Friday, April 5, 2013

Friday Musings

                                               Clock at the Musee D'Orsay

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."
~ From Alice in Wonderland

We arrived back in Paris last night, and after debarking this morning, we took a looooonnnnggg tour of Paris which included a couple of hours at the Musee D'Orsay.  True to form, I fell asleep on the bus and missed half of what the guide had to say.  I couldn't wait to get to the hotel, but it was after 3:30 before we arrived. I was asleep about 15 minutes later.

The good news is that Paris doesn't seem to be quite as cold as Normandy was.  We heard that it snowed up there yesterday, so we're happy we were there with no snow and that we left before it came down.  The high in Paris today was somewhere around 48 or so, and that's heading in the right direction.

A few people have written and asked me what we thought of the river cruise, so I thought I would answer that today, if you don't mind.  Just so you know, we took the AMAWaterways Normandy Cruise.  It was the first Normandy cruise of the season and the first Normandy cruise the company has done in some years.  The ship (Amalegro) is one of their oldest ships, although I wouldn't have known that had they not told us.

Our cabin was about as large as the ones you would find on an ocean cruise ship (170 square feet).  We had a French balcony (85% of the cabins have those), although we couldn't really enjoy it since it was too cold to open the door.  Included in the cabin was a flat-screen TV that had internet included, on-demand current movies, and English-language television.  We also had wi-fi throughout the ship although it was rather slow most of the time, and when we went through locks, it was off.  The ship was spotless, and I think they just renovated the baths and bedding because everything seemed new.

The food was okay. . . nothing great.  We had breakfast and lunch buffets in the dining room and lighter fare in the lounge daily.  They served tea between 3 and 5 every afternoon, and there was complimentary coffee, tea, cappuccino, latte, hot chocolate and cookies in the lounge 24/7.  Dinner was sit-down in the dining room, and it was open seating, which we liked since we were able to sit with different people every evening.  Wine, beer, soft drinks were included with lunch and dinner, but you had to pay if you wanted drinks any other time.

Excursions were all included, and we had choices daily.  For example, we did the American Normandy Beaches tour on Monday. They also offered the Canadian/British beaches tour and a culinary tour to a calvados distillery for those who preferred to do those. The excursions were nice enough, but the bus rides were getting to be too much.  We spent  8+ hours on the bus Monday (At least it was warm!).  By yesterday (Thursday), I was pretty sick of bus rides from the small towns to some other place, so we skipped yesterday's tours and just walked around Conflans.  

By the way, one big positive about the excursions was that we each had a microvox and headphone to wear.  Each guide had a microphone, so we could hear him/her without a problem.  We really liked having those, especially when the wind blew so hard that we would not have been able to hear a guide otherwise. 

The atmosphere on the river boats is a lot more relaxed. There is no formal night where everyone gets dressed in uncomfortable clothes, and the crew doesn't dance on tables during dinner. The crew is always polite and very friendly, but they don't try to sell you anything.  The cruise manager is not always making announcements on the PA, and no one is sticking a camera in your face telling you to "BE HAPPY!!"  That alone was enough to make me happy.

I think the two things that we weren't wild about were the excursions and the dining experiences.  We had a choice in excursions, as I mentioned, but they all included bus rides to places away from our port towns.  When we returned from the excursions (around 12-1), the ship took off for the next town. We'd arrive in the next port at 8 PM and have an excursion the next morning at 9 or so.  That gave us no time to really explore the town unless we skipped the excursion, as we did yesterday.  In addition, that gave us limited time on the excursions (except Normandy) that we did take. For example, we had less than two hours in Honfleur, and that's definitely not enough time to see a place.

This is more me than Mike, but I also felt herded around.  One reason I prefer to make my own reservations and plans is that I don't like being dragged around by guides.  If we want to spend more time at a site or in front of a painting, we like to do that.  Being one of a crowd drives me nuts.

The other thing was that there was one dinner time for everyone, either 7 or 7:30, depending on the day.  Unfortunately, the waiters were not very organized, and even though there were seven or eight waiters to handle the 130 people on board, they could not get things done quickly.  Most nights we waited over an hour between salad and entree, and it was between 10 and 10:30 before we left the dining room. 

Overall, we had a good experience.  Would we do it again? We need to get a few weeks beyond this one to make that decision.  

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