Grace Shore Excursions
All shore excursions on Tauck are included; there's at least one a day and sometimes there's a choice. In addition to the crew of 39, Grace has a cruise director and three other Tauck directors onboard, who accompany all the shore excursions. Passengers are divided into groups of no more than 25, with each group guided by a local expert. There's always a slower group available for people who are less active. A nightly briefing during Happy Hour sets people up for the next day.
A few things make Tauck's excursions stand out from others. For one, the company uses modern branded buses that have bathrooms and USB ports for charging phones (bring your cord). On our trip through the Rhine and Mosel, the same drivers were with us the entire time. Two, the staff make sure that you have money for incidentals, such as change for the public washrooms in Europe. As noted earlier, on daylong excursions you're given 20 euros (or francs) to buy lunch in a cafe. In the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg, passengers were given roses to put on the soldiers' graves.
Third, call us jaded but the places that the excursions took us seemed a little more genuine than others we've experienced along the touristy German rivers. Wine tastings for large groups can be generic and dull, but the one the line put together at Schlagkamp-Desoye Winery in Senheim was genuinely informative and entertaining, with wines that you'd want to bring back to your cellar. Castles in this region are a dime a dozen, but the one Tauck chose to take us to -- Reichsburg Castle -- had more original artifacts than most, as well as knowledgeable guides. It really seemed like Tauck had done its homework when building the itinerary.
We also liked that the staff encouraged passengers to go out and explore on their own, not only during the free time, but when the ship was docked in the evenings. While not everyone took advantage of it, the continual reminders that Europe's cities are full of lovely cafes and regional specialties that you can't get at home might have spurred a few passengers to get out of the ship's comfort zone.
One complaint that we heard is that passengers did have to endure several days of long bus rides. While that can't be helped in places such as Heidelberg, which are not actually on the Rhine, the ship's docking situation in Strasbourg was less than ideal. The staff did go out of their way to tell passengers when to expect a long ride -- and always gave the option to stay on the ship. Also, as we mentioned earlier, the staff could do more to help passengers who are mobility challenged.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
With daily shore excursions included in the fare, Tauck Grace doesn't have too many extra activities during the day; those that it does have fall under the Enrichment category (see below).
At night, a musician plays in the lounge; the ship also has a dance floor, and some couples danced, ballroom style, on a few nights. On one night, a local Alphorn troupe performed; the crew put on a show on another evening. Generally, though, people go to bed early.
On days with scenic cruising, the Tauck directors give commentary about the castles, churches and vineyards; you can listen in the lounge, in your cabin or on the Sun Deck. Commentary is also given on the buses en route to the destination; passengers soon learned to gravitate to the groups where the more entertaining directors were.
Other enrichment activities on our cruise included a lecture on German customs, a tasting of fruit liqueurs and an Alsatian dance performance. The Panorama Lounge does have TVs around the seating area, so when there's a presentation, everyone can see.
Because Grace is all-inclusive, the passengers onboard generally take advantage of the open bar, and Cocktail Hours are well attended. One person on our cruise commented that it would be a difficult itinerary if you didn't drink, as wine, beer and other drinks were freely poured and offered.
Panorama Lounge (Diamond Deck): The elegant Panorama Lounge is the main gathering spot on the ship. It's comfy yet sophisticated, with molded ceilings, a real bar with stools, dance floor and a nice mix of banquettes, tables and chairs. The quality in furnishings extends to the details; we couldn't stop admiring the bar napkins, which not only had Tauck's elegant compass rose logo on them but were virtually indestructible.
Cocktail Hour is held here an hour before dinner, usually 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Nuts and crackers are available as snacks, and there's usually some other kind of appetizer such as raw oysters, local cheeses or passed hors d'oeuvres. Piano music is played here nightly.
Arthur's (Diamond Deck): Arthur's has a small bar attached to it. We found it a nice place to get a glass of wine to take up to the Sun Deck.
The Sun Deck has a putting green, although we never saw anyone using it. Ditto the small plunge pool; the weather just wasn't nice enough (and we were traveling in August!). There are plenty of chairs and loungers, both under cover and in open air. Cigar and other smokers can use ashtrays near the back of the ship.
Most of the services are near the lobby where passengers board. It's a pretty space with gorgeous chandeliers and ironwork, but it can get crowded when everyone is leaving for an excursion.
Tauck has instituted a security system where passengers get their photo taken when they receive their keycard. You're instructed to check-in and out when you leave the ship. It's a simple and non-onerous process.
Across from the front desk is where the cruise director sits. Here you can find town maps and receive information about restaurants in town, bike paths, transfers and more.
The lobby has a small shop that sells almost entirely luxury goods such as scarves, jewelry and purses; logowear is discreetly tucked away. If you need necessities such as toothpaste, ask the staff and they will get them for you.
Wi-Fi on Grace is complimentary and works throughout the ship. Expect some outages while going through locks; the signal is not strong enough for streaming.
Grace has a salon, a massage room and a small fitness center, all on Emerald Deck.
Reservations for salon and spa services can be made at the front desk. The salon takes hair and and nail appointments. Hair services consist mostly of wash and blow dry, or updos. They range in price from 18 euro to 49 euro for women. Men can get a cut for 15 euro or a wash and cut for 25 euro. A manicure in the nail salon costs 25 euro and a pedicure is 35 euro. Get both and it's 50 euro.
The massage services are run by the ship's partner Mi'Ara Asian Spa Academy. The treatment room is small, but it's lovely with a water feature that lulls you as you get your massage (use the restroom first). The costs are very reasonable by U.S. standards and include gratuity: 59 euro for a 50-minute full-body massage and 60 euro for an hourlong Thai foot massage that includes lower leg, neck and head massage. Our massage was lovely, made particularly so because there's no sales pitch afterward.
The fitness center is compact and comes with two treadmills, two recumbent bikes and some free weights. You can watch TV while you workout. The upper deck has a walking track.
The ship has 12 bikes onboard, and they come with a helmet and an automatic locking system that makes it easy to ride into town and park while you shop or eat. Advance reservations should be made as they were popular in some ports.
In Bernkastel, the staff did a "Tauck Fit" excursion where passengers were led up a hill full of vineyards to the town castle. While it wasn't a real workout -- passengers stopped at a beer garden on the way up -- the option was appreciated. Yoga was also held one morning in the Panorama Lounge.
Tauck has its "Tauck Bridges" program that promotes family travel; it was the first major river cruise line to offer a complete itinerary geared toward parents, children and teens. Grace is equipped to handle these cruises, as the suites have a pullout sofa to accommodate a third or fourth passenger; there are no connecting cabins. On Tauck Bridges sailings, the Category 1 cabins are also sold to solos without a single supplement charge, allowing a grandparent to come along. During these sailings, the restaurants have kid-friendly menus and Arthur's offers casual dining.
Activities on a Tauck Bridges cruise are active and geared toward families. Expect interactive cooking lessons, costume parties, karaoke, language lessons, games and activities organized by the Tauck directors. Excursions are also more active, using the onboard bikes or taking the world's longest cogwheel train in Switzerland. Signature events, such as dinner in a castle, are still held.
The minimum age for a Tauck Bridges cruise is 4, but the line recommends kids be at least 8 years old, so they will get the most out of the experience.