Introduction to No Fly River Cruises in France By Rail

This week’s blog post is an introduction to the reality of doing a French river cruise without having to set foot in an airport.  In the UK, our rail system is poor apart from routes leading directly into London.  But once at St Pancras for the Eurostar, then the European mainland is waiting.  So, our introduction to no fly river cruises in France focuses on the quickest rail options available to our customers and explains where rail with a French river cruise works well and where it becomes more complicated.

Paris on a Seine river cruise

Paris No Fly River Cruises

By far the easiest river cruise to attempt by rail from the UK to France is a Seine river cruise. This will be a cruise that will start and usually end in Paris as well.  There are lots of trains from London to Paris daily.  Or you could even do Ebsfleet or Ashford in Kent.  You will be provided with the docking location of the ship, so you could then either take a taxi or the metro, or a transfer may be included by your cruiseline.

If you are travelling more widely in France, then the french regional trains and the high speed TGV will easily bring you to one of the Paris terminals.

Exact timetables for Eurostar and TGV are not available until 3 months before departure.  Savings are available for senior citizens.  If you’d prefer not to navigate the complexities of the Eurostar or French operator SNCF timetables, then we are here to help.

Examples of operators who run Seine cruises from Paris and back into Paris from May – October are: Riviera, Avalon, Amadeus, Amawaterways and Uniworld.

Bordeaux No Fly River Cruises

River cruises along the Garonne river start and end in Bordeaux.  This makes train travel a possibility but will be less straightforward than Paris.  If you are travelling by Eurostar, then you will have to cross Paris to Gare de Montparnasse to catch a train going Southwest on the TGV.  The good news is that the TGV also offers discounted rates for senior citizens and the prices are very good.  It is best to leave yourself plenty of time to make the change.  The journey takes between 2 hours and 2 hours 15 minutes.  It is then a short journey from Bordeaux St Jean station to the boat. If you were to become later than planned, then it is best to check that you are booked on a cruise where they ship doesn’t leave on arrival day.  That way, you won’t be left behind.

Examples of operators who run Garonne cruises from Bordeuax and back Bordeaux from May – October are: Avalon, Amawaterways, Viking and Uniworld.

South of France No Fly River Cruises

When we talk about river cruises in the South of France, we primarily mean cruises along the Rhone and Saone rivers.  These cruises run through Burgundy, Provence and down to Avignon. These cruises work really well with Eurostar and TGV as there is now no need to change stations in Paris.  Various options can be looked at, including a direct train to Marseilles, which runs on certain days.

MS Amadeus Provence Sun Deck

MS Amadeus Provence Sun Deck

Our favourite way of doing a river cruise through this region is catching the direct train to Lyon from St Pancreas and returning the same.  The MS Amadeus Provence, does a 7 night round trip from Lyon, to specifically take advantage of the shorter train journey.  The average journey time from London to Lyon is about 5 hours 30 minutes.

Or, other operators start or end in the south , so would use the train from Marseille. Again, with the direct link to either Paris or London, it makes the journey very easy.  The average journey time for this longer train journey is 6 hours 30 minutes.  We do recommend doing the longer journey at the start of your holiday, if at all possible.

Alex

Ocean Cruise versus River Cruise. What’s the difference?

River Cruise or Ocean Cruise what’s the difference? Plenty.  River is a more like a land tour than an Ocean cruise experience.

A few of the big differences are the facilities.  The mega ocean ships offer facitilies like swimming pools, multiple restaurants, bars and lounges and the endless activities on board every day.  Whilst the river ships do offer some of these, they are on a much smaller scale.

And you won’t have any ‘Sea Days’ on the river.  You will have some day time cruising but this is part of the charm – to sail quietly down the river watching the scenery drift past.

Best of all, river cruises generally include shore excursions along with many other extras unlike on the ocean cruise ships.

Although some ocean ships are now offering drinks packages these are an extra expense.  Most river ships will include wine, beer and soft drinks with meals, 24 hour tea and coffee, free Wifi.   So, with fewer on board expenses to add to your bill even though the original fare may be slightly higher to start with a lot more is included.  So no more large on board bills to settle at the end of your holiday.

River Cruise Ship

Ocean Ship

You will see land all the times on a River cruise and are in port daily.  Most stops are right in the heart of the town, you can literally stroll off the ship and you’ll be there.  No more docking in the less salubrious industrial ports full of tankers and working ships, waiting for your bus into town.  And on your return, then queuing again to get back on board at the end of the day.

River itineraries are a lot more port intensive, you could be visiting a different destination every day, sometimes two in a day as travelling between stops is not a great distance.

Carrying 200 passengers or fewer  European river ships are smaller than their ocean going counterparts which can carry up to 7000 passengers!, River ships are a lot more intimate, the atmosphere very sociable, no long queues for the restaurants, or waiting to get on and off.  Just imagine it to be a small luxury floating hotel.

Cabins can be slightly smaller than the large ocean suites, but still beautifully decorated and very comfortable, all with a window or balcony, and you will not find any inside cabins on a river ship.

Viking Sun Deluxe cabin, Ocean cruise

MS Lord Byron Deluxe Suite

MS Lord Byron Deluxe Suite, River cruise

The passengers on ocean cruise liners often range from the budget conscious, sun seeking cheap getaway last-minute booker, often sell off the cheaper cabins this way, to upscale guests looking for the sophisticated ambiance cruising can offer.

River ships offer something to both past ocean cruisers  who want to experience something different but still want a holiday afloat, and travelers who would never consider an ocean cruise but like culture and quality accommodation.  You also won’t ever find a cheap last minutes get away on a river cruise.  With so few cabins, the most popular ones sell fast.

And finally no need to pack your cases the night before the end of your cruise on the river and having to leave it the corridor outside your cabin you can just finish packing the day you leave.  And if your onward travel isn’t until later, continue to enjoy the facilities and leave at your leisure.

So, I hope that this blog post has moved you closer to knowing whether a river cruise is for you.  Each river offers something different as does each cruise operator.  As a specialist in our field.  We look forward to making river cruising work for you.

Rachel

 

Rhine Christmas Markets River Cruises

This week we have been inundated with requests for river cruises to visit the German Christmas markets along the Rhine river.

Christmas markets river cruises

Taking a Christmas markets river cruise is an amazing and easy way to immerse yourself in the ambiance of Germany’s traditional Christmas feativities with their host of unique gifts.  Together with the stunning Rhine scenery it really is a winter wonderland.

Strasbourg Christmas Market

What is a Christmas markets river cruise like?

Just by strolling off the ship, you will walk straight into the heart of the towns and cities along the Rhine and find yourself wandering around the gingerbread house-like stalls. Why not sample a warming glass or two of Gluhwein (Mulled Wine)?  Each market has its own special Glühwein mug. For a small fee, it is yours to keep and re-use. Not only are refills cheaper, you’ll have a great souvenir!

Don’t forget to check out the free concerts in churches and palaces surrounding the markets as the music is usually superb.

Ginger bread at Christmas markets

When is the best time to go on a Rhine Christmas markets cruise?

Most of the markets start towards the middle of November and run up to just before Christmas.  It is worth checking with us as which we know which ones to visit when. Some markets do stay on over the actual Christmas period and finish as late as New Year’s Eve.

Also the best time is in the evening when it is dark when you can immerse yourselves in the traditions and sounds as you wander around.  Taking in all the festive lights and ambiance. But it will be colder in the evening, so do wrap up warm.  If you are really lucky there may well be snow to really put you in the Christmas mood.  Even if you only have a few days, there are river cruises from 3 nights to up to 7 nights long.  And at this time of year flights tend to be inexpensive compared to the warmer months.

Kaysersberg at Christmas in Alsace

Cologne Christmas Markets

Take a stroll around one market or if you have time, take in all seven Christmas markets on offer around Cologne! Each has its own special atmosphere.  Angels and Saint Nicolases, Elves and Father Christmases as well as twinkling stars and the aroma of roasted almonds and Glühwein invite you to browse in the festively decorated centre of Cologne.

Frankfurt Christmas Markets

On the Roemerberg,  a beautifully decorated fir tree reaches toward the skies. Frankfurt’s historical old town is brightly illuminated by thousands of fairy lights reflecting off the windows of the square’s traditional half-timbered houses.

The scent of baked apples, chestnuts, gingerbread and mulled wine fills the air.  If you’ve ever wanted to experience the wonderful wintertime charm of the old world, then the Frankfurt Christmas Market is the place for you!

A special addition to the traditional Frankfurt Christmas Market is the ‘Pink Christmas Market’ at Friedrich Stoltze Square with the focus on the LGBT customer.

The little market’s stalls and Christmas trees glow in bright pink. The rustic wooden booths serve hot cocktails, homemade soup, gingerbread and much, much more.

Rudesheim Christmas Markets

Christmas traditions from all over the world merge at Rudesheim Christmas Market. Featuring over 120 stalls,  from twelve nations bringing their products to the market in Popular ‘Drosselgasse’ area in the historic city centre, on this famous street which is festively decorated with sparkling lights and decorations.

Our Opinion of Rhine Christmas Market Cruises

Christmas markets are only a part of your cruise, relax on board whilst a kaleidoscope of riverside views drift past in all their wintery glory.

Wrap up warm and take in the invigorating air on the top deck whilst taking in the stunning views of the world famous Rhine gorge.

Nutcracker Christmas market toy

 

 

 

Amadeus River Cruises – Amadeus Silver II Review

Amadeus Silver II Exterior

Amadeus River Cruises by Luftner , a family owned company, offer high quality river cruises on the major rivers in Europe. Unlike some of the better known and much, much larger American owned companies, Amadeus has stayed in the same family for the last 40 years and prides itself on a small fleet of custom designed river ships. I was lucky enough to cruise on the brand new Amadeus Silver II in March 2017 and here is my review of the ship.

We joined the ship in Amsterdam. The Amadeus Silver II is one of the new 135 square meter river cruise ships being launched by Luftner. The ship will cruise the river Rhine and The Danube throughout the season from early spring and including Christmas markets and Christmas and New Year cruises as well.

Stepping onboard, the modern interior with greys and pinks is bright and welcoming. The staff are also very friendly and I recognise them from a previous cruise I have taken with Amadeus. Due to the family nature of the cruise line, there is a very small staff turnover and our customers are often telling us that they look forward to meeting familiar staff again on their next cruise. Again, the larger American river cruise lines would not be able to offer this very welcome element of customer service. It takes a long time to train a member of staff.

What facilities are there on the Amadeus Silver II ship?

Well, there is a fitness room with equipment, hair salon, massage room, a gift shop, complimentary bicycles to use when in port to cycle into towns etc. Additionally there is a laundry service which is payable locally.

The Public Areas

Amadeus Silver II Cafe Vienna

Moving up a level from the lobby, there is a coffee and tea area, the Cafe Vienna, with Viennese coffee specialities which allows customers to sit and enjoy the view out of the large glass windows whilst enjoying the complementary hot drinks from the 24 hour coffee station.

Amadeus Silver II Panorama Bar
Moving into the main panorama lounge which is full of full length windows and light, the bar area again is modern and with plenty of seating throughout the area, you will also be able to find somewhere to sit and read a book or browse a newspaper or the internet. In the evening, the Panorama lounge and bar is where the entertainment of either the pianist or local performers who are brought onboard will be enjoyed from.

Amadeus Silver II River Terrace

Moving forward in the lounge you can access the outside seating area, known as the “River Terrace”, an absolute must for when the ship is scenic cruising. As it was early spring, we were able to take advantage of the blankets on offer whilst enjoying a hot drink and the view.

The sundeck is the best place to catch the 360 degrees river views from and it enjoys a Lido-bar, lounge chairs, shade awnings, giant chess board and shuffleboard.

Amadeus Silver II Club Lounge

Additionally at the rear of the ship, there is the Amadeus Club Lounge. With windows on three sides and again an outside area, this is a lovely quiet area with again a coffee station and computers to check emails.

Size of the Amadeus Silver II

Built in 2015, over 3 floors the ship offers 84 staterooms in total of which 12 are suites. The maximum number of passengers on board is 168 and the number of crew is 46. This ship is although the same size as the Amadeus Silver, has much bigger staterooms and suites and less passengers.

The Restaurant and dining onboard the Amadeus Silver II

You will find yourself enjoying up to 3 meals a day on your Amadeus Silver II cruise. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are offered in the dining room, a large, modern area with floor to ceiling windows. Open seating means that you will find yourself a table and sit down.

Amadeus Silver II Breakfast Menu

Breakfast is a buffet with many recognisable continental and American options. So, there is a egg station for omelettes and poached and fried eggs which can be ordered, cereals, fruit and yogurt, fried breakfast items and more Germanic breakfast items. There is free flowing coffee and tea as well as self service fruit juice. The waiters are there to assist you with special requirement, just ask.
Lunch is also a buffet with free seating with salad options, soup and meat dishes.

Dinner is a table d’hote menu with multiple courses and the standard here is very high.

Amadeus Silver II Fine Dining

The staterooms

I was lucky enough to be in one of the 284 sq ft suites. I can highly recommend them. As well as the largest walkin wardrobe I have ever seen on a river cruise ship – it is enormous – there is an additional corner seating area.

Amadeus Silver II Suite Seating Area

The floor to ceiling windows make the suite seem even bigger. there is a small sit out balcony for the warmer days, a large flat screen tv, mini bar. The ensuite bathroom is a great size, with complementary toiletries.

Amadeus Silver II French Balcony Cabin

The staterooms on the middle and upper decks are 188 sq ft – these are a really good size for french balcony cabins. An electronic window allows the french balcony to be opened horizontally.

On the lower deck, again the staterooms are a good size at 172 sq ft with a head height window. Lots of mirrors have been used to allow more light into the cabins and I have to say, that unlike some river cruise ship designs for lower deck cabins I would be very happy to be in one of these rooms. The space has been used well.

My Overall Opinion of the Amadeus Silver II

I really enjoyed my time on the Silver II. I have seen a lot of river cruise ships and I like the fact that the Amadeus ships are all different. There is no “one-size fits all” so there is never a time that the ships feel dated. Depending on which package is booked, you could have drinks with your meals and wi-fi included and selected excursions. As an Amadeus specialist, we are able to advise on the best package for you as well as whether you would like cruise only or flights and transfers. Do check before booking as Amadeus cruises do tend to be tailor made.

What’s the food like on a River Cruise?

“What is the food like on a River Cruise? is one of the frequent questions we get asked.

Most offer a menu that reflects the local area using fresh local produce and in our experience can be exceptional, Breakfast features a large selection of hot and cold choices with cooked to order eggs, omlettes and pancakes.  Lunch if on board, and not on a tour is usually a three course offering with a wide menu choice and your evening meal four courses again with a wide choice of dishes featuring some regional specialities of the local area.

If you don’t fancy trying the local delicacies, or just want a lightermeal then you will not go hungry as you can always get fresh Fish, Chicken, Steak or just a Salad.

Roast duck & sprouts on Loire Princesse

Lobster Dinner - Avalon Vista

Most ships only have one sitting for Dinner, as the large restaurants have enough seating for everyone to dine at the same time.   AMAWaterways and Scenic do have a specialty restaurant on board (free of charge unlike ocean going specialty restaurants which incur an extra charge, however you may need to book a table)

MS Emily Bronte lunch

MS Emily Bronte , Lunch

Special Diets

Any special dietary needs can be catered for, Vegetarians wont have any issues as veggie dishes are widely featured on the menus, and the menus usually show which dishes are Gluten free, Nut, Dairy etc.  We would suggest that you let then cruise company know in advance of any special needs so the kitchen knows in advance and the Maitre d’ will check with you on arrival to run through all requirements.

Dress Code

River ships have no strict dress code on board it is very relaxed, no formal nights so no need to pack evening wear like on an ocean going ship, just smart casual.

Wine Cruises

For food and wine lovers why not try one of the gourmet or wine cruise on offer which feature vineyard tours, wine tasting with a local sommelier and gourmet tasting menus, guest speaker on how to pair food and wine togetheris a river cruise holiday right for me?