Tauck is a US luxury travel firm establishing itself in the British market with eight river cruise ships sailing on European rivers, including the newly refurbished MS Sapphire.
During a reception at The Savoy Hotel in London, Sir Winston Churchill’s granddaughter Celia Sandys was keen to know whether my husband and I were going on a Tauck river cruise.
“Are you joining the trip along the Seine to Normandy and going on to Versailles?” she asked. “You are going to love it – it’s the most wonderful itinerary and the Tauck crew look after you so well.”
With that kind of endorsement, from a woman who accompanied her grandfather on Aristotle Onassis’s iconic yacht Christina O, we couldn’t wait to board the newly refurbished MS Sapphire.
After a two-night stay at The Savoy, we travelled on Eurostar from London to Paris, and boarded the ship at Quai de Grenelle, half a mile from the Eiffel Tower.
The uniformed crew were lined up to greet guests and we felt as if we were stepping into a luxury hotel – all polished marble, mirrors and glistening chandeliers.
Our cases had been collected from The Savoy and, as if by magic, were in our suite on arrival. It was love at first sight as we settled into our elegant and contemporary accommodation.
For agents selling to discerning clients, Tauck leaves nothing to chance. The 300sq ft suite was bathed in light thanks to two sets of French windows, and decorated in sumptuous blue, cream and gold fabrics with crisp cotton bedding.
It had a huge bed, a sofa and footstool, a table and chairs, walk-in wardrobe, minibar, coffee-maker, iron and ironing board, hairdryer, a TV with a good choice of news and movie channels – and excellent WiFi signal.
The generous shower room was fully tiled in ‘latte’ colours and featured fittings by Grohe and Villeroy & Boch, with a triple mirrored wall cabinet, a night light, Molton Brown amenities, cotton robes and slippers.
All accommodation across the ship enjoyed the same top quality fittings and stylish décor, while the biggest change during the refurbishment was on the middle deck (Ruby), where 30 x 150sq ft cabins had been reconfigured to create 20 x 225sq ft cabins.
The plush lounge was all the better for having the bar at the bow of the ship so guests entered a welcoming, uncluttered space. The velvet sofas made it all the more delightful for enjoying pre-dinner drinks and listening to talks or music.
During the sail-away we drank champagne and listened to Parisian singer Cynthia Queenton as she charmed guests with songs including ‘Fever’ ‘All of Me’ and ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’. She was a class act – the best entertainment we had ever enjoyed on a river cruise.
A relaxed, sociable vibe continued throughout the sailing – the crew were ever-attentive and we quickly got to know our mainly American fellow guests who embraced French history, culture and cuisine.
Evening pre-discovery briefings helped guests make the most of their tours which were carefully curated by Tauck’s two knowledgeable and bi-lingual guides. More details are available at Agent Connect, see panel.
We travelled in small groups in top-of-the-range coaches and once at the destination we split up again so a ‘leisure group’ could enjoy a slower pace.
It is also worth highlighting to clients that one of Tauck’s strengths is gaining access to exclusive venues. On this trip events included dinner at Chateau Bizy in Vernon, once home to Louis XV and early entry to Monet’s garden in Giverny; we walked around the Japanese lake as the morning mist lifted and strolled through the jewel-like planting in absolute peace.
The Seine snakes its way to Normandy and MS Sapphire drifted along the greenest water through chalk valleys with stops including historic Rouen; Auvers-sur-Oise, where Vincent van Gogh spent his last 70 days; Étretat, where Monet painted The Cliff, and Honfleur to tuck into seafood and crepes. For many, Normandy’s D-Day beaches was a bucket list trip and it proved an emotional day.
Welcome drinks and snacks were devoured on return from tours and guests also found open-seating in the Compass Rose dining room to their liking with a choice of tables for two, four and six.
Bowls of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries were a healthy treat as part of the breakfast buffet which also included a chef’s station, while at lunch there was a buffet or choices from the main menu.
Dinners started with an amuse-bouche (a bite-sized hors d’œuvre) and ran to four courses with a good choice of meat or fish and regional delicacies. Quality French wines were served at lunch and dinner with recommendations from the Maitre d’.
The executive chef personally liaised with guests who had special dietary requests.
MS Sapphire’s bistro became Arthur’s during the upgrade; this casual dining space with indoor and outdoor seating is open from 11am-11pm, and serves an early risers’ breakfast from 6am.
With the new ‘Bridges’ programme for families on sailings this summer, Arthur’s will no doubt come into its own as a popular alternative dining area.
MS Sapphire sails along the Seine on Paris round-trips to October 2017 and April to October 2018.
The 14-day Cruising The Seine Plus Versailles, Paris & London includes a two-night pre-cruise stay at The Savoy Hotel and a two-night post-cruise stay at the Trianon Hotel in Versailles and starts from £4,545pp.
Four ‘Bridges’ itineraries for families depart on June 11, July 19, August 20 and September 21, 2017 (tauck.co.uk; 0800 810 8020) All excursions, events, drinks, meals, gratuities, entertainment and WiFi are included, plus the following:
- Reception and dinner with Celia Sandys at The Savoy Hotel
- Reception and dinner at Chateau Bizy
- One formal restaurant with open-seating
- One bistro for casual dining
- Sun deck with sofas and beds
- Bikes available for use ashore
- Well-equipped gym
- Sauna and massage room
- Small group tours using vox listening devices
Tauck’s new online community for travel agents, Agent Connect, is now live and offers access to marketing resources and brochures. To register (including agents who were previously registered at Tauck’s Agent Services), take advantage of the new and improved Agent Connect at tauck.co.uk.