Being an experienced cruise lover, I was thrilled to be invited and hosted by Viking River Cruises to experience the Paris & the Heart of Normandy sailing. This was a special route for me as both of my grandfathers landed in Normandy during World War II. I had dreamed about visiting for most of my life. I also knew Viking Cruises would do an exceptional job showcasing the area, as I am a repeat cruiser with them. Here is what I loved about experiencing France with Viking River Cruises.
1. A Fantastic Paris To Normandy Itinerary
When picking out cruise itineraries, finding places near and dear to your heart and spending your money toward that goal is essential. As mentioned above, this itinerary caught my attention. Our cruise started in Paris, with an overnight and 2 days of sightseeing.
We visited smaller, lesser-known towns that kept us out of heavy-traffic areas. This also brought us to interesting ports of call.
Besides Paris, we visited the towns of La Roche-Guyon, Vernon, Rouen (with overnights), Normandy beaches, Les Pecq, and Les Andelys along the Seine River.
Scenic cruising is also a big part of European river cruising. We cruised by several places that were perfect for sightseeing from our small Viking Fjorgyn verandas.
2. French History
I love any reason to learn things that help me answer Jeopardy questions. How about you? I learned a lot about French culture, history, and, most definitely, its famous artists on my Paris & the Heart of Normandy sailing.
In Les Andelys, a charming old Norman village, were the ruins of King Richard the Lion Heart’s 12th-century fortress, Chateau Gaillard, perched atop a majestic hill. Rouen offered a picturesque cathedral painted more than 30 times by Claude Monet.
I was most surprised that we went to and toured Vincent van Gogh’s last residence and burial site in Auvers-Sur-Oise. This site is a pilgrimage for art enthusiasts and has a picturesque setting. Van Gogh is buried alongside his brother, Theo.
Fun Fact: Though we didn’t stop in Giverny, France, because there is no safe place to pull over for a better view, we did see Claude Monet’s famous gardens and home of 40 years.
3. Paris Food Tour
I’ve taken my share of food tours worldwide, but having a Paris food tour offering on Viking River Cruises was a no-brainer. Our small group roamed the city on foot and by Paris Metro to taste our way through five or six local hotspots.
At one place, we sampled olive oils, vinegar, and honey. We had a trio of desserts at another spot with French coffee and hot tea. The stop I liked best was at a brewery for a cheese plate and glass of wine. Take advantage of this tour.
4. Included Excursions
A key difference between river cruising versus ocean cruising is that there are “included” excursions, meaning you don’t pay extra to do these things. Each day, Viking offers tours at each port of call.
Excursions may run 2–3 hours, or even longer, such as going to the beaches and cemetery in Normandy, which requires several hours each way on a bus. Buses are included when necessary because of distance or accessibility.
Viking Cruises does a stellar job of vetting its tour guides. Hence, they are easy to understand, are entertaining, and have control of their groups.
There are paid excursions available each day, something to consider depending on your interests.
Pro Tip: Viking uses the word “leisure” for walks or excursions that are slower-paced and easier for those with mobility issues, though they are open to anyone.
5. Views Of The Eiffel Tower At Night
Our cruise officially “embarked” at 3 p.m. but docked overnight so guests could explore Paris independently. I liked that. Many went off to see shows or have dinner at fancy Parisian restaurants; while others, myself included, hung out on the Viking Fjorgyn and got to know the people we would be spending the week with.
From the comfort of our stateroom veranda, the lounge, or the top observation deck, we could see the Eiffel Tower right down from where we were docked. From here, we could enjoy the evening twinkling light show with no stress of fighting the crowds, or even being dressed for that matter.
Our Viking Fjorgyn ship was docked in a thriving part of Paris where something was going on at all hours, though not loud and boisterous. It is a good location for sightseeing and souvenir shopping, but keep your belongings close to your body at all times.
6. Guided Normandy Experience
Normandy is 3 hours from Paris, or 90–120 minutes from Rouen, where we docked to see half of the Paris to Normandy itinerary stops. I was familiar with and loved the neighboring Brittany region of France.
Our day at the Normandy beaches involved a long bus ride, but it was worth it! First up was a stop at the Mémorial Caen Museum, which tells the story of World War II. It has a noteworthy gift shop as well. If you are looking for souvenirs, buy them here.
Included with our Viking River Cruise was lunch at the museum. Our group had a separate dining area with a tasty plated meal, wine, and dessert. I had seen the roped-off area during museum free time and commented on how fancy and nice it looked. Imagine my surprise when they corralled us into the space. I thought this was a very special touch to our long day.
Next, we headed to the Normandy American Cemetery for a somber presentation and dedication to the military on our sailing. It was a charming special touch when our tour guide arranged for a floral display to be placed at the base of the Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves bronze statue.
Lastly, we arrived at the Omaha Beach location, famed for D-Day arrivals and many casualties. There was time to walk around, take pictures and videos, pay tribute to our loved ones and fallen soldiers, and reflect on the importance of this location.
Tissues are recommended.
Pro Tip: This is American property. Our guide encouraged us to take home souvenir sand if we wanted. Luckily, I brought an empty water bottle for this reason. You may want to, too.
7. French-Themed Dinner
Hold on to your hats for the French food extravaganza buffet night; it is sensational in every way. Have your cameras ready, because everything here is photo-worthy.
As the guests entered the dining room, you could hear the “oohs” and “aahs” escaping every mouth. Table after table was eloquently dressed and loaded with fancy plates and boards of food that were specific to the region.
Besides the gourmet cheese boards, spread of salads, and charcuterie, there were also glasses of wine and champagne. The staff blended well with their striped shirts, berets, and stylish threads that were so chic and “gay Paris.” This is one lively event.
Even as a foodie, there were many things I was not familiar with on the buffet line and tables. This is your perfect opportunity to try it all; the food was well labeled and Viking is particular about food allergies. Don’t skip the duck pâte — it was some of the best I’ve ever had.
You’ll be dreaming of the delicious mini-desserts, as well. The French-themed buffet was my favorite dinner night on the ship.
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