I just returned from Tauck's Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand tour. I blogged it, as I do all of our travel. Here's a link to the blog
I think this will be of most value to those who have not taken this tour and are considering it. The blog will show you what you do every day. I also include comments about the activities, and links to additional information.
It will be of less value to those who have already taken the tour, except to help time organize your pictures.
I recently returned from this tour that began on Jan. 21. Here are my thoughts. (I hope it's not too much information).
Our Tour Director, Gina Pillsbury, and local guide, Redouane (who was with us the entire trip), were outstanding. We had a very congenial group of experienced travelers, 16 in total — 4 married couples, 1 single man, and 7 single women, among whom were 3 groups of 2 — I was the only solo single woman. (One of the married women on the tour was Mazalea, a regular contributor to the Tauck Forum. It was great to meet her and her husband and spend time with them.) I would enjoy traveling with any of them again. We had great weather throughout the trip. Many early mornings were cool — in the low 40s — but the days warmed up to the 70s, and one day it hit 80.
The contrast between the modern areas of Rabat, Fes, Marrakech and Casablanca and the medinas - especially of Marrakech and Fes — is striking. Even in the modern areas of Fez and Marrakech, donkey carts and horse-drawn wagons share the road with Mercedes vehicles. In Marrakech, our horse-drawn carriage ride from the hotel to the Majorelle Gardens was held up for a while when the Marrakech Marathon passed by. (I saw that as a positive experience.)
We spent a lot of time in the souks of the medinas of the cities. In each of Fes and Marrakech, Tauck provided an extra local guide to make sure that we were not harassed, but more importantly, that we did not get lost. City residents shop in the medinas, which include food markets as well as shops selling everything from clothing to trinkets (many of which are probably made in China). We had to dodge motor scooters and donkey carts as we made our way through the warrens of the souks. We quickly learned the word “Balak!,” meaning “Watch out!”
Gina and Redouane made sure that we knew which artisans were authentic. The tour included planned visits to a ceramic factory, a herbalist, a carpet store, a leather tannery, a tailor, and a shop that made authentic Berber jewelry. Of course, after explanations and demonstrations of the process by which the various items were made, we had time to browse the shops connected with each of the artisans. There was no pressure to buy anything, but many of the group made many purchases in those shops, which, naturally, took a fair amount of time.
We had many group lunches in lovely local restaurants in medinas in Fes and Marrakech and in a private home in Moulay Idriss. We also had group dinners, all of which — understandably — featured Moroccan specialties. I like the Moroccan food, but after a while, it got tiresome. I really enjoyed the rib-eye steak that I had at the hotel in Fez and pasta dinner at the hotel in Marrakech.
The highlights of the tour for me were those that provided cultural insights. During our lunch in the Fes medina, we had a lecture by a professor of women’s studies at the local university, Fatima Amrani. I learned that the current King, Mohammed VI, has really moved the country toward modernization. He has spearheaded the development of a highway system. There were legal reforms in 2004 and 2011 (the latter following the Arab Spring) that established a sort-of Parliamentary Democracy — though the King still has the ultimate vote on anything — and granted many more rights to women. Although polygamy is still legal, after 2004, a man cannot marry a second wife without the consent of the first, and can’t marry a third wife without the consent of the first and second. He also would need the consent of all three wives to marry a fourth, which apparently is the limit. Women can also initiate divorce, and may be granted custody of their children. Under prior law, men automatically got custody of the children after divorce. In reality, most men control the purse strings, and can pressure their wives to do what they want them to do.
We also had the opportunity to visit a Berber family who lived in a village in the middle of a desert for tea. Tauck has just begun visiting this family, and the visits provide financial assistance to the family. The village was a cluster of small concrete homes, most of which sported satellite dishes on the roofs. (I didn’t see a satellite dish on the home we visited, nor did I see a television.) The family consisted of a husband, wife, and — I think - 4 children, the eldest of whom was a daughter who was attending university. The home had an outdoor courtyard, where the wife was baking bread when we arrived, indoor plumbing in a kitchen and small bathroom (toilet and sink), a room In which the whole family slept on carpets on the floor, and a patio on which we were treated to tea. The husband/father raised goats, that were housed in a pen attached to the home.
When we visited the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Redouane explained the process of performing ablutions before prayers and the actual prayers that observant Muslims pray five times daily. I found that visit quite interesting.
It seems to me that we had less free time on this trip than on others, and many more meals were included. It could well be that Tauck didn’t want us roaming around too much on our own, because it would be easy to get lost. Also, with the exception of Rabat, our hotels were not located in areas where we could easily walk to interesting places.
I enjoyed this tour, but it is not among my favorites. The best parts of the tour were the people — tour director, local guide and fellow travelers. It seemed to me that there was a lot of sameness to the tour — the souks of the medinas were similar, palaces with their beautiful, intricate carvings were similar, and the food was similar throughout the tour. I also felt that there was way too much time spent in shops.
And speaking of shops, I was told in one of the shops that Tauck visited that it was not necessary to declare a purchase when returning to the United States (where the official legal limit for imports is $800, which hasn’t changed in the 50+ years in which I’ve been traveling) because items purchased from artisans in a developing country were exempt from duty. However, I was skeptical of that information and when I returned to the US, when I was asked whether I had anything to declare, I responded, “I’m not sure.” I told the agent that I had goods of over $800, but explained that I had been told that items that I purchased from artisans in Morocco were not subject to duty. The customs agent told me that that wasn’t quite true — it depended on what the items were, and what the value was. When I told him what I had purchased and the approximate value, he calculated that the total duty would be about $5, and it wasn’t worth filling out all the paperwork for that amount, and he let me pass. So, buyer beware.
The You Tube video link to the Safari Video is:
Sitting here recovering from COVID (more about that later) and thought I’d type up some thoughts. By way of introduction, we are ages 73 and 71. Our first trip to Europe was our honeymoon 49 years ago, when we had no money. Still counts as one of our favorites. We’ve traveled independently throughout Europe and are veterans of 10 Rick Steve’s tours (11 for my wife who did one with our daughter). This was our first Tauck tour.
Arrived in Barcelona a few days early. Our room was not ready so we walked to the restaurant we reserved for a paella Sunday lunch the next day. It was Barceloneta in, of course, Barceloneta. Well, it was a walk for sure and we made many wrong turns as we got down to the yacht basin. We resolved to take a cab the next day. When we returned and checked in we made a brief visit to La Boqueria for a paper cone of jamon and cheese, picked up a bottle of wine and crashed. The concierge got us a table at the Hotel 1849 across the street for tapas and wine later-rooftop, very nice, slightly too loud music. The next day we walked to Casa Mila (La Pedera) a Gaudi building we had not toured before. An easy walk and a fabulous visit. After a brief lunch (L’Antic Forn a few blocks from the hotel, great food and white Sangria) we cabbed to Sant Pau Hospital a great modernisms UNESCO site.This was an active hospital until 2009. Fabulous! Our dinner plans crashed and burned however. This was 9/11 Catalan Independence Day. Throngs in the thousands blocked all approaches, and we were not about to challenge the crowds by walking. We had a passable paella in the hotel.
The next day we visited Park Guell, wandered sections of Barcelona we had not seen and met our group for the welcome dinner. The following day we all boarded the bus for a visit to La Sagrada Familia. It is stunning and they have made really noticeable progress since our last visit in 2018. Only disappointment was we had no time to climb a tower or visit the museum. After the tour, back on the bus! We took a taps tour through The Barcelona Taste-great fun, great food and wine! highly recommended as an alternative to another sit down dinner.
Departed Barcelona on day 3, headed for a stop at Montserrat. Beautiful place with a little known do not miss art museum. You will be closer to some masterpieces than anyplace in the world. Our destination was Parador de La Seu d’Urgell. The trip to Andorra the following day was surprisingly fun as we had read some disparaging comments about it.
We next stayed at the Hotel Marquis de Riscal a stunning Frank Gehry design. Our following day was spent touring the winery and tasting. The crush was active and unlike the US we were right in there, close enough to get splashed! This was the day the guy who had developed a cough you could hear a mile away stayed in his room. He and his wife had joined the tour after a Mediterranean cruise.
Day7 found us traveling to Pamplona. Saw the path of the running of the bulls. We dined in a place on the large boulevard near the famous bull statue. One of our best lunches, seafood surrounded by well dressed families. We ended in San Sebastion at the Hotel Londres right on the bay. We had a 5th floor room overlooking the water. The next day was a walking tour. That night we did a Pintxos tour with Devour Tours. We originally thought a Michelin starred restaurant would be a better idea but it was a Monday and they are all closed. As it turned out we greatly enjoyed this tour!
Day 9 was a too short one night stay in Leon. One of the finest Paradores on the trip and a beautiful town with a cathedral that is magnificent. The cougher filled the bus rides with cacophony-the loudest wettest cough you have ever heard! . The TD did not ask him to mask (I did). TD did not mask, the driver only intermittently despite or documents saying they would. Had they I think an example would have been set.
Day 10 and 11 found us in Santiago de Compestela with thousands of pilgrims ending their Camino and other visitors. Great tour of the town and cathedral as well as the museum. By now half the group had cold symptoms, cough, including my wife.
Day 12 we flew to Madrid. What a great surprise to learn we needed no luggage as that would be transported by our bus. This was seamless and typical of Tauck logistics as we had come to appreciate. We did a coach tour when we arrived followed by a brief tapas tour (Tauck uses Devour as well for this).
Day 13 the group toured the Royal Palace. We had been so instead booked a guide for a visit to The Prado. We’d been there before but can’t get enough of those masterpieces. One of the great art museums of the world. Jackie Metitieri was our guide booked through tours by locals and she was fabulous. By the end of the tour I was feeling weak, had sniffles and a cough. We attended the final dinner which was outdoors but left early.
Day 14-arrived home, COVID tests positive.
Cash-you need very little. Make sure your credit card chip works before you leave and you can tap away in Spain.
Dress- I went back and forth over this as Tauck sent us the wrong final docs which took me a while to realize and it said a required sport jacket. There were many Tauck veterans on our tour. They were clear that while some tours had dinner where dressing up was the norm this was not one of them. Pretty much a matter of what not to wear-sneakers, shorts, T-shirts, jeans. Clearly dress up is tour specific.
Food-stop eating now if you are going on this tour! I did not even skim the surface in this report. We had one great meal after another including, on many days, a huge lunch and equally sumptuous dinner. It will take me months to work this off!
Tips-originally I was going to get Euros at an ATM but at the last minute I packed US dollars. There were far fewer ATM’s than I remembered so I’d do this again.
Language-as long as you are in the Tauck “bubble” your English will do just fine. But on your own in off the beaten track places best to have some minimal Spanish skills.
COVID- Tauck did very little to mitigate risks. There was only voluntary masking and few did. Even the obviously ill were not asked to mask, sit apart or test. It was sort of don’t ask don’t tell. When I told the TD I thought some should be tested she told me she cannot mandate it, seemed disinterested.
Tauck overall and vs Rick Steves-Rick Steves has a philosophy of travel which greatly impacts the tour design. They emphasize traveling like a local: staying at small hotels, packing light, managing your own bags, learning how to use public transportation, understanding the culture and history, learning the do’s and dont’s, the helpful words and phrases. With Tauck we felt we were in a bubble, not necessarily in a bad way. We stayed in great hotels, ate and drank copious amounts, saw key sites with very good guides. But, had we not traveled in Spain before, read quite a bit, spent time visiting with locals, we’d have left this Tauck tour with very superficial understanding of the history and even less about the Spanish civil war, a key event in modern Spanish history that remains an open sore in some areas. We greatly enjoyed this tour and, at our age, did not miss having to drag our bags around, worry about airport transfers, having set menus for group meals (which on RS tours are often less than great), staying in small hotels that often don’t have an elevator but we did miss the cultural immersion that RS tours emphasize. As for COVID-RS tests everyone before the tour begins (day 1) and mandates masks on the bus. They have about a 2% COVID rate and publish updated statistics every Friday. Is this the right approach? I’m not certain. But it’s a lot more than what I saw on this Tauck tour where COVID was never mentioned after we signed the useless pledges.
Would we do another Tauck tour? Yes. But I’d want to see a more rigorous approach to COVID mitigation, not just pretending it didn’t exist
Feel free to PM me with questions.