Review of tour

I recently returned from this tour that began on Jan. 21. Here are my thoughts. (I hope it's not too much information).

Our Tour Director, Gina Pillsbury, and local guide, Redouane (who was with us the entire trip), were outstanding. We had a very congenial group of experienced travelers, 16 in total — 4 married couples, 1 single man, and 7 single women, among whom were 3 groups of 2 — I was the only solo single woman. (One of the married women on the tour was Mazalea, a regular contributor to the Tauck Forum. It was great to meet her and her husband and spend time with them.) I would enjoy traveling with any of them again. We had great weather throughout the trip. Many early mornings were cool — in the low 40s — but the days warmed up to the 70s, and one day it hit 80.

The contrast between the modern areas of Rabat, Fes, Marrakech and Casablanca and the medinas - especially of Marrakech and Fes — is striking. Even in the modern areas of Fez and Marrakech, donkey carts and horse-drawn wagons share the road with Mercedes vehicles. In Marrakech, our horse-drawn carriage ride from the hotel to the Majorelle Gardens was held up for a while when the Marrakech Marathon passed by. (I saw that as a positive experience.)

We spent a lot of time in the souks of the medinas of the cities. In each of Fes and Marrakech, Tauck provided an extra local guide to make sure that we were not harassed, but more importantly, that we did not get lost. City residents shop in the medinas, which include food markets as well as shops selling everything from clothing to trinkets (many of which are probably made in China). We had to dodge motor scooters and donkey carts as we made our way through the warrens of the souks. We quickly learned the word “Balak!,” meaning “Watch out!”

Gina and Redouane made sure that we knew which artisans were authentic. The tour included planned visits to a ceramic factory, a herbalist, a carpet store, a leather tannery, a tailor, and a shop that made authentic Berber jewelry. Of course, after explanations and demonstrations of the process by which the various items were made, we had time to browse the shops connected with each of the artisans. There was no pressure to buy anything, but many of the group made many purchases in those shops, which, naturally, took a fair amount of time.

We had many group lunches in lovely local restaurants in medinas in Fes and Marrakech and in a private home in Moulay Idriss. We also had group dinners, all of which — understandably — featured Moroccan specialties. I like the Moroccan food, but after a while, it got tiresome. I really enjoyed the rib-eye steak that I had at the hotel in Fez and pasta dinner at the hotel in Marrakech.

The highlights of the tour for me were those that provided cultural insights. During our lunch in the Fes medina, we had a lecture by a professor of women’s studies at the local university, Fatima Amrani. I learned that the current King, Mohammed VI, has really moved the country toward modernization. He has spearheaded the development of a highway system. There were legal reforms in 2004 and 2011 (the latter following the Arab Spring) that established a sort-of Parliamentary Democracy — though the King still has the ultimate vote on anything — and granted many more rights to women. Although polygamy is still legal, after 2004, a man cannot marry a second wife without the consent of the first, and can’t marry a third wife without the consent of the first and second. He also would need the consent of all three wives to marry a fourth, which apparently is the limit. Women can also initiate divorce, and may be granted custody of their children. Under prior law, men automatically got custody of the children after divorce. In reality, most men control the purse strings, and can pressure their wives to do what they want them to do.

We also had the opportunity to visit a Berber family who lived in a village in the middle of a desert for tea. Tauck has just begun visiting this family, and the visits provide financial assistance to the family. The village was a cluster of small concrete homes, most of which sported satellite dishes on the roofs. (I didn’t see a satellite dish on the home we visited, nor did I see a television.) The family consisted of a husband, wife, and — I think - 4 children, the eldest of whom was a daughter who was attending university. The home had an outdoor courtyard, where the wife was baking bread when we arrived, indoor plumbing in a kitchen and small bathroom (toilet and sink), a room In which the whole family slept on carpets on the floor, and a patio on which we were treated to tea. The husband/father raised goats, that were housed in a pen attached to the home.

When we visited the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Redouane explained the process of performing ablutions before prayers and the actual prayers that observant Muslims pray five times daily. I found that visit quite interesting.

It seems to me that we had less free time on this trip than on others, and many more meals were included. It could well be that Tauck didn’t want us roaming around too much on our own, because it would be easy to get lost. Also, with the exception of Rabat, our hotels were not located in areas where we could easily walk to interesting places.

I enjoyed this tour, but it is not among my favorites. The best parts of the tour were the people — tour director, local guide and fellow travelers. It seemed to me that there was a lot of sameness to the tour — the souks of the medinas were similar, palaces with their beautiful, intricate carvings were similar, and the food was similar throughout the tour. I also felt that there was way too much time spent in shops.

And speaking of shops, I was told in one of the shops that Tauck visited that it was not necessary to declare a purchase when returning to the United States (where the official legal limit for imports is $800, which hasn’t changed in the 50+ years in which I’ve been traveling) because items purchased from artisans in a developing country were exempt from duty. However, I was skeptical of that information and when I returned to the US, when I was asked whether I had anything to declare, I responded, “I’m not sure.” I told the agent that I had goods of over $800, but explained that I had been told that items that I purchased from artisans in Morocco were not subject to duty. The customs agent told me that that wasn’t quite true — it depended on what the items were, and what the value was. When I told him what I had purchased and the approximate value, he calculated that the total duty would be about $5, and it wasn’t worth filling out all the paperwork for that amount, and he let me pass. So, buyer beware.

Comments

  • MCD Thank you for your trip review. Good Information. I'm on the November 2024 tour. I understand your comment:

    I enjoyed this tour, but it is not among my favorites.

    I've read many trip reports - including MikeHenderson and for the most part the area is intriguing but on the other hand I think if I never had the chance to visit Morocco, It wouldn't be the worst thing that could happen.I totally trust the opinions of the folks on this forum. I've met people who've stated that Morocco was their least favorite trip. It's all relative, I've traveled the world and have told people Portugal was my least favorite tour - and most people absolutely LOVE Portugal--it's all relative.

    Magic of Morocco is a relatively short tour, so I'm glad about that. The worst part is I'm finding it difficult to get decent flights. I considered going out of the way to fly Qatar but it's really not worth the considerable layover time involved. I would rather avoid traveling through Europe, but the choices are few and I've noticed that since the latest Boeing debacle, many of the flights that I looked at previously have changed :/

  • We absolutely loved Morocco and Tauck does a wonderful job!

  • PureLuxury - I've traveled the world and have told people Portugal was my least favorite tour - and most people
    absolutely LOVE Portugal--it's all relative.

    I totally agree that opinions are all relative. For me, understanding why people rave about something or dislike something is what is important and provides meaningful data for me. If their reasons for liking something or disliking something are in alignment with my own drivers then I'm likely to pay more attention to those comments.

    It's like reviews for anything on the web, a great review of something for reasons you care nothing about is equivalent to a terrible review for reasons you care nothing about. Also likes or dislikes without any rationale aren't very helpful either.

  • MCD,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your experiences and, no, it certainly was not too much information. You write so well and are able to draw the reader in as if they are right there with you. Thank you.

  • @PureLuxury - We took an Air Maroc flight out of Casablanca to JFK - if you want to avoid Europe. I don't think Air Maroc is the lowest cost alternative, however.

  • kfnknfzk -- Thank you. I tried to respond to you via a message, but once again, got the message that your profile was private, and I couldn't send you the message.

  • MCD - I do not know what the issue is since I just recently received a private message. No reason to thank me. I'll send you a private message. If you receive it, maybe you can reply back.

  • We have chosen a longer tour of Morocco next year which goes a little more off the beaten track. It begins and ends in Casablanca. Not seen many negative comments about Morocco here, it’s useful to get different comments.

  • MCD, I enjoyed reading your review and had even mentioned some of your same thoughts to friends of ours who are contemplating a Tauck tour to Morocco. They have always been independent travelers and don't mind a little adventure. This may not be the right trip for them.

    However, with all due respect, I have to say that like MotherOfPoodles, my husband and I totally loved this trip, which we took 5 years ago, so some things may have changed. But we did everything you mentioned. We are not adventurous travelers, and this was our first trip to an "exotic" location. We appreciated the hand-holding. This included having a former Moroccan national boxing champion holding up the rear of our group with a billy club as we made our way through the Fez medina. Our tour bus was swiped for explosives before entering the Four Seasons Marrakesh every single time. My husband and I made a dinner reservation at a restaurant within the Fez medina one evening. The hotel drove us to the entrance gate of the medina. Someone from the restaurant met us there and escorted us about a half mile to the restaurant and back at the end of our meal. It was interesting that at 10 pm, the medina was still so alive. Lots of children out playing. The escorts didn't tell us exactly why we needed to be so careful. They did not have to. The bottom line is there are places where you have to be extra careful, even to appreciate the culture, and we were grateful for the hand holding.
    But beyond any safety concerns, I could not get over the colors of Morocco. So much color everywhere. The fantastic tiles. The lush gardens. Majorelle blue. And my opinion about the medinas was the exact opposite--not enough time spent there. So much color, life and activity! People bustling about doing their everyday shopping. The thrill of bargaining for a cheap pair of earrings (I did not do well but I had so much fun trying.) People transporting anything you could possibly imagine on a beast or moped. I would love to go back.

    We had never been to a Muslim country before, so the first day or two, the call to prayer made us a little nervous. But once it was explained to us, I found a sense of calm when I heard it and got a deep respect for that way of life.

    I too loved the evening in the desert, and the opportunity to ride a camel! Yes it was all a bit Disneyland/Hollywood, but it was fun and beautiful.

    My only dislike about that tour was actually the visit to the Berber family home in the desert. I felt badly that the community had to entertain tourists in order to boost their income. I did not get the sense that the family felt comfortable with this. And yes we were greeted by a group of children on our arrival. They were all asking for money.

    As for the shopping: As it turned out, we had just done some remodeling and I had fully intended to shop for a rug, which I bought and love. I bought other home décor items which were shipped. I didn't buy anything at the other places, but appreciated learning about the process of creating all the beautiful and colorful leather pieces and ceramics. We visited a women's cooperative that was selling Argan Oil products. It was enjoyable watching them work. To me, this is all culture. I like that Tauck supports local businesses. Maybe it gets us perks in other parts of the trip. Who knows. To be fair, my husband DID think there was too much shopping. By the way, if you can dust off your high school French it will get you farther than English.

    Lastly I want to mention that we stopped in Paris for a 5-day layover on the way home. (Air France to LAX). The sky was grey. The buildings were grey. The French women were all wearing black. I missed Morocco so much.

  • So enjoyed commenting by MCD and WAN. Thank you

  • Wan -- There's no need to apologize for your differing opinion of the Morocco tour. Differences of opinion make the world go round! It's all good. We, too, had the boxing champion escort us through the Fez medina, but without the billy club! And we went to that argon oil women's cooperative. I've been to many Muslim countries (UAE [twice] Oman, Jordan [twice], Egypt and now Morocco) and always love to hear the call to prayer, and I love visiting mosques whenever I can. I'm glad that you enjoyed Morocco. I did, too -- it just wasn't one of my favorites, and that's okay. (And my French is from college, not high school -- but still, many years ago. My high school language, and college major, was Russian.)

  • MCD - great to be reminded about why I enjoyed our Morocco trip! I loved the sounds, smells, tastes and general feel of the country.

    I love Middle Eastern food and was never bored with the dining options. We also ate in that special restaurant in the souk in Fes. It was memorable (but cold! Bring a sweater!). I believe the chef was Spanish/Moroccan. Recommended by our TD who said that Harrison Ford had been there while filming his last movie!

    Sure, some of the experiences felt a little contrived - the visit to the family in the desert, the discussion about women by the university professor (same person, same talk), but we could not have done them on our own. Because we were a very small group, we only went to shops that interested us.

    I think the Morocco trip was particularly special because it was our first trip out of the U.S. during Covid (Nov. 2021). I literally wept at the airport while waiting to board our flight! Luckily, no one got sick and we had a successful trip. Only 11 people, which was quite small but very nice.

    Like anything else, I think that so many factors create an experience. Sometimes my memory of a place or time depends on the setting, the company and how I felt at the moment. I might say I loved a restaurant, but can't remember a single thing I ate there. I think it's that way with travel. Small things can make a trip special.

    You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.😉

  • Very interesting.

    I don't understand why some of the Tauck fellow travelers have such aversion to shopping. They also seem to rely so much on meat and potatoes for their meals and seem delighted in certain artificial cultural activities.

    I found that very irritating and narrow minded. That became an issue on my last A Week in Portugal trip.I have seen Gate1Travelers, a more budget tour, more generous with tipping and with their pocketbooks; also trying out seafood.

    I wonder if the demographics will be the same with other tour companies.

  • edited February 12

    Henry, I don’t think you suit Tauck. I’ve traveled with Tauck for around 20 years. Shopping…Tauck has always said it is not a company that encourages shopping and I have always liked that, even though I do like to shop, though would not call myself a big budget shopper. These days, there is so much free time, there is plenty of time for those who like to shop to do so. And for those of us who prefer to do extra site seeing or indeed just relax, to do so.
    If people research shopping opportunities in the country they are going to visit before they go, the unique things they might not see anywhere else. …they should be able to chose quickly. However, I’ve been with too many people, including friends, who will happily shop slowly for hours. That’s not how I want to spend time in a country that I’ve paid a fortunate to visit and see as much as I can. If Tauck included lots of time for shopping I would find a different company.
    There are other points as well. Tauck attracts mainly older people who may no longer want to accumulate tons of ‘stuff’…I’m gradually getting that way myself.
    I find that many people I know are not adventurous about food like we are. One of my best friends always eats Italian when she eats out…I’ve told her, if she went to Italy, she would find the food very different, she probably would not like it. Tauck does play it safe with food options, they have to go with the majority that I assume they get from the feedback from their customers. Tauck did offer us tarantulas to eat on our Vietnam Cambodia and Laos tour, most of the men ate them. On a recent tour, not with Tauck we could try Mopani worms, a type of very large grub like a giant maggot.
    At least when you have to find meals on your own you can try whatever you want.
    It’s quite difficult to find genuine non artificial cultural activities. Most of the time, they do have to be geared to tourists. I’ve attended many of these, from walking with bushmen at a living museum to having a go at using a blow pipe with a ‘poison’ arrow….and I hit the target. I have visited homes in unofficial housing where there is no running water or power, made of cardboards and plastic bags, open latrines. That is rare. My last tour, a woman on our tour would not go near the naked women that I danced with, and held hands. I was ashamed of her so obvious dislike of seeing them . Most of these people no longer live that way, they don their traditional costumes and show us how they make crafts etc, get our money and then go home and watch their giant tvs, use their cell phones. and browse the Internet like everyone else,
    Tipping…I’m not sure what you mean by tipping. I have absolutely no idea how much people tip the tour directors on tours, how do you know, do you ask them how much they are giving the TD at the end of the tour?

  • I've looked at Qatar to fly to Morocco but it really takes me out of my way, long layovers and instead of a 20 hr. trip is more like 30 plus and also not arriving the following day but day after that took Qatar (as much as I love it) out of play.

    MCD and WAN enjoyed your comments !!!

  • Galaxy’s, so looking forward to a report on your trip. My husband loves Qatar but I’ve told him he has to explore Air Moroc, though I don’t know if it flies out of our airport

  • British - I have a feeling Qatar vs Air Moroc is like Nordstrom vs WalMart. :D

  • Didn’t Mike say it was good?

  • to Henrypoon, Tauck takes care of all the tipping, except the bus drivers and tour director.

  • edited February 14

    Air Maroc was very good in business class. I thought the seats, food and service were fine. The only objection I've heard to them is that they're more expensive than other options - but I never researched that. Our travel agent makes our airline reservations and she would have said something if it was a lot more expensive, and given me alternate options.

    There is a problem connecting in JFK, especially from American Airlines, so be careful with that - bags sometimes don't get transferred correctly.

  • A note on a different subject regarding that tour. If you go to Essaouira, there was a "goat tree" on the way and the bus stopped for a photo op. I heard that the government shut that guy down and there's no more goat tree. It was a tourist thing, not real, but very interesting. Sorry to see it go.

    If you don't know what I'm talking about, I have some pictures here - https://www.mikeandjudytravel.com/2022-1Morocco-05.htm

  • Mike, you are correct. There's no more "goat tree," but there are still goats eating the argon berries. The undigested seeds are then collected and made into oils and cosmetics.

  • I toured Morocco with a different company because Tauck did not offer two nights in a tented camp in the Sahara which was a huge draw for me. Our guide in Esouaria told us he would not stop at the pre arranged argon tree goat stop but would take us the next day to a goat herder he knew. It was terrific and not staged at all. Loved the experience of holding those little goats.

  • BlountvilleTN Thank you for your review and restaurant recommendations. As you're the 2nd traveller who welcomed a break in the redundant food choices, I'll say I'm already looking forward to dining in the Italian restaurant.

    I'm traveling mid-November--the beginning of winter, I'm hoping the room is comfortable. I'm sure it doesn't get too cold in Rabat; however, if the HVACs are on an automatic system, the heater may be on (I certainly hope not). I'm glad the windows open and a fan can be requested.

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