From Versailles to the ms Sapphire

Tauck’s ms Sapphire, docked in Paris, France. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

There is excitement in the air today for guests aboard Tauck’s Rendezvous on the Seine  river cruise tour, for today we checked out of the Hotel Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel and checked in aboard the elegant 98-guest ms Sapphire to officially begin the river cruise portion of our journey.

Everything so far has been exceptionally well-coordinated and planned out, and today was no different. Breakfast was served exclusively for Tauck guests in the lobby of Pullman Paris beginning at 6:30am, perfect timing for the early luggage collection at 7:00am. Bags had to be left inside the door of your room in order to be collected and trucked off to the ship.

At the Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel hotel, a dedicated (and uncrowded) breakfast area exclusively for Tauck guests has its perks. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

While that was happening, guests could choose between two of Paris’s most popular diversions: an afternoon in Montmartre, or a full-day excursion to Versailles.

Since I haven’t been to Versailles in 17 years, I elected to do the full-day tour to Louis XIV’s monumental palace. It should perhaps come as no surprise that the man who called himself, “The Sun King” built an ostentatious chateau in his glorious memory.

Click here to read “A Day in Montmartre” aboard another river cruise line this past April.

Arriving at Versailles just after nine am, the museum was already packed, with coaches filling the parking lot like cars at a drive-in theatre. Hordes of tourists from around the world jostled for positions right from the get-go, and frequently clogged the individual rooms of the palace. It was a contact sport at best, with people jostling for position from every conceivable angle.

The Palace of Versailles. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This is Versailles on a good, off-season day. Pack your patience on this tour, especially if you’re here in the summer months. Things can get crowded. Also, recognize that pushing and shoving are common in some cultures. It’s not rudeness in that sense, but don’t be afraid to dig your feet in and stand your ground – you’ll need to.

Let Them Eat Cake!

It’s a busy day at Versailles. Expect to be jostled – a lot. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

If you can deal with the crowds (and the fact that you won’t get a decent photograph), you’ll be richly rewarded by Versailles’ extravagance. A small, humble palace this is not. Versailles is a masterclass in over-the-top opulence, and the most enduring legacy of Louis XIV.

Perhaps the most famous aspect of Versailles is the 73-metre long Hall of Mirrors. Looking out over the palace gardens, this room was an important social gathering space, as well as a functional passage within the palace. Designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart and painted by Charles Le Brun, it is also the location of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 that ended the First World War and arguably laid the groundwork for the start of the Second World War twenty years later.

The Hall of Mirrors is one of Versaille’s most famous rooms. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Fortunately, the palace’s exterior was much quieter. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

A stroll through the magnificent gardens at Versailles is a must on any visit. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

After lunch, a quieter diversion, to the town of Versailles…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and its local market. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

After our guided tour, four hours were provided for guests to explore Versailles and its surroundings on their own.  Our Tauck Director Gabrielle even led a handful of us on a tour of he local market in the village of Versailles, which itself is surrounded by excellent food and beverage options.

In the late afternoon, we reboarded the coach and made our way back into Paris, where the ms Sapphire was waiting for us on the banks of the River Seine.

Embarkation & Accommodations

The crew of the ms Sapphire wait to welcome guests aboard. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Inside, the newly-refitted ms Sapphire glitters. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I really love the new corridor design, including the new ceiling and floor accent lighting. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Last winter, Tauck put the ms Sapphire through a full revitalization. In the process, it took the ship’s total guest capacity down to just 98 people. For a 361-foot long ship, the ms Sapphire could accommodate far more people if Tauck chose to; after all, everything nowadays in the travel industry is about “economies of scale” – how to pack more people into the same space.

Instead, Tauck used that extra space to rip apart all of the accommodations on Deck 2 to create twenty new Category 6 staterooms; refresh all existing staterooms and suites; convert the former aft-facing lounge into the line’s new specialty steakhouse and casual restaurant, Arthur’s; and add new technology to this 10-year old ship.

Welcome aboard! Tauck’s new digital keycard system scans guests on and off, just like on a larger oceangoing cruise ship. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

One of these new enhancements was immediately apparent when we embarked: the addition of a new digital keycard-scanning system, similar to what is found aboard larger oceangoing cruise ships. This means no more fumbling around with shore passes at reception before the start of every tour. Now, you simply tap your card against this iPad-like device, and you’re checked on and off of the vessel.

Getting my keycard was ridiculously easy: guests were invited to sit in the Lounge, where they were called up in small groups of four to check-in. My photo was taken (for the digital keycard, remember?) and within a few moments, I was unpacking in my stateroom.

My Category 6 stateroom measures 226 square feet…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and includes plenty of living space. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

To get the lights to pop on, just insert your keycard! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I’m in Stateroom 208 for this week, one of Tauck’s redesigned Category 6 staterooms. Measuring 225 square feet, these new rooms were carved out of one-and-a-half former staterooms, meaning each has a full French balcony along with a half-width fixed window.

All of that extra space allows for a small sitting area, complete with a full-sized table and two plush chairs, plus a proper entryway, three closets, and a table with three drawers. You’ll also find a mini-bar stocked with complimentary beverages and a Nespresso machine, if you’re thirsty.

Daily programs fit in this new voyage folder…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and the thermostat is much improved over the old dial-kind, which never really worked effectively. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I really like the new power outlets in the room. There are four North American-style 110v outlets in these rooms, along with four 220v European outlets and two USB outlets; perfect for charging every device you might want to bring with you.

The supercomfy bed boasts a new headboard design with accent and reading lights, plus backlighting behind the headboard. There’s also lights in each closet and shelf, and accent lights under the closet and the bathroom sink that can be controlled independently from the rest of the room’s lighting.

Bathrooms in Tauck’s Category 6 and 7 staterooms and suites are worth writing home about. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Showers have both wand and rainfall showerhead options…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…a a convenient pop-out seat, if needed. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Speaking of the bathroom…get ready. This is one of the nicest, largest bathrooms aboard any river cruise ship, and all Category 6 and Category 7 suites have been refitted with them.

Category 6 and 7 bathrooms have rainfall and wand showerhead options, and are large enough that you can easily twirl around in them. Mindful of Tauck’s guests, these showers have a foldable seat for those who need to sit down, but which could also prove useful for women looking for some support when shaving their legs. High-end Molton Brown toiletries are included, and smell absolutely delightful. Kudos to Tauck for continuing to stock this fantastic brand!

There’s plenty of storage space behind the mirrors, and the bathroom is brightly-lit and beautifully-decorated. But I do kind of miss the heated floors and anti-fog mirrors that Viking has on its river cruise ships, despite the much-reduced size of their bathrooms.

Molton Brown toiletries come standard on all Tauck river cruise ships. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

My only quibble with my stateroom is that there’s no good place to store my shoes. The main closet has a shelf with two extra drawers, but it’s mounted so high up that my shoes would touch the bottoms of my shirts. After hunting around for a suitable alternative, I’m storing my three pairs of shoes underneath the table. It’s an odd problem I’ve never encountered yet on any ship.

That’s a minor problem, however, in an otherwise beautiful stateroom.

Au Revoir, Paris!

A champagne sailaway…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…from Paris. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Preparing to go under one of the city’s many low bridges…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…was great fun! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

With champagne in-hand, guests made their way up to the Sun Deck on a beautiful fall evening to watch as we departed Paris. The ms Sapphire sailed further up the Seine first, within sight of the Eiffel Tower looking resplendent at sunset, before turning around and making her way downriver towards the Atlantic Ocean and Normandy.

The bubbly was flowing as we passed under a succession of low bridges – some of which were so low that guests were sitting on the deck! At every step, our Captain and his officers kept us informed, getting us to sit down well before we came to the next low bridge. It is one of the most spectacularly playful sailaways I’ve ever participated in (the bubbly may have helped), and really set the tone for the voyage.

Tauck may be geared towards a more mature audience. But that doesn’t mean that the line doesn’t know how to have fun!

The perfect place for an evening nightcap…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…in ms Sapphire’s inviting Lounge. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from onboard Tauck’s ms Sapphire continues tomorrow as we visit Rouen, France!  Follow along with our latest cruise adventures on Twitter: @deckchairblog.

From Paris to Normandy with Tauck

October 9, 2017ParisArrival in Paris; check-in to Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel hotel.
October 10ParisTour of the Opera Garnier
October 11ParisTour of the Palace of Versailles; embark ms Sapphire
October 12RouenGuided tour of Rouen; evening chateau reception, dinner and music
October 13Caudebec-en-CauxVisits to Etretat and Honfleur
October 14Caudebec-en-CauxD-Day history in Normandy with visits to Omaha Beach, American Cemetery & the Arromanches Museum
October 15JumiegesVisit to Jumieges Abbey ruins
October 16Les AndelysChateau Gaillard tour; cider & calvados tasting; scenic cruising
October 17VernonGiverny and Monet home visit; farewell reception
October 18ParisDisembark ms Sapphire

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