This was our very first river cruise, after having taken 30 ocean cruises. We boarded the ship in Avignon and sailed up to Chalon sur Soane. We signed up for the 3-day Paris extension through Viking and our package also included airfare.
After reading some of the reviews on this site, I did have some concerns, but ultimately we found the trip to be exactly as advertised and more. The ship itself was beautiful - immaculate and beautifully designed and decorated. We had a small suite which was wonderful - a separate sitting/living room with veranda, and a bedroom with floor-to-ceiling window. The bathroom was large with a very nice sized shower with high-end amenities provided, along with fluffy towels, bathrobe and slippers. We did visit some of the other cabins and found them to be quite small, so we were very glad to have the suite.
The entire staff on the ship was friendly, efficient and always ready to help make our vacation a memorable one. Matt, our cruise director, was excellent and seemed to be everywhere. Everyone from the room attendant to all of the restaurant service staff seemed to enjoy their jobs and were always pleasant and friendly. The food was very good, although the quantities and frequency of meals were less than on a typical ocean cruise, but more than sufficient. Matt did a great job of keeping us informed as to what was happening, where we needed to be at certain times, etc. He even provided some of the entertainment, doing a "Liar's Club" one night and a funny trivia game another night (similar to what happens on some ocean cruises). There was a piano player/singer who also performed every night in the lounge. In addition, they did a few extra programs on various topics, such as cheese, chocolate, etc.
The weather was beautiful for the entire week, we had rain one morning, but luckily it was a morning when there was no included tour, and by the time we boarded the buses at 2:00 p'.m., the sun was out. The weather was warm, but not nearly as warm as the 100+ temps that had been experienced a few weeks before. The AC on the ship worked fine and we were always comfortable.
We did find the river cruise to be a more structured day compared to ocean cruises, but that's because Viking provides at least one included tour each day and it leaves at a very specific time, sometimes as early as 8:30 A.M. The buses used were all new, large and even had bathrooms onboard. Most of the tour guides did a great job and it was very helpful to have the Vox radio devices so we didn't have to stand right in front of the guides to hear them. My only complaint about some of the tours was that very minimal time was allowed for shopping and there were times I could have done with a little less history and detail about the site we were visiting, and a little more free time for shopping. We did do two of the optional tours with mixed results. My husband did the Chateaunauf de Pape tour and thought it was pretty good. We both did the Lyon "cooking class", but for $79 each, it was only a 2-hour session in an un-air conditioned location, the dish cooked was a dessert - I guess I had thought we might be taken to a farmers market to do some shopping, then to a kitchen to prepare an actual meal, or at least a main course. I didn't feel this was worth the $140+ we paid.
Most of the bus rides were relatively short which had been another concern of mine, based on some of the other reviews I had read. When river levels are such that the boats can't move as readily, I guess Viking ends up using the buses for more distance travel, but fortunately that didn't happen for us. We had no water-level issues, other than the fact that we traveled under many low bridges, so the upper deck was closed for most of the travel times until we got to the Soane River which seems to have much higher bridges. When the ship was in port, the upper deck was open. We stuck to the planned schedule and only rafted to another ship on one or two brief occasions - because we were on level 3, we could still see out while people in the lower decks found themselves directly facing cabins from other ships. But this didn't happen much at all on this trip.
Overall, we had a very nice trip. We were very happy with the Westminster Hotel in Paris which was for our Paris extension. It is an older hotel, but absolutely beautiful with a great included breakfast, and in an excellent location. We were a 10-minute walk from The Louvre and a $10 Euro cab ride from the Eiffel Tower. Viking had a rep at the hotel to meet us, and she distributed room keys, provided helpful information, and was available for 4 hours each day to answer questions and provide assistance. All the transfers and flights worked out well too. There were people on the cruise portion of the trip who had to leave the ship at 3:00 a.m. on the final day, and I definitely would not have been a happy camper if I had been in that group. Viking advertises these trips as 8 days, but they really aren't a full 8 days, especially when you have to leave the ship in the middle of the night! Essentially, it is a 7-night cruise, and barely 7 days depending on what time you arrive on the first day. Because we were doing the Paris extension, we disembarked the ship at 8:00 a.m. for the 4-hour+ ride to Paris, with a 2-hr. stop in Auxerre which was a lovely city. When we left Paris to fly home, a small bus arrived to pick us up, and a Viking rep actually met our group at the airport and helped us find our way. Viking did a great job of handling all these travel details for us and we only had to show up at the appointed times.
Beautiful 2-room suite. Minimal closet space and only two drawers in the entire space, but I used some cabinet space in the living room for clothes so we managed just fine. Large and well-appointed bathroom. Location on the third level was very convenient to everything.