The focus, entertainment-wise, on Sapphire is truly on destination-related enrichment. The core piece of the puzzle is Tauck's complimentary tour program, which is operated every day the ship is in port. Options are interesting and varied -- with a lot of special touches.
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, so the information is solid -- and the enthusiasm was real. Some mornings, a local guide would board the ship prior to our going ashore to give a lecture on the region and offer insight on some of the places we'd be visiting.
The tours themselves are operated with precision -- organized and on time, every time. 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. Passengers can expect a combination of coach and walking tours, with an emphasis on the city centers Sapphire visits. Most are fine for people of every walking ability, though cobblestone streets and steps are common. Often, an easy-paced walking group is offered. Local guides who speak English lead tours, and Tauck's tour guides accompany the group.
In the evenings, 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. By the time we reached our final destination, the songs were starting to sound the same, but we could certainly appreciate the talents of the mostly young people foot-stomping and pan-fluting their hearts out.
The Panorama Lounge is the hub of most of the activity, and there's almost always something going on here whenever passengers are onboard. It's 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 around the clock (and we mean that literally -- the bar is open all night!).
Live music is provided before and after dinner by a pianist, mostly playing classics from the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and the like. If you stay up late enough, you'll find that passengers are welcome to (and do) pick up the microphone and sing along, karaoke-style (Frank Sinatra's "My Way" was a staple ... every night). If you stay up even later, you might even find yourself utilizing the itty-bitty dance floor. During the day, destination-related books are available to borrow and read, as are printouts of compiled global news briefs, newspapers and magazines.
There aren't any computer stations onboard for passengers to use, but Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship. Both are free to use via a username and password that can be collected at the reception desk. Additionally, you can ask the cruise director to print out things like your airline boarding pass at the end of your cruise.
Passengers enter the ship through a main lobby that houses the reception desk and a small shop with postcards, trinkets, jewelry and a very meager allotment of personal items (so don't forget to pack, say, a hairbrush).
You won't find a pool onboard, though there is one small hot tub on the Sun Deck that's available for use 24 hours a day, so pack your swimsuit. The Sun Deck features an oversized chess board and a tiny putting green, and plenty of mesh and metal loungers both in the sun and under shaded canopies, as well as 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 river boat, many of which can be lacking in amenities. 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 (think: flowers beneath the table so you have something to look at while laying face down). 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 48 euros. There are also foot and partial body options. I opted for the aromatic full body oil massage, an hour-long affair that also includes a foot soak and scalp treatment for 68 euros -- 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 ocean-going 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.
Tauck offers family adventures on land, but its river cruise program is really not geared toward family travel; there are no spaces or programs for children onboard ms Sapphire.
However, don't discount the option if you have more mature children who are hungry for knowledge and don't mind spending much of their time with their parents and other grown-ups. Bookish teens might do well on a family or multigenerational trip.
Additionally, the ship offers a handful of family sailings each year under the company's Tauck Bridges program. These cruises are geared toward multigenerational families with children (often with grandparents, parents and kids). All aspects of these sailings are adjusted to accommodate kids, including meals, onboard activities and port excursions. You might visit a cooking school for a family culinary class or do a group scavenger hunt, then watch movies and eat popcorn back onboard. Sapphire has two pairs of connecting cabins to accommodate groups traveling together, and all of the 300-square-foot cabins feature small sofas that can convert into beds for up to two children. The cruise line also waves the single supplement -- a fee commonly charged to cruise passengers who travel solo -- on these sailings; single passengers must stay in the Category 1 cabins to take advantage of the offer.
* May require additional fees