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Maybe you've cruised on a gigantic cruise ship before. A river cruise is very different. The custom built (in 1993, renovated in 2006) river cruiser, Swiss Pearl, has only 64 cabins, making for a much more personal and less institutional experience.
The river cruise itinerary is
also very different to a traditional ocean cruise. You
never have rough seas, and you're always treated to beautiful
views out your cabin window, never just empty ocean.
Start Date and Options
You should leave the US on or before Friday 9 May, so as to arrive into Arles on or before Saturday 10 May. You board the ship on Saturday afternoon, 10 May.
Many people choose to arrive a day before the start of the cruise. This means if you - or your luggage - should miss a connecting flight, or if anything else goes wrong, you still have a day up your sleeve before the start of the cruise.
It also gives you a day to 'de-jetlag' before the cruise gets underway.
Amadeus offer a three day extension in Barcelona, which would have you leaving the US on or before Tuesday 6 May, so as to arrive into Barcelona on or before Wednesday 7 May. This is a $600 per person option.
End Date and Options
The cruise ends in Lyon on the morning of Saturday, 17 May.
At this point you're free to either fly home or to extend your stay as you wish. Amadeus offer an extension that would take you on to Paris that day, and spend three nights there before flying home on Tuesday 20 May. This is a $600 option.
You can of course plan any other extension after ending your cruise that you might wish. The Monte Carlo Grand Prix is on 25 May in case you wanted to return back to that area for this special event (hint - stay outside of Monte Carlo and take a train or bus in for the event).
About the Cruise/Tour
Like a traditional cruise, this is a fully meal inclusive cruise, and - better than a traditional cruise - it includes a generous amount of shore touring as well. You won't have to pay extra for your shore touring when visiting the lovely towns and cities as you cruise through the south of France.
The cruise of course includes three great meals a day, plus various other snacks, on-board entertainment, as well as generous opportunities to sightsee, both from the boat as it cruises the river, and while ashore during the many stops. You typically have time to both participate in a provided tour and also to sightsee and shop on your own.
A nice extra feature is free wine, beer or soda with every dinner. And if you wish to drink more wine, you'll be delighted at the bargain prices that wine sells for ashore.
While all meals are available on the vessel, you'll also be able to experience other dining opportunities ashore if you wish. Similarly, the on-board entertainment can be supplemented with visits to clubs and bars and shows ashore - the vessel will sometimes stay in port until late at night, allowing you a chance to experience each town by day and by night.
Because the ship carries a maximum of 128 passengers, everything is more personal. The crew will remember you by name, and you have a chance to meet other people on board and to create new friendships. Most people on these cruises seem to be variously middle aged and older.
Why River Cruising
River cruising is simply and absolutely the most comfortable and convenient way to travel around Europe. You can unpack your bags and get comfortable in your lovely cabin and not need to repack or transfer until the end of the cruise - this in itself is probably all the convincing you'll need!
In addition, European towns have historically tended to be centered around the major rivers, and so river cruising is a great way to get to the lovely historic parts of Europe, at a sedate speed, and in luxurious comfort.
How else could you travel around Europe? On a bus tour? Yuck! By train or car - yes, but then you have an abundance of travel hassles every day.
I've experienced every possible type of travel, and I'm a 100% convert. River cruising is the best way to see Europe. Try it, and you'll be sure to agree.
Cruising in May
Experienced travelers know the best time to travel is always either side of the peak periods. Spring is a glorious time of year, and at this time of year you're beating the crowds and also able to take advantage of shoulder season airfare and accommodation deals and discounts.
The weather should be warm rather than hot, but not cold, and dry rather than wet, but, being late spring, everything will be green and fresh rather than tired, dry, and jaded as can happen in later summer. Average daily temperatures will be in the 60s (maximums will be higher). You're getting close to the longest day so the days will be long and sunny.
About the Swiss Pearl
The cruise ship for this cruise, the Swiss Pearl, was built in 1993, and then extensively refurbished in 2006 to meet the high standards required by Amadeus Waterways.
The boat is long but narrow. It is 360' long and 37.5' wide, and cruises at 16 mph. This might seem like a slow speed, but it is faster than many of the other cruise boats, enabling the boat to get between towns faster and giving you more time sightseeing.
Dining is single-seating and with no pre-assigned tables, so you can move about as you wish from meal to meal. Amadeus even provides a generous amount of complimentary wine (or beer or soda) with your evening meal each night.
Smoking is restricted to the outside Sun Deck only.
The cruise has been marketed primarily to English speaking people and the language on board is exclusively English. This means you won't have the inconvenience of having to listen to every announcement being repeated in four or five different languages, and you can conveniently talk to your fellow guests (and likely soon to be new friends) on board.
Cabins on the Swiss Pearl are moderately sized at 140 sq ft.
The cruise is offered in four cabin grades plus there are two suites as well.
There are 62 cabins and two suites on two decks, and all are well equipped with a/c, bathroom and shower, phone, television, hairdryer and safe. The television has both local and satellite channels, and an evening movie channel.
There is Wi-Fi on board (you'd need to bring your own laptop).
The A, B and C grades of cabin are very similar in terms of size and amenities, the D grade cabins are 10 sq ft smaller. The main difference between and A, B and C cabins is the deck the cabins are situated on.
This picture shows the two accommodation decks on Swiss Pearl.
The most important difference is the height above the waterline. There is a big difference in perspective and view between the upper deck (suites and A category cabins) and the lower deck (B, C & D category cabins). The cabin floor is actually below the waterline on the lower deck and your windows and eye level is only a couple of feet above the waterline. On this deck, with even the slightest amount of bank on the sides of the river, you'll not see much other than the water and bank, and there may be a bit more water and machinery noise on that level too.
When moored, if your cabin is on the dockside rather than the outboard side, the lower deck cabins may have a view blocked by the dock, the upper deck cabins will usually have a view above the dock level.
These differences are much more profound than in a massive cruise ship where even the lowest deck is still a long way above the waterline. Of course, if you do choose a B, C or D category cabin, you can spend the days in the public areas and enjoy the views from there, but if you can justify the extra cost to go to the upper deck, the chances are you'll be very pleased you did.
Suites are 205 sq ft, A - C cabins are 140 sq ft, D cabins are 130 sq ft.
Tip : Choose the least expensive cabin type on the deck you'd rather be on. There is very little added value in choosing a B cabin in favor of a C cabin.
Amadeus Waterways is a relatively new company, founded by their President Rudi Schreiner in 2003, who formerly started the river cruising operation for Uniworld, and who then founded Viking River Cruises before now creating this latest company. He has taken his experience and knowledge of both what is good and bad about other river cruises and built a high quality company that is quickly setting the new high standard for river cruising in Europe.
I've spoken with Rudi at length, and we know many of the same people in the travel industry, and am very comfortable endorsing his company and his tours.
Per person pricing for the cruise is as follows :
What about the Air Fare?
If you buy the Amadeus airfare with the extensions, they include transfers from the airport to the cruise ship when you arrive into Barcelona and (also back to the airport in Paris if you choose the Paris extension, too). These transfers are convenient, but require you to arrive on the exact day the tour starts and leave the exact day the Paris extension ends. They can easily be arranged by yourself when you arrive at the airport as well (ie taxi), so should not unduly influence your airfare planning.
We suggest you check to see if you can use any frequent flier miles you might have for this travel, and/or check to see what the best fare you can get on your favorite airline is, then compare it to the Amadeus rate and make your decision then.
You are therefore free to make your own arrangements, any way you wish, to travel to Arles (or Barcelona for the pre tour option) and then home again from Lyon (or Paris), and you can of course make extra stops and arrive earlier or stay longer. You can choose whichever carrier has the best fare and the best schedules for you, and you can also choose a carrier that you wish to earn miles with.
We'll be pleased to answer any questions you might have about arranging your air transportation, of course.
Which cities to fly in and out of
This might seem like an obvious issue, but remember that Europe is very small and so if you can't get convenient flights (or fares) on your preferred airlines to and from the obvious cities at the start and end of your tour, consider flying in or out of nearby airports and then using a train to get between that airport and the city you need to be in.
If you're flying into Arles, you could choose to fly into Arles, or perhaps into the much larger airport at Marseille(s). Marseille Airport is 46 miles from Arles.
On your return, if you wish to fly directly home from the end of the cruise in Lyon, you can choose from either flying directly home from Lyon or perhaps taking the TGV train to Paris, and then flying home from there. The timings of this might require you to overnight in Paris after arriving from Lyon in the mid/late afternoon (it is a two hour train ride).
There are also trains that take you all the way from Lyon to the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris - also a two hour journey, and a wonderfully convenient way to return home.
We generally recommend you should protect against the various types of losses that may occur while traveling.
Amadeus Waterways offer a policy that covers you for trip cancellation and interruption costs, medical costs, trip delay, and baggage delay or loss. This is $229 per person. The premium is payable with your deposit.
To add an extra trip cancellation premium that will allow you to cancel for any reason at all, add another $40. With this add-on premium, if you cancel for a reason not covered by the main policy, Amadeus will refund you as much of your payment as is covered by their usual policy, and give you a voucher to be redeemed against future travel any time in the next year for the balance.
Click here for a new page with more information on the Amadeus travel insurance.
How to Extend or Vary this Tour
There are many ways you can extend or vary this tour. You're of course free to add anything you like, before or after the cruise, including the Amadeus arranged options (Barcelona before the cruise and Paris after). Alternatively, if you prefer, the cruise is a complete experience in itself without needing any extra time
We recommend you consider arriving into Europe at least a day before the cruise starts, so as to give yourself a day to resolve any problems that may occur such as missing/delayed flights or losing luggage.
If you have more questions, please don't hesitate to ask. We're here to help ensure your experience is as good as possible.
Need More Information?
If you've a question or need more clarification, go ahead and ask. You can send us an email, or feel free to call us at (206)337-2317.
Tour Terms and Conditions
Our standard terms and conditions apply to this tour.
In addition, please note these extra terms :
1. The 90 day payment due date is considered to be Friday 8 February 2008.
2. US citizens require a current passport that will not expire for at least six months after the date of their planned return back to the US in order to be admitted to Europe. They do not require any European visas. Citizens of other countries should check with the airline that will transport them to Europe to determine what passport and visa requirements may apply.
3. Tour price is subject to change prior to full payment being received.
4. Terms and conditions of the cruise line (Amadeus Waterways) also apply.
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