When you market your cruise as Paris to Normandy Beach Landings, you better be prepared to perform at the highest level of expectations on your feature land tour. In that respect Avalon Waterways was a huge disappointment to many on our recent cruise. I feel compelled to comment on this because it was the topic of discussion at dinners and during a day of sailing when cruisers had the opportunity to exchange personal thoughts. I wish somebody would have shared this information on Cruise Critic before we booked with Avalon...it would have made all the difference in the world in my choice of cruise lines. I recently found similar comments on some other review sites.
That's a shame, because overall, the Avalon staff goes out of their way to provide top quality, timely and personalized service. We couldn't have been more pleased with each and every staff member we encountered. (and that is nearly all of them because they keep a lean roster of employees). We had one of two suites on the ship and the room was clean, well appointed and comfortable. We are accommodating food wise and found nothing that wasn't to our liking so much that we could complain. Food isn't one of the features that we focus on as much as the tour experience. (we avoided all of the formal breakfast and lunches and did partake of a few light lunch buffets) We appreciated the always available coffee and snacks in the lounge. Great for early risers or midnight munchies. Complimentary wine with dinner that poured freely...can't beat that! On board entertainment was limited but enjoyable. ALWAYS felt welcomed by the staff.
I specifically noted the "Avalon staff" earlier, because the tours on the cruise are coordinated and provided by independent contractors, that includes the Cruise Director.
Many of the tours were exactly what we anticipated. Some even exceeded our expectations based on the knowledge and delivery style of the contracted guide du jour. There is so much history to Paris and the Normandy region, it is difficult to focus on any one era. In that respect, individuals have different interests and I think the bulk of the included and optional tours provided a general overview for many levels of knowledge and preferences. However, the "feature tour" of the cruise,(based on Avalon's marketing) which for most of the men and some of the women, was the single most important reason for selecting this itinerary, came across like a poorly orchestrated afterthought,which left a taste bad enough to make us think twice before booking with Avalon again.
Our guide that day was basically knowledgeable, but extremely condescending to many who had limited knowledge of the event. He actually laughed out loud at them when they made inquiries. To those who had an extensive military history background, the guide didn't measure up, particularly on facts that he plucked out of war movies instead of historical records.
We spent at least two hours in the village of Arromanches-les-Bains, our first stop of the day. Although the town has a very small D-Day museum and it was the perfect spot to view the remaining artificial harbor, it was clear to everybody that we were killing time to accommodate a scheduled lunch in a local restaurant that truly was unnecessary. A voucher, a boxed lunch to eat in transit, or simply a notice that you were on your own food wise could have preserved precious time to view other historic D-Day sites. The museum was crowded, and there was really not much else worth visiting in the town except for some cheesy gift shops, particularly when you had precious little time to spare in one day. Best feature was a movie produced by the Royal Imperial Navy..(the Brits always do historic propaganda films right!)
At the D-Day sites of greatest interest to the group made up of 99.9% Americans that day, time was controlled and very limited. Consider that we were given only 10 MINUTES to snap pictures at Omaha Beach, the primary goal of the trip for all of us. Ten minutes for nearly ten thousand dollars..c'mon! We came to pay our respects not just take pictures. Unlike other reviews posted about this experience, we were also denied access to the Omaha Beach museums (the guide said why go in? there is nothing but military equipment in that museum...hello, that's the point! along with the archival photos, etc.) Forget about the airborne museum too. The ceremony at the American cemetery was moving but it too consumed a lot of time that prevented us from freely moving about the grounds. (hint...schedule it immediately at the beginning or the end instead of the middle of the stop to give people greater options)
At Pointe du Hoc the guide barely let the group explore the prominent features because he stopped short of the viewing area to do his presentation. This could have been done while in motion to facilitate time and expand the groups view of the site. At this point we went off on our own and left him behind talking to the group.
Look, I know that if you want a detailed tour, you could hire a guide and do this on your own. (compared to the cost of the cruise one heck of a good tour!) My complaint is that the time we did have that day was squandered by poor planning and what came across as a genuine lack of concern for the interests of the individuals on the tour that day,
We are glad that we visited the landing beaches, as we are history buffs and respectful of the men who lost their lives, but Avalon's mismanagement of the day deserved comment and forewarning to others planning this trip.
Listen up Avalon, don't blow a good thing for you and your loyal employees with services not fully under your control!!! Many of us go on vacations in Europe to experience the sites...a bad experience could cost you customers in the long run. This is worth noting.