Luxury, Elegant & Spacious… River Cruise with Avalon – Sam’s Review
Thursday 6th July 2017, 12:00am
“Wow” is the first thing I said when I boarded the ship and “unbelievably WOW” was the last thing I said when I disembarked the ship…
I was lucky enough, along with 20 other travel agents to be invited on a ‘Familiarisation Trip’ onboard Avalon’s Tapesty II which set sail from Paris in June 2017. The route we’d been taken on was called ‘Paris to Normandy Landing Beaches’, a 7 day river cruise along the Seine River visiting beautiful ports of call such as Vernon, Les Andelys, Caudebec (overnight), Rouen, Conflans and finishing the journey with an overnight in Paris.
MY DAY-TO-DAY DIARY
My Diary Highlights
- Onboard Food – Avalon Fresh: Quality 5 star cuisine
- UK & Canadian Landing Beaches of Normandy Excursion (Day 4)
- A Day Sightseeing in Paris (Day 7)
- Watching the scenery pass by from the Hot Tub on Sky Deck
- Tour of the ships galley (Day 5)
- Visit to Chateau Gaillard (Day 2 – Afternoon)
DAY 1 PARIS – Welcome Aboard! (Late afternoon)
From our flight in London where I met Anna and Maxine (Avalon Reps) at London Heathrow Terminal 5, we arrived in Paris, France. This was my first time in Paris and luckily enough the Tapestry II was awaiting our arrival docked near the Eiffel Tower. With the weather blue skies and temperatures in the high-mid 20’s I knew it was going to be an awesome week ahead. After settling in I took a walk around the ship taking images of all the facilities onboard. Luxury, Elegant & Spacious is exactly the best words to describe this ship from the first impression of things. Most of the décor is contemporary style with comfort and pleasure in mind. View more images in gallery below.
DAY 1 PARIS – VERNON (Evening)
All aboard and we are all ready to set sail to Vernon. As the evening approached there was a welcome briefing in the Panorama Lounge, every guest attended. This was a generic talk hosted by the cruise director, Nico, who briefly went through the highlights of the weeks’ itinerary. We were told we had an hour to get changed and freshen up, for the first evening meal in the Dining Room located in between Indigo Deck and Sapphire Deck at the bow of the ship. After dinner, there was live entertainment from Milan, the Tapestry II resident pianist who would play any song that he could on request, along with some drinks at the bar made up by two professional and friendly bartenders, Valentin and Teodor. The night ended with a board game called ‘Senior Moments’ in the Club Lounge at the aft of the ship – and I took pleasure in winning!
DAY 2 VERNON (Morning)
I woke up early 07:30, noticing we docked in Vernon, to take full advantage of the buffet breakfast before setting off for the first excursion of the trip. There were two options to choose from, Trip to Giverny visiting Claude Monet’s house and stunning gardens or a visit to Chateau de Bizy. We had to choose which excursion the previous day so Nico can register how many have signed up for which excursion; this procedure is then repeated throughout the cruise for planning arrangements. I chose to visit Chateau de Bizy – this was a 09:00 departure so it gave me plenty of time to enjoy breakfast and get ready. Before leaving we were reminded to bring the complimentary lanyard and headset, given to every guest so when going on any excursion you will bring these and receive a coloured receiver from reception so you can listen to the tour guide throughout the excursion and the colour would represent which group you are in. Chateau de Bizy also known as the small Versailles with a majestic courtyard, the beauty of its furniture and the charm of its park decorated with fountains displays a spectacular historic monument for the local village. The local tour guide was very informative and knowledgeable about the history of this castle but at times it was too much for me to register – all I can remember, it was owned by King Louis XV and it has a secret passage door – used for when they needed to escape if ever there was an attack. Arriving back with plenty of time before lunch, myself and a few others took a little stroll around the village, which took roughly 15 minutes, most cafes and shops were closed as it was a Sunday. Time for the lunch buffet in the main dining room or French crepes in the Panorama Lounge, why not both if you were hungry, which I was; I ended up with a full stomach to see me through to dinner. View more images in gallery below.
DAY 2 VERNON – LES ANDELYS (Afternoon)
All aboard, we are sailing to Les Andelys – at 13:00 we left Vernon behind and I thought this would be the perfect time to try out the hot tub on Sky Deck – amazing, watching the mountainous scenery pass you by whilst soaking up the sun sipping on a strawberry daiquiri cocktail (not part of the cocktail menu but available on request). 3 hours gone by and we are approaching Les Andelys. The first thing you notice from a near distance is a ruined medieval castle overlooking the commune of Les Andelys and the River Seine, Chateau Gaillard, known as the “Strong Castle”. We were only docked here for a couple of hours but had plenty of time to walk up to this fascinating structure – the views were magnificent. The entrance fee costs €3.20 and free of charge for children less than 7 years of age. This is a must see, especially for those who are interested in the history of Richard the Lionheart, the feudal Duke of Normandy – this fortress, skilfully design for him is the very place where romanticised stories like Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe meet history. Back on the ship for happy hour – all drinks half price, Valentin! “One gin and tonic for me”, now we are ready to depart for Caudebec. Port talk for Caudebec by Nico, then Dinner time in the restaurant and finishing off the day with a few drinks in the Panorama Lounge – 22:30 approaches, this means late night snacks – Chicken Nuggets! View more images in gallery below.
DAY 3 CAUDEBEC (Overnight)
After breakfast, the two tours that are included in the cruise fare were ready to depart – “don’t forget to bring your lanyard and headset”. The first option was an excursion to visit Jumieges Abbey, a former Benedictine church considered to be one of the most ancient monasteries in the western world. I opted for the second option – to drive the route des Chaumieres to see some of Normandy’s famed Thatched Roof Houses. After a 15-20 minute drive out of Caudebec, we start to see first of many beautiful thatched roof houses. Again the tour guide was very informative – I learnt that maintenance is very important, a thatched roof normally lasts for 8-14 years depending on thatch quality, and ‘Brushing’, a method which removes the rotten layer, removing moisture from the thatch preventing compost should be done 3-4 times over the lifespan of the roof. Take a look at the image in the gallery tagged ‘Poorly Maintained Thatched Roof’, this is what can happen if not maintained properly. We stopped off at a local town (forgotten the name) for 45 minutes to stretch our legs and grab a coffee – I grabbed a Guinness instead and it went down like a treat. Luckily there was a street market on which sold a variety of clothes, bags and food delicacies to pass some time. It was time to board the coach and head back to the ship for lunch. After lunch there was an Optional Excursion to Honfleur at an additional cost of €57, I chose not to do this and hired out a bike onboard and cycled to the next village and around Caudebec on the way back (at 13:00) – perfect if you want to lose a few pounds after all the food you’ll be eating. Arriving back on the ship at 15:30, it was time to head to the Panorama Lounge for sweet crepes – so after all the cycling trying to lose a few pounds, YES I ended up putting them back on – my favourite crepe filling, lemon and brown sugar was that nice I ended up having two – guilty pleasure! As the sun began to set, Dinner time was due and afterwards ‘Happy Hour’ with live music from Milan. View more images in gallery below.
DAY 4 CAUDEBEC – Landing Beaches of Normandy
A very early start to a long day ahead, 07:00 I woke up for the buffet breakfast. I fuelled myself with an omelette, crispy bacon and cheddar roasted tomatoes (my favourite item on the breakfast buffet), then it was time to get ready for the tour which departed at 08:15. There were 3 options to choose from; the first visits the US Landing Beaches, recommended for the US guests. The second visits the UK & Canadian Landing Beaches, myself and several of our UK and Canadian shipmates opted for this excursion. They also had a third option for those who may have visited before and wanted to see a different side of the Normandy region – it was called Taste of Normandy and focused on the culture, history and traditions of the area including a cheese and calvados brandy tasting experience.
The first place we visited on the agenda was Ranville (1hr 48mins drive from Caudebec) – the first French village liberated on D-Day. The village was liberated by the British 13th Parachute Battalion and home to the Ranville War Cemetery, a Second World War cemetery containing predominantly British soldiers killed during the early stages of the Battle of Normandy. We were given a red rose each as a sign of ‘passionate love’ to be placed on a grave reflecting honour and gratitude. Nearby was the second place we visited called Pegasus Memorial Museum, a dedicated tourist attraction to the 6th Airborne Division and exhibits the original Pegasus Bridge, previously known as Bénouville Bridge and a replica of the first Airspeed Horsa glider that landed close to the bridge. We were then shown a 12 minute long video which displayed certain events that occurred at the time of Operation Deadstick and I can honestly say I was left speechless – what a remarkable tribute to the fallen soldiers.
After a busy morning, lunch time approached and included in today’s excursion was an organised lunch at Hotel De La Marine, Arromanches (42mins drive from Pegasus Memorial Museum). We stopped here for 45mins before heading to The Juno Beach Centre, Canada’s Second World War museum, which pays homage to the 45,000 Canadians who lost their lives during the War (18mins drive from Hotel De La Marine). Here we had the opportunity to explore the museum, starting off in Room A, we stood in pitch black until the film started to play, projecting images of war, training and D-Day onto the walls showing how Canadian soldiers and their families describe what they were thinking and feeling at the time. I carried on moving through the museum knowing that there was another short 12 minute film to watch in Room F. Each room displays reference points on giving you an understanding of Canada in the 1930’s (Room B), Canada Goes to War (Room C), Road to Victory (Room D), Some Came Back, Others Did Not (Room E), in the gallery below i have a short video ‘Tour of The Juno Beach Centre’ a quick guide to show you around the different rooms. I entered Room F, and the film entitled “They Walk With You” started playing – this was one of my highlights of the day, this film used powerful and emotional audio and footage with dramatic recreations, re-enacting the role and sacrifice of Canadian infantry soldiers during D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, with the end scene showing a family in the modern day walking along Juno Beach with soldiers walking behind them in spiritual form – this brought a tear to my eye. Exiting the museum, we all headed down onto Juno Beach, for photo opportunity. The last visit on this excursion was to Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery – this is the resting ground containing predominantly Canadian soldiers killed during the early stages of the Battle of Normandy.
After a long day filled with emotion, it was time to board the coach and head back to the ship. The ship was set to sail to Rouen at 19:00 with dinner at 19:15. This gave us plenty of time from when arriving back on the ship to get spruced up for dinner. The night continued, with live entertainment from Milan in the Panorama Lounge and a boogie on the dancefloor. We arrived in Rouen at 23:00 and myself and a couple of others decided to go on a little walk to see if we could find a bar for a few drinks but the only bars open where 20-30mins walk away, so we made our way back to the ship and called it a night. View more images in gallery below.
Day 5 ROUEN – CONFLANS
Today was the day I chose to have a sleep in, I woke up at 09:00 to catch the last 30mins of the breakfast buffet. There was one excursion on today’s agenda which was a City Tour of Rouen, a guided walk through Normandy’s Capital City, including sites such as the Rouen Cathedral and its square, Joan D’arc Square, Clock Tower, and Market Square with time at the end to wander about. This tour started at 09:30; I chose not to do this tour, instead myself and a few others decided to do our own tour, going to all the sites included in the excursion but at our own pace. We stopped off at a small café bar and started the day off with a cold half pint of lager and returned to the ship for lunch – a grilled barbecue lunch on Sky Deck. After lunch a few of us went back into the city, and walked around the retail stores, I treated myself to a cold ice cream sundae from McDonalds whilst a few others did some clothes shopping.
Arriving back on the boat in time for the Galley Tour, guided by the ship’s head chef, Gonzalo, he showed us around the kitchen quarters and gave a 15 minute talk at the end about hygiene, food safety and daily procedures – I recorded a video which is available to watch in the gallery below, ‘Head Chef, Gonzalo’s Galley talk’. On the daily newsletter I noticed at 16:00 there was a special performance in the Panorama Lounge from La Strada string trio performing classical music. I watched for 20mins before heading up to Sky Deck with a cocktail, back in the hot tub whilst we set sail to Conflans at 17:00. There was a planned visit to the Captain’s Wheel House were we had to sign up at reception in the morning, myself and my roommate put our names down. This took place at 17:45 – I recorded a video which is available to watch in the gallery below, ‘Captain, Laurent’s Wheel House talk’. Dinner time was approaching, so I politely left the wheel house to go and get ready for another mouth-watering meal and an evening filled with entertainment from Milan. Estimated time of arrival in to Conflans was 07:00 the following morning. View more images in gallery below.
Day 6 CONFLANS – PARIS (Farewell Gala Dinner)
Before the final stretch to Paris, today we made a stop in Conflans which served as the jumping off point for two shore excursions included in the cruise fare and an optional excursion at an additional cost. The two included excursions offer a choice of a visit to Van Gogh’s Auvers-sur-Oise or a tour of Josephine’s Chateau de Malmaison. The afternoon optional excursion provided an opportunity to escape to the grand Palace of Versailles. I decided to visit the village where Van Gogh spent his last three months. The coach drive from the ship to the village took 30mins. We exited the coach and walked up a hill to the first spot to see the Church of Dame d’Auvers – outside was one of Vincent’s masterpieces which he painted of the Roman Gothic church ‘De kerk van Auvers’ – ‘The church at Auvers’ one of Van Gogh’s best-known works. The next place was situated at the top of the hill and surrounded by the vast expanse of wheat fields was the cemetery of where Vincent lies – next to him is the burial of his brother, Theo who died 6 months after him. The final place we visited was the House of Van Gogh and the Auberge Ravoux – here we watched a 10 minute video which displayed Vincent’s artwork and the story behind some of his creatives from the village – a great exhibit showcasing what it is like to see through an eye of a famous artist and listening to quotes from letters which he wrote home about the beauty of the village, Auvers-sur-Oise, and his life journey was a fascinating touch. It was time to head back to the ship for lunch. We were scheduled to depart Conflans to Paris at 13:15, also the afternoon optional excursion to the grand Palace of Versailles, I chose to stay on the ship whilst a group of shipmates decided to visit the palace and meet us 4hrs later in Courbevoie for a technical stop to pick them up. Tonight was the Farewell Dinner in the main dining room which was at 19:00, giving guests who went on the excursion plenty of time from when arriving back on the ship to getting suited and booted, and all dressed up. The farewell dinner menu consisted of 7 courses compared to the 5 course standard menu. Examples of menus can be viewed below under Avalon Fresh: Quality 5-Star Cuisine…
We were set to arrive into Paris at 23:00, were a group of us decided to go ashore and visit the light illuminations displayed from the Eiffel Tower (20mins walk from ship). It was a picturesque moment and another iconic monument tick off my bucket list. View more images in gallery below.
DAY 7 PARIS: A DAY SIGHTSEEING & DISEMBARKATION
One of the things that I was looking forward to the most was the overnight in Paris, giving you a full day of exploration. Avalon provides many opportunities to explore on your own providing a map and information on local transportation for those who wanted to go and explore on their own or you can take advantage of their included and optional tours. The inclusive tours were a City Walking Tour that includes the historic Notre Dame Cathedral, or a Bus Tour that guides you past some of the city highlights with the narration of a local expert. Optional tours in the afternoon include a tour of the Louvre Museum or Montmarte which would appeal to art lovers. In the evening they also had an optional outing to experience the infamous Moulin Rouge. I opted for the City Walking Tour, 08:15 start and off we went on the coach. We were dropped off on the south-side on Ile De La Cite (Island of the City) near Pont de la Tournelle (bridge). We crossed the bridge onto Ile Saint-Louis (Island of Saint-Louis), we were guided along some magnificent buildings, many with courtyards in the middle which were used in the olden days as the forecourt for horse and carriages for the rich. We approached Notre Dame Cathedral and the first thing you see are the gargoyles portrayed all around the gothic structure. After a quick tour around the cathedral, we were set to head back to the coach and then onto the ship, but before i got onto the coach, the tour guide pointed out this magnificent building structure called Conciergerie, a 14th century Royal Palace and Prison – this structure blew my mind as every little detail defines Parisian royalty and importance.
Myself and a couple of others decided to head back into the city to carry on with our own walking tour; we visited The Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre Museum and Champs de Elysee. I have added these iconic sites to my to-go-visit collection, which i am over the moon about, and i know for sure it won’t be last time visiting. After the second walking tour of the day, the evening started to approach, with the final dinner in the main dining room, last drinks in the Panorama Lounge Bar, served by Valentin and Teodore, it was the perfect time to say thanks’, thanks to all the staff in the main dining room and bar because they were one of the most important factors towards my whole experience with Avalon Tapestry II. My hat goes off to all of the staff on the ship because the friendliness, helpfulness and service delivered was a 10/10 rating – i would pack my bags and go and live on the ship if i could do so.
To finish off an amazing week onboard Avalon Tapestry II, and to say ‘au revoir’ to Paris, we all decided to go out for a few drinks to the bar situated right outside the gangway, The Tavern Javelle – this was an extremely busy night with a lot people having fun, partying, and a great way to see a lot of French and other internationalities mingling, socialising and dancing. Myself and two others decided to take the night further into Paris city centre by taking a taxi ride to Grand Boulevard, visiting O‘Sullivans Irish Bar & Cafe – here was a great mix of different nationalities, and i found it really easy to talk to the locals, Guinness on tap for me, and that was a night, one which i’ll remember.
Disembarkation proceeded the following morning, being informed the previous day to have all luggage and corresponded colour labels (indicated which coach you was on) attached outside your cabin for collection by 09:00. The trip was coming to an end, and i couldn’t of thanked Avalon enough, so on behalf of myself at Vision Cruise i would like to thank Anna and Maxine, the two Avalon representatives, all of the other 20 travel agents, who were a great bunch of people and also Nico (Cruise Director), Captain Laurent and their fabulous team onboard Avalon Tapestry II. Au Revoir.
Videos – COMING SOON