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Day by Day Itinerary

Delight in the warmth of the season in France, beginning and ending in Paris, which is truly the “City of Light” at this time of year. As you cruise on a private Grand Circle river ship—our award-winning M/S Bizet—enjoy the convenience of unpacking just once, with ALL meals included, plus wine with dinner.

During your trip, you'll disembark to set off on included walking tours of Paris and Rouen, and you'll also visit Rouen's Christmas Market. And you'll experience exclusive Discovery Series events that bring memorable French holiday traditions to life, such as a Christmas concert at a Rouen cathedral, and lively French cooking and language lessons onboard. Plus, make the most of your included international airfare by joining our trip extensions in Paris and charming Aix-en-Provence, France. Joyeux Noel, indeed!

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    Depart today on your flight to Paris, France.

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    Arrive this morning or afternoon in Paris. You are met at the airport and transferred to your ship, the M/S Bizet. Please note: If you started your discoveries early with our pre-trip extension to Paris, you will meet up with the main group today.

    Get acquainted with your Program Director and your fellow travelers this afternoon during a buffet lunch served onboard.

    Attend a briefing about the ship and meet the crew this evening. Your Program Director will answer any questions you may have. Later, celebrate your arrival in France with a Welcome Drink and the Captain's Welcome Dinner.

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    After breakfast, enjoy an included panoramic tour introducing you to the classic highlights of Paris. View the Arc de Triomphe (commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 and completed in 1836) standing at the end of the famed Champs Elysees at the large central roundabout where twelve elegant, tree-lined avenues converge. You'll also drive by the magnificent Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Place de la Concorde.

    After enjoying lunch aboard the ship, spend the afternoon making discoveries at your own pace.

    Or, join an optional tour to Montmartre, one of the most famous districts in Paris. A lively area that has attracted artists since the 1800s, Montmartre is located on the Right Bank of the Seine, on the highest hill in Paris, crowned with the Sacre Coeur Basilica, which you’ll visit. Explore the romantic Montmartre hill area and the small streets that wind through it, perhaps capturing some of the ambiance from the time of Monet, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec. You’ll have free time for a stop at a cafe for a drink and some shopping. Please note: This tour features walking up and down cobblestone streets.

    This evening, see the "City of Light" from a new perspective, if the weather—and the tide along the river—permits. Cruising along the Seine through the city, you'll enjoy the stately architecture and romantic icons from the vantage point of our boat as you dine. As the ship passes under its bridges, you'll see why the Seine is the ideal pathway to discovering the magic of Paris.

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    As you depart Paris this morning, get your camera ready as your ship passes La Roche Guyon, where Monet's close friend, the artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, established a studio. Though known primarily for his portraits, Renoir also painted scenes of this beautiful area. As you cruise, admire the town's castle, built on the chalk cliffs overlooking the River Seine. This castle served as Rommel's general headquarters during World War II. You'll also enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series presentation about France's love of fromage—cheese. From chevre to brie and beyond, French cheeses are among the country's most beloved and delectable treasures.

    You'll arrive in Vernon early this afternoon. With only 25,000 residents, Vernon retains the Old World charm that has endured since it was founded as a royal town in the ninth century. After lunch onboard, you'll have a bit of time to stroll around this lovely town.

    Then you'll experience your next Discovery Series event. Celebrate with your fellow travelers—and make new friends—as you enjoy a Home-Hosted Visit at the home of a Vernon family.

    Late this evening, your ship will set sail for Rouen.

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    Disembark in Rouen for a walking tour with a local guide this morning. Rouen is an important French commercial port city with a distinguished history dating to pre-Roman times. But it is more "infamous" as the city where Joan of Arc was imprisoned, tried for heresy, and burned at the stake in 1431. Here, you'll stroll through the Old Quarter, with its hundreds of timber-framed houses, and you'll also visit a Christmas Market. (Please note: Rouen's Christmas Market will not be open in time for our first two 2014 departures.)

    After lunch onboard, gather at Rouen's Notre Dame Cathedral—a Gothic architectural treasure so inspirational to Monet—for a special Christmas concert. For at least six centuries, Choir Masters have trained students in liturgical music, some going on to become world-renowned conductors and composers. You'll revel in an inspiring concert of seasonal music here.

    The rest of the afternoon will be yours to make your own discoveries. Then you'll enjoy dinner aboard the ship, which will remain docked in Rouen tonight.

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    Make your own discoveries in Rouen today. This was the capital of the Anglo-Norman dynasty that ruled England and large parts of what is now France from the eleventh to 15th centuries. You might like to return to Monet's beloved cathedral, visit one of the city's many excellent museums, or see the dramatic Place du Vieux Marche, a modern church dedicated to Joan of Arc. A bronze cross in the square marks the location of her death.

    Or, join an optional half-day excursion to the Benedictine Abbey de St. Wandrille. Founded in the seventh century, the abbey has undergone two near-complete restorations, and today's building is mostly an 18th-century structure. Forty monks still call the abbey home, and invest the area with a real sense of calm and historic continuity. You can hear the monks sing Gregorian chants at morning Mass.

    As you enjoy lunch onboard early this afternoon, your ship will set sail for Mantes La Jolie, arriving late this evening.

    As you cruise, you'll enjoy two exclusive Discovery Series events. First, you'll learn how to speak—and cook—like a native during French language and cooking lessons. Then you'll hear about France’s many Christmas traditions, from Buche de Noel, the traditional cake in the shape of Yule log, to Le Reveillon, the long and festive Christmas Eve dinner.

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    You arrive in Mantes La Jolie early this morning. You may explore on your own here, being sure to visit its most beloved building, the Notre Dame Cathedral. Dating from the end of the twelfth century, Notre Dame replaced the church burned down by William the Conqueror in 1087, during a siege of the town that cost him his life.

    Or, join an optional tour of the Palace of Versailles. This morning excursion to the palace includes a guided tour through its Grand Chambers, the Hall of Mirrors, and the Royal Chapel. You'll marvel at luminous decorations of marble, chased bronze, and gold leaf, with Rococo-style woodwork, and Italian-style painted ceilings—the home of 3,000 princes, ministers, and servants. Please note: To take advantage of this optional tour, you must purchase it in advance, prior to your departure. This tour features sustained walking and standing, and we could encounter crowds.

    Early this afternoon, you'll enjoy lunch onboard and your ship will set sail for Paris. As you cruise, you'll enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series presentation about Monet and his work. Over the course of two years, Monet painted Rouen's Notre Dame Cathedral—which you visited on Day 5—more than 20 times, capturing how variations in light due to weather and time of day changed the image he saw before him.

    As you near your arrival in Paris, you'll gather with your fellow travelers for a Farewell Dinner. You'll arrive in the city late this evening, and your ship will remain docked here overnight.

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    Explore Paris at your own pace this morning, perhaps visiting the Musee d’Orsay, housed in a notable building and known for its collection of Impressionist, post-Impressionist, and Art Nouveau works. In advance of the 1900 World's Fair, the architect Victor Laloux won a competition to build a new train station, which he gave a facade of a classic stone hotel, creating a structure that naturally integrated with its elegant neighborhood. The 1898 building served a number of purposes after 1940, when it was no longer suitable for modern trains. It was classified as a Historical Monument in 1976 and opened as a museum in 1986.

    Or, join an optional tour to the renowned Louvre Museum. Your first glimpse of the Louvre will be the I.M. Pei-designed entrance, which created a great deal of controversy when it was built in 1989. Called the Pyramide du Louvre, the steel-rod, cable, and glass pyramids at the three main Louvre entrances are today considered fine examples of the blending of modern with classic architecture. The treasures inside the museum are world-famous, and the collection of sculptures and paintings by the Great Masters unrivaled. Stroll through gallery after gallery, marveling at works by the likes of Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Michelangelo. Please note: The Louvre is one of the most visited sites in France, so travelers should expect lines (even for groups with reservations) and crowds in front of key highlights.

    Tonight, gather with your fellow travelers for a Farewell Drink along with dinner aboard the ship.

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    After breakfast this morning, you are assisted to the airport for your return flight home. Or, begin your post-trip extension in Aix-en-Provence, France.

Extensions

Traveler Reviews

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

  • This program features a fair amount of walking over uneven or cobblestone surfaces. For full enjoyment of this trip, you should be in relatively good health and must be able to walk one to three miles unassisted over the course of each day. If you have difficulty walking or are wheelchair-bound, please consult our Travel Counselors for guidance.
  • We reserve the right for our Program Directors to modify participation, or in some circumstances send travelers home if their limitations are impacting the group's experience.
  • Throughout the River Cruise season, weather conditions affect European river depths. Water levels may require adjustments to your itinerary.
  • When you travel in November or December, you can expect cold temperatures and possible snowfall.
  • Many shops, museums, and other sites are closed all day on December 25 and January 1. The sequence of events on your trip may be adjusted to reflect this.

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • M/S Bizet

    Our M/S Bizet ranked #17 in Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll. Custom-built with our travelers’ needs in mind, your private river ship has a passenger capacity of just 120 with all outside cabins and an English-speaking staff. You’ll savor freshly prepared meals from the upper-level dining room. Plus, enjoy leisure time in the bar and lounge, library, and Sun Deck. Complimentary wireless Internet access is available in select common areas. Wireless Internet access is not available in cabins and connectivity is limited in certain locations on River Cruise itineraries. Your cabin features a flat-screen TV with CNN and movies, radio, direct-dial telephone, individual heating and air-conditioning controls, twin beds that convert to sofas, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.

SEE THE ENTIRE GRAND CIRCLE FLEET

Extensions

  • Novotel Paris Eiffel Tower

    Paris, France | Rating: First Class

    Overlooking the Seine River, the Novotel Paris Eiffel Tower is convenient to many sites in Paris, including the famed Eiffel Tower. After a day of sightseeing, you can enjoy the indoor heated pool, sauna, or fitness center. The hotel offers a bar as well as French and Japanese restaurants. Each of the 764 air-conditioned rooms offer a safe, hair dryer, and Internet access.

  • Hotel Aquabella

    Aix-en-Provence, France | Rating: First Class

    Conveniently located in the historic center of Aix-en-Provence's Old Town, this First-Class hotel is just a stroll away from ancient and modern wonders. Enjoy a drink in the Lounge Bar, dine in the L'Orangerie restaurant, or visit the well-equipped fitness center. Each of the 110 rooms are air-conditioned and feature a private bath, telephone, cable TV, and minibar.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two vacations to maximize your value.

  • Extend your vacation and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip excursions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your ship or hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your vacation
  • Choose to "break away" before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle Cruise Line vacations to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium class

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $1045
w/ standard air $2045

SAVE a FULL 10% on November-December departures—
a value of up to $580 per couple. Reserve by 3/17/14.

Simply reserve any November-December departure of Christmastime on the Seine by March 17, 2014 and pay in full by check or electronic funds transfer within 14 days of making your reservation.* No matter when you depart, you'll save a full 10% off your cruise, cabin and deck upgrades, air add-ons, and pre- and post-trip extension price—reserve early for your best choice.

This example demonstrates how you can save, based on a 11/30/14 departure:

  ORIGINAL PRICE
per person
YOUR PRICE
when you pay in full by 3/17/14
River Cruise only price: $1295 $1165
Add a 3-night Aix en Provence, France extension: $595 $535
Add international airfare out of New York: $1000 $900
Total price per person $2890 $2600

Maximize your value by using the money you save for a cabin upgrade or optional trip extension

Call Now 1-800-221-2610

Joyeux Noël: The Christmas Traditions of France

Classic French holiday celebrations, beliefs, and cuisine

by Megan Mullin, Grand Circle associate

Rightly famous for their exceptional cuisine, the French celebrate the season with a host of special culinary
delights …


The first Noël, the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay…

These famous lyrics reference a word we all associate with the holidays: Noël. While the traditional carol is English, Noël is the French word for Christmas.  It comes from the French phrase les bonnes nouvelles, which means "the good news." This has been known as both a reference to the gospel and to the news of a good harvest at the end of the year. Whichever meaning you favor, the word evokes the celebratory spirit of the season—and all the traditions than come along with it.

In southern France, you’ll find a familiar Christmas icon: the Yule Log. Traditionally, the Yule Log was an immense wooden log burnt in farmhouse hearths from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day. The practice originated centuries ago when farmers of that region would burn Yule Logs to ensure good luck for their harvest in the coming year. These days, however, keeping a fire burning over such a long period of time is not always practical or possible—but the fireplace still plays a central role in the festivities.

What do young French children leave by the fireplace on Christmas Eve for Santa Claus—or Père Noël as he is known in France—to fill with gifts? Stockings, right? Not exactly. In a slight variation of our own tradition, French children set their shoes upon the hearth. Instead of cookies, carrots are left out as a treat—not for reindeer, but for Père Noël’s donkey, Gui. And while not every region of France decorates a Christmas tree, those that do—especially in the Southwestern part of the country—will find that Père Noël will hang candy, fruit, nuts, and small toys from the branches.

All the trimmings

The Sapin de Noël (Christmas fir tree) first appeared in Alsace in 1521. Back then, common decorations consisted of ribbons, paper flowers, and shiny red apples.  While some families still honor this old tradition, many families have modernized their trees with garland, tinsel, and colorful glass balls. Mistletoe is also locally grown and hung above doors—but not for the same reason we string up the seasonal sprig. In France, mistletoe brings good fortune, not a holiday smooch.

From the trimmings on the tree, we come to the trimmings on the table. Rightly famous for their exceptional cuisine, the French celebrate the season with a host of special culinary delights during the beloved Christmas feast known as le reveillon. Le reveillon began as a very late supper held after families returned home from midnight mass on Christmas Eve. While the practice of waiting until the wee hours for dinner has dwindled in recent years, le reveillon remains the most important holiday meal. Still served on Christmas Eve, the classic menu is quintessentially French: Family tables are laden with classic dishes such as fois gras, oysters, wines, cheeses, winter vegetables, and roast duck or goose stuffed with chestnuts.

Dessert at le reveillon is the highlight. The most popular Christmas sweet is le buche de Noël—a decadent sponge cake rolled and decorated with chocolate buttercream frosting to resemble a Yule Log. This confection was created to acknowledge the old practice of burning an actual Yule Log, which all but died out when modern wood-burning stoves and fireplaces replaced large farmhouse hearths. Now French families enjoy this sweet substitute on Christmas Eve.

From buche de Noël to Père Noël—Christmas in France is always enchanting, charming, and an utter joyeux Noël.