Bon Voyage Travel’s President, Ryan Hansen, recently returned from a memorable European trip with his family. What made this trip memorable? Tauck Bridges. They understand the needs of a multi-generational trip and have designed their tours to engage every family member while taking care of every detail. Read Ryan’s review of his family’s experience with Tauck and get some Bon Voyage Travel tips along the way.
Arrival in Paris –
The Hansen family vacation of 2017 is the first trip abroad for our two sons Jack (11) and Brock (8). Both were eagerly anticipating the exciting sights of this new Bridges itinerary – and Tauck did not disappoint. We arrived in Paris on the morning of July 9th and were greeted by the private transfer arranged and provided by Tauck. This made it very easy for our family of four to get to our hotel, the Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel.
HOTEL: The Pullman is ideally located on the left bank with unobstructed views of the Eiffel Tower. As a family of four, we were provided two rooms at the Pullman. The reason for this is the bedding does not allow for quad occupancy. The breakfast that was offered daily was very good. A large sampling of made to order options along with a traditional European style buffet, were hot and ready daily.
The best feature of this hotel is location, location, location. The first picture below was taken directly in front of our hotel. We were able to walk to the tower as well as Rue Cler for lunch on our own before the formal programming began that evening.
BVT TIP: Adjacency and connecting room requests are not guaranteed. Our rooms were on the same floor, but some of our fellow passengers had rooms on different floors. Knowing this in advance will help you pack accordingly. In other words, each person in the travel party should have a bag that is “self-contained” form clothes to shoes to hygiene needs.
Day 1 – Welcome Reception & Dinner
The first evening afforded us an opportunity to meet our Tauck tour directors and interact with our fellow travelers.
DINNER: Once again the dinner location at the Pullman was fantastic on the 10th floor with tremendous views of the City of Lights, pictures 2,3 and 4. The meet and greet was very informal and served as an important kick-off to a week-long trip together. Upon arrival, each child drew a piece of a cut-up postcard out of a hat and was then encouraged to find the remaining pieces of the postcard that were held by the other children on the trip. This exercise fostered interaction in a fun and engaging way. The “postcard teams” were then given a stuffed croissant as a team mascot. They were challenged to name the croissant and take pictures with it along our journey. Jack’s team named their croissant “Frank” and Brock’s named theirs “Captain Croissant.” The best part of dinner was the special guest: a mentalist from Paris. Throughout dinner, the mentalist moved from table to table showing off his talents for reading the minds of the guests. In between each course, he performed an act, vaudeville style, that entertained kids and adults alike during an otherwise long, plated meal.
BVT TIP: Take advantage of the time by meeting as many of the fellow travelers as possible. Other guests ranged from grandparents traveling just with their grandkids, parents with kids, aunts with nieces, and everything in between.
Day 2 – Louvre Scavenger Hunt & Eiffel Tower
Today began with a visit to the Louvre. The tour included views and commentary along with a room by room scavenger hunt of the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Nike, and other amazing relics. We spent approximately 2 ½ hours in the museum which was perfectly timed for the children of the group. The guide kept the kids engaged with an informal guided scavenger hunt. The next stop was the Eiffel Tower. We ascended the tower to the 2nd observation deck for picture taking, and unmatched views. We then descended to level 1 for lunch in the 58 Restaurant . A pre-plated meal awaited us that helped move the lunch along and afford us additional free time to explore Paris that afternoon and evening on our own. The local guide, arranged by Tauck, and the expedited entrance to the Louvre & Eiffel Tower were the best elements of the day. Our local guide, David, delivered age-level appropriate commentary of the Louvre along with a sense of humor that made it more fun for the kids. The Tauck tour directors did an amazing job of whisking through the lengthy labyrinth of people trying to access the museum and tower.
BVT TIP: Understand going into the trip that the programming is geared towards children 8-18. You could spend a week in the Louvre and not see all of the treasures on display. Most adults would prefer a longer visit with more colorful commentary, but I felt it was the right amount of time for the target audience.
Day 3 – Parisian Highlights & Notre Dame Cathedral
A motorcoach tour of the landmark sites of Paris or a bicycling outing along the Seine River was on the agenda. We chose the motorcoach tour as our kids are not seasoned bike riders and traffic in Paris can be a bit challenged by bicycles. We were very comfortable on the motorcoach as we drove through Paris stopping at the Arc de Triomphe along with other major sites. After the guided portion of the day, we were taken to Rue Montorgueil, given 20 Euros, and allowed to pick our favorite lunch spot. The area was full of great restaurants and shopping options as we were given two hours to roam free. During the free time, the kids were encouraged to find as many different breads and pastries they could. The highlight of the tour portion of the day was the visit to Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris. The most iconic Notre Dame in all of Europe, the gargoyled place of worship provided a glimpse into the history of the church in France. Truth be told, Brock loved the pigeons outside beautiful cathedral the most.
BVT TIP: Always note the difference between a “city highlights” excursion and a visit/tour. The highlights is a bus ride with views of the sites from the windows of the motorcoach vs a visit/tour involves actually stopping getting out of the motorcoach at the site.
Day 3 Cont. – Embark the ms Sapphire
Late in the afternoon we boarded the newly renovated ms Sapphire. Immediately upon boarding we were greeted by what I would term as the friendliest crew I have ever encountered. As mentioned previously, the majority of staterooms are double occupancy and do not have the ability to connect. They are very well laid out with beds facing the french balcony. There was ample space to move about and a nice amount of storage – primarily in drawers and not necessarily hanging. The bathroom was spacious, updated, and very nice. The shower had a hand-held shower head, rain shower feature, and a seat. The public spaces were very well appointed and allowed for intimate conversations as well as group functions. A putting green and two hot tubs on the top deck made for a gathering spot throughout the day and night for the kids onboard.
BVT TIP: If you are traveling as a larger family, your Advisor will be sure to book multiple rooms that are not only right next to each other, but that the doors of the rooms are immediately adjacent. This makes the logistics of traveling in separate rooms a bit easier.
Day 4 – Monet’s Giverny& Les Andelys
After sailing up river, we dock in Giverny and head to the the inspiration behind world-renowned artist Claude Monet works. A walking tour through the gardens and legendary pink house made you feel as if you were inside the water lillies painting. The afternoon sailing to Les Andelys included a brief lecture about the man who was the first person to traverse the English Channel in a hot air balloon in 1785, Jean-Pierre Blanchard. Following the lecture about Blanchard, who was born in Les Andelys, the kids made their own miniature hot air balloon. But the best part about the day was hiking to the top of the hill to Chateau Gaillard, built by Richard the Lionheart. At the fortified castle, we launched our two hot air balloons that held hand-written messages from all of the children. The balloons had a 3-5 day lifespan. At the castle, our local guides told fascinating stories about the battle that took place at this very site between the English and the French in 1204 AD.
BVT TIP: The programming has an educational component and is intended for interaction among all family members. It is not a kids program like on an ocean vessel where parents or grandparents drop-off the children.
Day 5 – Discovering Stories of WWII in Normandy
The #1 Bucket List destination in my life: The beaches of Normandy. My grandfather landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day as a member of the USN. Having survived the landing and living to 94 years of age, he represents the “Greatest Generation.” Today’s theme was to establish and cultivate an appreciation for the heroes of that generation. A visit to Point de Hoc, Omaha Beach, the hallowed American Cemetery, lunch at the Omaha Beach Club, filled the majority of the day. Our local guide was exceptional with her ability to describe the events and the importance of the area. Standing in the actual German bunkers, walking along the sandy beach, and placing a flower on the grave of a fallen soldier at the American cemetery were all very sobering. But the war came to life when we stopped for our visit to the D-Day Academy. The academy is an airplane hanger full of authentic WWII relics and artifacts including uniforms, helmets, weapons, and vehicles. Everyone was able to hold the guns, sit in a jeep or on a motorcycle, and try on genuine uniforms and helmets from both the Allies and Germans. Our boys absolutely loved honking the horns of the transports, getting behind a machine gun, and pick up a grenade. Truth be told, so did I.
BVT TIP: When arriving by river cruise, the Normandy beaches are a two-hour drive from the river boat. Be prepared for the bus ride to and from the beaches.
Day 6 – Time Travelling in Rouen
Today we woke up in Rouen, the “museum city of a hundred spires.” A short walk to the center of the historical action of the city and we were standing where Joan of Arc died, William the Conqueror held court and Richard the Lionheart left his heart. The Sapphire was docked next to one of the 360 degrees Panorama XXL , a five-story illustration of Rouen from the time of Joan of Arc in 1431. A massive undertaking of artistic brilliance brought Rouen from the pages of the history book to a real-life town before our very eyes. Our boys were charged with finding various scenes in the work of art. Their favorite was two people taking a bath in the middle of their backyard. The visit to the Panorama was definitely a highlight. This afternoon we chose to eat lunch at Arthur’s, the Sapphire’s secondary dining venue. A dedicated chef is at your service from 11 am to 11 pm to serve as the ship’s grill. A more intimate environment provided a relaxing meal for our family. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food in the main restaurant as well as Arthur’s.
BVT TIP: Tauck Bridges provides a buffet at every meal that has children’s favorites ranging from pizza to spaghetti, to macaroni and cheese. This was a lifesaver at the end of a long touring day for our boys who wanted to get something fast and to their liking. A full menu of exceptional dishes were available for the adults and children as well.
Day 7 – Gardens and Palace of Versailles
Our last day of the trip ended with a guided visit of the Chateau de Versailles and a stroll through the gardens for Anna and Brock. Jack and me embarked on a bicycle tour of the gardens and a walk to Marie Antionette’s farm. The bike adventure was a special outing for us. Bicycles and helmets were provided for all sizes and ages. A leisurely pace with interesting commentary from our guide made for a wonderful afternoon. After we returned to the Sapphire, we were treated to a farewell reception, fabulous dinner and dance party. The kids loved the opportunity to dance with the crew and their fellow passengers. It was a perfect cap to a fantastic voyage.
BVT TIP: Due to the amount of people trying to access the palace, we were sure glad that we had Tauck to direct us through to a special entrance. For many of the most popular sites across the globe, it is advantageous to travel with Tauck as they make it a seamless and stress-free experience.
Good-bye’s and Thank You’s –
On the day of disembarkation, we found it extremely easy to get off the boat. Our bags needed to be outside our room a mere 30 minutes prior to departure. Then as we stepped off the boat, we were taken to the train station in a private transfer. We felt so relaxed and very important.
Special Notes: I cannot say enough about the job of the Tauck Tour Directors. Every detail was attended to by the Tauck TD’s. We were never at a loss for information or announcements about our itinerary. The smooth nature of the execution of the trip allowed the adults to relax and fully enjoy the experience with our kids. I was also impressed with the effort they made to interact with each and every passenger. Patricia was so sweet; Veronica made us feel special; and Karel had a great way with all of the kids. They were made to be TD’s. Please recognize Charlene – our guide in Normandy – she was beyond fantastic. I was thoroughly impressed by her passion and knowledge – she is a keeper. A special thank you needs to go out to the crew of the ms Sapphire. It takes a special talent to be able to connect to people of all ages – and I can say that without a doubt this crew did just that. Special credit and thanks to our waiter – Stoyan. He made an extra special connection with our son and made his cruise beyond memorable. The 2nd Captain, Loic was so kind by allowing Brock to hang out in the wheelhouse – and honk the ship’s horn on Bastille Day. While Sanja L. and Eniko attended to our every whim from food to drink. The Captain and Hotel Manager were exceptional as they made sure to help and talk to all! By far, the most friendly and interactive crew I have ever sailed with.