May 10, 2018 - Having sailed on a few Tauck river cruises in Europe, we were already familiar with the company's focus on providing its guests with an unparalleled destination experience. Tauck's approach is to partner with a reputable cruise line, allowing them to handle virtually all of the onboard experience (dining, staterooms, onboard entertainment, etc.). This allows Tauck to focus on providing guests with Tauck‑exclusive shore excursions, planned and operated by Tauck, with either a Tauck Director, expert local guide, or both.
This seemingly subtle distinction really does impact the small ship cruising experience, and distinguishes a Tauck Small Ship Cruise from a "typical" cruise. All shore excursions are included in the price of a Tauck Small Ship Cruise, and each benefits from 93 years of Tauck's experience in delivering high-quality land tours. Experienced travelers will immediately notice the difference.
Most Tauck Small Ship Cruises feature a two or three-night pre-cruise or post-cruise hotel stay in the city of embarkation (or disembarkation), with guided Tauck sightseeing included. On our Treasures of the British Isles cruise, we enjoyed two evenings (pre-cruise) at The Conrad Dublin in Dublin, Ireland, and two nights (post-cruise) at the Churchill Hyatt in London.
Both hotels would easily fall in the 4 to 5-star rating category. Tauck also arranged for its guests to enjoy complimentary breakfast each day. In Europe, that translated to a $25-$30 value per person/per day! In Dublin, we were treated to an excellent city tour including a stop at St. Patrick's Cathedral and at Trinity College to view the historic Book of Kells.
Unlike with most cruise line excursions, or those go-it-on-your-own excursions, Tauck arranges for its guests to go to the front of the line when visiting popular attractions like the Book of Kells in Dublin or the Crown Jewels in London. Tauck obtains VIP passes for guests so there is no waiting in long lines. Yes, you WILL notice a difference on a Tauck Small Ship Cruise!
In London, we enjoyed a tour of The Tower of London early in the morning before the hordes of tourists arrived. We had our own Yeoman Warder to guide us without the crowds, without the pushing and shoving. You get the idea.
Our floating home for the seven-night cruise portion of the trip was Ponant's Le Soléal. The ship has been in service for five years, but it looks as though it was just floated out of dry dock. The interior spaces were in immaculate condition and looked brand new. Le Soléal can carry up to 234 guests, but there are only 185 on our cruise, all of whom were Tauck guests. Ponant operates a fleet of small cruise ships and Tauck is Ponant's largest customer.
Le Soléal (and her sister ships, Le Boreal, Le Lyrial and L'Austral) are perfectly designed and outfitted for small ship cruising. The ship is small enough to feel intimate, but large enough to have all of the facilities and amenities of larger ships. There is a small fitness center, a full-service spa, swimming pool, two bars/lounges, two dining venues, 24-hour room service, and a theater for lectures and evening entertainment.
My balcony stateroom (507) was quite roomy with plenty of storage, an electronic safe, a large flat-screen HD television, large desk/vanity, small table and chair for in-room dining. A narrow balcony has two chairs (facing each other) and a small table. It is not large enough to really enjoy breakfast on the balcony, but great for taking in the passing oceanscape.
The bathroom is split into two sections with a dedicated "water closet" and a separate shower/sink/vanity room. This layout provides more privacy should one guest require use of the toilet at the same time their companion is taking a shower. There is a curious window from the shower/sink side of the bathroom open to the bedroom. While this window can be closed off via a sliding door for maximum privacy, the door is controlled from the bedroom and not the bathroom. Interesting design. Bathroom amenities are from Hermes and are top quality.
Ladies will appreciate the hinged makeup mirror in the bathroom.
My stateroom was very comfortable and one of the quietest staterooms I have ever experienced. I never heard a sound from the hallway or my neighbors. Stateroom doors also close quietly. The ship is very well engineered for comfort.
All meals onboard the ship are included in the cruise fare, and Tauck guests enjoy complimentary beverages, including alcoholic beverages, throughout the cruise. Even the mini-bar in the stateroom is stocked with complimentary spirits, bottled water, soft drinks and beer. However, the selection of complimentary cocktails was more limited than we have experienced on Tauck's river cruises, where Scylla is the ship operator. For example, Crown Royal is considered a "premium" whisky on Ponant and comes with a hefty $10 charge. Nevertheless, bar service was very good. In fact, service throughout the ship was very good.
There are two dining venues on Le Soléal. The main restaurant, L'Eclipse, is located on Deck 2 aft and serves à la carte breakfast, lunch and dinner. A buffet with breads, cereals, meats and cheeses is available at breakfast and lunch, while dinner is a full menu-service affair.
Evening menus offer a choice of starter, main course, and dessert. There is always a fish choice, a vegetarian option and another meat dish. A selection of "always available" items includes steak, chicken, pasta, Caesar salad, etc.
A less formal option for dining is Restaurant Pythéas on Deck 6 aft. Most would consider this a Lido buffet restaurant since the swimming pool is just aft of the restaurant, and there is indoor and al fresco dining here. This restaurant offers extensive buffet offerings at breakfast, lunch and dinner. In addition to buffet selections, there are a few à la carte items that can be prepared to order such as egg dishes at breakfast, burgers at lunch, or steak and salmon at dinner. Guests are requested to make reservations for evening dining at Pythéas.
I found the service in both restaurants to be very good. Food quality was much improved over our last cruise on Ponant in 2012. I am not a fish eater, but everyone raved about the seafood dishes. All of the breads were incredible. Get a fresh baguette, some French butter and a glass of wine, and you can make a nice lunch. A selection of red and white wines are offered at lunch and dinner in both venues. Every wine I tried was good. A selection of premium wines is available at additional cost. The ice cream selections available at lunch and dinner in Pythéas were also excellent.
When guests return to their staterooms each evening, they will find the next day's itinerary in the daily newsletter, Journal De Bord. The newsletter is very well laid out and easy to read with a summary of the destination, weather forecast and disembarkation times for the various shore excursions the following day.
In each port-of-call, Tauck offers a variety of shore excursions with varied activity levels. Guests with physical limitations, or those who simply wish to take a slower pace, will appreciate the leisurely option excursions. When motor coaches are used, they are always new, clean and very comfortable.
Shore excursions and destination immersion is where Tauck's experience really shows. They have spent decades developing relationships with local tour operators and venues around the world. That translates into the very best local guides, excellent motor coaches, and often exclusive access to interesting attractions and venues.
For guests who want a higher activity level, Tauck has that covered as well. In Guernsey, the Cliff Top Hike and Gin Tasting took guests on an invigorating, and challenging hike with some of the most beautiful views of the entire trip. Read our daily cruise blog
In London, on the last day of our Tauck journey, they treated us to an incredible flight on the London Eye. That was completely unexpected! And, in true Tauck fashion, they reserved two capsules just for their guests and we zipped past the huge lines of tourists thanks to our VIP passes.
No matter where you are on a Tauck Small Ship Cruise, a Tauck Director is never far away if you have a question or a problem. There were six Tauck Directors and a Tauck Cruise Director on our cruise. When off the ship on a shore excursion, Tauck Directors can often be found assisting the local guides. It is comforting knowing that a knowledgeable advocate is always close by when you need information in an unfamiliar place.
A Tauck Small Ship Cruise is far more inclusive than typical cruise lines. Included in Tauck’s cruise prices are all shore excursions, all gratuities, all onboard beverages (adult and otherwise, with the exception of the Galapagos cruises where they have nightly complimentary happy hours and complimentary wine and beer with dinners), airport transfers, port charges and other fees, luggage handling and more. Tauck really does take the hassle out of travel so that all you have to do is show up and enjoy the journey.
This was our first experience on a Tauck Small Ship Cruise and we were very impressed with how Tauck has taken small ship cruising to a new level. We have always been fans of small ship cruising and we are huge fans of Tauck river cruises. Small ships can take you places that you cannot get to on a river cruise and larger cruise ships have to sail past the smaller, more interesting ports because of the size of the ship. Sophisticated travelers have already discovered the small ship allure and are making this one of the fastest growing segments in the cruise industry. The combination of small ship cruising and Tauck expertise is formidable.
Tauck's small ship cruises are always the first segment of their business to sell out each year, so plan ahead. Perhaps that is why Tauck recently announced that they will be doubling their ship capacity over the next several years with a 40% increase in 2019 alone! Tauck partners with Silversea, Ponant, Windstar and Metropolitan Touring.
If you are considering a small ship cruise, we highly recommend that you put Tauck at the top of your list. For more information on Tauck Small Ship Cruising, click here.