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9 France River Cruise Reviews

On whole, the trip met our expectations and we will most likely take a future river cruise with Viking, but there were some quirks that folks should understand if they are not familiar with Bordeaux or if they are new to river cruises (or ... Read More
On whole, the trip met our expectations and we will most likely take a future river cruise with Viking, but there were some quirks that folks should understand if they are not familiar with Bordeaux or if they are new to river cruises (or Viking river cruises in particular). From prior posters' reports, we knew in advance that there would not be much cruising on this trip. If that had been a surprise, we would have been very disappointed. We spent 3 of 7 nights docked in the city of Bordeaux, and the other 4 nights in tiny ports with virtually nothing to distinguish themselves by other than their proximity to shore excursions and the opportunity to witness the crew docking the vessel. Bordeaux is a beautiful city with accessible public transportation, and the vessel's dock was adjacent to a tram stop, making it very easy to get around independently while in port. In hindsight, I'd have preferred that we just stayed in port in Bordeaux each night, and integrated the cruising element by some day cruising up and down the rivers. This was my husband's second Viking River Cruise, and my first. He oversold me on the culinary experience based on his first cruise on the Rhine. We were both underwhelmed by most of the food on the Bordeaux cruise (although there were some notable exceptions) and I disliked the rigidity of the dinner service. On several days we had private all-day winery tours that included lovely three course meals in local restaurants. The last thing we could handle was a full-on heavy dinner on board ship at 7pm sharp. It would have been nice to have the option of having a light meal served later in the evening. We were also somewhat disappointed by the Chateau Kirwin meal on Thursday. The venue was nice, but Chef thought it would be fun for the Americans to serve them turkey on Thanksgiving, not realizing that you can't replicate a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal for 120 people and that many of us traveled over Thanksgiving to get away from tradition. The Chateau Kirwin wine they served was disappointing and the wait staff refused to open the superior wine that we'd brought with us. I realize in hindsight that it would have been in poor taste to drink someone else's wine at the Chateau Kirwin but I resent having been forced into that situation in the first place. If we'd been docked in Bordeaux instead of Pauillac that night, we could have just gone into town and had a nice dinner on our own instead, but that wasn't an option. If you prefer the group travel experience to independent travel (and frankly, that is the demographic that Viking is reaching out to), you would certainly have enjoyed this trip and would find my disappointments a bit puzzling. For the group traveler, the choice of shore excursions was varied and comprehensive. I think that is one of the things that Viking really does well. The program director on this cruise, Lorin, is a gem and Viking should be commended for its employment of his many talents. He was entertaining, thought-provoking, hard working and genuinely engaged in the mission of bringing local culture to the Viking guests. The ship was very clean, our stateroom had plenty of storage capacity and the staff was hard-working and friendly. We chose this Viking cruise as a marital compromise (I dislike group travel of any sort, and especially boats, but my husband does not share my feelings. More than anything, he hates to pack and unpack and the pressure of selecting a restaurant to dine in each night, and he enjoys the socialization that is available on-board). The trip met or exceeded my low expectations, and it also met or exceeded my husband's higher expectations. Read Less
Sail Date November 2016
As a regular ocean cruiser, first time river cruiser, I found that my river cruise* on Viking was more like an ocean cruise than I expected. The free beer and wine with dinner and included shore excursions were a nice change, though. ... Read More
As a regular ocean cruiser, first time river cruiser, I found that my river cruise* on Viking was more like an ocean cruise than I expected. The free beer and wine with dinner and included shore excursions were a nice change, though. This river cruise was also more like a bus tour than I expected. There is an optimal experience that the ads portray...eating, drinking, and laughing with other passengers, outdoors with blue skies, and beautiful scenery floating-by. Of the six days and 20 hours from bonjour to au revior, about 20% of the cruising was when we were aboard** and it was not during sleeping hours. But about half of that was spent either waiting in front of a lock, or in the lock. The first time, the lock is cool, but it's preventing the optimal experience, especially since it looks like it's midnight and there's a slimy concrete wall an inch from your nose. So an average of 2.7 non-lock cruising hours per day. Although the rivers were low at the time, the top deck was often closed for bridge clearance, so having the optimal experience was limited to the bow, which held about 40 people (out of the 180 on board). Not that you couldn't enjoy the view from your stateroom, but not enjoying the view with other passengers. So if you were on-board, it wasn't raining, you found a spot outside with likable acquaintances, there's something besides the inside of a lock to see, well, you get the idea. I think this happened once for me. I predicted this would be the case, but make sure you have your expectations set appropriately. I've only been on one bus tour in my life, and that was with a single bus and 35 other students (a long time ago). Sometimes our ship would be parked where we could walk to the city/town. Often we were out of town, so boarded four huge coaches. Either way, I found myself walking around a couple of city blocks or a tourist venue with a gaggle of 180 other passengers. At times I was engaged with what I was seeing, but other times, I just wanted to be away from the crowd. If you wanted to see these same sites, you could drive from start to finish in a rental car in 4 hours. So a few strategically place hotels would mean you'd only need to move once or twice and do day trips to the sights. If you really wanted to see the city from the river, you could book a afternoon or evening cruises. And if you did it with a car, not only could you be away from the gaggle of other passengers, but also wouldn't be tied to the river geography. Again, if you expect to be with a big group, and don't mind that, then having a turn-key vacation where Viking does all the planning might be a great way for you to see the sights. A word about the beer (most people will skip this paragraph). On board we had a decent line-up of German beers. One on tap, Bitberger, plus Budweiser Budvar (the original Bud from Czechoslovakia), Kostritzer Schwarzbier, Benediktiner Weissbier, Kronenbourg 1664 Pilsner. Off-ship, I found two beer places that looked interesting, but didn't work out, timing-wise. In Lyon there was a place called "Le Palais de la Bière", lots of taps, but it wasn't open when I could get up there. "La Chope de Lug" was a bottle shop that looked promising, but it opened only after we sailed that day. Mostly the convenience stores had things that proclaimed the ABV in a big font. Although I couldn't read the label, I figured they were akin to Colt 44, so I left those on the shelf. I found a Belgian (3 Monts) in a general store (along "Place Raspail" in Lyon, a couple minutes walk from the dock). The 3 Monts was pretty good, tasted belgian-like, so I'd call it a "bière de garde" although it said "Bière De Flandre" on the label. The Viking rooms all have refrigerators and they even let you bring your own beer to dinner without a fee (but I drank this one in the room anyway). We found plenty of fun other passengers to hang around with. The first day aboard, at lunch, the situation looked dismal; nobody looked less than mid-sixties, a few quite a bit older, and there were some walkers (we're mid-fifties). But the next night they had a disco night. We only sat in for a beer, but that's when we realized there were quite a few people near our age. Even a few twenty-somethings (with their parents), and also a few thirty somethings (their own). Well, there you have it. A few nice moments that made use of the fact we were cruising on a river, quite a lot of time on buses and in a crowd of other passengers and finally a passable beer experience, given that it was included in the price, and that this is wine country, so what can I expect? The bottom line is if you want a turn-key operation, you don't want to pack and unpack, you don't mind touring in crowds, this is real easy for you, albeit not cheap ($600/day for a couple, not including airfare). If I really wanted to see these sights (which, eh, I'm luke-warm on many of them), you could see them all for much cheaper and not always be in a crowd if you rented a car and stayed in a few hotels. * An August 2015 cruise of seven nights called 'Portraits of Southern France' (Avginon to Chalon-sur-Saoneon) on the Viking Heimdal, a 3 deck ship first launched in 2014 (the previous season). A really clean ship, tight but efficient rooms. Great staff...MUCH better service than the ocean cruises where the tips are automatically added to your bill. I loved the small size compared to most ocean vessels. ** Sometimes were were off on a tour and the ship moved and picked-us up at a different dock. Read Less
Sail Date August 2015
As a regular ocean cruiser, first time river cruiser, I found that my river cruise* on Viking was more like an ocean cruise than I expected. The free beer and wine with dinner and included shore excursions were a nice change, though. ... Read More
As a regular ocean cruiser, first time river cruiser, I found that my river cruise* on Viking was more like an ocean cruise than I expected. The free beer and wine with dinner and included shore excursions were a nice change, though. This river cruise was also more like a bus tour than I expected. There is an optimal experience that the ads portray...eating, drinking, and laughing with other passengers, outdoors with blue skies, and beautiful scenery floating-by. Of the six days and 20 hours from bonjour to au revior, about 20% of the cruising was when we were aboard** and it was not during sleeping hours. But about half of that was spent either waiting in front of a lock, or in the lock. The first time, the lock is cool, but it's preventing the optimal experience, especially since it looks like it's midnight and there's a slimy concrete wall an inch from your nose. So an average of 2.7 non-lock cruising hours per day. Although the rivers were low at the time, the top deck was often closed for bridge clearance, so having the optimal experience was limited to the bow, which held about 40 people (out of the 180 on board). Not that you couldn't enjoy the view from your stateroom, but not enjoying the view with other passengers. So if you were on-board, it wasn't raining, you found a spot outside with likable acquaintances, there's something besides the inside of a lock to see, well, you get the idea. I think this happened once for me. I predicted this would be the case, but make sure you have your expectations set appropriately. I've only been on one bus tour in my life, and that was with a single bus and 35 other students (a long time ago). Sometimes our ship would be parked where we could walk to the city/town. Often we were out of town, so boarded four huge coaches. Either way, I found myself walking around a couple of city blocks or a tourist venue with a gaggle of 180 other passengers. At times I was engaged with what I was seeing, but other times, I just wanted to be away from the crowd. If you wanted to see these same sites, you could drive from start to finish in a rental car in 4 hours. So a few strategically place hotels would mean you'd only need to move once or twice and do day trips to the sights. If you really wanted to see the city from the river, you could book a afternoon or evening cruises. And if you did it with a car, not only could you be away from the gaggle of other passengers, but also wouldn't be tied to the river geography. Again, if you expect to be with a big group, and don't mind that, then having a turn-key vacation where Viking does all the planning might be a great way for you to see the sights. A word about the beer (most people will skip this paragraph). On board we had a decent line-up of German beers. One on tap, Bitberger, plus Budweiser Budvar (the original Bud from Czechoslovakia), Kostritzer Schwarzbier, Benediktiner Weissbier, Kronenbourg 1664 Pilsner. Off-ship, I found two beer places that looked interesting, but didn't work out, timing-wise. In Lyon there was a place called "Le Palais de la Bière", lots of taps, but it wasn't open when I could get up there. "La Chope de Lug" was a bottle shop that looked promising, but it opened only after we sailed that day. Mostly the convenience stores had things that proclaimed the ABV in a big font. Although I couldn't read the label, I figured they were akin to Colt 44, so I left those on the shelf. I found a Belgian (3 Monts) in a general store (along "Place Raspail" in Lyon, a couple minutes walk from the dock). The 3 Monts was pretty good, tasted belgian-like, so I'd call it a "bière de garde" although it said "Bière De Flandre" on the label. The Viking rooms all have refrigerators and they even let you bring your own beer to dinner without a fee (but I drank this one in the room anyway). We found plenty of fun other passengers to hang around with. The first day aboard, at lunch, the situation looked dismal; nobody looked less than mid-sixties, a few quite a bit older, and there were some walkers (we're mid-fifties). But the next night they had a disco night. We only sat in for a beer, but that's when we realized there were quite a few people near our age. Even a few twenty-somethings (with their parents), and also a few thirty somethings (their own). Well, there you have it. A few nice moments that made use of the fact we were cruising on a river, quite a lot of time on buses and in a crowd of other passengers and finally a passable beer experience, given that it was included in the price, and that this is wine country, so what can I expect? The bottom line is if you want a turn-key operation, you don't want to pack and unpack, you don't mind touring in crowds, this is real easy for you, albeit not cheap ($600/day for a couple, not including airfare). If I really wanted to see these sights (which, eh, I'm luke-warm on many of them), you could see them all for much cheaper and not always be in a crowd if you rented a car and stayed in a few hotels. * An August 2015 cruise of seven nights called 'Portraits of Southern France' (Avginon to Chalon-sur-Saoneon) on the Viking Heimdal, a 3 deck ship first launched in 2014 (the previous season). A really clean ship, tight but efficient rooms. Great staff...MUCH better service than the ocean cruises where the tips are automatically added to your bill. I loved the small size compared to most ocean vessels. ** Sometimes were were off on a tour and the ship moved and picked-us up at a different dock. Read Less
Sail Date August 2015
The Avalon Poetry 2 is a very pretty smaller ship. The staterooms are very nice and the bathroom is the nicest of any cruise vessel I have been on. Everything is immaculately clean. The angling of the bed to look out the window is ... Read More
The Avalon Poetry 2 is a very pretty smaller ship. The staterooms are very nice and the bathroom is the nicest of any cruise vessel I have been on. Everything is immaculately clean. The angling of the bed to look out the window is wonderful. The window opening to make the stateroom into a balcony is also very nice. The downside, is not being able to keep window or curtains open while docked next to another boat. This is a well known problem with river cruising. Lots of ships and only limited places to dock. You may be stacked up several deep and have to walk through a few to get off. One very annoying thing, is the extremely loud intercom messages you receive in your stateroom. Often as early as 7 am. and thru out the day. It is intrusive and gives you the vibe of being herded and every minute planned. Since this is my first River cruise, I don't know if that is standard practice. On ocean cruises, this only seems to happen in public areas. There is good closet space and the bed is comfortable. The food has varied from horrible to very good. If food is your big thing, I would look into another line. For the price of the cruise, it seems nit picky and cheap that they do not include wine or beer at lunch. However, your glass is never empty at dinner. Cocktails etc are reasonable at the bar and there is a happy hour, daily. It seemed like the included tours would justify a higher price point. In reality they are a slow walk around the local area with a guide and listening devices. You could easily do this yourself and not have to keep up with the glacially slow pace. We thought we could start with them and then go off on our own if we wanted. 90% of the time on this southern France itinerary the ship moves to the next port as soon as you leave for the tour and you are bused to the next location, so not possible to do your own thing without risking missing the bus. Very disappointing. The 3 wine tasting/ countryside optional (paid) tours were very nice and reasonably priced. Still, for the price, it seems they could have been included. I believe they are on some River cruise lines. Next time I would research a bit more thoroughly. Fellow passengers are, as expected, older. My dyed red hair, stuck out like a sore thumb in a sea of white locks. There are many groups of friends and families traveling together. While everyone is friendly, Australians, Canadians, etc seem to stick together. It becomes tiring listening to boring or laughable opinions while eating. There are no tables for two. We found we could sit in one table for 4 in the corner and generally no one else would sit there. Our cruise was not full. So one might have to deal with endless conversation. Some will love it, just wasn't something I wanted to do all the time. Part of river cruising, like it or not. No one dresses up. Don't worry about your clothing. Many of the older men, dressed like they were going out golfing, rain or shine. Once or twice they said no shorts at dinner. That was about it for any dress code. We have done about 20 ocean cruises, most of them on the smaller sized ships of Oceania, or Azamara, also tried Windstar. In the end I personally prefer the ambience. However, it's hard to beat the experience of floating down a river, watching swans and birds, seeing charming villages and castles. The area of Southern France is really beautiful and I highly recommend the itinerary. The down side is the several changes of plans and this is when the weather is beautiful. Don't fall in love with one certain place as you may not end up going there. There is way toomuch bus time, in my opinion. I know from reading other reviews that many cruises turn into a bus trip. It's easy to see once you are on a river. Not just the river boat companies we see advertised in the US, but many,many others. Lots of traffic. Our very nice cruise director, a Jean Loup, said they need more rivers, not more ships. True words. Would I do it again? I would have to give it some thought. The idea of it is fabulous, but the changeability of weather, river level, flooding etc. and constant changes of port stays, make it a harder decision. Read Less
Sail Date May 2015
High water on both the Rhone and Saone from flooding (heavy rain and snow melt) altered our itinerary. Viking emailed us one day prior to tell us to meet the boat in Lyon instead of Chalon-sur-Saone. We never did get to see Chalon. Then we ... Read More
High water on both the Rhone and Saone from flooding (heavy rain and snow melt) altered our itinerary. Viking emailed us one day prior to tell us to meet the boat in Lyon instead of Chalon-sur-Saone. We never did get to see Chalon. Then we remained docked in Lyon for four nights, taking a bus to Beaune, Vienne, and Tournon. Cruise director then announced that cruise itself was "cancelled" and that we could go to all of our remaining sites by bus instead. Quite a few folks accepted Viking's offer to refund the UNUSED portion of our non-cruise. Then, the next night, the message changed that the Heimdal would indeed proceed down-river the next morning. We could choose to skip the next tour by remaining onboard for the first cruise of the week or take a bus to Tournon. We took the bus option and were glad we did because it was the highlight day of our trip. We never got to see Viviers either because the ship needed to get to Avignon while the water and bridges were cooperating. To be fair to Viking, the meals were wonderful (same white wine every day though) and quite varied, and they had no control over water levels. But they did know that the high waters would not recede quickly and that our "cruise" was in jeopardy. A cruise-by-bus was not what we paid for. And the short five hour (4-9 pm) cruise that we enjoyed was overpriced. We await a response from Viking about compensation or incentive for another cruise at this time. Read Less
Sail Date May 2015
We just returned from our long-anticipated Viking river cruise in France and came away wishing we had paid closer attention to the itinerary (Portraits of France) as our expectations were not met. We made assumptions (based on ... Read More
We just returned from our long-anticipated Viking river cruise in France and came away wishing we had paid closer attention to the itinerary (Portraits of France) as our expectations were not met. We made assumptions (based on Viking's marketing and other friends cruise experiences in other countries and on other cruise lines) about what a river cruise would entail and felt if we had known what to pay attention to, we would have chosen a different itinerary and possibly a different cruise line. Our main disappointments were as follows: 1) there was minimal to no time to spend on either our balcony or topside due to touring schedule and/or time of day we were sailing.We expected to see scenic vistas while sailing, but instead saw miles of flat farmland...AND much of the sailing took place at night and we saw nothing 2) we also anticipated time to leisurely stroll through quaint towns where we docked, but instead oftentimes were docked in industrial settings where our stateroom view was an abandoned,graffiti-laden warehouses. On only two occasions were we close enough to walk into the town for a very short period of time. 3) the 7 day agenda was very structured and very fast-paced....not conducive to relaxation and independent exploration. 4) dinners got tedious as there was only one dining time (7pm) and we quickly saw that passengers would line up 15-20 minutes early outside the dining rom in order to secure specific seating. The 'Captain's Dinner' was quite humorous because the Captain did not attend it nor did the Captain speak English (all passengers were from U.S., Canada and Australia). 5) do NOT pay extra for the elite beverage package...definitely not worth the cost. My advice to anyone looking to take a river cruise: pay attention to the # of passengers, the sailing timeline, the scenery that you can expect to see, the amount of free time and proximity to towns, the ability to dine off the ship at least once. AND...read reviews from passengers who have been on the cruise ( ship and itinerary) you are considering! Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
Well, this was our first River Cruise and we were excited. However we were a little put back when 2 days before we left we were told the first part of the trip was out due to high river levels. So we stayed moored at Lyon for 3 days. We ... Read More
Well, this was our first River Cruise and we were excited. However we were a little put back when 2 days before we left we were told the first part of the trip was out due to high river levels. So we stayed moored at Lyon for 3 days. We had just 2 days cruising and another 2 moored in Avignon. The sun deck was closed the entire time we cruised and the bar was very limited in wine choice until they re-stocked after 3 days. No complaints about the crew. They tried hard and the food was ok as were the tours, although they involved much longer bus drives than planned due to the changed locations. We wanted a cruise , we could have stayed in hotels anywhere with bigger rooms and more amenities at a much lower cost. Beware the Portraits of Southern France because the boats are really too big for these rivers and this will continue to occur regularly in the future. Read Less
Sail Date August 2014
Most nights we were docked back at Bordeaux. It's just a crazy cruise itinerary. Seeing the same place over and over was a tad boring. All of the bus trips took hours and hours to get to the area. By the time you got back to the ship, ... Read More
Most nights we were docked back at Bordeaux. It's just a crazy cruise itinerary. Seeing the same place over and over was a tad boring. All of the bus trips took hours and hours to get to the area. By the time you got back to the ship, there was no time to do local walking except after dark. The tour guides on the bus would tell you to go to sleep because there was nothing to see on the way to the truffles, Bay of Arcachon & Cognac. The tours themselves were worth the drive, but our legs swelled up from all the sitting. We could not do some tours because the other ones conflicted. On the drive through PAUILLAC (MARGAUX), FRANCE we were driving around and around the same areas back and forth. The dinner at a chateaux was not really in a chateaux, but rather a new building built to hold events. We were not allowed in the real chateaux. The food was prepared and served by the same Viking staff from the ship. Wine was from the local vineyard. I did not like this cruise and would advise people rent a car to see the region. The rivers are a muddy run off mess with nothing to see along the way, unlike the Elba Viking cruise we had been on previously. Our room was large and we had a balcony, which was below the dock most of the time. Useless for views. Most of the time traveling was at night. The trip to SAINT-ÉMILION was a fiasco with busses not appearing on time and people feeling stranded by the guides. The town is not an easy walk for some people and the cripples were not warned. I am glad I saw it while still in good health. They should rename the cruise "Bordeaux to Bordeaux". Read Less
Sail Date August 2014
This was our first river cruise in France, and perhaps our last, for reasons below. The ship is well run, with a mix of Germans, Brits and Norwegians. Language was not a problem, but for English announcements were always a follow-up to ... Read More
This was our first river cruise in France, and perhaps our last, for reasons below. The ship is well run, with a mix of Germans, Brits and Norwegians. Language was not a problem, but for English announcements were always a follow-up to German, still what do you expect on a German ship. Meals were a big disappointment, the brochure described the food as European. In France I thought they would make the effort to include French style meals, no such luck. Beautiful soft French cheeses were on board, but not served at Dinner, except 2 instances. Fine if you like it for breakfast. The wine selection was good, but not premium wines, these cost extra. The no, no of this cruise was the sun-deck allowed smoking everywhere including the dining area. When will river cruise companies realise that the majority of passengers are non-smokers, and dislike intensely cigarette smoke, especially when eating or sitting on deck looking at the view. I will not be river cruising again until they change smoking policy. All sea going companies now restrict smoking to specific areas. We enjoyed the scenery and compliment the crew, especially the Maitre d' for doing their best with a full ship. Read Less
Sail Date June 2014

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