Just off The Andorinha



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    British - was it Tim Martin? He will be on our trip as well!

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    Yes Tim Martin, he’s a lovely guy. An animal geek like my hubby.

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    My husband and I are going on this river cruise in July along with my sister and her husband. This will be our 4th river cruise as well as a cruise on the Great Lakes and a number of land tours. We are looking forward to it. We have made friends from around the US due to our travel and continue to speak with them. We are looking forward to this cruise and I hope we will enjoy it as much as our other travel experiences with Tauck!

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    Tauck’s Douro “Villages and Vintages” Review: Overpriced and Disappointing

    This is my experience on this specific trip. Your experiences are likely very different and you may disagree. Hope this is helpful.
    We did Tauck’s Douro “Villages and Vintages” cruise (August 4th - 11th, 2023), and offer this feedback. I agree with several comments by Gourmet Gal (Oct 2022). Sadly, ten months later, Tauck has not addressed these issues.

    Given Tauck's reputation - and the price point for this cruise - I was looking forward to something special - a high-end cruise that would be a real treat. However, I left the boat disappointed. I have some recent benchmarks, against which I evaluate this Tauck cruise.

    First, three weeks before this cruise I had my first Tauck experience - the Best of Ireland bus tour. Second, in the past two years I have taken three European river cruises - with Viking, Avalon and European Waterways.

    With that in mind, Tauck has opportunities to differentiate, and to create an overall experience that matches the price point, in several ways: food quality; food and beverage service; excursions; and onboard activities. However. I feel that Tauck really fell short.

    A few specifics:

    On the bright side: the cabin (# 307) is lovely - the best feature of the trip. 10/10

    The food quality was OK, but certainly nothing special. 6 /10. This is the biggest miss, and a real opportunity for improvement. I imagined that the food and wines would be noteworthy, and differentiating, but I was sorely disappointed. The Captain's Dinner was definitely a step up, though Mateus Rose (globally popular, yes, but known as a cheap wine) and the wine that accompanied the main course (6 - 8 euros in Portuguese grocery stores) were unremarkable.

    The restaurant service was a bit patchy but generally good, though some staff had surprisingly poor English. But I understand the difficulty of finding good staff post-Covid. 8/10.

    Beverage services: The drinks service on the Panorama (upper) Deck is literally non-existent. 0/10. On days 1, 2 and 3 of the cruise I went from the upper deck, down to the bar – twice each day – to order my own drinks, and usually brought them back up myself. On day 3, early afternoon, on one of those occasions, I went down and asked the barman if the ship provides drinks service on the Panorama Deck. He said they do not. I asked why not. He replied: it is too hot. It definitely was a hot day, and this is precisely why the guests might want to be offered some refreshment.

    Later that same day, rather irritated, I spoke with the Cruise Director (Alex) about this, and we had a fairly lengthy discussion. I won't recount it all here, but he did say that Scylla runs the boat and he has little sway. I suggested that the ship might be understaffed on the beverage service side. He encouraged me to submit my feedback to Tauck in writing, which I did. He also said that this season he had seen only two passenger comments on this topic from the Tauck office. I find it odd that we are now well into the summer season, and that guests like me are still having to go downstairs to find a waiter if they would like a drink. Maybe these are the set staffing levels and nothing can be done. That all said, to Alex's credit, he must have spoken to the head of beverage service: a waiter soon appeared and took drinks orders for the 15 or so people who were cooling off in the pool. The waiter took one set of orders, and had to make three or four trips to bring all the drinks up, such was the interest in refreshment. But after that one-time event, there was no pool service on subsequent days.

    Since we are paying Tauck $2,300 per couple per day, perhaps you would agree that having to go scouting for my own refreshments - several times - is not a 'high-end experience.'

    Excursions: As we know, the Douro is a 'restful/bucolic' destination, and the riverside towns are not as pretty or captivating as, say, on the Rhine, Moselle, or Danube. The Tauck materials accurately describe the slow pace of the landscape, and set expectations accordingly - no problem, there. The excursion guides were generally OK, though none of the excursions stood out as remarkable. In the Regua museum Marco was superb. The offsite dinner at Quinta da Portal was very good (professional service, high quality food (though small portions), and good wine pairings. They do need a sound system, however - the dining room is long and has awful acoustics: we were sitting immediately next to the musicians and loud speakers, so conversation was impossible. Conversely. some guests I spoke to later said they were at the other end of the room and could barely hear the music, and that conversation was fine.

    Onboard activities: Generally uninspired: 4/10. This is another area in which Tauck has an opportunity to differentiate from Viking and Avalon. I would have expected the onboard activities to be more engaging and professional. I appreciated Suzzana's personal account of her life under the Spanish dictatorship. However, there was no substantive description of the Portuguese dictatorship (just a couple of brief, passing mentions). The Tuna Singers gave it a good college try. Bernardo's 'Taste of Portugal' was lovely, and the Celtic Music evening was professional and engaging. However, we found the flamenco evening (with pre-recorded music) uninspired, and we left early. Miguel's 1970’s electric piano music was not at all to our liking, and we skipped it every night. Music is personal taste, of course.

    Onboard, we had conversations with two other couples who also expressed their disappointment with the food and the onboard experience in general, given the price.
    Post-Cruise Customer Service: After the cruise I emailed my feedback to Tauck and received a phone call from Customer Service Department. However, this was disappointing. I was hoping to be heard, but instead it felt like the CS representative wanted to learn what competing tour/cruise companies are doing. It felt a bit like ‘competitive intelligence gathering’ rather than hearing my disappointment, or truly paying attention to the issues. I didn’t hear: “We will definitely look into these issues and will try our best to address them for future passengers.”

    At the end of the call she offered me a discount coupon for 10% off my next Tauck trip. I understand the offer – what else could she do? But this now felt like less like a “customer service” call, and more like an opportunity to sell another trip. Needless to say, it left a bad taste, and – based on our cruise experience as a whole – we won’t be booking again with Tauck.

    Tauck has built a good reputation over many decades, presumably well-deserved. However, some trips are better than others. To me, this cruise needs an overhaul if it is to be worth the premium pricing.

    As a comparison point: Viking's 'Douro's Vintage and Vineyards' cruise (for that same week) is priced at USD 5,200 per pax (i.e., USD 10,400 per couple), including roundtrip airfare from London. Our Tauck cruise was $ 16,000 per couple). I understand that it is not reasonable to make a point-by-point comparison, but nonetheless a quick look is noteworthy. You might see why I question Tauck's premium pricing for this cruise.

    This is my experience on this specific trip. Your experiences are likely very different. Needless to say, we are very disappointed, and won’t travel again with Tauck. We have travelled extensively, both independently and with a wide selection of other tour companies. I hope you find this feedback helpful. It is well-intended.

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    edited October 2023

    Good review Derrick. I’m always on the forum and obviously like Tauck, I’ve taken many land tours with them, but I’ve only taken one river cruise, Rhine Enchantment which we enjoyed.
    The Duoro river cruise is a fairly new one, there was a ton of fanfare about building the new fabulous ship and then Covid happened, so it really is quite a new tour.
    I’ve noticed quite a few negative comments about the Duoro cruises. Interestingly, we have friends who have never traveled with Tauck but have taken many river cruises. When they went on the Duoro with another company, they were not impressed, just said there is not much to see if you compare it with other river cruises, it’s mainly about vineyards and drinking…..and they do like to drink, so that was interesting. I have the opportunity to take the same Duoro cruise as they did when it is offered in the next couple of years, but I have been put off that now.
    I must admit, we much prefer land tours that do as many excursions as possible, we don’t like to sit around drinking, we can do that at home if we want. We like a cocktail and wine with dinner on vacation because we strictly don’t drink and drive when we go out to dinner at home, so only one of us can have a drink.
    What I am interested in knowing is for example, comparing say with Viking, are the quality and quantity of tours the same, do you pay any extra for certain tours, etc A friend once said that when they were on one of their Viking cruises, they wanted to arrive a day early and Viking would not provide transport to the hotel because they were deviating from the normal. I get Viking brochures all the time, I hate the way they say book early and get the tour half price etc. Are the rooms the same size on Viking? I here there are less tour directors and bigger groups on Viking. Other river cruise companies give the free pre or post hotel night? How much is insurance compared to Tauck? Is it cancel for any reason where you get cash back and not a voucher?
    Is tipping extra on other river cruise companies. All these questions answered, then I would like to compare and decide.
    I’m noticing also, that on the River cruises and Small ship cruises that Tauck do…I’ve taken three of those, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on people drinking, we are not about that, again, we want to be out looking at sites. If we want to sit and drink, we would do an independent trip.
    Poor English….you are in a foreign country. How is your Portuguese? Plus you can’t expect English or American people work on a ship for the wages they offer on a river cruise.

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    edited October 2023

    Happy we were not on Derrick’s cruise in May. We thoroughly enjoyed our time on the Andorinha. We thought the food and the service was fine. We did tell the cruise director that we thought the bar snacks were a tooth hazard (we travel with a dentist), and by the next visit we had regular peanuts. The guests sometimes set the tone for a cruise on a small ship.

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    Scary! Is Tauck is attracting the wrong kind of crowd? Of the three trips I have taken with Tauck this year,I have heard all the three TDs saying the same thing.

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    We did two Tauck cruises this year … one on Andorinha and one on Wind Star. We had very nice people on both trips, and the crew on both ships treated us very well. We had a small issue about getting our Yacht Club benefits on the Wind Star, but that was only a small distraction, and overall we got the service that we expected from both the Wind Star and the Andorinha.

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    Fifteen people on the pool deck with one waiter. Did I misread?
    On the pool deck for many days, must not be going to any excursion.

    Sounds like some one should be signed up for their competitors. Tauck is not well known for their chorus girls, magicians and slot machine.

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    In June 2022 we travelled to Spain for the Tauck Northern Spain land tour. We wanted to do back-to-back with a cruise on the Douro but Tauck river course was completely booked. My TA suggested Viking. All tour companies use about the same stops along the Douro.
    While food service was good, the wine selection was poor and it never changed during the cruise. We had one of the nicer and largest cabins so we had a mini-fridge that was stocked each day with wine, beer and soft drinks.

    Excursions off the ship were pretty typical but the local guides were not the same quality and experience as you have on a Tauck cruise. Some were a little better but overall it felt again kind of institutional. We were just being processed it seemed. Maybe this is related to COVID and the related fatigue throughout Europe but we think the local guides could have put a little more effort.

    One significant observation is that the Viking cruise ship seemed to dock in river ports where the other cruise ships were located and this created a 'cross deck' situation. That's not good if you want to enjoy your balcony and have another ship within arm's distance. Seems like the cruise companies have to pay for their berth locations and Viking must be really cheap. For us anyway, we like to enjoy a balcony or wide open window in good weather when docked to see the local landscape and/or river activity especially in a place like Porto with all its river area excitement. That's why we pay extra for a premium cabin. We like the french windows on Tauck cruises as well.

    If you pay with electronic check Viking will give you a 3.3% discount. However, $20.00 per quest per day will be automatically be added to your account at the end of the cruise.

    Anyway, we've decided that Viking will not be our first choice for river cruising. We'll stick with what we know and like and for the next couple of years; it'll be Tauck for river cruising trips.

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    I have taken 3 Tauck river cruises (including Douro + Lisbon & Madrid), one Tauck/Windsurf cruise, one Viking river cruise and one Viking ocean (Ionian) cruise. The included excursions with Viking were in large groups and were very short with a lot of free time to explore on-your-own. Any Viking in-depth, small group optional excursions came at a very high additional cost. At the end of the Viking cruises we were required to pay an additional fee for tips. While on the Andorinha June 2022 we always had drinks service on the top/pool deck. I prefer the Viking ships to Tauck’s Scylla and Windstar but overall I much prefer Tauck tours for the value of the total experience and service.

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    The Douro cruise was our favorite of the four (4) cruises taken with Tauck. We had no issues with bar service on the top deck when we were up there. I do recall that there were certain times in which the bar (top deck) was closed. It's a short walk to the main lounge and good exercise to traverse a few steps.

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    When I was on a Viking voyage either a river cruise or an ocean voyage, not one staff member on Viking remembered my name. Not a one! I was addressed by my first name on Tauck tours several times on the tourism currently on and that matters to me more than where a bartender is.

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    I got drinks from a waiter on the upper deck several times on Andorinha, but I actually prefer to get drinks other than water from the bar tender where I can see what he’s making. I end up with fewer “funny” tasting drinks.

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    @Sealord I bet the bartenders just love when you hover over them telling them what to do and how to do it.

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    Derrick, I took the Cruising the Duoro trip a couple of months ago, Had no trouble with the service but do agree with you that the cruise is over priced for what is offered. I've been in 10 other river cruises with Tauck and all have been lovely.

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    Derrick - sorry to hear about your bad experience. Like kfnknfzk, it was one of our top river cruises with Tauck. In fact, the crew on the ship made it a point to know everybody's name by the second day onboard. We had no problems getting drinks on the top deck and the food was outstanding. I don't know what's happened since we sailed in 2021, but I hope your comments will help Tauck make appropriate changes. I've been on 10 Tauck trips and all but one have exceeded our expectations. We have traveled with other luxury companies, but still find Tauck as our preference. I hope someday you will give them another try.

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