Viking River Cruise: Paris & the Heart of Normandy
We have taken ocean cruises previously, but we did not know what to expect from a Viking River Cruise and we thought it might be fun to compare. We also wanted to do something nice for Celeste’s parents and we weren’t sure how many years they would have left so we decided on taking a Viking River Cruise with them. The ease of arrangements and getting around was very attractive since they were in their late seventies and not really up for driving and complicated hotel stays, etc. The river cruise would allow us to fly in, be driven to the ship, get settled in our rooms and start enjoying our time… meals would be taken care of and all of the logistics as well.
We researched trips and due to my interest in history and world war II we purchased the Paris to Normandy river cruise for ourselves and my in-laws as a Christmas gift. My mother-in-law was interested in going to Paris and we always like visiting Paris so this was the perfect destination to satisfy everyone’s desires…. a little Paris, a little art at Monet’s gardens, quite a bit of history at Rouen and Normandy. So you can feel free to view this BLOG post as also a river cruise review!
Buying our tickets early we were able to pick up the two for one deal - however you may want to start by reading the cruise description from Viking River Cruises, go to here . Note that the "two for one" airfare is not always part of the package.
Knowing that the Normandy weather could be volatile we packed expecting rain, cold, and alternating warmer/sunny days. We discovered that having clothing that could deal with cooler or warmer weather, was a good idea during this cruise.
Warning: March or April cruises in France may result in chillier weather than you are used to, the good news is that the weather will vary from day to day. The bad news is that you are going to need some warmer clothes to allow you to remain comfortable.
Do not let Jet Lag take Over!
Everyone who has ever flown across the Atlantic, knows that jet lag is an issue that must be prepared for and expected. Taking an over the counter "sleep aide" on the flight over the Ocean can help you get some sleep on the plane. Taking a 2 hour nap (but no longer) once you have arrived, can also help. When we arrived our stateroom was ready, which was unexpected as it was possible that they wouldn't be ready until 3:00 pm. We were thrilled and got our brief nap completed, showered, unpacked and started our hike down the Quai de Grenelle to the Eiffel Tower park.
The weather at that time, was a bit drizzly, but since we had all brought our rain jackets and Viking thoughtfully provided umbrellas (the bright red ones!) - we were not deterred.
Brunch at Le Petite Cler
You may have asked yourself "where were they walking to" in those previous images above? We were on our way to Rue Cler in the 7th arrondissement, to eat breakfast at Le Petit Cler
Dining at Le Petite Cler
To view their menu on the YELP website, click here. The food was very good and the sidewalk cafe vibe was great.
Rue Cler Area
Rue Cler, in the 7th arrondissement is one of the best market streets in Paris. You will find a wonderful selection of specialty food stores, pastry shops, butchers, delicatessens, cheese specialists, fishmongers, greengrocers, chocolate shops and cafés. Most of the street is a pedestrian area and still has its original cobblestones.
The hike from Quai de Grenelle to Rue Cler allowed us to walk near the Eiffel Tower, which is always a beautiful sight! It is only a one kilometer stroll along the River Seine, and then we walked through the Champ de Mars gardens to reach the Rue de Grenelle.
The Eiffel Tower is only one kilometer (.6 mile) from where the Viking Spirit was moored, and our first glimpse of the tower, was through the trees in the park that surrounds the tower.
We didn't go up the Tower due to the long lines, but you can easily avoid the lines by purchasing your tickets online well in advance of your trip. We took some pictures of the Tour Eiffel and then continued on-wards to the Rue Cler area of Paris, in the seventh arrondissement. This is a very nice area, pedestrian (or scooter) only.
As expected, the Viking Spirit was waiting for us at it's mooring spot on the Quai de Grenelle. It might not be apparent, but the ship was facing eastward, and I now began to wonder how the ship's captain was going to be able to turn the ship around, and head off into the westward direction necessary for our trip destinations. This was because we were in a relatively narrower part of the Seine River, with a bridge support island immediately to our port side.
As can be seen in image # 3, this is the Viking Spirit from the Pont Grenelle, and as you can see, the Eiffel Tower is perhaps a half mile beyond where the ship is moored. The sun deck area, runs nearly the entire length of the ship, and is equipped with many deck chairs and chaise lounges.
We noticed that the sun deck and just about everything else on this level of the ship, was "too high" for the bridges close by. These images demonstrate how low the bridges are in relation to the Viking Spirit.
So I began to now wonder how they were going to get that large ship underneath those low bridges, with all of those things on the deck that are obviously "too high".
There is a very clever solution, ie; all of the sundeck apparatus (railings, tables, chairs, etc) is folded down, and the ship's wheelhouse (yes, that lowers down too!) is lowered via a set of "stilts" that allows it to be raised or lowered. Once everything is folded down or lowered, there is approximately 4 to 5 feet of additional clearance.
L'île aux Cygnes
On the port side of the Viking Spirit and behind the boat is the L'île aux Cygnes hosting a small Statue of Liberty.Celeste and I hiked over there, to take a look. And we discovered that the statue was given to Paris by the American Community of Paris in 1889.
Looking down the River Seine to the west, it became clearer to me, that although many brochures talk about how many bridges across the Seine there are in Paris, until you are there and see how frequent they are, it doesn't really register with you. There are a total of 37 bridges that cross the River Seine, many of which are extremely low.
Our first day ended with a great dinner onboard the Viking Spirit, accompanied by some excellent wine. We were tired enough (and had enough wine) to be able to sleep the night through.
First Bus Tour
We are on the day trip bus for our day tour of Paris, which we hope will be exciting for my wife's parents as this is their first trip to Paris. This tour is a quick trip to the Paris high spots near the River Seine, ie; Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.
Viking Cruise Breakfast Area
I would imagine that most of the Viking Buffet tables look like this. They serve breakfast in the dining room or you can get pastries and coffee by the lounge area. The dining room serves; omelettes made to order, ham, fruit, fresh croissants, etc. Frequently in the lounge, you could also find machine-dispensing coffee, tea, pastries, orange juice, croissants, etc.
The first full day began with an optional bus tour of Paris. The tour included a visit to Notre Dame, and a drive by of various Paris landmarks, including the Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde, Ile de la cite, the Louvre, etc. On the way back to the ship, the bus stopped in the Eiffel Tower parking area, for a "photo opportunity" and then proceeded back to the ship.
This might have been the "least useful" portion of the trip, as the bus tour was only 3 hours in length, it was during rush hour and there really wasn't sufficient narration/description of what people were being shown. We were able to go inside Notre Dame, but nowhere else, and as anyone who has been in Paris before knows, there are other landmarks that should have been visited, and perhaps a more thorough description given to those first-timers on the tour. However, Paris really wasn't the total focus of this River cruise, and perhaps we should have planned better and visited other Paris landmarks via Metro to get a better introduction to Paris and be able to walk around some of the less crowded neighborhoods. Ah well, hind sight is always 20/20 isn't it?
The ship's departure from Paris was scheduled for 7:30PM (yes, European later dining), right at dinner time, so after the bus tour returned to the ship, all of us hung out on either the sun deck, or the lounge, until departure time.
During dinner, I got my chance to see how the ship managed the low bridges, as well as how they were able to reverse the ship's direction to begin our westward journey; The sun deck rails, chairs, pilot house, cranes and all other topside equipment that could possibly bump into any of the low bridges, was lowered flush with the sun deck. The pilot house is lowered on elevator struts, so that it will clear and no passengers are allowed on the sun deck until the ship leaves the Paris area.
The ship was turned around, by backing up the River Seine until it was past the small island on the port side, and then the ship was spun about, so that it faced westward. Because the ship is equipped with "side thrusters" and "twin propellers", such a maneuver was easily done, and off we went in the westward direction. For those of you with single rudder boat operation experience, and who have never operated a twin rudder/twin propeller boat, you cannot imagine how simply a boat the length of the Viking Spirit can be spun around!
The first day of ship's travel plan, was for the ship to steam all night, and arrive in Vernon, France the next morning - where our visit to Giverny and Monet's garden would take place. As an ex-Navy man, and someone who has done a certain amount of open-Ocean cruising, I expected to be able to feel not only the ship's movement, but perhaps also some ship rolling, as it proceeded to Vernon. However, I felt nothing, as the ship is extremely stable, even the diesel engines are nothing but a distant muffled background sound that is hardly discernible. I must say that floating down the river Seine in the evening was thoroughly enjoyable.
River Seine Flood Control Locks
Now begins a portion of the trip that neither Celeste or myself had prior knowledge of - the River Seine has six locks, all built for flood control purposes. These locks were started in the 1950's and extensive dredging on the river was performed in the 1960's. All of this effort was due to occasional flooding that Paris has endured since 1910, sometimes producing a severely flooded area along the Seine. Now for the interesting part - the level difference of the River Seine between Paris and Rouen, is 85 feet ! Now, we knew that tidal heights on the English Channel were dramatic, but we had not known that the River had such a height difference! Each lock we went through, would lower the ship some 12 to 20 feet.
The tidal variation in Rouen, where the ship is close to the English Channel (Le Havre is 90Km from Rouen for example), would be 19 to 22 feet! We would go to bed at night, and our cabin window would be level with the dock, but the next morning, our window would be 15 feet below the dock!
To make it perfectly clear what took place, the Viking Ship tied up at Giverny, France. Viking (on their website) refers to this stop as "La Roche-Guyon & Vernon, France" because Monet's Garden is located in Vernon.
We decided on the day trip/bus tour to Monet's Garden - because Celeste is a huge fan of Monet's work. If you have any interest in art to any degree, this would be as exciting to you as it was to us! Monet's house, his garden, everything is maintained as it was when Monet lived there. The Monet Foundation maintains the property as a "living museum".
Weather was Beautiful
As you can see in this image, this day's weather was fantastic, not a cloud in the sky, nice temperature, and the view from the ship, as it cruised along the River Seine, was stunning.
Scenes along the River Seine
Little villages dot each shore side, the occasional Chateau, and lots of beautiful geography - and - another Seine River Cruise Ship - Viking operates a small number of ships on this route, and this one is obviously headed back to Paris from Rouen.
The sun deck was the place to be with the weather being so nice, the scenery so constantly beautiful and yet the sun deck was never crowded? Our cabin had a small balcony where one could relax and enjoy the sights, but the sun deck provided lounges, chairs, tables, umbrellas and a waiter!
After departing the Quai de Grenelle, the River Seine swings to the southwest, then makes a sharp right turn to head northeast past Saint-Denis where it makes a sharp left turn to swing back to the west. As the river flows past Argenteuil it is again moving southwest until Le Port-Marly where the river is once again moving in a northeast direction. These wide loops provide a continous display of small villages, various chateaus and beautiful scenery. Once past Vaux-sur-Seine, the river will remain moving in a westerly direction until it reaches Rolleboise where it will once again make a wide loop past Moisson. We will reach Vernon as the river assumed a northwest direction once again.
On the way to Rouen, we were passed by the Viking Neptune, on it's way back to Paris. Both ships blew their whistles at each other, as passengers waved.
Viking currently (in 2014) operates 3 ships on the River Seine, the Viking Spirit, Viking Neptune and the Viking Pride. These are "sister ships" as they were all launched in 2001 and have identical dimensions.
NOTE: Viking is constantly updating their fleet, and replacing older ships with newer ships. To view what ships Viking currently operates, click here.
Small Villages along the Seine
Another of the beautiful villages that can be seen on each side of the River Seine, this was a typical example of the very nice homes we saw.
Due to the excellent weather, and the incredibly scenic ride on the river, this was a very pleasant day, and we spent the majority of it on the sun deck.
The Viking Spirit arrived in Rouen at 1PM, and since this represented the farthest west of the ship's travel, it proceeded west past our dock to a "turning basin", where it reversed course and then docked. This maneuver, leaves the ship pointed eastward, which is the direction we will be going when we depart for Paris.
Since the ship arrived in Rouen at mid-day, we had free time the remainder of the day to explore. Very walkable and historic and we had a fantastic dinner there.
Gold & Omaha Beach near Arromanche-les-Bains
This Viking bus tour/day trip tour was very interesting to me, and if you are a history buff, this tour would be in your wheel-house.
Les Andelys Stop
Quaint little village (2019 population of 8,070) that was started in the sixth century, with a very historic castle high above and the Seine River flowing right next to it.
The Palace of Versailles is a beautiful and historical site, and we enjoyed the tour. The ship had docked at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine and some passengers had taken the shopping trip Viking organized, we decided to take Celeste's parents to Versailles on the "other bus tour" Viking trip.
The tour buses returned us to the Viking Spirit (a short 30 minute ride), and we headed back down the River Seine to Paris, arriving just before 7:00 pm. We then decided to head out on the town and took the metro to the Champs Elysees for a bit of exploration and some dinner.
The Avenue des Champs-Elysées has been called the 'world’s most beautiful avenue'. Around it and between the Arc de Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde are numerous luxury stores, the most prominent restaurants, four-star hotels, prestigious entertainment venues (Lido, Queen, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, etc ) and the most popular museums and monuments (Arc de Triomphe, Grand Palais, etc ).
Paris Metro System
The Paris Metro System is gigantic, and it is far, far simpler to ride the Metro than it would be to drive anywhere! A taxi is also a good choice for those that don't want to venture onto the metro. So even though my in-laws had zero experience in riding in a subway system, I talked them into giving it a try from the ship's docking area up to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
Strolling on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées
Many, many famous high end clothing companies have locations on the boulevard. As we walked about, we kept noticing dozens of world famous companies.
Eiffel Tower Light Show
For our last evening aboard the Viking Spirit, we told Ron and Elaine about the Eiffel Tower "light show" and told them that we had to remain awake until at least 11PM, when the light show would start. The lights are cycled off and on (computer controlled), and the colors shift as the light show proceeds.
Click here to read more about the Eiffel Tower light show.
On our last morning aboard the Viking Spirit, everything was once again well organized, and Viking had grouped passengers into smaller groups that had adjacent airport departure times. We were scheduled for the 10:30AM airport bus, and promptly at that time, we jumped onto the bus and headed off to the airport.
Viking staff led us to where we could check in for our flights, and we then proceeded to our departure gate, and the return trip via Air France and Delta is perhaps another story altogether.
This was our first Viking River Cruise, and we really enjoyed it. The food was fantastic, the wine they offered with dinner was consistently top-notch, and the breakfast omelets (made to order) were some of the best we've ever had. People always ask "what didn't you like about it" and there really were no negatives about this trip! The River Seine is wide, placid and pretty all the way from Paris to Rouen.
NOTE: Please click here to read our perspective on Viking River Cruises.
Viking changes various parameters of this cruise, but due to it's popularity, they will probably never remove it. Click here to go the Viking Site and read about this cruise in more detail.
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