All-inclusive tour operator Tauck is set for a banner year, with the introduction of two brand-new river cruise ships on the waterways of Europe. The first of these two, ms Grace, recently made her debut in the Dutch town of Maastricht, where she was christened in front of a small crowd of employees, loyal guests, and media.
In attendance: Tauck CEO Dan Mahar, Maastricht mayor Annemarie Penn-te Strake, and the ship’s three joint godmothers, longtime Tauck employees Katharine Bonner, Rebecca Sellet, and Michelle Lavrado.
The ms Grace is the sister-ship to 2014’s ms Inspire and ms Savor, which introduced entirely new features for Tauck and the river cruise industry in general. The most prominent of these were the ship’s innovative new Loft Staterooms, featuring overheight glass windows that retract at the push of a button, along with a loft-style seating area that is separate from the bedroom. These unique staterooms proved to be so popular, they regularly sell out well in advance.
This June, Tauck will take delivery of its second new river cruise ship of the year, ms Joy, which will bring the tour operator’s total fleet count to nine. It’s a remarkable achievement, given that the Tauck fleet numbered just four vessels at the start of 2014. In two years, Tauck has doubled its capacity on the waterways of Europe, and plans to revitalize two of its existing vessels – ms Swiss Emerald and ms Swiss Sapphire – with additional suites and a lower overall guest capacity in time for the 2017 river cruise season.
“The christening of this beautiful new ship is a wonderful opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to all of the people who work so hard to make Tauck river cruises the best in the world,” said Mahar. “We’re thrilled to honor not only Katharine, Rebecca and Michelle, but also the many incredible partners who’ve joined us for this great occasion.” Those guests included Celia Sandys, the noted biographer and granddaughter of Winston Churchill, who speaks to Tauck guests on selected itineraries. Other partners in attendance who provide Tauck guests with special access and unique experiences included a countess, a baron, the general manager of a world-class luxury hotel, and executives from some of Europe’s most prestigious museums.
Those guests are important. Tauck takes great pride in offering what the company calls “uncommon access” on the waterways of Europe. That includes things like after-hours entry to museums, private dinners at residences and historic sites normally not open to the public, and other exclusive events that are designed to enrich and educate as well as entertain.
My personal favorite Tauck memory: being invited to tour the In Flanders Fields museum in Ieper, Belgium after-hours before dining in the museum’s great hall, which is situated within the city’s historic (and meticulously rebuilt) Cloth Hall. However, it’s just one of many experiences I’ve had on my two Tauck river cruises that were incomparable to anything else I’ve experienced. It’s hard to put a price on an after-hours tours and exclusive events like this that, even with the right amount of money, the general public couldn’t typically buy their way into.
That sense of welcoming exclusivity translates to Tauck’s river cruise ships. At 135 metres in length, the ms Grace carries a fraction of the guests that most similarly-sized river cruise ships do, with a total passenger complement of just 130.
One of Tauck’s key selling points for ms Grace is the relatively high number of suites measuring over 300 square feet. A total of 22 suites are located on her upper deck, with 24 junior suites located one deck below, on Ruby Deck. Standard staterooms measure 150 to 190 square feet, and ms Grace has eight of Tauck’s award-winning Loft Staterooms measuring 225 square feet apiece.
The ship features a cozy main lounge with an attractive new colour scheme, a dining room capable of seating all guests in a single sitting, and even an alternate dining venue named after company chairman Arthur Tauck, Jr. The restaurant – known as “Arthur’s” – offers a more casual dining alternative to the fine dining available in the ship’s main dining room.
This year, ms Grace makes her home on the Rhine and Moselle river, operating a variety of itineraries between Basel, Switzerland and Amsterdam, Netherlands.