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One encouraging sign of the revival of European travel was the christening in mid-March of four new Viking riverboats, which have been specifically designed to cruise the Seine River. At 410 feet long, each is 33 feet shorter than the typical Viking vessels that navigate larger rivers like the Danube and the Rhine and carries 168 as opposed to 190 passengers. Their smaller size also allows the ships to dock at the Port de Grenelle, just a brief walk from the Eiffel Tower. As we recently discovered on an eight-day “Paris & the Heart of Normandy” trip, these more modest dimensions also make a perceptible difference to the cruise experience: Reducing the passenger count creates a noticeably more intimate atmosphere aboard and makes shore excursions efficient and seamless.
We sailed aboard the new Viking Radgrid, named for one of the Valkyries of Norse mythology. Located on the upper deck, our Veranda Suite was one of seven. These cabins have a sitting area entirely separated from the bedroom by a sliding pocket door. We found that having this extra space transforms the experience for two people. For example, one of us could read late or watch a movie, without disturbing the other person who had preferred to turn in early. The salon came with a built-in desk, a chest of drawers, a granite-topped bar, a stone-gray sofa and matching tub chair and a wall-mounted flat-screen television. The bedroom was also appointed with built-in furniture, while the adjacent well-lit bath provided a black granite counter with a single sink, a heated floor, a spacious walk-in shower and high-quality German Freyja amenities. Sliding glass doors led to a deep private veranda with two metal-framed mesh chairs and a table.
Like the cabins, the public spaces of the Radgrid have a stylish Scandinavian design scheme with expanses of pale wood. Their centerpiece is a striking two-story atrium topped with a glass skylight and decorated with pieces of polished stone. The bar-lounge and dining room are augmented by the forward-facing glass-enclosed Aquavit Terrace, a delightful place to watch the scenery. Although the boat has a small library and computer nook, Viking deliberately chose not to include a spa, fitness center or hair salon, reasoning that extra space for passengers made more sense than providing amenities that might be little used on a short trip. (Complimentary bicycles are available at many stops along the way.)
The chief selling points of our particular cruise were excursions to Giverny, Rouen and the Normandy battlefields, but the unexpected star of the show was the Seine River itself. The second-longest river wholly within the borders of France — the Loire is the first — the Seine has been a recurring subject for many leading French artists. Monet, Bonnard and Morisot lived near the river, while Caillebotte sailed on it. And as painting outdoors became popular during the 19th century, Renoir, Seurat, Manet and Pissarro set up their easels along its banks. Being somewhat familiar with their paintings inspired by the Seine, the scenery often seemed poignantly familiar.
Another consistent pleasure of the trip was the quality of the cuisine, supported by the excellent selection of wines available as part of a reasonably priced beverage package. The choice at each meal was surprisingly extensive, and the ingredients were outstanding. Many of the dishes were standard French fare, but they were extremely well prepared, notably a delicious boeuf bourguignon served at dinner one evening. And we so enjoyed the cooked-to-order smoked-salmon eggs Benedict that we had them for breakfast nearly every day.