Review of the Yuletide Spirit
This is not a traditional Christmas Markets cruise; rather it is a holiday tour of cities and towns in The Netherlands and Belgium, some of which have markets. Having done the Markets cruises on both the Rhine and the Danube (the latter the week prior to Yuletide), we still thoroughly enjoyed this trip. Some people we spoke with, however, were disappointed … I really can't understand what else they were expecting. It's a wonderful trip.
We began in Amsterdam; there are no Christmas Markets here (or, at least, we were not taken to any). The first full day we traveled outside the city to an historic windmill village in the city of Zaandam in Holland which still operates. The village makes pigment for paint, saws wood for various projects including clogs, and has a Dutch cheese operation, yummy. We then drove thru the lovely countryside outside Amsterdam seeing the canals and beautiful houses. In the afternoon we were treated to a concert by the Alma quartet, part of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, one of the top three orchestras in the world—absolutely fabulous. Then a nighttime tour of the canals with Christmas lighting displays. I must say that the canal trip was a bit disappointing; the narration on board was disrupted by problems with the speaker’s Vox as well as loud talking by those who weren’t interested in listening to the narration. Plenty of wine and drinks were served, the appetizers were mediocre (somehow we ended up on the boat for those with dietary restrictions, perhaps avoid that one) – but the holiday lights were lovely.
Cold and rainy the next morning when we went to Gouda (pronounced “how-da”). We were treated to stroopwaffles at a local bakery, 8th generation family. The stained glass windows in the church were very interesting, one of which was created after The Netherlands was liberated in WWII. After lunch on board, we went to Den Haag (The Hague) for the opening day of their Royal Christmas Fair. Also visited the Mauritshuis museum with exhibits of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Dyck, etc…fabulous museum. Saw The Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Goldfinch (both the basis for favorite books of mine).
We had a fantastic guide Willem the next day in Rotterdam. No Christmas Markets here. Poffertjes with hot chocolate, then he took us all around the city with stops for food tastings, mostly in the central market hall.
The next day we arrived in Belgium. Fog forced us to dock in Antwerp, which added an hour at each end of the day trip. Very long (8:30 a.m. to after 6 p.m.) but great day today. We logged over 15,000 steps in touring Brugge and Gent (how they are spelled in Belgium). Both cities are lovely, we had walking tours of the historical sites. Christmas Markets in both cities. What we discovered in Belgium was that the majority of the stands in the markets were focused on food and drink.
Antwerp today…wonderful city. We had a short coach ride to the famous Centraal Station then a walking tour thru the medieval city. We also had a last-minute opportunity to tour the Cathedral of Our Lady which wasn’t supposed to be open—one if the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen, with paintings by Peter Paul Rubens. We walked thru the Christmas Markets (again, mostly food and drink) then returned to the ship for lunch, sailing for Brussels.
Beautiful Brussels. Short coach ride to see the Atomium then a walk thru the old city and Le Grand Place. Back for lunch then a trip to a boutique chocolate factory, which was featured in a Tauck Zoom a few months ago. There are many Christmas Markets in Brussels; we extended our trip one day which I believe was necessary to see all the sites. In the evenings, on the hour, there is a light show in Le Grand Place which is magnificent.
Even though this isn’t advertised as a typical Christmas Market trip, Tauck does all the typical holiday things. Decorating the Christmas tree (you get 10€ each to purchase an ornament), Secret Santa gift exchange if you wish to participate, Karaoke caroling, etc. We were treated to waffles and hot chocolate in the markets, admission to the museums and churches was paid for (even last minute), the atmosphere is very festive. If you want to see these countries, I’d highly recommend doing this tour – the cities are absolutely fantastic with holiday decorations and spirit.
(If you’d like to see photos, find me as Mary Laufer Francis on Facebook.)
Thanks for the great review!
Thank you for your review.
Thanks for the great review Mary. We had planned to do this one Dec. 2023, but our friends who are going with us wanted to see CHRISTMAS MARKETS, so we changed to the Rhine. We will try and do this Dec. 2024.
One question, how in the world did you get SO MANY Gluwein mugs home?!?! We have about as many as you, but we can only get about 3-4 home each trip. I can't believe you can get so many home. Nice job. We did bring an empty bag for all our goodies, but still only managed to fit in 3 mugs this time.
Terrilynn - mostly rolled up inside sweaters or wedged in-between clothes in my packing cubes. I also brought home ornaments from each place we visited.
If you book this, I’d suggest beginning in Amsterdam as the trip gets better each day and you’ll want at least one extra day in Brussels.
It was great meeting you and your friends, I’ll get in touch if we come to Winston in the spring.
Thanks so much for this review! I haven’t been on the forum for months and just decided to check in today. I’m going solo on this trip next December and I guess thought it was the Christmas markets. But there are some in Belgium and now I will know what to expect. I’m excited to do this and my friend, who’s not coming on this tour, will be happy we can do a Rhine Christmas cruise together another time. Your review was so lovely and helpful. Thanks again. 🎄
This review is very helpful…you are good for marketing info! Thank you…Merry Christmas to all🎄
Thanx mfrancis. This is one my husband might prefer because it doesn't have a lot of markets. Plus it goes to places few Tauck tours visit.
Great review mfrancis, sounds like a good one.
I was on this same cruise and mfrancis gave a very accurate review and description. I booked this cruise because I wanted to do a Christmas cruise but not a Christmas market cruise. I also wanted a focus on The Netherlands and Belgium. Tauck delivered on all counts. It was nice having Christmas markets and festivals as an option, but I was more interested in art, history, and architecture.
I sailed solo and I was surprised at the number of passengers who were also traveling by themselves.
Mary, if you're who I think you are, I had lunch with you and your husband Jack one day onboard.
NashvilleCat, sorry but not me. We were a group of 8, my husband is George. Glad you agree with the review.
mfrancis, I agree with your great review. My husband and I enjoyed the visits to Brugge, Gouda, Gent, Antwerp, and Brussels for their history, art and architecture. (We were also disappointed in the Amsterdam light festival but were happy walking around the canals admiring the leaning houses.) The day we visited Brugge and Gent was long, as you indicated, and we did not spend enough time in either city. The Brussels light show at Le Grand Place was great fun. We had been to Brussels previously, but stayed a couple of extra days, and again took one of the "free" tours starting in the square. I feel that we learned more on that tour than we did on the quick Tauck walking tour.
I knew there were no typical Christmas markets in the Netherlands, and wasn't expecting the same quality as those I have so much enjoyed on the Danube and Rhine markets cruises. (The only market that had any "crafts" was at The Hague, and there the largest booth was full of cute, colorful Chinese made items I could find at home.) I had hoped, though, that the markets in Belgium would be nicer not so heavy with food and drink. It's my fault for not canceling the trip when I realized it would not be a typical Christmas markets cruise. Then, again, we felt fortunate to see some beautiful sights, especially the art recovered by the Monuments Men. But, I was sad my packed bubble wrap did not get much use. . . . I usually come home with wonderful items purchased at the markets. The only bright moment was finding a Kathe Wolfhart store in Brugge.
I have to say I wasn't thrilled to spend three hours at the Delft factory. I was not interested in the Rotterdam option, and had asked Nick at the front desk whether we could take a taxi to the historic center of Delft and rejoin the group at the factory after a short walk. He said it was fine, and told me to speak to the TDs so they could arrange a taxi. I did speak with them but they were not very nice about it, I was told it wasn't what the day was about. I decided not to make a big deal about it and stayed at the factory. The presentation was ok, the showroom beautiful, and the tea held upstairs was good. It was fun painting a tile (heavy so I left it behind). I think, however, that Tauck should offer a Delft walking tour option as well as the factory visit.
I had booked this cruise pre-pandemic with some friends, they canceled, I rescheduled. I'm glad they canceled because they would have been pretty disappointed with certain aspects of the trip. We'll be going on the Danube next year. I keep waiting for Tauck to offer a markets cruise that includes Budapest and an extension to Prague.
I know I will be enjoying some regional food while meandering through the markets, but can those who just took this tour comment on the regional food, if any, offered on the boat? Thanks in advance. I have enjoyed reading the reviews!
kfnknfzk, the soups were excellent, for example, Dutch pea soup, cream of chestnut, cream of mustard, and cream of 3 onions. We had mussels, rouladen, Belgian meatballs, and Bami Goreng, among other regional specialties.
ASHeltsley, I really enjoyed the Rotterdam tour. Glad I didn't go to the Delft factory. The Rotterdam tour exceeded my expectations. Our guide was a young grad student. The tour focused on Rotterdam urban design and architecture, which as a retired city planner I really enjoyed. It was also a food tour and some of the food we ate included Dutch pancakes, herring, fried cod, Gouda, bitterballen, and beer. The central market hall was fascinating.
I was on the Dec. 20, 2022 sailing, and had such a good time, I booked it again for this coming December and am staying on for the New Year's cruise.
Thomas, there were about 12-15 solo passengers on my Christmas cruise, along with a few family groups (kids make the holidays even more fun) and the rest were couples. Nice passenger mix. I was a solo which is one of the reasons I re-booked this cruise for this year. Better than staying at home by myself or going to someone's home and having to be involved in their family holiday drama.
Thank you so much for your reply. I always love the soups served on the river cruises. The Indonesian noodles are a nice touch, and I guess they are offered because the crew was probably Indonesian.
I will definitely do the Rotterdam tour. And the herring!
kfnknfzk, yes, there were a number of Indonesian crew, but I think serving Indonesian food has more to do with Indonesia being a former Dutch colony. I saw a number of Indonesian and Surinamese restaurants in Amsterdam. My tour guide in Amsterdam told us it's a tradition with a lot of Dutch families to have an Indonesian night once a week. If you ever have a chance to go to a Rijsttafel (rice table) in The Netherlands I highly recommend it.
We arrived in Amsterdam early for Yuletide Spirit and at the top of our things to do was a Rijsttafel (rice table) at Sampurna Indonesian Restaurant (which was on the Tauck recommendations which we received after our meal!). It consisted of a myriad of small dishes (more than 15 by our count) so if you don't like one, there are many others to choose from. Table management is a challenge.
Yes! We have eaten there before and will do so again during our pre-tour stay. The only problem is that we need about six other people to join us. Thanks for sharing the great photo.
My wife and I originally booked the Yuletide Spirit River cruise for December 2020 and were finally able to go on the December 6, 2022 southbound cruise. It was well worth the wait; we had a fantastic time!
First let me say, we agree with the comment by mfrancis in her review above when she wrote… “This is not a traditional Christmas Markets cruise; rather it is a holiday tour of cities and towns in The Netherlands and Belgium, some of which have markets.” We have been on Tauck’s Rhine River Christmas Markets cruise in the past and it was equally fantastic. I think Tauck’s overview and description of Yuletide Spirit cruise on its website is spot-on! If you are looking for traditional European Christmas Markets, definitely travel to France and Germany. If you want to enjoy the many things the cities of The Netherlands and Belgium have to offer, with a Yuletide theme in some cities and definitely on the MS Grace, this trip is a great choice.
Part of what made this trip so grand was our Cruise Director Nick and the three Tauck Directors Sanja, Joeri and Felix. All four of them went above and beyond throughout the trip to make this a truly enjoyable experience. Day 4’s presentation by Joeri on the Secrets of the Ghent Altarpiece and day 6’s presentation by Sanja on the European Union shouldn’t be missed!
I won’t repeat the detail that mfrancis provides in her review above (great job Mary recapping the trip), but will touch on some of our recommendations for future travelers:
If time permits, definitely spend a day or two extra in Amsterdam. A beautiful city that is incredibly easy to navigate. Highly recommend the Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank House and strolling along the cobblestone lined canals.
Zaanse Schans was a unique experience and shouldn’t be missed.
Walking tour of Rotterdam, with its architecture, food tastings and its modern central Markthal were fantastic.
Bruges is a quaint medieval city; wish we had more time here!
In Ghent, don’t miss St Bavo’s Cathedral and the Ghent Altarpiece. Another city we wish we had more time to visit.
In Antwerp, you’re docked within walking distance of the city square. Definitely spend time exploring on foot.
Brussels is an activity packed day… lots of walking, a real mix of architecture, and don’t miss Grand Place.
Wear comfortable and warm walking shoes… lots of cobblestone. Don’t pass up the Liege waffles!
One negative on the trip (hopefully Tauck is reading this). The Amsterdam Light Festival Cruise was a total bust! I believe the issue was Tauck’s choice of vendors. The canal boat we were on had an aft section that had glass side windows, and a forward section with vinyl side windows that were covered with condensation that obscured any reasonable visibility. This was compounded by very limited seating space. A glass enclosed canal boat would work much better (even if it means forgoing inedible hors d’oeuvres and drinks).
Overall, we highly recommend this trip. Great mix of activities and Tauck’s MS Grace and their people won’t disappoint!
Thank you so much, DMPLMP, for your trip review. We are so much looking forward to this trip! We have explored Amsterdam many times but never Belgium. If the Felix you are referring to is the young, handsome French Canadian, we have had the pleasure of traveling with him three times in the past...a river cruise, a land tour and a small ship cruise. He is, indeed, fabulous. We hope we see him once again when we take this trip in December. Thanks again!
Kfnknfzk - it is Felix the French Canadian! He really was terrific. And I concur with DMPLMP about the canal trip, as I mentioned in my review. The lights were pretty but it could have been so much better.
Hopefully if enough guests wrote comments regarding the canal cruise, Tauck will change operators. A side note on Felix...on the Capital Cities of Canada tour (wonderful trip), he gave us a fascinating lecture on the differences between the French and French Canadians. It was very well done, humorous but in no way inflammatory.