Breathtaking Bordeaux Scenic River Cruise

I now see why the new Bordeaux region river cruises are becoming a fast favorite – it was wonderful (and not just because of wine tasting at 10am !)

There are a couple of different ways to get to the region, one being a pre-cruise stay in Paris and then taking the 3 hour train ride to Bordeaux or flying straight into BDX which is the airport in the region.  Since I had previously been to Paris, chose to fly straight in and the representative from Scenic Cruises was there to meet us for the 20 minute transfer to the ship (one of their complimentary inclusions, even if you don’t book your airfare with them)

After settling in our cabin, enjoyed a welcome buffet dinner but due to some jet lag, many turned in early that night.

The next morning we sailed to Bourg and once we were docked, we headed off for our first excursion which was a Saint Emilion city tour where we got our first glimpse of the stunning chateaus that fill the wine region.

On our way back after the tour, we stopped at Chateau Soutard for a “sundowner” drink which was very nice.  It is one of the oldest estates in the area dating back to 1513 !Then we met up with the ship in Libourne.

Our next day gave us a choice of three different excursions and I chose to do the wine tasting at Chateau Franc Mayne  (we were in Bordeaux after all 🙂 )

The Chateau is not only a vineyard but also a charming little hotel that has a total of 10 rooms, each of them different with a specific theme.  Right in the middle of their vineyard, they even have a tree house that you can stay in.

Back to the ship again for a scrumptious lunch and then we did a leisurely sail along the river heading towards Pauillac enjoying the scenery along the way.   We also had great talk about “Understanding the Gironde Estuary” from Captain Jeremy followed by a port talk from the cruise director on what to expect for the next day.  Then the Captain rejoined us for a his welcome reception before we headed off to dinner.

Another day, another wine tasting !  This time we had a guided tour of the Medoc area and passed so many stunning chateaux, especially on such a beautiful sunny day.  Our tasting was at Chateau Lagrange and since we were such a small group, hardly needed to use our “Tailormades” (which are Scenic’s GPS locator guides connected to personal headphones that allow you to wander around while still being able to hear your guide without having to stand right next to them, plus they are also useful when walking around on your own or sitting up on deck listening to the diverse selection of topics)

After lunch we had a free afternoon so took the bikes out for a spin around the Paulliac area, such a nice leisurely way to see the town.  The Scenic bikes are so easy to use and don’t like to admit but the power assist boost sure made it easy to go up any hills.  For dinner that night, we were treated to a meal off the ship at the famous estate of Chateau du Tertre and it was so special, we felt like royalty.

It was nice to have a leisurely morning the following day as we sailed back to Bordeaux.  Since we enjoyed the bikes so much the day before, signed up for the Bordeaux City tour by bike and although there was more traffic, was still a very enjoyable way to see the sights.

I haven’t even talked about the food yet which is another wonderful part of river cruising, you certainly never go hungry !   Dinner every night is served at 7pm in the dining room but there are two other choices available.  One is a separate dining area on the ship called L’Amour which is a separate smaller venue that you can make a reservation for. The other one is exclusive for Diamond deck guests and they are treated to a special six course degustation menu dinner called Table La Rive with sommelier paired wines.  Only ten guests per evening partake in this so it makes for a more intimate dining experience.

There was a multitude of excursions to choose from the next day which were 1) Hiking tour through Loupiac (which we chose) 2) Walking tour of Cadillac 3) Excursion to Roquetaillade or 4) Excursion to Saint-Macaire.

We were lucky to have another beautiful day for our hike and with our quirky local guide leading us, felt very immersed in the area and had some wonderful views of the river from the ruins of the castle that we hiked to.

That evening because we were still in Bordeaux, took advantage of going for a walk after dinner and we found out why its nicknamed, Breathtaking Bordeaux as the lights that lit up the buildings were just that.  We were docked right in the heart of the city and could walk around easily.

Whew, the next day we were back to wine tasting – this time in the Sauternes region with a visit to Chateau de Myrat  – run by the Pontac family who have been winemakers for over 400 years !

After dinner, a local guitarist, Jeremy Dupouy came onboard and had most of the crowd singing along with him for an evening of fun.

We had a longer bus ride the next day as headed all the way to the coast to Arcachon where we did a really interesting hike up and down Europe’s tallest sand dune.  It is called Dune du Pilat and when we got to the top, (felt like I cheated go up the stairs so walked back down the dune ) had a great time watching this fellow try to paraglide but there wasn’t quite enough wind so he just couldn’t get going.

Stopped for a great lunch (included) before heading back to the ship where we were joined by some amazing musicians called Les Veneurs d’Epernon.  They play what is classified as Trunk Hunting which belongs to the family of natural brass and its origin was a church instrument for liturgical songs and concerts.

When we sailed to Blaye/Bourg the next day, we were feeling very brave and signed up for the 30km/18.6m guided bike tour and it turned out to be one of our most favorite ones.  The scenery was spectacular, the weather was wonderful and felt better knowing that I was burning off some of those delicious meals!.  Scenic even presented all the bike riders with a certificate at the end for our accomplishment.

As we head into our final day, I should mention that Scenic is the only company (currently) who offers Bordeaux as a 11 day itinerary which is why we were able to fit so much touring in, while most others usually do it as an 8 day sailing with pre-nights in Paris or post nights in Amboise/Loire Valley to create a longer trip.

Speaking of our last day, it was also a pretty special one as headed up to Cognac where we had a picturesque walking tour through the town before continuing on to visit the Remy Martin estate and sample a few tastings.  The toughest decision was deciding on which bottle to bring home as a souvenir ! (the kind of souvenir that doesn’t sit on your shelf gathering dust 🙂

As we sailed back to Bordeaux, that evening we were treated to a beautiful illumination cruise up to the Pont de Pierre bridge to help create more memories of this breathtaking river cruise.

Viking River vs AmaWaterways vs Tauck River Cruises

Without a doubt, the most asked question I get is “which company should I book my river cruise with ?”

So I thought I would pick out three companies and do a comparison (there are many river cruise lines out there but to keep this article from going overboard in length, keeping it at three)
They are Viking River Cruises, Ama Waterways and Tauck River Cruises.

I am going to use the analogy of an airplane going overseas that has three classes of service – economy, premium economy and business class. All three sections are going to the same destination but as you move up, you’ll get a bigger seat, better amenities and more inclusions (and a higher price of course)

I will be comparing a similar seven night Danube River itinerary in Europe for July 2016 departing from Budapest in a French Balcony category cabin (they all offer lower window categories and higher suite categories but will just be comparing the French Balcony)

On an airplane, economy class has the most seats for passengers then fewer in premium and even less in business.

For the river cruise ships, have listed the number of ships each company operates in Europe, the number of guests each ship carries and lastly, the square footage of their French balcony cabin category.

Viking has 58 ships
Ama has 16 ships
Tauck has 9 ships

Viking carries 190 guests*
Ama carries 164 guests**
Tauck carries 130 guests***

Viking cabin is 135 sq feet
Ama cabin is 170 sq feet
Tauck cabin is 225 sq feet

Just like what is included in each section of the airplane, each of the cruise companies offer more inclusions as the price increases.

Viking provides wine/beer/soft drinks with lunch and dinner, using the same wine throughout the cruise. They include most excursions with four optional tours (excursion group size is up to 20 guests) Gratuities and transfers are extra.

Viking River Cruise Ship Atla

Viking Atla

Ama Waterways also provides wine/beer/soft drinks with lunch and dinner but they use different wines from each of the regions they are travelling through. They include almost all excursions with two optional tours. (excursion group size is up to 12 guests) Some of their excursions are divided into Gentle Walkers, Active Walkers and even a Late Starter group for those who prefer to sleep in. They also offer bicycles onboard that you can do a tour with or sign out on your own. Gratuities and transfers are extra.

AmaSerena

Ama Serena

Tauck provides unlimited complimentary beverages onboard which includes regional wine, beer, soft drinks and premium spirits. They include all excursions, all gratuities to staff, cruise/tour directors (noting that most companies have one onboard but they have three) and even local guides. They often have private exclusive shore excursions such as an evening in Vienna inclusive of dinner and a private performance in a palace. They also have bicycles onboard and include airport transfers to and from the ship (even when you don’t book your flight with them)

TauckSavor

Tauck Savor

For the compared itinerary, here is the per person price (based on two sharing) that each company has:
 Viking River         $3655usd
 Ama Waterways $4198usd
 Tauck River         $5440usd

Just like many travelers who are unable to splurge on the luxury of business class, the higher price of the Tauck River cruise puts it out of reach for many but once you factor in their larger size cabins, fewer people onboard and everything that is included, you can understand why they are at the top of the market.

Although Viking has the lowest price, you will still have a enjoyable experience with them. Their new Longships feature a very contemporary Scandinavian design with several dining venues including the Aquavit Terrace which functions as an indoor/outdoor restaurant for Alfresco dining. They also purchased quite a few of their own docks in Europe so receive priority docking in some places.
Instead of building just one new ship a year like most companies, they went on a building frenzy recently which provided them with a lot of buying power plus they can keep costs lower since they have more people on each ship. They are the largest and most well-known because of their huge advertising budget with ads on shows like Downton Abbey, plus have a very aggressive print campaign (if you ever get on their mailing list, I swear you receive a brochure a week!)

Due to their middle of the market price range, Ama Waterways has been gaining popularity and fast becoming a guest favorite. Since they are family owned, it creates a very friendly atmosphere that resonates throughout the ship when you’re onboard. They have also introduced a new dining concept onboard with an intimate chef’s table restaurant that features a tasting menu.

So back to the question of “which company should I book my river cruise with?” As you see, just like when you are offered choices of where to sit on an airplane, there are many choices for river cruising too. All you have to decide is how much you want to have included within your budget, pick the best one for you and then relax with the comfort of realizing that all of the choices will have you floating past spectacular the scenery!

 

 

*Viking Atla July 10th sailing/ **AmaSerena July 10th sailing/ ***Tauck Savor July 9th (all three ships compared are 445 feet long and 38 feet wide)

Top Ten Travel Tips

1) As you begin your travel plans, check your passport expiry date. I’ve had many clients who didn’t check until right before they left and had to pay huge rush fees to get a new one.

Passport Picture

Passport Picture

2) Buy travel insurance (both cancellation and out of country medical) It may seem like an extra cost that you don’t need but it sure pays for itself tenfold if you have to make a claim. You never think you’ll have a house fire or a break-in but most people buy home insurance every year.

3) Call your credit card company to advise them you will be travelling out of the country so they won’t be suspicious of any charges and possibly freeze your card.

4) Check the voltage and plug types for the country you’ll be visiting and make sure you have the appropriate adapter. (When my husband & I travel together, I even take a small surge protector power bar since we have so many devices between the two of us!) Plus don’t forget to pack your power cords in your carry-on bag as you never know if you’ll be delayed and need them.

5) If travelling somewhere that immunizations or preventative medication is recommended, make sure you start taking well enough in advance (For instance, the Twinrix Hepatitis A&B combo shot is 3 doses that takes six months to complete)

6) Tie a ribbon, bandana or something unique to your bags so they stand out at the luggage carousel and make it less likely that someone will take yours by accident. Also, make sure your bags are tagged with identification (and not just on the outside as those tags can get torn off, you should also put your contact information inside your suitcase as may help if it gets lost.)

7) Speaking of lost luggage, if you’ve ever been waiting and waiting for your bag only to realize that everyone else has left, then that sickening feeling hits you as you finally come to terms that your bag did not arrive, you’ll love this tip – before you leave home, take a picture of your bag with your camera or smartphone so when the agent asks you to fill out all the paperwork with the color, type etc, you have the info at your fingertips. I also take a picture of what I’ve packed inside because if the bag never shows up, it helps jog your memory on what to claim. (I could probably do an entire list just on luggage tips as I’ve lost many bags!)

8) Before leaving on your trip, find out what the luggage allowance is for ALL your flights – if you are changing to a smaller aircraft from an overseas flight, they can be vastly different. You don’t want to get caught with overweight luggage and huge excess charges at check in. In your documentation, make sure you have your booking reference numbers for each airline as they too can be different.

9) If making a few airplane changes which means going through many airport security check points, keep your outfit simple – wear shoes that are easy to take on and off, don’t wear bangles or other jewelry (or coins in your pocket) that might set off the machines. Have your laptop and see through bag of liquids (under 100ml or 3 oz) handy at the top of your carry-on bag.

10) The most important tip of all is to pack your patience!
Your flight might get delayed, your hotel room may not be ready when you arrive, your transfer might not show up, you may get lost, your cruise cabin might be under the gym (this one happened to me once and the cabin shook when one particular guy ran on the treadmill at top speed) and many other mishaps but travel is all about the journey, the destination and the troubles that turn into stories once you get home. Embrace them and be thankful that you’re able to be out experiencing the wonder of our world.