From Versailles to the ms Sapphire
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.