Floating down the Rhine, sitting by our window and watching the Dutch countryside roll by ... with the occasional walking tour thrown in: That's what we thought our ms Inspire cruise would consist of. Boy were we wrong. There's very little that's relaxing about sailing the Dutch Waterways onboard Inspire. It's an active vacation steeped in history and culture for people with inquiring minds. And it's fascinating.
The three tour directors onboard know everything -- and we mean everything -- about the places the boat visits. From the history of the cities and towns and the culture of the people to the artwork and literature that was birthed there, passengers are introduced to it all.
But it's not just the off-the-ship experience that's so enjoyable. Inspire is a gorgeous boat -- all shining brass, sparkling crystal and warm wooden tones, but its opulence isn't offputting. Instead, from the minute you step onboard, you feel welcomed. Within a few hours of boarding, you can meet with the maitre d' to discuss any dietary restrictions, plus you'll get a personal phone call from the hotel manager to see if you cabin is all in order. Your well-being is everyone's top priority.
Service is a bit different on Inspire though, as it is on all ships in the fleet. Because Tauck charters its boats from a company called Scylla, none of the crew -- except the cruise director and three tour directors -- are Tauck employees. While everyone is friendly, there is sometimes a clear distinction in quality between the two sets of crew. If Tauck's directors are exceptional, Scylla's crew ranges from just adequate to quite excellent. On our sailing, some of the dining crew left a lot to be desired, though the two maitre d's were amazing and always ready to bend over backward to make passengers happy. They weren't alone, though. When a passenger wanted popcorn, the hotel director visited a supermarket in port to pick up some.
The all-inclusive nature of the trip is another big check in the plus column. From the biggies like plentiful food and overflowing drinks to the little touches like a flower for each passenger at the American War Cemetery to lay on a soldier's grave and 20 euros per person given out on the last day to buy your own lunch in Brussels, Tauck thinks of just about everything.
Tauck attracts a solidly boomer demographic, with an average age of 68 or thereabouts. Hailing mostly from the United States, with a smattering from Canada, passengers are well off and well-traveled. Some 40 to 50 percent of passengers have been on either a Tauck river cruise or land tour before.
Smart casual is the official dress code, but comfort really is the name of the game, with at least two-thirds of the passengers sticking to jeans, even at meals. Only on the Captain's Welcome night and the last night is more formal attire (suit and tie, but not black tie, for men; nice dress or pantsuit for women, no gowns) recommended (but not required).
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FIRST RIVER CRUISE
Casual Elegance and Luxury
We should have jumped at the first port.