We stayed two nights at the Hotel Pullman Monterpanasse in Paris. The hotel is ideally located to get around being only two minutes from one of the main metro interchange stations. Also just about all the main sites to see are within a couple of miles or half an hours walk of the hotel in various directions. Overall we were not impressed with the hotel The staff however were friendly and helpful. Our room was on the 18th floor giving excellent views and the the lift system to get there was really fast and smooth. The problems we found were with the bedroom which was badly designed. It had a table and chair which just cluttered a very congested bedroom. The bathroom was crazy. Firstly the bath/shower glass partition was that badly positioned you had a really difficult manoeuvre to get into the bath to operate the shower. We are early 60.s but I can imagine anyone much older really struggling and it was a health and safety issue. Also the toilet was open plan why? Totally unnecessary. We had a dinner outside the hotel but for breakfast it was more like a free for all and very chaotic. Many foods were running out and not being replaced, the omelette station was left unoccupied for the bulk of the time we were there and the food selection could have been a lot better.
To the Ship the Avalon Scenery. Very impressed by the boat, nice layout and everything spotlessly clean. The staff and crew were extremely polite, friendly and efficient. Our bedroom which was a French Balcony was well designed and made very good use of the space. The shower was probably the best we have had on a river cruise. The double bed was extremely comfortable. There was ample wardrobe and drawer space. Wi-Fi was hit and miss and generally speaking you had to be in the area close to reception to receive a signal. The food as you would expect was of a high quality with a varied 4 or 5 course menu for dinner. The breakfast and lunch buffets we could not fault but a glass of wine to wash it down would have been nice.
The actual cruise and stops. We expected to be cruising through the day most of the time where we could make use of the french balcony. Actually the majority of the time we only cruised in the evening and to make matters worse our cruise director called us for a compulsory (his words) meeting to discuss the weeks agenda just as we were about to approach Lyon which was one of the most scenic parts of the cruise. That was not putting customer satisfaction first, the meeting just ended up being a hard sell on the optional excursions. He also called the safety meeting at the crazy time of twenty minutes before the evening meal when many people were in the shower or getting ready. His excuse was it was too hot to do it during the day on the top deck. Why he could,nt have used the lounge when we first arrived is beyond me. With regard to the excursions the brochure gives an impression that the majority of excursions are included with additional excursions being available at a cost. The facts of the matter are that the included excursions are all walking tours with the exception of a coach trip round Paris. Anything else requiring a coach was extra and highly priced. A good example of this was an optional trip to the Artists quarter in Paris charged at 48euros. It was never pointed out you could catch the metro directly there which we did at a cost of 1.80 euro each way, everything is free when you get there excluding the museum which Avalon did not include anyway This is not competitive with like wise Cruise companies. I had my suspicions regarding Avalon when we saw they did not include wine with lunch. At a cost in excess of £5k for the holiday I can only put this down to penny pinching. The cruise director Jean Loup for the whole cruise gave very little information about the country or the places we were moored at. We have travelled with Viking, APT and AMA Waterways previously and had experienced exceptional information from cruise directors who used the tannoy system to make things interesting as we sailed along. The places we thought really nice were Lyon where the Saone and Rhone meet and Viviers a beautiful sleepy village with narrow winding streets and glorious views from the church. The Popes palace and gardens in Avignon was really nice and the remains of the roman bridge are worth seeing but the centre of Avignon was run down and disappointing. The same could be said of Arles, the roman amphitheatre here looked impressive from the outside but once inside it had been spoiled and turned into a bull ring with plastic seats, barriers and other obstructive building work.
Post cruise we were driven down to Monaco/Monte Carlo. It should be pointed out this is a 4 hour coach drive from Arles. We stayed at the Fairmont Hotel and had a lovely room overlooking the F1 race hairpin bend. The hotel was first class with well designed bedrooms and bathroom. The food was high quality and the staff friendly and professional. Monte Carlo is great for wandering round and seeing how the other half live. Be sure to walk up to Monaco around the gardens, palace and church as it is all beautiful.
All in all we will not be travelling with Avalon again due to the lack of thought and organisation of the actual cruising times. We were not alone in thinking the emphasis was not on customer satisfaction but how can we make more money. This was a situation where we regretted having paid our gratuities up front. The crew deserved it but the cruise director did not and our impression was he was just going through the motions.