Just off The Andorinha
My DH and I just ended a month of travel with the Villages and Vintages cruise on the Douro. The ship is the most beautiful river cruise ship I’ve ever seen with a two-story atrium that bisects both the Compass Rose and the Panorama Lounge and featuring a skylight above. Both these public spaces have floor-to-ceiling windows offering plenty of light and contributing to a very open feeling ambiance. Arthur’s Bistro at the rear of the ship is two levels with the upper being on the same level as the sun deck and featuring an outdoor open grill kitchen. Unfortunately on our cruise that grill area was never utilized. The sun deck has a small, pretty pool and plenty of very comfortable, shaded loungers. We were in a suite on upper level 3 and it was comfortable, though a little small compared to ocean cruise ship suites. There was a walk-in closet, roomy bathroom and there was plenty of storage.
Food was good to very good, nicely presented and at dinner there were new options every evening. There were many opportunities to enjoy local cuisine and wines. The wines were all local and mostly good. Wait staff in both restaurants and the Panorama lounge were exceptional, so friendly and welcoming. Sergio and Francisco were our favorite servers and Walter was an inspiring leader for the entire service crew.
The Tauck team was also exceptional and worked hard to make the cruise fun for everyone. However, one of the tour directors had an annoying style of speaking to the group as though they were either in kindergarten or a nursing home. We tried our best to avoid her bus.
The Douro is a stunningly beautiful river valley and it was interesting to learn about the port and wine traditions throughout the region. But, some of the stops were rather underwhelming and some towns were rather dismal, Peso da Régua and Pinhão come to mind. Because of the daytime cruising requirement on the river there was a lot of down time and the cruise seemed to be very slow-paced. There were many people complaining about the overall slowness, especially at the beginning of the cruise with one full day cruising up the river. There were several longish bus rides that also added to the tedium. One gets the impression that Tauck was sort of scraping the barrel to find engaging, interesting sites to visit that were also close to the river. On a positive note, at least there were choices of activities in some of the ports. The off-ship dinner at the Quinta was not enjoyable, however. The food was forgettable and too many people were crowded into a space with very poor acoustics. It was impossible to carry on a conversation. The dinner was supposed to include a talk about the vineyard and presentation of each wine paired with the courses but it was too loud for that to happen. On the bus ride back to the ship it was also obvious that the tour director had had too much to drink and she was shouting and rambling on, encouraging our bus driver to pass the other bus.
The local guides were generally very good but the size of the groups was much larger than what we’ve experienced on past Tauck cruises. The small group size is one reason why we are repeat passengers with Tauck but we were disappointed on this cruise.
Onboard entertainment was fun and varied with a a couple of local musical performances and a flamenco performance. We didn’t enjoy the Tauck team’s “fun and games” type activities as much, though. It all seemed more geared towards nursing home residents and a little cheesy.
Another negative was the abysmal WiFi on the ship. Some of it was due to the deep valley but there was also a technical problem the last few days. This of course added to the tedium of the cruise when one was cut off from the outside world. If you must have Internet connectivity while on vacation I cannot recommend this cruise.
Seating in the Compass Rose was difficult for those preferring to dine as a couple. There were no tables for two. This was aggravating because the clientele on this cruise was not quite up to the sophistication level that we’ve experienced on our other Tauck cruises and we found ourselves trying to avoid a few certain people at dinner time. The ship was not quite full and the wait staff knew we sometimes preferred dining alone so they would clear away the other place-settings if we arrived in time. It wasn’t as big a problem at breakfast and lunch. We still enjoyed dining with some other couples but found in general that the lack of tables for two was a negative.
We were also disturbed by the almost complete lack of Covid mask requirements, especially on the busses. The cruise director mentioned on the first day that Covid was on the rise in Europe but that masking was voluntary. That was it, other than a reminder in the daily program to carry a mask in case a venue onshore required masking. There was a fair amount of sick people on the ship so I would not be surprised if there was some Covid transmission.
This was our second Tauck river cruise this year and after experiencing too many negatives each time it is doubtful we will book again.
Thanks for your honest review, it certainly makes me think about the land tour now being a better bet.
I’m sure the Douro has been added as a destination for the soul reason of demand for river cruising in general. If there are no interesting places by a river, there are no interesting places and you have to spend more time on a bus.
People have been mentioning for a while that there are zero Covid rules on the Tauck tours. I stopped hoping about that back on my first after Covid tour was like that and we are still in a Pandemic. It’s every man for himself.
Wait, what? The pandemic is over? 🤔
I took this tour a year ago and it was our BEST river cruise experience of the 6 river cruises we have taken with Tauck, as far as the tour directors, cruise director food, itinerary and ship staff. Everyone went above and beyond! We had a mixed group, both young and old. I feel like I was on a totally different trip after reading this review.
Mimi, it may come down to right time/right trip for each individual. I appreciate these forums and different opinions about similar experiences. All part of my homework trying to find the right trip for the two of us with differing travel styles. I’m not sure how Villages & Vintages differed from Madrid to Lisbon while on the Douro (which we both enjoyed), but I do know that my husband loved just sitting on the boat and watching the scenery go by, and he was up top for every lock passage possible. That’s his idea of a cruise, not waking up in a new port every morning while the ship moved overnight.
So much of the Douro is bucolic, and I only remember one stop that might have offered some interest in walking off the boat and wandering around the town. It would be immensely helpful if Tauck would include the approximate time sitting on a bus to get to various excursions. I calculated that myself when choosing between a couple options using online maps. More time on a bus than at the site? Nope, not for us.
You have hit on the main reason to do as much research as you can on the website, the forums, and other travel sites. While you can't control when the boat travels from stop to stop, you can decide if you want to go on an excursion or stay aboard and enjoy the scenery from the sundeck or stay in the main square of a quaint town people watching or window shopping, while others in the group tour another cathedral. There has always been a small number of people on each of our tours who were essentially clueless about many facets of a trip they spent thousands of dollars on. Being 'surprised' works both ways.
My favorite wife and I traveled on the Andorinha this past June. We've been on many of Tauck's riverboats in Europe and this was by far and away our favorite boat! It was just beautiful and a joy to travel on. Gourmet Gal gave what I consider to be a fair review of the boat and the staff. Personally, I would have rated it higher (not that any numbers were involved).
At dinner seating (whether on the boat or at functions onshore) we enjoyed meeting and eating with different couples on different nights. In fact, we made new friends we plan to see again this coming May on a trip down the Rhone. It makes that Rhone trip (cancelled twice because of Covid) much more exciting as a result!
As for Covid, yes, the panic is over as is the pandemic. You may not agree with me, which is more than fine, but it was, after all, a political disease. And yes, it will be with us in the years to come. But I do hope we all act with respect for the choices others make regarding the implementation of protocols should this happen again.
I don't work for Tauck (in fact I gladly give them my money rather than take it from them) but I'm sorry, Gourmet Gal, that you have decided not to travel with them again. I'm not sure how many trips my favorite wife and I have left in us but I will bet what's left of my 401K that they will be with Tauck. I cannot recommend them highly enough!
"a political disease"??? Tell that to the 1.06M Americans who died from COVID.
No doubt the Douro is a beautiful river but it is quite rural and with all the daytime sailing it is a more relaxing type trip. We were actually looking forward to that after over 3 weeks of European travel. However, the WiFi issue was a problem. My DH needed to be connected and it was very frustrating for him. The bus rides were not all long but we had some very slow people in our somewhat large groups and it became a drag. I agree that it would be helpful to know how long to expect the bus rides to be when reading the excursion descriptions. Also, in April on our Tauck cruise in France there were fewer passengers onboard yet there were 3 busses and all the groups were smaller when on excursion. Not so on this cruise, only 2 busses, so that was disappointing. I have clearly delineated my opinion on the beautiful ship, excellent crew and good food from the quality of the tours and the available sites to visit. Usually the quality of the excursions is what sets Tauck apart but this time they didn’t measure up to what I’ve experienced in the past.
I appreciate the honest and balanced review. We keep toying with the idea of booking a river cruise...we hear so many great stories, but have also heard what the OP wrote about some ports being "filler" ports with underwhelming sights. Not sure if we will do one yet or not.
Regarding the covid beling a "political disease", some people seem to have forgotten just how real and scary Covid was before the vaccines. Once the vaccines came, and the virus seemed to weaken, risk aversion became more of a personal decision. On our Canada tour last month, more than half of our small group (12 our of 22 people we heard) tested positive after the trip...myself included (first time positive through the whole pandemic). No masks worn for the most part, and we started hearing some coughing on the bus rides towards the last several days of our trip. It seems several people had "allergies". All that said, it was what it was...I am not convinced masking helps, given the amount of time they come off during meals, drinks, etc. So it's a part of travel...especially close quarters group travel. I don't blame Tauck's policies or lack thereof. I blame myself because it was me who accepted the risks...and I would do it again, and will do it again in the future.
TriGuy: what do you mean by “your favorite wife”? Would there be more than one that are not so favorite?
Yes, travel during Covid is high-risk especially when dining and drinking together, unmasked. Nothing political about that but it is true that some so-called politicians have tried to make masking, vaccines and testing political.
Thetriguy, you should travel with SeaLord 😀 I’ll travel with CathyandSteve and go incognito until the end of the tour and she decides I’m Ok before I reveal myself.
I wish there was a button between “Flag” and “Like” . Something like “Crap” that does not disappear when many choose it.
Claudia- Very well said!
Thank you Claudia. Probably better than I could say it.
Claudia, not sure how you can disagree with an opinion of a tour you have not yet taken. Also, if you knew me you would not be so judgmental as to say my comment is elitist. You were not on the ship when I was and you did not meet some of the obnoxious, loud, annoying people I tried hard to avoid. I did not say anything about attire or anyone not being good enough. You seem very sensitive about that but then I don’t want to be judgemental.
Everyone sure is in a cheery mood today!
One thing I'd be interested in is what makes another traveler "obnoxious" to you?
Several times I've experienced sharing a dinner table with another couple who spent the entire dinner talking about themselves and never asked anything about us.
Or when having dinner at a large table and two people spend the whole evening talking loudly to each other, ignoring everyone else at the table.
Another experience was a couple who wouldn't leave politics alone for the whole dinner, no matter how we tried to change the subject.
Gourmet Gal, wrt things like the food, itinerary, not liking a TDs style, etc that is absolutely your opinion and your right to it. If I'd been on the same cruise I might well have shared some views and others I wouldn't which is as it should be. And, if you'd said that you found some people obnoxious, loud, annoying and avoided them I'd have nodded my head remembering a few I have avoided on tours. But your original post specifically talked about sophistication level and didn't mention the other. Here's one definition of sophisticated "having, revealing, or proceeding from a great deal of worldly experience and knowledge of fashion and culture". Someone could easily be un-sophisticated without being obnoxious and another could be the worst boor on the ship and technically be sophisticated (have met some of those).
So yes, I found your wording (which is all anyone can go on here) elitist.
Cathy, Hilarious, awesome. We found on the small ship cruises you have to sit on tables with I think it is six people, there are a few tables for two, you can’t reserve them. One of our most disappointing nights ever was on a small ship cruise we asked if they could make an exception as it was our anniversary and they said no.
The lack of two person tables on Tauck river cruise ships has long been a complaint. The closest you can get to it is on the older ships that have built in benches as part of the dining room. On them there are a few two person tables but you're right next to other travelers so certainly not much privacy.
Wow! Glad I did not stir up a hornet's nest. Did not mean to do that. I simply believe that all people have a right to voice their opinion on whatever issue they wish.
And AlanS...I would certainly challenge that number but this is not the forum for that.
Thetriguy is probably right. The number is probably a lot higher than one million. A lot of deaths were attrributed to other causes, perhaps heart failure, but the heart failure was caused by Covid.
Challenge all you want, I didn't make it up, it came from the CDC. If you wish to challenge that, that is your prerogative, but the forums are not the place to do it.
@AlanS - I agree that's the best number to use, even if it might undercount.
I will try to say this as considerately as possible. I hope that my wife and I are never on the same trip as about 80% of the posters on this topic. We will be taking this trip next Oct., thank goodness with family and friends. ALERT. we will not be wearing masks, unless required. One of our companions is a pulmonary dr. and he will not wear a mask in public. Some of you would be much happier staying home. Now, FLAG AWAY.
Wildcat03 - So happy he is NOT my doctor!
Wildcat, your Dr friend, glad he’s not my doctor either. What a really bad example to all his colleagues.
Wildcat, why do you care if other people mask up?
What's with all the flags? I haven't seen this many flags since I played intramural football in college over fifty years ago! Is this a contest? If so, share the rules so we all can play and have fun. Many thanks! 😉