Tourist Sites - Unexpected Delights and Disappointments

I'm stealing a topic of discussion from the Rick Steves forum that was titled tourist traps. Not really the best title, but the spirit was what have been sites you've been to that have been a bit of a meh experience and also which ones were unexpected surprises. Lets keep it to actual Tauck tours we've taken. Also, NO dissing someone else's choices.

Here's a couple from our very first Tauck tour - the French Waterways river cruise (now mostly been re-titled Savoring France).

I was really looking forward to our visit to Pont du Garde and dinner there. I love roman history and was especially excited when the TDs told us we'd be able to walk on it. Arrived to find out a concert was taking place there. Our 3 buses of Tauckers arrived and the TDs had to shoe horn us past the crowds waiting to get into the concert. Got alot of angry looks from the crowd as they thought we were cutting the line. Finally got in and found we couldn't go on the bridge or near it as people were coming from the other side to the concert. Then we sat down to dinner at this lovely outdoor restaurant. The only entree offered was roast lamb which I detest. Thank god for good wine.

On the other hand, the last day of the tour we had a fun time at the Sophy Pic cooking school - wine tasting at 9am followed by a cooking lesson. This was followed by a stop at the Valhrona chocolate store where you could have unlimited taste testing of the huge selection of chocolate. If death by chocolate was possible it could happen there.



  • Rows and rows of free chocolate morsels. I cried.

  • edited July 16

    Tauck usually avoids "tourist traps," however there were two on the China trip:

    1. The Guilin Tea Company. Very nice tour and presentation at a tea plantation. Then there was the gift shop. The prices were ridiculous, yet my tourmates were buying stuff like crazy. I saw the same tea sets, etc. at shops in the airports for 20% of what the GTC was selling it for.
    2. The Silk shop in "old town" Shanghai. It was so obvious the local guides were getting kickbacks the way they were pushing stuff on people.

    On another note, let's talk Stockholm. The highlight of that city was the Vasa Museum. Otherwise, Stockhom was probably the most disappointing major city of any trip I've taken, though Auckland, NZ ranks up there, too, but I expected more from Stockholm being in olde, historic Europe. Kinda reminds me of Atlanta. People say it's a great place to live, but it's not a tourist destination. There's no notable architecture. It's just a big city. The old city, Gamla Stan, had potential, but almost every building was a tourist shop.

  • cathyandsteve - What is it you liked about Auckland? Granted it's a nice location on the water, but I had a half day to kill before my flight and couldn't find anything to do there. As I ruled out bungee jumping from the Sky Needle, all I did was walk around town for a while.

  • Funny you say that. I was in Seatlle once, about 20 years ago, during summer/good weather. While it was an interesting place to see, I don't understand its appeal. The weather is usually awful and downtown is ugly, with an elevated interstate running right through (over) the city. OTOH, I really like Vancouver.

  • BKMD While I respect your assessment of Seattle I will have to disagree. :) We live in Seattle...actually just outside the city itself...being transplants from Southern California and living here since the early 1990's. I have been to many cities in the US and there are not any that come to mind that top where we live. If we were to pick another city to live, Vancouver BC would be on the top of the list but that city is not in the US. The elevated interstate running next to the waterfront has been torn down and the area is in the process of being revitalized. One thing that does bother me about the area is the traffic has become almost unbearable (pre covid of course). Amazon employees have pretty much taken over the downtown area. Anyway, just my two cents on all this. I could be wrong but I don't think so. We actually get less rain than New York City. It's just spread out over a longer time period.

  • cathyandsteve
    Livingstone train ride on the first evening of our Botswana, Zambia, South Africa tour in June 2018 was exciting and engaging. Right off I made friends with the bartender and ordered an assortment of alcoholic beverages and wine for myself and those at my table. I asked if I could charge beverages not included to my room and gave him a cash gratuity. When I looked at my hotel bill I was only charged for 1 premium Scotch. Also, when we were on the bridge we were surrounded by copper bracelet vendors. One mature vendor was persistent and we engaged in friendly conversation of his family and why I should purchase his bracelets. Other vendors kept interrupting with lower prices. When it was time to reboard the train I asked the vendor if I could pray for him and his family. He said yes and as I began the prayer all of the other vendors gathered around us in silence. When I gave him $15 cash and thanked him for our conversation and prayer, he gave me 5 very nice copper bracelets. Back on the train we had a great dinner and spoke about how our meeting with the vendors was the best part of our train ride.

  • JohnS - I didn't mean to insult you or anyone else with my assessment of Seattle. Seattle was just not my cup of tea (or Starbucks). Good to hear they are tearing down that highway. I recall when seeing that, I thought that's what NYC would have looked like if Robert Moses had his way.

  • BKMD 8:04PM JohnS - I didn't mean to insult you or anyone else with my assessment of Seattle. Seattle was just not my cup of tea (or Starbucks). Good to hear they are tearing down that highway. I recall when seeing that, I thought that's what NYC would have looked like if Robert Moses had his way.

    No apology needed. It takes quite a bit more to insult me. I never thought the viaduct through Seattle was very appealing anyway.



  • I love it when there is so much different opinions about places and things to do. I’ve been to all the places mentioned here...the train ride, Seattle, Auckland, Vancouver. So here’s my take on them all....
    Train ride....I mentioned in my review at the time that I enjoyed talking to the vendors, yes they were pushy but we talked about family etc and l felt that if they were bothered enough to make the effort to go there and beg to people with their stuff, They deserved paying for it. The qualifying of the carved animals was poor, that was obvious, but the money I gave them would mean a lot to them and I have that story to tell, oh and one of the legs fell off a hippo when I got home.
    Vancouver, love it, wonderful climate.
    Seattle, been there a couple of times. Last time we discovered the new Dale Chihuly Museum there, we had not done any new research because we had been to Seattle before, so we were delighted. Got a great photo reflecting in one of the sculptures. We went into the Experience Misic Museum. I went to a concert when I was a teenager and saw Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens, the Walker Brothers and Engelbert Humperdinck, I was able to see the poster advertising that tour and see the date I actually went to the concert at a cinema in Manchester England all those years ago, it was thrilling to me. We loved Seattle, could live there in a heartbeat... when we went into the Bill and !Melinda Gates foundation building across from the two museums mentioned above, we watched a video of a speech given by Melinda, it was the first time I had come across her and it was wonderful. My husband could have gotten a job working for Bill Gates in the search for a vaccine for malaria and the like no problem. We almost talked seriously about doing that for a quick moment.
    Auckland, yes for us it was disappointing. The only part of NZ we would not go back to. (We absolutely loved Wellingto). It is also because the hotel Tauck used was not in a good area, they changed it the following year. That hotel was in the back of beyond, there were dingy streets all around and not near the waterfront at all. . We stayed an extra day and that is when my husband came down with the bad chest infection that the people from the Tauck Australia tour brought with them before they joined our NZ tour. He had a terrible fever, I was extremely worried, I dosed him up so he could manage to get on the plane the next day, at home he went to the doctor, got antibiotics, he went to New York, became extremely ill, he somehow managed to get home, I took one look, took him to the ER, he was very ill, was on IV meds and morphine for several days, the antibiotic had wiped out his gut. He nearly died. He was ill for six months until he had a fecal transplant and was cured overnight....a few months later, I bumped into people who had been on the tour in a local garden center, one of their friends who had been on the tour with them had also been very ill. So here is a cautionary tale... my husband only seems to get ill when he comes in contact with otherTauck people who arrive ill on tour, it’s happened three times now. Forget the food and local food etc, he gets the colds the other Tauckers bring. At home he is always as fit as a fiddle.

  • My unexpected delight was something that most people probably expected to be delighted by: the private tour of the Sistine Chapel. I had seen it promoted on the Tauck itineraries in Italy, but I had not expected to be moved by it. I was.

    I, too, loved Wellington, NZ -- I could have spent more time there -- and didn't think much of Auckland. I did like our hotel there, the Sofitel Viaduct. Because of weather-related problems, our chartered plane could not take off from Queensland to Auckland, and we had to wait a few hours at the airport for a scheduled Air New Zealand flight (I still am amazed that our Tour Director managed to get us all on that flight with just a couple of hours notice!), so we didn't have a lot of time to kill in Auckland. Tauck took us to the War Memorial and Waiheke Island, both of which I enjoyed. I spent 2 extra days there at the end of the tour, but on each day, took a full day trip out of the city.

  • British - Speaking of Chihuly, have you been to the Bellagio in LV?

    JohnS - The green space is a big improvement over the highway! Kinda like the High Line park in NYC.

  • Cathyandsteve -- When I returned from NZ, one of the first things I did was google "Emigrate to New Zealand." Unfortunately, the first thing on the list was "be under the age of 55!"

  • A physician friend of mine tried to emigrate to NZ when he finished his residency. He was denied. I think sheep have better success :)

  • From a city perspective, my favorites in New Zealand were Christchurch and Queenstown.

  • Yes, sometimes bad experiences color your view but we already decided we did not care for Auckland before my hubby got sick, I think we must have stayed two extra days there. When we went to Wellington, i think two days early, we visit a place called Zeelandia which was amazing. They have managed to cordon off a massive area of land and remove every sort of animal and plant that is not native to New Zealand. We saw tuatara there! A kinda lizard of the dinosaur era. We saw flightless ground parrots...gosh I think called a kakapo, all just up our street, we love wildlife viewing. We also went to the Theatre and saw a great play. Funny story, we were staying at the Tauck hotel, pre stay. The service etc was really poor. As soon as The Tauck tour began, the same staff were bustling around fussing all over us, you see Tauck does have clout. We found that hilarious
    I’ve worked with many doctors and nurses from New Zealand over the years. The woman are particularly impressive, clever and self assured. They were the first women to ever get the vote. Pre Covid, We planned to go back to NZ in the next couple of years for a three week tour. NZ has very strict immigration laws.

  • edited July 17

    BKMD. I have stayed at the Bellagio a couple of times. The last time about ten years ago We have also been to the Dale exhibit at a museum in Tacoma Washington years ago. Now, the Bellagio .....we have many ‘out there’ Friends, so the reason we were there was to go to an Elvis wedding ceremony of some friends. I had been saying for years that I would love to renew our wedding vows at an Elvis chapel in Vegas for our 40th anniversary. I was not a particular fan of his, preferring our British equivalent, Cliff Richard...ah still love Cliff, sigh. But my Mum loved Elvis, I would often arrive home from school, and there would be Mum, doing the ironing and listening to Elvis records crying her eyes out at the sad songs. So I thought it would be so fun and cheesy to do that. So darn it, I was always talking about it to my friend. So when she decided to get married to another of our singing friends, she stole our idea, and off we all went to Vegas with their families.they asked us to ‘stand up’ for them, we did not know what that meant, we didn’t realize it meant be the witnesses. The wedding was lovely and the Elvis charming. He had a wonderful voice and had been professionally trained at I think at Ohio Conservatoire.....Cathy, you are musical, perhaps you can correct me on this....anyway, it wasn’t cheesy at all, my friend was disappointing about that. So we are way past our 40th now and for years my absolute dream is to take the family on the Tauck Bridges Safari for our fiftieth, I do hope in four years time Covid will be in control, we are still alive and can go. Elvis will have to wait until our sixtieth.

  • Cathy - We did not go to Steve Irwin's place (we were there in 2003 which was a little bit pre-Steve Irwin fame in the states), but we did visit a few nature preserves in Australia, one outside of Cairn in the town of Karunda and one outside of Darwin. One of my wife's favorite pictures, I've posted below is her holding a Koala (and a few others). Outside of Darwin the attraction was the jumping crocodiles.

  • edited July 17

    Claudia, I love this new topic. What a great idea! I also traveled on the Tauck French Waterways River Cruise in 2014. It was the first overseas trip I had taken on my own, after my husband passed away. I loved the Tour, I ended up having so much fun. I thought I would be lonely but as it turned out, my Tour was the first of the season and there were about 30 Travel Agents aboard, mostly in their 30's. I had so much fun with this group of people and I actually ended up making friends with one of the gals and we hung out together thru most of the Tour. I am sorry you didn't get to experience the Pont du Garde, it was amazing being able to walk across it. The outdoor patio area was very nice and I also enjoyed the wine and the musicians that Tauck had hired. However, we had our dinner inside and the food was rather disappointing, but that is only a minor thing.I also enjoyed, like you, the Sophy Pic Cooking School. Unfortunately, I was allergic to one of the ingredients in the dish we were preparing so the Chef put together a different dish , just for me.

    One of the neat things I did on my own during the pre-tour days in Paris was to hire a a private guide to show me the sights of Paris who chauffeured me around the city for 2 hours in a classic C2V convertible car. This was my first time in Paris and what a treat. My driver was a college student who was also a History major. He picked me up at the Hotel, drove me all around the City, took a picture of me in front of The Eiffel Tower , per my request. At the end, he said he could either take me back to the Hotel or wherever I wanted to go for further exploration on my own and then I could take my own transport to return to the Hotel. I had heard about this company , via the Rick Steves Website. I googled their website and it appears to still be around, although Covid-19 has put the brakes on their business. Whenever this Covid nightmare comes to an end, I can vouch for this Company's excellent service. You can also read reviews about it on Trip Advisor.

    I am attaching a pic of me in the C2V in front of The Eiffel Tower.

  • For a number of years I was stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Oak Harbor. Oak Harbor is about 2 hrs (car + bridge or car + ferry) north of Seattle. We would head to Seattle once or twice a month when we needed a fix of civilization or a Mall. It was an interesting city, but gave my wife nightmares about driving up one of the many steep hills in downtown Seattle and having the motor and brakes fail. People don't tan there, they rust. :D

    Worst city and hotel- Guayaquil, Ecuador at the end of Peru & Galapagos. As far as we could tell from research and the short Tauck bus ride around town, there was nothing much of interest to see in that gritty city. The rooms weren't necessarily bad, but the hotel was dark and depressing, and not located in a particularly nice area- no one desired to walk about, and in fact, we were cautioned against it. It was quite a contrast with hotels in Lima and Cuzco.

    Ah, the train ride in Livingstone. The high point was when my wife got to climb into the engine cab and toot the whistle a couple times- I got it on video. Interestingly, we walked across the bridge and into Zimbabwe the day prior. Everyone was a bit hot and tired from the walk so we decided to eat at the Rain Forest Cafe and not tour the park. When we learned the Cafe was inside the Park and we would need to pay Park admission we decided to head back to Zambia. On the way back we had to navigate past all the street vendors selling copper bracelets , etc.. One very chatty fellow followed us all the way to the bridge. The most amazing part of the discussion was (this was May 2019) when he asked my wife when the US was going to get back to normal.

  • The comments on the various cities in this thread got me thinking a bit. You're probably all aware but if you go to Bing and enter Things to do in ____, where you fill in the blank with a city name then it returns several attractions. I captured these results for a few "western" US cities (Denver, Phoenix, Seattle, Dallas, Minneapolis) in the attached file. Looking through these results it seems a lot of the large cities will have much in common - a zoo, an aquarium, several museums, just to mention a few things. Also, by no means is Bing's list the extent of "featured attractions" for any city.

  • edited July 17

    AlanS - I can see the allure / excitement of tooting the whistle of the train, but having worked on the railroad for three years as a summer job during college I think standing on the top of a moving boxcar as we were assembling trains was much more exhilarating than riding in the engine and tooting the whistle (even as I was rusting in Seattle). :D

  • Following up on Sam's cities things to do, the NYT has a series of articles called 36 hours for a number of locations:

  • You know what I am thinking... do you remember the days when all the questions on the forum were, do I need to take a jacket? Alan’s photo competition and Claudia’s recipe one and now favorite cities is so interesting, even though I hardly recognized any of the Places on the photo one.
    Ok time to start another task, but even I am finally running out of projects after all these months.

  • Back to the original topic, here's my disappointments:

    Stonehenge - Don't get me wrong, it's a fascinating artifact and I've read much about it and seen a number of TV shows on the subject. However, the actual visit was an anticlimax. You can only get within about 50 yards of the stones. When we were there in 2013, the only interpretive exhibits were in the temporary gift shop and the audio tour was just so-so. Since then they've completed the new visitor center and removed a road that went right by the site. So maybe it's a bit better now.

    Leaning Tower of Pisa - I know that this is on many people's bucket list (remember Claudia said no dissing), but for me, and others on our tour, a disappointment. Back in 2005 when we took the Classic Italy tour, it was squeezed into the itinerary. It's surrounded by a plaza with some of the worst junky souvenir vendors you'll ever see. Two hour wait to climb the tower (we didn't have nearly enough time). Other than taking then iconic, "I'm holding up the tower" picture, it was a waste of time. They removed it from Classic Italy the next year.

    Portmeirion Village in Wales - I loved this, but apparently for other Tauck guests, it was a disappointment. A storybook village resort built by the British architect Clough Williams-Ellis. It also served as the setting for the 1960's TV series, The Prisoner. A beautiful oasis in the middle of an otherwise hectic tour, people just didn't get it. They took it off the England, Scotland and Wales tour the next year. Shame. You can get an idea of what you're missing here:

  • Travel Maven, I love the photo too. I loved that river cruise. It all went blindingly fast. Regretted not having more time in Paris and a longer cruise so we went back in 2017 to do the Seine Plus Versailles and London cruise. Still haven't seen everything in Paris we wanted to see.

  • Now, here's my list of unexpected delights. I've left out Tauck lagniappes. While they count as some of the best unexpected delights, I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise or disappoint anyone if they've changed since we went.

    The Technik Museum in Speyer Germany - Our Rhine and Moselle river cruise stopped in Speyer just to use it as a place to get on and off the bus. But we has some free time at the end of the day and went to the Technik Museum there. A sprawling complex with hundreds of cars, planes, trains, boats and helicopters (they even have a Lufthansa 747 mounted on pylons above roof and one of the prototype Soviet space shuttles). A fun and unexpected gem. I regret that we missed going into the cathedral in Speyer, the largest Romanesque cathedral still standing and burial place of the Holy Roman Emperors for centuries. Nobody told us about that at the time - heck!

    The Mosque/Cathedral in Cordoba, Spain - A gigantic building that is a forest of Moorish columns inside with a Spanish baroque church stuffed in the middle. I'd see pictures, but they don't prepare you for the scope and beauty of this architectural marvel.

    The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna - One of the great art museums of the world. It doesn't get enough press here in America, probably because it doesn't have a simple, easy to pronounce name (like Louvre or Prado or National Gallery). We spent an afternoon there and wish we'd had more time. Not on our tour, but should not be missed if you are in Vienna and an art lover.

    The Thyssen - Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. Our TD gave us tickets to this museum to go on our own. Many people skipped it, but it is a winner. The best museum based on a formerly private collection I've ever visited (it's now owned by the Spanish state). Top notch art from all periods and every one immaculately clean and well restored. Much less crowded than the Prado - I was blown away.

  • Ken I agree Stonehenge depending on when you went could be a disappointment. First saw it on a business trip back in 1994 and there was just a walkway around well away from the stones and tiny building for taking tickets. Saw it on ESW after the new visitor center was completed and they take you by shuttle bus from the parking lot to the walkway around the henge. Tauck paid for us to have the self guided audio devices so it was a much better experience. Wish we'd had time to spend in the visitor center/museum. If I ever get back, I may just do that part.

    We were on the ESW after they had dropped Portmeirion. I probably would have loved it but then I collect their stoneware so it could have been an expensive visit.

  • Ken - "lagniappes", I could figure it out from the context but I had to look this one up. They didn't teach us Engineers those big words! You must be unbeatable in games like Scrabble. :D

  • Ken from Vegas: The best museum based on a formerly private collection I've ever visited

    Ever visit the Barnes Foundation in Phila?

    Smiling Sam: You must be unbeatable in games like Scrabble. :D

    The key to Scrabble is knowing all the 2 letter words.

  • Yes BKMD, Been to the Barnes. I live near Philly Interesting back story. It was originally housed in Dr
    Barnes home and part of his will stipulated that as a museum it must remain in the home. It was in a regular neighborhood which meant that only a certain number of visitors could visit per day because of parking and you had to buy tickets way in advance. There was a plan to move it to center city Philadelphia and negotiations went on for years to change the specifications of the will and move it. Eventually it happened and the collection is displayed Exactly as Dr Barnes had it in his home and in a very a very eclectic way, as he intended., including beautiful old escutcheons and keys displayed between the paintings. It takes hours to do this collection justice and I highly recommend it.
    For those who don’t want to leave the US at the moment because of tje Pandemic, Philadelphia is a great city with lots to see. I so love it compared to New York. Under normal circumstances I would say it had lots of wonderful restaurants. We miss going to the city so much for theatre, sites and museums and dinner with Philly friends.

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