Although we’ve been all over France as a family, we never figured out how to easily integrate Normandy into an itinerary. So when we decided to experience river cruising with AmaWaterways, we jumped on the chance to see this coveted corner of northwest France using a logistics-free setup. It was a good call! Our multigenerational group included ages 13 to 85, who all enjoyed the scenery, attractions and one another on a beautiful ship, the AmaLyra (read my review of AmaWaterways for families for details). The joy of river cruising is that transportation transforms into a meaningful part of the travel experience instead of a logistic.
AmaWaterways provides the accommodations, meals, logistical support, itinerary and guides, i.e. you just have to get to the boat and everything else is taken care of. From Monet’s gardens at Giverny to World World II’s D-Day beaches, Normandy is full of history and unique visual delights. Its occupation by Romans, Vikings and the English has created remarkable, unique architecture that is very different than anything we’ve seen in other parts of France. AmaWaterways’ Paris and Normandy Cruise incorporates a little bit of everything into this 7-night week of family bonding and fun.
Every day offers a choice of activities and speeds — walking (fast or slow), hiking and biking are all options throughout the week. Here’s a look at the kid-friendly highlights from our AmaWaterways week in Normandy.
AmaWaterways Paris to Normandy on the Seine River Cruise Itinerary Highlights
Each stop on the AmaWaterways Normandy itinerary offers something special. Although the ultimate highlight on the trip for us was the day we visited the D-Day beaches, we enjoyed all the stops and feel that the itinerary provides a varied and interesting view of the region.
Les Andelys is a picturesque village on the banks of the Seine. The beauty of river cruising comes to life on this stop, as it’s a 1-minute stroll into town for a brief bit of artisan shopping with logistics-free boarding to and from the ship. Our family loved the brief hike to the famous crumbling stronghold of Richard the Lionheart, complete with incredible views up and down the Seine and a teen-pleasing creepy dungeon.
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Le Havre is one of Normandy’s most visually famous cities with a colorful well-preserved harbor that is extremely camera-friendly, even on a rainy day! A guided tour provides history and context for all guests. Le Havre is a fantastic place to stroll and loiter as a family with outdoor cafes, shopping and bustle. Additional excursion options included biking and visits to the Romanesque abbeys in the area.
Normandy’s D-Day Beaches
The biggest highlight day of the cruise for all first-timers to Normandy is the visit to the D-Day Beaches. One of two different D-Day beaches tours is selected (American or British/Canadian). Most guests on our boat were on one of these tours, although there was also a choice to explore other things in the area for those who opt out of the D-Day visits. It’s a long day, but worth it!
We did a full-day tour that included the American Cemetery, Omaha Beach, Gold Beach, the village of Arromanches and the battery at Longues-sur-Mer. The long 1 1/2-hour bus ride out to the beaches from the port is where the storytelling begins. We had an exceptional guide who set the stage for the entire day by talking about how the events unfolded and how history was changed. In fact, the education really starts the night before, as AmaWaterways has a special historical presentation that takes place to provide the foundation information.
It’s extremely impactful to hear the stories in tandem with seeing the landscape of this important place in world history. The American cemetery is very moving and the museum there is excellent for families (we recommend this for ages 11 and up) as it really tells a multimedia story in an engaging way using maps, artifacts and films. I’m certain that even the most avid WWII history buff would learn something new here. After an emotional memorial ceremony, the tour moves to Omaha Beach. Our big surprise was how large and beautiful this beach is, which makes it even more mind-boggling to imagine all the lives lost on that fateful day. Young kids may not appreciate the finer details shared during the tour, but my teenage boy soaked them in. We were there as a multigenerational group and it was very special to share seeing the beaches with grandparents who lived through the war.
Although we didn’t feel cheated by only spending one day at the beaches, this is the river cruise itinerary tradeoff as the time is finite. AmaWaterways also offers an alternative Calvados distillery tour, so families really need to be ready and want to see the D-Day beaches for this itinerary to make sense.
Rouen is a beautiful and fascinating French city with rich history. There’s much to do here, so we went on a few different excursions. We paired a delightful chocolate and cheese food tour with biking through the historic center and neighborhoods with a local to get a past and current history lesson. Rouen is a fairly large city and our AmaWaterways guides were key in inspiring appreciation.
Monet’s Gardens at Giverny
Vernon is home to the gardens of Giverny, another incredible trip highlight. Claude Monet lived and painted at Giverny; seeing his gardens in person truly makes his iconic work come to life. All ages will appreciate the surreal organic and idyllic beauty of this very special place in France.
I’ve just covered the tours we experienced during our week with AmaWaterways. Guests who took the time to visit Chateau Malmaison, the former residence of Napoleon and Josephine, raved about this stop as well. Although seeing Normandy via a river cruise is logistics-free, choices still must be made given all the activity options presented each day. The staff at AmaWaterways is extremely accommodating and we did everything that we wanted to do. However, there is definitely more to explore in Normandy … we’d all go back in a heartbeat!
Editor’s Note: Amie was provided with a media package to experience AmaWaterways for families. As always, all opinions are our own. Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy.