Tour Impressions - Southbound - Dec 2023

The was our first holiday market cruise and it did not disappoint, primarily because it offered a nice blend of culture and festive activities. Following is a narrative of our experiences:

LAX to Amsterdam on KLM. The take-off was delayed three hours because of an issue in the cargo bay. The flight was uneventful and the crew friendly and professional. We both opted for the express meal--soup and something. This was the first time we flew the 787-10. Although I loved being wrapped in a little cocoon, the seat cushions were extremely hard and uncomfortable. I used the blanket to provide more cushioning and that worked just fine. Maneuvering through Schiphol airport was fast and efficient and there was even a Tauck representative waiting with the driver to greet us.

We did not add post-tour days in Brussels since we preferred to fly to Fyn, Denmark for our personal holiday.

We added a few pre-tour days and stayed at Tauck's hotel of choice for this tour--the Sofitel Legend the Grand Amsterdam. The hotel is beautiful and is centrally located close to Dam Square, the old section, and one of my favorite sections...the Little Nine Streets. Our room was nice and overlooked the courtyard, the service was impeccable and the food very good. My only constructive criticism is that we found the room to be quite dark, but such is the case with many historic buildings converted to hotels. On that note, you can take a free tour of the hotel and learn about its history. It started as a convent and ended as a City Hall before being retrofitted to a hotel. We enjoyed an excellent lunch at the more casual and very tiny restaurant. The sea bream was sublime.

We enjoyed one sunny day before the rain and wind started but more on that later.

We were last on this boat in 2017 when we took our first river cruise. I believe it was refurbished during the off-season 2023. It looked brand new.

We also had one of the same Tauck directors as we did in 2017--Anke. Joe and Sanja were the other directors and Nick was the cruise director.

The ship was beautifully decorated for the season. I would call it understated elegance--not garish at all. There was an enormous gingerbread village in the lounge that was just stunning. As always, the crew was outstanding and the food wonderful. Those soups! The mustard, pea, pumpkin and chestnut soups were my favorite. Actually, they were all my favorite!

Special dinners were served on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The former being a roast and the latter being turkey with all the trimmings. Both were delicious. There were also regional specialties such as herring, schnitzel with spätzle, a Belgian stew, desserts, Belgian beer tastings (I passed on that), raw oysters and smoked eel and more. I was thrilled with all of it except for the spätzle which was overcooked and drowning in a cream sauce.


  • edited January 7

    My apologies for the delay. My dog had an altercation with his groomer's scissors yesterday and required emergency veterinary care and two sutures. He's fine.....the groomer, my husband and me not so much.

    We saw the sun briefly on the final day of the tour in Brussels. Light rain doesn't bother me but intermittent, driving rain with sustained winds of 115 kilometers per hour (~70 mph) can get a bit tiresome. Schiphol canceled hundreds of flights and when flights resumed only one runway was operational for what I believe was one day.

    Due to the inclement weather, touring and sailing schedules were altered but, remarkably, no excursions were canceled. Tauck did an amazing job ensuring our comfort and safety while out in the elements.

    The first touring day included a visit to the Rijksmuseum, a brief performance at the Royal Concertgebouw (the venue and performance being beautiful) and a canal cruise in the late afternoon. I was very disappointed in the canal cruise. It turned out to be curated art works illuminated by artificial intelligence. I and many others were expecting actual lights covering buildings and bridges.

    We were supposed to sail to Schoonhoven in the evening but stayed docked in Amsterdam due to the high winds. Although I didn't feel any boat rocking during the night, the furniture on the deck above was bouncing up and down all night. The captain apologized profusely and said no matter how tightly things were tethered, the wind would get under the items lift them up and slam them back down.

    We did not leave the boat the next day. I needed the time to defrost my husband from the day before. Besides, it was going to be a ten (10) hour day for those who did go to Gouda and The Hague, primarily because of the extra driving time since we were still in Amsterdam. We were able to set sail after some guests left for the excursion; we enjoyed the sail to Rotterdam instead.

    The next day there was a choice of either the Delft factory or a tasting tour of Rotterdam. We chose the tasting tour.....not that we needed to consume more food! We were supposed to sail to Ghent at 1530 but detoured to Antwerp because of rough waters in the Ghent area. I should have mentioned earlier that the ship sails on sea water--tributaries of the North Sea.

    Because of the extended travel time, instead of doing both Ghent and Bruges we were offered one or the other. Or we could explore Antwerp on our own after being given a brief orientation tour. I chose Antwerp for several reasons. It was an easy walk directly into town from the ship, I wanted to explore the magnificent train station without feeling rushed and Antwerp has a very vibrant Jewish community.

    Guests were invited to attend three (3) services at Antwerp's Cathedral on Christmas Eve day and one (1) on Christmas. It was a full day of activities onboard, but I still managed to continue my exploration of Antwerp. As we entered the dining room for dinner, the boat set sail for Brussels.

    The sun finally came out behind the clouds in Brussels, the last day. Knowing that many had to pack for early departures the following day, Tauck arranged for shuttle buses at various times back to the ship for those who didn't wish to stay too long in the city. Many claimed that the holiday markets in Brussels were similar to what they experienced on other cruises. I did not visit many since my goal was more culturally focused. What I did see, however, seemed to be items
    one could find anywhere. Perhaps I looked at the wrong booths.

  • So glad you enjoyed it! We did last year as well. Sorry about your weather, tho.

  • Thanks, mfrancis. I remember how kind you were in answering my never-ending questions the whole year leading up to our trip.

    We made the best of it given the horrid weather at times. Anke, Sanja and Joe deserve accolades for constantly checking on everyone. There were times they insisted that everyone lock arms and trudge along as they blew from guest to guest trying to keep us upright. I'm sure we must have looked quite comical (and pathetic) if anyone was watching us.

  • So lovely of you to take the time to give your impressions! In spite of the weather you enjoyed it and I’m sure your glasses are always half full😊. Your review really will be helpful to anyone considering the cruise. I agree that Anke and the others were just fantastic and the ship, meals and activities were great. I’ve only been on three Tauck tours but I have confidence that they always do a superb job, no matter the unexpected situations. Thanks so much.

  • I'm sorry that the weather wasn't better for your trip, kfnknfzk, but glad that you were able to make the best of it. I hope your dog, you, your husband and the groomer recover quickly.

  • I could never get my husband on the Christmas markets trip, but your review and someone else who posted a review of this trip last year, have made me consider this tour, especially as we have never been to Belgium, We would be prepared for not so good weather and then it would be a bonus to find it was nice.
    Thank you for the review.

  • edited January 8

    Thank you to all for the feedback and kind comments.

    MCD - So sweet to think of my dog. He's fine. It was purely an accident. We have had this mobile groomer for about six years and I wouldn't trade her for a new one. Buster had his own vacation when he traveled to Tucson (again) with his friend, Enzo. He had never seen a Christmas tree before and had a blast looking at the twinkly lights and ornaments. He's not spoiled at all!

    British - The trip is not heavy on holiday markets at all. We were free to do other things. My suggestion would be to research each city beforehand and have a tentative plan for alternative things to do. We had never been to Belgium and I wish we had more time there, especially Brussels. Good luck convincing your husband. Just go with other ladies if he balks.

  • I have a question for those who have toured NATO headquarters and/or the EU Parliament in Brussels. If yes, I'd be interested in your impressions. My interest is from a historical perspective not from a political one.

  • edited January 10


    Very nice review!

    I wholeheartedly agree with your comment, "... the food wonderful. Those soups!"

    We were on the ms Savor, "Christmas Markets Along the Danube" and all the soups were so delicious!
    My favorite was the Pumpkin Soup, garnished with pumpkin seeds and a dribble of pumpkin seed oil.

    I actually had Pumpkin Soup on 3 different occasions and 3 different restaurants, while on our recent, month-long adventure.
    It's quite popular in Vienna, Budapest and onboard the ms Savor! A warm bowl of soup really hit the spot on those cold days!

    I was able to get the recipe for the Austrian version. If you're interested, I'll share it with you.

  • edited January 10

    Thanks, bobbette.

    I don't think I ever disliked a soup offered on a Tauck riverboat cruise. On a few occasions after returning to the ship, in addition to the hot hand towels, we were offered a small cup of either vegetable or beef consommé. It really warmed the soul.

    One new soup we had both on the ship and at a cafe in Amsterdam was snert (love the word), the Dutch version of pea soup. Scrumptious!

    Thanks for the pumpkin soup offer. I would love to receive the recipe. Please private message me when you have the chance. I make mine with nutmeg to enhance the flavor. Pumpkin seeds sprinkled on the soup, especially roasted seeds, are a nice complement.

  • @kfnknfzk - sent you a message. :)

  • Got it. Thank you, bobbette. I'll report back after I try the soup.

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