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  #1  
Old April 5th, 2013, 11:23 AM
Huffy2k Huffy2k is offline
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Default Just returned from Viking's Portraits of Southern France

My wife and I just returned from the aforementioned Viking cruise and we couldn't be any more pleased with the experience (well, maybe the weather could have been just a bit better ). While the trip is still fresh in my mind I'll try to summarize some of the highlights of the trip and share with others our experience on the Viking Europe!

Day 1 - Viking Transfers - Well worth it!
We arrived in Marseilles after barely making our connection in Paris. Coming down to baggage claim we were met by Serge, a lively older local driver, holding a Viking sign. We were surprised since we were apparently the only 2 people on our flight and Serge said he frequently drives Viking guests from Marseilles to Avignon. After loading our luggage we started the 45-60 minute drive in Serge's taxi. About half way into the drive I started to get a little nervous about the escalating fare showing on the taxi's fare meter. Although I used Viking's travel and knew transfers were included, I started wondering if Serge was going to try to charge me for the fare upon arrival. Serge's English was "much better in October than it is in March" so I didn't bother trying to ask him why he was running the meter. By the time we arrived at the boat, the fare total was just a few cents under 170 Euros. After unloading our luggage, Serge went in and shook hands with the boat staff, grabbed a cup of coffee, jumped back into his vehicle and made the long drive back to Marseilles.

I found out later that a large number of the Viking guests were arriving in Marseilles after connecting through Amsterdam and didn't arrive until 3 hours after us where Viking had a large bus waiting for them. Rather than make us wait at the airport for the rest of the cruisers, Viking provided us with a cab (at considerable expense) to get us to the boat. Score 1 big point for Viking - we were already impressed.

Given that this was the first cruise of the year, our cabin was ready and waiting for us when we arrived. The boat and our stateroom were impeccably clean and polished. We had a room on the upper deck with a large window, queen bed, lots of storage and a small bathroom - all in all it was more than enough room for the very limited amount of time we actually spent in the room. I've read some other threads about balcony's and I honestly feel that opening the window in our room would have provided as much ventilation as opening the door onto a balcony. I probably wouldn't spend the extra dollars for a balcony and after taking this cruise, I probably wouldn't even pay to stay on the top deck again - the middle deck (with the same size room and window as we had on the top deck) would be sufficient for our purposes. We proceeded to take a much needed nap to get over the jet lag. Waking refreshed, we grabbed lunch in the Viking lounge and then joined our Program Director Valerie for an informal walk through Avignon to get the blood pumping through our tired legs.

Dinner, as would be the case all week, was delicious. We followed dinner with a drink in the lounge with some new found friends and called it an early night as jet lag was taking it's toll!

Day 2 - Cast off and a cruise to Arles

I didn't even hear or feel the boat cast off at 5:30 AM as the cruise started to Arles. I woke up to a darkness of a lock wall blocking the sunlight into the room and watch the captain guide the ship into the lock with only about 1 foot of clearance on either side. As a river boater myself, I was duly impressed! The breakfast buffet was tremendous, steel cut oatmeal and all the toppings, french cheeses, meats, and pastries, scrambled eggs and sausage and bacon, and smoked salmon were some of the items available daily. You can also order eggs and pancakes from the menu - I didn't do this until the final day when I ordered eggs benedict and wish I would have done it earlier in the week. As good as the buffet was, the eggs benedict were perfect! You can't go wrong no matter what you do.

The walking through Arles was fun. I absolutely fell in love with the south of France, all the towns are so quaint and contain so much history. Arles had a pretty complete Roman arena that we visited that is still used today for concerts and bullfights. We took the regular tour (Viking also offers "leisure" tours for those that have mobility issues) but found that there were people on our tour that probably should have taken the leisure tour. My only suggestion for Viking on the end of week questionnaire was that since they already offer a "leisure" tour, they should also offer a "vigorous" tour for those that really are able to get around. My wife and I are in our early 50's, half marathon runner and were a little disappointed about the pace of some of the tours. It's a small complaint but one that we found was shared by others on the cruise.

We didn't take the optional tour to St. Remy, choosing instead to explore Arles on our own. This was the only optional tour of the week that we skipped.

Lunch and dinner were delicions again.

OK, this post is already long enough, I'll add another few days later if anyone is interested!
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Old April 5th, 2013, 12:41 PM
mytravels mytravels is offline
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Default Reply to Huffy2k

I enjoyed your brief description of your Viking cruise in Southern France, but you left me wanting more. We are cruising the same region with Avalon in June and any info that you can provide about the various towns and tours would be wonderful. Thanks.

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Old April 5th, 2013, 05:36 PM
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Default Please give us more

Love what you have posted about your cruise. We will be sailing on Viking Europe in September and would greatly appreciate hearing about your adventures on board and which optional tours you took.
Does Viking offer a tour to Pont du Gard?
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Old April 5th, 2013, 05:52 PM
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Huffy2k ~ I'm really beginning to "worry" about "us" - elieve it or not - I also had the same experience with the eggs Benedict - not ordering them until the last day and then wondering why I had waited!!!!!!!

Arles was towards the end of our trip (we did north to south) ~ found the tour OK but was waiting and waiting for the VanGogh "cafe" and then it began to rain - suggested on the questionaire that they offer a Van Gogh Tour in Arles!

I'm sure I've boarded many with my photos but for anyone new here's my experience of the Rhone River, on the Neptune (sister ship of the Europa) October 2013: Cruise Part II

It was a fabulous cruise causing us to book 2 more Viking cruises!!
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Old April 5th, 2013, 08:51 PM
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nice review. do you have any pics of the ship or your trip?
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Old April 6th, 2013, 08:12 AM
Ski Mamma Ski Mamma is offline
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We, along with 3 other couples, will be taking the "Portraits of Southern France" cruise in late April, but we are going north to south. I LOVED your report, and I would really enjoy hearing much more about your trip. We are also vigorous travelers (skiers all as well as avid walkers/hikers), and I admit that I have been worrying about the pace of the tours being too slow. Perhaps by the time we leave on our cruise, Viking will have taken your suggestions to heart. Please, please write more about what you saw and did that was particularly interesting on the remaining 6 days of your cruise. Merci Beaucoup!
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Old April 6th, 2013, 08:22 AM
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We went North to South last year on the Neptune. If the itinerary is the same, you'll have 1 + 1/2 days in Lyon - a fabulous city! The included tour is the morning of the 1st day and is a bus tour to the highths of the Old City and then down into the lower Old City. There was a walking tour there and the guide gave us a choice of returning on the bus to the ship for lunch or staying the the city and going back on our own. (We asked and the bus took us about mid-way back so we could have lunch - it was then an easy walk to the ship.)

So Lyon is an easy city to DIY - you'd have plenty of time!!

For some photos - see my link in post #4.
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Viking Forseti 10-4-2014 Bordeaux
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Old April 6th, 2013, 05:29 PM
Huffy2k Huffy2k is offline
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I'm glad people are enjoying my review. I'll put up another post on Monday that will cover a couple more days. Hopefully by the end of the week I'll be able to cover the entire trip (including the Paris extension). I will also put up some pictures at some point next week as well.

Have a good weekend everyone!
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Old April 7th, 2013, 11:14 AM
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Great review. Were you on one of the new Viking boats? We are scheduled to be on the Odin in October. The new boats appear to be outstanding. The owner is to be commended.
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Old April 7th, 2013, 11:29 AM
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Originally Posted by Cruz-OR View Post
Great review. Were you on one of the new Viking boats? We are scheduled to be on the Odin in October. The new boats appear to be outstanding. The owner is to be commended.
Viking will be introducing their Longships to the Southern France cruise next year (2014). We sailed on Njord last year and she is a beautiful ship but we are also looking forward to sailing on Viking Europe in Southern France later this year and are wondering where Viking Europe will be sailing in 2014.
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Old April 7th, 2013, 03:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FotoPeg View Post
We went North to South last year on the Neptune. If the itinerary is the same, you'll have 1 + 1/2 days in Lyon - a fabulous city! The included tour is the morning of the 1st day and is a bus tour to the highths of the Old City and then down into the lower Old City. There was a walking tour there and the guide gave us a choice of returning on the bus to the ship for lunch or staying the the city and going back on our own. (We asked and the bus took us about mid-way back so we could have lunch - it was then an easy walk to the ship.)

So Lyon is an easy city to DIY - you'd have plenty of time!!

For some photos - see my link in post #4.
Peg, you and your husband seem to like Viking river cruises. Based on a heated thread about the CEO of Viking; have you've been happy with Viking and what do you say about Viking being compared to Carnival cruise line? Thanks in advance.
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Old April 7th, 2013, 07:42 PM
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AF-1 ~ first, I have been following the other thread about Viking's CEO's statement. After reading the original post and before reading anything else - my first thought was "don't let DH read any of this or he'll re-schedule both our trips!!" As for me, I think the CEO is a narrow-minded blow-heart who has presented his company with a huge PR problem - at least on CC!

All that being said, I also understand that, while a CEO can set the direction of a company, it all comes down to the individuals - captains, CDs, room stewards, waiters, receptionists, chefs, etc. - that you encounter on each individual ship that make or break your trip!! [Just like each dinning experience (and I don't mean McDs!) comes down to the Maitre d'/dining room manager & waiter/waitress more than the General Manager who's usually not directly involved!]

Last year, our first Viking Cruise, we were very fortunate, the CD (Cruise Director) on our cruise was top notch and the rest of his staff was fantastic! Thus we completely enjoyed our cruise - even with a train breakdown (not Viking's responsibility), cloudy weather (again not Viking's fault), rain - no one to blame! Coming home and making a small complaint - I didn't even realize it was a complaint at the time! - but talking to a Viking rep who was on the spot (she knew I was on CC!!) and offered a future discount - just "sold" us on the company for their smart business sense! She didn't buy" me - that would have been impossible! - but she turned the situation around. Like when you have a restaurant reservation and have to wait - does the Maitre d' buy you a drink?? - least they could do if it's their fault - but shows if they have a smart staff!!

Second - as for "Carnival" - it's funny but that, in my opinion, its always been "the party ship for young people" (BTW we've never travelled on it). Viking is not that! If the comment is meant that Carnival is a mass market, low price, non-caring cruise line - then I feel that's also is not true - at least from our one experience. Yes, Viking pricing is confusing and gimmicky - but a call to their office or your TA can give you the actual price. And I know for a fact that they worked with a single to get a lower price because she was a repeat passenger (don't know what would have happened if it were her first cruiser). I think Viking gives a good "product" - however, I do wish they'd cut some cost by not sending so much advertising - use E-mail for those of us on-line and cut out the paper/postages costs!!!! Until I hear differently, I think the comparrison with Carnival is a knee-jerk reaction used to get a rise out of Viking cruisers.

But bottom line is almost everyone has their favorite line - and loyalty is rewarded by discounts/perks - but that's not necessarily bad - when I get my nails done 10 times at my salon I get a free manicure! But we ALL have the ability to switch cruise line - ocean and river! If we're unhappy on our next two Viking cruises we may "jump ship" and try another line! or may chalk it up to experience - all depends on what happens and if there is any solution offered! [Celebrity has not always been smooth sailing but I've always felt they - the staff on the ship - have done the best they can! And I'm sure we'll sail with them again!]

Don't know if this helps any - but Thank You for asking! I think the CEO should be gaggedand locked into his office - they should fine a far more diplomatic rep as their mouth-piece!!!
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Viking Forseti 10-4-2014 Bordeaux
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Celebrity Constellation 7-3-2010 Baltic
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Old April 7th, 2013, 09:07 PM
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Thank you FotoPeg. I loved reading your thoughts on the subject.
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Old April 8th, 2013, 10:41 AM
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Peg, you and your husband seem to like Viking river cruises. Based on a heated thread about the CEO of Viking; have you've been happy with Viking and what do you say about Viking being compared to Carnival cruise line? Thanks in advance.
Somehow I've missed the "dust up" that you and Peg are referring to and since I have some experience with both of these cruise lines I thought I might be able to add to the conversation. Could you point me to the thread that you are referring to? Thanks,
John
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Old April 8th, 2013, 11:08 AM
Huffy2k Huffy2k is offline
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Default Days 2 & 3 of Portraits of Southern France recap

Day 2 - Papal palaces and Wine

Day 2 was a return to the walled city of Avignon, historical city of the popes. Due to turmoil and disease in Italy during the 14th century, the catholic church moved the popes to Avignon where they resided for a period covering 7 papacies. Today's tour was highlighted by the Palais des Papes, one of the largest Gothic buildings in Europe. The palace, building starting in 1335, is protected by walls up to 18 feet thick which made it impossible for enemies to penetrate. As a catholic, it was really incredible to tour the palace, to view the papal apartment, to see where the conclaves where held, and to stand at the window where the new popes were introduced to cheering crowds in the square below. It actually gave me goosebumps - this is a "can't miss" and was the highlight of my week.

Avignon itself is a really quaint medieval town and one of the only towns in France with a complete city wall (rampart) still standing. This wall, designed to protect the town, encircles the city and is over 3km long. The wall still serves a purpose today, protecting the city from Rhone floodwaters. I have to admit though, as a Monty Python fan, I was picturing the rude Frenchman from Monty Python and the Holy Grail standing on the wall taunting the Britons seeking the holy grail ("I told 'im we already got one").

After the morning tour, we returned to the boat for lunch and then off to the optional tour to Chateauneuf-du-Pape! Please note that this optional tour filled up quickly and a number of people were unable to go! If this is something you want to see (and I HIGHLY recommend it), make sure you sign up as soon as possible once the optional tour sign-ups are distributed. You won't regret it. The town name literally translates into "The Pope's new castle". This town was built at the pope's behest (a bit upriver from Avignon) in an area that would be more fruitful for vineyards. The vineyards on the hillside and the village are really interesting (unfortunately the Germans destroyed the Pope's summer castle as they were leaving, leaving behind only a single wall) and there are plenty of opportunities to pop into one of the many "caves" for a quick wine tasting. After leaving the village of Chatequneuf-du-Pape, we went a few miles to a winery for a very nice wine tasting of regional wines!

Day 3 - Tain l'Hermitage and Chocolate!

Day 3 started with a nice relaxing cruise up the Rhone to Tournon. After a couple early land excursions, it was nice to have a quiet morning where you could have a leisurely breakfast followed by a couple of presentations Viking presented in the lounge. Presentation #1 was entitled "Nautical Talk" and it gave the passengers a chance to ask the Chief Engineer, the Hotel Manager, and the Program Director questions about the ship, the personnel, the logistics, etc of the Viking Europe. I enjoyed this more than I thought I would as I planned to half-listen while I was catching up on the newspapers on my Ipad (I didn't get much reading done). This session was followed by another session where the PD gave a french lesson (ok, I DID catch up on my newspapers during this session )

After docking in picturesque Tournon we boarded the bus for our daily tour that included stops at Valrhona Chocolates, the Musee Pierre Palue and a wine tasting at Domain du Murinais. Given that this was Wednesday of Holy Week, the stop at the chocolate shop (Valrhona is WORLD RENOWNED in the world of chocolate) was incredibly frenzied as most of the town of Tournon was apparently shoppping there for last minute Easter chocolates. We did sample some unbelievable chocolate and managed to navigate the crowd to buy a bunch of chocolate to bring home. I imagine this stop would be much more peaceful and fun on a non-Easter week! The Museum of Pierre Palue (a French painter) was less than thrilling. Mr. Palue's daughter runs a museum containing his paintings (as well as a few other French painters who he was friends with) in a quaint old house in Tain l'Hermitage. I'm still not exactly sure why this stop was included on the tour. The final stop was a wine tasting - always a good way to finish a tour!

Dinner was again delicious!
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Old April 8th, 2013, 12:39 PM
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Huffy2k ~ thanks for your review!! You have me reliving our cruise!! And Monty Python? You really DO sound like my DH!! Only we went north to south...

Sorry about your great thread being side tracked!

2onboardagain ~ scroll down on this forum to the thread titles: "Interesting Article" - its a long one but the bases of the question and my answer that, unfrtunately, doesn't really belong here.
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Old April 8th, 2013, 12:50 PM
Huffy2k Huffy2k is offline
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Originally Posted by FotoPeg View Post
Huffy2k ~ thanks for your review!! You have me reliving our cruise!! And Monty Python? You really DO sound like my DH!! Only we went north to south...

Sorry about your great thread being side tracked!

2onboardagain ~ scroll down on this forum to the thread titles: "Interesting Article" - its a long one but the bases of the question and my answer that, unfrtunately, doesn't really belong here.
Peg - no need to apologize! You were asked a question and you answered. Sounds like we had very very similar experiences on our "Portraits" cruise!
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Old April 8th, 2013, 01:18 PM
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Default A few pictures...

http://www.flickr.com/photos/94780842@N04/
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Old April 8th, 2013, 06:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Huffy2k View Post
I'm glad people are enjoying my review. I'll put up another post on Monday that will cover a couple more days. Hopefully by the end of the week I'll be able to cover the entire trip (including the Paris extension). I will also put up some pictures at some point next week as well.

Have a good weekend everyone!
Am certainly enjoying your posts and looking forward to a review of the Paris Extension. We are doing "Paris to Normandy" in July with the extension beforehand. We have never been to Paris and are looking forward to getting tips from anyone who has done the Viking extension. What hotel were you assigned by Viking? Eagerly anticipating a reply....!
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Old April 8th, 2013, 07:01 PM
Huffy2k Huffy2k is offline
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Hi AD, Viking put us up at the Marriott Rive Gauche on St Jacques. I know they use a few different hotels in Paris so you may end up somewhere else. The hotel was very nice (not great though). It is very convenient to both the metro and the RER. also, we fell in love with a little cafe a few blocks away called Lecir. More on the Paris extension coming in a few days.I
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