France has long been one of my favorite destinations, but I had yet to visit the beaches of Normandy or experience Paris on Bastille Day. As a river cruise enthusiast, I decided to book a 7-day Ama Waterways cruise, which would take me round-trip from Paris to Normandy, putting me back in Paris in time for Bastille Day.
My husband and I flew into Paris one day prior to the cruise to get a jump on jetlag. We have been to Paris several times, but we had not been up the Montparnasse Tower. To celebrate the beginning of a trip we had been looking forward to for several months, we had a champagne toast at the top of the Tower. We enjoyed the bird’s-eye view of Paris, but we were excited for our cruise and meeting up with our friends we were traveling with.
We made our way to the AmaLyra, which was docked in view of the Eiffel Tower. After a warm welcome at the reception desk, we were shown to our cabin, which was decorated in a pleasing color palate of warm tones. After dropping off our bags, we found our friends exploring the ship. We decided we would finish planning our week over dinner at the Chef’s Table restaurant.
Dinner was spectacular. The Chef’s Table venue has only four tables, which we found very intimate, and the food was exceptional. We were all concerned we had set the bar a little high, but as the week went on we were not at all disappointed. The food all week was consistently terrific – from beef and fish to cheeses and dessert. In addition to the fabulous food, we experienced wonderful and unwavering service all week, from our first meal to our last.
The sailing I chose for us was wine-themed, which meant we would have wine and champagne seminars during the week with special tastings. Wine (and beer) are included on Ama cruises, but a wine-themed cruise brings a wine expert onboard for the duration of the cruise. We had Jessica Endsworth from Angela Estate winery in Oregon. She was as knowledgeable on wine as she was entertaining, and the wines she brought for the wine-paired dinner were superb. We didn’t miss one of her talks, and when the attention turned to French champagne, we were impressed by the expert Ama engaged for that lesson, as well.
Ama knows how to balance out the decadence of their food and wine options with opportunities to partake in physical activity. The AmaLyra was one of the first ships in the cruise line to employ a fitness guru. On our sailing we had Fitness and Wellness host Selina, and she offered hikes in nearly every stop. Onboard she held exercise classes, including champagne yoga (yes, a few glasses were spilled in class), and talks on wellness. The test run on AmaLyra has been so popular that it is expanding to six ships in 2018.
Ama was the first cruise line to offer the use of bikes, and they are dedicated to trying to get their guests to make healthy choices onboard. Knowing how good their food is and how easily the wine can pour, bikes and fitness classes are great options for guests. The bikes can be used as part of an active excursion or taken out for a spin individually. You don’t have to be a health-nut to take an Ama cruise. There won’t be a judging eye if you try one of each of the fabulous pastries at breakfast, and excursions come in a variety of activity levels.
We had one particularly warm evening on our sailing, and the band took their instruments up to the top deck because it was a prefect summer night for being outside. Guests and crew were dancing and enjoying this impromptu deck party, as we sailed down the Seine. The Cruise Manager was great all week about including guests who wanted to be included, and adding a touch of fun.
As far as our itinerary, every port was wonderful, from Vernon with a visit to Giverny; to Caudebec to visit Honfleur and the Normandy Beaches; Rouen where we had a gourmet tasting excursion; and Les Andelys to visit Richard the Lionhearted’s Château Gaillard. Of course the pièce de résistance was the visit to the Normandy Beaches and the American Cemetery. This excursion put everything into perspective. The sacrifices made in World War II were felt by everyone on our excursion and a certain quietness came over our group. I had been wanting to see the vast beaches and appreciate them in person for years. I have a greater understanding with the visit to the museum at the American Cemetery and seeing remnants of the harbor at Arromanches. I was moved by this day-long excursion and grateful for the experience.
When the ship returned to Paris we arrived in time to take sunset pictures with the Eiffel Tower in the background. That night we had a late evening sailing past the beautifully lit Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower, which was bedazzled with sparkling lights. The City of Lights did not disappoint.
It was our last night on the ship, and we knew we were going to miss the friendly and attentive crew. It was bittersweet to leave the ship because I was excited for Bastille Day. We disembarked and checked into the Hôtel du Louvre, which is an historic 19th century hotel. We were sad to leave the AmaLyra but we knew we were in good hands at the Hôtel du Louvre.
Although the hotel is undergoing a huge renovation of their common areas and all 177 guestrooms, they were very welcoming when we checked-in, and we were never inconvenienced by the construction. Our room wasn’t ready so we decided to wander the streets of Paris and do a little sightseeing. We explored Galerie Vivienne, which is one of the covered passages of Paris, headed for Marché des Enfants Rouges, and then decided to try the famous ice cream of Berthillon Glacier – ooh, la, la! That night we had a fabulous dinner at the Hôtel du Louvre’s Basserie du Louvre.
The next day was Bastille Day, and we had big plans for the evening. Not to waste a moment of sightseeing, I had booked us a small group tour of the Catacombs of Paris. As we were leaving Hôtel du Louvre for the metro, an air show was flying right over us. We took pictures, as we made our way to the metro. When we got off the metro a military parade went by to remind us we were in Paris on Bastille Day. Our Catacombs tour was fascinating. We were able to see parts of the Catacombs that are off-limits to the general public. After our tour, it was time to go back to the hotel to change into our dinner clothes and get ready for our special Bastille Day dinner. I had arranged for us to go on a Seine dinner cruise and end under the Eiffel Tower for fireworks.
Getting to the dock was not easy. Our taxi driver had to let us out a few blocks from the ship because of security road blocks. We had to walk the rest of the way in high heels for the girls and less than comfortable dress shoes for the guys. Our security passes got us through all the checkpoints, and we arrived early for the dinner cruise.
The rest of the night can only be described as magical. We had wonderful food and drink with our wine-paired dinner, and we were aglow from our fabulous week on the AmaLyra. After the dinner cruise on the Seine, our ship docked directly opposite the Eiffel Tower. The only thing between us and the fireworks was the Seine and, of course, police boats keeping the area safe.
The fireworks lasted 45 minutes but the memory of this incredible night and our fabulous week on the AmaLyra will continue in memories, pictures and videos. Now it’s time to revisit my bucket list. What is next for you?