Paris called to me with its iconic sights, outstanding museums, fantastic architecture, and fine French food and wine. No wonder it is one of Europe’s main draws.
When I read the Riviera River Cruises itinerary that starts and ends in Paris, with stops in Normandy, I knew it was for me. I’d visit wondrous destinations in Normandy I’d longed to see: the Rouen Cathedral, Bayeux Tapestry, and the D-Day landing sites. Plus, I’d get to revisit Monet’s Gardens.
I flew to Paris with my boyfriend, John, and we boarded the Jane Austen around 5 pm. MS Jane Austen, built in 2015, holds a maximum of 140 passengers, an ideal size boat as far as I’m concerned. I much prefer small river cruise boats to mega ocean liners. The other passengers become friends as you run into them during meals and excursions.
If you are wondering about the name, Riviera River Cruises boats are traditionally named after famous authors: Emily Bronte, Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, Geoffrey Chaucer, George Eliot, Lord Byron, William Shakespeare, and William Wordsworth.
Book this cruise yourself! MS Jane Austen MS Jane Austen (cruisecompete.com)
|Bayeux & Arromanches
|Giverny & Vernon
2022 Sails: Aug 23, Aug 30, Sep 6, Sep 13, Sep 20, Sep 27, Oct 11, Oct 25
2023 Sails: Apr 4, Apr 11, Apr 18, Apr 25, May 2, May 9, May 16, May 23, May 30, Jun 6, Jun 13, Jun 20, Jun 27, Jul 4, Jul 11, Jul 18, Jul 25, Aug 1, Aug 8, Aug 15, Aug 22, Aug 29, Sep 5, Sep 12, Sep 19, Sep 26, Oct 3, Oct 10, Oct 17, Oct 24
See all River Cruises departing from Paris
This cruise visits: Europe River Cruises, Seine River Cruises
Europe Shore Excursions
We were warmly welcomed into the sparkling lobby, registered, and escorted to our cabin on the upper Diamond Deck. This deck also includes an air-conditioned observation lounge and bar. We found a queen-sized bed, floor to ceiling windows that slide open. There isn’t a balcony area, but you almost feel like you are standing outdoors when you open the sliding doors.
We took a few moments to unpack and settle. One of the significant advantages of cruising is not having to transfer luggage constantly.
Our bathroom was small, as expected, but functional. When you aren’t taking a shower, leaving the doors open gives more room, or it at least feels that way. L’Occitane accessories, a French luxury line, were provided.
A welcome bottle of champagne arrived that we opened immediately. What a lovely way to celebrate the beginning of a cruise.
We were soon ready for dinner, as it had been a long travel day. The main restaurant rests on the mid-deck, below our cabin. It is lined with big windows. Riviera’s policy is open seating, so they won’t assign tables. The restaurant was not busy as many passengers arrived late, so we had a table to ourselves and enjoyed a delicious multi-course meal and wine (included in the drinks package at lunch and dinner.) We noticed the central area is used for breakfast and lunch buffets.
While we were tired enough to go to bed, at 10 pm, the captain would begin our adventure and move the boat closer to the small replica of the statue of Liberty (remember, the N.Y. lady was given to us from France) and the glittering Eiffel Tower in the distance. It’s magical to see the illuminated icon sparkling like a fireworks display.
The following day, we reached the village of Les Andelys, seeing Chateau Galliard on the hillside. The buildings are ruins of Richard the Lionhearted castle built between 1196-1198 (yes, that old!). This Riviera cruise features nine included visits and tours. On this day, Riviera took two groups of guests on an excursion to the site in the afternoon. One group chose to view the ruins from an overlook and then hike to explore them. The second group just overlooked the castle. My group walked downhill and back up, then explored the ruins with superb panoramic views. When ready, we strolled downhill into the charming town with half-timbered buildings. I’d never heard of Les Andelys before this cruise but was charmed.
Later we enjoyed another four-course dinner, always with table linens, silver service, and wine. You may choose from three entrees of the day (one is vegetarian) or pick from the always-available salmon and beef dinners. The dining room staff were extremely friendly and helpful.
We left the dock in Les Andelys early because a sound and light show would be projected onto the façade of Rouen Cathedral at 11pm. Oh dear, another late night! However, don’t miss it if you get the chance. The explosion of vibrant colors and technological mastery mesmerized the audience, who watched in stunned silence. Incredible! What an unexpected bonus and fantastic day.
The next morning, John and I got up early to walk into town so I could photograph the cathedral before the area became crowded with tourists. We returned in time to take Riviera’s guided walking tour of the city, learning about the cathedral’s long history and Joan of Arc. Joan was burned at stake in Rouen after her trial. A modern church stands on the site, architecturally unappealing to me, but once inside, aglow with a beautiful wall of stained glass windows. We lingered at the end of the tour, enjoying a coffee, and shopping.
After lunch, our cruise continued sailing down the Seine towards Caudebec. Many passengers spent time relaxing on the Sun Deck, and gazing at the limestone cliffs and villages along the river. Later in the afternoon, but before cocktail hour, the Riviera Cruise Director, Anette, provided an overview of the next day’s excursion. This is most helpful, along with the maps and detailed descriptions of the sites in the tour packet supplied in each cabin. The package is comprehensive and a lovely souvenir to recall your trip.
The guests were bused to Bayeux the following morning- a two-hour ride. The little town contains another magnificent cathedral, but its calling card is the priceless 950-year-old Bayeux Tapestry. Having done needlework in my younger years, I appreciated the intricate detail and symmetry throughout the 230-foot-long exquisite masterpiece. It tells the story of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hasting.
Since we would be out all day, Riviera provided bag lunches. I hate to admit it, but the white bread sandwich was not the best- just one thing slice of meat and cheese. They added fruit, a salad, a candy bar, and juice.
The D-Day landing sites came next, and Riviera went out of its way for us Americans. While the other passengers, all Brits, were taken to Arromanches, British battlefield sites, and the new British Memorial, John and I were driven to Pointe du Hoc. Here the U.S. soldiers climbed the steep cliffs while encountering enemy fire. The courage of these young soldiers overwhelms you when you see the bombed-out landscape and base of the German artillery guns. I now much better understand what happened in Normandy.
We moved on to Omaha Beach, another U.S. landing site. The sandy expanse surprised me; it was full of sunbathers and swimmers. A stunning memorial stands on the beach, honoring the critical events that happened along this lovely beach in 1944. Another monument stands in the open town square.
The last stop was the 172-acre American Cemetery, with 9,387 American War Dead graves. The peaceful cemetery with white crosses stretched as far as the eye can see honors the Americans lost in the Normandy battles. It’s an emotionally difficult place to visit, but one that keeps alive the memory of those who fought bravely to defend global freedom. We owe them much. The past three days of the cruise offered exceptional excursions now deeply etched in my memory.
Honfleur, a medieval village with narrow cobblestone alleys and a central rectangular harbor in the middle, provided the next day’s visit. It was market day, so overly crowded for my liking. I’m sure others loved it! But, had it not been a market day, I would have enjoyed photographing the streets of half-timber buildings, churches, and harbor.
For a change, we reserved dinner in the Lido Bistro at the terrace level on the back of the ship. I chose chateaubriand, and the entire meal was fantastic. The Lido serves an early breakfast if you get up early and want food at 6:30 am. They also have an espresso and cappuccino-making machine open 24/7. John was a fan of the espresso.
A stop in Vernon brought us to Monet’s House and Garden named Giverny. His colorful home features a buttery- lemon yellow dining room and a gorgeous blue and white tiled kitchen. Upstairs in the house, we saw the bedrooms and enjoyed the chance to look out the open windows over the gardens. The flower gardens offer many pathways to roam around.
An under-road tunnel leads to the water and lily pond gardens. These were not as colorful as I recalled; perhaps the hot weather was to blame. They are gorgeous anyway but are crowded. You can imagine Monet sitting in his rowboat and painting the enduring scene. Afterward, John walked up to Monet’s grave while I shopped. The gift shop here is extensive and one of the best.
In the afternoon, we explored Vernon on our own. The Old Mill House is a popular site for photographers, and a little castle next door adds to the scene. If only Rapunzel were inside, letting her long hair flow down the castle walls!
Sadly, it was nearing the end of the cruise. We docked in Paris and spent the night. Everyone was taken for a bus tour of the significant Paris sites the following morning. For a break, we stopped at Luxembourg Gardens and saw a few children floating boats on the pond and gardeners at work. This is a popular park for Parisians, but they typically leave the city in August.
The bus tour continued until we came to the Eiffel Tower. Many of the guests decided to stay and explore on their own. John and I walked down to Napoleon’s tomb and enjoyed lunch at an outdoor café. We made a very long walk back to the boat. If I were to suggest, it would be to run a bus to pick up those who stayed– perhaps three hours later.
That evening we were all treated to the most fantastic dinner. I believe it was seven courses, ending with flaming Baked Alaska. I was very impressed with all the meals and the food quality. It was above my expectations, for sure. (FYI: be sure to choose a cheese course for dessert sometime. The cheese is exceptional, and the chutney perfectly tops it off.)
The last morning, John and I left the boat via taxi as we were staying in Paris for two more days. The rest of the passengers were shuttled to the airport or train station.
Captain Ludovic was a real charmer. He’s only 33 years old but has spent his entire life on the water. He was born on a cargo ship. He takes his role very seriously; when I interviewed him, he said, “the thing that most worries him are the other boats. I know what I am doing, but I can’t predict what they will do.”
Cruise director Anette and her assistant Helena were very thorough, calm, and helpful. We didn’t seem to have any problems, but I don’t doubt they could have managed any situation.
One night we enjoyed playing trivia after dinner. In fact, most of the guests onboard joined in. This was a fun way to extend the evening. There is not much entertainment on the cruise if you are expecting that.
I never had time to go to the Emerald Deck for the spa and wellness area. However, John and I did visit the machine room with the chief engineer, who explained the ship’s working. He is very competent and an essential member of the crew.
I would absolutely recommend Riviera River Cruises and sailing with them again. I feel the boat, the staff, and the cruise line offer an authentic travel experience at a reasonable cost.
Thanks to Riviera for sending a packet of travel documents before departure that answered all questions. They provided emergency contact numbers just in case.
Many, many thanks to Riviera River Cruises for a fabulous adventure and AllThingsCruise.com for arranging this lovely cruise.
Cover photo courtesy Riviera River Cruises / Others courtesy Debi Lander