We get many requests for river cruises and now I know why. I decided to try one for myself in early April and chose a seven day Tauck River cruise on the 118 passenger MS Treasures cruising from Amsterdam to Brussels. River cruising is all about the “ride” and Tauck does it best. Why sit on a tour bus when you can travel on a five star boat, unpack once, enjoy gourmet dining , first class entertainment in the evening and locally hosted sightseeing tours by day – all included in the one price prepaid to Tauck River Cruising. I knew I didn’t have to worry about carrying euros with me when our Tauck tour guide not only handed out 20 Euro bills to each of us to pay for lunch one day but also paid each of our 20 cent bathroom break charges!
Unlike many popular river cruises my itinerary did not offer scenic daytime cruising. Instead, we glided smoothly on canals and rivers with unrecognizable names through primarily industrial areas. We cruised “working” waterways with cargo ships, tankers and tug boats. We traveled at night so we could enjoy the long day light hours for touring in and around each port.
We boarded the MS Treasures in Amsterdam where the river boats were eight deep on each side of the river boat docks. Day one started with an early departure to Keukenhof Gardens in nearby Lisse. The gardens are truly a rolling carpet of color between all the tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. I especially enjoyed the unusual and creative indoor exhibits in the four pavilions. In the afternoon we had a private tour of some of the highlights of the Rijksmuseum and a private canal waterway tour on a luxurious canal boat. How can you not love Amsterdam, a city swarming with bicycles and tourists. I was glad I had time on my own before the cruise to explore the city, tour Anne Frank’s House, a diamond factory and enjoy their famous pancakes and caramel syrup Stroopwafels!
Day three was grey and rainy in the south Holland island city of Dordrecht. In the morning we were taken to the nearby village of Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where 19 original 18th century windmills line a long canal. We toured a working windmill and learned about the life of a typical miller centuries ago. The next day we docked in Ghent and chose to take an excursion to Bruges which is known as “the Venice of the North.” Bruges is a charming small town with winding canals and tiny medieval streets. I will always remember the bucket of mussels and Belgian fried potatoes with mayonnaise we enjoyed for lunch in a small restaurant overlooking one of the waterways. This was truly a memorable Tuesday in Belgium!
Day five we docked in Maastricht, one of the Netherlands’ oldest cities and home of the famous violin player and conductor, Andre Rieu. The highlight for me was a Tauck exclusive lunch in the 17th century Chateau Neercanne. The dining room was connected to a maze of underground grottoes which were fun to explore and outside we overlooked a quaint village just beyond the beautiful Baroque topiary gardens of the chateau.
We spent the next two days in Antwerp, the capital of the Belgian province of Flanders and diamond trading capital of the world. We spent a morning at the Red Star Line Museum which featured interactive exhibits telling the story of two million immigrants from all over Europe whose long journey to America began right here in the former shipping line warehouses. The next day most of the Treasures’ passengers were transferred back to Amsterdam for their flights home which is a shame because they missed visiting the beautiful city of Brussels.
Tauck had advised all of us by email just prior to our leaving the US of their decision not to dock in Brussels due to the terrible airport bombing just a few days prior. It was probably the right decision and they handled it very professionally but it wasn’t going to stop me from enjoying a city I had never seen before. There were other guests who agreed with me so Tauck arranged a private van to drive the six us an hour from Antwerp to our respective hotels in Brussels.
The city was quiet so there were no lines to go up the Atomium , a 338 foot tall shiny silver structure built for the 1958 World’s Fair representing atoms in an iron crystal. The Grand-Place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has to be seen to be believed. Dubbed one of Europe’s most beautiful city squares, tourists marvel at the gold leaf decorated Gothic town hall surrounded by Renaissance-era guildhalls. The view at night with all the buildings strategically lit up was especially spectacular.
Brussels airport presented us with some challenges but I was just glad the airport was open. Our Delta flight to JFK was empty so we could stretch out. I had plenty of time to reflect on my journey with Tauck River Cruises. It was a trip of a lifetime for me but I have only one problem -- traveling with Tauck spoiled me! Now I know why so many of my clients request Tauck Tours and Tauck River Cruises.
Do’s and Don’t’s
I have always preferred the smaller cruise vessels like those with only 200 to 500 passengers. But, when my wife suggested taking a cruise with only 100 passengers, I balked. “There are no verandahs”, I said. “The staterooms are smaller”, I said. “There will be no activities, no entertainment, etc., etc……” until finally I gave in! But, to my pleasant surprise, the cruise turned out to be a huge success. We have been on many, many cruises, but this had to be one of the most enjoyable. We have never been treated so warmly and courteously. The food was outstanding, the ambiance was elegant yet casual and the staff was extremely attentive. And, oh yes…the fellow passengers were wonderfully friendly.
By now you must be curious to know the name of this ship. Well, it is the Sea Dream II! It is one of two ships that are in the SeaDream Yacht Club fleet. This cruise line bills itself as a luxury yacht line. And, luxury is no over statement. It is comparable to a private club on water. Every one of the crew members addressed us as Mr. and Mrs. Dowrick and never missed an opportunity to offer service. Even the Captain spent time with the passengers and he personally invited us to have dinner with him on our wedding anniversary….not an invitation to the “captain’s table” but a “one on one” dinner on deck (which was our choice of table). We were truly treated as if we were the owners of this magnificent yacht throughout the cruise.
If my words of satisfaction have piqued your interest to learn more about this wonderful cruise line, you should go to the SeaDream Yacht Club’s website and examine their links there. Then call Joan at The Travel Gallery if you have any questions regarding their offerings. Perhaps you will be a fellow guest on our next Seadream cruise. I will look forward to that occasion.
South Africa is an exciting place to visit. Cape Town, with its vibrant nightlife, stylish young people and beautiful surroundings, has become one of the most desirable destinations in the world. South Africa's natural attractions are as appealing as ever: the green vineyards and rocky coast of the Cape; the arid landscape of the Karoo; the rich farmlands of Gauteng and Mpumalanga; the snowcapped peaks of the Drakensberg range; and the verdant hills and wide beaches of KwaZulu-Natal. The country also has more than 300 game and nature reserves, along with some of the finest lodges on the continent. Your surroundings can be as wild or as genteel as you want -- or both. The hottest tourist attraction in South Africa these days is Robben Island, where former president Nelson Mandela spent almost 20 years as a political prisoner.