Grand Circle Travel by Lee Wurschmidt M/S Ravel Western Europe June 23, 2002 Itinerary: The Rhone and the Saone Rivers from Arles to Chalon-sur-Saone, France
Pros: The boat was well planned and the food was consistently the best I have ever been served on a cruise. All members of the staff were friendly and did their jobs well.
Cons: The beds cannot be made into doubles. They are twins that fold into opposite walls to reveal sofas beneath during the day. The clientele is restricted to travelers where at least one member of the party is over fifty. There was no gym and no exercise equipment or hot tub.
We arrived in Nice on June 24 where we spent three days relaxing on the French Riviera before taking a bus to board our riverboat in Arles. The boat is designed for 120 passengers, but there were only 80 on this sailing which meant no crowding anywhere at any time.
The boat is designed to carry 120 passengers in 60 cabins. All cabins are outside, and each has a large picture window or a balcony. There is a lounge, a library, a large deck with lounge chairs topside, 24 hour passenger service desk, and a small gift shop. Our cabin was of average size with a larger than average bathroom. There was adequate storage space for two although the drawers were under the bed when it was made up. They were easily accessible when the bed was folded into the wall. There was a very convenient long shelf above each bed and reading lights below the shelf to use when the beds were down. Our cabin had a balcony through the sliding door/ window. The cabins without a balcony had another bank of drawers and shelves for more storage, but I believe I got better use from the balcony. We enjoyed time on it almost every day. Although we seldom saw her, Fanny, the cabin attendant, kept the room spotless and well supplied with linens at all times.
THE DINING EXPERIENCE
The first night we had a wonderful six course dinner which set the standard for the rest of the meals. The starter was "symphony of smoked salmon and jumbo shrimps with Keta caviar"; then French onion soup followed by Scallops with a light Noilly Prat Sauce served with vegetable strips and mashed potatoes with garlic and olive oil flavor. The next treat was a small serving of sorbet in a tall glass with sparkling wine. The main course was roasted veal loin with Morel Sauce and accompaniments. Finally came the Mousse of white and dark chocolate. Most of the time there was a choice between a fish dish and another meat such as rack of lamb or chicken breast. Portions were relatively small, but well prepared and beautifully presented by a cheerful dining room staff who were attentive to any request. Special dishes were prepared for those on restricted diets. There was a single open seating for all meals. Breakfast was served buffet style, and lunch varied between sit down service and lavish buffets.
There were two Program Directors who were responsible for all activities both aboard the boat and ashore. When going ashore for walking tours or other activities the passengers were usually broken into two groups. One group was called "green" and had Claude as their director; the other was "white", and traveled with Elena. This made our numbers more manageable for walking tours with local guides, wine tasting in a small town, included lunches served in local restaurants, and bus tours. On board activities included lectures about Wines and Cheeses of the area, French composers, History and Geography of the area, French cooking, etc. In the evening local musicians were brought aboard for entertainment or we participated in other traditional cruise recreations such as horse racing or dancing in the lounge. The library was comfortable and had a better selection of reading material than the Radiance of the Seas that serves over 2000 passengers.
After seven days we left the boat to spend three days in Paris before heading home.
I found the cruise to one of the most enjoyable I have taken. I would do it again in a flash, especially if I could travel with the same passengers and the same program director. All contributed to the overall vacation experience.