The Real Deal: Seven nights' accommodations aboard a cruise ship, all meals, guided tours, and taxes, from $1,399 per person — plus fuel surcharges of about $70.
When: Nov. 1 and 8, 2009; add $100 for March 22, 29; $600 for Oct. 18, 25, 2009; $800 for April 5, 12, 26; $900 July 5, 12 19, Aug. 2, 9, 16, 30; $1,200 for May 3, 10, 24, 31, June 7, 14, 21; $1,400 for Sept. 6, 13, 27, Oct. 4, 11. Note that the itinerary for some departure dates is Chalon-sur-Saone to Avignon; other departures cover the same stops, but in reverse order.
The fine print: You will save $500 on any 2009 cruise if you book by Oct. 31. Meals, guided tours, and taxes are included. Fuel surcharges are an additional $70 per person. Based on double occupancy; single supplements are available, but it's best to call for a quote as the supplemental fee varies by departure date and how full the cruise is. U.S. citizens need a valid passport for travel in France; a visa is not required. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: Oct. 31, 2008. The cruise will be available after that date, but will cost an additional $500 per person.
Contact: Viking River Cruises, 800/304-9616, vikingrivercruises.com.
Why it's a deal: This cruise would normally start at $1,899, but by booking early, you're saving $500 per person. Consider also that the trip cost breaks down to $210 per person per night and covers accommodations as well as all meals and some sightseeing excursions.
Trip details: The 2009 Portraits of Southern France cruise begins at the docks of Chalon-sur-Saone (the closest airport is in Lyon, about 70 miles to the south). If you're flying into Lyon, there are a few options for getting to Chalon-sur-Saone. If you book your airfare through Viking River Cruises, transfers to the pier are included.
You'll set sail on the Viking Burgundy, a 154-passenger ship. The lowest-priced cabins are category E, which means a space of about 120 square feet with a sofa bed, on the lower deck. You can upgrade to the main deck from $500 per person. All staterooms are outside and have a river view.
Meals are served in the open-seating restaurant with panoramic windows on the upper deck. The ship also has a library, a sun deck, an observation lounge and bar, and free Internet and refreshments in the main lobby.
But don't expect to spend too much time on the boat: Your itinerary includes sightseeing tours each day. From Chalon-sur-Saone, you travel along the Rhone River through the Burgundy wine region.
The first stop is Beaune, where you'll sample wines at a local cellar and take a guided tour of the Hospices Civils de Beaune, a former hospice that's now a museum, featuring furniture, tapestries, paintings, and sculptures dating back to 1501.
Then it's on to Lyon. Here you'll spend half a day on a city tour, whose stops include the Basilica of Notre Dame, St. Jean Cathedral, and the Palace of Justice. The rest of the day will be spent on a walking tour of the Old Town; you can shop for souvenirs from the silk makers in the Renaissance district.
In Vienne, the next stop, a full-day guided tour covers Roman temples, a cathedral, and other historic sites as well as a train ride up Mount Pipet.
While exploring the wine-producing towns of Tournon and Viviers, you'll visit the Musée de Tain L'Hermitage, the oldest house in the region. Then you'll continue on to Arles, known, among other things, for its Roman ruins and St.-Trophime, a Roman Catholic church.
The voyage ends in Avignon, where you'll take a guided walk; prepare to be wowed by the Palace of the Popes, a soaring Gothic structure.
If you elect to take the November cruise, the weather will be mild (expect temperatures in the 70s). This is also the wetter part of France's autumn, so pack some rain gear.
Getting there: The cruise begins in Chalon-sur-Saone and ends in Avignon. If you book airfare through Viking River Cruises, they'll send you into Lyon and out of Marseille. We priced out this multicity fare on Kayak for flights this November (we were unable to preview November 2009 airfares as of press time) from the following cities: $769 from New York City (Air France), $949 from Atlanta (Air France), $968 from D.C. (Air France), $1,011 from L.A. (Delta/Air France), and $1,083 from Dallas (Northwest/KLM Royal Dutch).