Sailing in France


Place of the Popes in Avignon
A must-see along the Rhone River is the Place of the Popes in Avignon.


The Rhine is popular, the Danube enticing, but the appeal of France’s rivers is joie de vivre. Here are top selling points cited by trade experts for selling a Rhone or Seine River cruise. 

In-Depth Exploration: One big plus of a French river cruise? On a typical seven-day cruise, your clients are able to explore one country in depth, rather than sailing on a Danube cruise that calls at Germany today, Slovakia tomorrow and Hungary the next. Most river lines have weeklong French voyages that allow guests to immerse themselves in the country’s culture. 

“Our [one-week] France itineraries are unique in that they are completely dedicated to the exploration of France, and they don’t extend to other countries,” notes Richard Marnell, senior vice president of marketing, Viking River Cruises. Clients interested in French river cruises typically choose from one of two regions, either Seine cruises in northern France or Rhone/Saone cruises further south.

“Cruising the Seine roundtrip is best for clients wanting an easy flight in and out of Paris, as roundtrip river cruises aren’t that common elsewhere," says Debby Hughes, owner, CruiseOne, Big Bear City, CA. “With an overnight on the ship in Paris, they have plenty of time to explore on their own, returning to their temporary home [the riverboat] at their leisure,” Hughes says. She also says these itineraries often visit Versailles as well as Monet’s home and gardens in Giverny

On a Seine River cruise, clients also have the option of visiting Normandy’s beaches to see World War II historical sites. Avalon Waterways’ offers a “Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches” sailing roundtrip from Paris on Creativity in 2013. In Rouen, clients may choose between two included shore trips—either a visit to the Normandy landing beaches or a taste of Normandy tour. Fares start at $2,399 per person double. 

“France as a country ranks the highest in terms of where visitors want to go, and such a big percentage of people [desire to sail there],” says Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-owner, AMA Waterways. While AMA Waterways has operated Rhone River cruises in southern France for years, in 2013 it will add new Seine itineraries. One is “Paris and Normandy,” a nine-night itinerary that includes two nights in Paris and a seven-night roundtrip Seine cruise on AmaLegro. Fares start at $2,499 per person double.


Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere
Lyon is home to architectural masterpieces such as Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere which can be marveled at from a cruise on the Rhone.


Further south, Viking River Cruises’ “Portraits of Southern France” is a seven-night voyage between Avignon and Chalon-sur-Saone. Passengers learn about the region’s wines, sample Burgundy varietals and dine on regional cuisine in Lyon. This 2013 itinerary, operated on several Viking vessels, is priced from $2,156 per person double. 

Another southern France option is Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s seven-night “Burgundy and Provence” voyage, sailing in 2013 between Arles and Lyon. Guests can have complimentary fine wine, beer and soft drinks during lunch and dinner onboard River Royale. Ashore, guests can choose from such tours as “Back Streets of Avignon” or “See Lyon as the Lyonnais Do.” Cruise fares start at $2,649 per person double. Pre- or Post-cruise extensions are available to Paris or Aix-en-Provence.

Many river lines combine both northern and southern France itineraries to create one longer vacation. Others feature a week or so in France combined with another experience. Scenic Cruises has expanded its France program for 2013 with the addition of a 14-night Amsterdam to Nice cruise. Guests sail for seven nights from Amsterdam to Basel followed by a new seven-night Chalon-sur-Saone to Arles cruise. 

Prices start at $7,145 per person, double including free flights to Europe and taxes if booked by September 30, 2012. Fare includes unlimited complimentary beverages, all meals, private butler service and Wi-Fi, as well as all excursions, events and entertainment, airport transfers, and all tipping and gratuities onboard and ashore. 

Wine, Culinary and Specialty Cruises: Wine is a hot commodity to draw in clients, notes Terry Jones of Cruises Inc., Herndon, VA: “Several of my clients who have taken the river cruises do so because they are wine enthusiasts. This has been the main attraction so far for my clients.” Cruising through Burgundy and Provence takes clients into the vineyards of southern France, with private wine-tasting events. Onboard sommeliers or vintners are featured on some cruises. 

“Clients sailing on the Rhone out of Lyon are treated to medieval architecture and Michelin three-star restaurants like Cour des Loges,” emphasizes Dana Clark McPherson, CEO and founder, LuxTastic Cruises, who has sailed on the southern route via AMA Waterways’ Swiss Pearl. Clients visit Beajoulais vineyards, Roman ruins, the hilltop towns of Oingt and Grignan, and the asylum where Van Gogh painted Starry Night. McPherson describes this cruise as luxurious and “a wine lovers dream.” 

AMA Waterways will expand its wine-themed cruises from eight this year to 22 next. While Paris and Normandy aren’t known as top wine producing regions, according to Karst, she stresses they’re close to the Champagne region and, on the new Seine cruises, “we’ll have well-known wines and champagnes on our ships, for tastings, seminars and lectures.” On the line’s Rhone wine-themed sailings, guests will taste wines from multiple regions and enjoy such shore activities as wine and chocolate tasting in an old castle.

“We’ve seen a resurgence of interest in the culinary aspects of France and Europe as a whole,” Viking’s Marnell emphasizes. “Hit movies like Julie & Julia and Ratatouille have awakened the palates of…guests who are interested in tasting and understanding the remarkable wine varietals, fine cheeses and regional cuisines that Europe offers.” Culinary enthusiasts sailing on Viking can utilize its new concierge service, which can arrange visits to highly rated local restaurants. 

A new culinary offering in 2013 is Avalon Waterways’ 15-night “Grand France Epicurean Discovery” cruise. It begins with a Cote d’Azur visit and then clients board the Scenery or Creativity in Arles for a river cruise on the Rhone and Saone Rivers to Avignon, Viviers, Tournon, Vienne, Lyon, Macon, Tournus, Chalon-sur-Saone and Beaune. That’s coupled with a Paris visit and a Seine River cruise. Cruise fares start at $5,209 per person double. Separately, a new weeklong culinary cruise roundtrip from Paris starts at $2,849 per person double. 

Clients interested in jazz? Avalon Waterways offers Seine jazz cruises with lectures and live jazz music onboard as well as free time in Vienne, site of France’s annual Jazz Festival; 10-night fares start at $3,349 per person double. 

For art enthusiasts, the second Impressionist Normandy Festival will unfold from April 27 to September 29, 2013, with exhibitions, shows, concerts and conferences. Art enthusiasts also might book Tauck’s new “Artistic Impressions: Monte Carlo to Paris” cruise. Operated by Swiss Emerald, the 13-night cruise vacation takes guests to a slew of art museums and art-focused sites; it’s priced starting from $7,190 per person double. 

River Cruises in France aren’t only for adults. On a nine-night “Bon Voyage: France Family River Cruise” by Tauck Bridges, families explore the Louvre on a scavenger hunt, have a picnic in Tuileries Gardens and visit a haunted mansion. In the Carmague, France’s “Wild West” region, families visit a ranch for a hayride. Fares begin at $4,690 per person for both children and adults.

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