Swiss Jewel Entertainment
The focus on Swiss Jewel in terms of entertainment is truly on destination-related enrichment. The core pieces of the program are Tauck's complimentary tours, which operate every day the ship is in port. On our exotic Danube cruise, options were interesting and varied -- with a lot of special touches.
On some cruises, the chef hosts a tour to local food markets for the culinarily curious; on a Danube River stop in Vienna, we spent a delightful morning prowling the city's famous Naschmarkt as the chef, aided by the maitre d', picked out foodstuffs for us to sample. (They also picked up some treats to share back onboard with the rest of the passengers.)
Tauck handles even the simple stuff right: On days when there was a good amount of free time (in addition to a day of touring, we also had a full day at leisure to explore Vienna), Tauck arranged for shuttle service to and from the ship. Since the city's a good trek by taxi or subway from the Danube cruise piers, and since most river lines will merely hail you a cab or point you in the direction of the Metro, this was appreciated.
A "Discovery Briefing" occurs each night in the main lounge during cocktails and before dinner, during which one of three Tauck tour directors onboard discusses the next day's tour. In essence, they offer a taste of what to expect and information on what time to congregate in the lounge. "Briefing" could be synonymous with "boring," but the directors all have strong ties to the places we visited (one born in Romania, another married to a Bulgarian), so the information was solid -- and the enthusiasm was real.
The tours themselves are operated with precision -- organized and on time, every time. Each morning in the lounge, passengers are divided into three groups of about 30 each for tours -- much more intimate groups than you'll find on other river cruise lines. Guides utilize the Quietvox wireless audio system on walking tours; they speak into a transmitter, and the sound is picked up by each person's individual receiver and earphone. Which group you end up with depends on what color Quietvox you pick up. This system makes it easy for groups of friends who want to be in the same group; just grab several of the same color Quietvox receiver boxes, and you're set. It was also fun to switch colors (yellow one day, blue the next) and travel with different people throughout the voyage.
In the evenings, as mentioned, there is piano entertainment provided in the main lounge (and the occasional liquor-induced passenger crooning). The ship also hosts folkloric performances in port by local musicians and dance troupes. But this is not a late-night crowd; most retire to bed after the post-dinner specialty act to rest up for the next very busy day.
Swiss Jewel Public Rooms
There are two natural gathering spots for passengers: the Main Lounge and the Lido Bar. The Main Lounge is the hub of most of the activity onboard, and there's almost always something going on there whenever passengers are onboard. It's the meeting spot for tour departures; the "theater" space for crew shows and local folkloric performances; the setting for lectures, workshops and passenger participation activities; and the primary bar, serving cocktails.
In the atrium, you'll find a small boutique with logowear, souvenirs and jewelry. During the day, destination-related books are available to borrow and read from the tour desk, as are printouts of compiled global news briefs.
One note about the bar: While most lines offer the same layout for their primary bar/lounge, Tauck, rather oddly, decided to put its bar at the front of the ship, thus cutting off the forward-facing view from the lounge.
The Lido Bar, meanwhile, is more of a get-away-from-it-all spot, hosting alternative meals as mentioned above, as well as pre-dinner cocktails in a smaller setting. Its 180-degree glass wall opens to a small deck for fresh air and outside mingling. This space also doubles as a library and game room. We swung by daily to see the progress on a table-wide puzzle of a Danube landscape; you can borrow and play board games like Scrabble. A bookcase of assorted fiction and nonfiction is always accessible on an honor/trade system: read it and bring it back, or take it and replace with another book you'd like to donate to the ship.
There is one Internet-connected computer station there, as well as Wi-Fi throughout the ship. Both are free to use via a username and password that can be collected at the reception desk, but the connection is very spotty. (And, by that, we mean barely existent -- but we knew that going in, as satellite reception is a rarity on some stretches of Europe's rivers.)
Swiss Jewel Spa & Fitness
You won't find a pool onboard, though one small hot tub on the Sun Deck is available for use 24 hours a day, so pack your swimsuit. The Sun Deck features an oversized chess board and a tiny putting green, plenty of mesh and metal loungers both in the sun and under shaded canopies, and a few tables and chairs for enjoying a cocktail or card game.
A small spa and fitness center is located on the first deck -- a nice touch for a riverboat, many of which can be lacking in this kind of amenity. The fitness center features four treadmills, three stationary bikes and two rowing machines, as well as some light hand weights. (I never saw a soul down there, though many passengers got in exercise by power-walking around the Sun Deck.)
There's one room for massages -- the only treatments offered -- that is simple but lovely. Appointments are available until well in the evening, due to busy days in port, and can be made at the reception desk. The prices are reasonable -- full body massages (50 minutes) start from 68 euros. There are also foot and partial-body options. I opted for the aromatic full-body oil massage, an hourlong affair that also includes a foot soak and scalp treatment -- a bargain in my book.
Plus, it was one of the best massages I've had in long time, afloat or ashore. Best of all: Unlike on treatments experienced in spas operated on oceangoing ships, there was no product pitch, the bane of many a mainstream cruiser's existence. It was truly relaxing, and I'm so glad I kept the appointment.
The ship stocks bicycles onboard, and they're available, on a complimentary basis while the ship's in port.
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