Tauck's French Escapade River Cruise Review July 18-31, 2014. South to North
Overview: This Tauck adventure features 4 nights in hotels, 2 in Monte Carlo and 2 in Paris. In between there is a 9 night river cruise on the Rhone & ... Read More
Tauck's French Escapade River Cruise Review July 18-31, 2014. South to North
Overview: This Tauck adventure features 4 nights in hotels, 2 in Monte Carlo and 2 in Paris. In between there is a 9 night river cruise on the Rhone & Saone Rivers on the 118 passenger Swiss Emerald. This was a high end vacation with a first class river cruise and 2 first class hotels. A rail trip on the 200mph TGV connected us between Lyon & Paris.
Booking: Our travel agent made all the arrangements thru Tauck including the extra hotel nights in Paris, plus airport transfers on both ends. We booked a year in advance in order to get one of the eight 300sf suites that the boat had. The other cabins were under 200sf. Two couples booked just the 9 night river cruise and did not do the hotel portions of the trip. Tauck accommodated them and did not charge them for those portions of the trip. Using a travel agent for this type of trip saves you time and hassle.
Passengers: There were 106 passengers, mostly from the US. There were 2 couples from Malaysia and 12 Aussies. The passengers were mostly in their 60's & 70's with a few older and younger couples. There were 2 teenagers, who despite having to be with old folks all the time, seemed to have a good time. There were a few people who had walking difficulties, but they were able to participate in all the tours, although they skipped the buildings that had dozens of steps. The crew always had one tour for people who were slow walkers. The passengers seemed to all get along well. The ability to walk stairs is a requirement to be on this trip.
Food & Beverage: All beverages (including cocktails, beer, wine, etc) from the bar were included in the cruise as were all the excursions. The only money you could spend on the cruise were from the gift store, for massages and laundry. Tips for everything related to Tauck were included. The food was amazing. I would compare it to Oceania Cruise Line ships. Dinners were 5 courses and presented very well. The wines were from the region and were great. Lunch and breakfast featured wonderful buffets or you could order from your table.
Tour Guides: There were 3 tour guides who stayed with us from beginning to end and a Cruise Director on the boat, all excellent.
Mistral Winds: Provance can have very strong northerly winds, ranging from 30 to 70mph, called Mistral Winds. We had strong winds (30mph) for several days, but they helped cool things off and keep the bugs away.
Cabins: They ranged in size from 150 sf to 300sf. The large cabins get booked way in advance, with waiting lists in case someone in the large cabins cancels. The cabins each had 2 110v outlets that required a 2 prong Northern European adaptor to use. There were also two 220v outlets where you might need a bulky converter to convert to 110v to charge your camera batteries if your 110 outlets are in use. Apple products can be charged from a 220v plug without a voltage converter, as Apple has built their charging units to take 220v or 110v current. The beds come with a thick comforter and no separate sheet that so many hotels use today. We prefer a sheet and a blanket, which they switched to after I asked the room steward. Robes and slippers are provided in the cabins.
Rain: It does rain in France. The ship provides large umbrellas for the passengers. You may need a small umbrella for your hotel days. A light raincoat with hood is very handy as the winds are sometimes too strong for the umbrellas.
Entertainment: Don't expect much. There brought a few local acts for after dinner. There were a couple nights where the passengers played games organized by the Tour Guides which were fun. Prizes were awarded to the winning teams. Having after dinner drinks on the top deck was great if it wasn't raining. The lounge had a pianist who was excellent.
Workout room: Small - 4 pieces of cardio equipment and. Few 2 LB dumbells. Bring your own resistance bands for weight work. You get plenty cardio on the walks and bike rides.
Attire: Most dinners on the ship were Country Club casual, (nice shirt, no shorts). Most guys brought a jacket for the 2 or 3 special dinners. Lunch was casual, shorts were fine. Bring a light jacket that doubles as a raincoat with a hood for cool evenings on deck and wet touring days. The museums in Europe are all warm and humid. Wear short sleeve shirts and shorts and bring a jacket that you can tied around your waist. A fan is a good thing to bring along. The air does not move in these museums.
Shoes: You'll need a good pair of walking shoes as most daily walks were over cobblestones with many steps, often without handrails. Lightweight sandals don't usually have the lateral support for the cobblestones.
Laundry: The ship provided 1 day laundry service for a fee, not cheap, but it's better than dragging 14 days worth if clothes. The weather was sometimes humid, so you need to wash some cloths. The drip dry clothes could be washed in the sink dried in a day hanging in the shower. The cotton clothes took forever to dry.
Air Package: We bought the air sea package and let Tauck set up the flights. Next time I'll have our travel agent book the flights. We had Delta flights from LAX to Nice via JFK. Coming home, we flew Air France & KLM from Paris to LAX via Amsterdam. I would have preferred a direct Paris to LAX flight. That would have saved about 4 hours. Tauck will still provide the transfers if you arrange your own flights.
Bicycles: The boat had 11 bicycles, single speed, pedal brakes, not the greatest bikes, but we used them and got around fine.
Jacuzzi: There was a 4 person jacuzzi on the top deck that couldn't be used while we were moving, due to low bridges, which required that the jacuzzi vanity screens to come down to clear the bridges. The jacuzzi was available in port.
Day to Day Notes:
Day 1 Sat - Arrival: We flew into Nice from JFK, an 8 hour overnight flight arriving around 11:45 am. We cleared immigration in under 5 minutes and then waited about 30 minutes for the bags. Passport control was quick. Once we collected our bags, we found the man with the Tauck sign and 8 of us settled into a van for a 30 minute ride to Monte Carlo. Tauck has a meeting room at the Fairmont, just past reception where you got your first daily program and instructions for the hotel stay portion of the trip. There was a welcome reception and dinner that night at 6:30pm for the Tauck guests. It was a great way to meet your fellow travelers.
Fairmont Hotel: We checked into the Fairmont Hotel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea for 2 nights. Since we were in one of Tauck's highest suite, we got a hotel room right on the water, with an amazing view. On Saturday night, there was a 20 minute fireworks show that we could see from our balcony. Apparently, this was some kind of fireworks completion held on 4 Saturday nights during the summer. The fireworks are shot from a barge in the harbor that the Fairmont overlooks. The Fairmont normally charges $20/night for wi-fi. Since we booked the Fairmont and pre-paid the hotel bill thru Tauck, we got it for free. I had the Tauck tour guide go to the hotel registration deck to make sure that was the case, and it was.
Day 2 Sun - Monte Carlo: After a free breakfast for Tauck guests on Sunday morning at the hotel, we boarded buses for a tour of Monte Carlo. They took us up to the old city for an orientation tour with great overlooks of Monte Carlo. We had free time to shop and then back to the hotel for lunch on your own. At 2pm we boarded tour buses to visit the Rothchild's palace and gardens, which was worth seeing, then back to the hotel by 5:30. Dinner was on your own in Monte Carlo on Sunday night. Monday morning, after a free breakfast, we boarded buses for a trip to Nice and then into Arles to board the Swiss Emerald around 5:30pm.
Day 3 Mon - Nice: Tauck gave us a walking tour and then we had 3+ hours to explore the City and have lunch on our own. Nice has an impressive beach Promenade with an excellent bike trail along the beach. Bicycles could be rented at one of the many kiosks for a few Euros on a credit card. The drive to the boat in Arles was not terribly scenic, but the tour guides comments made the trip ok. We boarded the Swiss Emerald at 5:30pm.
Embarkation: We arrived at the boat and were welcomed with champaign. We waited in the lounge getting to know each other. Small groups of passengers were led to the check-in desk and shown to their rooms. We met back in the lounge at 6:30 to meet the Captain and the staff. The Captain's Dinner was then served.
Day 4 Tues - Arles: We had a morning walking tour of Arles, Vincent Van Gogh's home for 2 years. We had a bus ride to the Country to see a working ranch. The ranch family fed us lunch and then put on a show with bull's chasing young men in a bull ring. The bulls are not hurt. The bulls usually live a full life and die of natural causes in their 20's. Still, it was impressive to the bulls going after the young guys in the ring, who would jump over 2 walls when the bulls got close. The horns on the bulls were covered to protect the runners.
Day 5 Wed - Avignon: In the morning We had a walking tour of the old portion of Avignon including the Pope's Palace. The walk included about 200 steps, but there was frequent places to sit and listen to the your guide thru the Vox system. We finished that tour about11:00 am and had time to explore the town before returning to the boat for lunch. After a wonderful lunch, we checked out 2 bicycles and helmets and rode a path along the Rhone. The trail was only 2 miles long. We then rode into the old City of Avignon, a city full of cars and not many places to ride a bike comfortably. At 3:30 we loaded up buses and went to the country side to visit a first class winery, the Pope’s former vineyard when the Pope resided in Avignon in the 1300's. We had a wine tasting and a country bus ride. After dinner, there was a duo doing French songs with accordion.
Day 6 Thursday - Viviers: Local guides showed us how to play a French version of Bocce Ball, called Petanque. We played the game and had a refreshment and then walked the old town and visited the Cathedral. We were back to the boat for lunch. The boat sailed at 1pm and we spent the rest of the day cruising the Rhone northbound going thru a few locks and under some low bridges. Staff gave talks on the locks, on the French language and on Vincent Van Gogh's life. We had a few sprinkles in the afternoon and some wind, but very pleasant overall. A good day to be on the Rhone River.
Day 7 Friday - Vienne: Tauck provided us with a 90 minute walking/tram tour of the old City of Vienne. The best part was the fantastic view of the Rhone River Valley from the highest point in the City. Our tour included 2 churches/cathedrals. We then had 1:45 minutes on our own. We checked out bicycles and explored the trail along the west side of the Rhone. The town is on the east side, so you take a pedestrian bridge across the river to get to the west side. The trail is basically south if this bridge and it runs for miles. The trail is separated from the adjacent street. At 12:15, the boat left Vienne for points north. We boated thru Lyon and turned into the Saone River, but did not stop in Lyon, as Lyon would be our last stop in a few days.
Day 8 Sat - Chalon-sur-Saone: A walking tour of the City left the boat at 9:00 & returned at 11:30 . We skipped the walking tour and rode bicycles around the City, which was fun. At 1:30, there was a coach tour to the Country side to visit two wineries. We stayed in Chalon overnight. There was a crew talent show after dinner. It rained for short bursts today.
Day 9 Sunday - Macon: We took a coach tour of Chateau de Cormatin at 8:15 from Chalon Sur Saone as the boat sailed north to Macon. We also visited the town of mid evil town Tornau. We met the boat in Macon after 1:00, followed by lunch on the boat. At 2:45, there was a walking tour in Macon, we rode bikes again. Since it was Sunday, not much was open. At 4:45, the staff explained how the Paris portion of the trip would work and asked us to sign up for which Museum we wanted to visit on Thursday. Most people chose the Louvre.
Day 10 Monday - On the way to Lyon: We left the boat at 8:30 for a coach tour of the Abbey of Cluny, the National Stud Farm in Cluny, and then onto the Chateau de la Barge for lunch. We met the boat at 3:45 in Trevoux. At 4:30pm, we left for Lyon, arriving at 8:00pm, while we were having dinner. There was light to medium rain throughout the day.
Navigation Note: We side tied to a river boat that looked just like ours run by Travel Marvel, named Excellence Rhone, carrying mostly Aussies. They had been stuck in Lyon for 3 days instead of taking the Saone River portion of their cruise. The company that manages that boat would not allow their Captain to go under the low bridges that we had just gone under twice on our cruise. Their daily tours still took them to the area that they would have seen had they sailed the Saone, but they had longer bus rides to get there. Plus they missed 3 days of River cruising. The passengers were not happy about that "Corporate" Decision. Tauck left that decision up to our Captain to determine if we would clear the lowest bridges, which we did by 6" or so.
Day 11 Tuesday - All Day in Lyon: In the morning we had a coach tour of the old City of Lyon. The tour included a walk thru the spectacular Basilica on the hill over looking Lyon. This was the prettiest church we have seen so far on this trip. Following that we did a walking tour of the portion of the Old City near the Saone River and then back to the boat for lunch. At 2:30, the Tour Directors led walking tours of areas in Lyon where there was good shopping. Our Cruise Director led 7 of us on a 1.5 hour bike ride along the Rhone River including a bike ride thru a large City Park with a zoo and lagoon. It was an easy ride, no hills.
Day 12 Wednesday. On to Paris! The ride on the TGV was fast and smooth. After we arrived, we waited at the train station while members of our group went to the bathroom, which took over 30 minutes as there were limited facilities in the train station, (please people use the toilet on the train!) We then boarded buses for a 3+ hour tour of Paris. There were 2 stops for pictures. We arrived at the Intercontinental LeGrand Hotel around 5:30. We were given our room keys on the bus, which was nice. Dinner was on our own. There were plenty of good restaurants within 5 to 10 minutes walk from the hotel. There were some complaints about the hotel, but we had no problems. Paris hotel rooms tend to be smaller than in America.
Day 13 Thursday - a full day in Paris: We started with a breakfast for the Tauck group in a separate dining room in the LeGrand, then it was off to one of 3 museums for a 90 minute guided tour. You had to pick between the Louvre, the Orangerie or the Orsay. Most people chose the Louvre. Tauck provided buses to and from the museums. You could stay longer at the Museum, which we did at the Louvre. Since we all went in as a group, we didn't get an individual ticket, so we had to stay in the Scully section of the Louvre where the Mona Lisa and lots of the big name exhibits were located. Once you leave that section of the Museum, you had to have a ticket to get into the other sections, which we didn't have. We then walked over to Notre Dame Cathedral, about a 20 minute walk. We got there about 12:30 and it only took 10 minutes to get in, free of course. Later in the day, that line was much longer. You'll spend about 30 minutes in the Cathedral. You can walk around the outside easily to view this amazing building. The line to walk up the towers was hours long and you had to buy a ticket. Tonight was the farewell dinner at the fabulous and famous Fouquet on the Champs Elysees.
Day 14 Friday: Tauck provides transportation to the airport in small groups as everyone is going home on different days and times. We stayed 2 extra days in Paris. There is so much to see in Paris that you need the extra days to see the sights and dine in French style. We just walked along the streets and picked a restaurant that looked good, and they always were.
Ken's Paris notes & tips:
Buy tickets to the major attractions from the concierge at your hotel before you go to avoid long ticket lines. We found no vendors on the streets that sold tickets to attractions like you see in New York or Las Vegas.
Get the audio guides at the attractions, they cost 5€ cash each set. Guided tours are great, but the schedule for those tours doesn't easily line up with where you are. It's hard to hit a time specific for these tours given Paris traffic and your need to see as much of Paris as you can in a few days.
Buy tickets for the L'Open Paris Hop on Hop Off, a double decker sighting seeing bus that allows you to hop on & off. (http://www.paris.opentour.com/fr/) We paid 38€ each for a two day pass. The one day pass was 31€. The concierge sold us the vouchers. This company has 4 routes, which covers a very large amount of the City. The "Big Bus" is cheaper but has only one route and covers a lot less of the City. It is wonder watching this amazing City from above the street level on the open upper deck. Everywhere you look in Paris, there is something worth seeing.
Bicycle rentals are available all over the City in on-street kiosk style bike racks. The system is called Velib. Just put in a credit card, open an account and then pick your bike from the racks. The cost is only 1€ per hour. The bikes have 3 speeds, hand brakes, headlines, taillights, baskets and locks. There are many bike lanes and paths in Paris and most bike riders use the busy Paris streets without a problem. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g187147-c183666/Paris:France:Velib.Bike.Sharing.System.In.Paris.html
If you go to Versailles, take a 1/2 day private tour including transportation from your hotel. Your concierge will arrange it. The tour guide can skip the lines. It takes about 30 minutes to get out to Versailles. You can take the subway to Versailles on your own, but the ticket lines are hours long.
Doing the Louvre on your own is a long day. The lines are daunting. Get a guide who can skip the ticket lines.
Do the Seine River Cruise on your own. The boats leave the docks every 20 minutes or so, and tickets are cheap and you can just walk up and buy them. The docks are located near the Eiffel Tower at the Bateau Mouches. Don't be intimidated by all the tour buses. During the summer, the lights on the buildings take effect around 10pm, if you want to see Paris at night. The last boat goes out at 11pm. The tour takes 55 minutes. Other folks reported that the Seine Dinner River cruises were great. http://www.bateaux-mouches.fr/en
Do walk along the Seine River walkways. There are lower walkways and upper walkways along the streets over looking the river. There is a section of the lower walkway where the City imports sand every summer to create beaches with lounge chairs, umbrellas, Volleyball courts, dance floors, misters - all free. The Parisians flock to this area on nice days.
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