River Cruising – Put Your Worries and Your Wallet Away, by Eric Poole
These days, it seems like everything on an ocean cruise is an additional charge. Drinks. Shore excursions. Dining. Lifeboats.
So when my husband and I recently took our first river cruise, from Provence to Burgundy, France, with Brand g Vacations, it was pretty welcome news that river cruises include some of those items. And it was even happier news that Brand g’s vacations – which are all-gay – include just about everything. You basically never have to pull out money unless you’re buying a souvenir. Leave the Prada wallet at home – no one will see it!
Our trip began at De Gaulle airport in Paris, where we were met by Brand g’s top notch transfer service, who whisked us away to the Grand Hyatt Hotel Martinez in Cannes. There, we were greeted by the shamelessly cute and warm Brand g hosts, who were with us the entire trip The Martinez is a gorgeous art deco Hyatt property right in the center of the Croisette (the grand boulevard fronting the water). We walked up and down the Croisette, and pretended to be George Clooney on the steps of the Palais des Festivals where the Cannes Film Festival is held.
Before we “set sail” from Arles, we had a chance to visit Monaco, Eix En Provence and Eze, an ancient hilltop village that is so crazy charming it looks like a theme park set. The south of France is filled with these little towns and villages that look like you’re in a romantic French movie. You feel like you should speak in subtitles and have pouty lips.
We’ve been on some ocean cruises where the décor looked like some Vegas set designer had walked in and exploded. But this ship was something else altogether – super modern and chic, with rooms that featured a full wall of glass that slid open to make your entire room a balcony. And the bathroom – with floor to ceiling granite and a large, glassed-in shower – was one of the nicest we’ve ever had on a ship.
The cruise itself was a fantastic experience. Because there were only about 150 guests, it wasn’t like an ocean cruise where you meet some nice couple on the first day and never see them again. We got to know tons of people, and made new friends that we’ve remained in contact with.
Aside from a couple of optional shore excursions, all were included, which is amazing since you’re in port every single day. And for those extra ones, everyone got an onboard credit from Brand g, so we took a couple of the fabulous wine tasting ones.
The cruise stopped in ports like Avignon (don’t miss the stunning Palace of the Popes), Vienne – where we saw Diana Krall perform in an ancient Roman amphitheatre – and Lyon, our personal favorite, where we spent two days. Lyon is considered the gastronomic capital of the world, and for good reason. If you’re a foodie, be careful walking into the Paul Bocuse food hall. You may spontaneously combust.
Back on the ship, Brand g brought on their own entertainment, which was fantastic: the absolutely fabulous cabaret diva Ann Hampton Callaway, and the hilarious drag delusionist Miss Conception. They each did three shows, and these were the highlight of the cruise.
Oh and, did we mention, all of the beer and wine was included, too? See below to see how we took advantage of that incredible Brand g treat. With every expense included, the only thing we had to worry about was how much wine we could consume without requiring a pit stop at Betty Ford, and which outfit to wear to Ann Hampton Callaway’s closing show.
The cruise ended in Chalon sur Saone, and – filled with crème sauces and cheese and other artery-clogging goodness – we made our way back home with incredible memories of the ports we visited and the new friends we’d made, which now include Jeff and Troy from Brand g. It was an extraordinary experience, and one we plan to repeat on other rivers around the world!