My Visit to Normandy Beaches Including Utah Beach on a Viking River Cruise

Yet another D-Day Commemoration day is here. My reason for taking this Viking River cruise on the Seine from Paris to Normandy Beaches, goes way back. 

I loved to hear my dad recall his World War II stories and his involvement with the D-Day landings at Omaha and particularly Utah beach.

He loved France, especially Paris and he taught me the words to La Marseillaise even before I started grammar school. His days in France must have been special. Stories he told me about rolling up famous paintings into cardboard tubes? Was he one of the Monuments Men?

All I knew was that someday I’d visit where he had landed on one of the Normandy Beaches in France. Here’s the story.

Les Braves Memorial metal sculpture at Omaha Beach war memorial in Normandy, France.
Les Braves Memorial metal sculpture at Omaha Beach war memorial in Normandy, France.
Me standing in the sand at Utah Beach.
I finally made it to Utah Beach, a short drive from Normandy Beach.

Viking River Cruise to Normandy Beaches

I was only 20 yrs old when my father passed away, leaving me with so many unanswered questions. A visit to the Normandy beaches, Utah Beach in particular, would be more meaningful than ever now that he was gone.

One treasured memento I hold dear is a seashell my dad brought home from Utah Beach. On the day he was there, in blue ink on the shell’s smooth interior, my dad wrote the date, “Aug 23 1944”. 

For me to walk on Utah Beach, the same Normandy beach that he did nearly 75 years ago, would be a bittersweet and momentous event. I very carefully carried the seashell with me.

Normandy Beaches With Viking River Cruises

Viking River Cruise Program Director Lionel (pronounced LEE-oh-nel) lives in the north of France and he knew Normandy (Normandie) like the back of his hand. We spoke on the first day about my need to somehow get to Utah Beach. 

Most river cruise shore excursions to Normandy Beaches only go to Omaha Beach and the nearby Gold and Juno beaches. But not Utah Beach.

I’d rent a car if I had to do that but Lionel said that he’d find a way to make this work. Somehow he called someone who arranged for a taxi to meet me when our bus reached the Omaha Beach Visitor’s Center. 

As Lionel was going to be on the tour with the passengers, he would make sure I would get to Utah Beach with a driver.

Almost always, when a Seine river cruise includes a visit to the Normandy beaches, the ship docks only as far north as Rouen. It’s also fair to say that you can expect about a 10-hour day from the time you leave your river ship, until you return in time for dinner. Well worth it. 

Lionel; crossing the Seine; walking back to Viking Rolf after exploring Rouen.

The Road to Utah Beach is Paved with Memories

Our day began with an 8:00am motor coach departure. Everyone on the coach was quiet we crossed the nearby bridge and lumbered along the streets of Rouen. Finally,  we were on the highway. 

Like clockwork, as we arrived at the Visitor’s Center in Omaha Beach, Lionel spotted the car and driver waiting to take me to Utah Beach. Colette stepped out of her small white car, shook my hand and was given last minute instructions from Lionel. We were on our way.

It was a 45-minute drive from Omaha Beach Visitor’s Center to Utah Beach. If everything went as planned, on the way back, I’d still have an hour at Omaha Beach before we’d board the bus to the American Cemetary and the memorial ceremony.

I remembered enough high school French and Colette spoke enough English that we were able to have a mishmash of a conversation on the drive. It was hard for me to take my eyes off the road. Road signs pointed the way while centuries-old stone masonry homes with colorful flower boxes appeared and disappeared in a blink, as we drove past tiny Norman villages.

Colette slowed her car as we neared the entrance to Utah Beach. I didn’t know if I should cry or embrace the moment for my dad. I think I did both.

Here’s my photo journey from Rouen to Omaha Beach and on to Utah Beach; a dream that became reality.

RELATED:  Viking Grand European River Cruise Review

The main visitor’s center for Omaha Beach. It’s here that I found and bought a little glass jar to bring home sand from Utah Beach.
My driver, Colette.
After leaving our meeting point at the Omaha Beach Visitor’s Center, I spot the first two signs…
Getting closer.
The formal entrance to Utah Beach.
Driving along the road, it was impossible to imagine such a serene place was once the scene of so much horror.

German bunker that was captured early on…next photo is the plaque inscription.

“This monument was erected by the United States of America in humble tribute to its sons who lost their lives in the liberation of these beaches.” June 6, 1944
Statue of three soldiers as they would have left their landing vessel to come ashore.


This one’s for you, dad. I didn’t know whether to smile or cry. He’d have wanted me to smile.
Standing on the beach looking up over the crest trying to imagine how the troops felt as they faced the onslaught of German forces waiting for them at the top.
There wasn’t enough time to go into the Utah Beach Memorial Museum. Next time.
Back in the car, making a U-turn and heading towards Omaha Beach.
viking river cruise to normandie
Reminds me of Winston Churchill’s first book, The Gathering Storm.
One last chance for a souvenir.
One of several almost-deserted-looking towns on the drive between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach.
Villages full of color spring up out of seemingly nowhere.
My day at the beach. Utah Beach. What a day it was.

2019 marks the 75th commemorative anniversary of the D-Day invasion at the Normandie Beaches. More than 4,000 Allied soldiers, from the U.S., Britain and Canada participated in Operation Overload, the code name for the invasion of Normandy Beaches. Almost 20,000 French civilians were killed during the bombings.

Normandy American Cemetary
Time for reflection at the American Cemetary at Normandy.

The battles lasted nearly three months until the Allied troops reached and liberated Paris in August 1944. On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered and as of the following day, the war was officially over.

A visit to the beaches at Normandie is a significant place of remembrance. Anyone who is fortunate enough to travel should visit Normandie and pay their respects. All river cruises to Normandie beaches include the ceremony at the American Military Cemetary at Colleville, France.

Read next: Viking Ocean’s Viking Star Balcony Stateroom Review 

Pin and save for later.


I was a guest of Viking Cruises aboard Viking Rolf. All opinions are my own. Compensation was not offered nor was I under obligation to write this or other articles or reviews in conjunction with my Seine river cruise. I will always be grateful for the chance to visit Utah Beach and to Lionel for arranging the extended tour, for which I paid my own way.

You’ll Also Love


  1. Hi Toni,
    I wish you a wonderful and memorable journey to Utah Beach. If Lionel is your onboard tour manager, please tell him HI for me (if he remembers!) and again, he’s the one to help arrange your transportation to Utah Beach. Please drop me a note when you return, if you think of it and have a couple of minutes.

    Oh…one more thing. If the tour to the cider mill and sheep farm is offered, I thought it was fabulous. My only regret is not going to the restaurant in Rouen where Julia Child ate. It’s overpriced and not 5-star, but for foodies and fans, it’s a mecca.

    Bon Voyage!


  2. Hi Toni, So nice that you’re going to visit where your dad landed, too. I arranged this through the onboard cruise manager and the tour director, Lionel -he did all the arrangements. I don’t think the home office would be of much help. Lionel arranged my taxi and I think the whole trip from where we docked, to Utah Beach and then to meet the group at the American Cemetary at Omaha Beach cost about $130 USD or so. Have a wonderful cruise…bring tissues.

  3. I’m taking the same Viking cruise in September. My dad also landed on Utah Beach . I need o go there too. What do you suggest I do, call Viking now or wait and ask the cruise director. If you don’t mind my asking, what was the cost for you to do this. Thank you. Toni Masters

Comments are closed.