Commemorating World War I and celebrating the new ms Inspire
Over the course of nine days, my Belgium & Holland in Spring itinerary aboard Tauck’s beautiful new ms Inspire took us from the forward-thinking Dutch city of Amsterdam to the bilingual Belgian city of Brussels. What I discovered was an experience that was unmistakably Tauck, filled with wholly unique experiences that were worlds apart from my Blue Danube sailing with the company two years ago.
The full day-by-day report:
- Day 1 – Embarkation in Amsterdam
- Day 2 – Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum and Keukenhof
- Day 3 – Hoorn, Windmills & Cheese
- Day 4 – Arnhem & Nijmegen
- Day 5 – Rotterdam & Scenic Cruising
- Day 6 – Veere, Middelburg and the Delta Works
- Day 7 – Antwerp and a moving evening in Ypres
- Day 8 – Chateau Neercanne and Maastricht
- Day 9 – On Dry Land in Brussels, Belgium
Perhaps I should explain my last comment a little. When I sailed down the Danube aboard Swiss Jewel from Budapest to Prague, our excursions and Tauck Exclusive experiences were all designed to highlight the beauty and majesty of Europe’s most famous waterway. There were private concerts in Vienna coupled with private dinners in Budapest’s Academy of Sciences and Prague’s Lobkowicz Palace. It was like stepping back in time to the extravagant, Edwardian age of Europe.
What I loved about Tauck’s Belgium & Holland itinerary was that it has been completely tailored to reflect the unique history of both countries. It’s a history that is sometimes difficult and unpredictable, and one that clashes in an odd way with the immense beauty of the countryside and the kindness of its people.
For the centenary of the start of World War I this year, Tauck has re-jigged this itinerary from the ground up, filling it with beautiful and moving experiences. Normally when I do these recaps, I like to compare one voyage with a particular line to another, but in this instance, I can’t – my two sailings were totally unique.
In a way, I almost expected this Belgium & Holland itinerary to offer much the same experience as my Danube cruise two years ago. But in this sense, I was pleasantly proven wrong, and I think that’s to Tauck’s credit. There’s nothing cookie-cutter about these itineraries.
Among the changes for this year – in honour of both World Wars – was a moving, memorable experience in Ypres, officially known as Ieper. Our private tour of the In Flanders Fields museum, followed by a gourmet dinner in the private banquet hall, ranks as one of the most spine-tingling experiences I’ve ever had, anywhere. It’s up there with going on Safari in South Africa or visiting a Buddhist monastery in Cambodia. Normally a museum bustling with tourists, the hundred-or-so of us could spread out.
The museum was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop, and allowed the ominous soundtrack played over the loudspeakers to drive home the oppressive and frightening aspects of World War I in a way that simply wouldn’t be possible during the day. Hearing actors read actual passages from the diaries of those who fought in World War I – and how this whole Mustard Gas thing was a ‘good idea’ – will haunt me for the rest of my life. It’s so easy to disassociate ourselves from history; it’s harder to when it is presented personally.
I’ve long maintained that it is events like these that are Tauck’s strong suit. Most cruise lines offer experiences that, given the right amount of money, you could do on your own. You can arrange your own tour of Rome, or enjoy dinner at the restaurant of your choosing. But you can’t very well march up to the In Flanders Fields Museum after closing hours, demand a private tour, and enjoy a five-course meal in the rebuilt splendour of the town’s Cloth Hall.
With Tauck, you can. That’s what makes them so special.
Of course, the other thing that makes them special are their Tauck Directors. On Tauck’s river cruises, three directors travel with each group during the overland portions, while one Tauck Director stays with the river cruise ship for the duration of the season. That’s four dedicated people for 130 guests (less aboard the company’s other vessels), meaning that questions are answered promptly and the entire experience feels like a private tour you’ve arranged with a few of your friends.
I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t talk about the beautiful ms Inspire.
This ship is what I like to call Tauck’s ‘Wild Card’, because with it, they went overnight from simply offering river cruises to innovating in a way that is bound to make their competitors more than a little envious.
Externally, the Inspire looks like the stretch version of their other vessels. Even upon entering, past guests are unlikely to notice any major changes to the overall ebb and flow of the ship’s public spaces, with the exception of some subtle modifications to décor and colour scheme and the addition of a new, wider staircase down to Deck 1 that runs along the centerline of the ship.
But look closer at her exterior profile. Notice those four elongated windows on each side of the vessel? They belong to the Inspire’s eight brand-new Loft Staterooms – and they could be river cruising’s hottest ticket in a few months.
At 225 square feet, there’s nothing else like these innovative Deck 1 staterooms on the rivers of Europe today. Photographs don’t do this room, which is notoriously difficult to get into a single shot, justice.
For less than the price of a full French Balcony stateroom, you get a room that is equally as large, but with a 1.5-story tall window. The window can be opened with the push of a switch, electronically sliding up to let fresh air in. Curtains and privacy screens are also electronically controlled, as is the television set, which retracts into a lower position when not in use.
Despite not being an actual suite, it feels very suite-like thanks to the separate loft sitting area and the lowered sleeping and bathroom portion of the room. The bathroom is also particularly noteworthy for its dual showerheads and almost absurd level of space. I’m used to river cruise ship bathrooms where I can barely turn around in, not ones that rival the last land-based hotel I stayed in.
I had written earlier that the floors of these loft staterooms are heated, and it seems that might be a byproduct of some technical system onboard as opposed to being purposeful – I never really could find out. But I’ll take it either way.
The reason I’m so excited about these Loft Staterooms is that I think they’re as much of a game-changer for the industry as it was when Viking came up with the idea to shift their passenger corridor over to create full-sized suites. What Tauck is doing, in effect, is giving people more choice. People who would normally choose the least-expensive category of stateroom might be encouraged to spend more money, and those who would normally take a French Balcony stateroom but can’t quite afford it now have an option that allows them to save some money but still enjoy fresh air.
I’ve met folks who say that the lower, fixed-window staterooms on Deck 1 are a deal-breaker for them. So, if they couldn’t afford a French Balcony, they just wouldn’t take a river cruise. Other lines might lose that passenger; Tauck has a better chance of retaining them thanks to these new staterooms.
My expectation from Tauck were high. Once again, they’ve exceeded them in every possible way. Like a good magic trick, I’m never quite sure how they do it. But maybe that doesn’t matter.
Like Tauck says, it’s how you see the world that matters.
Our Live Voyage Report from the maiden voyage of Tauck’s new ms Inspire has sadly come to a close, but our next adventure begins May 7 – from Australia! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.