Why should I take a river cruise in France…? …because it’s such a wonderful combination of so many things: stunning scenery, historic sights, charming villages, excellent cuisine, good company and the care and attention of a reputable cruise ship operator. Not to mention the sunshine and warmth of the continental climate. All these combine so well that you can be sure of a relaxing, uplifting, thoroughly enjoyable, high-value cruising holiday. A huge percentage of all cruising holiday-makers do it again. .
What’s the difference compared to a sea-cruise or taking a private hire-boat myself? River cruises may not offer the grandeur of a big sea-going liner but their smaller scale means that your cruising experience becomes much more immediate. At the most obvious level, on a river cruise ship you’ll rarely experience any sense of motion, save that of gliding gently forwards along the waterway, whether it be a canal or river. The big difference, though, of coming inland is of course, your view – the delightful countryside, the most rural village, the heart of a city – is up close and personal. Every hour of every day of your cruise, the scene will change, offering so many opportunities to stop and experience new sights, sounds and tastes; France, remember, is brimming with local gastronomic delights and traditions. A river cruise is more intimate than a sea-cruise and of course, unlike hiring a smaller vessel yourself, there’s nothing to do but enjoy yourself – your cruise operator will take care of everything.
What’s a typical cruise like? A Cruise may start at one place and finish at another, or it may conduct a round trip – there and back. Interestingly, some river vacation cruises actually include other modes of transport, taking the first part of the trip by train, for example, and the final part by coach. These tend to include a few nights in a land-based hotel, whilst you take in the city sights and enjoy some nightlife. Most river cruises are ‘all-inclusive’ but some are not. Some will offer the classic cruise, where the primary purpose is to help you relax and unwind, just take in the sights while being waited on hand and foot. Others will encourage and help you to get out and explore this great country – you may moor up and see three stunning and fascinating places in just one day. River cruises are offered by long established and highly experienced operators, some of them having very large fleets, operating throughout the world. Ships are regularly inspected to ensure compliance with strict operating regulations. The operators’ continuing success comes from understanding how to thrill their guests time and again, with excellent excursions and entertainment, delicious food and wine and service par excellence.
What’s the food like? What a question – this is France! The distinguished English chef Rick Stein made an entire, highly acclaimed, series of television programmes for the UK based around the cuisine and produce local to hotel cruise routes in France. The vast majority of cruise ships pride themselves on the quality and reputation of their on-board cuisine, often far superior to the local three and four star restaurants. The vast majority also pride themselves on the quality and variety of the local wines and spirits they have on-board. The general standard of river cruise ship food and drink is of the very highest quality, combined with the ultimate in personal service. Most cruise ships provide all meals, from breakfast to lunch to dinner, on-board. This includes a welcome cocktail party, the last evening’s Captain’s table dinner and will try to go that one-step further for a special celebration if required. Special diets can usually be accommodated with prior notice.
What’s a typical cruise-ship like? Cruise ships carry an average of 140 passengers on two or three decks, with a sun deck on top. Cabins, or staterooms, some of which are surprisingly spacious, are all outward facing, some with floor to ceiling picture windows, all with ensuite bathrooms. Some ships also offer single cabins and 3-4 person suites. Facilities aboard will vary, but you can expect a bar and dance floor, one or two restaurants/dining areas, a boutique and a library. Some ships may also provide laundry services, a hairdresser, bicycles for hire, lifts to upper floors and internet access. Most ships are also air-conditioned throughout. Public spaces offer a mixture of open and covered deck areas, for sun-bathing and watching the world go by, and in the evening for an early evening aperitif in the piano bar. Some cruises offer live entertainment – a jazz evening, for example – after a sumptuous dinner. All will welcome you aboard with a fine cocktail reception and bid you adieu, relaxed and recharged, after dining with the Captain on the last evening of your wonderful cruise. Standards range from 3 star to luxury class and prices vary accordingly.
How much does it cost? This depends on the length of your cruise, the itinerary, the ship and the operator. As with most things, you get what you pay for, and cruising is no exception. It is up to you to read the cruise details carefully and ask for further information if you need it from your agent. Cruises in France generally last from 3 nights to 15 nights, and some include many excursions, so the range in prices is also quite large, from €350 to around €5800 per person. Remember that the lower fares may not include costs of excursions, sundries aboard ship or tips. Each operator will want to fill every cruise, so whilst you may want the peace of mind of having your holiday booked early in the year, you may be able to find a bargain last-minute cruise. Watch out for good offers on the agents’ or operators’ websites or ask them to let you know about them by email.
So how do I decide which cruise trip to take? A huge variety of cruises are available, to suit every taste, so it’s a sensible idea to take stock of three things to start with. How long do you want your trip to be? Where do you want it to start and end? And what is your budget? You may also already have chosen a particular region of France to explore so this will help you narrow your selection. Cruises can go from point A to point B, or make a return trip, stopping at different places at the way back. Nearly all cruises provide fascinating excursions by coach as integral features of your holiday – to nearby chateaux, vineyards and historic attractions – and these may influence your choice substantially. They are usually included in the cruise price but may sometimes be added extras. Some cruise prices include transfers from the UK, and some have no-fly options. Some will also be ‘themed’, providing a week of jazz, for example, for music lovers, or country walks for those who like a more active holiday. Whatever the itinerary, whatever your choice, you’ll have an unforgettable holiday experience along these great waterways.