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Scenic Cruises Review (and Discover Normandy on a Seine River Cruise!)

Is Benedictine really a secret elixir originally created by a 16th century monk?

Or was Alexandre Le Grand, the wine merchant who started producing the golden liqueur in the mid-1800s, just a shrewd businessman pulling a fast one?

We’re going to find out on our Seine River cruise with Scenic from Paris to Normandy.

And don’t worry, we’ll let you in on the answer in our Scenic cruises review later too!

A typical Normandy village seen on a Seine River cruise with Scenic
A typical Normandy village seen on a Seine River cruise with Scenic

Normandy river cruises in France

Several river cruise lines offer Seine River cruises from Paris to Normandy, usually seven-night cruises.

We’re sailing on the Scenic Gem on a 10-night cruise with the deluxe Scenic cruise line.

(The company is properly called Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours and sometimes Scenic Tours, for short).

The Scenic Gem space ship in Les Andelys, Normandy
The Scenic Gem in Les Andelys, Normandy

The longer 10-night (rather than a 7-night) itinerary gives us more time to explore the Normandy region in a bit more depth.

(Other river cruises visit many of the same river ports as Scenic. But some of our stops and tours are different, like our Benedictine Palace tour.)

Benedictine mystery on our Paris to Normandy river cruise

In the French town of Fecamp, Scenic has organized a special dinner ashore at the Benedictine Palace for guests sailing on the Scenic Gem cruise ship.

Benedictine Palace, Fecamp
Benedictine, the mystical liqueur said to have been concocted by a monk, is made in the Gothic-style Benedictine Palace

And so, dressed up and with champagne glasses in hand, we wander through the grand palace rooms with its flamboyant arches and stained glass windows.

A trio of classical musicians plays in the background.

After admiring Le Grand’s collection of historic books and art, we dine in a chandelier-lit hall on lobster, duck pate and lamb charlotte – followed by generous pourings of Benedictine, of course.

And the mystery?

No one really knows if Benedictine can be traced back to the 16th century monk. True or not, the mystery shrouding Benedictine ensured the success of the after-dinner drink.

Saffron amber colored Benedictine liqueur
Benedictine, a saffron amber colored liqueur, with a citrus, spice and honey flavor

All of Scenic’s river cruises include an added special “enrich” experience like this, not offered on similar cruises by other lines.

But really, so many of our activities are memorable in their own way that it’s hard to flag our dinner at the Palace as the “premier” experience.

Paris to Normandy river cruise itinerary with Scenic

River cruise from Paris to Normandy - Scenic Cruises
The 10-night Normandy river cruise with Scenic Cruises is a round trip from Paris to Honfleur and back (Credit: Scenic)

Our Scenic Gem river cruise starts in Paris.

In the “city of lights,” there are many non-touristy things to do beyond the Eiffel Tower.

We’re content, however, before boarding, to simply walk until we can walk no more – taking in some of the best Paris arrondissements.

Once onboard, we cruise along the Seine River to the Normandy coast, past chalk cliffs and gently rolling banks of green, squeezing through several locks, before cruising back to Paris.

Paris to Normandy river cruise
Some of Normandy’s half-timbered houses and buildings are over 1,000 years old

Along the way, we stop to see centuries-old castles and cathedrals, blooming gardens, artist studios and off-the-beaten-path museums.

The sights and scenery remind us that the Seine valley is the cradle of Gothic France, as well as the birthplace of Impressionism.

One town we visit is Lyons La Foret, officially classified as one of the "most beautiful villages of France."
One town we visit is Lyons La Foret, officially classified as one of the “most beautiful villages of France”

Bicycling to the Victor Hugo Museum

We perhaps have the most fun on the e-bikes (the river ship has 25 well-maintained electric bicycles onboard).

At Caudebec-en-Caux, we join fellow passengers on the guided bike ride to the Victor Hugo Museum in the pretty hamlet of Villequier.

Our short ride is easy, thanks partly to the flat new Seine Valley Cycle Route, which runs some 75 miles alongside the Seine River.

Normandy river cruise - Bicycling with Scenic Cruises
Guests of the Scenic Gem bicycle to the Victor Hugo Museum on a guided excursion

The museum was once the family holiday home of a wealthy ship-owner whose son married Victor Hugo’s daughter, Leopoldine.

Tragically, Leopoldine and her husband drowned in a sailing accident nearby on the Seine, shortly after their wedding.

Today, the rooms of the house – decorated in period furnishings – contain letters, photographs and manuscripts illustrating the lives of the famous French writer, the doomed young couple and other family members.

And who is that lovely young woman with the come-hither eyes? Ah, that’s Hugo’s mistress, his lover for 50 years.

After visiting the elegant riverside museum, we leave the group and continue pedaling on the river path.

We push the e-boost on the bikes to the max, laughing as we ride faster than we’ve ever bicycled before – until hunger drives us back to the ship for a barbeque lunch on deck.

Visiting the Claude Monet gardens

Scenic Gem Seine River cruise
These e-bikes from the Scenic Gem cruise ship are lined up on shore and waiting for riders

In Vernon, we cycle again. But this time we’re on our own.

Aussies, who make up about half of Scenic’s passengers, are intrepid travelers, we learn. They like having the flexibility to explore independently.

Scenic thus has these nifty personal audio devices with pre-programmed walks and maps to use if you don’t feel like joining a guided tour. 

For our ride from Vernon, the tour director also hands out printed maps for those of us who still like the feel of paper between our fingers.

So, under bluebird skies and with summer-like temps (in October, no less!), we risk sunburn and find the riverside path to Claude Monet’s home and gardens in Giverny

(Most other river cruises to Normandy also visit the Monet estate.)

Claude Monet gardens
Claude Monet’s passion for his garden equaled his passion for his painting!

Monet spotted the pink stucco house with its jaunty green shutters while traveling on a train – and immediately fell in love with it.

For forty years until his death in 1926, he lived and worked here, capturing the region’s ever-changing light and soft scenes on dozens of canvasses.

His water garden is especially enchanting; the light dances on his celebrated lily pond, which inspired his series of masterpiece paintings on water lilies.

Inside, his blue sitting-room has been restored as it was, along with the cozy yellow and cornflower-blue country kitchen where he dined with his eight children and Alice, his mistress-cum-second wife.

His flower gardens are glorious to stroll through too – they rank as one of the most beautiful gardens in the world!

Poppies, peonies, dahlias, nasturtiums, irises and more can all be seen in Claude Monet’s flower gardens (blooming depending on the season)

I must have flowers, always, and always,” Monet once said. We walk between rows and rows of trailing orange nasturtiums, neon-colored dahlias and roses.

Alas, throngs of other visitors are also out and about today.

Unlike the Victor Hugo Museum, which we had all to ourselves, we have to patiently wait our turn for the best picture spots in the gardens and as we go through the rooms of the house.

Learning about D-Day on Normandy’s beaches

It’s impossible to talk about Normandy without mention of the D-Day beaches.

The epic events of the WWII Allied landing on June 6, 1944 to liberate occupied Europe are an integral part of the psyche of Normandy.

A WW2 gun reminds us of the fight to take back Europe

Full-day tours to the landing beaches are offered on this Scenic Gem cruise.

The morning is devoted to the D-Day Museum in Arromanches.

We watch a grainy black-and-white film about how massive modular harbour sections were built in England and floated across the English Channel to create the port for delivering troops and supplies.

Outside, concrete remnants poke up through the sea.

Juno Beach France
Juno Beach today, so peaceful and pretty…

German bunker ruins also still dot the long wide stretch of golden beach. 

They’re in stark contrast to the cheerful beach windkarts (or sand yachts) – basically tricycles attached to huge sails – awaiting present-day riders to whiz along the hard-packed sand.

The afternoon includes the option to visit Juno Beach, where the Canadians landed. (The other option is to visit Omaha Beach, where the Americans landed.)

Created by Canadian artist, Colin Gibson, five military figures are represented in the "Remembrance and Renewal" sculpture on Juno Beach.
Created by Canadian artist, Colin Gibson, five military figures are represented in the “Remembrance and Renewal” sculpture on Juno Beach

Normandy castles, cows, cheese and more…

Our river cruise on the Scenic Gem takes in many more sights and activities.

Pretty Honfleur on the Normandy coast is one of the stops on our Scenic Gem Seine River cruise.
Pretty Honfleur on the Normandy coast is one of the stops on our Scenic Gem Seine River cruise

There’s the impossibly picturesque seaside town of Honfleur with its half-timbered homes, cobbled alleyways and patisseries filled with tempting meringues and macarons.

And the sunset visit to an organic manor-farm for cider and Calvados tastings, accompanied by local creamy cheeses.

Glass of Cavados (apple brandy)
We taste Calvados (an apple brandy) and cider on a sunset visit to an organic manor-farm

And we visit the vast gardens laid out behind the palace of Vaux-le-Vicomte (on which Versailles was modeled) and the posh seaside resort of Deauville.

Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte
The Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte inspired Louis XIV to build Versailles

And we can’t forget the storybook Chateau de Chantilly!

It houses the second largest collection of antique paintings after the Louvre. (Must see: Two exquisite works by Rafael, the Italian renaissance artist.)

Normandy river cruise - Chateau de Chantilly
The Chateau de Chantilly houses a fabulous collection of art

Everywhere the Seine flows through Normandy, it paints picture-perfect scenes that belie the region’s rich and turbulent history.

And in Paris, which book-ends this cruise, swans gliding unruffled on the river add an air of serenity to this vibrant city of ineffable charm.

About Scenic’s European river Cruises

Ask around about the most deluxe river cruises in Europe – and you’ll hear Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, an Australian company, often touted as the creme de la creme.

The company offers several Scenic river cruises in France – on the Seine River in Normandy and in Bordeaux on the Garonne, Dordogne and Gironde Rivers.

Scenic river cruise review

River cruises are different than ocean cruises.

If you’re new to river cruising, read our post on why people love river cruising.

Scenic space ships:

Scenic Cruises has a fleet of 12 river ships plying European rivers and one river ship in Asia.

The Scenic Sapphire was the company’s first river ship. Scenic Diamond was next.

In 2009, Scenic Ruby debuted, followed by the Scenic Pearl in 2011

Scenic Crystal (2012), Scenic Jewel (2013) and Scenic Jade (2014) are all sister ships. They have 82 cabins each, with a maximum passenger capacity of 163.

The Scenic Gem launched in 2014.

Scenic Jasper, Scenic Opal and Scenic Amber were built in 2015 and 2016.

Scenic Azure was also launched in 2016, specifically to navigate the Douro River in Portugal.

The Scenic Spirit carries just 68 guests and cruises the Mekong River in Asia.

All of the above Scenic ships are dubbed “space ships” because of their large public areas. They come with lots of bells and whistles – like showers with multiple jets (get a back massage while lathering up).

A standard balcony cabin on the Scenic Gem space ship
A standard balcony cabin on the Scenic Gem (Credit: Scenic)

Most cabins have glass balconies (Scenic’s signature sun lounges) that cleverly turn into enclosed sun rooms at the touch of a button. It’s a feature that Scenic river cruises reviews always point out.

Oh, and the beds! They’re sleep-in comfy… You can choose your pillow type from the pillow menu too.

It’s all first class on Scenic’s river cruise ships.

Scenic Gem cruise ship:

Scenic Gem Seine River cruise
The Scenic Gem cruise ship passes under a bridge on the Seine River

Our ship, the 128-passenger Scenic Gem cruise ship, was designed specifically to sail on the Seine River, with the ability to dock in Honfleur.

It’s the most spacious of all Seine River ships.

The 2023 and 2024 itineraries are roundtrip from Paris, stopping at these places:

  • Paris
  • Les Andelys
  • Rouen
  • Honfleur
  • Caudebec-en-Caux
  • Vernon
  • Conflans
  • Paris

Scenic dining venues:

The main Crystal Dining Room serves locally-inspired fare, as well as international dishes.

There’s also a fine dining specialty restaurant, serving a multi-course Italian, French or Portuguese dinner, depending on the destination of your cruise.

The River Café is open if you fancy a light bite or snacks.

If you stay on the upper tier Diamond Deck or in a Royal or Junior suite, your dining options also include La Rive or Table d’Or (again, depending on your destination).

It’s a more intimate specialty restaurant with an average of only 10 guests a night. And here you can savor a six-course dinner accompanied by sommelier-paired wines.

What’s included:

As other Scenic Cruise Line reviews also point out, Scenic is known for their super-inclusive rates.

Virtually everything is included in the rates.

There’s no extra charge for shore excursions; cocktails, premium wines (French on our cruise) and soft drinks; dinner in the specialty restaurant; mini-bar restocked daily; tipping; room service; and even one bag of complimentary laundry.

All guests are treated to butler service too.

A pink Cosmopolitan, best sipped on the Scenic Gem's top viewing deck
A Cosmopolitan, best sipped on the Scenic Gem‘s top viewing deck

Enrichment experiences:

Scenic prides itself on offering special “enrich” experiences (like the Benedictine Palace feast on our Scenic Gem river cruise in France).

Each cruise itinerary includes at least one.

Some other enrichment experiences on other Scenic European river cruises: A guided champagne tour of Holyrood Palace (Queen Elizabeth II’s former official home in Scotland) and a private concert at Vienna’s Palais Liechtenstein.

Scenic space ship review: Details

Luxury is in the details

Scenic doesn’t flaunt its stuff.

Friends who also sailed with this luxury river cruise line (but on the Danube) thought their ship didn’t look as “luxurious” inside as other river ships they saw. (Because ships sometimes have to tie up side-by-side at the same docking station, you might have to walk through other ships to get onshore, getting a peek at the competition.)

And it’s true.

There’s no gilt or glitz to be seen on the Scenic Gem cruise ship. The décor is simple and clean. Very minimalist, in fact. We’d call it “spare luxury.”

But you’ll find strong mini-reading lights above the bed, umbrellas and walking sticks in the closet, a spacious glass shower that’s easy to step into and loads of lovely L’Occitane toiletries.

Premium drinks and cocktails are also available whenever you want.

One of our favorites was the “Breakfast Martini” with vodka, Grand Marnier, orange marmalade and lime juice – but we didn’t really drink it at breakfast!

Quicksilver service is right at your fingertips too. The food is excellent too.

And it’s a luxury not to have constant ship announcements. (If you don’t show up for your tour, it’s assumed you’ve decided not to go.)

More information on Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours

See here for Scenic’s river cruises in France.

And see here for Scenic’s main website.

More Normandy and France information

What to pack?

Don’t stress. To dress like a European, see this packing guide for Europe.

What about Paris in winter?

And don’t forget to take a France travel guide, available on Amazon. (As an Amazon associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.)

You can’t do a Normandy river cruise like this in winter (the season is spring to fall).

But visiting Paris in winter can be more sensible than you think. You’ll avoid the crowds (so you can get into the Louvre, without standing in line for ages). And hotel prices will be a lot less expensive.

That’s a wrap for our Scenic Cruises review on the Scenic Gem!

You simply can’t go wrong booking one of Scenic’s luxury rivers cruises. We had a wonderful time!

And if you read other reviews on Scenic river cruises, you’ll see we’re not the only ones impressed with the service, food, ship design, itineraries and all-inclusive cruise experience.

More cruising inspiration!

Seabourn | What’s luxury like on Seabourn Cruises? See our Seabourn review.

Ponant Cruises | Ooh la la! We’re going French on Ponant Cruises!

Viking Cruises | Should you get the Silver Spirits package? Find out all you want to know about this drinks package on Viking Cruises (and if it’s worth it).

New ships | Hop aboard these exciting new cruise ships!

Planning your next trip?

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Photo credits: © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase (except lead photo, 3, 4 and where noted)


About the authors:

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Becky

Wednesday 3rd of January 2018

Normandy is such an underrated destination for how much beauty it contains - your photos show this wonderfully!

Janice and George

Wednesday 3rd of January 2018

You're right :-). Provence, the Loire Valley, Burgundy -- they get the ink. The Brits know about Normandy though; they're gobbling up many lovely old houses and fixing them up as holiday homes.

Irene Levine

Monday 1st of January 2018

Great post! I felt like I was on the cruise with you (wish I was!). Your photography is fantastic, too!

Janice and George

Monday 1st of January 2018

We would have enjoyed your company on the cruise! And thank you re: the photos :-).

beatrice

Monday 1st of January 2018

Your lovely pictures brought back many fond memories of my cruise on the Seine River, Thank you

Janice and George

Monday 1st of January 2018

There are many Instagram-worthy sights on the Seine, that's for sure! We're happy we brought your trip to life again...