Pete Brown’s Paris and Normandy River Cruise
Normandy’s beauty and history were the biggest highlight of Pete Brown’s Paris and Normandy river cruise on AmaWaterways.
While visiting the British Memorial, Pegasus, Pete had the honor of meeting a 94-year-old veteran who had not been back to Normandy since landing there during the WWII invasion on June 6, 1944.
“It was just amazing,” he said. “He remembered the touchdown in the glider.” Pete found an instant connection with the man, who lived in a county near where Pete grew up in the U.K. His daughter-in-law’s father was in the same Royal Tank regiment as his father and she grew up in the same town Pete where was born.
Raised in a military family himself, Pete had two great uncles who landed on Gold Beach and survived the war.
“It’s a very emotional day even if you have no connection with a family member having served,” he said. “You still are impacted by what is there.”
They also visited the Juno Beach Centre, which pays homage to the 45,000 Canadians who lost their lives during the war. Pete said the surreal film playing on the three walls at the museum’s entrance makes you feel as if you are in a landing craft. Particularly moving was the video “They Walk With You” in one of the final rooms they visited that features a family being followed by the silhouettes of soldiers from the past with the message: “If you are walking on Juno Beach, remember, we are walking with you.”
“The reality really sets in,” he said.
The historical aspects of all the areas they visited on the seven-night Seine River voyage were fascinating. In Vernon, they visited the home and gardens of Impressionist Claude Monet.
“It was just amazing,” he said. “Most people think of Claude Monet as an artist but his biggest love was horticulture so I learned something new.”
In the medieval city of Rouen, they visited the square where Joan of Arc was martyred. In Les Andelys, they hiked to the hilltop ruins of Chateau Gaillard, the former stronghold of Richard the Lionheart.
“There is so much history,” he said.
A particular highlight for Pete on board was the food. He thoroughly appreciated how they geared the menu to each region they visited and served only French wines. For example, as a nod to Normandy, they offered a vast variety of cheeses along with Calvados, an apple brandy.
He also enjoyed dining one night at the Chef’s Table, which is an opportunity offered to all guests at no additional cost.
“It was very elegantly done,” he said.
From even before they set foot on the ship, Pete felt taken care of. Because of a higher than normal water level, the ship had to be docked farther away than normal. To accommodate the distance, a stretch limo shuttled guests to the new location.
“AmaWaterways is top notch in every aspect,” he said. “The service was excellent.”
Another highlight was the ship’s entertainment. During their last night in Paris, a singer paid tribute to the life story of French cabaret singer, songwriter and actress Edith Piaf.
If you’re looking for a bit of adventure and activity, this is the cruise itinerary for you.
“if you think you’re going to have a lot of down time, forget it,” he said. “It’s not that you have to do all of the tours, but you are very active.”
Expect a considerable amount of walking, Pete said. A nice feature is that the excursions come in three different paces — easy, regular and active. He also warns that river cruising is not designed for someone with mobility issues.
Three not-to-be missed elements?
Plan a pre- or post-trip in Paris, which is where the guests embark and disembark. Pete felt safe with the police presence he observed in the city.
“The French are very gracious and accommodating,” he said. “They often get a bum rap.” Learning a few French phrases goes a long way, advises Pete, and book your tickets to the major attractions in advance.
They enjoyed their stay at the four-star Hotel Duminy Vendome in the 1st Arrondissement, a block from the Tuileries Garden.
Participate in the shore excursions.
“They are well-run, educational and you can pick the pace you want to go at,” he said.
Don’t miss a visit to Normandy.
“I had never been there and was pleasantly surprised,” he said. “Normandy is stunningly beautiful.”