|Reviewer Rates This Cruise
Itinerary: Paris, Chalon-sur-Saone, Macon, Lyon, Vienne, Tournon, Viviers, Avignon, Arles, Nice, Monte Carlo
For 87 years, Tauck has been a leader in worldwide travel. Over that period, they have built a solid reputation for quality and service. We were quite impressed when we first sailed on Tauck's Swiss Jewel in 2009. Our opinion has not changed after our recent voyage on Tauck's Swiss Emerald.
Tauck currently offers river cruises on four virtually identical vessels: Treasures, Swiss Jewel, Swiss Sapphire and Swiss Emerald. Emerald was our home on the Rhone for nine days in France. Tauck’s riverboat fleet is one of the newest and most spacious on Europe’s inland waterways. Unlike oceangoing vessels, riverboats are restricted on their physical size so that they can fit into the many locks and beneath low bridges. Typical riverboats of similar size are configured to carry as many as 140 guests. Tauck, on the other hand, limits their vessels to only 118 guests. The result is a more spacious and relaxed environment on a Tauck river cruise because of the higher space-to-guest ratio. That is an important distinction.
Tauck uses only modern, spacious, air-conditioned motor coaches for its tours
Scylla Tours, a family-owned Swiss company, actually owns the ships which are chartered by Tauck. The ship’s crew work for Scylla Tours while the land tour portion of the trip (pre-cruise, post-cruise and shore excursions) and onboard activities are handled by Tauck. It is an interesting arrangement that is seamless to the Tauck guests, and it seems to work very well.
Most Tauck river cruises include a pre-cruise hotel/excursion package prior to boarding the vessel as well as a post-cruise package at the end of the sailing. Even though other river cruise companies offer these as optional add-ons, Tauck builds it in to most of its itineraries. It is an obvious and natural concept for Tauck to leverage decades of land tour experience with their river cruise product. Our 13-night French Escapade trip from Paris to Monte Carlo is actually a 9-night sailing which begins with two nights in Paris and ends with two nights in Monte Carlo. The pre-/post-cruise feature is something that turns a river cruise into a much richer vacation experience. It would be a crime to fly into Paris to do nothing more than jump on a bus or train to board a riverboat without experiencing this great city. The same could be said for Monte Carlo.
Note: On some sailings, it is possible to book only the cruise portion of the trip.
TWO DAYS IN PARIS, TWO IN MONTE CARLO
Our 13-night trip begins with a two-night pre-cruise stay in Paris at the Hilton Arc du Triomphe and ended with two post-cruise nights at the Fairmont Monte Carlo in Monaco. One of the unique features of a Tauck river cruise is the included pre-/post-cruise experience. You will typically pay extra for this on other river cruise lines. And, both of our hotels were easily 5-star quality properties and both included complimentary breakfast each day.
To read our day-to-day blog of our 13-Night Tauck French Escapade, click here
During our stay in Paris, we attended a dinner hosted by Tauck at the famous Fouquet's restaurant on the Champs Elysees. We also went on a short bus tour of Paris and attended a walking tour of The Louvre, all provided by Tauck. The rest of the time was "free time" for us to explore Paris on our own, which we did. Paris is an amazing city and one that everyone should take time to experience.
Tauck hosts an elegant dinner at Fouquet's on Champs Elysees in Paris
On day three, we boarded coaches after our included breakfast for the ride from Paris to Lyon where we would embark Swiss Emerald for the cruise portion of the trip. Tauck takes care of everything beginning with luggage collection from your room which is loaded on a truck, taken to the ship and placed in your cabin to await your arrival.
Tauck guests enjoy a walking tour of The Louvre in Paris
MS SWISS EMERALD
At the end of the cruise portion of the trip, Tauck motor coaches transferred us from Arles, France to the site of the Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo! The whole municipality was preparing for the Grand Prix to be held the following weekend.
We arrived in Lyon, France, at around 4:00pm on embarkation day. When the coach pulled up to Swiss Emerald, the ship's Captain and officers were lined up to greet us as we boarded. At the top of the gangway was our cruise director, Eszter, an attractive, statuesque Hungarian lady with a warm smile. After Eszter greeted us, we stepped on board and immediately recognized the lobby area as being identical to Swiss Jewel on which we sailed in 2009 (you can read our review of Swiss Jewel here).
Swiss Emerald, like her sisters, Swiss Jewel and Swiss Sapphire, is a step above most river cruise boats on which we have sailed in terms of style and décor. The ships are elegant, but not "stuffy". The interior is appointed in rich dark woods, Italian marble, stylish carpeting, fabric and leather seating surfaces. Crystal sconces and chandeliers are prevalent and art work and ornate mirrors grace the walls of the hallways.
The elegant lobby of Swiss Emerald
Swiss Emerald’s main lounge is located forward on Deck 2 1/2, sort of in-between Decks 2 and 3. The beautifully decorated lounge is the main meeting place on board for drinks, socializing, information and entertainment. The entire room is lined with windows, making this a great place for viewing the scenery along the banks. The ship’s Reception Desk is located just aft of the lounge across from which is the small boutique selling Swiss Emerald logo items, clothing, sundries and other trinkets. Downstairs from the lounge is the ship’s dining room. The dining room can accommodate all 118 guests, if necessary. Most tables are set up for four or six guests with two tables set up for eight guests. Windows line the walls here, too, for a great view of the scenery while dining.
Deck 3 aft is the Lido Bar which features a 180-degree view of the river. There are several tables set up for four and a computer terminal. This lounge is used for Early Riser breakfast each morning, light lunches and optional bistro-style dining each evening. This room also houses a few books and newspapers, board games and a jigsaw puzzle in progress. Cookies, tea and coffee are available in the Lido Bar at all times.
On Deck 1 forward is a small, but well-equipped, fitness center with modern treadmills, a rowing machine, bicycles and free weights. There is even a massage room and a masseuse, something we have not seen on other riverboats.
The Sun Deck has lots of open space carpeted with artificial turf, and replete with covered seating areas with tables and chairs and sun loungers. Several bicycles are stored here and the crew will gladly move them to shore if a guest would like to take a bike ride. There is a putting green, a large chess board painted on the deck with oversized chess pieces, and even a hot tub! This is a great place to sit and watch the sunset as the terraced hills of the Rhone slowly pass by.
The expansive Sun Deck on Swiss Emerald
Another unique feature that we appreciated was the presence of three ice machines located in different parts of the ship. No need to call and wait for a room steward; if you need more ice, just help yourself. There is an elevator between Decks 1 and 2. However, you do have to climb a few steps to get to Deck 3 and the Sun Deck.
As with most river ships, Swiss Emerald consists of three passenger decks and a sun deck. Staterooms and suites are located on Decks 1, 2 and 3 with the Sun Deck, obviously, on Deck 4. All staterooms are "river view". The staterooms on Decks 2 and 3 feature large floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors with French “step out” balconies while the staterooms on Deck 1 have windows. The 14 lush, 300-square-foot suites are found on Deck 3. Each deck has one or more “junior suites” which measure 183 square feet.
Our stateroom on Deck 2 (#221) amidship was 150 sq. ft. and, though typical in size to other riverboat accommodations, felt larger. The design and layout of the cabin was very well executed to provide maximum space. When we arrived, the beds had been separated with one of the end tables between them. This caused a problem with the head of my bed being located right where the light switches were on the headboard, an obvious oversight by the ship's designers. Every time I would adjust my pillow, I would turn all of the lights on in the stateroom! We had the beds moved together for the remainder of the journey, problem solved!
The bathroom on Swiss Emerald
The closet is large enough for a two-week journey and is divided into three separate sections and included an electronic safe and a mini-bar/fridge stocked with complimentary bottled water and sodas. There were two drawers in the closet’s center section and three drawers in each nightstand on either side of the bed. One section of closet consisted of shelves only and provided lots of storage space. The other two sections of closet had hanging space. There was plenty of room under the beds to store luggage.
A half-round glass table with a mirror above it is mounted to the wall opposite the bed. The table was large enough to hold my MacBook laptop and cameras for recharging using the electrical outlets, but little more. A small chair and small round glass-top table in a corner by the sliding door completed the decor. There is an electrical outlet over one of the night stands and the outlet over the other nightstand has an alarm clock plugged into it. Electricity on board is 220, so Americans will need European-style adapters in order to plug things in. There is one US-style 110 outlet at the desk and two 220-volt European-style outlets. A limited number of converters/adapters are available at Reception.
European to US adapters are cheap and readily available at any electronic stores
Note: Most camera, cell phones, iPods, iPhone, Blackberry, and other electronic gear can be recharged using 220-volt. You do not need a converter (from 220 to 110) for these items. You only need an adapter for the US-style, two-prong plug.
Look for the voltage rating on your electronic gear
The bathroom is small but functional with a narrow vanity top. As for storage, there is only a shelf beneath the sink/vanity that is almost as long as the vanity. We would like to see some shelves added to the bathroom. The half-circle shower with handheld shower wand is unique and quite roomy; however, the design of the shower door makes it difficult to keep water from leaking out onto the bathroom floor. L’Occitane amenities, in the form of shower gel, soap, body lotion, shampoo and conditioner are a nice touch. A handheld hairdryer is provided. Each cabin has its own thermostat to control temperature and fan speed. The A/C works extremely well and will freeze you out of the stateroom if you want it to.
An interesting feature in each cabin is a “silent alarm” button that, when pressed, sets off an alarm in some of the officers’ cabins to alert them to a problem such as a fall or sudden illness.
Getting a good night's sleep is often overlooked, but it is a vital part of a good vacation experience. Achieving this requires three elements to work in concert:
In all three areas, Swiss Emerald gets an A+. The A/C unit worked flawlessly. The mattresses and pillows are as good or better as you will find on any ship. And, the stateroom insulation from sound coming from the hallway or adjoining staterooms is exceptional.
- Bed/mattress/pillow comfort
- Sound insulation
At some cities where we stopped where docking facilities were limited, another riverboat would pull up next to us, tie up to us and its guests would actually exit through our lobby. This is very common to river cruising. Sometimes there were as many as three or four boats hooked together side-by-side. Be prepared to have your sunlight and your view of the river obscured by another riverboat if your cabin is on the "river side" when docked. Also, when you wake up in the morning and pull back the drapes, you might be looking right into the stateroom, or dining room, of another river boat! Wear a robe!
Our stateroom was located amidship and was very quiet and comfortable. Some staterooms aft can experience engine noise when the ship is underway. Our suggestion is to book your cruise early and request a cabin amidship or forward. On this sailing, the ship was typically docked during sleeping hours making this a non-issue. Unlike most cruise ships, Swiss Emerald's designers even figured out how to create a cabin door that does not slam shut with a bang. The cabin doors require minimal pressure to "click" into place. Perfect.
FOOD AND DINING
The quality of food preparation, taste and presentation is an area where Tauck/Scylla distinguishes itself from other river cruises (at least ones we have experienced).
The ship offers a full hot and cold breakfast buffet each morning from 7:00am to 9:00am* in the dining room. There is an omelet station where eggs are made to order along with freshly-made pancakes. Poached eggs are also available by order from your waiter. A lighter breakfast with cereals, pastries, yogurt and cheese is offered from 6am until 10am* in the Lido Bar.
Cinnamon rolls are a hit on the breakfast buffet
Here's a bit of welcome news: the coffee on Swiss Emerald was excellent. Those of you who follow our blogs and reviews know that I typically hate cruise ship coffee. I even travel with my own French press and ground coffee that I make myself. The coffee on Swiss Emerald was so good that I never had to unpack my French press.
For lunch, the restaurant offers a variety of hot and cold buffet selections throughout the week as well as a daily Chef’s Special, which can be ordered at the table. A light lunch of soup and sandwiches is served in the Lido Bar. Lunch is typically from 12:00pm until 1:30pm*. Dinner time is usually 7:00pm to 9:00pm (or earlier or later depending on the day’s activities). One small change over our last Tauck sailing is that dinner times are flexible on most nights, meaning you can dine at any time during dining hours. Only on special occasions are you required to dine at a set time.
One of the chefs prepares fresh stir-fry for lunch at the Lido Bar
All three meals are open-seating. Dinner in the restaurant is menu service, multi-course and includes complimentary red or white wine, usually from the region you are visiting. An optional Bistro-style restaurant is set up in the Lido Bar each evening with a menu that remains constant. Guests are requested to sign-up for the Lido Bar dinner in advance as seating is limited to twenty people. Vegetarians also have many options available both on the buffet and on the menu. For any other dietary requirements, just let them know when booking the trip.
* Dining times may vary from day to day
The quality of meals we experienced on Swiss Emerald was well above average with a few items that really stood out. The Swiss Emerald dining is on par with some of 5-star cruise ships that are known for their dining. It was definitely the best dining we have experienced on a river cruise. The galley, under the direction of Executive Chef, Stoyan Todorov, did an excellent job.
One key element that was also noted in our Swiss Jewel review in 2009 was the excellent seasoning of the dishes. Once again, I never found myself reaching for the salt shaker. A lack of seasoning seems to plague most cruise ship galleys for some reason. That has not been our experience on our two Tauck cruises.
Presentation of dishes was superb
The soups we enjoyed were really exceptional. The Savignon Blanc and Dijon mustard soup with baby shrimps sounds dodgy, but it was amazing. The lobster bisque was perhaps the best I have ever had, and even the mundane-sounding broccoli cream soup was excellent.
Lunch buffet items were also very good, even though some items that were to be served hot were tepid at best, a common problem with buffet service. The daily lunch special comes freshly prepared from the galley instead of the buffet, which is a great enhancement to flavor and freshness.
Lite Bites Menu - This is something new since our last Tauck trip, and a great addition. There is now a Lite Bites menu that is available from 10am until midnight each day. The following items can be delivered to you anywhere on the ship:
Snack attack: an assortment of cheese, crackers/bread & nuts
Sweet time: an assortment of cookies and/or baked goods
- Fruit basket: an assortment of fruit
Pretzel break: hot pretzels
Ice cream break: today's special
One afternoon, Rickee and I wanted to enjoy a bottle of wine we had purchased on shore. We decided to sit outside at the Lido at the back of the ship while transiting a lock. I asked one of the crew members if we could have a cheese and cracker plate and within ten minutes, a beautifully-prepared plate appeared.
Here is something unique to a Tauck river cruise: every evening from 6pm to 7pm is “happy hour” with a wide selection of discounted cocktails. What a great idea! Every cruise line should offer this. The word gets out quickly and, by 6:30, the lounge is usually packed. A glass of very good sparkling wine was only 2 Euro (about $3.66US). That is an increase from the 1.30 Euro being charged back in 2009 on our last Tauck cruise.
The appetizers served each evening in the lounge were some of the best we have tasted on any ship.
Entertainment on river sailings is rarely anything to get excited about. With limited space in the lounge and only 118 guests, riverboats simply don’t have the budget or the infrastructure for big shows like larger ships do. However, Swiss Emerald does have a resident pianist, Lubomir, who performs in the lounge each evening before and after dinner, on a full-size piano no less. And, a few times during the cruise, we were entertained by local entertainers.
Lubomir entertains on the piano each evening
SHORE EXCURSIONS AND ACTIVITIES
Like most river cruises, the destination is the main activity. If you want to sit around a swimming pool all day, play Bingo, or hit the casino, go on an ocean cruise. If, however, you want to explore a destination and its culture in depth, a river cruise is a better choice. Tauck’s included excursions are unparalleled in Europe and exemplify the signature sightseeing that has made them a leader in travel for 87 years. Included are guided walking or motorcoach tours in each of the cities or towns where Swiss Emerald docks and special “events” like a visit to a working ranch in Camargue and a trip to a hidden gem, Dolceacqua, in the mountains right across the French-Italian border.
In most cases, the ship is within minutes of a city or town center which makes a walking tour a logical choice. Our three Tauck Directors, Andrea, Pierre and Riu, were always available to answer questions or make suggestions about things to do on our own in any town or city we visited.
Rickee models the Vox communication system
Rickee and Andrea, one of the Tauck Directors on our trip
Typically, Tauck splits everyone into three or four excursion groups (depending on the number of guests), each with their own personal local tour guide. Baskets of different colored poker chips are set out before each tour. Each guest selects from one of the 3 or 4 colored chips and that determines the group they will be in for the tour. In order to keep track of which guests are off the boat, everyone is requested to drop off their room keys at Reception in exchange for a “boarding pass” which includes the name and phone number of the ship in case you somehow get lost. Maps of the local area are always provided and guests can mark the path the walking tour will take in case they want to explore on their own. When guests return from an excursion, they are greeted by smiling crew members who offer hot or cold towels and a refreshing beverage. It is all very well organized and executed.
Colored poker chips are used to divide guests into tour groups
All of the local guides we had were very capable and all spoke very good English. Each guest is given a “Vox” (a small electronic device with an earphone that allows you to hear the tour guide) for communication purposes. The whole system is very logical and effective. A “leisurely paced” group is often offered for those who want to take it a little slower. The motorcoaches used were new, clean, air-conditioned and comfortable. No doubt, Tauck has been doing this so long that they have thought of just about everything. In addition to the local guide, a Tauck Director is also present on excursions and coach trips.
Complimentary bottled water and umbrellas are available in the lobby prior to leaving the boat for tours.
Internet service is offered to guests free of charge, but is painfully slow and can be unreliable. This is a common problem on river cruises, not unique to Tauck. Part of the issues are caused when satellite communications become interrupted by passing through locks or under bridges along the river. While that explains the periodic outages of service, it does not really explain why the connection is so slow when there is reception. This is an area that every river cruise company needs to address. Nevertheless, we were able to make the Internet work well enough so that we could post our blog every day and check email. And, it is complimentary, so we can't complain about the cost!
A computer terminal is located in The Lido Bar
Guests can sign up to access the Internet from the computer in the Lido Bar for twenty minutes at a time or you can use your own laptop to access Wi-Fi. Tauck also has a couple of laptops available for guests to borrow. In Europe, you can find Internet cafes in most towns along the river where you can get free or cheap Internet service.
Each evening, a Daily Program is placed on your bed which details all the activities for the following day, meal times, the weather forecast and a list of movies that will be available on the TV. We would like to have seen more information about the towns we visited in the program.
Daily Program placed on beds each evening
Onboard activities included a Bridge visit, and a Travel Trivia contest pitting the men against the women held after dinner one evening. Women won and were rewarded with a glass of sparkling wine for their efforts. It was not unusual to see a group playing cards in the Lido Bar. One day we had a local wine merchant come onboard and do a presentation and provide a tasting of wines from the region.
To read our day-to-day blog, go here
Cruise Director, Eszter was always on hand to help guests
THE TAUCK EXPERIENCE
With so much emphasis placed on walking tours and coach tours, it almost seems as though Tauck has an unfair advantage over other river cruise companies. After all, Tauck has been conducting escorted tours for decades, and they have an excellent reputation. Their partnership with Scylla may seem awkward but it absolutely works. The Scylla crews are well-known for their friendliness. The four Tauck representatives onboard the vessel are always available to answer questions and solve any problem that may arise. Overall, both companies combine to offer a seamless vacation experience for their guests.
Tauck river cruises is a product uniquely tailored and marketed to Americans. Every logistical detail of every day is perfectly choreographed so the guest can concentrate on having fun. Everyone speaks English and everything is geared toward American tastes and customs. It is a great way for someone who may hesitate to visit a foreign country because of language concerns to experience different cultures.
Pierre, one of the Tauck Directors on our French Escapade trip
Tauck river cruises are nearly all-inclusive. Notwithstanding bar drinks purchased onboard and a few meals during the pre-cruise and post-cruise stays, everything is included in the cruise/tour fare. This means all excursions/events, tips for guides and drivers and for the onboard Tauck staff and Scylla crew, too.
Something New! Since our cruise in 2009 aboard Swiss Emerald, Tauck now includes all soft drinks on a complimentary basis as well as wine with lunch and dinner.
All gratuities, even gratuities for tour guides and transfers
All transfers to/from airport/hotel
All hotel stays and some pre/post cruise meals
Shipboard accommodations and meals
Admission to all museums, attractions and exhibits
Use of Vox communication system
Wine and beer with lunch and dinner
What’s Not included?
Bar drinks (except at special receptions)
Gift shop purchases
Limited laundry service/pressing
Dress onboard and on shore is casual. Some wore a jacket to the special Captain’s dinners. Neckties are not required. Women mostly wore casual slacks and tops. Take a sweater. Even in May, some of the places we visited were rainy and cool. Also, when the riverboat is moving and you are on the Sun Deck, it can be a bit nippy. Be sure to have comfortable, broken-in walking shoes. There was a fair amount of walking over uneven cobblestone streets on our French Escapade itinerary.
The question often comes up when reporting on a "premium" brand, such as Tauck, "Is it really worth the extra money?" We have already had a couple of questions about value on our Tauck blog. This is a tough question to answer as everyone has a different perception of value. You do get a lot of little, and some not-so-little, extras with Tauck. From the time you step off the airplane at your destination, until you are dropped off at the airport for the return trip home, you always have a Tauck Director available. There is always somebody from Tauck to make sure you get to where you need to be.
An elegant wine-tasting at Chateauneuf-du-Pape is something
you would pay extra for on most cruise lines
The Tauck river cruise itinerary includes extra little experiences along the way that you don't typically see on other cruise lines. A fancy dinner at a world-famous restaurant, an excursion to a working ranch in the French countryside, a wine-tasting at the famous Chateuneuf-du-Pape wine region in Provence, just to name a few. These are experiences that may be offered on other river cruise lines, but typically at an additional cost.
Dexter and Slavina greet guests with complimentary drinks at the Farewell Reception
The bottom line is that we did not meet anyone during our 13-night sailing who had anything but glowing things to say about Tauck. Many have been on several other Tauck vacations; one couple had been on more than 13! There is no question that Tauck has a following, so there must be a reason for that.
So, is it worth the extra money? That depends on your expectations. Odds are pretty good, Tauck will exceed them.
After only two Tauck river cruise experiences, we are starting to form a very good opinion of the brand. In just the three years since our last Tauck sailing, we see improvements in an already exceptional product. The quality has remained high and they actually offer more value than they did in 2009. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip with Tauck on the Swiss Emerald and highly recommend Tauck for a French river trip. They take good care of their guests and everything is well-organized. All you have to do is show up and enjoy!
|It is common in the travel industry for journalists to be provided with complimentary cruise accommodations, and in some cases, hotel accommodations, for the purpose of a review. While it has not influenced this review, CruiseReport.com adheres to a strict policy of full disclosure to all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, please refer to our Ethics Guidelines|