Tauck Tulip Cruise

Tauck River Cruise Amsterdam to Brussels on MS Inspire April 7, 2014.

From the moment we boarded the brand new river boat (christened on April 3rd) MS Inspire in Amsterdam until the farewell dinner at the Hotel Amigo in Brussels Tauck  lived up to its reputation as a premier tour and river boat operator.

The boat has the largest cabins in the river cruise market including 300 square foot suites on deck 3 and loft cabins on deck 1.  The bathrooms in the cabins are roomy and appointed as well as any luxury hotel.  The showers are equipped with rain heads, hand held showers and shower seats.  The bath products are Molton-Brown. The sink is Villeroy and Boch.  Each cabin has a Nespresso machine and a mini bar which is stocked daily.

Tauck Tulip Cruise
Tauck Tulip Cruise – MS Inspire

Breakfast and lunch are available in both the main dining room and in a lighter version in Arthur’s.  Dinner is served in the main dining room and some nights they had a steak house concept in Arthur’s.  You could always order from the lite bites menu and have it delivered to your cabin or to a table in the Panorama Lounge. The food is varied and very interesting and they will accommodate any requests.

The boat has a small fitness area, a beauty salon, spa and massage room. On the sun deck they have a hot tub and a place to dine outdoors when the weather permits. There is also a small store.  Prices for the personal services and store items are lower than on any of the large ships I have been on.  My 50 minute massage cost only 52.50 euros and Heni, the Indonesian masseuse was as good as any masseuse I have used.

The main area for meeting is the Panorama Lounge.  This is a large comfortable room and the bartender was excellent..  He is aware of the demographic he is serving and knows the proper way to prepare every drink.  This lounge is where cocktail hour is held and where the Cruise Director and Tour Directors could give updates and discuss the next day’s activities.  After dinner there was music by a pianist with an exceptional repertoire.  One night the Cruise Director had us do a trivia battle of the sexes.

I must mention here that Tauck River Cruises are all inclusive.  There are no surprise charges or alternative tours with an additional fee.

Let me tell you about the little things that stood out during our trip from Amsterdam to Brussels.

  1. At the American WWII Cemetery at Magraten our tour directors gave everyone flowers to place on graves
  2. On one day we were to meet the boat at a dock after we finished our touring and shopping.  The boat was not there yet when we arrived in the vicinity so we all stopped at a sidewalk café and the tour directors paid the bill for everyone.
  3. In Nijmegen at the end of our walking tour we were introduced to herring Dutch style and invited to try it.  Again the tour directors paid the bill
  4. In Brussels we had about 3 hours from the time our walking tour ended until we could check into our hotel so the tour directors gave everyone 20 euros for lunch.

Warm hand towels and a refreshing beverage greeted us on every return to the boat.

All of the tours were well organized and in most cases they utilized local guides.  We had Vox listening tools so that we did not miss anything and the Vox fit into a charger in our cabin.

The tour to Aalsmeer to see the flower auction had a very early start (6:15 AM).  It was well worth getting up for.  This is something I would recommend to anyone going to Amsterdam.

Aalsmeer Flower Auction
Aalsmeer Flower Auction

We were very lucky that the Netherlands had had a mild winter, because of this we got to see the Keukenhof Gardens in full bloom.  This is an impressive place for anyone who enjoys beauty especially living beauty.

We had a private dinner at the Flanders Field Museum in Leper.  The dinner followed us  spending time viewing the exhibits after the museum was closed to the public.

The Delft Porcelain factory tour was enlightening.  It is now easier to know if a piece of Delft just comes from the city of Delft or is Delft style as opposed to being crafted at the Delft Porcelain Factory.

We had a lovely lunch in the wine cellar at Chateunappe.  The chateau is on the border of Belgium and the Netherlands.

A very interesting morning was spent doing a farm visit and a windmill visit. Another tour took us to the Delta Project which shows the way the North Sea is held back from being able to flood the Zeeland.

We got to visit art museums, war museums and the Red Star Museum which showed the transport of immigrants from the Netherlands to America.

These are just a few of the tours.  You can do them all or just select the ones you want and then walk around the cities that the boat is docked near.

Our Tour Directors were Joeri, Yener and Sofia. They are knowledgeable and interesting.

They let us know what we were going to see and the history behind it.

Viking Christmas Market Cruise

Viking Christmas Market Cruise December 2015 Budapest to Nuremberg

Viking River Cruises has a most effective business plan that has positioned the company in the minds of many people as the only river cruise company.  The abundance of advertising in many different media are designed with general appeal and enticing visuals.

When I told people that I was going on a river cruise most responded “that’s a Viking cruise isn’t it?”

Viking Christmas Market Cruise
Viking Christmas Market Cruise

Viking has the new Longships with a passenger capacity of 190.  The ships are basic with 4 cabin types.  The deck one cabins are compact and located at waterline.  There are French Balcony cabins which are a bit cramped and have a small bathroom which is similar to the bathrooms on large cruise ships.  Suites are larger with separate sitting and sleeping areas with a larger bathroom and a balcony.  There are 2 Explorer Suites aft.  These are over 400 SF with double balconies.

Viking Longships have free internet located near a library area.  Lunch and dinner offer complimentary house type wines and beers.    Alcohol can be purchased between meals and after dinner in the lounge.  A beverage package is available for 150 euros per person. Coffee, teas and hot chocolate are available 24 hours a day at two stations just outside the lounge.

The tours offered for free are adequate.  They are not in depth and except for the Abbey at Melk do not include any admissions or touring inside a site.  Most are walking or bus tours.  There are a few special tours offered at additional cost.

The food is good and you can choose to eat in the dining room or the Aquavit Terrace at the front of the boat.  Breakfast and lunch are buffet style and dinner is menu service with some self serve items.  The menu is ambitious and one night it was a walk through the galley buffet.  They also have some standard items which you can order any night.

The staff is well trained and they all have good customer service skills.

Entertainment was mostly Peter at the piano.  One night we had some visiting opera singers and dancers. Another night we had some German entertainers.  The tour director led a quiz game and we also had a sing a long led by the hotel director and Peter at the piano.

The boat has a concierge for those guests who want to plan something special at any of the ports

The ports on this voyage are Budapest, Vienna, Melk, Passau, Regensburg and Nuremberg.

If you travel during November and December you will find Christmas Markets at every stop. They are a combination of country fair and flea market.  Finding locally made items other than the Gluwein or gingerbread can be difficult at the larger Christmas Markets.  Some of the smaller ones near churches or in small squares have more handmade items.

Wacky Women Cruise Adventures in France

Sue Murphy has been part of CKIM Group’s talented team for many years. Originally from the East coast, Sue is now based in Florida. Of course, she loves to travel in order to see how and where she should send her clients. Last year in March, she arranged a trip to France for a group of women. She decided to call it the “Wacky Women Tour,” which was a great success. Here are her memories of the trip.

How did you come up with the idea of Wacky Women Cruises?
Picking out macaroons in Paris.

I started to accumulate friends that were women who were either widows or divorced. So it just seemed logical to me to bring women together for trips. What I started to do early on was do cruises by myself and with a friend of mine. Most women traveling alone don’t want to worry. They want everything paid for, everything included.

When I meet my friends for a drink, I don’t want to haggle over who is going to pay the bill and all that kind of stuff. So it just kind of seemed that I would do some group trips for women. With these trips, women know that they don’t have to necessarily travel with a buddy.

Quite frankly I said that it could be a really good thing or it could be a nightmare, because sometimes women just don’t get along. And the age range was between 55 and 82 so we had a broad range of interests and financial abilities.

Where did you meet?

Five of us went into Paris early so we had three days there which was wonderful. The other three women met us directly at the ship on the day of the start of the cruise.

“Joie de Vivre” in Paris.
Why do you like doing cruises?

The nice thing about a cruise is you unpack your stuff one time, they take you to the next location, they plan the excursions for you, your meals are included. People think its expensive, but  you’re not renting a car, you’re not driving around paying for gas, you’re not packing, unpacking your stuff and you’re not staying at different hotels. For my stage of life, it’s the only way to go.

How did you like Paris?

The Paris part of the trip was fabulous. The only issue was I booked a driver and a van to take us around Paris and the driver didn’t speak much English. I had to whip out my guidebook and do most of the commentary myself, but the next time, I will make sure to get a tour guide that speaks more English.

I also planned a tour of the Louvre with a guide, because you could spend weeks in there. Another thing that we did was go to the Notre Dame cathedral, which we did during the overview trip, but three of us went back on Sunday and did the mass. That was just awesome. To actually go to Mass in Notre Dame is something that will never forget. It was in French, but the pamphlet they gave us, some of it was in English.

  If you go during a service, there are fewer people there. The service was at 8:30am. The doorman said to get there half an hour early because it might get crowded, but it wasn’t. So we got to walk around inside, take as many photos as we wanted, and there were no other tourists.

It snowed at the beginning of the trip. I also planned a tour of the Eiffel Tower which they cancelled, which was too bad because there were people on the trip who really wanted to see that including me. But to see Paris in the snow, for me, was just mind-blowingly beautiful. People had their umbrellas out, the cafes were still open, but most people were huddled inside. It was just spectacular. We ended up in Paris at the other end of the trip. When we got back it was in the high ‘50s, low ‘60s and all the flowers blooming.

Why did you choose a Uniworld cruise?

I picked Uniworld because it is an all-inclusive river cruise. The cabins are bigger and they offered single cabins. Most cruises don’t do that. Because of that, they only offer it during the not-so-busy season.

Where else did you go on the cruise?

 

Onboard Joie de Vivre with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

We started out in Paris. The first day we stopped at Giverny, where Impressionist painter Claude Monet lived and worked. It was March so all the flowers weren’t out in bloom yet, but they had a bike tour option, which was nice.

We then went to Rouen and ended up in Honfleur, which is a little French village in Normandy that is absolutely charming. The architecture is so original, there are charming little café. We had some of the best mussels that I’ve ever had and the wine was wonderful.

 That was certainly a highlight for me. We went to the American cemetery. We had to take a bus there, and Uniworld provided every one of us with a rose to go and put by a cross. It was so moving. We stopped by the sculpture “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves” at the cemetery. They had someone from the military there to play “Taps” and do a prayer. And that was so meaningful.

The Eiffel Tour.

We ended the trip in Paris and had another day there. We chose to tour Versailles, which was exceptional. We saw a part of Versailles that very few people get to see. I think they limit it to 20 people each day that can see this part of it. That’s the advantage of a Uniworld trip: the tours are so exceptional and so are the tour guides.

We had two birthdays on the trip. The last birthday, I think the woman was turning 55, we were actually docked in front of the Eiffel Tower.

For her birthday, we went up on the deck. Uniworld was wonderful. The Maître D’ arranged everything for me. We went up on the deck. They had a table set up with champagne glasses. There was a waiter there who brought two bottles of champagne. They used a big sabre to cut the bottles and we were all lined up in front of the Eiffel Tower when they had the big light show.

Birthday celebrations in front of the Eiffel Tour.

I spent a lot of time trying to coordinate getting us down there in front of it. The Maître D’ told me “You don’t need to do that. You can see it from the top deck.” We were the only ones up there.

How many passengers does a Uniworld ship generally carry?

I would say 138 to 140 is the usual. Uniworld cabins are a little bigger. The thing to remember with these river cruises is they are all the same size, because they have to be in order to get through the locks. From one vendor to the other, it is going to depend on what they used that space for.

What other amenities did they have onboard?

In the back they had a small bar area and eating area. And they had a pool. It was small but they had one.

It is important to note that when we arrived at the hotel in Paris, we had access to a Uniworld rep at the hotel. So it was like having another concierge service besides the one offered by the hotel. So she would recommend places and she rode on the bus with us to the ship.

What else did you do on the cruise?
A grave at the American cemetery in Normandy.

There were different excursions. Not everyone wanted to do the same thing and some of them had been there before, but we made sure we had cocktails and dinner together every night. And I was able to get the same table and the same waiters for us every night. And we were loud.

There was one other group of women onboard of the same size. It was obvious that we were having a good time. At the beginning of the trip, I came up with a group of questions, and every night at the dinner table, there was one question we all had to answer. Questions like “What was on their bucket list?” “What is the best meal that you’ve ever cooked?” So every night at the dinner table, there was conversation.

Because I wasn’t sure if they would get a long or not, so that helped get things going. And of course, we talked about what we experienced every day. That was one of my questions as well, “What was the most inspiring thing that you saw today?” And that was a nice way for people to share their experiences.

The other thing about it was the ship. It was called “Joie de Vivre”. It was, at most, a year old. Each Uniworld ship is different and the décor is very opulent. I think the opulence can be a bit off putting to men, but for women it is terrific.

 

 There was a great private cooking class onboard. That was just exceptional. It was in a beautiful room with a wine pairing for each course. I mean you didn’t do a lot of cooking, but we helped chop stuff up. When we walked in, there was a folded apron and a hat that said “Joie de Vivre” on it, so everyone got their own custom aprons and hats. It was an amazing experience.

Was there other entertainment onboard?

There was but it is minimal compared to the big ships. They might have a singer come in. They always have a piano player onboard. They also always try to bring in what is local cuisine and wine. Every evening, about 6:30pm, you go up to the cocktail hour in the lounge and whoever is in charge of the festivities, he comes in and tells you all about what you are going to see the next day, what the excursions are about, what the schedule looks like and they usually offer a big slide show of the things you are going to see and do. Especially in Normandy, they spent a lot of time talking about the war.

On a river cruise, there is only one restaurant so you eat in the same place every night. If you’re looking for restaurant choices, bar choice, entertainment, you won’t get that. It’s a different kind of cruise. The other thing about river cruises is they are very intimate. There will be 150 people onboard and by the time the cruise is over, trust me, you know at least half of them.

You get to know people, where they are from. If you are an extrovert, you are in heaven. If you’re an introvert, it could be a little bit of a challenge. It’s totally different from a big ship experience.

On river cruises, you are docked in the town. So you can do your excursions in the morning and if you want to go back to a museum, or have a fabulous lunch or whatever, you can. And you can usually walk or they will have a shuttle for you. So you are more immersed in the culture that you are in.

For more information on Sue’s Wacky Women Cruise Adventures, feel free to reach out to Sue at sue@ckimgroup.com.

 

Viking River Cruises

The very popular luxury river cruise company Viking River Cruises announced the next phase of its $250 million fleet development program as it unveiled details of four new vessels for its 2012 sailing season. These will be the next generation of river cruise boats, Viking Freya, Viking Idun, Viking Njord and the Viking Odin.

Continue reading “Viking River Cruises”