April 23, 2014 | By Dori Saltzman | No Comments
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.
Loft cabins. The boat makes excellent use of space (for the most part), especially in their new loft cabins on the bottom deck. On other ships, this is sometimes referred to as the Aquarium Deck because the cabins are at or below sea level with tiny little windows. Not so on Inspire, where the loft cabins take advantage of unused space from the deck above to create a multi-level cabin. On the bottom level are the bed, closets, TV and bathroom. In the small upper loft is a table with chairs and massive floor-to-ceiling windows, where the upper part opens to let in fresh air. This loft provides a great spot for sipping coffee or checking your email while the world slowly rolls by, although the view isn’t always the best because you’re at water level. These loft cabins can only be found on Inspire and soon on its sister ship Savor, which launches this summer.
Storage pros and cons. Space is also well used when it comes to storage. I love the mirrored cabinet in the bathroom and the small drawer tucked under an entry hall ledge. However, in the boat’s Category 1 cabins (the smallest on the ship), there is a dearth of storage space that I found surprising considering how they managed to fit so many shelves and drawers into my cabin.
Dual crews. Because Tauck does not own or manage its own boats, most of the crew reports to its owner, Scylla. The Dutch company is Tauck’s exclusive partner in Europe, creating boats to Tauck’s specifications and then manning the boats with their dining staff, cleaning crew and sailors. Tauck provides the cruise director and three tour directors. If you have a question about the itinerary, the tours or the places you’re going to, you ask a Tauck director. If you’re unhappy with your food or need something in your cabin, you ask a Scylla crewmember.
On our cruise, Inspire’s first sailing, the Tauck directors were all polished and experienced. The Scylla crew, not so much (though hotel director Marina said only a handful were actually new). Despite three weeks of training for the newbies, the results were mixed; with some of the waiters, you were never sure what was going to be delivered to your table, unless you pointed to the menu to order a dish.
It’s more active than you might think. From two to three walking tours in a single day to an eagerly embraced Guys vs. Gals nighttime trivia competition, a Tauck cruise is action-packed; you’re not going to get a lot of rest. Putting aside breakfast, our day typically started between 8:30 and 9 a.m. when we boarded a bus for our first activity — usually a city tour and/or museum visit. Then back to the boat for lunch and then out for more touring. We could choose from at least three tours most days, all with a fair amount of walking. When we returned, it was time for cocktail hour and dinner; I rarely got back to my cabin before 9 p.m. — and then only on the days I avoided the Panorama Lounge after dinner.