First of all, let me say that I am very comfy on a ship of any kind. There’s something about being on the water that soothes my soul. Maybe it’s knowing that my maternal great great grandfather was a ship captain in Sweden? Perhaps it’s because I grew up by the ocean and have always been a water baby. Another influence might be that, when first entering the travel industry, I studied with a passion the big ships, attaining my Master Cruise Counselor and sailing on and inspecting dozens of ocean cruise ships in a very short period of time. My very first international travel was a short cruise in the Caribbean. No matter the reason, there is a feeling for me that is indescribable while I am on the water in any type of vessel!
The opportunity to lead a large group of travel professionals on the AmaLyra presented itself, and my good friend Gretchen joined me in a category B twin beds on the Cello deck (the middle of three), mid-ship. We sailed July 27-August 3, 2017, and our weather was cool and fabulous! Taking a bit of a chance flying in the same day, (we have a direct flight on Delta from Cincinnati to Paris), we arrived at 8:15am, breezed through customs at CDG, and were met by our smiling driver for a private transfer to the ship. After about a 45 minute drive, we boarded at AmaLyra at 10:15am with the Eiffel Tower seen on the horizon. the staff greeted us with big smiles, and we were able to have our bags delivered immediately to our stateroom (what a pleasant surprise!). The adventure began.
The AmaLyra is one of the first purpose built ships for the company (2009), but I found her extremely clean, freshly painted, and beautifully decorated. The 170 square feet category B French balconies are well planned, with ample storage for two (no triples), though a pretty tight space in the bathroom. Yet there is a nice shelving unit behind the mirror, and I absolutely LOVED the water pressure and shower! We were on deck 2 of 3 for guest cabins, and the sound-proofing was adequate. Robes are included…a nice touch. Lighting was good, and the electric outlets in convenient places. We loved the music and movie choices on the TV, although the only time we were in the cabin was for sleeping and prep for dinner!
Dining is fun and the food special with AMA, to be sure. We moved around the dining room as two single ladies, wanted to meet as many passengers and crew as possible, and the service was consistent in all areas. Loved our time with them. Smiling and always eager to please, you will certainly find the same as long as you aren’t one of those who are not happy unless complaining about something. And trust me, we found little to even consider as a gripe! I loved the specialty dining room up on deck three aft. With the cream of the crop both cooking and serving you, I know you will agree. And it is presented artfully: The French certainly love beautiful things!
The lounge was the gathering space, and there always seemed to be enough chairs and couches to go around. The bar was well-stocked, and we loved our man Pavlem (sp?), who was always ready with a smile. You can order tapas here during lunch, grab a quick soup and small sandwich, and there’s always some sort of sweet treat in a cookie jar, as well as a fantastic self-serve cafe station. More than once we came back from a tour and found the mid-day main dining room buffet a little chaotic…so keep this in mind as you wish for a calm, enjoyable alternative. And remember, all the wine and beer you wish are served during both lunch and dinner. Their wine and beers were quite yummy, and great as a little pre-nap treat. No naps for us, though…we are both crazy active fitness nuts! After all, I am your Active Travel Pro. Grin.
As if the cruise was specially ordered for Gretchen and me, we had a nice surprise upon returning from our first of many bike rides with the ship bicycles (You may take out in any port after signing a waiver…we brought our own helmets, but they have some, too). Our ship had been chosen for a trial fitness program! Selina is from South Africa and a nationally rated equestrian competitor and an exceptional athlete. She offered a wide variety of physical activities meant to energize and strengthen guests. From morning stretches to short jogs, Theraband and core strengthening sessions, her job is to keep us moving and enjoying the fresh air. We loved her energy and became fast friends, enjoying brisk walks together. She offered yoga, nature walks, and even some health talks. I believe this is brilliant, and I hope all the Ama ships will adopt the program! Way to go, Selina…you rock! (That’s her on the left, Gretchen, me, and two other guests, jumping for joy with us during one of our hikes…to the castle ruins of Richard the Lionheart. Only took six tries with the phone camera timer!).
Check out www.amawaterways.com for details on this fabulous itinerary along the Seine River from Paris to Normandy. AMA isn’t the only river company, but in my opinion, it’s one of the best! The week flew by as we made stops in Vernon, Caudebec-en-Caux (overnight due to work on a low bridge that was made impassable), Rouen, Les Andelys and Conflans-Ste-Honorine. As I previously mentioned, we were very lucky to have cool weather (sometimes cool enough for jackets!) in the end of July. Some clouds early in the week, but enough of those blue skies and fluffy clouds to help make my photos even more beautiful.
There were several highlights for me during the week. Although this is likely not allowed, I brought just a few of my Dad’s ashes along so that I could leave him in the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. (He will help to fertilize these lovely roses!) An emotional place for most of us, we had the pleasure of having a WWII vet on our cruise, and after visiting and walking around on our own, AMA offered a lovely ceremony at the memorial with the Star Spangled Banner played, as well as Taps. This was a lovely touch to honor all of the veterans on our cruise. This will be forever etched in my memory, as my father served with those WWII men and women who died there, although his Army Air Corps unit was primarily bombing bridges in Italy to help stop the advance of the Germans there.
Another amazing treat was my visit to Monet’s home and gardens in Giverny. Rather than ride on the bus, we took a hike in with a historian and learned so much about both the town and Monet’s life. I loved the water gardens, and could have relaxed there all day. The flower gardens were breathtaking! Sunflowers, roses, yellow and blue everywhere…it is a stunningly beautiful place. They have a wonderful gift store, and I laughed as I didn’t realize the only exit from the garden was through this shop. Some anxiety surfaced as I walked the garden paths in circles trying to find a way out! We were in search of a beer and a glass of wine, but, alas, we would have to wait until we returned on the bus to the ship. Gretchen and I laughed at each other, but not until we were finally free from the garden’s grasp!
From Caudebec we took a wonderful trip by bus to the lovely medieval village of Honfleur. Largely untouched by the bombing during the war, I was fascinated by the narrow streets, charming shops, and even the old jail. Our friends had made a joke about Gretchen and I landing in jail in France before we left, so we had great fun pretending we were behind bars. Grin.
The city of Rouen is large, but is friendly and interesting. We enjoyed a bike tour with our guide Fred, who had a wide knowledge of local history and a friendly demeanor. I suggest biking wherever you can, unless you are a HUGE history buff and need facts galore. Fred has lived in the region all his life, and will be your bike guide, but cannot use the headsets any longer on the bike tours. This has only just been mandated by the French, so he’s still adjusting to the stops along the way so he can share his incredible knowledge. You do NOT need to be an expert biker to join in. I highly recommend! We had one guy in our group who wore what looked like big ‘ol work boots, so don’t be shy!
A VERY cool surprise in Rouen: The entire ship was invited to a special 11 pm multi-media show against the Cathedral in town after the Captain’s Dinner one night (we had the pleasure of being invited to dine with both Captains this night!). This event is weather permitting, but it was a wonderful show of about 20 minutes, with lots of “Ooohs and Ahhhs”. No matter how sleepy you are from the day’s activities or wine drinking with dinner, this is a “Must see” experience! It’s a very short walk into town from the dock.
I must allow for you to have some of your own surprises, so please forgive me for not sharing every special moment with you. I encourage adventure, and part of the adventure is going around the corner to explore on your own. The people you will meet, both on ship and off, will be special. Be open to them. The French might seem a bit stand-offish at first, but if you approach with an eagerness to learn from each other and a big smile, you both win. We Americans tend to be loud, get quickly to the point, and demanding at times. I think the locals who are more mature have not had as much English in school as the younger generations, so try to prepare by learning how to say the common greetings. Say “bon jour” before asking your question. Speak slowly so they might understand your English. Download the language app “DuoLingo” several weeks before your vacation to learn French phrases. It will make a difference!
Tips to help make your river cruise (or any Europe trip!) experience better.
- Avoid over-packing.
- Lighter fabrics and layering help to keep the weight of your luggage reasonable.
- Rolling clothes will allow you to use a smaller bag.
- Add scarves, or buy one while there, to dress up your dinner dress.
- If you plan to travel by train, you will have to carry bags up and down stairs occasionally, so maybe do some strength training a few weeks prior.
- Hydrate constantly for energy and to keep your digestive system working well. I love the Brita filter water bottles for this! The ship will deliver water bottles each day so ask for extra if you don’t have a Brita. (Pet peeve: plastic water bottles!)
- Put the phone number and address of your hotel or ship in your phone and another in your wallet in case your phone dies so you always have a contact locally.
- The French and many Europeans are not accustomed to tipping, but will accept if you say “Merci” and put in their hand with a smile.
Remain flexible and maintain the ability to laugh at yourself when things don’t go as planned. I will be sharing with you about our post travel in both Paris and Orleans (biking was amazing here!), so stay tuned. But a great example of the above very important point: I was so relaxed after staying at our Paris airport hotel Oceania before our flight home that I left my passport in the safe! We took the 15 minute shuttle to the airport; I reached into my purse as I was readying to use the Delta kiosk to check-in (couldn’t check-in online in Paris for whatever reason) and realized my error. I sent Gretchen with our bags to the airport hotel Sheraton for a coffee to wait while I headed back to the place where our shuttle both picked up and dropped off. I had the phone number to hotel, called them and asked if they would open the safe in my room and deliver it with the next shuttle, and I had it in hand within about 30 minutes. Now THAT is service! I had only US currency left in my wallet and handed the driver a $10 happily.
“Voila!”, as the French often say. I am grateful that I allowed three hours at the airport, was through security and at my gate within 40 minutes, and sighed a big sigh of relief. And as most say when they travel with me, it’s always an adventure!