Consider a river cruise in France for a multi-generational way to experience Paris, the French countryside, and excursions to towns and chateaus in Normandy. The CroisiEurope river cruise stops every day to let you explore a new place, while enjoying delicious French food on the boat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. River cruising lets you choose your own way to enjoy the time, while letting your family spend time together.
Our 5-day river cruise in France began and ended in Paris, and let us explore towns along the Seine River. For my family, a CroisiEurope river cruise in summer was a great way to explore the landscape that inspired Impressionists in Normandy, enjoy delicious food on the boat, and give each of us a good mix of independence and family time.
Why a River Cruise?
The big appeal of a French river cruise is the daily excursion that allows you explore Normandy towns or countryside alongside the Seine, with the cruise company handling logistics. Since you are on a river, you don’t have to deal with seasickness, and you have a constantly changing view of medieval and modern towns, farms and open country. You can watch the riverbank from the lounge or from the open air on the deck. Plus, big windows in each cabin look directly out to the riverbank, close enough to the water that we truly felt we were on a boat.
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Paris by Night
Our river cruise began with a bang: an exhilarating tour of Paris by night, with its key monuments dramatically lit up against the night sky. After checking in at 6 p.m. and enjoying a welcoming cocktail and a delicious dinner, we cruised along the River Seine during Golden Hour and as night fell.
For full dramatic effect, we headed up to the ship’s deck to watch the gorgeously lit Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, and other monuments stand out against the night sky. Passengers sat in deck chairs – and sometimes we had to lie down. Paris bridges are so low that CroisiEurope staff make sure you lie down flat to avoid bonking your head on the stone bridges as you pass beneath. We passed so close to the underside of the bridges that my kids were tempted to touch them as we cruised underneath. Risky, but how could you resist?
I can’t guarantee it, but it seemed our ship captain timed our arrival at the Eiffel Tower so we caught its hourly light show. Five minutes of Paris romance to kick off our cruise!
Daily Excursions from the Ship to Normandy
My family opted for every daily excursion offered over the five days of the cruise. If your mental image of a charming French fishing village came to life, it might be Honfleur, one of our stops in Normandy. A knowledgeable local guide met us at the ship, and walked us through the harbor lined by sidewalk cafes, 16th century houses and churches and lush flowers in window boxes. He explained local history in English, all against the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky.
In Rouen, another knowledgeable English-speaking guide walked us to the cathedral that the Impressionist painter Monet painted again and again in the changing light. She pointed across the street to the shop window Monet sat in as he worked, which explains the odd angle of his Cathedral paintings. (You can see one of the Cathedral paintings in Paris at the Musee Orsay.) Rouen has a giant medieval clock that still tells the time, the day of the week, and the phase of the moon, all in gleaming gold gilt.
The CroisiEurope cruise line arranged several other excursions into the French countryside in Normandy, some involving a short bus ride. We visited a 15th century country palace (Martainville Chateau), the Joan of Arc memorial that has a good view of Rouen, and the glamorous seaside town of Deauville, where if the weather is warm, you might be able to take a quick dip. A highlight was the distillery that produces Calvados, a popular apple-based liquor, and its beautiful grounds.
Food and Wine on the Ship
This is a French cruise company so, as you might imagine, the food and wine were excellent. Most of the 75 passengers were French or other nationalities from nearby countries, so being on the ship itself felt like a European trip. But for your three daily meals, the cruise tries to seat you with people who speak your language. My family was seated with other English-speaking tourists, and we enjoyed getting to know them.
Buffet breakfast featured the outstanding dairy products of Normandy. Lunch and dinner were both delicious three-course meals, a set menu served to each passenger. CroisiEurope thoughtfully accommodated my vegetarian daughter and another passenger’s dislike of fish. While the cruise can adapt to some dietary restrictions, to have fun, kids would need to be old enough to enjoy sitting down to a formal lunch and dinner.
Wine flowed freely in the lounge, and during lunch and dinner, though our table skipped it at lunch. My kids are 19 and 22, and enjoyed that the drinking age in France is 18.
Our CroisiEurope cruise was a good fit for multi-generational travel, if kids are tweens or old enough to entertain themselves, to have fun chatting through a formal meal with other passengers. Another boon for multi-generational groups is that passengers (say a grandparent or a teen) can opt out of excursions to either stay on the boat or explore individually.
Entertainment and games in the lounge were geared to an older crowd, but my kids enjoyed the multi-generational dance floor, with a live singer and musician who covered popular French, Spanish, and American dance tunes. My kids also appreciated having wifi in the lounge, and their own cabin for down time.
Our ship had 3 levels: the cabins, the lounge and dining level, and the open-air deck. While a river cruise is a smaller than a big cruise, so entertainment possibilities are more limited on board, there are no full days on the water, and excursions every day. Plus, on a river cruise, each docking point is right downtown, within easy walking distance to places you’ll visit, so independent exploring is possible.
Socializing among the 75 or so passengers on a river cruise is expected, and it can be fun to chat with other passengers in the lounge, if there is a common language – as there often is.
Consider a river cruise if your family wants to enjoy exploring French towns and countryside, while letting the professionals at CroisiEurope plan the logistics.
Would you ever consider taking a river cruise of France? Tell us about it in the comments.