We chose this cruise because we particularly liked the sound of the itinerary, given that it was listed as a "Connoisseur Collection" cruise. Little did we realise at the time of booking that the majority of the Connoisseur Collection tours were not included in the price and were listed as optional extras, often at considerable extra cost.
We were also drawn in by the claims in the brochures of "the finest wines and ultra-premium liquors" being part of the all-inclusive deal. They are not.
The ship itself is opulent and well appointed, we particularly liked the fact that there is a complimentary guest laundry (handy when you've been on the road for several weeks beforehand), but we found the climate control in the guest lounge and dining room to be woefully inadequate for the conditions. Contrast this to the comments from some of our fellow travellers who had spent the previous week on the sister ship, the S Joie de Vivre during a record heat wave - they said the air conditioning on board that ship was so effective they found themselves having to wear long sleeves to dinner - nothing like what we experienced, which was more akin to a sauna.
The "full open air balcony" is a myth. The cabin is basically a French Balcony cabin, with part of the room sacrificed to make way for a glass enclosure that creates a separate enclosure, however the window still only retracts halfway down as in a standard French balcony (unlike say those on an Avalon ship where the window opens all the way to make a true open air balcony). Also, unlike an outside balcony such as those on AMA Waterways ships where you can sit outside in the sun whilst your room remains air conditioned, as soon as you open the window on the SS Catherine, the air conditioning in the room switches off.
Overall the room is small but well fitted out with plenty of storage space and the beds are truly among the most comfortable I've ever slept on. Disappointingly, there is no in-room information system like that on Scenic or AMA Waterways ships.
Extreme heat made it a bit unpleasant for the wine guilds ceremony held in the courtyard of the castle, but there was just enough shade that it was bearable and the ceremony itself (plus wine tasting afterwards) was quite enjoyable.
Unfortunately I have to rate this as average because we missed out on seeing any of Avignon due to a conflict in scheduling. We wanted to see the very excellent Pont du Gard, which meant that we were unable to participate in the morning tour of Avignon and the Palace of the Popes. Very disappointing considering the tour was back at the boat by lunchtime and the ship remained docked in Avignon until midnight, but there were no tours available in the afternoon and although we could have gone to the Palace of the Popes ourselves it would have meant paying extra for entry, without a guide, and having to queue in the extreme heat to do so.
A fantastic city with really interesting landmarks, such as the Roman arena and theatre, as well as several Van Gogh references. The only reason I can't rate it higher is that the guide we had was terrible - all he wanted to do was talk about himself and we couldn't wait to get away from the tour to experience the city for ourselves.