It was a journey I had been looking forward to my entire life — tracing the footsteps of my grandfathers at the Beaches of Normandy. There, they fought together during WWII and were fortunate enough to see the outcome. The stories they proudly shared with us left a mark.
To finally make that pilgrimage felt incredibly moving as I stepped foot onto hallowed grounds, still echoing with sacrifice and heroism. With unbridled enthusiasm and spine-tingling anticipation, join me as I recount this solemn yet meaningful trip along the beautiful French coastlines.
Note: I was hosted on this trip by Viking River Cruises. All opinions are my own.
Where My Beaches of Normandy Cruise Took Me: A Lifelong Dream Trip
At 54, I finally had an opportunity to make a long overdue pilgrimage. Drawn by two grandfathers’ heroic service in WWII and my deep love for one particular granddad — Leonard A. Eads, who passed away during my teenage years — this trip felt like a mission accomplished.
Normandy has always secretly called me to pay tribute; it took over five decades, but I finally answered!
At a young age, I remember my granddad talking about serving in the war, where he was awarded a Purple Heart medal and called a hero. I knew he landed on Omaha Beach, Normandy, and not much else. He sent my grandmother a photo of him dressed in uniform, sitting on a bench in Normandy, with a note on the back.
He had hoped she would wait for him until the war was over, which is how most husbands signed their cards or photos then.
My granddads were lucky to return from the war, as many were not so fortunate. With the little bit of travel knowledge an adolescent has, I still tucked this destination away in my brain to visit someday, so I could feel close to the man I had loved so much and lost at such a young age.
And who can answer the call to many travel sites you want to visit? Viking River Cruises, that’s who. I’ve sailed with Viking several times, and the places we visit, with guided tours included in the cruise fare, are unbelievable.
I’m sure there are others, but Viking is one I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the world with.
Viking’s Paris to Normandy Seine River cruise includes stops in La Roche-Guyon, Vernon, Rouen, the Normandy beaches, Les Andelys, Le Pecq, and back to Paris. I chose an optional trip to Honfleur and did a Paris food tour.
My cruise was in December, which was very rainy and cold, but I bundled up, wore rain boots, and used the enormous umbrellas provided by Viking.
Our Epic Day at the Beaches of Normandy
On the day of our Beaches of Normandy excursion, we planned for an 11-hour day. Don’t let that discourage you because the ride was between 90–120 minutes in each direction. After breakfast, we boarded our custom Viking Cruises motor coaches and set out for the Caen Memorial Museum.
Next was a somber visit to the American Military Cemetery and Omaha Beach. The whole day worked well — it was packed with history, education, and intrigue.
Pro Tip: Plan for souvenir shopping; Caen Memorial Museum boasts an exceptional selection of books, WWII memorabilia, and T-shirts that are perfect reminders of your trip! I stress this because there was very little shopping on this Viking itinerary.
A Proud American Standing In France
France’s devotion to its deep and enduring relationship with the United States is evident in how these reputable sites are maintained. There was not a dry eye all day long.
The American Military Cemetery was sensational. We participated in a patriotic ceremony to lay a wreath at the Unknown Soldier’s tomb. After a short commencement, TAPS played, and then military veterans were called forward to be recognized for a photo op.
All you could hear at the time was sniffing, downright bawling, and crying. It was amazingly moving; words honestly cannot describe it.
We reached Omaha Beach (though it was raining heavily) with precious free time for us to explore the historic shorelines made more memorable, knowing young men perished only moments into arrival. Knowing all this gave me wave after wave of emotion while encompassing its significance with rainy tears in my eyes.
I was honestly choked up the entire time we were there.
Standing in the same place as my granddad had so many years ago felt like a surreal, almost dreamlike experience. It was something I had envisioned many times during the last five decades.
Pro Tip: My advice for anyone visiting is to take an empty water bottle so you can bring home souvenir sand — our guides recommended it.
Tips For Making The Most Of Your Visit To Normandy
As a well-traveled history enthusiast, when I finally set off to visit Normandy, I truly wanted to appreciate its remarkable and rich WWII heritage. However, with both of my grandfathers having suffered injuries during the war, I knew it would be a unique yet overwhelmingly emotional experience.
Fortunately, though, despite being hampered by mobility issues from a severe knee injury that made walking difficult at the time, the 11-hour journey ultimately mainly went pain-free. And, despite the arduous bus ride to our destination, the sights were so captivating that they made the time pass quickly.
When traveling to Normandy with a cruise, it’s essential to come prepared with your own bottled water in case the one provided by the cruise or bus line isn’t available. Viking Cruises always has water outside the ship to grab for excursions, but many people are hurried or miss it. I was adequately prepared with walking shoes and a jacket, which were both necessary.
For a comfortable and enjoyable experience, I suggest travelers explore this area with the expertise of an established travel company like Viking River Cruises. To make the most of your trip, plan to arrive during drier months, such as summer or fall — you won’t miss seeing France’s beauty in all its splendor!