Embarking Tauck’s new ms Inspire in Amsterdam for a journey through history
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Today, I stepped aboard Tauck’s new ms Inspire for the first time at the Port of Amsterdam. And what a beautiful ship she is!
The ms Inspire still has that “new-ship” smell to her. She’s the largest river cruise ship that Tauck has ever constructed, yet she only holds an additional 12 guests than its other ships — for a grand total of 130. Most ships this size can hold nearly 200 passengers. What you get is a ship that feels far more intimate and spacious than her size would suggest.
Getting here was, in typical Tauck fashion, a snap. My KLM flight from Vancouver touched down just after 10 a.m. local time, and despite a recent spate of unfortunate baggage accidents, my luggage was the sixth piece dispensed on Carousel 12 at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. From there, Tauck’s representatives were waiting just outside the baggage area, and I was whisked to the Inspire along with three other guests.
When I embarked the Inspire, there was Arthur Tauck Jr., greeting guests personally in the Lounge as a light lunch was being served. Enormously friendly and personable, Tauck stated that he loved two things about this exciting new ship: the amazing showers in each stateroom and the meticulous attention to detail.
He was right on both counts.
Simply put, my Loft Stateroom is one of the coolest features I’ve seen introduced in river cruising since Viking pioneered the Aquavit Lounge aboard its Viking Longships in 2012. My jaw hit the floor when I entered my 225-square-foot Loft Stateroom aboard the Inspire and craned my head up to see the loft seating area, complete with a window spanning a full story in height.
The seating area comes complete with a full-sized table that is, as I type this, perfectly capable of holding two books, several papers, a brochure, my laptop and a bottle of Coca-Cola. There’s room left over to spare. Two comfortable chairs complete the sitting area, which faces out onto the water.
On the far wall are a collection of six switches. Together, they raise the sheer blind up and down electronically; open the window partition electronically to let fresh air in, and open and close the blackout drapes in a mind-blowing three seconds. Which, I suppose, is perfect if you’re sitting here “less than decent” and another ship comes alongside.
It is the convenience of this sitting area, coupled with the ability to open the middle window partition that makes these eight staterooms on Deck 1 so special. With the flick of a button, the fresh sea air from Amsterdam came swirling into my room, causing the curtains to dance hypnotically. For a moment, I just stood there, watching another river cruise ship slowly come alongside us.
Letting the fresh air waft in, I set out to explore the rest of the room. The attention to detail is striking. To store my personal effects, my Loft Stateroom boasts two closets, ten drawers, an umbrella rack, and plenty of space under the bed to store a suitcase. Closets are lit on the inside, and feature full-length mirrors on the outside.
The oversized bathroom is smartly designed and attractively furnished. Molton Brown toiletries; a Villeroy & Boch sink; lit anti-fog mirror surfaces; and a dual function Grohe shower featuring rainforest settings and a standard detachable arm round out the mix. Bonus points for the garbage can attached to the left door that swings out when the door is opened; and for the cleverly hidden toiletries cabinet behind the mirror.
Which brings me to the rest of the stateroom amenities, like an interactive television that can be raised or lowered electronically from the bed; and your very own Nespresso coffee maker, complete with pods, to keep the minibar company.
The bed – brand new – is like sleeping on a cloud of pillows. I dare not sit down on it until I am done this report – even for a second.
I fell in love immediately with this room. I’d take it over a French Balcony or a suite, and I have no qualms about saying that this could very well be one of the hottest staterooms on the waterways of Europe very soon. I’m excited about spending the next seven nights here.
Wisely, Tauck didn’t re-invent the wheel when it comes to public areas aboard ms Inspire. Instead, the focus has been on turning these already popular spaces into more upscale, elegant versions. If you’ve sailed aboard the line’s other vessels, you’ll find a lot to like here.
The Panorama Lounge all the way forward on Diamond Deck – always one of my favorite spots aboard the Swiss Jewel – remains largely unchanged, save for the addition of a new colour scheme and more varied seating options. It is modern and elegant, but still retains the feel of a high-end boutique hotel set inside a heritage building in Europe, with moulded ceilings, chandeliers, and attractive wall sconces.
Tauck has always been amazingly inclusive, but this year, the line has gone fully inclusive. This means that all of the local beers and wines here – along with spirits, soft drinks, specialty coffees and bottled water – are complimentary all day in any venue onboard the ship.
Down one deck on Ruby Deck, the Restaurant is largely the same as onboard the Swiss Jewel, but with an attractive mother-of-pearl color scheme that lends the room a bright, airy feel. Carpets are done in tri-tone brown with elegant swirl patterns, while chairs feature bright red fabric on their seats paired with an almost champagne colour on their backs.
Sightlines have also improved dramatically, with less use of brass columns than before and more use of attractive glass partitions between booths and the serving stations along the centerline of the ship. Walls have also been given the champagne treatment as opposed to the dark wood veneers found aboard previous vessels.
At the very stern is Arthur’s, named in honor of Arthur Tauck Jr. This casual restaurant will serve up lighter fare in the morning and afternoon before becoming a specialty (though free of charge) restaurant most evenings.
To take the ms Inspire out on her maiden run, Tauck’s assembled an A-Team of riverboat staff, including the friendly (not to mention Canadian) onboard Tauck Director Steve Marchant. I was fortunate to have Steve as a Tauck Director when I sailed aboard Swiss Jewel two years ago, and it is a real privilege to be sailing with him again.
To help beat jet-lag, I decided to take a short stroll through the city. Amsterdam is the capital city of the Netherlands, and its magical 17th century canals are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Within these canals, history abounds. Anne Frank’s house is located 20 minutes or so from the cruise pier, on Prinsengracht 263-267. The Royal Palace anchors Dam Square and Amsterdam’s main shopping district. It’s easy to lose yourself in and amongst the narrow, winding streets of the history center, and not at all uncommon to discover you’ve doubled-back on your own track.
But, like Venice, part of the joy of Amsterdam is making these discoveries on foot and losing yourself in among the streets and laneways. This is my fourth visit to the city in two years, and it’s only now that I feel I’m beginning to find my way around.
The ms Inspire is docked just a five-minute stroll from Amsterdam Centraal Station, and from here you can even head further for an afternoon in Haarlem, or just simply hop a tram to some of the city’s other attractions, like the stunning Rijksmuseum, which we’ll be visiting tomorrow.
For me, though, when I visit Amsterdam I tend to just enjoy strolling around the city – or biking, as I did last year. I also usually make the time to enjoy a drink and admire the city skyline from the SkyBar atop the Doubletree Amsterdam across from the Centraal Station.
This time, I joined good friend and ShipParade founder Bart de Boer for a dinner at the sumptuous eye-bar restaurant across the river. The great food and excellent conversation was made even moreso by the torrential rain that came upon the city suddenly, leaving my jeans soaked through in a matter of seconds. You know how it rains in movies – that sort of unnatural downpour that is the tell-tale mark of the “rain rig?” That’s how the rain came down just after six this evening – except it came sideways.
But here aboard the Inspire tonight, I am reveling in my cozy stateroom as I finish this installment at the desk and table on my loft. I’m looking across the river at the lights twinkling across the channel, the black sea slowly drifting by in the periphery. Tomorrow, our tour kicks off in earnest – and I can’t wait to see what it has in store!
Tauck's MS Inspire - Belgium & Holland
|April 7, 2014||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Arrive Amsterdam; Embark Tauck's new ms Inspire|
|April 8||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Private river cruise through Amsterdam's Canals; visit the Rijksmuseum; tour Keukenhof Gardens|
|April 9||Hoorn, Netherlands / Enkhuizen, Netherlands||Walking tour of Hoorn or visit to Alkmaar. Walking tour of Enkhuizen & open-air Zuiderzee Museum.|
|April 10||Arnhem, Netherlands||Choice of tours - De Hoge Veluwe National Park exploration with Vincent Van Gogh at the Kroller-Muller Museum, or tour sites associated with the WWII airborne assault on Arnhem.|
|April 11||Rotterdam, Netherlands||Tour of Rotterdam & its museums, or optional excursion to the historic city of Delft.|
|April 12||Veere, Netherlands / Middleburg, Netherlands.||Exploration of Veere or excursion to Neeltje Jans Delta Works to learn about the country's storm surge barriers. In Middleburg, enjoy time exploring on own.|
|April 13||Antwerp, Belgium / Ypres||Orientation walking tour through Antwerp's historic city center & visit the Red Star Line museum. After lunch, Tauck Exclusive tour to Flanders to observe the centennial of World War I with dinner and a private visit to the In Flanders Fields museum.|
|April 14||Antwerp, Belgium / Hasselt, Belgium / Maastricht, Netherlands||Drive to Margraten to see the Netherlands American Cemetery. Tauck Exclusive Lunch at Chateau Neercanne, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guided visit to Maastricht & free time in the Old Town.|
|April 15||Brussels, Belgium||Disembark ms Inspire & travel to Brussels for a full day of sightseeing. Overnight at the Hotel Amigo.|
|April 16||Brussels, Belgium||Onward journey home.|