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Saga Marketing Executive Paul Fellowes recently took a wonderful French river cruise from Giverny to Paris; here he tells us a little bit about his experience…
“We got on the train from Ashford to St Pancras, went to the Euro dispatch where we dropped off our bags, then met the Saga Reps at the Terminal.
After that we were straight on the Eurostar to the Gare du Nord, where we were greeted by our tour guide Anita, Saga Rep Penny and bus tour guide, Rose.
From there we hopped on a coach to board the ship in Les Andelys – it was really easy with Saga staff on hand the whole way; you never feel unsure about where you have to go next.
The coach journey was quick, but felt even quicker as Anita kept us occupied with details of our itinerary and facts about the ship we were about to board.
Colours of the river
The first thing that hit me was how luxurious the ship was. I’ve never been on a ship before, not really, and I’ve never been sailing, so I wasn’t sure what I should expect on a river cruise.
I don’t get claustrophobia as such but I have to admit, I was a bit nervous with the idea of not being able to leave the ship when I wanted to, but that worry just vanishes as soon as you step on board.
There’s always plenty to do, so many people to talk to, and the only time you can’t get off is when the ship’s moving, and then the landscapes you’re sailing through are so phenomenally beautiful, you don’t care that you can’t get off!
The water reflects all the trees and hillsides, it’s just incredible to sit out on deck and watch it all go by.
At one point I think the whole ship was admiring the view; where it was autumn the trees were a riot of colour, with reds and golds but also bright greens – it was so picturesque, I think we saw it just at the right time, it was stunning.
The cabin was really spacious too, with an en suite bathroom and plenty of room for your clothes – though I hardly spent any time in there, I just loved being out on deck and chatting to other passengers.
Plus you’re almost always moored by about 4pm, so every evening you can explore a new town or city before making your way back to the ship for dinner.
It’s so easy getting off the ship, it takes no time at all. At most ports you just had to walk over a tiny bridge, more or less a step, and we never had to queue to get off or on.
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Champagne and Canapes
We met all the crew over champagne and canapés as soon as we boarded.
The staff were lovely and really knew their stuff – every day we had two different wines with dinner, and Zoe, the cruise escort knew everything about them – where they were from, what year the company started, what grapes they used – everything, just off the top of her head!
I think everyone was very impressed with her knowledge. And Anita would do a talk almost every day; she never needed any books to help her, she just knew it all.
Her talks were fascinating – I’m not really a history buff but her passion and enthusiasm made everything so interesting, and gave the trips we went on an extra level of context.
Monet's Garden excursion
My favourite excursion was the visit to Monet’s garden. Everyone in the world has seen the painting of Monet’s waterlilies with the bridge over the pond, but to see it in real life is something else.
They’re all Japanese plants and flowers so in the climate France has, the gardens shouldn’t really be flourishing; they have ten gardeners a year working flat out to keep it pristine. But it’s totally worth it; it was incredible, I loved it.
Meals onboard the cruise
I loved meal times – everyone was in complete agreement with how good the food is. I was astonished with how amazing everything tasted.
To make it even better, every day you’d have great conversations with the other passengers; we were a group of four and the tables are usually six, eight or ten, so you all sit together and get to know each other.
Everyone was so welcoming and open, and interested in talking to each other – it was a really lovely, friendly atmosphere. Every guest is there to have a great time, it was brilliant.
At the end of the trip a form is passed around for you to share your email address so people can stay in touch, if you want to, then it’s photocopied and handed out on the coach trip back to the Eurostar station – I thought that was a really great way of making sure you don’t lose the friendships you’ve made on board.
In fact, I’ve had a couple of emails from one or two of the other passengers, sending me their pictures and saying how much they’d enjoyed their cruise, which is really lovely to hear.
Night Cruise through Paris
One of my highlights has got to be the night-cruise through Paris, along the Seine. You get to take in the whole spectacle of Paris, as you sail past the Louvre, Notre Dame, even a small replica of the Statue of Liberty, but the really exciting bit is when you sail past the Eiffel Tower.
Our Captain timed it so that we were sailing past at 10pm, when the lightshow begins. It was magical – a river cruise is definitely the best way to experience it.
In fact, I never thought I’d like a river cruise, but after this, I’d happily go on one again. I’ve already started saving!”