Two River Cruise Sellers Offer Advice: "How to Sell the Seine River"

Avalon Waterways Creativity is shown above in Paris, where guests get a superb view of the Eiffel Tower.  // Photo courtesy of Avalon Waterways

If a client wants to spend a few days in Paris but also to see the French countryside, tour Monet’s Giverny, stroll through Honfleur or Rouen, and see the beaches of Normandy, a Seine River cruise is a great way to cover the territory.  

We asked two experienced Seine River cruisers to provide their insight on the best clients, top sites and good marketing hooks for these cruises. Here's a look at the responses from Ace Consolacion, an independent consultant for Travel Leaders, in Lynnwood, WA, who sailed on the Seine in 2013 with a group of 23 other people, including his wife, and Shari Marsh of Cruise Holidays (Vacation.com) in Raleigh, NC, also with recent experience on the French river.

River cruisers can stroll to such iconic Paris monuments as the Arc de Triomphe. // Photo by Ruthanne Terrero

What clients are best for the Seine River?

“There are several cruises along the Seine River that cater to specific interests -- history buffs, wine connoisseurs, culinary groups and pure fun-seekers,” says Consolacion, but he also believes any group will find more than they expect, or pay for, because of the unmatched scenery, diversity, history and richness of the regions along the river.

Marsh escorted a small group on a Seine River cruise from Paris to Normandy in November 2014. They sailed on AmaWaterways. “I went believing this cruise was perfect only for lovers of World War II history, my husband being one of them,” says Marsh. “I was absolutely wrong. This cruise is just as inviting for all people who love cruising the rivers.”

Conclusion: It can be a great river for those with a specific interest, whether history, wine, cuisine or World War II, but it can be a great itinerary just for those who love river cruising because of the diversity of sites and scenery along the river.

What are the top sites for journeys along this river? Top draws?

“Normandy was, of course, our main stop, but I think everyone absolutely fell in love with all the towns,” notes Marsh. “Rouen was amazing.”

She also says Honfleur was a big draw – “mussels were available everywhere and were being eaten at sidewalk cafes by everyone, including me.” She also liked learning about Calvados (apple-flavored brandy) and cider on this voyage.

“And Paris, who doesn’t love Paris," Consolacion asks? He recommends anyone taking a Seine river cruise to stay a few extra days in Paris. “If you have extra time and can carry on conversational French, you will discover some of the hidden secrets of this beautiful city,” he believes

For artists and travelers alike, Montmartre should merit a day’s visit, he suggests. "From the grounds of the Sacre-Couer Cathedral, one can see the expansive view of the city of Paris.”

Giverny is among the scenic spots visited on many Seine river cruises.  // Photo provided courtesy of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection.

He also cites the Seine’s scenic banks with the destinations of Rouen, Honfleur and Les Andelys. “Les Andelys is tucked into a bend where the Seine winds past white limestone cliffs,” Consolacion notes. “ High above are the ruins of Chateau Gaillard, built by England's Richard the Lionhearted in the 12th century to guard his Normandy holdings.

The historic port of Honfleur is "so beloved by Impressionists as well as artists today because of its picturesque waterfront.” Monet's Giverny home and gardens is another draw. 

But for Consolacion, the storied shores of Normandy will always remain as the highlight of any regional visit. “There is a full-day excursion to the landing sites at Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery,” he says, noting that an American family lives within the compound, in charge of maintaining the sacred grounds of the place and financed by U.S. tax dollars.

“The eeriness and calmness of the place command respect, silence, gratitude and prayers for those who sacrificed their lives for the freedoms that we so cherish,” emphasizes Consolacion. Next year marks the 72nd anniversary of the Normandy beach landings on June 6, 1944. 

Conclusion: Three big pluses emerge for this itinerary. First, there’s Paris – the storied City of Light with its centuries of history, style, culture, cuisine and “ooh, la, la” fun. Second, the river meanders through areas of scenic beauty dotted with such appealing destinations as Honfleur or Rouen. And third, the World War II sites of Normandy await, for history buffs or those simply desiring to pay their respects to those who sacrificed so much for freedom.

What add-ons or special experiences would you suggest?

Bordeaux, shown above, makes a good pre- or post-cruise extension to a Paris river cruise. // Photo by Susan J. Young

“I would definitely add on extra days in Paris,” says Marsh. She also says it’s possible, such as two of her clients are doing this summer, to sail from Paris to Normandy, return to Paris, take a high speed train ride provided by the line, and then board a second cruise ship from Lyon to Provence.

“They will have taken in most all of France in 18 days.”Consolacion says any visit to France is not complete without visiting exploring the wine country’s wine regions including Burgundy and Beaujolais, among others.

“For pre- or post-cruise extensions, I will definitely recommend visiting either Mont St. Michel, Brittany or Bordeaux,” he stresses.

Conclusion: Paris is a top add-on. So is a visit to France’s wine regions, or a second river cruise from Lyon to Provence.

What hooks (promotion/marketing) work for this type of voyage?

Marsh says for most people, it’s Normandy. She acknowledges that she really didn’t understand the history of the Normandy invasion but through museum films she viewed while in the region, she learned so much about the D-Day invasions. “They keep your attention and overview the plan of attack in easy layman’s terms,” she says.

“Everyone I spoke with said they now ‘get it.’ And every American should come to understand it.” But Marsh knows that not all have that bent, and if so, “French food and wine are always in vogue.”

Even if clients aren't interested in World War II history, they'll find many other historical sites in Normandy. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Determine the kind of interest your clients have, says Consolacion, citing the regional special interest draws – history, cuisine, wine and so on. Show videos of your visit, he says, and give personal accounts of your hands-on experience to help generate interest.

Conclusion: Good promotional hooks include D-Day or client special interests that revolve around history, culture, wine and cuisine.

Any feedback you can provide about what’s liked or not liked? What makes the voyage special?

Consolacion's clients typically come back raving about a Seine River cruise. “Some clients may have fallen in love with one place, others will have other places that won their hearts,” he finds.

He recommends a visit to France, especially a river cruise, to those celebrating a milestone in their lives such as a wedding anniversary. “Any river cruise company will make such an event so special and memorable to any client,” he says.

On a cautionary side, though, Consolacion believes travel in July or August in Europe can be too hot for some clients. Agents might advise their clients who don't tolerate heat well to avoid those months. 

The Eiffel Tower makes a great backdrop whether clients are dining at a rooftop restaurant or watching from the deck of a river ship. // Photo by Ruthanne Terrero

For example, during his July cruise, France was having a heat wave which impeded clients taking walking tours and museum and cathedral visits. “These buildings [many of them] have no air-conditioning, so it was like being in an oven,” he stresses. 

One positive from Marsh? On the evening of sailing from Paris, the captain of her vessel waited until after dark, then sailed the ship down the river so guests could enjoy a glass of wine on deck, the ambience of Paris and the thrill of seeing the Eiffel Tower twinkling in splendor, she notes. 

“He waited for two or three rounds of that -- about 15 minutes apart, and then took the ship back up river to begin the journey,” Marsh stresses. “It’s not on the way. He went out of his way to do this for the guests."

Any trends that you're seeing for the Seine in 2015?

From Marsh’s perspective, the Seine has typically been an "after-thought" cruise. Clients might say, “I never really thought about that."

Now, however, she says it's one of her most requested river cruises. "I’d say it has definitely moved up in popularity," she says. 

Similarly, Consolacion sees more and more people visiting Europe and France specifically.

His take?: "There are river cruises and small and big ship cruises all over, and [motorcoach] tours too, but a river cruise in the French waterways is to me the best way to see the country.”

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