I'm helping my 70-year old parents plan a trip to Europe next May. They already have plane tickets, and will be arriving at CDG on a Sunday morning at 11 a.m. They need to be in Antwerp that evening to meet up with a river cruise. They are active and relatively fit, but will definitely be tired and jet lagged. I'm advising them on the best way to get to Antwerp. It looks like there are there are three choices: (1) RER to Paris Nord then Thayls to Antwerp Centraal Station; (2) Take the TGV from CDG to Lille, then change to a regional train to Antwerp Centraal; or (3) TGV from CDG to Brussels, then regional train from Brussels to Antwerp Bercham station. My inclination is that it would be better for them to avoid taking the RER into Paris and instead go with one of the TGV options. What do you think? My family took the Eurostar from London to Lille last summer and found the Lille train station to be friendly and easy to maneuver around in. Also it looks like it would be easy for them to take a taxi from the Centraal station to the harbor. Does anyone know whether it is doable to take a taxi from the Bercham station, if they change trains in Brussels? Finally, any thoughts on how long it will take them to collect baggage and clear customs at CDG? I.e. if they arrive at CDG at 11:00, what is the earliest train that they should expect to be able to take out? Thanks so much, any advice much appreciated!
As your parents are seniors, I would go with option 2. My experience with the Lille station is the same as your: it's easy to navigate and the folks at the info desk are indeed very helpful. Be sure to warn you parent to be careful at Antwerp Centraal Station. I was there a few weeks ago with my 72 years-old mother, and she was robbed right outside that station very near the taxi stands. Fortunately she was wearing a money belt so the loss was minimal.
I would suggest getting the train from CDG to Brussels and changing there to Antwerp: there are more trains than from Lille. I don't know why you mention Antwerp Berchem in connection with Brussels and not the others: most trains from Brussels to Antwerp stop at both Berchem and Centraal, except for the very fastest inter-city trains that only stop at Centraal. Bercham is quite a large station but I'm afraid I've never taken a taxi from there. I agree that Centraal can be unpleasant.
Remember that Lille has 2 stations.
Thank you so much for all of the good information. I think that on one of my searches on the db or TGV websites I must have mistakenly put Bercham station in as my destination. Thanks for pointing that out, and for figuring out the best options. I did also find one trip through Lille that arrives and leaves out of Lille Flanders so doesn't require a change of trains there. It leaves CDG at 13:32 and arrives in Antwerp at 16:55. For some reason that shows up on the TGV website but not on the DB site. Apparently my dad is also feeling less cost conscious than normal because they're using miles for their flights, so another option is to take a taxi from the airport to Paris Nord and catch that 14:25 Thalys without needing to deal with the RER. I figure since it's a Sunday traffic into Paris would be very light. Am I correct that since these all require compulsory reservations, they should pick one and get their tickets ahead of time, even though there's uncertainty about when the flight will get in and how long it will take them to go through passport control? Or should they spring for one of the first class tickets that allows for a change of departure time if necessary? My standard practice for our trip last summer was second class non-refundable tickets all the way, but we didn't have to deal with taking a train right after arrival at the airport. Finally, if they decide to go the Thalys route and they are buying tickets ahead of time, is it better to book through the Thalys site or tgv-europe? Thanks again, appreciate all the answers.
"...Finally, if they decide to go the Thalys route and they are buying tickets ahead of time, is it better to book through the Thalys site or tgv-europe?..." Try the http://www.thalys.com site first. It allows you to print your tickets out at home. Most people (including myself) have no problems, a few folks are blocked by their banks. The tgv-europe site requires you to pick your ticket up at the station, and wait in line.
Same fares though.
The option via Lille involves a change in station. I'd go CDG-Bruxelles and then Bruxelles-Antwerpen
If your parents' plane arrives on time at CDG, they should be able to catch the 12:35 TGV to Bruxelles, have a 19-minute connection to an IC train, and arrive in Antwerpen at 15:22. If they go via Lille, they would leave CDG at 12:42, have 28 minutes to get from Lille Europe to Lille Flandres, and arrive in Antwerpen at 15:55. If their plane is late, their best option would be to take the RER B from CDG to Gare du Nord in time to catch a direct Thalys train from there to Antwerpen, departing at 14:25 and arriving at 16:29.
I've taken the single-seat Thalys ride from Antwerp Centraal to Paris Gare de L'Est, but there aren't a lot of them. We didn't go to CDG that day. This month I had a single-seat second-class ride from Lille-Flandres to (both) Antwerp stations, but it's only (approximately) every other hour. And I believe the Belgian rail site gave me bad data on which hour's departures did this-I had to make two changes from Antwerp to Lille, outbound, which I wasn't expecting. Lille-Flandres and Lille-Europe stations are adjacent, but can be as much as 700-meter walk if you're unlucky! I didn't see any porters, but I wasn't looking for one. Note that Thalys tickets are good to any Belgian station, so keep them handy after you change in Brussels. Antwerp is a lovely city where virtually everyone speaks English. If your parents have some extra time, consider a night there. That also takes the pressure off meeting a cruise, in case of Airport/Volcano/etc. delays. We try to go a day early whenever we don't use the cruise company's air package, because the obligation falls on you to make the connection. I don't know where the cruise boat stops in Antwerp. Make sure you get that clear. I've been on river cruises that did not always dock in the "heart of the city." And many dock locations vary daily, depending on ship traffic. I've had my Viking boat move across the river (not talking about Antwerp here) while we were at the Opera! I was glad we had the cruise director hire the taxi for us, because that driver got on his cell phone and got us to the ship, for the original agreed price.
Thalys and Eurostar tickets no longer automatically allow you to travel on to other Belgian stations from Brussels - you have to make sure you pick the "any Belgian station" destination option when you book the ticket. This is usually still cheaper than buying a seperate ticket, though.