We are doing our first Tauck tour in February to Australia/ NZ. General question...should we plan activities/ meals for the "off times" in advance or is it safe to figure out those things upon arrival?
I've been on 7 tours with Tauck. I always research/plan free time activities in advance. I try to do things that aren't tied to a specific schedule, but that's not always possible. I never book meals in advance. As a matter of fact, I often use non-included meals as a "food break," as there's usually too much food on these trips. Despite my food breaks, where I'll either just skip a meal, or have some trail mix or a Clif bar (brought with me), I just returned from Israel/Jordan and gained 5 lbs., and the food there is healthier than many trips (lots of veggies, salads, etc.)
We have been on 6 Tauck tours, including Australia/NZ. We have found that some free time where you can chill is very worthwhile to simply charge batteries, chat with other members of the tour, etc.
For meals, your tour director is an excellent source of local establishments.
Enjoy your tour, you will have a great time, just don't overplan
It varies by trip- we'll be doing #14 next year and have done it both ways. We generally go early and book private excursions months before for the day before the start of the tour. We carefully look at the itinerary which can often change, so only occasionally plan extra 'hard-scheduled/booked" activities during a tour, e.g. free afternoons in Florence (side trip to Pisa, Climb the Dome, Segway Florence), London (London Eye, Notting Hill/Portobello Rd. flee market, British Museum), Vienna (Spanish Riding School), Dresden (Segway), etc. etc. Other times we plan soft activities that can be done on no particular schedule and/or can be arranged at the spur of the moment, e.g. Berlin (Zoo and KaDeWE). Often, however, we either do not have sufficient time or the schedule is subject to change. The Tauck schedule in Rome is not firm which we knew from this forum- Tauck is at the mercy of the Vatican for the day and time of the visit to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. They can change with little warning- we only learned on the drive up from Sorrento that our 2-day Rome itinerary had totally changed.
If we decide to do several extra-tour activities I will make a spreadsheet or timeline to see if it all works. We did more than most in Florence, but with the help of my spreadsheet and early planning, it all worked like a charm.
We are not foodies, so typically rely on the TD or concierge recommendations for meals not supplied.
Last but not least, you need to figure in weather and fatigue.
For 'On your own' meals I use Trip Advisor in advance to find highly rated restaurants in the area of interest prior to the tour and then use Tour Director recommendations during the tour. I would check with the Concierge to determine if reservations are required. On a recently completed Israel and Jordan tour we wanted to go to a specific beachside restaurant in Tel Aviv. We had the Concierge make a reservation for us a day in advance. It turned out that others on the tour that wanted to go to the restaurant but didn't make reservations were unable to go.
So in general I'd recommend planning in advance and the use of all on-sight resources (Tour Director, Concierges, etc.)
If you have a scheduled free evening in Sydney, I suggest that you check out what's playing at the Opera House. You can get a light meal at the bar on the lower level. (I bought a ticket to Evita before leaving home but did not make a dinner reservation.)
Our tour schedule in Australia got a major change of free time. Two free half days were changed to one totally free day. Changes can happen on any tour but that was a big one.
Yes, there is too much food on all Tauck tours and we often just have a light snack when we have to find meals on our own, partly because we are too full, or we want more time to see another site, so don’t want to waste time on a longer meal break.
You are going to Australia during the height of summer when it will be very very hot. It would not be the time of year I would chose to go in all honesty.
How are you with jet lag and a very long flight, keep that in mind before over planning free time, you might be glad of a break.
We did see a show at the Opera house but booked it on the same day. It was the Lincoln Centre production of South Pacific and it was fabulous, they don’t need to wear microphones because of the great acoustics. The Opera house might be ‘dark’ during the summer.
It’s a special tour, you will also love the champagne welcome on the private flights
I’m thinking about Uluru in particular and the flies. Melbourne can also be very hot. Sydney not so much, but that comes at the end. We did this tour in August and it was perfect for touring.
We were there in February and Australia weather was perfect (80's at Uluru) and it Tauck tradition, they provided fly-proof netting. (just remember that you can NOT eat or drink with the netting on) However although there were some flies, there were not enough to really bother us. We did Australia and New Zealand on separate trips and they were both great.