The ms Emerald has returned for a second season on the Rhône with larger staterooms, fewer passengers, and a regal new blue-and-gold color scheme. Alternating between two Tauck itineraries—Paris, Lyon, and Provence; and Monte Carlo to Paris—the 110-meter ship will accommodate just 98 passengers (similar-size riverboats average around 160), appealing to travelers in search of a sophisticated, exclusive way to sail southern France. Passengers are mostly Americans (with some Canadians, Brits, and Australians) over age 55, who enjoy food, wine, and culture; the stellar onboard guides are French, and the friendly crew hails mostly from Eastern Europe.
What We Love
The Spacious Staterooms: Seventy percent of the 110-meter-long ship’s cabins are 225 square feet or more. The largest—the 14 (Category 7) Tauck Suites—measure 300 square feet (and feature walk-in closets and sofa beds); and the 20 (Category 6) Cabins are 225 square feet each. Both top categories have French balconies and incredibly modern and spacious bathrooms with walk-in showers, lots of counter space, and a trio of mirrored vanities. Five mid-level cabins (Categories 2, 4, and 5) measure 183 square feet and have bathrooms that are smaller but still comfortable. Even the tiniest cabins (Categories 3 and 1, the latter of which solo travelers can book without incurring a single supplement), are 150 square feet—larger than the standard cabins on many other ships.
Arthur’s and the Sun Deck: When the sun’s shining, there’s no better spot than Arthur’s bistro (located aft on Deck 3), where sliding doors open to outdoor seating and the burgers are massive and delicious. The Sun Deck—which has tables, loungers, and a small dipping pool—is the perfect place to enjoy a glass of Sancerre or Côtes du Rhône with views of the French countryside.
The Local Treats: If you’ve never tried a Calisson (the fruit and almond-paste candy of Provence) or a Coussin de Lyon (the city’s signature marzipan sweet), you’ll be craving them after this cruise. Each day, the staff sets out refreshing drinks and plates of local goodies as guests return from excursions. You’ll also enjoy an onboard wine-and-cheese tasting, a sampling of French aperitifs, and fresh local oysters (when in season).
Best Known For
Excellent Guides and Exclusive Experiences: Two English-speaking Tauck guides will accompany you aboard ms Emerald and on tour buses, offering expert commentary on the region (and on other things French, such as legendary singer Edith Piaf). You’ll be handed off to city guides for walking tours and museum or market visits, but your Tauck guides will join you on special experiences, such as truffle hunting near Viviers and a cooking demo and wine-and-cheese pairing at Scook (Michelin-star chef Anne-Sophie Pic’s culinary school in Valence).
Endless Opportunities to Eat: Pack loose clothing, because you’re sure to pack on a few pounds. Not only does the culinary team create three creative and delicious meals daily in the Compass Rose Dining Room (don’t miss the mussels at lunch and the duck breast when it’s on the dinner menu), but practically every excursion includes an opportunity to taste something amazing.
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Who It's Best For
Travelers Who Don’t Want to Worry About a Thing: Tauck’s pampering certainly isn’t cheap, but its all-inclusive pricing is really all-inclusive—everything from transfers to tips to wifi, as well as an open bar for most wines and spirits, is part of the cruise fare. They think of everything, so you don’t have to.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
There’s Not a Lot of Down Time: The itineraries are highly structured and pack a lot into seven days (and tours leave promptly, so be on time). You can always skip an excursion, but those who do are often disappointed when they hear what they missed. Tip: Visits to the truffle farm near Viviers and the manade (bull ranch) in the Camargue are must-do’s.
There’s an Elevator, but Only on Two Decks: Those with mobility issues can make use of an elevator to get to staterooms and public areas on Decks 2 and 3, but anyone in a Category 1 or 2 cabin on the lowest deck needs to be able to navigate a small, curved stairway that could be tricky for some travelers. Access to the Sun Deck is also via stairs.
Donna Heiderstadt is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Coastal Living and Islands.