Cruise Review - May 30-13 Jun - part 1

OK, here’s my review of our fourth Tauck river cruise. Sorry it’s so long.
Highlights:

  • Tauck exceeded our expectations – again. Viking - we won’t be touring with them.
  • Weather was everything from high 50’s to low 80’s – used my rain coat several times
  • The Scylla ships are cutting down on single use plastics – shower gel/shampoo/conditioner in dispersers – Tauck gave us 2 refillable stainless steel insulated water bottles – great for the stateroom but a bit heavy for day excursions. We worried about airport security but got through fine.
  • I also noticed more casual attire by the crew this time. The wait staff wore polo shirts for day wear and shirt and tie for evening service.
  • While the itinerary had a fair amount of day time cruising, it actually felt like one of the more strenuous river cruises we’ve taken – lots of cobble stones, inclines and stairs with few elevators – those with walking difficulties had a hard time. Plus several “TauckFIT” opportunities like bike rides or hikes. I never had less than 10k steps on my fitbit.
  • The itinerary and the ship did a great job featuring local food and drink. Every dinner menu and most lunches featured local dishes. Also lots of local beer, wine, sausages, desserts, etc. The chefs on both ships were excellent and we were allowed to get recipes for any we particularly liked. Just had to ask at reception and they would print it out. Now I just need to figure out the metric conversions.
    Pre-tour stay – 2 nights at the Tauck hotel the Intercontinental – river view rooms!!
    We arrived mid afternoon after a very long travel day and one of several rains we saw during our stay. The Intercontinental is located right next to the Danube and the Chain Bridge. Great location and we were pleasantly surprised to see that our group of 6 had river view rooms. We headed out looking for an ATM (in the lobby of the hotel), a bit of walking in the sun and dinner. Ended up having dinner at Ezaz Cafe on Bajcsy-Zsilinszky street behind the church. It has a varied menu of both Hungarian favorites and standard fair like burgers and pizza. We strolled back to the hotel and tried hard to stay awake until the castle opposite was up-light but jetlag took over.
    Our only full day of touring was taken up with a private tour of the Danube bend that we had booked ahead through viator - cost was about $90 each. It included a guide who picked us up at the hotel, a tour of the cathedral of Esztergom, a tour of Visegrad, an excellent lunch in Szentrendre, time to shop there and ended with a small boat trip back to Budapest. The last 2 activities were a bit marred by a pouring rain storm that hit right after lunch. We got back to Budapest a bit soggy opting for dinner in the hotel. Sadly our day ended with numerous police and emergency sirens that we could see and hear from the hotel with no idea what it was about. Turned out the next day we learned that a Viking cruise ship had collided with a small boat (not dissimilar to the one we had ridden earlier in the day) near the Margret Bridge. At last count, at least 20 South Korean fatalities. So sad. Having seen the extremely high and fast moving Danube and the number of cruise boats of all shapes and sizes in Budapest, it isn’t all that surprising that a collision would happen.
    Tour Day 1 – we met our TDs in the lobby of the hotel, confirmed pickup time and set out for more touring. Another rainy day. We bought tram tickets in the Memories of Hungary gift shop in the hotel and rode the #2 Tram up to its northern end then back to the stop nearest the Great Market. The market is architecturally very interesting, the food choices in the lower level interesting (lots of meat, paprika, produce and cheese) then upstairs there is plenty of touristy souvenir choices and a couple of fast food options. We ended up having lunch across the street at Pipa Etterem. Good service, nice ambient, my food choice wasn’t my favorite of the trip. We then walked to the Dohany St Synagogue. You have to pay to enter but get a guided tour. It’s a fascinating synagogue with some unusual features like an organ, pulpits, 8 pointed stars, etc. Wished we’d had more time after our tour but had to make a fast trot back to the hotel. The ship was docked very close to the great market. Check in was fast and easy as always. We had a quick welcome from the crew, safety briefing (particularly needed after the events of the night before) and then dinner.
    Tour Day 2 – 8:30 boarded coaches for a city drive-by tour, a stop at Fishermans Bastion and tour of the Mathias church, then ending at the Great Market hall where we were treated to our strudel of choice. You could return to the ship then (a quick walk) or have a little more time to shop. Ship left Budapest by 2:15. In the afternoon, there was a briefing on tour choices later in the trip (food for the night in Vienna) and another bike ride option later in the tour.
    Tour Day 3 – arrived Bratislava docked in the heart of the old town. We had a guest lecturer on board who talked about Slovakia particularly focusing on the current economy. We then departed with local guides for a tour of the city including the palace. We had about 2 hours more of free time before all aboard. Arrived in Vienna about 8pm docked at Vienna passenger cruise port DDSG dock 12. About a dozen other river ships in the same area.
    Tour Day 4 – tour choices today included Schonbrunn Palace or the Hofburg. Most opted for the Schonbrunn. You could then either return to the ship or go back to the city and return on a shuttle later. Shuttles every half hour shared with passengers from another Tauck ship. Dinner and music at the Palais Ferstel. The main dress up occasion for the trip and worth the effort!! Music and food both wonderful.
    Tour Day 5 – arrived in Durnstein – a choice of a bike ride, hike up to the castle ruins or tour of the very small town. We opted for the bike ride which started as an easy doddle then got hard enough to feel we deserved the cold drink and rest at a tiny town called Weissenkirchen. Back on board to head for Melk. The coaches drove to the abbey but you still had a climb down stairs. There was free time in the gardens then a guided tour. You could return by coach or walk back, but I don’t think anyone did (it was 80 degrees) and was a bit confusing how you got back.
    Tour Day 6 – morning cruising with a smoothie station and a Bavarian lunch. Arrived in Passau tying up next to the old town. Choice of guided walking tour, bike tour, hike and go off on your own. Nice little town.
    Tour Day 7 – arrived Regensburg in the morning tied up near the old town. Guided walking tours of the town and the Thurn & Taxis Palace. Somewhat boring palace with an interesting but mostly fictional family history. Time on our own which many used to visit the Historic Sausage stand next to Stone Bridge & the river. We were also given the opportunity to stay longer in Regensburg then catch up with the ship in Kelheim. Due to a lock holdup we were much later getting to Kelheim than expected so the 4 who took this option had a much longer day than expected. Their TD took good care of them however.
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  • Part 2 -
    Tour Day 8 – this is where things started deviating from the plan. Woke up still in Kelheim instead of being on our way to an afternoon arrival in Nurnberg. A Viking ship had hit and damaged a lock between Kelheim and Nurnberg. Instead we had a 1 ½ bus ride to Nurnberg. We arrived before lunch so Tauck gave us all 20 euros to buy lunch which our group spent at sausage and cookie stands in the square. After some free time we set out on our tours - either WWII sites or Medieval. The medieval tour included driving up to the fortress at the top with great views and a tour of the Durer house/museum. The people who went to the WWII sites had an extra adventure when a young lady in a small car forgot the Law of Mass Tonnage in a merge lane that ran out before she had passed the tour bus.
    Tour Day 9 – still in Kelheim awaiting word on whether the lock would be opened today or closed for weeks. The CD/TDs arranged for us to take a boat on a short cruise up the Danube Gorge including beer & pretzels (at 9:30am), a tour of Weltenberg Abbey (gorgeous baroque church), then a drive up to a war memorial alled Liberation Hall for the views. Once back to the ship for lunch we learned that it would be at least of couple of weeks before the lock was opened so we would have to make the dreaded ship switch with the folks on the southbound Espirit the next day.
    Tour Day 10 – got our bags ready then headed out on buses for Bamberg. A bit of a long drive but we arrived and headed to Scheiners beer hall for a light lunch of pretzels, sausage and smokey beer. Surprisingly good. Have I mentioned we drank a lot of beer on this tour? We then met with guides for a city tour then time on our own. We then drove to Wurzburg for a tour of the Prince Bishops Palace. This was to have been one of two options (Wurzburg or Rothenburg for day 10) but instead we all got to see it along with a visit to its wine cellar for a tasting. Another one of those annoyingly good German wines that can’t be bought here. My husband bought 2 bottles at 6 euros each which we managed to get home in our checked bags. Then a short bus ride to our new home where we quickly settled in. The Scylla crews handled all this wonderfully.
    Tour Day 11 – this was supposed to be a full day of cruising with no stops but instead we all went to Rothenburg ob der Tauber just in time for their annual folk festival with people wondering around in costume and firing off canons. Again we were given 20 euros which our group spent on pizza and a schneeballen. The later a local delicacy of fried dough that has fans and detractors alike. Ours was injected with Bailey’s and covered in chocolate. Not bad but we had better desserts on the ship.
    Tour Day 12 – we arrived in Rudesheim earlier than expected. We docked right in the town and had a choice of a walk or a short mini-train ride up the hill for tours of Sigfried’s Musikkabinett museum. An amazing collection of musical “instruments”. We were then given free time and tickets to ride the gondola over the grape vines up to the Niederwald monument where once again we were in time for an annual recreation of the battle it commemorates featuring costumes and canon fire. Then lunch was provided at a local restaurant – salad, soup, snitzel, kuchen and some near lethal drink called Rudesheim Coffee. The afternoon was spent cruising the Rhine Valley while a TD described the castles on either side and told tales about them.
    Tour Day 13 – back on schedule we arrived in Cologne tied up next to the Chocolate Museum. We met our guides on shore for a walk to the cathedral and tour. We were also given a follow-on choice of a tour of the modern art museum or go to a pub and drink beer. Sadly the Roman history museum is closed this summer for renovation. Our group considered the chocolate museum but opted to spend our money on chocolate in the museum store. Tonight was our farewell reception including champagne and oysters followed by a 6 course meal. We also got little booklets with recipes.
    Tour Day 14 – arrived in Amsterdam overnight and docked just west of the Central Station. On a previous tour we were docked east on it. Left around 9:30 on the coach for the Rijksmuseum tour. This was followed by a lunch canal cruise. After that you could return to the ship or stay on and take a later shuttle. As it was raining steadily all opted for the ship return and the sad business of packing up bags. Our on board entertainment was early at 6 and featured a local trio of violins and a guitarist playing classical and folk tunes.
    Tour day 15 – departure from the ship. Because our group was heading to the Kimpton De Witt (vs the Tauck hotel) for 3 extra days, the CD arranged a cab/van to take us the very short. We paid that bill ourselves and it was well worth the 25 euros plus tip to transport 6 adults and their bags ½ a mile through a dozen crosswalks and about a thousand kamikaze bicyclists. Tauck did provide us with car service from the hotel to the airport at the end of our stay. Considering the 3 days at the Kimpton cost about what one night in the Tauck hotel, it was well worth it to stay there. We got all day tram tickets from the concierge and headed out to the Albert Cuyp market. Lots of souvenir and food choices. We had a second breakfast of hot poffertjes - fluffy mini pancakes that are served with a mess of powdered sugar and butter. Yum. Then we went looking for lunch and took the tram to Dam Square and the Bijenkorf department stores excellent lunch room. By then our rooms were ready so we headed there. Very quirky hotel. After a bit of horizontal chilling we headed out for the Van Gogh museum with timed tickets we’d bought online weeks ago. Excellent museum.
    Post tour day 1 – it dawned raining with the promise of better weather so we caught the bus for Zaanse Schann to see the windmills. The forecasters were right and we had a lovely morning walking about them and lunch al fresco at one of the restaurants.
    Post tour day 2 – again we woke to rain but set out undeterred for the National Maritime Museum. Outstanding even if you aren’t a sailor. Beautiful building, well designed, high tech displays, and even a high tech locker room for valuables. Cost 33 euros for 2 adults and included audio guides. We also ate lunch there and it was possibly the nicest museum lunch room ever.
    Post tour day 3 – our Tauck arranged driver was there as promised and after a quick Sunday morning drive we arrived at Schipol airport. The Delta/KLM checkin and security was the highest tech I’ve ever seen. The diy baggage checking was particularly cool though confusing.
    Yeah, home again.

  • No Carlos. The TDs change pretty regularly. I have had the same CD for two cruises on different rivers and by a fluke she was on this one for a few days conducting other business.

  • Great review! Thanks!

    Between Romantic Germany and the Blue Danube, we've been to most of the places on your cruise! Have they finished the renovation of the stone bridge in Regensberg? When we were there last year the bridge was mostly cloaked in fabric to obscure the construction. The number of castles and ruins along the stretch of the Rhine between Rudesheim and Sankt Gorshausen was amazing. We were on an excursion boat and our TD did not give running commentary. :/ We didn't get a good paper guide either, so after we got home I had to look at the map and my photos to be able to Google and learn about them! Were you also underwhelmed by the Lorelei? :D We walked through town and did not ride the gondola and by the time we decided to visit Sigfried's we were out of time. I believe we will get another chance next year on the XMAS Markets cruise.

    Is this where you ate in Rudesheim? I had a great schnitzel there. Was there music?

  • Yes Alan the Stone Bridge seemed to be fine. Our guide didn't really talk about it. And yes that appears to be the restaurant in Rudesheim. Looked a little different as the awnings were out due to the threat of rain. We'd done the upper middle Rhine before on an earlier cruise but it was better this time. TD did a better job and the weather was nice enough to sit on the sun deck.

  • edited June 2019

    What a beautifully written review Claudia. A couple of weeks before I begin my first cruise, Rhine Enchantment. Staying on in Amsterdam and have booked everything there in advance. Hope we still have the energy to do everything. We have a vacation with our son and his family first, so no relaxation for that one, free babysitters I suspect.

  • "Beautifully written" .......and here was me going for snark. Thanx much. Have fun with the Amsterdam public transport. Spent a hour one day trying to go 2 stops from the Van Gogh to the Food Hallen and in a classic case of "you can't get there from here" traveled around in circles as the tram skirted an accident/ construction. When we headed for the Maritime Museum we forgot that the bus could go in two directions from Central Station and ended up heading out to the country in the wrong direction before realising it. And the Zaanse Schans bus left from stop L versus E as listed elsewhere. Did a full lap around the bus stops before getting it right. Adventures adventures.

  • The food was good and plentiful. Left half the schnitzel. My husband got tagged with 4 other guys to drink a shot of schapps from a board with 5 attached glasses. Four of the men were the same height but the fifth was shorter and the poor soul ended up wearing it. And that was before the Rudesheimer Coffee!

  • Our new water bottles. Pretty posh. They weight 10.5 oz empty and almost 2 lbs full. Great for use on board with the new water filler machines on board where the old ice machines were. To heavy and bulky for daily excursions.

  • Virtually every tour we go on now, we are given free water bottles. Most too heavy or difficult to open when you just want a quick slurp while still walking along. Our favorite was one we got in Patagonia, unfortunately one of them has the rubber seal missing in the lid, but otherwise we use those to take to exercise class. Rubber handle you can loop thru your finger, lightweight see thru plastic body.
    Claudia, so you suggest taking an alternative container for water? I don’t want to carry a large one like that around with me,

  • We were given water bottles on P&G and Botswana- however . . . . they are only single-walled (not dual walled with a vacuum like an old Thermos® ) and do not keep the contents cold or warm very long. picky, picky, picky. :D

  • Yes, take an alternative. We always do anyway when flying and fill them after security. Ours are made by Copco and hold 10 oz though they make larger ones. I like them because they are small enough to fit in any bag and come apart in the middle to add ice or for cleaning in the dishwasher. The Tauck ones did a good job of keeping the water cold, but they were heavy and too tall for the bottle sleeve on our backpacks.

  • For British, another suggestion for your cruise is to take a plastic card like a old hotel room key or similar. The cruise ship issues plastic room keys upon arrival - one for you and one for your spouse. Try to keep them straight as you use them when leaving/ returning to the ship. You scan it on a special reader and your photo, name etc come up on the screen.
    The reason for the extra I'm recommending is the staterooms use them to activate the lights. But any plastic card will work. At least once a day one of us wanted to leave the room while the other was still there but our cards were in the slot. If you pull it out it leaves the other in the dark. If we'd had a spare we could have used that. You just need to be careful about pulling it out when the last person left the room.

  • No, only one card needs to be in the slot. But if I was leaving the room but my card was in the slot it caused a bit of a quandary. Take my husband's and try to remember to swap before leaving the ship. Swap the cards in the room leaving him temporarily in the dark ( not popular if he was in the bathroom). Etc. One day the cleaning staff forgot and left the blank card they used and it proved very handy. Wished we'd had an old card to use and just leave in the room.

    My husband kept his card in his wallet/pocket and I kept mine in a silicon sleeve attached to my phone. It proved very useful as I could swipe on/off the ship without removing from the sleeve. On board I don't bother with a purse - just phone and key card.

  • Super tip Claudia. On our small ship tour, I often left the room while Mr B took a nap

  • British if on your cruise they ever have something called French Dressing on the lunch salad bar could you request and get the recipe for me? It's nothing like what's called by that name in the US and was my favorite. I just forgot to ask for.

  • As far as i always knew from England, French dressing is just oil and vinegar, salt and pepper and powdered yellow mustard to taste.

  • That's what I would expect but it isn't what I've had on the cruises. Looks more like Ranch Dressing but not the same taste. White, creamy and slightly sweet.

  • Claudia, thank you for your review. We had a terrible experience on a competitors Danube cruise last year during the low water level summer and had written off European river cruises. It sounds like Tauck, as we would have expected, was on top of things with the various obstacles and helped make the best of a potentially difficult situation.

  • You're welcome taxare. This was our 4th river cruise with Tauck so we weren't surprised. When the "crisis" started there were a few complainers among our group. But by the time the ship swap was announced everyone was understanding and impressed with how well the TDs and CD were handling it all.

  • Re: Water bottles
    When we went to Alaska with Tauck in 2018, they gave us the white water bottles pictured below. While easy to carry and double walled, they only held 7 oz.! Way too little water. So I'm happy to see they've gone to a larger bottle. However, the narrow neck design makes them unnecessarily tall for the capacity and makes it hard to put ice in them. For comparison, the black water bottle below (which I carry when not with Tauck) holds 18 oz. and is just a little taller (it is also double walled). I wish Tauck would go to wide mouth bottles.!

  • Claudia, I think what you are looking for is this type of recipe:

    American Style French Salad Dressing:
    Makes 2-3 Servings

    3 tbsp. mayonnaise
    1 tsp. sweet paprika
    1/2 tbsp. olive oil
    1/4 tsp. each of salt, ground black pepper, granulated garlic
    1 tbsp. tomato paste or ketchup
    1/2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
    1/2 tsp. Worchestire sauce

    Mix all ingredients until well combined. Taste and adjust to your taste. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before using. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use within 1 week.

  • That looks like a recipe that the British use for their version of prawn cocktail

  • Thanx Allie but no the one on the Tauck ships isn't at all like the American version which I don't care for. It's white in color so very unlikely to have the tomato paste/ketchup and paprika. On our first cruise i started not to try it as the name and color confused me but then did and it became my favorite. This last cruise was the first that we'd ever been told we could get recipes for anything we liked. Even got a fancy booklet with recipes mostly from the farewell dinner at the end.

  • LOL about the lethal coffee in Rudesheim. When I was there on my Rhine Christmas Markets cruise, I bought the mug and saucer and of course a small bottle of the brandy. My favorite part of that cruise was the museum. I was fascinated by it.

    I am scheduled on the Amsterdam, Rhine and Swiss Alps cruise in late October. Let me know if you want me to see if I can get you the recipe you are looking for. We are on the Grace, but perhaps they will use it there as well.

  • Travelcrazy, I was so tempted to buy the cup and the brandy. Noticed the price of them decreased from shop to shop the closer you got to the river. Just as well since I ended up with a bottle of wine in my checked bag (courtesy of my husband) and just made it under the wire.
    Yes, if British can't get it this summer please do. Be ready to dress warm on the Rhine in Oct - but hope for better. We got mostly cool, overcast and rain for a fair amount of that cruise. Virtually every shot of me is wearing my red/black Lands End coat. The colors were gorgeous though.

  • edited July 2019

    Travelcrazy, 3:25PM. . . . . My favorite part of that cruise was the museum. I was fascinated by it.

    We stopped in Rudesheim during Romantic Germany a few years ago, but ran out of time by the time we decided to go to Siegfried's Mechanisches Musikkabinet. I'm glad we will have a chance to finally see it on our XMAS Mkts cruise. ooops, I already said that many posts above. :o

  • Siegfrieds museum and the gondola ride were my favorites there - but we were having nice weather that day.

  • Okay, jumping in here...Claudia, what a great idea about bringing the extra plastic card! We have had so many experiences with plastic room keys and leaving one of us in the dark! I guess I never realized that any old card would work. Of course, the very best room key story was my husband on the Northern Spain tour. He kept trying to get cash out of ATM's from Santiago de Compostela to Porto, Portugal with no luck until he realized he was using his Barcelona hotel room key (which he forgot to turn in) instead of his ATM card!!
    From your photo, it looks like Tauck is giving guests S'Well bottles, which are not cheap (right up there with Eagle Creek duffel bags for some trips)!! I agree that the large ones are awkward to schlep around, but, FYI, they do hold and keep cool a bottle of wine!! Not so good for touring, but nice for our evening golf events!
    My best memory of Rudesheim?
    Combine this with a cool pilsner and some oom, pah, pah music, and you have a pretty great visit !!

  • Okay, just going to jump in here...Claudia, what a great idea about bringing an old plastic card. I had no idea that any old cards would work in the electrical slot. Our best plastic room key story is when my husband became very frustrated on our Northern Spain trip trying unsuccessfully to get money in ATM's from Santiago de Compostela to Porto, Portugal. Then he realized he was using his Barcelona hotel room key (which he had forgotten to turn in) instead of his ATM card!! Not gonna let him forget that one for a longggg time!!!
    From your photo, it looks like Tauck is giving guests S'Well bottles, and they are not cheap!! Very high-end, sort of like issuing Eagle Creek duffel bags on some tours. Impressive! FYI, the large size bottle holds and keeps cool a bottle of wine! That's not so good for touring, but works great for evening golf events!!
    Great memories of Rudesheim...Pair the below photos with a cool pilsner and some oom, pah, pah music!! Great fun!!

  • Claudia, we are on our cruise now, I’m just about to get up. We are having a lovely time with perfect weather. The boat is beautiful and much much nicer than the brand new ‘small ships’ tours we have taken.
    It’s definitely a much slower pace, so I guess even though we have only been on the boat two days, I can say that on land tours you see a lot more of the countries which I have to admit is what we like about travel. But for a slower paced and relaxing vacation it’s obviously the way to go. Mr B is enjoying it immensely and me too, we needed a quieter vacation, it’s been a busy few months at home and we had just had a vacation with our grandchildren.
    I have to caution that there is quite a bit of walking and steps and cobbled streets we have navigated already. Fortunately they split the groups and there is a ‘Yellow Mellow’ option that those who walk very slowly can choose. We have one lady in particular who we had to wait for fifteen minutes for the bus to get back to the hotel which made it quite rushed to get changed before dinner one night.
    Using your card trick for the lights, thank you so much for that one 😀night. More later.

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