Thank you for a wonderful Grand Circle Travel River Cruise Experience from the Cote d’Azur to Provence to Burgundy and ending in Paris. It was a gorgeous tour and the special touches incorporated made all of the difference in your offering from other river cruise lines.
Here are a few stream of consciousness impressions of my experiences in no particular order:
It was a pleasure meeting so many lovely people in the intimate setting of the Chardonnay. I made some very nice friends with whom I will remain in contact, perhaps to partner with on a future GCT cruise or OAT adventure.
The crew of the Chardonnay was a pure delight. I admit that at first I was not impressed with the aesthetics of the ship, but as time went on, I fell in love with her coziness and warmth. Laurent was an amazing chef and the food was so fresh and delicious. The night of onboard entertainment with the keyboard/singer was so much fun. I enjoyed dancing the night away. I also enjoyed talking with Cshaba (sp?), our Hotel Manager. He had such a sensitive and kind manner with us all. The entire crew was wonderful and very attentive.
GCT’s secret weapon in France is Program Director Delphine Morel. She made her job look effortless with her calm abiding presence. What a lovely woman she is. I learned so much from her as she is truly a wonderful teacher – one I would have loved my son to have experienced. I especially enjoyed her assignments forcing us a bit out of our comfort zones into a French Market to find unique foods and to a Boulangerie for specialty breads… all with the intention to have us engage with the French people on a more personal level. Our group bonded and we became more confident in our willingness to interact and truly experience the people and culture as a result. Delphine took ordinary daily experiences and made them extraordinary for each of us. I will definitely request her as our guide when we book this cruise again.
Delphine’s narrated walks into various ports (especially Viviers) was far more enjoyable (in my personal opinion) than walks with the local guides employed in Arles and Avignon. Those two ladies were a bit wearing and too detailed for me, though I did enjoy our guide in Lyon; he was great! I would recommend for Nice and Avignon the Tchoo Tchoo train tours for 7 or 8 Euro and a visit to a boulangerie, patisserie or another business with a discussion with the owner or manager of the establishment about living in his/her city and running a business there, perhaps a tasting and then turn us loose in the town for more free time or the 45 minute Tchoo Tchoo train tour.
I also compliment GCT on the home hosted dinner; it was an excellent entrée into the French lifestyle and quite memorable. I was so happy to have had a good discussion with Elena (our homeowner) about the quality of the French lifestyle and the slow food movement. Everything on our plate except the rice was grown by her family. And to top it all off with a lovely fireworks display was a high point.
The wine tasting in the Beaujolais region was quite special. The vintner was so enthusiastic about his wines and they were delicious. I would recommend adding a formal wine tasting in the Bordeaux region.
The visit to the American Cemetery in Draguignan was an unexpected surprise. The cemetery director was so passionate about the place and its history that we were transfixed by her every word. What a great tour she provided! Some of us were moved to tears with the love story she told and brought home in our hearts the message that war affects every aspect of our lives, even one fought long ago.
Ahhh and the visit to Monet’s Garden in Giverny was made perfect by Delphine’s early departure and arrival to a pristine garden with no others in it. We were the first to arrive, to quietly savor the beauty that inspired Monet to paint and to garden. Truly a highpoint…
And Paris! Again, Delphine was such a delight in taking us down into the Metro to provide detailed instructions on the underground transport. She took the mystery out of it and our group was traveling on their own about Paris with confidence and thrilled with themselves! Of course, I won’t forget my evening in Paris walking up the steps of the Eiffel Tower to the second platform and then taking the elevator to the top for the most magnificent views of Paris and especially the Seine River at night. Very romantic to see lovers toasting champagne and proposing marriage.
Grand Circle Tours should be proud of their distinctive offering in the River Cruise market!