Paris, the City of Light, entices with its lively Joie de vie, remarkable architecture, art, fashion, food, and history. Imagine strolling the banks of the Seine, exploring the world-class museums, or sipping coffee at a sidewalk café.
The Viking Seine/Normandy River Cruise starts and ends in Paris but makes noteworthy stops in picturesque Normandy. Guided excursions include Rouen, the capital of Normandy, the port city of Honfleur, immersion into Impressionist art, a day devoted to WWII history and the D-Day landing sites, and picturesque small rural villages.
Before my departure, Viking sent me a helpful packet of travel documents that answered all my questions. They provided emergency contact numbers just in case.
Like most Americans, I arrived in Paris via an overnight flight. After clearing baggage claim, I saw a woman holding a Viking Cruises sign. That was reassuring because I knew she would take care of my transportation needs. However, I hoped to meet up with my daughter-in-law, Amy, arriving about the same time but on a different flight. No worries; the Viking staff and the van driver found Amy and then joined me along with two other passengers. Soon afterward, we left the airport and headed toward the cruise ship.
Our cabins were naturally not ready when we arrived dockside (still before 10 am). But we were warmly welcomed onboard, and our luggage was stowed. Staff led us to the dining room, and we revived ourselves with tasty breakfast items from the buffet.
Despite the lack of sleep, Amy was ready for her first Parisian adventure, and I was excited to join her. We postponed exploring the ship and set foot toward the Eiffel Tower. (The Viking dock is close enough to make the walk.)
The iconic 1083-foot steel tower, constructed for the 1898 World’s Fair, stands as a beloved landmark. Visitors take the elevators up and gaze down upon the sprawling city. They take many photos and stroll around the adjoining field called the Champs du Mars and the surrounding gardens. Amy and I did all that, but I was dragging on the walk back to the Viking ship.
The Viking Fjorgyn
Fortunately, the Viking crew welcomed us again, and this time, they escorted us to our cabin on the upper level. We found the room with two single beds, floor-to-ceiling windows that slide open, and a small balcony with two chairs and a bistro table. The closet was big enough for us both, and we could stash our luggage under the beds.
Expect a small but functional bathroom. When not taking a shower, the doors open inward, providing more space, or at least it feels that way. Heated flooring adds an oh-so-nice touch when getting out of the shower.
The ship’s upper level includes the Aquavit Lounge with full-length windows and a popular, well-stocked bar. Outside the lounge, an espresso and cappuccino-making machine remain open 24/7 for self-service. Elves seem to replenish the complimentary pastries frequently.
The Viking Fjorgyn appeared new as it was built in 2020 specifically for the Seine River (and not used during the pandemic). The Scandinavian interior design feels sleek. She carries a maximum of 168 passengers in 84 outside staterooms (22 Standard Staterooms, 18 French Balcony Staterooms, 35 Veranda Staterooms, 7 Veranda Suites, and 2 Explorer Suites). The ship measures 410 feet in length and maintains a crew of 46. River cruise boats carry far fewer passengers than mega ocean liners. The limited number of guests quickly become friends as they gather at meals and on excursions.
There is no spa on this boat, as most Viking guests are more interested in the historical and cultural excursions. Viking provides pre-excursion information and excellent guides. Guests leave the cruise having experienced and learned much about France. Yet, they are pampered and catered to by the staff. The combination is ideal.
If you are wondering, Viking names their longships (river cruisers) after Norse sagas. Fjorgyn is the Norse Goddess of the Earth. In Norse mythology, Mother Earth, Fjorgyn has been associated with the start of the growing season. She was the mother of Thor, the mighty thunder god, and the son of Odin.
After nibbling on a late lunch, we took a few moments to unpack and settle. One of the significant advantages of cruising is not having to transfer luggage and constantly pack and unpack.
Everyone was called to their Muster Stations for a practice drill with life preservers. The Seine is not wide, and I suspect one could swim to either side without difficulty. However, Viking is wise to practice safety measures.
Afterward, all aboard sipped a champagne cocktail to officially start the cruise, followed by a relaxing, multi-course meal. The main restaurant rests on the mid-deck, below our cabin. Picture windows line the dining room, giving guests an almost 360-degree view. The central area stays ready for breakfast and lunch buffets.
Viking’s policy is open seating, so they don’t assign tables. Each meal offers a choice of daily selections and always includes the option for popular favorites, like Eggs Benedict, hamburgers, and steak or salmon. Wine and beer are complimentary at meals, and those with the Silver Spirits package may choose higher-priced drinks and wine anytime.
Itinerary and Shore Excursions
Paris- Day 2
A panoramic city tour of Paris began after breakfast. We, cruisers, boarded a bus and listened to a guide describe the famous sites as we passed. We stopped near Notre Dame to see the restoration work progressing on the cathedral. Our guide gave us free time to explore, shop, or grab a coffee in a nearby café.
The tour also included a stop for photos at the Eiffel Tower before returning to the ship for lunch. In the afternoon, Amy chose an excursion to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur, and I went on a Flavors of Paris outing, a delicious foodie tour. Others opted for the full-day excursion: Scenic Paris and Highlights of the Louvre.
That evening the glittering Eiffel Tower in the distance took center stage. It’s a pinch-me moment to see the illuminated icon sparkling like fireworks. Simply stunning.
La Roche- Guyon and Vernon – Day 3
The Fjorgyn sailed during the night; we reached La Roche-Guyon the following morning. An ancient castle and chateau hover on white chalk hills dominating a tiny village (population approximately 500).
Our cruise director, Mimi, led us on a walking tour through the gardens toward Chateau de La Roche-Guyon. The fortified keep, which overlooks the valley, is linked to the château via a mysterious stairway dug into the rock. The Château was built in the 12th century and featured a combination of medieval, Renaissance, and classical styles, including a formal kitchen garden. Various owners added rooms to the chateau over hundreds of years.
We climbed many stairs within the chateau, taking in panoramic autumnal views. Amy climbed the dark, secret stairway to the top of the keep.
Some travel lists include La Roche-Guyon as one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages,” and I tend to agree. I appreciated the opportunity to explore it.
The captain moved our boat to nearby Vernon, and most guests took an afternoon excursion that included a drive-by glimpse of Monet’s House and Garden named Giverny. His colorful home was closed for the season, so we went to Auvers-Sur-Oise. Auvers is where Vincent Van Gogh lived his last few months in 1890. The location gave him such a source of creative inspiration he completed 80 paintings in seventy days.
A guide led us through the little town that seemed like a nineteenth-century time capsule. We strolled cobblestone pathways past shuttered homes, flower boxes, greenery, and shops. We paused at the Eglise Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption, the church painted by Van Gogh. I loved comparing the Gothic building to the well-known painting.
We continued up a hill to the cemetery with the graves of Vincent and his brother Theo. The graveyard lies across from the fields that inspired another van Gogh masterpiece, The Wheatfield and Crows.
We ended the visit at Auberge Ravoux, the artist’s final home. Only two or three at a time could enter his tiny rented attic bedroom. It seemed to be filled with sadness. Afterward, the group watched an excellent video/slideshow of his art from the area.
Back onboard, the day ended with a special dinner: The Taste of France, the only buffet dinner on the cruise. The vast selection of delicious cheeses, entrees, and desserts overwhelmed me. I turned in with a full stomach and fond memories of two lovely small villages packed with history and art, plus too much fine food.
Rouen and Surroundings – Day 4
Rouen, the largest city in Normandy, offers one of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals in the world. The intricate designs on the exterior look like lace. Guided walking tours of the city speak of the town’s long history and Joan of Arc. Joan was burned at the stake in Rouen after her trial. A modern church stands on the site, the interior aglow with a beautiful wall of stained glass windows.
Amy took the afternoon excursion to Honfleur, a medieval port village with narrow cobblestone alleys and a central rectangular harbor in the middle. Unfortunately, it was raining the entire time, so she did not get the photos she had hoped.
I ventured past the bucolic countryside to a rustic old farm. Once there, I watched a trained sheepherding dog corral and move the animals about the field. This behavior was fascinating and fun.
Normandy is known for apples, apple cider, and the liqueur Calvados. My tour group strolled through the property’s apple orchard and cidery/distillery. We entered the tasting room to learn all about cider. To the French, cider means an alcoholic drink, whereas a non-alcoholic choice is apple juice. Calvados is stronger than cider.
D- Day- Day 5
The D-Day landing sites are a significant draw to the region, and Viking offers two full-day excursions. The tour aimed at Americans visits the Caen Memorial Museum and includes a documentary film. Our guide was a professor of history, so he gave us definitive information on the events during WWII.
We drove on to the 172-acre American Cemetery, with 9,387 American graves. The peaceful cemetery with white crosses stretches as far as the eye can see. It 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.
Viking arranges a special ceremony at “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves” statue. The playing of the Star Spangled Banner, followed by Taps, brought tears to almost everyone’s eyes. It was a very moving tribute and made me a proud American. We learned that the average age of the soldiers buried in the cemetery ranged from 19-22 years.
The tour moved on to Omaha Beach, another U.S. landing site. The long sandy expanse sat empty on this cold and dreary November day. A stunning memorial stands on the beach, honoring the critical events along this waterfront in 1944. Another monument memorializes the event in the open town square.
A second Viking day tour began with a stop at the famous Bayeux Tapestry, something I would have loved to see. It continues to Gold Beach and Arromanches, British and Canadian battle sites, Juno Beach, and the British cemetery in Ranville.
Les Andelys – Day 6
While the ship sailed in the morning, many attended a lighthearted cooking class from the chef and his assistant. They prepared a Tarte au Citron or Lemon Tart with ease. We received copies of the recipe; I will try replicating it at home.
The day was warm enough to sit outside on the Aquavit Terrace at lunchtime. Fortunately, we finished our meal before the rain started. As the boat approached the village of Les Andelys, we saw the fortress called Chateau Galliard. The buildings are ruins of Richard the Lionhearted castle, built between 1196-1198.
The group tour began in the rain, but as we climbed up the hill, a somewhat challenging walk, a rainbow appeared. We explored the ruins with superb panoramic views. When ready, we strolled downhill into the charming town with half-timbered buildings. There, some of us lingered for shopping.
After dinner, most of the guests participated in a fun game in the lounge. Cruise Director Mimi explained that we’d know the answers but had to pick the most likely response. The lively game ended with a party, music, and dancing. FYI: Don’t expect much professional entertainment on this cruise; most guests retire after dinner.
Paris Surroundings- Day 7
Our last full day began in La Pecq with a morning trip to Chateau de Malmaison, the magnificent home of Josephine and Napoleon. The house sits on the outskirts of France, but most tourists miss it (being too far for a taxi, and no direct bus route). Thanks to Viking, we were dropped off at the gate.
The excursion included a fascinating discussion on Josephine’s life, home, and gardens. Big surprise – this home was also where the Louisiana Purchase was laid out and signed. I am so glad I could visit this fascinating site. I now have the desire to learn more about Josephine.
After lunch, many chose to visit the Palace of Versailles, the flamboyant, over-the-top estate of Louis XIV, the Sun King. The extravagance in his estate makes you understand why the French Revolution occurred. While Louis XIV ruled competently during his long life, he spared no expense on himself, and later Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette took the extreme lifestyle over the edge.
Tip: The Palace is worth seeing, but always crowded. The King’s bed chambers, the Chapel, and the Hall of Mirrors do not disappoint, except for the hordes of tourists. The gardens spread over 2,000 acres (you will walk miles), but unfortunately, this cruise was in November, and the greenery could have been better (and we needed more time). If you plan to visit Versailles, arrange to go when the fountains are working. You won’t be disappointed. Otherwise, expect crowds and more gold leaf than you’ve ever seen!
Sadly, we neared the end of our time together. The boat moved while we were at Versailles, so the bus returned us to the dock in Paris. Guests, now friends, lingered over a lovely last dinner and prepared to travel home.
Disembarkment- Day 8
Viking distributed color-coordinated luggage tags to get everyone’s luggage to the right spot. They also assigned us to one of the frequent buses or vans leaving for the airport. The staff rechecked our luggage and loaded it into the vehicle.
Of course, some passengers chose to stay in Paris, and I wished I’d made that choice. But off to the airport I went, Viking staff staying with all until we were in the correct airplane check-in line. Au revoir.
I cherish memories of this fabulous cruise with my daughter-in-law and our adventures in France. If you are considering the Viking Seine cruise, go!
Many thanks to Viking River Cruises for hosting this fantastic voyage and AllThingsCruise.com for their assistance.
Photos credit Debi Lander
- American Cemetery
- Bayeux Tapestry
- Chateau Gaillard
- Chateau La Roche- Guyon
- Church Painted By Van Gogh In Auvers-Sur-Oise
- Front Lobby
- Rouen Cathedral (cover photo)
- Van Gogh Graves
- Veranda Suite
- Viking Fjorgyn Docked In Les Andelys
Ed. Notes: Please see cruises …