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Review of Avalon "Scenery" Paris to Arles June 2010


Emma Chisit

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The ship and its crew: The ship is in excellent condition; liked its modern décor. Did not notice the diesel smell mentioned in some past reviews. Cruise Director was Jean Loup; he was amusing and well-organised. Our cabin attendant was excellent; the room was mostly cleaned while we were at breakfast. Dining room staff also excellent, and the wine flowed freely at dinner. Meal selections were varied for the buffet breakfasts and lunches, and the meals attractively plated at dinner, with plenty of options. Food is subjective, but considering the cramped kitchen conditions, they do an excellent job.

Cabin: We had a cabin on the top deck towards the bow. Attractive modern décor, comfortable bed, plenty of storage space. Everything seemed very new and fresh. A/C was efficient. Bathroom small, of course, but worked efficiently. However, you could save some money by choosing a cabin on the lower floor, midships. From talking to people on this level it seems that those cabins might be quieter. Heard some noise in our cabin from stuff being shifted around on the sun deck above. On our last night were woken at midnight when another river boat moored next to us with loud music blaring; then the crew constructed a walkway from their ship, across ours, to the dock - immediately above our heads! Very noisy, especially as they kept dropping large metal structures on the deck above us.

Also, the location of our cabin meant that we did sometimes hear the music from the ship’s lounge at night. There is a door to close off the bedrooms from the public areas; it’s supposed to be closed after 10pm, but sometimes people leave it open. You also tend to hear more noise from people passing by late at night when you are towards the front. We did not hear any significant noise from adjacent cabins.

Miscellaneous. We appreciated the information folder in the cabin - had a good map of each town, some background information, and space for your diary notes. Also, the port talks every day were useful.

Dress. Majority of people didn’t get dressed up at night, just smart casual, even for the Captain’s Cocktail party. My husband took a jacket; many men didn’t bother, dining room got quite hot on occasion anyway.

Entertainment. One evening we had Chanson Française (good rendering of classic French songs); on other nights some Gypsy performers from the Camargue, and of course the Crew Show. Apart from that there was piano music and dancing. Two different afternoon activities were a pastis tasting and a chocolate tasting (the latter when we were sailing near the Valrhona factory at Tain l’Hermitage). Our CD also spoke on the history of France, taking some amusing liberties with the facts.

 

Ports of Call We mostly skipped the included tours as we like to wander at will, and had been to a number of the towns before.

Paris Did not stay in the tour hotel, Le Méridien Montparnasse, as my husband had stayed there once and thought the location less convenient. We stayed in a Paris hotel which was new to us, K & K Hotel Cayré in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which we would recommend. Similar price range to Le Meridien. People we spoke to seemed happy with Le Méridien, however. Once we joined the group at the Le Méridien we were all bussed to Châlon to start the cruise. The trip took several hours, with a short break en route at a motorway rest stop. We stopped at Beaune for lunch (own expense) and afterwards included tours were available, eg a visit to the Hospice de Beaune, or a wine-tasting. Ate lunch at Restaurant Le Conty – delicious traditional Burgundian food. Left at 3.45pm for our ship in Châlon - from memory less than an hour’s drive away (through the famous Burgundy vineyards).

Châlon We were docked overnight, and the next day there from 8.30am till 10.30am. There was an included tour, but it is very easy to walk around the town by yourself as you are docked centrally.

Tournus Ship sailed during lunch; then we were in Tournus from 2pm till 3.50pm. A sleepy town, with the interesting L’Abbaye Saint Philibert but little else. Could take an optional excursion to Chateau Cormatin; positive feedback from those who did. However, then you miss sailing to the next port of Mâcon as the tour rejoins the ship there. We arrived in Mâcon at 6.30pm, after dinner walked around the town. Everything closed by then; as we sailed the next day at 8.30am didn’t see anything of Mâcon.

Lyon Arrived here round 1.30pm; the included tour was worth doing as you are bussed round some of the sights and can get a feel for the city, as well as being transported up Fourvière Hill to see the view. The ship is docked overnight in Lyon and all the next day until 6pm. Easy to get around using the subway, and lots to see - we were on the go the whole day. Particularly enjoyed the Musée des Beaux Arts, check opening times on their website as they vary. Also enjoyed a typical lunch in one of the traditional bouchons of Lyon, Café des Fédérations. Explored some of the traboules (hidden passageways) of Lyon, which are relatively easy to visit independently and have a website with maps.

Tournon Skipped the included tour (8.30 – 10.30am) so we could also get across the river to see Tain l’Hermitage, and the ship’s tour didn’t spend time there. As it turned out, a local produce market was in progress that morning in Tain l’Hermitage and we spent a lot of time exploring it. Tournon also had a market that day, mostly for clothing, etc rather than souvenir items or food. Pleasant town, especially the old town.

Viviers The ship arrived at this unspoiled medieval town at around 5.30pm the same day; there was a “moderate” walking tour to the Cathedral of St Vincent at the top of town, where there was a beautiful organ recital. A limited amount of transport was provided for those who had difficulty walking. If you have any problems walking, then request the transport as the walk is steep, though our guide took us at a very leisurely pace. The town is fascinating, if you can manage the walk.

Avignon Be aware that the included tour here to the Palais des Papes does involve many stairs, so might not be suitable if you have mobility issues. It’s rather empty of furnishings anyway. Otherwise an easy and interesting city to explore.

Arles We sailed for Arles early the next morning. Like Avignon, this is an easy city to visit, as everything you might want to see is in walking distance. The Van Gogh trail is interesting, and there are many tempting shops. Fondation Vincent van Gogh, however, was disappointing. We were in Arles all day, had a good lunch on shore at Au Brin de Thym, in rue Dr Fanton, a small street near Place du Forum where the “Van Gogh café” is. Captain’s Cocktail party and Farewell Dinner that evening.

We disembarked in Arles the next day for the bus trip to Nice. Suitcases had to be out that morning by 7am, and all the buses departed at varying times between 8am and 8.45am, depending on whether you were going straight to Nice or doing the optional excursions. No more access to ship after 9 am.

Nice. Our CD warned us in advance about the hotel in Nice, Boscolo Plaza, and we had read some negative reviews on Trip Advisor. He said it was like all the other hotels along that stretch, with an impressive lobby, but ordinary rooms. In the event, our room was fine - maybe because our expectations were lowered. It was rather dated, but overlooked the park and the ocean, and was large. (Seemed to be luck of the draw; some people did not like their rooms, from what we overheard.) Location was certainly excellent; walked to the nearby pedestrian street for lunch. (At La Maison de Marie, very nice.) Our bags were held by the hotel until the rooms were ready after lunch. In the evening we took the optional Evening in Monte Carlo tour (85 euros). Bus trip along the corniche (sit on right side for best views) to a hotel restaurant (Vista Palace Hotel), where we had an aperitif on a terrace overlooking Monte Carlo and the Bay of Monaco. Stunning view. Then we sat inside for a pleasant meal of three courses with white wine (not lavishly poured as on the ship, it has to be said!). No choice with the meal; the main course was fish, which disappointed the non fish-lovers. If you have food aversions, mention this when booking this tour. After dinner we went down into Monte Carlo where we had an hour free to explore, visit the Casino. The tour gets back late to the hotel, after 11pm, worth remembering if you have an early flight the next day. Should you be leaving Nice by car, as we were, the Hertz office is only a short walk from the Boscolo Plaza, which was very convenient for us.

Summary: Thoroughly enjoyed this cruise, and it hopefully won’t be our last Avalon cruise.

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Loved your review ... we did Grand France and we loved both the Paris/Normandy and Paris/Arles trips ... I met someone on Facebook who has been asking questions about the trip, so I gave her a link to your review and I'm sure it will help her with her decision-making!!!

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Thanks Jswen and webfoot. Happy to answer any questions. I put in a lot of detail because there wasn't too much available when we were deciding between Avalon & Uniworld for this Rhone cruise. Can't remember now why we settled on Avalon (possibly timing?), but they did a great job. Will certainly look at them for future river cruises.

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Hi Emma and Web,

I think this has been a subject of discussion in the past but since you were on the exact boat we will be on..

What were the bath products provided, shampoo etc. and were there robes in the rooms? If so it would lighten the suitcase a bit.

Did you think the Monte Carlo excursion was something not to miss? We are staying an extra day in Nice and I am wondering if we could make arrangements to do it on our own. Any thought would be appreciated.

JS

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We were on Grand France and I really enjoyed the Burgundy and Provence portion of the trip!

We took this cruise because the CD on a previous cruise (Amsterdam to Black Sea) said that the Rhone was her favourite cruise - and she had twenty years' experience of freelancing all over Europe. We had been to Burgundy and Provence before, but it is such a different experience on a river cruise. Only complaint..too short!

What did you think of the rest of the Grand France trip?

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Hi Emma and Web,

I think this has been a subject of discussion in the past but since you were on the exact boat we will be on..

What were the bath products provided, shampoo etc. and were there robes in the rooms? If so it would lighten the suitcase a bit.

Did you think the Monte Carlo excursion was something not to miss? We are staying an extra day in Nice and I am wondering if we could make arrangements to do it on our own. Any thought would be appreciated.

JS

Hi JS

There were robes, a nice waffle-weave cotton. The toiletries were nice too, sort of herbal. There was cake soap, shampoo, shower gel and body lotion. No conditioner.

As to the Monte Carlo excursion…it was highly recommended in another CC review which is why we took it. The three things it offered were:

(1) The drive there along the corniche, where if you sat on the right-hand side of the bus you got a good view of the coast. We left in daylight (returned at night). We sat on the left-hand side so couldn’t see much – not a big deal as we have driven the corniche in the past.

(2) Aperitifs on the terrace of the Vista Palace Hotel overlooking the stunning view of Monte Carlo and the Bay of Monaco. This was very James Bond-ish and you felt like you were part of a magazine shoot. We moved inside for dinner, and you couldn’t really see the view from the dining room, at least not from our table. The dinner was pleasant, a similar standard to the set menu we had on our own at a restaurant in Nice at lunchtime (23 euros per person without wine). As I said, there was no choice on the tour menu, and they were not generous in pouring the wine. Our CD said that the hotel restaurant typically didn’t cater to tour groups.

(3) We spent about an hour in Monte Carlo after dinner, where you could visit the casino and wander around. It was pretty quiet while we were there, and all the shops were closed.

I guess whether or not you do the tour depends on what you really want to see, and if you want to combine it with dinner. If you just want to visit Monte Carlo then any decent hotel concierge should be able to arrange for a tour by taxi to see the view from the corniche and wander around Monte Carlo afterwards. Also you could check on the Cruise Critic Ports of Call (Europe-France) board, there seems to be a lot of discussion there about shore excursions in Nice and Monte Carlo, and recommended tour operators.

The Avalon tour was the easiest option for us, it may or may not be the most comprehensive/least expensive.

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We took same one last year, and had a lot of problems....like sewer smell in rooms, poor light s in bathroom, bad design in Lounge so you could not see if sitting in back....mediocre buffet for breakfast and lunch....did complain on ship review form...maybe they listened....????Hope so, the staff was helpful, dinners better, and would go on Avalon again IF these were improved.....let me know....thanks....PS.don t mean to be a complainer,as others onboard also said same thing....:o

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We took same one last year, and had a lot of problems....like sewer smell in rooms, poor light s in bathroom, bad design in Lounge so you could not see if sitting in back....mediocre buffet for breakfast and lunch....did complain on ship review form...maybe they listened....????Hope so, the staff was helpful, dinners better, and would go on Avalon again IF these were improved.....let me know....thanks....PS.don t mean to be a complainer,as others onboard also said same thing....:o

Yes, I read your review and the discussion on the board before we booked. However we didn't notice any sewer smells - thank goodness, because I have experienced that smell on an ocean voyage and know what you mean. :eek: No diesel smells either, which others mentioned. Bathroom wasn't extremely bright, 'tis true, but my husband & I both felt we could see as well as we needed to (and neither of us has great eyesight seeing as how we are oldies). There probably are some blind spots with the Lounge design as there isn't a lot of room to play with, given the width of the boat - can't say it affected us though. Food is subjective, as I said in my review. It wasn't the best I've ever had, but there were plenty of healthy options on the buffets. They do a great job considering the cramped conditions. Well, the croissants could have been better, seeing as how we were In France. This was a good thing, as we ate fewer - but made up for it in the weeks we spent driving around France post-cruise, alas.

I'm quite picky, actually (someone married to me does tend to use the term "Princess" rather too often), but I thought it was a good cruise and would try Avalon again. Although one always wonders - would another cruise line be even better? :)

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On our Grand France trip in June (maybe just before/after you?) Our cruise director was Tony. The smell I mentioned previously was on the Creativity on the Seine trip not the Scenery.

Despite that I actualy preferred the Seine trip to the Provence one.

The Monte Carlo trip was very expensive for what it was. The meal was largely inedible and most of our table just made do with extra bread rolls. Not v impressed by white wine & cranberry juice passed off as Kir cocktails either particularly at 85 euros per head. I think people on bus trips just get second class service which is always a disappointment after the ships.

We wont be doing another river cruise as we learned from doing the past three that we might be better finding a place we really like and doing our own exploring at our own pace. So we`re off to Normandy next year with info gathered from our river cruise!

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The Monte Carlo trip was very expensive for what it was. The meal was largely inedible and most of our table just made do with extra bread rolls. Not v impressed by white wine & cranberry juice passed off as Kir cocktails either particularly at 85 euros per head. I think people on bus trips just get second class service which is always a disappointment after the ships.

Yes, agree that the Monte Carlo trip was expensive for what it was. That's why I went into more detail in response to Jswen's query - to show just what you got for your money. You could certainly see Monte Carlo for less, and skip the dinner. Our food was fine, not inedible, but it was poor that there was no choice - I like fish, but if you didn't (like someone at our table) then tough luck. They did rustle up a vegetarian plate for her, but she wasn't a vegetarian. Our complaint about the meal was the elderly wine waiter, who was the only one dispensing the alcohol among the many tables, while lots of staff members bustled about serving the food. In the French manner, he put a dribble of wine in each glass as he made the rounds, but then he refilled some tables several times over, and passed by others. (Quite Fawlty Towers.) And a single bottle was therefore able to go round a number of tables, not that it was great wine anyway. Was hard to get a festive glow going....As for the Kir aperitifs, weren't they authentic? We hadn't had Kir before, oh maybe decades ago tried Kir Royale,the champagne version. I thought Kir was just white wine and blackcurrant juice (cassis)? Guess what we had on the tour could have been made with cranberry juice. We are wine drinkers (can't you just tell from the pouting about the waiter?). Never fans of cocktails (especially fruit-flavoured), we did develop something of a taste for Kir on our travels through France after that and had a few versions, some better than others.

Anyway, the standout thing on the tour was the view from the terrace of the hotel, which is why I'm sure others have given it good reviews. Is that worth the expense is the question?

Yes, unfortunately bus tours do tend to get second class service. We like to travel independently and avoid bus trips as much as we can when on cruises for that reason. Actually we are not great cruisers at all, but now we are getting on in our sixties we quite like the river cruises, ie the experience of being on the river but tend to do our own thing in the ports.

Interesting what you say about the Seine...will have to look at the other part of the Grand France trip - not keen if it's smelly, though....

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Hi Emma ... when we were at Monte Carlo, our group consisted of 10 of us. This was during the volcano disturbance so our tour only had 51 people. Obviously the dining area was set up for many bus groups but we were the only ones there that night. We were served salmon, which was good and we did have fairly free-flowing wine. There was one woman who couldn't eat seafood and they prepared a steak for her. But, again, being we were the only group in the restaurant, they had time to do so.

 

Did you go into the ladies room??? I loved the view!

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Did you go into the ladies room??? I loved the view!

 

No, now I'm sorry I missed it. The view was great from the terrace.

Sounds like you had a more intimate dining experience than we did. It was very much "bus tour dining" for us in terms of group size. I'd say there were about 70 odd on the Monte Carlo tour, two busloads anyway. (I think the ship was pretty much full on our cruise.) Maybe the doddery old waiter was having a night off, since the wine flowed freely for you?

By the way I read your Grand Tour review, just going to ask a question on that thread...

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