Itinerary: Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Nijmegen, Remagen, Cochem, Bernkastel/Luxembourg, Trier, Boppard/Rüdesheim, Heidelberg, Baden-Baden, Strasbourg, Basel/Lucerne
We spend 12 nights aboard Tauck's new ms Grace sailing The Rhine and Moselle rivers from Amsterdam to Basel. Grace is one of Tauck's newest riverboats and we will be aboard the 6th sailing of this brand new vessel. Tauck Grace is basically the exact same class of vessel as Tauck Inspire, on which we sailed in 2014.
At its core, Tauck is a tour company. They have been in the tour business for more than 90 years. When the decision was made to enter the rapidly expanding river cruise market, Tauck partnered with Scylla, a Swiss river cruise operator with 40 years of experience in the industry. This unique partnership gives Tauck guests a "best of both worlds" experience. Tauck sets a brand standard on its ships that Scylla is required to meet. Therefore, Scylla hotel/restaurant staff deliver their portion of the onboard experience to meet or exceed Tauck's requirements. In addition, Scylla designs the Tauck-branded riverboats to meet Tauck's specifications. With Scylla responsible for the hotel side of the experience, Tauck can focus on the destination presentation, excursions and enrichment experience. This arrangement may seem a bit confusing at first, but the system works, and works very well. Both Tauck and Scylla appear to have the same focus on, and penchant for, great customer service.
The Scylla flag flies proudly beside the Tauck flag on MS Grace
We arrived very early on the morning of embarkation, around 10am. Embarkation day for us is also disembarkation day for the guests from the previous sailing, so early in the morning things are a bit hectic. As soon as we stepped aboard, we met Maggie, Grace's Cruise Director. In spite of being very busy helping guests who were disembarking, she took the time to greet us and invite us to relax in the Panorama Lounge until our stateroom was ready for occupancy. Normally, we would have used the time to explore Amsterdam on foot, but the weather today is extremely cold, windy and rainy. As soon as we were seated in the lounge, we were approached by a waiter who asked us if we would like something to drink, a preview of the great service we knew we were going to enjoy over the next 12 days.
About 11am, the crew began setting up a "Welcome" lunch buffet in the Panorama Lounge with soup, sandwiches and light snacks. By noon, the Hotel Manager informed us that our stateroom was ready. We visited the Reception Desk where we left our passports, had our photos taken (for security reasons) and were issued our stateroom keys. The whole process only took a few minutes.
The interesting thing about riverboats in Europe is that, regardless of the cruise line, the boats are all roughly the same size. This is due to the limitations imposed by the rivers themselves. A riverboat can only be so long, so wide and so tall, otherwise it would not be able to transit the various locks along the river or travel under the bridges. Where Tauck distinguishes itself from other companies is the space-to-guest ratio. Tauck's ms Grace only has 67 cabins which means it is designed to carry a maximum of 134 guests. There are riverboats exactly this same size that carry up to 190 guests.
Tauck ms Grace
PANORAMA LOUNGE - The heart of every riverboat in Europe is the lounge. The Panorama Lounge on Grace is located forward on Deck 3, "Diamond Deck." The lounge is elegantly decorated in blue and silver velvet fabrics giving it a very rich look and feel.
Blue and gray decor
The fully-stocked bar is located forward in the center of the room with seating surrounding the bar. There are sliding doors on each side of the lounge leading to the outer deck and to stairs that go up to the Sun Deck. Each evening around 5:00pm, you will see guests begin to make their way to Panorama for a "social hour" and to hear the daily briefing about the next day's activities. The lounge is also the venue for evening entertainment.
RECEPTION/GIFT SHOP - The Reception Desk is located on Deck 3 starboard just aft of the lounge. There is always at least one crew member at Reception 24 hours a day. Guests interact with Reception each time they leave or return to the boat. Before exiting the boat, guests are asked to "swipe out" by handing their room key to someone at Reception who swipes the key through the onboard system to record that the guest is off the boat. Upon returning to the boat, you hand your key to someone at Reception to "swipe in" to let them know you are back on board. Of course, Reception is available to answer any questions or deal with any issues with your cabin. On our sailing, Edua and Sintija (Cynthia) were always at the desk, smiling and willing to help. If you wanted to use the complimentary WiFi service on board, it was necessary to register your devices with Reception. This was a simple process wherein your computer, tablet and/or phone were scanned into the onboard system to allow you to access the Internet.
COMPASS ROSE - The Compass Rose Dining Room is located on Deck 2 forward. The dining room is laid out exactly like Tauck's other ships on which we have sailed. Tables are elegantly set with white tablecloths for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most tables are set for four, six or eight guests. However, there are two tables-for-two (one portside and one starboard). Seating is along the sides of the boat while the middle of the dining room is occupied by a long buffet serving station.
ARTHUR'S RESTAURANT - Arthur's Restaurant is Grace's alternate dining venue, and more. Located aft on Deck 3, Arthur's is an all-day dining venue, 24-hour coffee station, game center and bar.
FITNESS CENTER/SALON - The Fitness Center and Beauty Salon are located on Deck 1. There is even a massage room with a nice selection of massage treatments offered at reasonable prices. There is an elevator/lift that transports guests from Deck 1 to Deck 3.
The Fitness Center - Deck 1
SUN DECK - The Sun Deck (top deck) on Grace is open to the elements, as is the norm on European riverboats. However, there are a lot of covered areas to provide protection from the sun and rain. A section behind the Bridge is protected by glass on three sides for more protection from the wind. Aft, you will find a large hot tub and a putting green.
Forward of the Bridge on the Sun Deck there is an open area with very comfortable wicker furniture, the perfect location for enjoying your favorite beverage while taking in the sights of the river.
SECURITY - It is worth noting that Tauck has enhanced its security when it comes to how guests, and others, are able to access the interior of the boat. The guest must place their room key on a scanner which will open the door to Reception, Arthur's or the Panorama Lounge. It is no longer possible to simply walk onto the boat unless the room key is swiped across the scanner. While this is a little inconvenient, it is a measure we would like to see other river cruise companies employ. On most river boats, there is nothing to keep anyone from just walking into the Reception area. So, we commend Tauck for this new security measure. We also noticed on this trip that, when tied up right next to another riverboat between us and the shore, which is common practice on the increasingly crowded European rivers, we no longer exited through the lobby inside the other boat but instead had to go outside, climb the stairs up onto our Sun Deck and step across to the other boat's Sun Deck and down their outside stairs to access the shore.
Accommodations - Loft Cabin
Our Loft Cabin is a totally new stateroom design, and one we were anxious to experience once again. To fully appreciate the Loft Cabin, you have to be familiar with a typical Deck 1 (the lowest deck) cabin on a river ship. The floor of these cabins actually rests below the water line and a typical cabin will only have the top few feet above the water line. Therefore, a traditional Deck 1 cabin will only have a small window about 14 inches tall just above the water line. By comparison, the Loft Cabin is actually a split-level design with five steps up to a "loft" landing which has a very high ceiling that has been "carved" out of Deck 2. The Loft Cabin is one of the most innovative concepts we have ever seen on any ship. The windows, which are 1.5 decks tall, are fantastic. It was so nice to sit at the table and chairs in front of the windows and watch the river go by! And, a portion of the window could be raised at the touch of a switch to allow fresh air into the cabin or to take pictures without shooting through glass. Very nice!
The Loft Cabin is 225 sq. ft., which is quite large for a riverboat. The loft platform initially makes the room seem smaller than it is, but you soon realize that this is a very roomy and usable space. There is ample storage in the form of closets and drawers. The contemporary carpeting and furnishings offer both style and class. The mattress on the bed is as comfortable as you will find on any ship --- river or ocean. The pillows were a bit on the soft side, but after an extra one was delivered from housekeeping, I found the 'sweet spot'. Whomever designed the cabin has obviously been the victim of limited AC outlets on other ships. I counted more than 10 electrical outlets! And, there are US-style 110 outlets in addition to the European-style 220 outlets. Bravo! Stateroom lighting can be controlled from switches by the door, or from either side of the bed. "Cove" lighting beneath the stairs and around the headboard offers a soft glow that really classes up the room. There are also adjustable LED reading lights attached to the wall on each side of the bed. Even the tall curtains and sheers covering the massive window are controlled electronically from switches in the loft, or on one side of the bed. And, just when you think you have found every possible electronic control, you find yet another switch by the bed to raise and lower the flat-screen TV to make it more viewable from the bed! That is just plain cool. There is a mini-fridge that is stocked daily with your choice of beverage and an electronic safe for your valuables. An espresso machine was placed in each cabin along with a variety of coffee pods to use in it. Each cabin also is equipped with an alarm clock, a feature we really appreciated.
Switches next to bed can control lights and curtains
The bathroom is perhaps the nicest one you will find this side of a top-level suite on a 5-star cruise ship. The ceramic tile has the look of wooden planks and really gives the bathroom a warm and inviting appearance. The shower stall is large and has a rain shower head as well as a handheld shower head/wand combination. The vessel sink, a popular trend on new ships these days, places form over function. Prepare for water to splash all over the place when you wash your face or brush your teeth. A large two-door medicine cabinet opens to reveal roomy shelves that keep liquids and creams hidden from view and there's even a small magnifying makeup mirror mounted inside. The medicine cabinet doors are mirrored on both sides so you can use the items you need inside the cabinet without having to repeatedly close and re-open the doors. And, there is even additional lighting within the medicine cabinet itself making it easier to see to apply makeup! There is also a large cabinet under the sink that can be used for storage.
Even though the Loft Cabin is the most innovative and downright "cool" stateroom we have ever occupied, it is not without its shortcomings. There is a little problem with the noise coming from neighboring cabins' vacuum toilets when they are flushed. This is an issue we noted in our 2014 review of Tauck Inspire and, even though more insulation has been added for noise abatement, the flushing noise is still noticeable. We were often awakened by the loud sound of running water that seemed to flowing down the inside of our cabin walls. Even with the noise, the positives of this cabin far outweigh the negative. I would still rate this cabin 4 out of 5 and would not hesitate to sail in a Loft Cabin again in the future.
Food and Dining
Meal service starts each morning from 6:30am till 9am (times may vary) in Compass Rose with an elaborate buffet breakfast. As you would expect, there are scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pastries, fruit, cereals, breads, etc. An á la carte breakfast menu is available for cooked-to-order eggs, a variety of pancakes, French toast or waffles. Early risers will find a selection of Continental Breakfast choices at Arthur's from 6am until 10am.
The lunch buffet in Compass Rose begins at 12:30pm or later, depending on the daily activities, with buffet choices that change each day. There is always a variety of freshly-made salads, sandwiches, breads, hot entrees, and even a carving station. There is also an extensive charcuterie platter each day on the buffet with a beautiful selection of salami, Parma ham, proscuitto, liverwurst, etc. Soups are delivered to your table by your waiter/waitress.
Dinner in Compass Rose is full-service with menus that change each evening. We found the service to be very polished and prompt. The menus were varied and we found the food quality and presentation coming from Dutch-born Executive Chef, Fenna, to be even better than what we remembered from past Tauck sailings. All of the beef dishes I had were excellent and perfectly prepared. The food served in Compass Rose was as good or better than we have found on any river cruise to date. The suckling pig served at lunch one day was delicious, as was the roasted chicken. The only slip up was one morning when Rickee's Eggs Benedict has a strong smell and taste of vinegar. Apparently, too much was added to the poaching liquid. Every other egg dish we ordered during the cruise was perfectly cooked.
Arthur's is open from 11am until 11pm each evening and offers a complete menu with a variety of lunch and dinner selections. Throughout the day, all dishes are prepared á la minute in the restaurant's "open" kitchen where you can see the chef making your meal. Burgers and steaks are prepared on a flattop grill. A hamburger is on the menu, the only burger I have ever seen on a riverboat.
The atmosphere in Arthur's does not change from lunchtime to dinnertime and is much more casual than the previous steakhouse concept. Tables are set up as needed, when guests arrive. There is a small full-service bar in Arthur's and a large table in the back of the dining room sports several board games for guests to enjoy. Bridge players also congregate here for card games, so you might be dining right next to a heated bridge game. Therefore, an intimate, romantic dining venue, Arthur's is not.
The bar in Arthur's
Arthur's also serves as Grace's 24-hour coffee bar where guests can enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and a choice of freshly baked cookies. If you want something light to snack on, you can order a "Bite to Eat" plate available daily from 10am until midnight which can be delivered to your stateroom, the Sun Deck, the Panorama Lounge or Arthur's. The menu is found in your stateroom and also at Arthur's and consists of items such as a cheese plate, sandwiches, cookies, etc.
Grace guests can enjoy their favorite beverage in Panorama Lounge (Deck 3 forward), Arthur's (Deck 3 aft) or on the Sun Deck. Waiters circulate through the Panorama Lounge taking and delivering drink orders. Rickee and I have a favorite table near the bar that we occupy each evening. By the second night, Farhan Hamdi (Bar Manager), knows our favorite drinks and a waiter delivers them to our table without our even having to order. We sailed with Mr. Hamdi on Tauck Inspire in 2014, and he remembered us. Farhan makes an excellent Mojito, which Rickee loves. There is a "social hour" in Panorama Lounge each evening to entice guests to attend the daily briefing before going to dinner. Waiters circulate through the lounge offering trays of delicious appetizers. On more than one evening, we ate so many of the amazing hors d'oeuvres that we had to skip dinner altogether!
Visiting the towns, cities and villages along the rivers is what river cruising is all about. When it comes to immersing guests in the destination, nobody does it better than Tauck. From the very first off-the-boat excursion, it becomes obvious that Tauck has unequaled experience in this area. Overseeing all local excursions is Tauck's team of Tour Directors. Tauck Directors are knowledgeable professionals, well-versed in local culture, customs and traditions. They seem to always be looking for creative ways to share their love of the destination, with pleasant surprises or spur-of-the-moment opportunities along the way to make the each day the best day of your river cruise. In addition to Tauck Directors, local guides are used in most places, all speaking very good English, and all very knowledgeable about their local points of interest.
Each day, guests are invited to join one or more of the offered excursions. A complete description of the day's excursion(s) is provided during the previous day's briefing in the Panorama Lounge. Information is also available in the daily newsletter. To divide guests into smaller groups, Tauck uses colored poker chips. Each morning, guests are asked to select a colored poker chip (one per person) to determine which tour group/guide they will be assigned to for that day. The chips are then dropped into a waiting silver bucket to be used again the next day.
When all the chips of a certain color are gone, the group is full. Upon exiting the vessel, guests look for the local guide holding a sign with the color of the chip(s) they selected for the day. The system seems to work very well and keeps everything organized. On most days, there is one group geared toward a slower pace, which is great for guests with mobility issues.
Bottled water is always available in Reception before an excursion departure and, when guests return from the excursion, they are welcomed back on board with a moist warm or cold towel (depending on outside temperature) and some sort of local delicacy refreshment such as candy or cookies or special beverage.
Each guest is provided a personal communication "Vox" device, complete with an earpiece, that is programmed to the transmitter used by their local guide. These devices are becoming commonplace now and they really make local excursions much more enjoyable. The Vox units used by Tauck can be worn around your neck using the provided lanyard, or they will easily slip into a shirt or jacket pocket, great for those of us that have a camera hanging around our neck. The provided earpiece is very comfortable and can be fitted to either ear. At the end of the day, the Vox units are placed into a charging station in your stateroom.
While some excursions take place right from where the boat docks, others require a short drive to a tour departure point. Tauck has a fleet of new, comfortable and spotlessly clean motorcoaches to transport guests. The buses are wrapped in recognizable Tauck-branded graphics to make them immediately recognizable when parked among dozens of other tour coaches. These coaches also serve as shuttle buses that transport guests back to/from the ship at scheduled times when the opportunity exists to remain in a city for lunch, extra shopping or additional exploration. Tauck is all about choices. You usually have more than one choice of excursion. Don't feel like going on a walking tour today? No problem. A Tauck motorcoach will pick you up at the boat at a certain time and take you to meet the rest of the group at the winery or restaurant or wherever the walking tour was scheduled to end.
Riverboat entertainment, for the most part, is geared toward a cultural experience. Local entertainers come on board to sing, dance and play instruments. On this trip, we were treated to performances by La Prada, a string trio that played classical and not-so-classical music; the Sandy Quartett, who have been entertaining fans for over 25 years on European stages; and an Alsace Folklore show featuring local costumes and dances. But, the highlight was the Scylla Crew Show!
We were educated by guest lecturers and enlightened on local cultural topics by our Tour Directors. One night a movie on Dutch waterway management was shown in the Panorama Lounge. We even had a "Battle of the Sexes" game one evening after dinner! Musical entertainment was always available in the Panorama Lounge from Stefan, the onboard pianist. If you did not feel like venturing out, you have access to on-demand movies on your stateroom television. There was also a control on your stateroom wall that would allow you to listen to music or hear commentary delivered by a Tour Director when we were sailing through notable scenic areas of the rivers.
Board games were available in Arthur's and Bridge players were often found there in a friendly game. If you felt like getting some exercise, yoga classes were offered on several mornings or, when we were docked, you could ask a member of the crew to get a bicycle out for you to ride along the river paths. Golf putters were available at Reception if you wanted to get a little practice in on the Sun Deck putting green.
Staff and Crew
During a Tauck river cruise, guests will engage with both Tauck and Scylla employees. However, this is really seamless to the experience and every member of the Tauck and Scylla staff we encountered was friendly and dedicated to providing a great experience. From the Tauck side, our Cruise Director, Maggie Chada, could always be found at her desk across from Reception. It was pretty obvious that Maggie runs the show and she does an amazing job of keeping everything running smoothly. There were three Tauck Tour Directors on our sailing, Michael, Kati and Iris, and each of them went out of their way to ensure that each guest had a memorable experience.
Maggie Chada, Cruise Director
The Hotel Manager, Marija, and her team of Edua and Sintija were always available at the Reception Desk to handle any issues or answer questions.
Edua, Marija and Sintija
The housekeeping staff is also worthy of mention. Crew members are continually cleaning the public areas and keeping the brass surfaces polished and free from fingerprints. Our room steward, Yusup, did an admirable job of keeping our Loft cabin clean and well stocked. Room stewards and stewardesses also perform a variety of other tasks, including waiting tables in the restaurant and bar.
Jenny and Yusup
The Tauck River Cruise Experience
The dress code is casual with opportunities to "dress up" provided with the Captain's Welcome and Captain's Farewell receptions and dinner. During the day, we wore blue jeans and tees with a light jacket since the weather was on the cool side. After 5pm, it is suggested that guests not wear shorts or jeans in the public areas or dining room but we saw several male guests wearing shorts and jeans during cocktail hour. Umbrellas are provided in each cabin as well as at Reception; however, packing a small portable umbrella is advisable.
River cruising in general tends to attract a mature crowd, and the guests on Tauck fit this description. You will rarely find families with small children on a river cruise and, there were none on this sailing. Tauck actually offers four river cruise itineraries designed specifically for families, one each on the Danube, Rhine, Rhone and Seine. Naturally, families will gravitate toward those sailings. Part of the Tauck Bridges collection of family tours and cruises, the four Bridges river cruises are very popular with families. In 2017 Tauck will be doubling family river cruise departures from 10 to 20. On our sailing, the average age was between 45-65 with an occasional 30-something or 80-something in the mix. Tauck guests tend to be very experienced travelers.
Tauck delivers an all-inclusive experience that includes gratuities and beverages in the cruise fare. Depending on the package you purchase, it may also include a pre-/post-cruise hotel stay and airfare. This can make Tauck a very good value compared to other river cruise products. Gratuities on other river cruises can be as much as $20 per day/per person. On this sailing, that would be $480 for two people! An unlimited drink package on another popular river cruise line costs another $20 per day, so add another $480. Tauck also includes special events and meals off the boat that would easily cost you several hundred dollars on other cruise lines.
All meals on board
Special events and meals off the boat
Soft drinks, bottled water, beer, wine and liquor
Complimentary use of bicycles when docked
WHAT'S NOT INCLUDED
Incidentals (gifts, postcards, postage, etc.)
Salon services (hair, nails, massage)
Tauck River Cruises is far from the largest river cruise line, but what they lack in fleet size, they more than make up for in quality. This a truly all-inclusive vacation. The only thing we ended up paying for after twelve days was a few stamps for postcards, which were mailed for us by Reception. All beverages consumed on board are included as are gratuities. Staterooms are elegantly decorated, with plenty of storage, and the most comfortable beds you will find on any ship at sea or on a river. The partnership between Scylla and Tauck works to the benefit of the guests who sail with them. Our advice: book now before the word gets out about these exciting new ships!
Don't miss our article: Ten Reasons to Sail with Tauck River Cruises
Review by Chris Dikmen and Rickee Richardson
Chris Dikmen is President of CruiseReport.com. Rickee Richardson is Senior Editor of CruiseReport.com. Together, they have reviewed more than 120 cruises over the past 13 years.