First River Cruise - Paris to Normandy: Viking Spirit (Retired) Cruise Review by cruzzzinma
Overall Member Rating
First River Cruise - Paris to Normandy
Destination: Europe - River Cruise
This was a great cruise. When we chose to go in mid-November we knew it would be chilly and rainy. We did have some rain, but other than Rouen, never more than a drizzle while were outside touring. The Spirit is small and intimate. The crew and staff were very friendly. The Seine and the villages were incredible.
It is a quieter experience than an ocean cruise with “BIG EXCURSIONS” at every port. For us, the whole purpose of this trip was the trip to the Normandy Beaches – it was the only BIG EXCURSION.
This virtually all-inclusive cruise meant our end of cruise bill was a very nice surprise – just under 475 Euros. That included about 200 Euros in tips shared among the Program Director and the staff, 150 Euros for the Versailles excursion, 50 Euros for laundry More onboard the ship, and 60-70 Euros for the bar bill (both hard and soft drinks.) We spent another 50 Euros on additional tips to specific individuals.
Unlike ocean cruises, they did not push shopping or spend a lot of time in places for shopping. began our trip with a Viking three day pre-cruise extension in Paris and used Viking transfers at each point in the trip. The Viking transfers were excellent.
People were friendly. We greeted people with “bonjour” and departed with “merci” and “au revoir.” We know some very rudimentary French phrases and thankfully almost everyone we met spoke far better English than we spoke French.
Pre-cruise extension (through Viking):
We stayed at Le Méridien Etoile in Paris 17 Porte Maillot. Viking has a concierge onsite for about two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. He gave us a welcome packet that included recommended restaurants and lots of transportation information from the hotel. We arrived at the hotel about 10:30 AM and had room keys in hand by about 11:00. Paris is very expensive and the hotel’s bar and restaurant were no exception.
The hotel is a two-minute walk from the Port Maillot metro station and RER train station. Many bus lines are within a five-minute walk. All are very easy to use. We followed Rick Steve’s Guidebook recommendation to buy 2 carnets (20) of metro tickets and ended up with only two tickets remaining. There’s also a shopping mall across the street that includes a grocery store with a great wine selection.
This was a great hotel and worked for us. There are mixed reviews on this hotel because it is very upscale and modern but is not in the city center. If you are looking for a luxury boutique hotel, this hotel is not for you. However it was a fifteen-minute metro ride from the Louvre. The rooms were a bit smaller than American hotel rooms, which is typical in Paris, but not as tiny as some reviews indicated.
The Viking package included breakfast at the hotel – a fantastic breakfast buffet with both European and American breakfast items. The hotel concierge desk was very helpful, especially when the Viking concierge was not there.
By the third day, we figured out that we should have discussed our itinerary for the day with the Viking concierge to get transportation instructions from point A to point B to Point C. We walked about 10,000 miles in Paris and missed some transportation options that would have made our days a little less intense.
We had a wonderful time in Paris but were exhausted. We walked a lot! I am glad we did this before rather than after the cruise. The trans-atlantic flight home would have tough when were this tired.
We booked Eiffel Tower summit tickets online before we left. We tried to buy the Paris Two Day Museum Pass when we arrived but could not find anyplace that sold it. We bought advance tickets to the Louvre and D’Orsay from the Hotel concierge. There were incredibly long lines at the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the D’Orsay. Don’t go without a pass or advance tickets that let you enter through a much less busy entrance. We did see places to buy the museum passes as we departed the Louvre. Based on the places we went, the cost of the advance tickets and other entrance fees were about the same cost as the 2 Day museum pass. We elected not to go to Versailles during our precruise stay because we had other things we wanted to do.
A day or two before embarkation, the Viking concierge told us that because of recent rainfall, the Seine was probably still too high to get the Viking Spirit into Paris. We were bussed about and hour to Conflans to embark. We learned mid-week that we were going to be able to sail to Paris upon our return.
When we arrived at the ship, bags were unloaded immediately and senior staff greeted us. Our cabin (a deluxe B) was very comfortable and had a lot of storage. The bed, pillows and towels were great. I picked this particular cabin level because the window opened. It was smaller than the concierge cabins we stayed in on Celebrity cruises but it was fine.
The bathroom was cruise-ship compact and the shower design DID NOT LEAK WATER onto the bathroom floor. They had L’Occitane products (shampoo, conditioner, lotion, bar soap and shower gel). A hair dryer was provided. The vanity included one 110 outlet and two 240 outlets. Viking provided a large bottle of water in the cabin that was replenished as needed.
Another reviewer mentioned that when someone is seated at the vanity table (where the outlets are accessible), the other person couldn’t get to the window side of the bed. I wished I’d remembered that because I would have put my clothes on the window side so DH could have had access to his clothes while I was drying my hair. We never bothered changing the clothes from one side to the other.
Coffee and tea were provided 24/7 along with cookies and muffins at different times of the day. I did not like the coffee from the coffee machine, which produced all kinds of coffee drinks. Wine, beer and soft drinks were free with meals. Coffee was strong and excellent in the dining room. Items can be ordered from the bar at other times. The bar prices were very reasonable (I.E., about 6 Euros for a martini and 2.20 Euros for a soda or sparkling water.) Viking also offered a beverage package, which we did not buy since a wide range of beverages were provided during meal times and we didn’t think we’d it would be a good value for us. We did bring wine onboard and bought beverages at the bar.
The bar staff worked very hard but it seemed like they need more staff at peak times. They never remembered our drink orders. There were port talks every evening in the lounge that provided details for the next day.
When leaving the ship, we gave our room keys to reception and they give us a card with our group number and boarding passes to return to the ship. The boarding passes had contact information for the ship in case we needed it. When we returned from the tour, we handed both the passes and the group card back into reception and they give us back our room keys. It is the manual version of scanning your seapass whenever disembark/embark the ship. It was very fast to get on and off. Passengers were divided into two to four groups for the excursions.
The concierge put people traveling together into the same tour groups and accommodated requests to put us in the same groups as our new friends.
Daytime - whatever you were comfortable in for touring. Comfortable clothes (many wore a lot of jeans) and our rain coats because of the weather. We wore comfortable, water-proof, hiking shoes appropriate for gravel and cobblestones. If you want to blend in, daytime attire for Paris is different - is very upscale with perfect hair and makeup for women and more tailored clothes for men.
Dinner Attire – Business casual (light) onboard. Khakis, nice jeans, collared shirts for men. No sloppy t-shirts, etc. Some people changed for dinner, others did not.
Breakfast - served in the dining room every morning. There was a very good breakfast buffet. We could also order omelets, pancakes, French toast and other items off a menu.
Lunch – usually served in the both the lounge (sandwiches and salads) and in the dining room for a salad bar and made to order items. We ate in the dining room, except for one day and were very happy with the meals.
Dinner - There is one open-seating for dinner in the dining room. Everything was ordered off the menu.
Everyone goes in together and finds a table. There were tables for four, six and eight. There might have been a few tables for two.
They do not allow you to reserve tables and I think this policy should be reconsidered. There were two groups of people - those who sat with different people every night and those who always sat together. We sat with two other couples whenever we could. Each “sit together” group learned to dispatch someone to get a table as soon as the doors to the dining room opened in the evening.
The dinners themselves were good to excellent. Beverage service was fairly good and unlimited. Food service was a little slow especially when the dining room was full. There were things I loved and some I didn’t care for and the waiters always asked if I’d prefer something else. Beef seemed inconsistent but the fish was always excellent. There was always something on the menu that appealed to me. Dinner was relaxed and took a couple of hours.
A pianist entertained in the lounge sometimes during the day and everyday before dinner. He was wonderful. There was after dinner entertainment in the lounge on some nights but we didn't go. This trip was about the daytime tours for us and after dinner we went to our cabin.
Some minor annoyances: little things like ordering the entire meal at once, bread plates on the table through dessert and having a server reach across me to pick plates were aggravating. The staff worked very hard but needed better training to serve properly. I don’t think there was enough staff to give superior service to the number of guests in the dining room.
Monday - morning excursion was a bus tour around Paris with stops at the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. We had an excruciating 1½ hour bus ride in rush hour traffic back to Paris.
Our guide, Thierry, was excellent and is one of the Rick Steve’s guides in Paris. We had a ride through the city center, stopped for a toilet break and a great view of the Eiffel Tower. â€¨The last stop was Notre Dame and that visit was fast (since we lost a lot of time in rush hour traffic.)
Viking took us to lunch – three courses: french onion soup, duck and dessert, two beverages (wine or soft drinks) and coffee and we finished about 2:00 PM. There were three options for the afternoon. Bus back to the ship after lunch, Paris on your own, or optional Louvre tour with a guide (you had to pay extra.) For those of us staying in Paris, there was a 5:30 PM bus back to the ship in Conflans.
Annika, the Program Director, and Thierry, our guide, had lunch with us. Both spent a lot of time with each couple ensuring that we knew how to get where we wanted to go and how to get from where were to the late bus pickup point. The rush hour bus ride back to the ship was just as excruciating as the morning ride.
Tuesday – We skipped the shore excursion, which was a short bus ride into the village of Auvers-sur-Oise, favored by van Gogh and other artists. We’d spent five exhausting days in Paris and needed a break. We stayed on board the Spirit with about a dozen others and sailed from Conflans, stopped briefly to pick up the people who went on the shore excursion and sailed onto Rouen. We had pretty scenery and a relaxing morning.
Feedback on the shore excursion was that it was very interesting. This was the only day we ate lunch in the lounge. They served a special Norman buffet with lots of interesting food. However, we decided that the lounge tables were too small and too low to eat comfortably especially in a very large group.
Wednesday – Rouen. We spent the morning cruising down the Seine toward Rouen. The countryside was beautiful and it was a relaxing. Annika gave a lecture about Joan of Arc in the lounge that was very good. They also have some of the same information in the daily paper.
We arrived in Rouen after lunch and there was a walking tour around the town in pouring rain. It is a picturesque town with historic buildings and streets. It had lots of shopping opportunities. We are not big shoppers but we bought two Christmas ornaments and two macaroons. We were cold and wet so we headed back to the ship.
We were a little concerned when we docked because our cabin was on the river-side and there was a brightly lit carnival across the river. I don’t know whether the lights would have bothered us but they were turned off by the time we went to bed.
We overnighted here so we could have had dinner you off the ship, but we ate onboard.
Thursday – Normandy Beaches. This is the day we were waiting for and the reason we chose this cruise. There were two tour options – American or Commonwealth. We choose American beaches. We had a two-hour (but we knew that when we booked.) very rainy bus ride from Rouen. We had an excellent guide on our bus and our tour. We drove past Gold Beach, Courseulles sur Mer and Juno Beach on our way.
Our first stop was the Arromanches Debarkment Museum was very well done and the only shopping opportunity. We saw the remnants of Mulberry A. The rain stopped and it was just cold and windy.
After visiting the museum, we met the whole group for lunch in Arromanches where Viking provided lunch at a local restaurant. Afterward, we headed back to the bus for the afternoon tour. We visited the American Military Cemetery and then the museum. Both were very emotional experiences. We also saw German bunkers and machine gun nests. Our last stop was Omaha Beach. We walked on the beach and looked at the sheer bluffs that the Americans had to scale.
It was an amazing day. The bus ride back to the boat was uneventful.
Friday – Les Andeles. We spent the morning cruising back toward Paris and stopped just after lunch in Les Andeles for about two hours. It’s a very small quaint village with shops and the remains of the castle of Richard the Lionhart perched on the bluff.
The shore excursion was a walking tour was through the little town and then up to the castle remains. The hike was vertical up the castle but the views were breathtaking.
There were two shops in the village that were interesting. One was a store with home goods. It was too crowded with other passengers so we headed to the other shop, a small clothing/accessory store with ornaments, scarves and jewelry, and other items. â€¨â€¨We got there ahead of the crowd and bought two Christmas ornaments. The power-shoppers came in and we left to head back to the ship.
Annika gave a debarkation talk that afternoon. Viking provided color-coded luggage tags that corresponded to departure time and location.
Saturday– Conflans and Versailles. Shore excursion options included Conflans on your own or a guided walking tour of Conflans. The optional (you have to pay for it) excursions were ½ day trip to Versailles or a full day trip to Versailles and Paris. We opted for the ½ day in Versailles, which I think, was the best option. The full day included the palace and gardens and an additional two hours to explore the gardens followed by a bus trip to Paris with two hours on your own in Paris.
It was cold in windy in November and the gardens, while incredible, were past their prime. We would not have wanted to have the two extra hours in Versailles. Versailles is incredibly crowded but we were one of the first groups scheduled to go in. By the time we left, it was very crowded. Our guide was very good and I am glad we elected to do the Viking excursion rather than do it on our own.
We headed back to the ship for lunch and sailed for Paris. We got back to the ship about 12:00. I think was the only time that anyone got left behind. The daily said departure time was 1:00PM. The sign at reception said “be back by 12:45PM.” Someone in our group said that Annika had briefed us that we would depart immediately once the busses were offloaded. I think we sailed between 12:30 and 12:45 before all the boarding passes had been turned in and all keys returned. After paging for people in a couple of cabins, we returned to Conflans and pick them up. They had crossed the street to go into shops.
We docked about a half-mile from the Eiffel Tower about 6:00 PM.
Sunday – Our departure time was 7:30 AM so our luggage had to be out by 6:45AM. We put it out early and went to breakfast. When we arrived at our departure terminal at Charles De Gaule, a Viking representative was waiting for us. She went with us to the check-in kiosks, thank goodness, and helped is through it. Less
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