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  #1  
Old February 18th, 2013, 05:28 PM
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Default New to River Cruising - Have Questions

I am looking into booking our first River Cruise in 2014. We are in our mid fifties and interested in a wine themed cruise in France. I like the AMA itinerary better than Viking for this region as AMA seems more wine-intensive with more interesting port options.

Can someone explain cruise only vs cruise and land fares? On AMA, for example, on the Provence & Spain cruise the description is for 3 nights in Paris, 7 night cruise, and 3 nights in Barcelona. So cruise only would only be just the 7 nights? Then what about airport transfers?

Would you recommend spring or fall over summer for this cruise? I'm more interested in leafy scenery with flowers, not chilly weather.

Also do most of you book through website, over the phone, or use a TA? I haven't used a TA in years except for a trip to French Polynesia because it was so complex.

Thanks for any advice!
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RCCL - Song of America -Eastern Caribbean -May 1984
RCCL - Sun Viking - Southern Caribbean - May 1986
RCCL - Sovereign of the Seas - Eastern Caribbean - May 1989
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RCCL - Adventure of the Seas - Southern Caribbean - March 2003
RCCL - Serenade of the Seas - Southern Caribbean - March 2006
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RCI - Allure of the Seas - Eastern Caribbean - January 2011
RCI - Freedom of the Seas - Holiday Cruise -December 2011

Celebrity Reflection - Eastern Caribbean - January 2014
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  #2  
Old February 18th, 2013, 05:51 PM
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We visited Spain and Portugal on a land cruise Sept 2012 and were told by the locals that we had picked a great time to visit. Spring, we were told, can bring rain and cool weather, whereas September is typically dry and warm.
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  #3  
Old February 18th, 2013, 08:10 PM
franski franski is offline
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September is a really popular time to do wine-themed cruises... They do sell out quite quickly.

Scenic is, I believe, the only company that does more than 7 nights on the river - they do 12. Everyone else has built their packages around a 7 night cruise.

We are doing the south of France with Avalon next year - and the package is 11 days.... We spend 1 night in the Cote D'Azur at the beginning of the cruise, and then 2 nights in Paris at the end. We will be taken from our hotel in Monte Carlo to the boat - and then from the boat to our hotel in Paris after the cruise.

If you book just the cruise, then you need to look at transfers. Scenic, Uniworld (and, I believe Tauck) include transfers even if you don't book their air. Avalon, Viking and AMA will only include transfers if you book air with them. This usually isn't a problem if you are flying into/out of large cities (ie: Paris, Amsterdam, Budapest, Vienna...) - as it can be quite easy to find the dock on your own. Smaller towns might be a bit more of a challenge - so booking air with the cruise line can be less hassle. It may depend on your comfort booking travel on your own.

As far as booking, many book directly with the cruise line themselves - and others use a TA. We won't book anything significant without a TA - but that is our preference. Either way would work.

DH and I are in our mid-50's... and truly enjoy this mode of travel.

Fran

Last edited by franski; February 18th, 2013 at 08:11 PM.
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  #4  
Old February 19th, 2013, 02:27 PM
Andromeda93 Andromeda93 is offline
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We have really enjoyed river cruising and it is a great way to easily see small towns you otherwise wouldn't come across (or at least not without a lot of trains etc). You're right that 'cruise only' is just that, but transfers are usually pretty easy to set up yourself or with the help of the CC and TripAdvisor forums for your arrival/departure cities.

Most cruise lines also offer an option to pay for an 'air deviation' - where you are buying airfares through them, but arriving or departing on different days than the ones they have purchased in bulk for your gateway city. The prices and availability of this service varies by the cruise line.

You might try reading passenger Cruise Reviews on CC for river cruises to see which lines are preferred by travelers with similar likes/dislikes to you. Individual amenities, smoking policies and food may vary a lot from line to line and even from ship to ship. For example, I recently read a passenger review stating that AMA Waterways has started offering a fee-free 'specialty restaurant' in the rear lounge, but only on certain ships. You can also get an idea of what time of year will offer the weather and scenery you'd prefer. That kind of thing.

In terms of using a TA vs booking with the cruise line directly, I was surprised to find that using a TA was really helpful. For both river and ocean cruising, TAs were able to get better deals than I could find online or by calling the lines directly - at least for sailings arranged well ahead of time where we chose our specific cabin(s). For last-minute deals just to fill specific sailings, I don't know who has better deals. On one river cruise, a TA secured a 'group discount' for a booking of just three cabins. On the next we had only two cabins, but the TA passed along the 'returning passenger' discount from the cruise line and also got us a bit of extra fare reduction. On an ocean cruise, as many have said TAs can offer prepaid gratuities and some on-board credits that may not be available from the lines themselves. BTW I am not a TA; just a passenger. We usually buy everything independently (airfare, transfers, train tix etc) but have had very good luck with TAs for booking each cruise itself.

Also FYI a well-traveled couple we met on an ocean cruise took a wine cruise on the Rhone last spring, and said that if they could have stayed more days in Lyon in advance of sailing they would have. Apparently it's a gastronomic and food/wine center of France and really worth some extra days. I know there is TGV service from Paris to Lyon, so it would be easy to get there without using a cruise transfer.

Lastly, if you can swing it, please try NOT to arrive in your embarkation city on the day of sailing. Allow at least one extra day (or more) if at all possible. If you are arriving from outside of western Europe, it will help w/ the jet lag. No matter where you are coming from, it will ease your mind knowing if you have a flight delay, a train strike or your luggage does not arrive with you, there will be time to 'catch up' before sailing. When we sailed from Amsterdam on a river cruise, there were three couples from Australia who didn't get to the ship until day 3 because of mechanical problems with their overseas flights and weather delays within Europe. Another time on an ocean trip we met passengers whose luggage didn't make it for several days. Spare yourself this kind of stress so you won't miss anything and can enjoy your trip to the fullest!
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Old February 19th, 2013, 03:24 PM
Talisker92 Talisker92 is offline
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We took a river cruise through Burgundy with Vantage. We had a number of wine tastings, and visited some Burgundy vineyards I had only read about.
The cruise went from Nice to Lyon and ended in Paris.
The story of our trip is on our website. We are happy to answer any questions.
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Old February 19th, 2013, 03:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andromeda93 View Post
Lastly, if you can swing it, please try NOT to arrive in your embarkation city on the day of sailing. Allow at least one extra day (or more) if at all possible. If you are arriving from outside of western Europe, it will help w/ the jet lag. No matter where you are coming from, it will ease your mind knowing if you have a flight delay, a train strike or your luggage does not arrive with you, there will be time to 'catch up' before sailing.
I can't always swing extra time before (or after....) - so I try to book connections that are NOT the last of the day --> even if it means a really early flight the day before.

I always have a Plan B (ie: if I miss my connection, when is the next flight out....) and pack a change of clothes in my carry on.

I also try to get an hour (or two) of sleep when we first arrive. I do not sleep well on planes (I am very nocturnal, and usually find we land in Europe around the time I would normally be going to bed!!) so find a "power nap" takes the edge off, but still lets me go to bed at a reasonable time that 1st night and get a good night's sleep.

Fran
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Old February 19th, 2013, 04:38 PM
Andromeda93 Andromeda93 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by franski View Post
I can't always swing extra time before (or after....) - so I try to book connections that are NOT the last of the day --> even if it means a really early flight the day before.

I always have a Plan B (ie: if I miss my connection, when is the next flight out....) and pack a change of clothes in my carry on.

I also try to get an hour (or two) of sleep when we first arrive. I do not sleep well on planes (I am very nocturnal, and usually find we land in Europe around the time I would normally be going to bed!!) so find a "power nap" takes the edge off, but still lets me go to bed at a reasonable time that 1st night and get a good night's sleep.

Fran
Totally understand re inability to extend a trip. You've found some great solutions help minimize the chance of problems.

BTW I read in a recent river cruise review that the reviewer's ship allowed passengers to embark the morning of the sailing, store their luggage, & 'power nap' in the lounge while staterooms were cleaned etc. - even though embarkation time was officially 3pm for that voyage. Thought that was an interesting option.
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  #8  
Old February 19th, 2013, 05:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andromeda93 View Post
Totally understand re inability to extend a trip. You've found some great solutions help minimize the chance of problems.

BTW I read in a recent river cruise review that the reviewer's ship allowed passengers to embark the morning of the sailing, store their luggage, & 'power nap' in the lounge while staterooms were cleaned etc. - even though embarkation time was officially 3pm for that voyage. Thought that was an interesting option.
I have been able to board early once ... had a quick bit to eat, and "rested my eyes" in the lounge before heading out to walk a bit.

I have usually had transfers included in our package, so haven't had to find our way to the boat. When we did travel in a couple of days early, there was a hotel "meeting place" on day of embarkation - so only had to find that spot, and transfers arranged from there.

First time on our own is this April - but the first night is in a hotel, so arrival time shouldn't be an issue.

Fran
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Old February 19th, 2013, 06:57 PM
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Thank you for all of the helpful responses!

Franski: From reading other posts it seems most recommend mid-May to mid-June or September, I suppose avoiding the crowded summer months for the most part. I am looking at all the major lines and looking at the detailed day to day itineraries is helpful in deciding what feels right for us. The reason for the transfer question was because we have complimentary international tickets we want to use, so we want to book the international flight ourselves. I also have a recommendation for an Amex European travel specialist in my area, so I will likely look into that. We have only been to Europe once on a Mediterranean cruise so I have lots of research to do. We have cruised a lot on the big ships but don't find them to be that relaxing, so we really want to try a river cruise. I thought a wine-themed cruise would be a good first one since my husband especially is into wines and we have really enjoyed our Napa trips.

Andromeda93: I have been reading cc reviews, I find the information here so helpful in planning both land and sea trips. Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor are starting points for all my research. We always like to arrive at least a day before our cruises; we too have heard the "missed the boat stories"! Thanks for the tip on Lyon - gastronomic/food-wine fits right in with our interests.

We also plan on spending some time in Paris, so if any of you have favorite things to do or places to eat I'd love to hear from you!
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RCCL - Song of America -Eastern Caribbean -May 1984
RCCL - Sun Viking - Southern Caribbean - May 1986
RCCL - Sovereign of the Seas - Eastern Caribbean - May 1989
RCCL - Splendour of the Seas - Circle the Caribbean - March 2000
RCCL - Adventure of the Seas - Southern Caribbean - March 2003
RCCL - Serenade of the Seas - Southern Caribbean - March 2006
RCCL - Freedom of the Seas - Western Caribbean - April 2007
RCCL - Monarch of the Seas - Baja Mexico - February 2008
RCCL - Independence of the Seas - Mediterranean - July 2008
RCI - Allure of the Seas - Eastern Caribbean - January 2011
RCI - Freedom of the Seas - Holiday Cruise -December 2011

Celebrity Reflection - Eastern Caribbean - January 2014
AMA Waterways - Spain and Provence - May 2014
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  #10  
Old February 20th, 2013, 01:18 AM
franski franski is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yvie View Post
From reading other posts it seems most recommend mid-May to mid-June or September, I suppose avoiding the crowded summer months for the most part.
Yes, summer months can be crowded - and air prices can be higher as well.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Yvie View Post
The reason for the transfer question was because we have complimentary international tickets we want to use, so we want to book the international flight ourselves.
Scenic and Uniworld include transfers - on day of embarkation and disembarkation - even if you book your own air. Of course, this isn't of much help if you extend on either end.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Yvie View Post
I also have a recommendation for an Amex European travel specialist in my area, so I will likely look into that
They may be specialist in European travel, but do they have knowledge about river cruises? All is not lost if they do not.... but you may have to do some research and provide them with info. Our 1st river cruise in 2008 was also the 1st river cruise our TA ever booked. I have done LOTS of research, and share everything I learn... so she is quite knowledgeable now. She is great for helping up plan our transportation - but usually I do my homework re: the cruise itself, and then ask her to book.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Yvie View Post
We also plan on spending some time in Paris, so if any of you have favorite things to do or places to eat I'd love to hear from you!
There is so much to see - and do - in Paris, I don't know where to start... Any idea on what you are hoping to see? My only suggestion would be to identify a few "must see" items, then a list of "if we have time...." things. Or - pick an area, and focus on that. You will drive yourself crazy trying to do everything in a few days.

Fran
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  #11  
Old February 20th, 2013, 05:57 AM
caviargal caviargal is offline
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We are booked for 2014 on the only Provence wine theme cruise AMA offers in the fall. This is the season we prefer to visit and the fall colors are beautiful. It is also harvest, which is not in the spring.

Many of our vacations are wine related and we always schedule those for October and November as this is the main season.

We have done one wine theme cruise with AMA and it was outstanding! They take a different approach from other river cruise companies and actually have a sponsoring vineyard. On ours it was St. Francis and along with the CEO and marketing director, a good number of their wine club members were aboard. It was on the Rhine and Moselle itinerary and was great fun!

We looked at this with Avalon before we took our first AMA cruise (we are now AMA loyalists) and their wine cruises had some tastings, etc. but no where near as extensive and inclusive a program as AMA offers. If you are really a wine afficianado, AMA's wine cruises are top notch.
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Old February 21st, 2013, 12:14 PM
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Caviargirl, I am trying to determine the best month for our cruise, and some resources say September and October have high rainfall. I would much rather have good weather than choose to go at crush time as we have visited Napa during that season several times.

So, to those of you who have traveled to the region a lot, and know the weather patterns, what are your thoughts? I was looking at mid-may to mid-June or September.
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RCCL - Song of America -Eastern Caribbean -May 1984
RCCL - Sun Viking - Southern Caribbean - May 1986
RCCL - Sovereign of the Seas - Eastern Caribbean - May 1989
RCCL - Splendour of the Seas - Circle the Caribbean - March 2000
RCCL - Adventure of the Seas - Southern Caribbean - March 2003
RCCL - Serenade of the Seas - Southern Caribbean - March 2006
RCCL - Freedom of the Seas - Western Caribbean - April 2007
RCCL - Monarch of the Seas - Baja Mexico - February 2008
RCCL - Independence of the Seas - Mediterranean - July 2008
RCI - Allure of the Seas - Eastern Caribbean - January 2011
RCI - Freedom of the Seas - Holiday Cruise -December 2011

Celebrity Reflection - Eastern Caribbean - January 2014
AMA Waterways - Spain and Provence - May 2014
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Old February 21st, 2013, 12:25 PM
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I have been to Europe ~30 times. We will not go between June and September. May is pretty but fall is our favorite with winter next.
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Old February 21st, 2013, 01:06 PM
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What do you like about visiting in winter? I live in Minnesota year round and have more than enough winter. Just curious. I have been reading a lot of your posts on these boards and they are very helpful!
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RCCL - Song of America -Eastern Caribbean -May 1984
RCCL - Sun Viking - Southern Caribbean - May 1986
RCCL - Sovereign of the Seas - Eastern Caribbean - May 1989
RCCL - Splendour of the Seas - Circle the Caribbean - March 2000
RCCL - Adventure of the Seas - Southern Caribbean - March 2003
RCCL - Serenade of the Seas - Southern Caribbean - March 2006
RCCL - Freedom of the Seas - Western Caribbean - April 2007
RCCL - Monarch of the Seas - Baja Mexico - February 2008
RCCL - Independence of the Seas - Mediterranean - July 2008
RCI - Allure of the Seas - Eastern Caribbean - January 2011
RCI - Freedom of the Seas - Holiday Cruise -December 2011

Celebrity Reflection - Eastern Caribbean - January 2014
AMA Waterways - Spain and Provence - May 2014
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Old February 21st, 2013, 03:29 PM
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Frommers.com is a great resource for DIY walking tours. I use them heavily for big cities or historical neighborhoods. They also have accompanying maps.

Fodors is also good and sometimes you can get Rick Steves which are excellent for their walking tours.
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Old February 22nd, 2013, 05:32 AM
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Quote:
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What do you like about visiting in winter? I live in Minnesota year round and have more than enough winter. Just curious. I have been reading a lot of your posts on these boards and they are very helpful!
We live in FL so welcome the change in weather. I can see why the cold temps may not appeal as much to you.

We love the Christmas markets and enjoy the holiday season much more in Europe where we can experience their festivities and traditions.

We enjoy the lower prices on flights and hotels, fewer crowds, fewer boats on the river.

We are headed to Italy and Greece this year mid to late October which is the earliest we go.
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Old February 22nd, 2013, 01:18 PM
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Hi Yvie ~ “met” you on a different thread – gave you info about the guide we used in Chateauneuf-du-pape. We were there because Avignon was the end of our first River Cruise – Viking’s Portraits of Southern France – Saone & Rhine Rivers, We fell in love with RCing!! Have 2 more booked! We also did, on our own, 4 days pre-cruise in Paris and post-cruise 2 days in Avignon and 4 in Nice. Cruise was October 21st to 28th and we had a great time despite the weather but would go a little earlier in the future – 2014 cruise leaves Oct. 4th. We chose the Rhone cruise mainly because DH is really “into” wine and didn’t fail us!

Weather: I will always associate Paris with rain and gloomy weather + an expensive umbrella DH had to buy – he didn’t come prepared!! But we still have a good time and will go back in 2014 either pre or post. I kept a check on weather last year and it was always rainy in Paris! and all of France!! Cruise 3 weeks after us ran into problems because of low bridges and they couldn’t get to many ports – people had to be bused to excursions. Our cruise weather was actually good – grey skies but dry most times.

Lyon: a fabulous city!! We docked overnight so had a day and a half there. Excursion the first morning and many of us stayed for lunch and short walk back to the ship. Very walkable city – only disappointment for DH (also an historian) the resistance museum was closed for renovation! Lyon is known for food and silk – 3 of us women took a walk to a silk shop before we departed, had a great time and got back to find the guys playing petanque, the French version of bocci, on the river bank alongside the ship. And the cruise director was serving pastis, a drink with liquor. It was SO different then Ocean Cruising!!!

Transfers: as said, most cruise lines only include transfers if you buy air from them. We didn’t like the cruise pre/post packages and preferred to book our own hotels so we choose where we stay. That left getting from Paris to Chalon-sur-Saone, departing port for our cruise. (Had we sailed from Paris it would have meant just a cab ride but Chalon was further.) I tried to buy transfers from Viking but it was a no-go – found out others had same experience. So we bought train tickets way ahead of time. Train was full of people (about 25-30) all with the red Viking baggage tags- which was great so we could identify each other when the train broke down on the way and was taken out of service! Luckily I had the ship’s direct phone number (among the paperwork sent to us pre-trip) and DH’s cell had international plan so he called to say the whole group of us would be delayed – really no big deal since sailing was not until about noon next day. We were pleasantly surprised when the Cruise Director called back with info about getting the next train, etc. Lesson learned – be early and be prepared – and look for fellow passengers!!!

Paris: like London or NYC, you can’t see everything you’d like to in a limited time! (Maybe a month, but…) As Fran said – make a list and don’t stress over what you don’t see! First time we went to London I felt so frantic because we had to see “everything”! DH said all he saw was my back and I was saying “come on we have time for more”! Luckily we’ve been back to London a few times but I’ve also learned to relax and enjoy what we do see – and make YOUR own list and don’t let others tell you want you want to see! We sent at least 4 hours at Napoleon’s tomb and the Musee de Armee because that’s DH’s love, history! I feel like the only woman who goes to Paris and never sets foot into the Louvre!!! But that was his choice and I got Versailles!!! Next time the Louvre!!! Everyone enjoys different things and while we can learn from others’ experiences, you won’t get the most out of a city unless you do what your likes are, be it museums, shopping, theater, food markets, etc. Read up – then go and enjoy!!!

If you’ve lasted this long you deserve a medal!!! But if you’d like to see some photos of our trip the links are below. I’m much better taking photos then writing about the trips!!

Paris SlideShow

Cruise SlideShow

Provence Slide Show
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Old February 22nd, 2013, 01:39 PM
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caviargal ~ I know this is not the thread but we'll be taking our first Christmas Market cruise in December on the Rhine River from Basel to Amsterdam. We've been to Amsterdam twice before but never to Basel.

Would love to hear any suggestions, comments, advice you have from your Christmas Markets cruises or trips. Thanks much!
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Old February 22nd, 2013, 02:32 PM
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Peg - All I can say is wow! I just finished watching your slideshows and loved, loved it! Very creative and your photos are beautiful. You and your husband look like such a fun couple! Your pictures of St. Paul de Vence reminded me of our visit there 4 years ago on a cruise. Such a beautiful, charming walled town. I had the best gelato of my life at the little shop near the entrance - lemon meringue pie gelato! Even better than what we sampled in Italy.

Right now I am on information overload. I have only been researching a week but am definitely getting a sense of cruise line, itinerary, and dates that I think would work best for us.

I agree totally with trying to relax and enjoy the sights. That is one of the reasons for wanting to try a river cruise. On our Mediterranean cruise we had a private guide who picked us up in Cannes, then drove us to Monte Carlo, Eze, the Villa de Rothschild, St. Paul de Vence, and back to Cannes in a little over 8 hours. Talk about a whirlwind tour! But I am the one who decided to pack so much into our itinerary - lesson learned.

When you visited Chateauneuf-du-Pape it looks from your photos you visited several wineries. Did the guide you used set up and suggest the itinerary or did you?

Thanks for sharing such helpful information. I may have additional questions for you once we finalize our cruise and port stops. I will definitely be viewing your slideshows again and taking notes.
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Carnival - Carnivale - Caribbean - March 1982
RCCL - Song of America -Eastern Caribbean -May 1984
RCCL - Sun Viking - Southern Caribbean - May 1986
RCCL - Sovereign of the Seas - Eastern Caribbean - May 1989
RCCL - Splendour of the Seas - Circle the Caribbean - March 2000
RCCL - Adventure of the Seas - Southern Caribbean - March 2003
RCCL - Serenade of the Seas - Southern Caribbean - March 2006
RCCL - Freedom of the Seas - Western Caribbean - April 2007
RCCL - Monarch of the Seas - Baja Mexico - February 2008
RCCL - Independence of the Seas - Mediterranean - July 2008
RCI - Allure of the Seas - Eastern Caribbean - January 2011
RCI - Freedom of the Seas - Holiday Cruise -December 2011

Celebrity Reflection - Eastern Caribbean - January 2014
AMA Waterways - Spain and Provence - May 2014
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Old February 22nd, 2013, 10:06 PM
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Yvie - thanks SO Mich for the compliment regarding the photos!

Post cruise we used took the Chateauneuf-du-pape tour almost by accident - but were SO happy we did! I think all cruises that do that ininerary include a Chat excursion. When we received our "last minute" cruise info it stated that in Avignon there was a tour of the Papal Palace/town and 2 optional tours: Chat & also one going to Pont du Gard, the Roman aquaduct built in the 1st Century.

Problem:we wanted to see both! Since we had planned to spend 2 nights in Avignon I began researching vineyard tours and found Olivier. Originally it was just us on the tour but I said from the onset that it'd be OK if others joined. He emailed me while we were on the cruise that 6 other aduts (with their own car) we interested in joining and that would mean we could have a 4-course wine included lunch - sold!!

We went to 4 vineyards - his choice but we told him what we were intersted in. He picked us up at our hotel and also dropped us off. It was just about an 8-hour day of wine, wine, wine - fabulous!!! The passengers who went on the cruise excursion to Chat said it was very good - I think our was more special because it was more personal - but also more expensive!!! (Was DH's Christmas present!!!)

I'm sure he could tailor a tour to anyone's taste! But it also would depend on what vineyards were open when. Olivier brought his own cheeses to be sampled witht he wines. In each vineyard he took us on a tour and explained the machinery/vats, etc. For the tasting he'd put out the cheeses and pour the wine. There was also NO pressure to buy! Our main "problem" was taking wine home - we did buy 3 bottles and he said they could ship but there was no one pressuring us to buy, buy, buy!

Same was true on the ship's excursions! The guys bought to have at dinner - yes, the ship was serving wine but a few evenings someone would bring a bottle(s) to the table and share we had formed a table of 8 that ate together. We never paid a corkage charge - I guess they were happy we were drinking our wine andnot there's!!! One of the women only drank white and she was OK with drinking the ships's.
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Peg
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