Overall, the cuisine on Jewel was superb. The food reflected regional cuisines as we cruised from Hungary to Austria and Germany, but it's also adapted to the tastes of North Americans, who are Tauck's primary market.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served daily in two venues: the ship's main dining room and the Deck 3 Lido Bar.
The ship's main dining room is all open-seating to encourage (but not force) mixing and mingling. There are four- and six-tops throughout the picture window-lined, chandeliered room, and a series of two-tops could easily be pushed together to accommodate larger groups. Tables are reserved only upon special request; for example, the maitre d' created a regular setup for a group of nine passengers who were traveling together.
Breakfast is served from 7 until 9 a.m., buffet-style, with pastries, breads, fruit, juices, cereals, smoked fish and cold cuts making up the bulk of the menu. Hot items change daily but generally include scrambled eggs, home fries, breakfast meats (sausage, bacon) and something sweet for carb-lovers (pancakes one day, French toast the next). Every morning, you can get the omelet of the day or eggs prepared to your liking at a made-to-order egg station. Much appreciated was the presence of a jar of peanut butter on the buffet station; this American staple is very hard to come by in Europe.
Waiters are on hand to serve coffee and deliver items from the egg station to your table; everything else is self-serve.
Another option for breakfast, more casual, is the continental spread that's laid out in the Lido Bar for early and late risers (and all those in between). A light breakfast of pastries, cereal, juice, tea and coffee is served there from 6 until 10 a.m. Tables and chairs inside seat about 20, with a few more scattered out on the adjacent patio. Jewel's offerings, which include yogurt, fresh fruit, cereal, cold meats and cheeses, and pastries, is a cut above any other Europe river cruise line's casual breakfast service.
Timewise, lunch service in the main dining room begins at around the same time every day (usually noon or so), but these vary depending on the day's shore excursion schedule. (Times will be printed in the daily newsletter.) Each day, the lunch menu features one soup, one entree and one dessert, all available by waiter service, as well as a full self-service buffet. This meal is very flexible. You can have all three courses served to you for a true sit-down experience. Or, you can have soup, get up and indulge in the buffet and then end the meal with the waiter-served dessert. Or, you can skip the menu items altogether and just hit the buffet. Really hungry? Have it all! Buffet options change daily, but there is usually a theme. For example, an Asian-inspired lunch featured curry shrimp, fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, and a sushi display.
A more casual spread in the Lido is also offered for lunch; typically a chef will grill or wok a "special of the day (such as a steak sandwich), accompanied by a full array of salad items and fresh fruit.
Dinner, too, is scheduled to accommodate tours that start later, for instance, if a full day ashore means passengers returned to the ship in the early evening. Unlike breakfast and lunch, which are more casual (arrive whenever you like, graze the buffet), dinner in the main dining room is a full sit-down, multicourse affair. Passengers can arrive at any time within the set restaurant hours.
An amuse bouche is served to all, followed by a choice of two soups, two salads and two or three entrees. You can also choose to partake in a buffet of cheeses and crackers and an ice cream bar with all the fixings. Red and white wines are served complimentary at dinner, and we enjoyed the regional variety. Beer is also available.
Special diets are well catered to, and the maitre d' personally sits down on day one with all passengers who have specific requests (vegetarian, gluten-free, low salt or sugar). Upon check-in, the reception desk staffer made sure to ask me if I was a vegetarian or had any food allergies or aversions; the maitre d' consultation is also well-promoted in the daily program.
For another option at dinner, the Lido Bar is transformed into an alternative dining venue -- unusual and a nice touch for a river boat. A set menu is served nightly for up to 20 people. While there's no charge, reservations are required and can be made at reception. This is a lovely, intimate experience.
On our Danube River cruise on Jewel, the trip's absolute highlight was a dinner-and-entertainment outing in Vienna to the Palais Pallavicini. The food was fine, a choice of veal, fish or vegetarian. But it was the experience of being wined and dined amid the grandeur of the palace and the lovely performances, from opera to classical dance, that made this experience a lifetime memory.
Finally, while there is no formal room service menu, Tauck's offerings, available between 2 p.m. and midnight, include ice cream, hot pretzels, cookies and other baked goods.