Hello, my family and I are taking a cruise and the last stop is Marseille. We where thinking about taking a ship excursion to the Papal Palace which they offer, however having taken trains in Europe before and not afraid to travel by ourselves, we where wondering if it's better to take the train instead of the excursion? The Rick Steves video on cruises said that it maybe a better idea to do the excursion for this trip but I wanted to see if anyone had done it on their own and if it's easy. I saw that there is a train that leaves from Marseille at about 8:35 and arrives at 9:15 at Avignon TGT station and then transfer to get to Gare d'Avignon Centre. I realize that it maybe less expensive on our own but with the time constraints of the cruise, it maybe safer to do the excursion. If anyone has done this on trip before, what would you suggest? Thank you.
What date? I'm seeing different train times. I see a TER direct train from Arenc-Euromediterranee station, which is closer to the docks than the main St Charles station at 8:24, getting to Avignon Centre at 9:48. Not sure where your cruise ship docks at the port, which is a pretty big area.
Curious, if this is the last stop, are you not exiting the boat there with your luggage?
The date will be the 25th of March. I believe that we are docking at the commercial piers north of the Vieux Port, but that was the best answer I could find to where Costa Cruises dock for Marseille. As for the port itself, that will be the last one to visit, our final destination is back in Barcelona. And we will be in Marseille from 8am to 5pm.
If you wanted to do it, probably the 9:00 TGV from Marseille St Charles that gets to Avignon Centre at 10:02 after connecting at Avignon TGV. Return is at 2:44 pm getting to Marseille St Charles at 4:03 pm. You can buy nonrefundable tickets now for 68.80 EUR for the two of you.
I'm not a cruiser, so I have no idea what goes on when the boats dock and how fast you can get off the ship. You'd probably need a cab to get from the dock to St Charles station and I have no idea what that crowd would be like. From google satellite, looks like the big cruise ships are at Croisieres Pier about 3 miles from St Charles station.
To explain the two train stations in Avignon: The high-speed train stops on the outskirts of the city with a five-minute shuttle to the old Centre station. That's where the regional train stops. From there a 15 minute walk takes you through the city walls and along the main street to the papal palace. I love Avignon, especially the views across the river from the palace. But that structure, while large, is not very grand inside so the tour is fairly, uh, routine. The Avignon tourism office is always helpful:
Are you sure you want to see the Palace of the Popes? I know that the name makes it sound very grand. But I found it to be merely a huge stone pile, with almost no furniture, decoration, or anything else except the stone walls themselves. And the audioguide was one of the worst I've used. It was filled with mundane details like how many pounds of apples went into the desserts, or how many grams of silver were in each fork, but had almost no information about the intrigues and stories that would make the palace more than just a structure.
I don't normally comment on what people want to see, as I know tastes and interests differ. But this one was such a let-down that I make an exception to my policy. Make sure it's of interest to you before schlepping there from the port of Marseille (I was staying in Avignon).
To add to what Harold said: In my view you'd be missing the best parts of Provence. On the other hand a day trip to Arles would be easy and yield many treasures.
But it is very much a matter of personal tastes.
I have a different take on the Palais des Papes, probably because I'm a "different" sort of tourist: I do not like palaces. I think it's mostly the overdone furniture and froufrouness of it all. I now skip them; previously, I found myself focusing on the beautiful parquet floors and interesting ceilings as I walked through highly-recommended places I rather intensely disliked.
The Palais des Papes is unfurnished. I really enjoyed it. I also had no problem with the audioguide, but I suspect my standards are not very high in that regard.
However, during my visit there was a large exhibition of contemporary African sculpture scattered throughout. That exhibition ended in January, I think. That definitely affected my enjoyment of the palace in the positive direction. I am hopeful that the management has heard the complaints from the many disappointed tourists and now sees that the otherwise-empty palace is a good venue for exhibitions like the one I saw.
Palais des Papes is worth it and number one on the Avignon must-see list.
An excellent tour, and the Hist-o-Pad makes it more enjoyable.
If you can go up the river on a boat, that might be a good way to go.
But if you go on your own you can enjoy Avignon more and see more: Petit Palais, Musee Calvert, , and the attractions in Villeneuve across the river.
Speaking of no furniture, try those House of Savoy chateaux in that area of France--seemed like they filled them up with anything resembling "art."
Thank you for all the information. My family and I enjoy visiting historical sites, I personally would like to see some of the Roman sites in the area but with our limited time, we decided on the Palace since it was a place we could reach on our won of we decide to go that route. This is our first cruise in the Med, usually we visit different cities, but this will be something new for us. Thank you again.