We returned on 28 October just beating the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. Traveling companions, who opted for further time in France, may have struggled to find a way home. As first -time Viking travelers, we were most impressed. The ship, Europe, was well-appointed, spotlessly clean, and comfortable. The well-trained, efficient crew was cordial and very responsive to passenger needs even needs that seemed somewhat outlandish.
We especially liked Viking’s practice of not locking passengers into fixed excursion groups. The flexible groupings served the needs of those who enjoyed or required a slow pace while not holding back those who wanted to “get up and go.” The included excursion schedule was well planned and provided good coverage given the seven day schedule though we were a bit disappointed that coverage did not include Pont du Gard.
Four optional excursions were offered. We booked two, Les Baux and Halles de Lyon food market. Both were a bit disappointing more because of our personal preferences than because of presentation quality.
· The Les Baux excursion included an en-route stop at Saint Paul de Mausole mental- hospital, which accommodated Vincent van Gogh for a year. By our arrival there, we had reached Van Gogh information-overload and would have preferred to wander the streets of Arles.
· The food-marked visit was described as walk through the market with the chef but the cruise director did most of the talking. We would have preferred the chef’s insights.
Ship’s Food. Fine: good selection, well presented, plentiful wine.
Pre-cruise (Marseille). We were pleasantly surprised . Marseille has reputation for grit and crime. The city is undergoing massive upgrades and should be quite beautiful by the next cruise season. The Viking representative was most helpful, and the included tour more than adequate to gain a good understanding of the city. For a quick and easy view of the city, try the hop-on/hop off bus.
Viking Booked Air Travel. We were routed through Charles de Gaulle inbound and Schiphol outbound. Both airports were chaotic. While their airport has some failings, the French maintained their charm and were helpful. The Dutch and Delta airline departure-staff were neither cordial nor helpful. On a positive note, we reported our misgivings concerning Schiphol to Viking and received a very positive, same-day response.
The French. Many American seem to dislike the French. We’re not in that camp. We found them to be courteous, cordial, often funny and self-deprecating, and good ambassadors for their country.