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CruiseReportTauck River Cruising ms Inspire5A cruise review of Tauck River Cruising ms Inspire in Europe
 
 
by C. Dikmen and
R. Richardson
 
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  ms Inspire   Editorial
 
Tauck MS Inspire Cruise Review
 
April 2014
 
Reviewer Rates This Cruise
 
Itinerary: Amsterdam, Hoorn, Arnhem/Nijmegen, Rotterdam/Delft, Veere/Middelburg, Antwerp/Ieper, Maastricht, Brussels

Traveling on an inaugural sailing of a brand new ship is always exciting. Everything is fresh and new. Just days after her christening ceremony, Tauck's MS Inspire was ready for her maiden voyage through the rivers and canals of The Netherlands (Holland) and Belgium. Inspire is the first of two new river ships to be launched in 2014. Her sister, MS Savor, is scheduled to launch in June, 2014. Both ships are 135 meters long (443 feet), the maximum length that a river cruise ship can fit through the majority of European locks. This makes MS Inspire and MS Savor longer and larger than their slightly smaller sisters: Swiss Emerald, Swiss Jewel, Swiss Sapphire and MS Treasures. While we are talking size, it is important to note that these Tauck vessels are designed to carry a maximum of 130 guests. There are many other river ships the same size that carry up to 190 guests. The result is that Tauck guests enjoy more space, shorter lines and more luxury.

Tauck MS Inspire
MS Inspire

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.

Tauck MS Inspire - Scylla flag
The Scylla flag flies proudly beside the Tauck flag on MS Inspire

On this assignment, we flew from DFW to ATL on Delta in Economy Comfort and from ATL to Amsterdam on KLM in their version of Economy Comfort class. Both flights were uneventful and arrived on time. The cost to upgrade to Economy Comfort proved well worth the additional cost. It has been a while since we flew on Delta and we were generally impressed with their service. KLM has always been a great airline with excellent service and this flight was no exception. We arrived in Amsterdam at around 12:30pm. It is a very long walk from the gate to passport control at Schipol International and then on to where we had to claim our luggage. However, we moved through a very long line at passport control fairly quickly, gathered our checked luggage and exited Customs. A Tauck representative was waiting outside of Customs holding a Tauck sign. Another couple on our flight was also on our sailing so, once we all four gathered, we were escorted to a van and delivered to our respective hotels. Tauck guests are offered the opportunity to spend the night before the cruise at The Grand Hotel Sofitel, which is a beautiful 5-star property in the heart of Amsterdam. However, we chose to rack up some Hilton Honors points and spent the night at the Doubletree Hilton.

Tauck MS Inspire
The Grand Hotel Amsterdam

After a good night's sleep, and shedding some of our jet lag, we hired a taxi to take us to The Grand Hotel where Tauck provided pre-cruise guests with a complimentary transfer to MS Inspire. By the time we arrived at The Grand, the lobby was filling with Tauck guests anxious to see the new ship. We were surprised and pleased when Tauck Tour Director, Yener Ismail, arrived to escort us to the motor coaches. We sailed with Yener on a Tauck sailing in 2009. Soon, our group was walking the narrow streets of Amsterdam to the motor coaches which were parked a few blocks away, a necessity because of the narrow Amsterdam streets. After we boarded the coach, we enjoyed a very special treat: a surprise visit from Tauck CEO, Arthur Tauck. Now in his 80s, Mr. Tauck had been on board Inspire for the sailing from the christening ceremony in Basel to Amsterdam and he took the time to step aboard each motor coach and welcome his guests, making it a very special moment.

Soon we were departing the coach at the pier where MS Inspire was docked. At the top of the gangway, Cruise Director, Steve Marchant, welcomed guests aboard. The embarkation process is pretty simple. Line up at the Reception desk, give them your passport and receive the room keys. What could be easier? In under three minutes, we were being escorted to our Loft Cabin (#109) on Deck 1.

Tauck MS Inspire
Rickee prepares to embark MS Inspire in Amsterdam

Our Loft Cabin is a totally new stateroom design, and one we were anxious to experience. 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 just above the water line, about 14 inches tall. 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!

Tauck MS Inspire Loft Cabin
The Loft Cabin is 225 sq. ft., which is quite large for a river ship. 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 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 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.

Tauck MS Inspire Loft Cabin
Electrical outlets are everywhere you look!

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 head as well as a handheld shower head/wand combination. The vessel sink, a popular trend in the industry, places form over function. Prepare for water to splash all over the place when you wash your face or brush your teeth. We noticed water leaking under the cabinet every time we used the sink. This was reported to Reception and the leak was repaired within hours. Again, a brand new ship will have a few niggles. A clever medicine cabinet opens to reveal roomy shelves that keep liquids and creams hidden from view and there's even a small magnifying makeup mirror 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. There is a large cabinet under the sink that can be used for storage, as well.


Tauck MS Inspire
Loft cabin bathroom

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 (see note below in bold). It is more than the typical sound you get in a stateroom from your neighbors' 'necessary' rooms. We confirmed that this noise issue was not unique to our Loft Cabin. We reported this to a Tauck Operations Manager who happened to be sailing on our cruise and I have recently heard that Tauck and Scylla are already working to resolve the issue. Even with the noise, the positives of this cabin far outweigh the one 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. June 2015 update: We’re pleased to report that Tauck has indeed addressed this issue, with the installation of sound-proofing insulation in all Loft Cabin walls - Ed.


Molton Brown
Top quality Molton Brown amenities

The public spaces on MS Inspire are virtually identical to Tauck's other ships, at least in appearance. Tauck's loyal cruise guests will feel right at home with the marble-laden Reception area, and Panorama Lounge on Deck 3 forward. The Panorama Lounge is the main meeting place on MS Inspire. The bar is located forward in the lounge and there are enough seats so that everyone on the ship can enjoy their favorite beverage. And now, all beverages including cocktails, wine and beer are complimentary on Tauck cruises.


Panorama Lounge on Tauck MS Inspire
The elegant and comfortable Panorama Lounge

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. Waiters circulate through the lounge taking drink orders and tempting guests with trays of delicious snacks. Each evening, Rickee and I would sit at our favorite table near the bar and, after the third evening, Hamdi (Bar Manager) knew what our favorite drinks were. And by the way, Hamdi makes an excellent Mojito! 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 jeans and tees with a light jacket since the weather was on the cool side. People tended to dress more nicely at dinner but jackets and ties are never required for the men.


Bar Manager Tauck MS Inspire
Bar Manager, Hamdi

Aft on Deck 3 you will find Arthur's, a larger, better-equipped version of The Bistro found on the earlier Tauck vessels. Arthur's is larger, has its own full bar and a small galley for preparing meals. Early Riser's breakfast is available here each morning starting at 6:00am and goes until 10:00am.

Tauck MS Inspire Arthur's
Arthur's is located on Deck 3 aft and offers Early Riser's Breakfast service

A light lunch is offered in Arthur's each day, usually consisting of a soup, salads, sandwiches and a hot entree. On most evenings, Arthur's is converted into an elegant steakhouse with a menu that includes Caesar salad, shrimp cocktail, Filet Mignon, Prime Rib and salmon. On our visit to Arthur's, several of us ordered the Prime Rib, which turned out to be a grilled Rib Eye steak! Apparently, something was lost in translation. In fairness, it is the same cut of beef, just a different method of preparation. And actually, it was perfectly cooked and delicious. We mentioned the menu snafu to the Hotel Director who apologized profusely. I noticed that before the end of the cruise, the menu had been changed to read "Rib Eye Steak".

Tauck MS Inspire Arthur's
Arthur's set for evening steakhouse service

The Compass Rose Dining Room is located on Deck 2 forward. The dining room is laid out exactly like Tauck's other ships with seating on port and starboard and the buffet serving line in the middle of the dining room. Guests can enjoy an extensive buffet for breakfast and lunch each day. Dinner in Compass Rose is full menu service. We found the service to be a little slower than we remembered on past Tauck cruises, but I suspect this is due to it being the maiden voyage of a new ship with a crew working together for the first time. The menus were varied and we found the food quality and presentation coming from Bulgarian Executive Chef, Stoyan Todorov, 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 soups served at lunch and dinner are all made personally by Chef Todorov and every one of them was delicious.

Tauck MS Inspire Compass Rose
The sophisticated Compass Rose Dining Room

A new Fitness Center and a Beauty Salon are located on Deck 1 along with a steam room and sauna. There is even a massage room with a nice selection of  massage treatments offered at reasonable prices. There is an elevator/lift that traverses from Deck 1 to Deck 3.

Tauck MS Inspire Review
The Fitness Center

The Sun Deck (top deck) on MS Inspire is open to the elements, as you would expect. 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 serious wind protection. Aft, you will find a large hot tub and a putting green. Gone is the chess set that nobody ever used.

Tauck MS Inspire Sun Deck
Hot tub and putting green on Sun Deck

The beautiful ship is only part of the Tauck story. What really distinguishes Tauck from the rest of the cruise industry is in how they present the destination. The ship takes you to the destination, but Tauck immerses you in the places you visit. Leading this effort on every Tauck vessel is a Cruise Director overseeing the entire experience from the time you step aboard the ship until you disembark. Steve Marchant was the Cruise Director on our sailing. He was the first person we met when we stepped aboard Inspire and the last person we said goodbye to when we disembarked. Steve would normally conduct the daily briefing each evening in Panorama to inform guests of what to expect from upcoming destinations. Steve's personality is perfectly suited to this line of work. You can tell that he really loves his job.

Tauck MS Inspire Steve Marchant
Steve Marchant, Cruise Director

In addition to a Cruise Director, every Tauck sailing is also supported by a team of Tour Directors. The Tour Directors always accompany guests on the motor coaches and walking tours in the various cities and villages along the way. We were fortunate to have three excellent Tour Directors on our sailing: Joeri Happel, who is from The Netherlands; Zsofia Bartlett from Hungary; and Yener Ismail from Romania. We found each of the guides to be knowledgeable, friendly and always willing to help.


Tauck Directors
Tour Directors: Joeri, Zsofia and Yener

The Tauck Cruise Director and Tour Directors are responsible for the guest experience ashore, and that is what Tauck does best. After all, they have been doing this for 90 years! When you step off a Tauck vessel, you step into a well-choreographed destination experience like no other. There are three new, sparkling clean and comfortable motor coaches that follow the ship from one town to the next. When on walking tours, each guest is provided a VOX wireless sound system making it easy to hear the tour guide. And, all tours are presented in English.

Rickee Richardson
VOX Wireless Receiver

On our sailing, a variety of tours were offered in a few of the towns which often required making a choice. All tours were complimentary, however. On many river cruises, there would have been an additional charge for some of the amazing excursions we enjoyed. An example was the private visit and spectacular dinner at the In Flanders Fields museum in Ieper, Belgium. Or, the memorable luncheon in a cave at Chateau Neercanne. And of course, the Farewell Dinner at Hotel Amigo in Brussels was fantastic.

Tauck MS Inspire Farewell Dinner
Menu from our Farewell Dinner at Hotel Amigo in Brussels

There are inclusive river cruises, all-inclusive river cruises and then there are luxury river cruises. Luxury is hard to define, but you know it when you experience it. Perhaps it is the attention to detail or the willingness to go the extra mile to satisfy the guests. I have been doing this for twelve years and I still can't really define luxury, but I know that Tauck makes me feel special. I can give you an example. On the evening of the Captain's Welcome Reception and Dinner, I discovered that I had forgotten to pack my cufflinks. With only a French cuff dress shirt, my only option was to wear a polo shirt under my jacket. Not a great choice. I decided to call Reception to see if they might, by chance, have a pair of "loaner" cufflinks I could use. In less than 5 minutes, Corina knocks at the door and hands me a pair of cufflinks. That, my friends, is luxury.

Tauck MS Inspire Corina
Corina, Assistant Hotel Manager

To say that we were impressed with Tauck and the new MS Inspire is an understatement. In spite of a few hiccups, which are to be expected with any brand new ship on a maiden voyage, this will go down as one of our all-time favorite travel experiences. We loved the itinerary and would not mind doing it again in the future. We were extremely impressed with the Loft Cabin. And, we really like the new all-inclusive drink
policy. The previous two Tauck river cruises were excellent, and it appears that Tauck just keeps getting better and better. We can't wait to travel with them again!

SUMMARY

Tauck River Cruises is far from the largest river cruise line, but what they lack in fleet size, they more than make up for with quality. This a truly all-inclusive vacation. The only thing we ended up paying for after eight days was a few stamps for postcards, which were mailed for us by Reception. All beverages consumed on board are now 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

ITINERARY AND DAILY BLOG

To read our day-to-day experiences on Tauck's MS Inspire, click here


VIDEO


Our Notes

  • Internet connectivity can be spotty and generally is very slow. However, it is complimentary. Typically, there is no internet when ship is going through locks.
  • Very loud noise from neighboring cabins when toilets flush.
  • Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style. Lots of choices, and quality is generally very good. Dinner is served menu-style. Service in dining room needs improvement. Probably due to a new crew on a new ship.
  • All beverages, including wine, beer and cocktails, are now included in cruise fare.
  • Before exiting the ship, guests turn in their room key for a "shore pass" card at Reception. Upon re-entering the ship, the Shore Pass is exchanged for the room key. This is how Tauck/Scylla tracks which guests are off the vessel.
  • Motor coaches are new and very comfortable.
  • Light Bites are offered throughout the day and include cookies, cheese plate, sandwiches, etc.
  • Dinner typically is from 6:00pm to 8:00pm in Compass Rose. Dinner in Arthurs is at 6:30pm.
  • Mini-bar in cabin was re-stocked each day.
  • Complimentary bottled water is available at Reception before leaving the ship for an excursion.
  • Upon returning to the ship from an excursion, guests are greeted with moist towels and a refreshment at Reception.
  • Complimentary umbrellas are provided.
  • Coffee, tea and cookies are available 24-hours-a-day in Arthur's.

Review by Chris Dikmen and Rickee Richardson

CruiseReport Editors

Chris Dikmen is President of CruiseReport.com. Rickee Richardson is Senior Editor of CruiseReport.com. Together, they have reviewed more than 100 cruises over the past 11 years.




It is common in the travel industry for journalists to be provided with complimentary cruise accommodations, and in some cases, hotel accommodations, for the purpose of a review. While it has not influenced this review, CruiseReport.com adheres to a strict policy of full disclosure to all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, please refer to our Ethics Guidelines
 
 
6 Comments
 
PETE G.
 
Just found this write-up and I am convinced. Tauck sounds like an amazing experience.
 
Wednesday, April 8, 2015 12:00 AM  
 
 
DONALD K
 
AFTER 12 CRUISES, 4 RIVER CRUISES, 7equals8 LAND TOURS, {4 WITH TAUCK] I TOTALLY AGREE WITH JOHN MCGEE. WE WILL RETURN TO TAUCK.equalsequalsGREAT DETAILED REPORT. ALL INCLUSIVE WORKS.
 
Tuesday, December 30, 2014 2:58 PM  
 
 
ANN BUTCHER
 
After reading the review. I'm even more excited to step aboard, which will be October 25th. Don't disappoint me
 
Sunday, October 12, 2014 6:23 PM  
 
 
CAROL BAILY
 
EXCELLENT & THOROUGH REVIEW OF THIS SHIP & RIVER CRUISE. I WANT TO GO NOW!!
 
Wednesday, April 30, 2014 9:15 AM  
 
 
H. PARSONS
 
I have to agree with @JohnMcGee. This is a fair and thorough recap. Not a fluff piece like you see so many times.
 
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 6:47 AM  
 
 
JOHN MCGEE
 
Absolutely the best coverage I have seen of any river cruise. Outstanding. Makes me want to book with Tauck today!
 
Monday, April 21, 2014 9:34 AM  
 
 
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