Seine River Cruise Highlights: Cruising with Viking

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Have you thought about a Seine River Cruise in France? After spending a couple of days in Paris (on your own), you’ll board a boat to explore the highlights of Normandy. It’s a wonderful cruising experience for boomers who favor river cruising.

Debi Lander of ByLanderSea, recently cruised the Seine River as a guest of Viking River Cruises. After reading her thoughts on this Seine River cruise itinerary, you’ll be booking your next boomer adventure in France.

Paris, the City of Light, entices with its lively joie de vie, remarkable architecture, and long history. Where else can you stroll the banks of the Seine, take in views from the top of the Eiffel Tower, and explore many world-class museums? From morning to night, you can indulge in legendary French cuisine, from croissants at a sidewalk café to dinner in a Michelin-star restaurant.

What better place than Paris to start a Viking Seine River Cruise? (You may also see it referred to as a Normandy Cruise). Itinerary highlights include time in Paris and noteworthy stops in picturesque Normandy.

Excursions include Rouen, capital of the Normandy region, and the port city and picturesque coastal village of Honfleur. Cruisers also experience an immersion into Impressionist art, a day devoted to WWII history and the D-Day landing sites, plus those iconic, small rural villages.

The Viking Seine River Cruise experience

Like most Americans, I arrived in Paris via an overnight flight (check for flights here), while most European cruisers arrived by train. I planned to meet my daughter-in-law, Amy, who arrived on a different flight.

The Viking staff and the van driver seamlessly picked her up and met me, plus two other women passengers. We soon left the airport and headed toward the cruise ship.

Our cabins were naturally not ready when we arrived dockside (still before 10 am). But the crew welcomed us onboard and stowed our luggage. They led us to the dining room, and we revived ourselves with a tasty breakfast from the buffet.

Lattice work metal tower (the Eiffel Tower) with a green tree in the foreground.
No trip to Paris is complete without visiting the Eiffel Tower. Photo by Debi Lander

Despite the lack of sleep, Amy was ready for her first Parisian adventure, and I was excited to join her. We set off on a beautiful November day, walking to the Eiffel Tower.

If anything identifies Paris, it’s the  1083-foot steel tower constructed for the 1898 World’s Fair. Visitors take the elevators up and gaze down upon the city’s highlights. They stroll around the adjoining field called the Champs du Mars and the gardens below the Eiffel Tower.

We did it all and then returned to the Viking Fjorgyn…exhausted.

Fjorgyn: The Ship

Beige sofa and chair with artwork over the sofa and blue carpet in a Viking Fjorgyn veranda suite.
Veranda suite on the Viking Fjorgyn. Photo by Debi Lander.

The crew again were welcoming and escorted us to our cabin on the upper level. The ship’s upper level includes a large observation lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows and a popular and well-stocked bar. Before entering the lounge, you’ll find an espresso and cappuccino-making machine open 24/7.

Viking had the Fjorgyn (named after a Norse god), built in 2020 specifically for the Seine River and her narrow locks. She carries a maximum of 168 passengers, no children, in 84 outside staterooms and maintains a crew of 46.

River cruise boats hold far fewer passengers than mega ocean liners. The limited number of guests quickly become friends as they gather at meals and on excursions.

Lobby of the Viking Fjorgyn. Photo by Debi Lander.

The ship’s interior design includes blond hardwood furniture, giving each room a sleek and clean look. There is no spa as most guests are very interested in the excursions.

After the muster drill, all aboard sipped a champagne cocktail to officially start the cruise, followed by a delicious multi-course meal.

The main restaurant rests on the mid-deck, below our cabin. Picture windows line the dining room, giving guests an almost 360-degree view.

Viking’s policy is open seating, so they don’t assign tables. Each meal offers a choice of daily selections and always includes the option for favorites like Eggs Benedict, hamburgers, and steak or salmon.

Wine and beer are included at meals, and those with the Silver Selection may choose higher-priced drinks and wine anytime.

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The Viking Seine River cruise itinerary

A white river ship (Viking Fjorgyn) docked on the Seine River next to green lawn and trees plus old buildings of Les Andelys.
Viking Fjorgyn docked at Les Andelys on a Seine River Cruise. Photo by Debi Lander.

We began with a panoramic city bus tour of Paris after breakfast. Our guide spoke about the sites as we drove past.

We stopped near Notre Dame to see the restoration work and enjoyed some free time to explore Luxembourg Gardens or grab a coffee. We also stopped for photos at the Eiffel Tower and returned to the ship for lunch.

In the afternoon, Amy chose an excursion to the famous Montmartre artist haven and Sacre Coeur Cathedral. I went on a Flavors of Paris delectable foodie tour. Others opted for the full-day excursion, Scenic Paris, and Highlights of the Louvre.

At night, the Eiffel Tower comes alive for ten minutes on the hour. It’s a magical pinch-me moment to see the illuminated icon sparkling like fireworks. Even better when you can see and appreciate this stunning view from the deck of your ship.

La Roche-Guyon

The old castle of Chateau de La Roche-Guyon. Photo by Debi Lander.

To bypass La Roche-Guyon would be easy;  the tiny village maintains a population of less than 500. But Viking stopped there the following morning.

The town has earned the name as one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages.” Cruisers explore the few old town streets lined with row houses and enjoy a walk along the banks of the Seine, but the main attraction is Chateau de La Roche-Guyon, the old castle and imposing fortress hovering on the white chalk hills.

The cruise director led a walking tour to the gates of the Chateau. The fortified keep, which proudly overlooks the valley, is linked to the château via a mysterious stairway dug into the rock.

Many, including Amy and I, decided to tour the Château finding cramped, dark living apartments. But some made the precarious climb up to the tower. The location became German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s headquarters in WWII.

Vernon: Giverny and Auvers-Sur Oise

The garden that inspired Monet. Photo by Debi Lander.

The captain moved our ship to nearby Vernon of Monet fame, and most guests took the included afternoon excursion. Since Monet’s House and Gardens were closed for the season, we went to Auvers-Sur-Oise.

In this town, Vincent Van Gogh lived his last few months in 1890. The location inspired him so much that he completed 80 paintings in seventy days.

An old mill house in Vernon. Photo by Debi Lander.

A guide led us through the little town that seemed like a nineteenth-century time capsule. We strolled cobblestone pathways past shuttered homes, flower boxes, greenery, and shops.

We paused at the Eglise Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption, the church painted by Van Gogh. Everyone loved comparing the Gothic building to the well-known painting, a copy that hangs in the church.

Continuing uphill to the cemetery, we viewed the graves of Vincent and his brother, Theo. The graveyard lies across from the fields that inspired another van Gogh masterpiece, The Wheatfield and Crows.

Our tour ended at Auberge Ravoux, the van Gogh’s final home. Only two or three at a time could enter his tiny rented attic bedroom. It seemed to emote sadness. Afterward, the group watched an excellent video/slideshow of his art from the area.

The day concluded with a special dinner: Taste of France, the only buffet dinner of the cruise. The selections of cheese, entrees, and desserts were overwhelming. This was one of my favorite days on the voyage; two lovely small villages packed with history and art, plus fine food.

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Rouen and Surroundings

The historic Rouen Cathedral. Photo by Debi Lander.

Rouen, the capital of Normandy, offers one of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals in the world. The intricate stone designs on the exterior include such detail they look like lace.

Guided walking tours of the city speak of the town’s long history and Joan of Arc. Joan was burned at the stake in Rouen after her trial. A modern church stands on the site. Its interior glows with a beautiful wall of stained glass windows.

The medieval port village of Honfleur. Photo by Debi Lander.

Amy took the afternoon excursion to Honfleur, a medieval port village with narrow cobblestone alleys and a central rectangular harbor in the middle. Unfortunately, it was raining the entire time, so she did not get the photos she had hoped.

I ventured past the bucolic countryside to a rustic old farm. Once there, I watched a trained sheepherding dog corral and move the animals about the field. This behavior was fascinating and fun.

Normandy is known for apples, apple cider, and the Calvados liqueur. My tour group strolled through the property’s apple orchard and cidery/distillery.

We entered the tasting room to learn all about cider. To the French, cider means an alcoholic drink, whereas a non-alcoholic choice is apple juice. Calvados is stronger than cider.

D- Day Battles and Memorials of Normandy

A visit to the D-Day cemeteries is a sober one. Photo by Debi Lander.

The  D-Day landing sites are a significant draw to the region; in fact, it’s one of the main reasons people choose a Seine River cruise. Viking offers the option to take one of two full-day excursions. The tour aimed at Americans visits the excellent and comprehensive Caen Memorial Museum and includes a documentary film.

After lunch, we drove to the American Cemetery, with 9,387 American graves on 172 acres. The peaceful grounds lined with white crosses stretch as far as the eye can see. It honors the Americans lost in the Normandy battles.

Viking arranges a special ceremony at “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves” statue. The playing of the Star Spangled Banner, followed by Taps, brought tears to almost everyone’s eyes.

It was a very moving tribute and made me a proud American. We learned that the average age of the soldiers buried in the cemetery ranged from 19-22 years.

Les Braves Memorial on Omaha Beach. Photo by Debi Lander.

The tour continued to  Omaha Beach, another U.S. landing site. The long sandy expanse sits empty in the winter but is very much a beach town in the summer.

A stunning memorial stands on the beach, honoring the critical events along this waterfront in 1944. Another monument memorializes the battle in the open town square.

The intricate Bayeux Tapestry. Photo by Debi Lander.

The other full-day tour starts with a stop at the famous Bayeux Tapestry. The little town contains another magnificent cathedral, but its calling card is the priceless 950-year-old Bayeux Tapestry.

Having done needlework in my younger years, I appreciated the intricate detail and symmetry throughout the 230-foot-long exquisite masterpiece. It tells the story of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hasting. 

To see and understand the complex story in the stitchery, you step upon a moving floor that transports you past the tapestry. An audio guide, sometimes humorous, explains the sequence of events.

I wished I could have repeated the tour around the lengthy tapestry twice as there is so much to take in. The artwork is not a UNESCO World Heritage site but is listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World register.

The excursion continues to Gold Beach and Arromanches,  British and Canadian battle sites, Juno Beach, and the British cemetery in Ranville.

Cooking Class before Les Andelys

Chateau Gaillard fortress looms over Les Andelys. Photo by Debi Lander.

While the ship sailed in the morning, many attended a lighthearted cooking class from the Viking chef and his assistant. They prepared a Tarte au Citron or Lemon Tart with ease. We received copies of the recipe to try replicating it at home.

The day was warm enough to sit outside on the Aquavit Terrace at lunchtime. The terrace is a popular option during the warmer months. Fortunately, we finished our meal before the rain started.

As the Fjorgyn approached the village of Les Andelys, we saw the Chateau Galliard fortress. The buildings are ruins of Richard the Lionhearted castle, built between 1196-1198.

The group tour began in the rain, but as we climbed up the hill, a somewhat challenging walk, a rainbow appeared. We explored the ruins with superb panoramic views.

The charming half-timbered village of Les Andelys. Photo by Debi Lander.

When ready, the group retraced steps into the charming town with half-timbered buildings. There, some lingered for shopping.

After dinner, most guests participated in a fun game in the lounge, dancing afterward. FYI: Don’t expect much professional entertainment on river cruises; most guests retire after dinner.

Ending in Paris

Our last full day began in La Pecq (a Paris suburb) with a morning trip to Chateau de Malmaison, the magnificent home of Josephine and Napoleon. The house sits on the outskirts of Paris, but most tourists miss it (being too far for a taxi and no direct bus route). Thanks to Viking, we were dropped off at the gate.

The excursion included a fascinating discussion on Josephine’s life, home, and gardens. Big surprise – this home was also where delegates negotiated the Louisiana Purchase.

An ornate fountain at Palace of Versailles. Photo by Debi Lander.

Many chose the afternoon excursion to the Palace of Versailles, the flamboyant, over-the-top estate of Louis XIV, the Sun King. The extravagance in his estate makes you understand why the French Revolution occurred.

While Louis XIV ruled competently during his long life, he spared no expense on himself. Later, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette took the extreme lifestyle over the edge.

Tip: The Palace is worth seeing, but always crowded. The King’s bed chambers, the Chapel, and the Hall of Mirrors do not disappoint, except for the hordes of tourists.

The gardens spread over 2,000 acres (you will walk miles), but unfortunately, this cruise was in November, and the greenery appeared dull (and we needed more time).

If you plan to visit Versailles, arrange to go when the fountains work. You won’t be disappointed. Otherwise, expect crowds and more gold leaf than you’ve ever seen!

The Seine River cruise ends

Sadly, we neared the end of our time together. The ship moved while we were at Versailles, so the bus returned us to the dock in Paris. Guests, now friends, lingered over a lovely last dinner and prepared to travel home.

Viking distributed color-coordinated luggage tags to keep everyone’s luggage straight and arranged for frequent buses or vans to take us to the airport. Of course, some passengers choose to stay in Paris, which is always an excellent idea.

Thanks to Viking for sending a packet of travel documents that answered all questions before departure. They provided emergency contact numbers just in case.

Viking provides pre-excursion information and excellent guides. Guests leave the cruise having experienced and learned much about the country as well as being pampered and catered to on the cruise. The combination is ideal. 

Many, many thanks to Viking River Cruises for providing a fabulous adventure.

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