With a late April debut, Tauck’s gorgeous new Swiss Jewel joined her sister ships, Swiss Sapphire (launched last April) and Swiss Emerald (launched in 2006) on the rivers of Europe. All three vessels embody changes that have revolutionized river cruising during the past few years.
The Swiss Jewel offers 59 outside staterooms. // (C) 2009 Tauck River Cruises
All staterooms and suites feature plasma televisions, minibars, safes, terrycloth robes and slippers, radios, individual air-conditioning and L’Occitane toiletries.
The Swiss Jewel’s 14 suites have a double set of floor-to-ceiling windows, walk-in closets, marble baths with full-size tubs, showers, sofas that open into double beds and writing desks. The bathrooms in the junior suites and cabins have semi-circular shower rooms.
The Jewel has an elevator that goes down as far as the restaurant but not to Deck One, where the fitness center and massage room are located. The stairs leading to that deck curve at the top and may be difficult for a physically challenged passenger to manage. On the other hand, each cabin has a silent alarm button for passengers to press in case of a fall or sudden illness.
There is open seating in the dining room for all meals. Breakfast consists of a full buffet of fruits, juices, meats, cheeses, hot and cold cereal, breads and pastries, as well as eggs, omelets and pancakes prepared to order at the chef’s station. For lunch, there is also an extensive buffet of hot and cold dishes, as well as menu selections; beer, soft drinks and juices are complimentary.
At dinner, the menu offers choices of soup, appetizer and entrees; there is a specialty dessert as well as an ice cream selection with various flavors and toppings. Very good regional wines are complimentary, along with beer, soft drinks and juices.
The Jewel’s Lido Bar, which features 180-degree glass doors opening onto the aft deck, has a coffee machine, a small library and a desktop computer for passengers (a laptop is also available). Wireless Internet is complimentary, but can be spotty, depending on the ship’s location. Alternative dining here includes continental breakfast, light lunch and a bistro-style (generally Italian) dinner (reservations are required for dinner as capacity is limited to 20).
Entertainment is thoroughly professional and occasionally dazzling; musicians and other performers brought onboard are often affiliated with local opera companies. Lectures, crafts demonstrations and wine tastings are among the other diversions offered on the Jewel. Tours, including meals on shore, are also complimentary, as are quiet boxes — individual receivers with earpieces — that allow passengers to hear the guides regardless of where they are standing. Bicycles are available for those who wish to explore on their own.
“On every Tauck trip, we like to give at least one ‘wow’ experience,” said cruise director Lynn Hardcastle.
On our Budapest-to-Amsterdam cruise, the “wow” was an evening in Vienna, Austria, at the magnificent baroque Palais Pallavicini; guests were greeted by white-gloved waiters bearing trays of champagne as an ensemble from the Vienna Opera played music by Austrian composers. While a multicourse meal was served in the ballroom, a dashing tenor from the Vienna Opera performed, as did a strikingly attractive soprano. Costumed dancers, also from the opera, brought the ballet into the ballroom.
“This is the third year we’re offering the evening at the Palais,” said Hardcastle. “It has been enormously popular.”
Experiences such as this, along with Tauck service and attention to detail, were cited by a number of the passengers as the reason why they book repeatedly with the company. Hardcastle estimated that at least half of the passengers on every cruise are repeaters — on my cruise, a Florida couple was on their 18th Tauck trip, with two more booked for 2009.