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Tauck Small Ship Cruise on Le Dumont-d'Urville


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I recently returned from a Tauck Small Ship Cruise aboard the Ponant Dumont d’Urville.

As there is no Tauck forum on Cruise Critic, I wasn’t sure whether a report on this trip should be in the Ponant Forum, or this one.  What is logical to me is to report on the onboard Ponant experience in the Ponant forum, and to report on the Tauck side of the experience here.

 

For those that may be interested in the Ponant side, my report is here

 

 

 

The Cliffs Notes version is that I was disappointed in the cuisine, delighted with the entertainment; everything else was rather good with a few glitches.

 

The itinerary was 2 nights in Toronto, 7 days of cruising with stops in Detroit, Mackinac Island, Traverse City, Holland (no worries, we didn’t get lost, there is a Holland, MI), with 2 sailing days in the mix, finishing with 2 nights in Chicago.

 

Toronto- Days 1 and 2

Tauck includes private transportation from airport to hotel, which nice. We came in the day before the tour started.

We had a choice to stay at the Four Seasons or the Fairmont.  We chose the Four Seasons, which is a beautiful hotel, however in retrospect, the Fairmont would have been a far better choice in terms of touring Toronto during free time.

 

We spent our time on our own by visiting the CN Tower, walking around the harbor, and taking a nice harbor cruise

 

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The tour began with a Welcome Dinner on the first evening.  It was supposed to take place in a castle called Casa Loma, but due to a film festival taking place in Toronto at the time, was switched to a venue called the Liberty Grand.  Having done a few Tauck tours in the past, I did not think that this event rose to the standard of a “Tauck Special Evening”.  The place was nice, nothing special really. No entertainment.

The lobby was lovely, with good hors d'oeuvres served.  We should have filled up on hors d'oeuvres, as  the dinner was not great. The chicken was dry and tasteless.  My portion of the beef was pretty good; my wife’s was overcooked, and tough.  The crème brulee was a winner.

 

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This may be the very last complaint that I will post about this trip; it was all sunshine and roses from here!

 

The next day we had an excursion to Niagra Falls, with a private boat ride on the Maid of the Mist

 

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We then were taken to a vineyard, where had a lovely buffet lunch.

 

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Toronto Day 3

We had a choice of spending the morning at the Royal Ontario Museum or the Ontario Art Gallery, we chose the former.

 

We started with a guide who showed us some of her favorite displays followed by some free time.

 

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Next, we had a bus tour around Toronto

 

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We were then taken to the ship around 4PM, nice sailaway from Toronto

 

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There were 140 0f us on this tour.  Ship capacity is listed as 184

 

On the day prior to boarding, we had to all be antigen tested.  It is unclear to me whether this was a requirement of Canada for those that are boarding cruise ships, or a Ponant requirement.  Everyone tested negative.  It seems to me that this is a bit of a statistical improbability, albeit a happy one.

 

Tauck provided 5 tour directors who accompanied us on the land and cruise portions of the trip. The directors was available in the hotels and on the ship at various times for answering questions, and one of them accompanied us on each tour bus.  They were there to give us some background on the busses, and to make sure that everything was going smoothly, but the actual tours were conducted by local tour guides.  This is the same as is done on Tauck River Cruises.

 

In addition, onboard the ship there was liaison between Tauck and the Ponant crew.  The actual Cruise Director was from Ponant.  This is different from Tauck River Cruises, in which the CD function is done by Tauck.

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Day 5 and 6 Cruising and Detroit

 

Our first day on the ship was cruising the Welland Canal, which connects Lake Ontario to Lake Erie.  There was an lecturer onboard to provide commentary from time to time as we cruised.  We went through 8 locks.

 

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Detroit is a happenin’ city!  Who knew?

We had a bus tour of the city, here are some of the highlights.

 

The Guardian Building, an Art- deco building with a beautiful lobby of marble designs and a vaulted ceiling

 

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The “Belt”, an alleyway with murals painted by local artists

 

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“The Girl with the D Earring”,  an 8000 foot mural inspired by the famous painting by Vermeer

 

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The Motown Museum, Motown's first headquarters and recording studio

 

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Comerica Park, home of the incomparable Detroit Tigers

 

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Our Lady of Rosary Church

 

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“In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
In the maritime sailors' cathedral
The church bell chimed 'til it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald”

This is the church referenced in the iconic song by Gordon Lightfoot

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Day 7 and 8 Cruising and Mackinac Island (the final “c” is silent)

 

The next day was a day of cruising on Lake Huron.  It’s easy (or, it is for me at least) to lose sight of just how huge the Great Lakes are.  Sailing was as if we were on the ocean, in that all you can see is water and sky.  It was, however, smooth as silk, not a wave to be seen, although I am well aware that this is not always the case.

 

Those that do a lot of ocean cruising know that most ships on sea days offer a wide variety of activities.  On the Dumont d’Urville- not so much.   In the morning there was a dance class, and a lecture, “who was Dumont d’Urville?”  In the afternoon, there was a class on iphone photography, and tea time at 4PM.  Bingo at 4:30.  That’s ok by me, for me, a perfect day at sea is doing what I do best- absolutely nothing.

 

 

The next day we anchored for our tender ride to Mackinac Island.  This is really a unique place!  No horseless carriages allowed, so transportation is by foot, bike, or horse buggy.

 

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We got off our tender, and boarded a buggy pulled by 2 horses.  The driver gave us a tour of the main sites of the island, and was very personable, funny and engaging.  We were told that in May, it is lilac season, and during that time, the air is fragrant with the scent of lilacs.  As we were there in August, given the number of horses on the island transporting people around, the air was fragment with the scent of…..something else. 

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We got off at a tourist place for rest room stops, and then boarded another buggy, this one pulled by 3 horses. Our driver took us around the more remote parts of the island,

 

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and dropped us off at Fort Mackinac, interesting displays and beautiful vistas.

 

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From there, we boarded yet another buggy for  ride to the Grand Hotel, where we were treated to a lovely buffet lunch.

 

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After lunch, we had free time to explore the hotel and its grounds, and to set for a spell on the world’s longest porch.

 

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After we got our fill of soaking in the absolute glory of this magnificent property, we had a choice of taking a buggy back to town and tender port, or taking a short walk.  Just follow the road, we were told, you can’t get lost.  They don’t know me very well, but fortunately, my wife was with me to help me find my way.

 

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After a little walk around town, we tendered back to the ship.

 

 

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I surely have been at more exciting cruise ship ports, but I can’t remember a more pleasant one, it was just a delightful day.

 

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Day 9 Traverse City. MI

We anchored and were tendered to Charlevoix, (one might think that this place is pronounced “shar-le-vwah”, as the French would but it isn’t.  It is pronounced, “shar-luh voy”).  From there, we were bused to Traverse City, about an hour’s drive.

 

Our first stop was a visit to the Music House Museum. 

 

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This is a really neat place, it displays music making machines dating from the late 19 and early 20th century.  We had a docent give us demonstrations and explanations of various machines, ranging from very small

 

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to humongous

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and many in between.

 

 

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My favorite was a player piano that played “Rhapsody in Blue”, with the recorded keystrokes of none other than Georgie G himself!  They only played the last 5 minutes or so, (it is a very long song) but I found it somewhat enchanting to think that Gershwin’s fingers were used to make that piano do what it was doing.

 

We then had some free time to explore the museum’s displays.

 

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We then were taken to downtown Traverse City

 

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where we were let loose on a retail street.  For me, there was not much to distinguish it from any other retail street in the US, with a few exceptions:

 

Apparently, TC prides itself in being the cherry capital of the USA. Did you know the over 70% of all cherries grown in the United States are grown in the Traverse Bay Farms region of Michigan?  I didn’t.

 

This store had every possible product that you can imagine being made from cherries, and a few that you probably didn’t imagine.

 

 

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And, of course, while a little off the beaten track was a statue of Perry Hannah, father of Traverse City.

 

 

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Perry was the city’s first mayor, and spent his life dedicated to the improvement of the economy of this area.  But you probably already knew that.

 

 

We were then taken to a winery for a buffet lunch.  A nice setting; the food just ok.

 

 

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Day 10 Holland, MI

 

We anchored in Muskegon, MI, and were bused to Holland,  a town settled by (surprise, surprise), Dutch immigrants in the mid 19th century.  It was about a 45 minute drive. 

 

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We drove around the town for a while, and then went to the Windmill Island Gardens.   This is a 36 acre park featuring beautiful botanical gardens, and  the only functional Dutch windmill in North America.

 

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There is a tulip festival in May, where they go all out in tulip blooms.  I imagine that this would be the best time to visit this site.  But in August, the grounds are not too shabby!

 

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From here, we went to the downtown area, where we had some free time to walk around, shop, and lunch on our own.  Our Tauck guide gave us 20 smackaroos per person to go toward our lunch.

 

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There is a beautiful Centennial Park here, the highlight of which is a 12 foot “living mosaic” of live plants of the Wizard of Oz.  L. Frank Baum spent summers nearby along the shores of Lake Michigan.  It is believed that he wrote parts of the book here.

 

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Across the street, on the grounds of a library , there are  bronze statues of some of the characters, based on the illustrations of William Wallace Denslow, who did the original illustrations.

 

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Statue of the Reverend Dr. Albertus C. Van Raalte,  founder of the city

 

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More of Centennial Park

 

 

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A visit to a town like this just brings home one of the great joys of cruising- spending a delightful day in a place that there is not a snowball's chance in hell that I would visit otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 11  Chicago Day 1

 

We docked in Milwaukee this morning and disembarked, to be bused to Chicago.  Why couldn’t we have docked in Chicago?  Dunno.

 

We said goodbye to the lovely Dumond d’Urville,

 

_DFC0665.thumb.jpg.f3e36b5c7c662176ffcf725e8c4244c3.jpgand set off for the drive of about 2 hours.  Our tour guide spoke to us along the way, and we picked up a local guide as we entered Chicago. 

 

We drove around for a while getting an overview of the city,

 

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and then were taken down to the Chicago River, where we boarded a boat for ab architectural sightseeing cruise narrated by a docent from the Chicago Architectural Foundation.  This narrator was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about her area of expertise, describing the buildings, some famous, some not.  She gave us a great insight into the visions of the various architects that were responsible for the amazing variety of styles that this city displays.

 

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I think that it is fair to say that I am now an expert in Chicago architecture. 

Or would be, surely, if I

a)      paid closer attention to the narration, and

b)      were able to retain new information for longer than about 10 minutes or so

 

After this very enjoyable tour, we were brought to Giordano’s Restaurant for a lunch of Chicago’s famous deep dish pizza.  I had thought that I had eaten deep dish pizza before, but I was wrong.  It was nothing like this. 

 

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We were able to choose from cheese, veggie, and meat pies. 

 

Prior to the pizza being served, we had a Caesar salad course, (not shown), and a pasta course.

 

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And then, this

 

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After lunch, Tauck was kind enough to provide wheelbarrows to cart us to our hotels.

Just kidding.

 

Like in Toronto, we could have chosen the Four Seasons or the Fairmont.  Again, we chose the Four Seasons, and again, while this hotel was absolutely gorgeous, the Fairmont, IMO, would have been better for touring.

 

We were on our own for dinner, but being still rather stuffed from lunch, we decided to just roll down to the hotel restaurant for light snacks.

 

For those that just can't get enough of Chicago architecture, here' some more

 

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14 hours ago, boblerm said:

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Maybe people will recall the Marina City Towers from The Bob Newhart Show!

 
I hope the tour guide spent a lot of time discussing Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. I don't know that I'm seeing any of Mies' towers among your wonderful photos, but Bertrand Goldberg, who designed the Marina Towers was a student of Mies
 
I like how your review is finishing strong because sometimes reviews are only strong at the start of the cruise season and then the season ends all too soon.
 
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9 hours ago, Pandora Boatman said:

I hope the tour guide spent a lot of time discussing Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. I don't know that I'm seeing any of Mies' towers among your wonderful photos,

Did she ever.  In fact, she taught me much more about Mies than I ever wanted to know!

 

I would love to point out which of the buildings that I show were his design, however I do not wish to brag about my exhaustive knowledge of this topic.

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Day 12  Chicago Day 2

This morning we had a choice of a tour of the Chicago Art Institute, or a guided walking tour of Millennial Park.  We chose the latter.

 

Wowzer.  What an interesting place.  Some highlights-

 

Jay Pritzker Pavilion & The Great Lawn-a Frank Gehry designed bandshell with curving steel plates.  We were told that concerts here have a capacity of 11,000 people, and, supposedly the sound system is top notch.

 

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Crown Fountain- there is a shallow pool where kids wade, between 2 50 foot block towers, that have projected images of faces of residents of Chicago.  I think our guide mentioned that there are 2000 faces stored here.  Every minute or so, the expression of the face changes, culminating with a stream of water flowing out.  Then the face changes to another.

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Cloud Gate (“The Bean”)- a unique mirrored sculpture, giving interesting effects as it reflects the skyline and people moving around.

 

 

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After the guided tour, we had the afternoon to ourselves.  We walked around the park a bit

 

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then walked down to the RIverwalk, where we had lunch.

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After lunch, we wanted to walk back to our hotel, Google maps told me that it was about a mile’s walk up Michigan Ave.  It was obvious to me which direction we should walk.  We started off, and after walking for a while,  I checked again, and Google was telling me that we were now 1.3 miles away.  Clearly, a glitch in the GPS, I figure.  We walked a little longer, and came across one of our fellow Taulk guests.  “This way to the Four Seasons, correct?” says I.  “Nope, wrong way”,  says he. 

So our walk back was somewhat longer than we had anticipated.  A good thing, perhaps, given yesterday’s lunch.

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You may recall that I started off this report with a complaint about our Welcome dinner in Toronto, and that I did not think that it lived up to the standard of a Tauck Special Evening.  I would say that the Farwell dinner made up for that and then some.  It was held at the Fairmont in a venue called the “Rouge Room”

 

 

It was a festive atmosphere, great food, and some really superb entertainment.

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Another Tauck special touch- we had a 6 AM time arranged for transport to the airport, and breakfast was starting at 6:30.  Normally in those circumstances, Tauck provides a boxed breakfast for passengers to take along with them, which is fine.  During the meal, one of our tour guides came to our table with a room service menu, and said that we could fill it out and order anything we wanted, specify the delivery time, on Tauck’s dime.  Classy.

 

 

On the bus on the way back from the Fairmont to the Four Seasons, I was sitting across the aisle from the gent who steered me back in the right direction earlier in the day.  When we arrived at the hotel and the door opened, he tapped me on the shoulder, pointed to the door and said, “that way.”

 

The next morning we had our breakfast delivered to our room as promised, came down at 6 AM, and had a private limo take us to the airport, provided by Tauck.

 

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All in all, this was a fabulous trip.  Tauck is a first class operation, and I highly recommend traveling with them.

 

Our Ponant ship was very nice.  I had a few issues with the cuisine, and the bottom line is that those that are accustomed to luxury cruising may be disappointed with some aspects of it.

  But the negatives did not come close to putting a damper on our wonderful experience.

 

 

To all of those that have been following this report, my thanks.  And if either one of you have any questions, I will be happy to answer.

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11 hours ago, TrulyBlonde said:

I enjoyed this report. I was born and raised in Michigan. Yes, those cherries are special along with Mackinac fudge 😉  Thank you for bringing back many lovely memories.

Thank you TrulyBlonde, this is really a beautiful part of our country.

I forgot to mention, after visiting Mackinac, that evening there was a package of fudge left on our beds, courtesy of Tauck.  😋

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