Uniworld’s Parisian Holiday Seine River Cruise with Stephen

Paris15Stephen on the Seine

Travelling to Paris in December 2015, the still-recent November 13th terrorist attacks were obviously on our minds, but we refused to let these misinformed terrorists dictate our travel plans. Many thought this was not the time to go to France, while others thought it was the best time to visit. I obviously agree with the latter since right after a tragedy, a destination is usually much safer due to heightened security.

During our visit, France was on high alert. Security was very noticeably beefed up. Paris was being patrolled by unprecedented numbers of security, police and military personnel, especially in crowded areas, public transport, and places frequented by tourists, including monuments, museums, markets and large shopping centers, stores and and religious sites. We often passed squads of six or eight soldiers with semi-automatic weapons. Sights like this were more the norm than not, not only in Paris, but all over France. At major stores, malls and public buildings, security guards and police examined every bag, scanning our bodies and asked us to open our coats to make sure that we were not carrying any bombs!

4River Baroness at Les Andelys

A visit to the impromptu memorial at Place de la Republique was very emotionally moving. It was hard not to tear up thinking of the tragedy of the events and what it means to all of us. However, Parisians were clearly pulling together to try to put their lives on track. The French flag was flying proudly from windows and balconies, the cafes and their terraces were full, seemingly operating business as usual. All the Christmas concerts and Ballet that we attended were sold out. Those we spoke to emphasized that they were proud to be Parisian and would not let the terrorists win.

Paris is the number-one tourist destination in the world. Above all, the city needs to heal and rebound from this terrible tragedy, but without the help of tourists who contribute largely to its economic health and vibrancy, it’s not likely to succeed. Just as New York City bounced back quickly after the tragic terrorist attacks of 9/11, and thanks, in part, to the support of visitors, it is my opinion that it’s important to stand behind Paris and keep its spirit alive.

I’m so happy I listened to my inner feelings and not the naysayers telling me not to travel to Paris. It was a magical trip just like every past trip to this beautiful city has been. The weather was gorgeous, sunny and around 15 degrees during the day but chilly at night. Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and I can’t wait to go back. 

Uniworld’s Parisian Holiday River Cruise on board The River Baroness

10Louve

Many of you are aware that my wife and I are staunch supporters of Uniworld in that we have sailed with them a number of times before. We have always been struck by how unfailingly polite and friendly the staff are, and that their attitude has improved by leaps and bounds every year. On this cruise we were amazed at how much the staff had gone above and beyond to make sure that the passengers had a truly exceptional holiday experience. Uniworld have obviously gone to great pains to ensure that staff training was first and foremost. Their philosophy is “No request too large, no detail too small”. On the first morning, we were amazed on our way to breakfast that we were greeted by name by all the staff from the waiters, the front office staff to housekeeping. This continued for the remainder of the cruise.

The waiters in the dining room and in the lounge soon learned everyone’s preferences and anticipated their needs. One waiter recognized us from the cruise we took last year, from then on he took care of us even down to making sure we had our favourite wine on hand at dinner. We later learned that the crew on board had all volunteered for this Christmas cruise and were very close personally too.

8Galleries Lafayette Christmas Decorations

Being a Christmas cruise the atmosphere on board was bright and festive. All the passengers were in high spirits and friendships were forged right from the beginning. The lounge after dinner was always alive with spirited conversation and dancing until the wee hours.

Uniworld now are the only river cruise company to offer all-inclusive cruising. They include all scheduled airport transfers, all gratuities to staff on board and to the local tour guides on shore, unlimited beverages onboard, 24 hours a day, including an extensive selection of distinctive wines, craft and regional beers, spirits, cocktails, soft drinks, juices, a selection of specialty coffees and teas and mineral water, internet and Wi-Fi access onboard to stay connected.  Carefully crafted shore excursions hosted by English-speaking experts with options to personalize with “Choice is Yours” All meals on board, impeccably prepared using the finest and freshest ingredients sourced from farmers’ markets and other local suppliers. Uniworld also has the highest staff to guest ratio in the river cruise industry – one staff member to three guests.

Unlike some other river cruise lines ships that are all identical, every Uniworld ship is unique, no two are the same. Careful attention has been made to every detail. They are uniquely designed and decorated with priceless art and antiques by the same team that oversees Red Carnation Boutique Hotels.

Our daily activities took us to the village of Vernon, the gateway to Monet’s gardens at Giverny, where we had a walking tour of the typical French village and then treated to a private organ concert at the church of Notre Dame.

2Christmas Street Scene

We then sailed to Les Andelys, a very picturesque, historic, small village in a valley at the heart of one of the most beautiful of the Seine loops. It is overlooked from a promontory high above the village by the remains of Chateau Gaillard. Built by England’s King Richard 1st, Richard the Lion Hearted, to defend Rouen and Richard’s Duchy of Normandy from the armies of the French kings.

Then on to one of my favourite French towns, medieval Rouen. The city was decked out for Christmas with colourful lights strung from the half-timbered houses in the narrow streets. In the square in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral there was a Christmas market, the Marche de Noel, with stalls selling everything from meats and cheeses to beer and mulled wine. I could not understand why there were Canadian flags flying from some of the stalls until I learned that it was the Canadians that liberated the city on August 30th 1944 and for this reason there is still a strong Canadian presence.

6Rouen

We were treated to a delightful, private Christmas carol concert in the cathedral by the choir of Saint Evode. After which we went to the oldest restaurant in France, La Couronne, dating back to 1345, situated on the Place du Vieux Marche where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. It was also where Julia Child had her first meal in France, leading her to become the amazing chef she was. In the rambling, half-timbered building with squeaky, narrow winding stairs, we had a taste of Christmas, Normandy style, with apple tartin and coffee in a room that does not look like it has changed in hundreds of years despite the myriad of photographs of previous celebrity visitors covering every inch of wall space.

Versailles was our next visit. Here we were taken on a Secret Palace Tour. Most do not realize that the Palace is split in two. The greater part of the Palace was where the King of France entertained guests and met with members of the court, ate, slept, and socialized publicly. Afterwards they would retreat to their private apartments where only the most privileged guests were allowed entry. We were fortunate to explore these opulent apartments and learn about the secret lives of France’s royalty. Leaving through a hidden door, we emerged into the sparkling and spectacular Hall of Mirrors.

In the afternoon, we toured Marie Antoinette’s chateau, The Petite Trianon, with an English-style garden designed by Marie herself and its own hamlet containing a mill, farm and creamery. This is where Marie Antoinette retreated from the King and the court with her friends to be free to explore a relatively simpler life.

5Rouen

We returned to Paris, where The River Baroness became our floating luxury boutique hotel for the remainder of our cruise.

From the ship, during the next few days, we visited the Paris Opera Garnier, The Musee d’Orsay, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Latin Quarter, the Christmas market on the Champs Elysee, took a Seine River Cruise through the heart of Paris, and also a trip out of Paris to the Chateau Vaux le Vicomte where we had a private cocktail reception with the owner.

One of the most memorable moments was on Christmas morning. We were walking toward Notre Dame Cathedral; the streets were unusually quiet as there was hardly any traffic around. At 10:00am all the bells of the cathedral started to peel out and continued for about fifteen minutes. The closer we came, the louder the bells became and the cacophony of sound just surrounded us. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

This was perhaps the most enjoyable river cruise we have been on. Everyone was in such a festive holiday mood and with the crew’s high spirits it was a Christmas to remember.

Hotel and restaurant reviews

Hotels

Marriott’s Village d’Ile-de-France, Bailly-Romainvilliers

11Marriott Village d'Ile de France

This was our fourth stay here. It is the perfect place to decompress before tackling the whirlwind that is Paris.

The complex is designed to resemble a French village and is built around a golf course with ponds and streams connecting the entire area. Each unit is a 2 or 3 bedroom townhouse on two floors with full kitchen, laundry, living room and dining room.  We noticed that the units had been completely renovated and all the appliances had been replaced with high end Bosch equipment. This was a big and welcome change.

The property is approximately 40 km from Paris, near Disneyland Paris, but only about 35 minutes away on the inter-urban RER train. It is also a mere 11 minutes on the TGV from Marne –la-Vallee station to Charles de Gaulle Airport.

There were a number of noticeable improvements in communication from Marriott this year. About two weeks before we arrived we were contacted by the front office wishing to know our needs and preferences for our stay. Having stayed here before, we knew in which areas we wanted to stay – or didn’t. They also offered grocery packages that could be purchased in advance of your arrival.

Upon arrival, the entire reception area had been decorated for Christmas. It was so cozy, warm and inviting. The friendly front desk staff now all speak English, and the rest of the staff, including housekeeping, do too.

Our townhouse was in the Monet’s Garden area. Ducks waddled up to our patio looking for handouts while a big ginger tom cat benignly looked over them. What else could you ask for?

We like this place so much that we could live here!

http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/pardp-marriotts-village-dlle-de-france/

12Left Bank from The Mercure

Mercure Paris Notre Dame Saint Germain des Pres

Wonderful left bank location next to the Cluny Museum. Walking distance to Boulevard St Michel and Boulevard Saint Germain for shopping. Restaurants abound in the area. Close to Notre Dame, the Seine, Luxembourg Gardens etc.

The rooms are small but we had a Privilege room on the top floor which was a little bigger. If you can, request the corner room with a balcony overlooking Rue St. Jacques with a view of Notre Dame.

The staff were very accommodating. Public areas in the lobby are also small but well appointed.

http://www.mercure.com/gb/hotel-9685-mercure-paris-notre-dame-saint-germain-des-pres/services.shtml

Renaissance Paris Le Parc Trocadero

7Eiffel Tower

A delightful find in the 16th arrondisement, among embassies and locals. It was mid-way between two Metro Stations, Victor Hugo and Trocadero, so getting anywhere was easy. The Eiffel Tower is in one direction and the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysee in the other.

In the streets surrounding the hotel are restaurants, cafes, specialty shops and supermarkets. The area has a small village feel about it.

The hotel has two buildings, the main building with the reception, public rooms, restaurant and bar on the street side. The other building across the garden looks like it is right from a country estate. That is where our room was. It had a king size bed, a sitting area with chair and table and probably the largest bathroom we have experienced in Paris. By Parisian standards the room was huge.

The front desk staff and concierge could not have been more friendly and helpful.

I would definitely stay here again and recommend it to everyone.

http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/parsp-hotel-le-parc-trocadero-paris/

Renaissance Paris Vendome

A boutique hotel ideally located between Rue de Rivoli and Rue St Honore with their shops and restaurants, and around the corner from The Ritz. Within easy walking distance of The Louvre, The Tuileries, The Palais Garnier, the major departments store of Galleries Lafayette and Printemps ,the Place de la Concorde and the Champs Elysee. The Metro is also only one street away.

The reception area is very inviting. The front desk staff were so informative and helpful. In fact, the young lady who checked us in even escorted us to our room and

pointed out the amenities. The room was small but quite adequate. The only draw-back was that it was on the first floor over the entrance and looked directly into the hotel on the other side of the street. If we stayed there again I would upgrade to a deluxe room. We were in a standard.

We were only here for two nights, but it was a perfect base for walking everywhere. 

http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/parvd-renaissance-paris-vendome-hotel/

Restaurants

La Coincidence

Our daughter arranged a reservation here as a surprise Christmas present as we were staying at The Renaissance Trocadero hotel just one street away.

We were very warmly greeted by Alban, one of the owners, who looked after us for the entire evening. This is a cozy little place, and an obvious choice for neighbourhood locals.

The food was amazing. We shared the Terrine of Foie Gras as an appetizer, I had the Steak Tartare and my wife had the Filet of Beef, both with potatoes au gratin that had been recommended to us – delicious! For dessert we shared a Crème Brûlée which was huge. A bottle of Cote du Rhone completed the meal.

13L'Escargot

We would highly recommend La Coincidence and will be making reservations for our next visit to Paris.

http://www.lacoincidence.com/en/

L’Escargot

This is one restaurant we have wanted to visit for a long time. We had talked about making reservations during this holiday but it went on the back burner as we were so busy. We were out exploring one day when we took a street that was not on our intended route and we ending up at the end of Rue Montorgeuil by Les Halles which is the street L’Escargot is on.

14L'Escargot

Without hesitation, we walked quickly and soon found the gleaming escargot over the door.  It was lunchtime and the restaurant was packed but they soon found us a table for two which was tightly fitted into a corner. The restaurant has been there since 1832 and I don’t think that it has been updated since. It was purely Parisian from La Belle Époque. Red velvet banquettes, dark woodwork, and a painted ceiling with cherubs watching us. There was even a spiral staircase in the middle of the room.

The ambiance was lively and the waiter was so pleasant.

We both had half a dozen of the large traditional escargots with an herb butter sauce along with fingers of toast to soak up all the delicious juices, all washed down with a carafe of red St Roch. Not a big meal, but one to remember for the entire experience.

http://escargotmontorgueil.com/node/36