had walking issues, they provided some transportation or a slower walking tour depending on the town, roads, slopes, etc.
ARLES - We did the walking tour and enjoyed seeing the Roman ruins and the Old Town of Arles. We chose to take the Vincent Van Gogh tour. I was a little skeptical at first, but I must say I really enjoyed it. They bused you around to all the sites and areas that Van Gogh had painted, and then on to the Hospital where he had stayed. Very interesting tour and beautiful country side.
AVIGNON - We took the walking tour of Avignon, with the majority of the tour dedicated to the Palace of the Popes. Beautiful Palace from the outside, but very bland inside. We opted for the Chateauneuf-du Pape wine tasting tour. Other than the country side being beautiful, most of us felt the tour was overpriced and a waste of time. They only visited one winery were we tasted a few wines, that really weren't that good. I didn't see anyone in our group buy any wine. Avalon should include a second winery for comparison sake. That evening was the tail end of a weeklong festival that highlighted street performers - Lots of Fun!!
VIVIERS - Really small town with a really a cool Cathedral where we got a short organ concert. The Cathedral is set high amongst the city with some wonderful views of the countryside.
TOURNON - Another small town with Roman ruins - really unique. We took the Chateau tour, which was the best. Not only was the Chateau beautiful, but the gardens within. We drove the country side stopping along the way to view numerous castles, chateaus, and little villages with historical churches. Great tour!
LYON - We opted to sleep in that morning (late night at lounge) and do Lyon on our own. Lyon was awesome - only bad side was that we stopped there on a Sunday - NO SHOPPING!! However, they had the greatest fresh outdoor markets and an outdoor art market. Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière is a must see. Set atop Fourviere Hill, you can take a tram to the cathedral for about 3 euros. Views are amazing. We got to the church during mass for which we stayed - nice treat. We found a great quite little cafe to have lunch.
MACON - Cute little town, but guess what - all the stores were closed on Monday as well. I need to work in France!!
CHALON-SUR-SAONE (Disembarkation) - Since we booked on our own, we had booked a train back to Paris for one night then our flight home. The receptionist ensured that we had a taxi waiting for us to take us to the Chalon train station. Again - service was outstanding.
PROS - Entire Scenery Staff - The Best!! - Room Comfort - The Ship (clean and neat) - The passengers we met, ranging from 20 to 70+ years old. Majority were from Australia.
CONS - Need more river cruising time - Schedule Lyon other than Sunday - Later dinner seating - Cruise Director long winded sometimes, which cut into our social time with other passengers at the lounge before dinner, which was too early.
OVERALL - A wonderful trip, on a wonderful Ship the Avalon Scenery.