This is part 2 of our trip report I just posted in the Paris forum. This covered our Versailles visit last July 2 and I hope those planning their visits will find this helpful. Let me know if you have questions.
Part 2 (July 2)
Part 2 of my trip report is all about our trip to Versailles. Because we are traveling with an elderly parent, I explored a lot of skip the line guided tours on offer in the internet. They were expensive, at least $100 per person, for only half a day and they do not even include hotel pick-up and drop-off. Multiply that by 4 people and that's too dear for our budget. I also did not want our visit to be rushed since our main goal was to have time to go around the gardens and visit Marie Antoinette's estate. Luckily, there are many posts in TA on how to do Versailles on your own. That's what we did and we ended up enjoying our trip to Versailles at less than 1/5 of the cost if we took the tour.
I set aside the whole day Wednesday for our trip to Versailles. The planets aligned and it turned out to be the best day of our stay weather wise: sunny but not humid. I booked tickets for the 9:30 guided tour of the King's Apartments through the Versailles website to avoid the lines. It was 7 euros per person on top of the Museum Pass we had that covered entry to everything in Versailles. The Saint Michel/Notre Dame station where we took the RER C to Versailles was walking distance from our hotel but we took the Metro so as not to tire my mom so early in the trip. We bought two one-way RER C tickets for our party of four at the ticket counter. On the ramp, there were station attendants in red vests who will lead you to the right train. Just tell them you want to go to Versailles Palace. It is the last stop and when you get off, just follow the people or the signs to the Chateau. We got there around 8:55 but since we were walking slowly, we reached the Chateau around 9:15. There was already a long line but our printed tickets had instructions that we go to a separate entrance for guided visits on the right side of the Palace. There was no line for this entrance. Inside, there was a separate and comfortable waiting area for our group of about 25 people.
The guided tour was just OK, the guide was a bit dry and the Opera was closed that day. We did get to see some rooms not open to the public and there were interesting tidbits we learned about court life. I'm a history buff and am particularly interested in the French Revolution so every thing was interesting to me. The real value of the guided tour, however, was avoiding standing in line for long periods under the sun. For that alone, I felt it was worth it and allowed us to enjoy our visit more.
The tour ended around 11 am after which we were led to another entrance to visit the other areas of the palace open to the public. Surprisingly, the crowd was not that bad on that Wednesday. I was prepared for wall-to-wall people but we were able to go through the rooms including the Hall of Mirrors easily and take many pictures. By 11:30 we were done with the Chateau. After a while, everything started to look the same so we set off for the gardens. Our main interest was really to see the grounds and Marie Antoinette's estate. We rented a golf cart (32 euros/hour) because of mobility issues and to save time. For those who don't mind waiting, the mini train is a viable and cheaper option. It allows you to get off at points in the grounds and take your time exploring.
Although a map was given to us showing the allowed routes for the golf cart, we took many wrong turns. (My family is really map-challenged so don't let this worry you). The cart stopped when we veered off the allowed route so we had to do a lot of reverse turns. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the majestic view of the grounds on our way to the Trianon. We saw MA's estate but couldn't find the allowed route to get there. We ended up parking the cart at the Grand Trianon and just walked to the hamlet (about 5 minutes pleasant walk amidst fragrant honeysuckle trees). We arrived around 12:10 and there was already a short line. When we got in, we skipped the Petite Trianon and went straight to the hamlet. This part was one of the highlights of my Paris trip. We were the only ones on the grounds as most of the people started with the Petite Trianon. It was quiet and peaceful with only the birds chirping. We took many postcard-perfect pictures including the houses which seemed straight out of Hansel and Gretel, the windmill, temple of love and fishes in the lake. It was easy to see why this was MA's refuge from palace life and I could imagine her playing with her children here. On the other hand, it may have been too idyllic a place to make her unaware of how hard life was outside.
We went back to the Palace because we had a 1 pm lunch reservation at Angelina's. By that time, the palace was more crowded and there was already a long waiting line for the golf carts. Since we exceeded the 1 hour for the cart by about 20 minutes, we paid $40. We had a restful break at Angelina's. It was a good opportunity to try Angelina's because we heard the line at the rue Rivoli branch is usually long. Service and desserts were top-notch, the sandwiches and salads were just average for the price. Yes, the hot chocolate was that good. Our lunch was pricey but it was a great reprieve from the crowds and provided a comfortable restroom break. After lunch, we went back to the gardens to take more pictures. We took the same route to the station and it was good to have our return tickets ready as there was a long line for train tickets back to Paris. There is only one train going back to Paris so just hop on the waiting train. We were back at our hotel before 4 pm and we took a brief nap to prepare for our nighttime Seine cruise.