Having never been on a European river cruise, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I boarded Tauck River Cruising’s newest boat, ms Inspire, for a nine-day trip through the Netherlands and Belgium. But it didn’t take long to figure out what river cruising, Tauck style, was all about. Here are my first impressions of the cruise:
All-inclusive. They’re not kidding. Starting this season, just about everything onboard a Tauck boat — and on land in each port! – is included in your base fare. That means all your meals (regardless of where you choose to eat), all your drinks from soda to Champagne and premium spirits, all your tours (and not just short walking tours in each port either) and three incredibly knowledgeable guides to answer virtually any question you can think of. The only expenses you might have onboard are purchases in the small shop, a massage or getting your hair done. That’s it; there’s nothing else you can pay for.
Every Wednesday, we’ll be taking you on a journey around the world to some of the most interesting places our members have trekked, swum or merely witnessed from afar while cruising.
Whether these photos inspire you to plan a relaxing escape or walk on the wild side, we hope they ignite your senses and give you ideas for your next cruising adventure. If you have a photo you’d love to share, send it to us at email@example.com or post it in our member photo gallery.
This photo of an empty street in the Petit Champlain District of Quebec City, taken by Cruise Critic member zackiedawg, makes us feel as if we’re there in this very moment.
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Whether it’s your first or 15th trip to the Eastern Caribbean, chances are good that one of the U.S. Virgin Islands will be a stop on your itinerary. The three main islands – St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John – receive an astounding number of cruise passengers per year; in 2013, nearly 2 million visitors arrived on 626 ships!
With this amount of traffic, it’s easy to dismiss the ports as over-run tourist traps, with little to engage the discerning traveler. But that would be a mistake. As I found on five days spent on the islands last week, each one offers its own flavor – and enough activities to engage even the most crowd-averse cruiser.
Turtle Beach on Buck Island, in St. Croix.
If you love authentic Caribbean….try St. Croix:
Far fewer ships visit St. Croix than its smaller Virgin siblings – and as a result, the atmosphere on the island is decidedly more laid back. Residents take Sundays seriously (many shops are closed), and “island time” is fluid; this isn’t the place to come with a strict schedule and checklist. Instead, kick off your shoes and learn what Caribbean-style “limin’” is all about, while still remaining on U.S. soil.
First timers: St. Croix has its share of beautiful beaches; Turtle Beach on Buck Island is one of the prettiest – and most pristine – in the Caribbean. But it’s what is under the water that is most intriguing. Snorkelers have their choice of easy access spots, such as Rainbow Beach, Sand Castle Beach and the wildlife refuge, Sandy Point. For those looking for more of a challenge, the Wall at Cane Bay – where a vertical slope drops the ocean floor from 40 to 3,200 feet – is one of the best diving spots in the world.
Veteran travelers: If you’d rather spend time on land this trip, consider an ATV trip through the island’s extensive rain forest. Or, if you’re in shape and don’t mind wearing sneakers, a hike to the Annaly Bay tidal pools, accessible through the Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Beach Resort, rewards you with waterfalls and marine life, including eels, urchins and more. Don’t forget to try the local food. The island’s agricultural focus means that it’s fresher and more sophisticated with spices than you’ll find elsewhere (I’m still thinking about the curry chicken and johnny cakes I had at La Reine Chicken Shack).
Relaxation, culture and exotic cuisine sound like a recipe for a satisfying weeklong cruise. For member So Cal Cruise Mom and her daughter, Carnival Imagination served as the perfect four-night getaway.
West Coasters were ecstatic when Imagination, one of the Carnival‘s original “Fun Ships,” made its way to LA after Elation returned to its homeport of New Orleans. So Cal Cruise Mom found that the ship lived up to its expectations.
As usual, our readers have been clamoring to find out who won our last caption contest. This picture of a dinosaur in Aruba didn’t prompt as many entries as our previous caption contests. But we will say that overall, the answers were more creative, with a greater variety of replies.
Honorable mention goes to Sue and Karen DiSanza for their speculation that this creature had sailed on “Raptor of the Seas.” But in the end, we decided the Cruise Critic prize pack would go to Belinda Wommack for this entry: “It’s been TOO long since my last cruise – about 65 million years!!!”
Check back soon for April’s contest! And thanks again to veteran Cruise Critic member and photographer USTWORCREW for this shot.
Tauck passenger Marcy Silverman makes fried matazh for me the first morning of Passover aboard ms Inspire.
Try explaining a Seder plate to someone who barely understands what Passover is. Not an easy task but one I found myself undertaking on a recent river cruise aboard Tauck’s newest boat, ms Inspire.
The second-to-last night of my Dutch Waterways cruise was the first night of Passover, my favorite Jewish holiday. I’ve only missed Passover with my family one other time in my 41 years, back in 2004 when I was backpacking around New Zealand. Then I went to a Seder at a synagogue; I was one of maybe 100 tourists there. This time there would be no synagogue to turn to.
I packed matzah and a Haggadah, the special text that tells the story of Egyptian slavery and subsequent exodus of the Jewish people that all Jews use before and after dinner on the first two nights of Passover. The Haggadah outlines the elements of the Seder, which is essentially a ritual Passover meal.
My first day onboard, the maître d invited passengers to speak with him about their dietary requirements. I asked him if any other passengers had inquired about having a Seder onboard. He looked at me blankly.
“The special dinner for Passover,” I added, hoping that would help. He still didn’t quite get it, but one of our tour directors was there and he immediately understood what I was talking about.
“Not yet,” he told me, adding he thought there were probably a lot of Jewish people onboard and he’d see if he could find anyone interested in joining me. Maybe an hour later, he approached me in the lounge and said he had a couple for me to meet.
Every Thursday at 3 p.m. (Eastern), Cruise Critic Live! takes a look at all the things to love about cruising, from favorite destinations to amazing dining experiences to the latest and greatest new ships on the oceans and rivers. We also welcome outside experts including cruise line CEOs and newsmakers.
Next week, we’ll be diving into the delicious topic of cruise ship bars, drinks, and alcohol packages. From finding the best bang for your buck to helping connoisseurs locate that perfectly crafted cocktail, our resident imbibers will spill their secrets on spirits and offer tips on top drink packages and policies. Don’t forget to bookmark the page.
Can’t make the chat on Thursday, April 24 at 3 p.m.? Please feel free to submit questions ahead of time, and we’ll make sure to get your answers. The chat will be archived, and available, after it winds up.
*Follow along on Twitter at #CruiseCriticLive.
*Read the transcript from this past Thursday’s chat with TV personality and interior design consultant for Quantum of the Seas, Genevieve Gorder.
Massages in the United States and on major oceangoing cruise lines are rather straightforward: Arms, legs, neck and back. On a European river ship, though, you have to watch out for more B’s: the belly and elsewhere (I’ll let you figure out what else starts with B!)
Having your tummy rubbed is a strange sensation for someone from the States. It’s seriously difficult to relax and enjoy your message when you’re trying to suck your stomach in. But what the massage therapist chose to rub down was not the only difference I experienced when I decided to indulge in a massage on the Rhine.keep looking »