We have travelled with APT before (Budapest to Amsterdam) so since we had the time (and some money as they aren't the cheapest option) we decided to do a 7 day river cruise on the Seine. APT are an all-inclusive operator for this tour (they are a sister company to Amawaterways and share boats with them, some of the tours however are explicitly APT and this is one of them. It leads to a greater number of Aussies and Kiwis on board - it does stand for Australian Pacific Touring after all).
We flew from Manchester to Paris and all transfers are included so we were met be a taxi and taken straight to the ship. MS AmaLegro docks by the Parc Andre Citroen (opposite the 16th Arr.) and whilst you can see the Eiffel Tower it is a bit of a walk into town (there's always the Metro though).
Check in was swift and efficient and we were soon unpacking in the cabin. After the mandatory greeting/safety briefing meeting we had our first dinner. All meals are open seating so that you have the opportunity to sit with different fellow travellers every meal if you wish and thus meet some of the 150 passengers on board. Dinners are 4 course, waiter service (Appetizer, Soup, Entrée and Dessert) and are served with a different red and white wine every evening. The cruise includes all basic drinks - soft, bottled water (supplied to cabin as required), beer, wine and some cocktails and spirits. Premium drinks are charged for. There are also 2 coffee machines (with hot water) to provide self-service drinks 24 hours of the day. There were times when the crew could hardly keep up with the maintenance on these (particularly when a trip returns).
The cruise is very dependent on the ability of the cruise director (Sebastien Leroy) and the captain (Erno Major) and his crew and in this case we had a great cruise. Most of the deck crew are Hungarian whilst the majority of the hotel staff are eastern European, they are all friendly and eager to help.
Even before we set off Sebastien had decided to alter the itinerary from that which we booked as he felt a cruise should cruise more and dock less in one place. With the Captains assistance then this is what we did (there are other options for the tours in each location):-
Friday: Embark, free to wander into Paris in spare time
Saturday: Scenic cruising to Vernon, walked into town to the Saturday market and wandered around. Afternoon tour to Giverny (Monet)
Sunday: Scenic cruising to Caudebec en Caux, Afternoon tour to Honfleur. After dinner walked round town.
Monday: Early departure for day trip to Caen (WWII monument and Cathedral plus return via Pays d'Auge - villages, orchards and for this week only a medieval jousting tournament)
Tuesday: Bike tour round Rouen then went back in afternoon to walk round at leisure. In the evening Sebastien took a group up to the Cathedral at 10:30pm for the Son et Lumiere (first set based on Joan of Arc, second on the Impressionists)
Wednesday: Scenic cruising (inc. visit to bridge for those interested to hear from Captain about his equipment and how the hydraulic system works - the bridge house ‘ducks' for low bridges and locks). After lunch Les Andelys and Chateau Gaillard , walked around town ourselves later. Attended the classical strings trio in the lounge after dinner - excellent set.
Thursday: Up early to walk around Conflans (our docking point) then a tour of Auvers-sur-Oise (Van Gogh). Afternoon we cruised back into Paris whilst sampling Normandy fare (cider, camembert etc) and completing the usual feedback form!
At 10:30pm the Captain undocked to reverse 400m upstream closer to the Eiffel Tower so we would all have a better view from the sun deck of the Tower's 11pm sparkling show. (the lights flash for 5 mins) before sailing back to base.
Friday: Out of the cabins by 9am with use of the lounge (and all facilities) until your taxi group was called for trip to airport. [Efficient process].
All the tours have local guides and generally ran with individual radio receivers so that you can clearly hear the guides speaking from up to 25yds away without difficulty. Some guides seemed to think they were paid by the word but all were knowledgeable and had insights to give.
I find it a tiring holiday since I choose to be fairly busy (there is always the option to do nothing though) but I did find that with all the activity (and despite all the good food - although I had the soup and sandwiches lunch in the lounge rather than the 3 course meal in the dining room - and lots of lattes) that I came home about the same weight.
The cabins are fine - we were on the middle deck - with comfortable beds and sufficient space to store everything. We heard very little noise (beyond the occasional vacuum flush of a toilet). The attendants were efficient and any small issues were quickly dealt with. River cruises seem to specialise in towel sculpture and Georgi came up with a skate and an astounding orang utang (that also required a trouser hanger to attach to the curtain rail!) that we had not seen before.
The food is good and plentiful but how all the chefs work in that small kitchen space is amazing. The bread and pastry chef delivers particularly good fare to my taste. The ship has a small shop , a small spa and a library (which supplies daily crossword and Sudoku puzzles as well as news bulletins for the 4 nationalities on-board - Au, NZ, GB and US). There is an exchange book section too but more and more people are converting to e-readers now. The free WiFi worked well on-board - both in the cabins and the 2 lounges (but is not available on deck) and we barely used the infotainment system apart from watching the odd news program when getting up.
The weather certainly made the holiday (apparently the previous week had been wet every day whereas we had a heavy shower in Caen and a grey morning to Les Andelys), there is not enough room for everyone in the main lounge if it is wet or cold/windy outside and few people get to the quiet lounge at the stern of the boat (nice of an evening).
Altogether a good holiday and one that made us keen to go back to Normandy again - and take another tour with APT, perhaps the Rhone next year. Be aware though that APT are dividing their offer into an all-inclusive option with extra enhancements and dining options (Royal tours) as well as the luxury version we did above and a less inclusive offering (Travelmarvel) for 2014.