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This," said the American in Paris, "is the perfect way to start a love affair with France."
It was the final night of our Avalon Waterways river cruise and, I assume, this gentleman was summing up his feelings about the last 10 days, which started in Nice, France, on the south coast, and would wrap up the next morning in Paris.
The Avalon Scenery
I was most impressed by the amount of ground covered — all at a leisurely pace — aboard the elegant, new 138-passenger Avalon Scenery. As part of the Globus Family of Brands, the line knows Europe. And, with a $100-million five-ship contract, the company will soon have 10 ships in the region by 2010. Ours was the first of the new vessels and it debuted in April. It will be followed by two sister ships in 2009 and two more in 2010.
This was also the first year for our French itinerary and the Scenery proved to be perfectly outfitted for it. The ship was very comfortable and had a sleek, modern decor with floor-to-ceiling windows and spacious rooms. Staterooms were well-equipped with plenty of space and large flat-screen televisions, as well as Wi-Fi access, in addition to the Internet Center. The ship emanated an elegant, warm welcome, which was enhanced by a willing crew led by the French captain.
Our trip started in Nice. Avalon met all clients and took them to a hotel on the sea front. A quick welcome meeting was followed by the first excursion, a bus trip to Monaco, which featured an excellent meal in a hotel with a superb view, followed by free time to explore the famed casino and other sights.
The next morning, we engaged in a complimentary walking tour of Nice’s Old Town, setting a pattern of an escorted, free trip each morning and an optional paid excursion each afternoon. It definitely proved to be a good balance.
That afternoon, our cruise director ushered us on buses to drive to Arles, France, where we boarded Scenery, which was docked on the Rhone within easy walking distance of Arles’ famous sights.
Farther along, in Avignon, France, the Scenery docked close to the walls of the city, where popes reigned in the 14th century. This is one of Europe’s finest medieval destinations, and the morning walking tour was superb. Later, we tied up at Tournon, France, in the heart of the Rhone Valley, where we had a view of a vineyard with classic Hermitage wine from the deck.
Sadly, heavy rain had flooded the Saone just above Lyon, France, and despite the Scenery’s sophisticated ballast system (not unlike a submarine’s) it could not attempt to navigate the bridges that lay ahead for the simple reason that the authorities closed the river to all cruise-vessel traffic.
So, we lingered in the handsome city of Lyon, France, which is known for its traboules (alleys) and its fine silk. Excursions took us to tastings of Beaujolais Nouveau and we explored Les Halles market with its sumptuous fare, and dined ashore in Lyon’s restaurants.
Not that there was anything to complain about onboard. The food was excellent, and it came with complimentary wine at dinner. Meals were served with a flourish. After-dinner entertainment included a folklore group, an accordion player and a chanteuse, who wowed everyone with her Edith Piaf song renditions.
Normally, the vessel would terminate at Chalon-sur-Soane, but we returned to Paris, where we stayed two nights in the first-class Le Meridien in the exclusive 16th arrondissement, taking in a city tour and excursions to the Louvre and the Moulin Rouge.
The itinerary is being repeated next year with land-only prices starting at $2,209, a very good value when you consider the high price of good French hotels and restaurants.
Avalon Scenery’s contemporary design and light, open spaces will be echoed in the upcoming Avalon Affinity and Avalon Creativity, both debuting in 2009, and in two more sisterships set to debut in 2010. Avalon will then have 10 vessels in Europe, averaging just two years old.
Standard staterooms are 172 square feet and 90 percent have floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass doors. Beds can be configured as twin or queen, bed linens are Egyptian cotton and the cabins have flat screen televisions, minibars and safes, plus ample storage. A well-equipped fitness room, large Jacuzzi, library, hair salon and gift shop serve the guests onboard.
Avalon offers itineraries in Europe, Egypt, China and the Galapagos Islands, with themed sailings to cater to a multitude of special interests, from music to food and wine. Since 20 percent of its passengers are single travelers, the line offers three options: singles can pair with friends, take the solo supplement of 50 percent with a discount on price or take advantage of Avalon’s matching program, where the line places them with a same-sex single wishing to share; if there is not another such guest on the sailing, the passenger receives a stateroom at the regular, per person, double occupancy price without a supplement.
Avalon offers agents substantial commissions, Webinars, fams and virtual tours plus a dedicated agent portal at www.globusfamilypartner.com
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