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9 Vantage France Cruise Reviews

Why would I want to go to France and eat Costco food for 3 meals a day? We started bringing our own bread & dessert as these are particularly wonderful in France. What a shame to have missed out on fabulous fresh fish that we saw at ... Read More
Why would I want to go to France and eat Costco food for 3 meals a day? We started bringing our own bread & dessert as these are particularly wonderful in France. What a shame to have missed out on fabulous fresh fish that we saw at many of the ports. Instead, we ate frozen strips of fish in 2 ounce portions (we could ask for a second piece, but sometimes with complaints from the servers). The first 2 ports were all closed up on the days we were there. We had way too much time in the departure/return port of Conflans where there is nothing of interest. We were in Normandy on the first day of scallop season. Unfortunately, the 175 of us were in a little restaurant having our lunch of fish (which was actually the best meal of the entire trip). The sole tour director, Sebastian, had his hands full with this many people. He did a fantastic job, but he was overworked. There were 2 injuries during our trip all due to the extremely large group sizes trying to hear the different local guides and walking on uneven pavement unable to see where one is stepping. One woman broke her finger on her fall. This is definitely a penny pinching organization. Read Less
Sail Date October 2017
Let me begin by saying I chose this cruise for two reasons. One, it had a great itinerary to Normandy. Second, Vantage offers single fares without paying double the cruise price. I took advantage of a 3 day pre-cruise extension to St. ... Read More
Let me begin by saying I chose this cruise for two reasons. One, it had a great itinerary to Normandy. Second, Vantage offers single fares without paying double the cruise price. I took advantage of a 3 day pre-cruise extension to St. Malo, France on the English Channel. The old walled city of St. Malo is surrounded by a lively beach resort with many restaurants, hotels, and a casino. We stayed at the Oceania Hotel which was ideally located just a 5 minute walk to the old city. We had a full day tour to Mont St. Michele which everyone should visit. From St. Malo, we traveled to Paris with a stop in Chartres to visit the cathedral and wander around the city. We arrived in Paris and boarded the River Venture. I was pleasantly surprised to find I had been up-graded to a French balcony cabin. My cabin was beautifully decorated with plenty of drawer space and a closet. The bathroom was small but well laid out. The shower was large with a glass door enclosure. The cabin came with bathrobes, slippers, a reusable water bottle (to take home), a large bottle of Evian water, a desk, and a small table with two chairs in front of the French balcony. I loved it! The River Venture carries 136 passengers. The dining room was on the main deck and the lounge was on the upper deck. There were areas forward and aft where you could go outside as well as topside. My last ocean cruise was on the NCL Breakaway with over 4000 passengers, so being on this river cruise was a nice change. Of course river cruises do not offer the activities that ocean liners offer, so keep that in mind. We had local entertainers at night and a French Cabaret show one night which was quite lively. There were guest lecturers and we were shown the movie "The Longest Day" the night before we toured the beaches of Normandy where the Allies landed on June 6, 1944. On river cruises, the shore excursions are all included and I enjoyed all of them. There were a few optional tours that you could purchase. Dining on the River Venture was an epicurean delight. We started our day with a buffet breakfast and omelet station. At lunch we could order off the menu or eat at the buffet. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, fruit, and cookies were available throughout the day. Dinner was elegant and delicious. Each night we had 3 entrees to pick from as well as salmon or chicken which were offered every night. Everything was done perfectly. The service and the staff on this boat were the best! The cabin stewards, wait staff, front desk, and officers were always polite, helpful, and friendly. There was one stand out and it was Tessa, our Cruise Director. She did an excellent job of taking care of us during our cruise and she did it with a smile always. She is a credit to the Vantage organization. This cruise enabled me to cross two items off my Bucket List, Mont St. Michele (on the pre-trip extension) and the beaches of Normandy. Our visit to the American Cemetery was an emotional experience with veterans on our cruise placing a wreath at the statue while our National Anthem was playing. After our anthem, they played Taps while we were looking out at the 9387 white headstones of those who had fallen during the invasion of Normandy. Read Less
Sail Date October 2016
Our Seine River cruise with Vantage had everything we were looking for. Our stateroom and meals were comfortable, clean and inviting and the meals were varied and met all our needs. My wife is a diabetic and facilities were available for ... Read More
Our Seine River cruise with Vantage had everything we were looking for. Our stateroom and meals were comfortable, clean and inviting and the meals were varied and met all our needs. My wife is a diabetic and facilities were available for refrigeration for her meds and the menu, with Healthy Options met her needs in selecting foods that her diet demanded. But we were there for the chance to see some of the culture of Normandy and the history there. All the overnight stays were in sites which offered us chances to become involved in the Impressionist art scene, historic abbeys and cathedrals, sites with historical references to the Vikings, the conquest of William of Normandy, and artifacts related to Richard the Lionheart. The more recent history involving the D Day Invasion and other World War II sites are also there. The day at the Normandy Beaches and the American Cemetery were enhanced by our guide Richard who was excellent. The little towns of Vernon, Giverney, Les Andlys, and Honfleur were picturesque and made you feel like you had stepped back into the past. Our trip to Etretat was very interesting. Top all this off with Paris, Versailles, and the Louvre and what more could you ask of a trip to France. My wife took over a thousand pictures. How much price can be put on sailing into Rouen and see the Cathedral lit up at night, watching the Eiffel Tower twinkle from the top deck of the ship, just being to step back into the past and walk down streets lined with half timbered buildings? This trip was all we were looking for. Read Less
Sail Date October 2014
Since our only visit to France had been on an ocean cruise stop in Cannes, we wanted to get a better feel for the country, the culture, and the history (oh yes, and the wines!). The cruise traveled from the Mediterranean to the Normandy ... Read More
Since our only visit to France had been on an ocean cruise stop in Cannes, we wanted to get a better feel for the country, the culture, and the history (oh yes, and the wines!). The cruise traveled from the Mediterranean to the Normandy Coast, with Paris in between. What more can you ask for? Along the Rhône, Saône, and Seine rivers we stopped at numerous towns and cities for (included) excursions of towns such as Avignon, Perouges, Dijon, Giverny, and Honfleur. Most notable were excursions to wineries in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Beaune, and the Pont du Gard and the Normandy D-Day landmarks and American Cemetery. The entire journey required two different riverboats, but the connection was something special as well. The included connection was from Dijon to Paris aboard the TGV, or Train à Gran Vitesse, France's high-speed train. What a pleasure to sit in power reclining seats and travel over 200 mph in smooth, quiet comfort. The real beauty for us is the way Vantage takes care of everything, from handling our luggage at the airport to escorting us through the Paris train station. There are no worries about catching a ride, how to get to a sightseeing attraction, or even "where are the restrooms?" QuietVox headsets are provided for all excursions, so you can comfortably hear your English-speaking guide even if you're half a block away. all excursions are divided into groups of 20-30 guests, so crowding is not an issue. Dining is superb, and the chefs go out of their way to provide local delights as well as traditional American fare. An example: "Rack of lamb with Dijon mustard crust, rosemary potato gratin, and ratatouille Provencale". Make no mistake, this is NOT a cruise for children (there were none on our voyage), but adults will find it very relaxing and most interesting. Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
This was our first River Cruise The boat was very nice. The crew was cordial and very nice. The food and presentation was very good as well. The bathrooms are larger than most ocean going cruise ships. However, we had a room in the back ... Read More
This was our first River Cruise The boat was very nice. The crew was cordial and very nice. The food and presentation was very good as well. The bathrooms are larger than most ocean going cruise ships. However, we had a room in the back end of the ship and could not open the sliding glass door because of the engine fumes and other ships constantly parked alongside. We were most disappointed with the changes from the original itinerary because it was the reason we chose this particular cruise. The ship left from Conflans NOT Paris. Conflans is over an hour bus ride from Paris. So on the departure day, we lost what would have been a whole afternoon in Paris. The guided tour of Vernon was cancelled (we received a letter) and we received no refund (Vantage advertises that the guided tours are worth over $1,000 per couple). The WW2 Caen Museum tour was removed from the original itinerary, and we were never notified (this was one of the reasons we took this cruise). Also, Vantage previously advertised that this museum was the best WW2 Museum in Europe. Dinner in Les Andelys at Commanderie de Templiers changed to lunch, then changed back to dinner at another place, in a beautify setting out in the country. However the dinner was disappointing. The main course consisted of a chicken leg. The other main reason that we chose this particular cruise is because Vantage advertises that they dock in Honfleur, the most beautiful stop on our itinerary. Instead we ended up for 2 days and nights in some God awful back water docking station in LeHavre (an industrial port) with views of containerized shipping cargo, floating garbage, and cranes lifting cargo and working on constructing a building. In doing some investigating on my own, I found out that as of our travel date, VANTAGE had NEVER docked in Honfleur, yet they continue to advertise it. Vantage has recently instituted a new cruise management process where they eliminated the Program Managers in favor of one Cruise Director and one Concierge. This did not seem to work very well. This was our first cruise with Vantage, however, their other “frequent cruisers” with whom we dined, were disappointed as well, and voiced it on more than one occasion. I believe that one cruise director is not able to adequately handle 134 people, and the concierge was no help that we could see. On the side tours that we paid for, a couple of the guides did not speak English very well, and therefore the experience was not good. The guides also “lost” many of the people on the tours. In Versailles ($199 for 2 people) we finished the tour with only 5 people out of 24, and at the Lourve ($170 for 2 people) we finished with just 7. We paid $8000, for 2 people (for a lower level cabin) excluding the airfare and side trips. The pre-cruise 3-day in Paris (not really 3 days, since you arrive in the afternoon of the first day, and transfer to the ship at 11am on the 3rd day) was too expensive for what we got for $1200 (per couple). Two nights in a hotel, the tour of Museum De Orsay, one dinner and 2 breakfasts, and transfer to ship. We had to pay for our own transfer from the airport to hotel because we booked our own airfare. TIPPING: Instead of having just one Program Manager to tip, we now had to tip both the Cruise Director who had to split her time between 3 buses (because there are no longer any program managers), and a Concierge who did not seem to have much value. We were also told to tip guides and bus drivers everyday, even on the side tours that WE had to pay VANTAGE an exorbitant amount of money for, e.g. Versaille = $199/couple, The Lourve = $170, per couple. There was too much pressure about Tipping. At the end of the cruise, I witnessed the Purser chastising a single lady passenger because he thought her tip for the crew was not enough. In fact, I heard him tell her: ”This tip is for 40 people, it is not enough”….Totally inappropriate…… Others told me of similar experiences. On the morning we left for home, there were traffic problems so we got to the airport late. THERE WAS NO VANTAGE PERSON TO MEET US AT THE AIRPORT AS PROMISED. The driver dropped us at ARRIVALS instead of DEPARTURES. An older couple were completely lost and had to be guided around by another passenger who almost missed her flight. WOULD I TRAVEL WITH VANTAGE AGAIN: MAYBE. Since I have had no prior experience with Vantage, maybe they can fix these issues. I know that their “frequent cruisers” are hoping that they do. The trip was more expensive with all of the add on’s than we were expecting. VANTAGE automatically added to our bill 5 euros per day from each of us for both the Cruise Director and Concierge. We had the option to change it, but it was embarrassing to do so. Additionally, they asked for 10 euros per person per day for the crew (200 euros per couple = $272). Then we had to tip in 4-5 euros per day for the guides and drivers. We felt that these tips for the side trips should have been covered by Vantage, especially the side trips that we had to pay for ourselves. Also, it felt like we spent more time on buses that on the boat. CRUISE DIRECTOR: We felt that Vantages recent change to one Cruise Director and one Concierge, from assigned Program Managers (usually at least 3) assigned to separate groups, is not working. We felt that our Cruise Director was OVERWHELMED. - Too many people to take care of (134). FEEDBACK ON CONCIERGE: Never used her for side trips (and she does not leave the ship on the side trips to help the Cruise Director). PACING OF ITINERARY: VERNON/GIVERNEY - Very nice tour. It was very crowded. Very hard to move around and stay with the guide. ROUEN -- This was a nice tour CAUDEBEC -- The was also a nice tour. HONFLEUR/NORMANDY – Honfleur was the most beautiful town that we visited. HOWEVER, instead of the 2 days that we were originally told we would spend here, we only spent one morning BECAUSE Vantage could not dock there. They notified us by mail shortly before departure. We docked 20 miles further away in LeHavre. This deprived us of exploring that beautiful town and port of Honfleur, and made the trip to the Normandy Beaches about a 2 hour bus ride each way. We did not have enough time to see everything at the cemetery and at Pointe-Du-Hoc, where the Ranger came ashore. LES ANDELYS -- Chateau Galliard was nice, but dinner onshore was a chicken leg CONFLANS -- We were on our own (both times since we boarded there instead of Paris). Not much to see, as it is a very small town. We took the side trip to Versailles from here. Versailles was very crowded, the pacing was bad, the guide was hard to understand, and lost everyone in the crowds but 5 of us. This was particularly disturbing because we paid $199 per couple for the tour. PARIS - The city tour by coach was nice. SIDE TRIP -The guide at the Lourve spoke bad English and again lost almost the whole tour group by the end of the tour (there were 7 people left at the end). This place was also very crowded (could not get anywhere near the Mona Lisa). The pacing was very bad. This tour was $170 per couple. Concluding, Europe is very crowded this time of year and we have decided not to return to Europe during summer holiday again. We feel the crowds will be much less during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall)   Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
We booked our trip with Vantage 8 months in advance. We were traveling with 2 other couples and we were told there were only 3 cabins available for the cruise we wanted to take which would be close to D-Day. On the ship, we heard similar ... Read More
We booked our trip with Vantage 8 months in advance. We were traveling with 2 other couples and we were told there were only 3 cabins available for the cruise we wanted to take which would be close to D-Day. On the ship, we heard similar stories from other travelers. Vantage keeps their prices low because they don't use travel agents - you book directly with them. Their customer service has improved since 2009 when we traveled to China with them. You no longer have to wait on hold for hours to speak to a customer service representative. We booked the Paris extension and were put up at the Hotel Meridien Etoile. Our plane arrived at 7:30am from the U.S. and we were in our rooms by 11:30am. The hotel is located across the street from the Metro -great for getting around Paris. Headed out to lunch then on to Montmarte, Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, Arc de' Triomphe , shopping at Louis Vuitton (bring your passport if you want a VAT refund). The second day in Paris we booked a dinner cruise (through Vantage cruise director at the hotel) on the River Seine which I highly recommend! See the City of Lights at its finest and see the flickering lights at the Eiffel Tower at 10 while it's sparkling in all it's glory. Sumptuous buffet at hotel with bags out at 7:30am to be transported to River Venture. On the Museum D'Orsay to see exhibits while staff on River Venture is saying goodbye to last cruisers and getting ready for the next one. Arrived on boat at 12:30pm. Cabins were surprisingly spacious Magnifying mirror (3x) in bathroom, I home radio which will charge early model iPhones and iPads. Large screen tv. Large shower for river boat and strong water pressure. Good wifi, Le Occitane products, sewing kits - everything you could possibly need. Dinner was shrimp cocktail, cream of broccoli soup, choice of chicken, halibut - mousse ice cream or cheese plate for dessert. Always a vegetarian choice too. Day 2 - Vernon - everyone is assigned a bus, yellow, blue or green that you board throughout your trip. Depart at 9:15am for Giverny for a guided visit to Monet's house and gardens. Guide was an ex-pat, Lexi, who was most entertaining. Gardens and house were breathtaking, as well as ponds and lily pads. Lunch on boat at 12:15 then at 2pm depart for a home hosted visit. Very informative and fun to see how the French live. She served apple tart and hard cider - and some of her husband's private liquor stash. . . way better than the cider. Upon our return we were supposed to have a walking tour of Vernon but it was cancelled. Another fabulous dinner - sirloin or river trout, tiramisu, always ice cream or cheese plate. Day 3 French lesson for 1/2 hour followed by a lecture on Impressionism. Lunch then a walking tour of Rouen. Lots of stores closed in town because it's Ascension Thursday and most French take a 4-day holiday. Saw where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake and a few French churches. Two hour walking tour, then back to boat for Captains Gala Dinner. Free Drinks during cocktail hour. Dinner was Chateaubriand, followed by Benedictine and an impressive Creme Brûlée. Nice Gypsy Jazz Ensemble in the lounge following dinner. Day 4 Arrived in Caudebec-en-Caux about 8am, departed at 9am for two Abbeys, one was a ruin and the other is still inhabited. Optional tour to Alabaster CoastOne and a half hour bus ride there. Those who opted not to go were given cash by our guide, Ken, to buy cheese and wine for an impromptu party on the top deck. Lots of bakeries, little cafes and cute shops. Supposed to have a pub crawl, but were told there are no pubs to visit. Day 5 LeHavre/Honfleur Vantage claims to be one of the few ships to be able to dock in Honfleur, but the truth of the matter is they have never docked in Honfleur. Dock in LeHavre- 1/2 hour from Honfleur - quaint town with lots of ships, amazing architecture, gigantic farmers market going on - so much to do. We opted not to return to the ship at noon but to stay for lunch in town till 2pm - hundreds of restaurants overlooking the harbor. Returned to ship for an informative lecture on D-Day to prepare us for the Normandy beaches tomorrow. International night for dinner and movie "The Longest Day" complete with popcorn. Day 6 Normandy Beaches Depart at 8:45am for a 2 hour bus ride (wouldn't have been as long if we had docked in Honfluer). Most touching to see the vast sea of crosses of American soldiers who lost their lives in an effort to keep democracy alive. Vantage arranged for a ceremony honoring the people in our group who served in the military. Not a dry eye in the place. Had lunch in a restaurant where they could feed all of us in less than an hour, red and white wine, poached white fish, carrots and rice with a cream sauce and apple tart for dessert. On to Pointe du Hoc where you could see the impact of the bombs, lots of bunkers bringing the war to life. Finished the day at a museum at Arromanches. Lots of French re-enactors in American jeeps and uniforms. Good place for D-Day souvenirs. Guide passed out Madelines (sponge cakes, like twinkles without the cream) for the two hour bus ride back to River Venture. Dinner at 8pm. Day 7 Two hour bus ride to Bayeux to visit the Cathedral of Notre Dame and toured Bayeux Tapestry museum. The tapestry is a woven cloth which tells the story of William 11. Local guide gave us each 15 euros for lunch on our own, then back to ship. Day 8 - Les Andelys 9:30am Apple Tart demonstration by chef. Docked in Les Andelys, a picturesque little town, followed by a walking tour to Chateau Gaillard, a medieval castle, overlooking the town - or you could opt for a gentle walk of the town. Galley tour at 4pm and bus departs at 6pm for LaGrange DeBourgoult, a private reception country estate where we were to have dinner. En route we stopped on a high hill with breathtaking views of the town and a tasting of Calvados. Nice touch Vantage!!! Views of the farm were incredible, we were greeted by the Normandy Folk Dancers who performed complete with accordion and fiddle. Food not great, but I think it gave the staff on the ship a little respite. Day 9 Versailles Lunch at 11:15am due to early departure - bus to Versailles at 12:30pm. Versailles was so crowded, difficult to see much due to massive numbers of people. Made aware of pickpockets and scammers. Returned to Conflans for Captains Farewell Reception - free drinks in the cocktail lounge. Day 10 Coach tour of Paris, including Notre Dame (4th or 5th Notre Dame we visited). Louvre tour not as crowded as Versailles. Mona Lisa was waiting for us. Great guide - only 6 people to a guide which made it very enjoyable. Day 11 Full breakfast starting at 5am. Luggage out of our room by 5:30. Everyone out of their rooms by 9am so they can get ready for the next group who will be boarding at noon. Great trip by Vantage - Staff couldn't have been nicer and Vantage personnel (guides) did everything to make our experience memorable. Wouldn't hesitate to recommend this trip to everyone!!!!   Read Less
Sail Date June 2014
This is our second river cruise and I think we are hooked. This was an excellent cruise: great boat, great excursions, and good food. Only the disembarkation marred the trip. Pickup at the Airport We had Vantage provide the air fare and ... Read More
This is our second river cruise and I think we are hooked. This was an excellent cruise: great boat, great excursions, and good food. Only the disembarkation marred the trip. Pickup at the Airport We had Vantage provide the air fare and they picked us up at the airport. Had to wait for an hour which was a bit of a bummer. Got to the ship, grabbed lunch, and then walked about our docking area. It was in the Citroen area, about a mile from the Effiel Tower, and a half mile from a Metro station. It's a commercial area with ship docks and a cement factory. Seems pretty safe and with Metro access, you can get anywhere in Paris. The Boat New in 2013, the River Venture spent its first year in German rivers to be close to component manufacturers - a shake down year. Now, it's pretty much running back and forth on the Seine. This is a very good example of what a small footprint boat can be. The rooms are relatively spacious, tastefully done in wood and high quality fabrics, enormous amount of storage, a shower you can fit in, comfortable bed, two 110v outlets, and storage under the bed for your luggage. Great A/C with excellent adjustments. Hair dryer. No irons on boats. In-room safe, but instructions are incorrect. TV had a bunch of movies and international channels, many in English. A note about the 110V outlets: the one in the bathroom won't run a curling iron and it won't fit a night light; the one on the desk is also shaped funny and wouldn't fit a night light. I always carry a small extension cord and this proved helpful for our electronics. Did I mention that they have high-quality WIFI? Nice! Rooms are on the 200, 300, and 400 levels. 400 level also has suites. There is a central area in the boat on the 300 level with the concierge/tour director and main desk. Forward of this is the dining room - above it and forward is the bar/meeting room. On the 400 level on the aft of the boat is the Captains Club, a small dining area (and outside deck) serving limited menus for lunch and dinner. With its outside seating, sunroofs, and some grilled items, it was very popular. On the 200 level is a small fitness room and beauty parlor. The fitness room has a bike, e-trainer, and treadmill, all good quality. Because of the low ceiling, your head will hit the ceiling on the e-trainer if you are over 6 feet tall. A large TV is provided as is a single yoga mat for stretching (thanks Vantage!). Five of us used this room. We had room #301 and we liked the position - right next to the center of action and atrium, but it was not noisy. The Staff Ninety percent of the staff on the shakedown came on along to France - they work well together. The officers and staff are not Vantage, they are contracted as are the tour director and theieceirge. The Captain is not comfortable with English, but if you catch him alone (as we did at breakfast, at his invitation) he is quite personable. The hotel manager has the gift of gab and is the face of the ship. He calls his crew the "beehive" and indeed, they are. Most important to your trip are the tour director and concierge. We had Eva and Virginia respectively. They were both excellent. Their arrangements and interface with us were terrific. Great excursion details the night before and great handouts. The folks that manned the front desk were fine. Vantage has an annoying procedure that you turn in your room card for a paper card when you leave the ship. This is time consuming - other boats have an electonic check out. The front desk will convert your dollars into Euros and also make change - helpful for getting tip money for the guides and drivers. The wait staff in the restaurants were friendly, efficient, and willing to help you out with special needs. The Passengers Almost 100% American with the exception of one or two Canadian couples. Just about everyone was in their 60s-80s and as friendly as can be. We had one family of four generations that included kids. That was Stan Newman's family, a WWII fighter pilot who always wanted to go the Normandy beaches and his family joined him. Google Stan to read about his career. We also had a group of 40 from New Jersey, lots of fun. Many passengers did pre-voyage trips and after voyage trips, sponsored by Vantage. Some did back to back river trips. The Food and Beverages The food was good, not great. We were disappointed that we did not have more French food. Portion sizes were small, which was good because you are getting upwards of four courses each meal. Breakfast was your standard cruise fare with buffet eggs, meats, cereals, fruit, baked goods, juices and yogurts. The omelette station was excellent. Lunch featured another buffet or you could order specials off the menu. Specials were not always up to their standards. Burgers were only fair. All their soups were terrific. You could also have lunch in the Captain's Club. You pay for alcohol at lunch. Dinners were always at 7pm, open seating. Travelling by ourselves, we made a lot of new friends by sitting at different tables. Each night featured new appetizers and three entrees, meat, fish, and veggie. Usually choice of two deserts. Could also order a standard dinner of salmon, steak, or veggie, and standard appetizers and deserts. Beer and wine are complimentary. The beer was German and good. The wines changed every night. If you didn't like it, you had other free options. Nice. Our favorite meals were: lobster, lamb shank, fettucini cabonara, and eggs benedict. Unlike other cruise lines, you are free to bring alcohol on board the River Venture. And there is an ice machine to cool your beverages. Sailing The Seine OK, I did not expect the beauty of the Seine - big hills with chalk-faced cliffs, surrounded by stunning farmland and picture perfect towns. By all means, try to spend some time on top or on the forward area or on the aft deck. Because of the time zone, it stayed light very late. Intriguing also were transversing the locks, going through commercial areas, and docking at the huge port in La Harve. Kudos to the French who take meticulous care of their homes, business, and commercial plants. The Itinerary and Excursions Cannot ask for a better itinerary of French towns and Normandy WWII beaches - that's why we chose this tour and we were not disappointed. Most excursions were via large, comfortable buses - three buses for our boat, each with its own guide. Eva got everything organized and hopped between buses to see that everything went smoothly. Vernon Our boat was parked right near the center city. Guided tour of Monet's house in Giverney and gardens, including the famous lily ponds. A great tour, if a bit rushed and crowded. A superb gift shop. Look for the seed packages. Some folks signed up for having a bite with a French family and had a great time in the PM. We decided to walk around Vernon and found a cherry festival. It was fun. Rouen It was Sunday and we got up early and went to the 8am Mass at the cathedral. If you are Catholic, you MUST go to a Mass in one of the European cathedrals. (They are all name Notre Dame in France of course). After lunch, we had a guided tour of Rouen. Fabulous old houses, some crowding over the streets. Back to the cathedral for more commentary. Tomb of Richard the Lionhearted (at least part of his body - did you know he was really French). Nice chapel dedicated to Saint Teresa of the Little Flower (my grade school). In contrast to the cathedral, we visited a modern church in the shape of a ship. There, the tour ended and we stopped at the La Terresa brassarie for a drink. Caudebec-en-Caux We visited two Benedictine Abbeys. The first had ruins and a timber newer (and operational) church. The second was just ruins - but it was stunning. Our guide was Olivier, who was excellent. He brought to life the history and dynamics of these ruins. We had an excellent time. That night was formal night with a special dinner. Nice. La Harve and the Beaches of Normandy We were supposed to dock at Honfluer (a nice tourist town) but docked at La Harve instead. We were told that it was because of French bureaucracy. Hmmm.... that put us in an industrial setting 30 minutes farther from our excursions the next two days. (And here I would say, any cruise/boat trip can have issues, so just deal with most of them). An expected bonus was that the Russian cadet training four-master docked near us and we could tour it. We did get some time in Honfluer and it was a nice tourist town. We found the merchandise to be pricey. The restaurants were nice and there was a lot of them. We noticed that no river cruise boats were docked there. Our first day was huge - a two hour trip to the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach. Our guide was Alex (a Brit living on the coast) and he was five stars. I am a fan of WWII history and well read - he told me things I had never heard of before. If you have not been to the Normandy beaches, please go and celebrate those brave men. The cemeteries will make you cry. We had a ceremony where Stan placed a wreath at the cementary and all vetrans joined him. Wow. We walked around the cemetery, then headed to Omaha beach. Strangely silent, it's hard to imagine the death and destruction on 6/6/44. We then headed down the coast for an average lunch (hard to feed 120 folks great food, but they did have lots of wine). Then, off to Pointe du Hoc, where the Rangers assaulted German guns atop 100 ft cliffs. This is one of the few places where gun emplacements are still left. The French removed most of them as they were a blight on their country. Then, we stopped at Arromanches, where the Brits (God bless them) created one of the Mulberry harbors. Still some remnants. We went to the museum which had a Brit film, not that good, skip that and look at the good exhibits. Check out the History Channel for something better. Note: the shops around this area are way overpriced. If you must have a D-Day hat or T-shirt, buy it here. Otherwise, wait until Les Angeles for trinkets. What a day! We passed a countless number of monuments and museums. I would like to go back for a week! If you take this trip, your enjoyment will be enhanced by reading one of the great books on D-Day. My favorite is the one by Steven Ambrose. Read this and you will recognise a lot of the small towns that were involved in D-Day and the battles after that day. Also try the books by Beevor and Ryan. If not, just rent "The Longest Day" based on Ryan's book. Our boat showed the movie topside the night before. Know your history folks... Day Two from La Harve Another long drive, this time to Bayeux. Toured the cathedral and then lunch on our own. Found a wonderful restaurant with pate. Yum. Walked up to the British cemetery and then toured the Bayeux Tapestry. Had lunch at La Petit Normandy (great pate!). If I had to do this day again, I would have skipped Bayeux and toured some more WWII monuments and museums. Some folks took a side trip to Mount St. Michelle, but it was a long trip. One of the days in La Harve gave us an opportunity to walk around. Some of the old dock warehouses were turned into a modern shopping mall with clothing stores, shoes stores, a huge grocery store with wine and beer, and a garden center. This gave us a taste of French life outside of the old cities we visited. Les Andeles OK, I am hooked. This is my favorite French town. It's small, beautiful, and friendly. I'll go back. We had a walking tour way up to Chateau Gaillard, built by Richard the Lion Hearted. It's not a bad hike, 20 minutes, but some of our old folks had some minor problems. They also offered an easy walk just in town. The castle and its history were excellent. Once again, Eva paid for all our admittance. An easy walk down and then we were on our own. We stopped at a patisserie to smell the bread and buy a morsel. Yum! When you leave the main dock, walk towards the town and make a left at the main street. There are a couple of nice shops with quality merchandise and good prices. Also, a nice brassarie to have a capacino or beer (Le Cafe du Petit Andeley). Try a beer you have never heard of - you will be rewarded. That evening, we left our boat (it moved down to Vernon) and we bussed to a large farm where we had dinner in a barn with folk dancing. Um, not my cup of tea. Food was mediocre and two hours of the same song sung different ways was painful. Better off to buy your dinner in Les Andeles and stay on the boat. One positive part of this side trip was that we drove up to the castle so those that did not walk up could see it. On the way we passed a 1959 Buick convertible and a shop specializing in older American cars. Go figure.... Conflans This is near Paris where the Seine and the Oise rivers meet. A blue collar town with boat crews. They were having a festival of the boats and they paraded the boats and had lots of land stuff to do. Lots of fun to walk around and see how the French enjoy themselves. Paris Back to the same docking as when we first joined the boat. We have been there before and seen the major sites. We went to the Metro, got a one-day pass (about 6 Euros), visited three museums, and found a restaurant we visited 14 years ago. A great day. By all means, be adventuresome and take the Metro - it's cheap and easy to use - lots of walking however. Our concierge had great maps and advice. For a great time, try the Arts and Meiters Museum. On Board Lectures etc - French lesson - Lecture on impressionism - Lecture on D-Day - Showing of the movie "The Longest Day" - Nice tour of the kitchen by the head chef - Virginia has lots of good handouts and maps at every stop Entertainment - nice piano guy in the bar all the time - other guest musicians brought in, including a woman who sounded just like Edith Piat - skits by the staff which were pretty good Disembarkation This did not turn out well. We departed on Monday and the French rail strike was already two days old. Folks that normally taking the train to the airport drove. Our bus should have taken 50 minutes but it took three hours. Traffic was gridlocked everywhere. We missed our flight. I fault Vantage for this. They were well aware of the strike and were actively working to schedule bus trips for those who were scheduled on rail to other destinations. They should have scheduled the airport trips earlier. To Vantage's credit, they had a rep at the airport who booked us into a hotel near the airport, paid for that, and paid for the E200 extra fee for missing the flight. One poor chap was separated from the Vantage rep and ended up paying full fare to get home. Don't know if he was reimbursed. This incident was preventable and has soured me somewhat on Vantage.   Read Less
Sail Date June 2014
After 11 trips with Vantage (plus some with other lines) , all of which were great, we finally met the worst cruise ever. The elevator was broken and not fixed for the entire trip. Many travelers were using canes and walkers and had great ... Read More
After 11 trips with Vantage (plus some with other lines) , all of which were great, we finally met the worst cruise ever. The elevator was broken and not fixed for the entire trip. Many travelers were using canes and walkers and had great difficulty going up and down the stairs numerous times daily. Others (as the average age was probably 70+ also had problems navigating the boat. In addition, the Bulgarian chef did not know how to cook. Most lunches were the same sandwiches and pasta for the entire trip. Most dinner entrees were inedible. Salt prevailed in all soups and dishes. There was a concierge on board who did absolutely nothing. There used to be 3 or 4 guides on board (one per group) now there was only one person leaving the entire shore excursions to local guides with no Vantage personnel to assist. Now what really was unacceptable was that we were the longest (most travelled with Vantage) persons on board. We never had a response from Vantage management regarding our concerns that we provided on the form at the end of the cruise. Read Less
Sail Date May 2014
FRENCH WATERWAYS HOLIDAY CRUISE: HIGHLIGHTS OF BURGUNDY, PROVENCE & PARIS, by VANTAGE DELUXE WORLD TOURS, 11 nights on the ship & 4 night extension. 12/1/2013 INTRODUCTION: Since there seems to be a scarcity of reviews for Vantage ... Read More
FRENCH WATERWAYS HOLIDAY CRUISE: HIGHLIGHTS OF BURGUNDY, PROVENCE & PARIS, by VANTAGE DELUXE WORLD TOURS, 11 nights on the ship & 4 night extension. 12/1/2013 INTRODUCTION: Since there seems to be a scarcity of reviews for Vantage Deluxe World Travel river cruises I’d like to add some reflections on our recent cruise and a few comments on the company and their new offering: "French Waterways Holiday Cruise: Highlights of Burgundy, Provence & Paris" on the Discovery 2 beginning December 1 . Before I begin, let me say that while my husband and I have lived abroad and traveled for business and pleasure throughout our lives we are not particularly experienced with river cruising. This was our first Vantage cruise. Our only other river cruise was with Avalon on the Danube. We are in our early sixties. VANTAGE MARKETING: I admit that at the outset I was concerned about signing on with Vantage because there is so little information about it on Cruise Critic or other sites, our travel agent didn’t know of the company, and pricing for the French Holiday Cruise seemed rather low for what they were offering. Apparently Vantage doesn’t advertise much in travel magazines or on TV and they don’t market through travel agents, so the line doesn’t get a lot of mentions or reviews in the press or on blogs. They rely on ‘Word of Mouth’, direct mail, past passengers, or their online site to attract business. I think this keeps their pricing very competitive or somewhat less than other river cruise lines like Avalon, Uniworld, Tauck and Viking. In fact, while on the cruise we learned that the Vantage ‘Affinity’ program of ‘friends recruiting friends’ accrued big discounts and ‘bonuses’ for participating returning passengers and was very popular. I found out Vantage is family owned by Hank Lewis, and has been around for thirty years as a tour operator featuring land tours and cruises on mostly leased ships. It shares a tenuous link with Grand Circle Tours (the two companies are owned by (estranged) brothers). Only in the last few years has Vantage advanced beyond being just a ‘tour operator’ and has contracted to build and own their own river cruise ships and is now a bona fide ‘cruise line’. THE PASSENGERS: An extremely high percentage of passengers on our cruise seemed to be veterans of Vantage tours—it was not unusual for passengers we met to have cruised or toured five, ten or fifteen times with the company, so there is a very loyal following and the Word of Mouth marketing and affinity plan seems to be a big success. We felt like we were two of just a handful of ‘first time’ Vantage cruisers (we could tell because veteran cruisers had variously colored name tags). It seemed to us that the Vantage cruise attracted a more mature and almost exclusively American traveler; whereas our Avalon cruise attracted perhaps 25% of its cruisers from other English speaking countries and a higher percentage of cruisers under age 60. The Vantage cruisers seemed to be retired singles and couples, many over age 70 to age 85, who were teachers, homemakers, managers, and others retired from law enforcement, government and business, among other occupations. Otherwise there was not a lot of diversity among the passengers. We are age 63 and felt like we were among the young cruisers. BOOKING: We knew no one who had cruised with Vantage though and found Vantage through googling, so I had no clue what to expect. In September, three months before the cruise date, I was looking around on line for a winter river cruise to celebrate our anniversary. (One note about shopping for a Vantage cruise: on the online catalog page for the French Waterways cruise I found a “Compare & Save” page link on the right hand side that outlined on a chart the differences between the Vantage cruise and similar cruises on Uniworld, Viking, etc. Whether the info is wholly accurate, I don’t know, but it was helpful to me nevertheless.) So I did some comparison shopping and also signed up for the Vantage ‘E-mail alerts’ on deals and news along with other companies’ alerts. I received regular blurbs and one day this French trip was featured at an extremely attractive reduction; I suppose to fill out the passenger roster since it was just ten weeks or so till embarkation. I called to inquire and it sounded so good I was dubious. But the agent said ‘What’s not to like? It’s wine and chocolate and Christmas in France?!’ And I had to agree, and we signed on to this French Holiday Cruise featuring a new 2013 winter itinerary. Booking with Vantage is exclusively online or by phone with the home office: the company has no travel agent partnerships. I requested that the included airfare would get us a non-stop to Paris and they did. After Vantage bought the air tickets we called Delta ourselves, gave them our frequent flyer numbers and asked for the ‘Economy Plus’ upgrade for a minimal payment to ensure more spacious seating and free drinks on the plane. We did not have any problems or frustrations with the Boston home office. The customer service agents were courteous, efficient, and answered my inquiries in a timely manner. The Vantage on-line ‘trip portfolio’ e-mails kept us up to date on our timeline. (I think the ‘higher ups’ at Vantage have made better home office customer interaction a priority in the past year or so and this initiative seemed to have worked in our case). I will add that there was a Vantage disclaimer in our contract that changes may be made in the itinerary and tour plans, and well there should have been, because indeed weather caused some changes in itinerary and events. (Weather necessitated changes in our Avalon cruise, too.) For example, the advertised ‘Can Can’ evening in Paris, morphed into a ‘Illuminated Night River Cruise’ and the visit to Dijon was dropped because of weather complications. We bought the trip insurance, including medical, from Vantage, but I understand there are better deals out there if one wanted to check around. SHIP ACCOMMODATIONS: Overall the trip was actually better than we envisaged. The ‘Discovery 2’ is a new addition to the Vantage fleet, carried about 160 passengers, and was very comfortable, convenient, and clean. The ship design seemed to be a twin to our Avalon ship ‘Tranquility’ if you know of that boat, but with some updates like more suites, better stateroom storage, free wi-fi and lots of free movies and television channels, and an elevator. Our middle priced stateroom was big enough, had the ‘French balcony’ window, a comfortable enough bed given it was actually two twins pushed together (which seems to be the normal river cruise configuration), a thermostat and plenty of heat, and a nice bathroom. We had our own tour guide ‘whisper box’ ear phones and transmitter charger on our desk in the room which was very convenient. (The only negative to the room was that it could have used another layer of sound insulation in the wall for privacy’s sake.) Overall the ship décor reminded me of a Courtyard by Marriott or similar nice new mid-range hotel. The ship’s crew were exceptionally helpful, cheerful and smart looking. They were English speaking, and hailed from Rumania, Philippines, Hungary and France among other places and this added to the diversity and friendly ambiance of the experience. Like most other river cruise lines (except Tauck), we were expected to tip the crew at the end of the voyage and we were provided guidelines on amounts from Vantage. The ship offered room service for breakfast, onboard laundry, and a gym. There is an optional casual breakfast, lunch, and dinner in an upper deck viewing lounge. The chef was pretty good at creating tasty dishes to suit most appetites and he offered a vegetarian entrée and buffet or a served three course meal, your choice. The dining room servers poured free-flowing complimentary (pretty good) table wine with our three course meals or there was a wine list for extra cost, as well. During our cruise the top open air lounge deck was often closed because of high winds or low bridge clearances, but one night we sat out and enjoyed the lights of Lyon and had complimentary cocoa and coffee there. The dress code was casual although jeans and shorts are not allowed in the dining room for dinner. I would say that the Vantage passengers were more casually dressed than our Avalon group—we seldom saw a sport jacket or a skirt, and the passengers were cautioned once about wearing jeans to dinner. All in all, the onboard experience was very nice and much like our Avalon Tranquility experience. THE VANTAGE CRUISE DIRECTORS & LOCAL GUIDES: One difference between this Vantage cruise and our Avalon cruise was that the Vantage passengers were divided into four distinct groups (with color coded dots on the name tags and luggage). Each group was assigned a ‘cruise director’ for the duration of the voyage to facilitate day tours in conjunction with our local special guides and to execute administrative duties and passenger/client services. In contrast, Avalon engaged just one ‘cruise director’ (and perhaps he had an assistant, I can’t remember) for the 160 tour members and used local guides to assist passengers on day trips. Vantage’s approach provided for more personal engagement with each passenger, especially for many of those of a ‘certain age’ who had mobility problems or who were inexperienced (or just nervous and unsure) travelers. The division in to four groups for the duration, though efficient, was a little limiting as far as socializing with the whole coterie of other ship mates. The cruise directors, in my view, were capable, enthusiastic and helpful and very good communicators. They did a good job of problem solving with unexpected weather changes and traveler complaints and comments, and they were proficient at troubleshooting. The ‘local guides’ were very proficient and engaging, but most of them did not provide much more than a ‘tourist view’ of their city or town. You know, ‘on our left is the Romanesque cathedral, on our right is the medieval town water well’ type of presentation. There were a few ‘cultural connection’ talks onboard but they were fairly ‘light’ in content. In general the complexities of French culture, history, or geo-political issues were glossed over or not delved in to at all. We did not find this omission on the Avalon cruise where the single cruise director filled in each day trip and evening port talk with discussion of political issues, social themes, historical and cultural clashes and foodie insights. I suspect that perhaps a large number of Vantage passengers are satisfied with a ‘lighter’ treatment of ‘the country revealed before them’ and that a more scholarly and complex discussion of the region would not be much appreciated by many. THE ITINERARY: This ‘French Waterways Holiday Cruise on the Rhone through the Cote Azure, Provence, Burgundy and Paris’, was a new itinerary for Vantage and overall it was very interesting and enjoyable. We flew to Nice, were met at the airport, checked in with our bona fides, had a nice welcome dinner and introductory talk, and stayed one night in a very nice Fairmont Hotel next the Grand Casino in Monaco. Next day we bussed our way along the scenic Cote D’Azur to embarkation at Tarascon-sur-Rhone where we began our cruise up river to visit picturesque medieval villages and then to the grand finale of beautiful Paris. Along the cruise the cruise directors and crew had a few kinks to work out because we experienced a few days of high winds, known as the infamous ‘Le Mistral’ of the Rhone River Valley, high and low water, and fog, so day trips on the bus had to be rearranged. We stayed an extra day in Lyon but missed a visit to Dijon because of these issues and then transferred to a bus for a five hour ride to Paris instead of sailing a little longer on in the boat. Vantage did offer us a $200 credit on a 2014 voyage for these inconveniences and omissions. My husband and I were on the cruise mainly looking for relaxation and an unhurried and hassle free way to see southern France and to tour the wine country without the summer crowd and hot weather so we were fairly satisfied and happy with the itinerary of day tours and did not mind particularly the rerouting. Others were a little miffed about this. Along the same lines, others on board expected this French tour to be more like the German ‘Christmas Markets’ tours and for the markets to be the focal point of the itinerary. Some of these passengers expressed disappointment that the French towns and markets were not as numerous or as showy as the German markets and felt the “French Holiday Cruise” catalog description was deceptive. (Although I did not share this point of view about the description.) To answer the complaint that the cruise was ‘light’ on the Xmas market scene, I think the tour directors went out of their way in Paris, Lyon, Vienne and Avignon to add extra market shopping and browsing time for those who were interested. Despite other travelers’ dismay at the day tour and Christmas shopping choices, my husband and I enjoyed the very excellent wine tour and tasting at the Chateauneuf-du-Pape winery, the Beaujolais wine country tour, the truffle farm visit, and the guided town and city walking tours. We also enjoyed the La Mirande cooking class (when we got over the high price they charged and that the Vantage catalog description for the lesson was not wholly accurate). As a serendipitous bonus treat, we were excited and delighted to learn that our ship would dock in Lyon on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, in time for us to experience the unique four day Lyon ‘Fete des Lumieres’. This is a world famous holiday festival in veneration of Mary, the holy mother. The festival show cased more than 30 creative light shows on the city plazas, lighted installation art and sculpture exhibits throughout the town center and draws five million tourists each year to Lyon. We spent two evenings in port (one more night than was originally planned, in lieu of cruising up river toward Dijon because of fog and winds.) walking the city discovering the lighting extravaganzas, drinking wine, and visiting with the locals. We were happy Lyon and this event were given two evenings in the schedule. Now another couple of points on the basic itinerary: Four of our day trips/dinners were ‘optional tours’ at additional cost. I believe adding these ‘extra cost’ events is a new policy for Vantage. Formerly all day tours were ‘included’ in the tour price. Of course, for those who are concerned about being stifled by too much ‘tour group’ togetherness, anyone can opt out of any of the day tours and go on their own, visit friends in town, skip an onboard meal and eat in town, or just stay on the boat. The choice is yours. The only stipulation is to keep the cruise director advised if you are leaving the day tour or if you will not return to the ship in time for sailing so that the bus or boat isn’t delayed while a search for you is launched. Conceivably, if you are sure to arrange with the Vantage admins, you can miss the sailing and catch up with the ship at the next port. Of course, this would be at your own expense for taxis, etc. Over all I would say that the Vantage day tours were very nice—the busses were comfortable, the local guides were engaging, and although the towns and shops were often in various stages of winter hibernation or even closed for the season, enough were open, and the Christmas markets were fun (in the French style). Vantage delivered pretty much what I was expecting in day tours and itinerary, given the ‘affordable’ and ‘sale’ cruise price we paid and the fact that this wasn’t really high tourist season for the Rhone Valley. PARIS EXTENSION: I am so happy that we added the four night ‘Paris Extension’ (again at a bargain rate) to cap our itinerary. After all, who doesn’t like Paris? And the Rhone cruise was the perfect lead up to this grand finale. The weather was splendid, the city was beautiful in its Christmas decoration, and we loved our long walks through the City. Our hotel, Le Meridien Etoile, was comfortable and well located near the Metro stop and the Champs Elysees, and better than we expected given the bargain rate we paid for the extension package. A very nice buffet breakfast in the hotel (a E 29 value) was included and we had free Wi-Fi in the room. But be warned the room service, hotel extras, cocktail bar and dining room are very expensive. If you are a Starwood Hotels affinity group member I would advise the hotel clerk at check in for possible premium treatment and points. The Paris day tours were fine but the evening dinners left a bit to be desired—the dinner venues were cramped and the menus were not too special even though the restaurants chosen (i.e., La Coupole and Bofingers) were well known and carried historic pedigrees. Were we to do it again, we would skip the arranged dinners. I am sure our Cruise Director was taking notes on the comments and short falls in the planning for these evenings and next trip there will be changes made to better serve those who choose to stay longer in Paris. The best of the Paris Extension in our view was our self-guided long walks through the neighborhoods, museums, and street markets, and our afternoon visits to the cafes on the Left Bank. We used John Baxter’s “The Most Beautiful Walk in the World”, The ‘Cadogan Guide’ for Paris, and Rick Steve’s ‘Paris’ guide for suggestions on routes to follow. And we brought a good city map. RECOMMENDATION: I would recommend this Vantage French Holiday tour to those looking for a relaxed pace, a convenient ‘hotel room’ that moves along with you, and/or to travelers who appreciate the ‘cruise director’s organizational and admin skills. This cruise may also appeal to those who are seeking an overview of the Cote d’Azur, the Rhone River valley, and Paris ‘out of season’, enabling them to enjoy the ship amenities and the advantage of cool weather and streets relatively free of tourists. I would not recommend the cruise to anyone who already knows Provence and French wine country well, likes fast paced days and night time revelry and who is very independent, or who is under, say, age 60 and likes an energetic youthful atmosphere. I liked the less sumptuous holiday markets and atmosphere on this French Waterways cruise, but if you are looking for your first ‘Christmas Market’ cruise with all the bells and whistles, check out the German itineraries first. Some would say these French village cruise ports and the Rhone shoreside scenery at this time of year are a little low key and not as lively and beautiful as the Danube ports of-call in high seasons of Christmas or summertime (although I found the scenery mysterious and Grimm’s fairy tale like especially when the countryside was laden with a covering of frost.). I am particularly happy that Vantage is offering this rare opportunity to tour the Rhone Valley at this time of year. The itinerary was unique among the cruise companies I researched and we did not see another river cruiser sailing the Rhone. I spied just one French river cruiser that nested next to our ship in Lyon for the festival (and two Viking ships laid up for the winter.) This Vantage cruise experience did not quite reach Avalon or certainly not Tauck level of deluxe/luxury, but neither did the expense come close to Tauck or Avalon’s pricing. Still the cruise was a treat for us and an excellent value, and at some point we most likely will book another Vantage cruise. RANDOM THOUGHTS: (1) I would encourage prospective Vantage travelers to learn some basic French phrases and to read a book or two on culture and history of the region. (Look at YouTube for lots of videos on learning French phrases.) Taking some time to do some basic research provided us great benefit on the trip: I felt the French locals were more engaging and fun to interact with because we tried to demonstrate the courtesies the Frenchmen expect. If we uttered even a fractured French phrase we received a pleasant response and smile in return. Check out YouTube for tour and French Language phrase videos and I listed a few of our favorite ‘background’ resources below. (2) The weather from the Cote d’Azur and then up along the Rhone and Saone Rivers and thence to Paris at this time of year is quite variable. Be sure to check weatherunderground.com or your favorite online weather site the day before you leave for the ‘ten day forecast’ for several ports of call, including Monte Carlo, Aix en Provence, Lyon, on up north to Paris, to give you a sense of the range of weather ahead and for clues on what to pack. We lucked out with clear sunny weather with s few days of cold wind, fog, and frost as we progressed north (but I think our trip was unseasonably dry and warmish). Temps reached 70 F in Monaco, but it was a very cold 35 F and very windy on the upper Rhone. Paris couldn’t have been more splendid at 50 F and sunny. (3) And were I travelling on this tour again, to better assimilate with the French and not stick out like a hokey American, I would give consideration to dressing more in the manner of the French—that is, I would leave the Nike’s and white athletic shoes, keds, T shirts, ball caps, and jeans at home, particularly during wintertime. If you are a ‘fashionista’ or want to be reasonably a la mode on your trip, you’ll want to know the basic French mantra for winter wear appears to be ‘Dress In Any Color As Long As It’s Black’. (Forget American favorites navy blue and khaki for winter in France). Wear black or dark European style (i.e., Ecco, Rieker, Mephisto) walking shoes (have a look at Travelsmith.com for ideas). And bring a hat and a set of that silk/wool underwear for warmth. For good measure and to accessorize in the French fashion, women will want to bring scarves to add that finishing touch to their outfit. (From my observation French women would not be caught dead without a warm and pretty scarf adroitly draped around their neck.) As my friend from Paris told me, ‘the French view their cities as their living rooms and like to dress up to show a little in respect for the stunning interiors, splendid city architecture, and festive events. Seen in that perspective I understand their point of view on dressing well. (4) The last tip to consider: Try to be in fairly good physical condition even though Vantage does a good job in accommodating those with mobility issues. There are lots of steps and cobblestones to negotiate. And the best interactions we had with Frenchmen were during our self-guided ambles through the towns and Paris. Several of these walks were as long as eight miles and I couldn’t have done it day after day if I hadn’t set up my walking conditioning program several months before the cruise. I bought a FitBit pedometer for this and it provides lots of fun and encouragement. SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR READING & RESEARCH (all available on Amazon and very inexpensive when you purchase ‘used’): “Paris: The Novel” by David Rutherford, the popular historical novel writer. Long, but covers a lot of history through storytelling. “The Most Beautiful Walk in the World”, Memoirs of a Parisian flaneur, by John Baxter, expatriate and ‘New Yorker’ contributor. This book is charming and informational. “Chocolat”, both a novel and a film, set in an old French town. The story features the mysterious effect of ‘The Mistral’ winter winds of the Rhone Valley (which we experienced on our cruise). Music by Edith Piaf, John Aznavour, Jeanne-Pierre Rampal, and others. “A Moveable Feast” by Hemingway, his memoirs of life on the Left Bank in Paris. Also “Paris Wife”, his story from another (fictional) point of view. “Two Towns in Provence” and other stories by the eminent food writer M.F.K. Fisher. “The Pillars of the Earth”, Ken Follett, the best seller historical novel of the building of a great cathedral, cited by a couple of our guides. Rick Steves’ travel videos and guides on France and his opinionated ‘The Politics of Travel’ video. And the more sophisticated but hard to find ‘Cadogan Guides’. “Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong (Why We Love France, but not the French)”, Jean Benoit Nadeau & Julie Barlow, 2003, an interestingly written ‘enthno-anthropological’ analysis and memoir focusing on culture and politics by two reporters living in France. Also, for basic French language prompts check out ‘About.com French Language’ or the many French language videos on YouTube. Bon Voyage, mes amis!   Read Less
Sail Date December 2013
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