Leisure Time

Can anyone who has been on the England, Scotland & Wales Tour tell me when/where and how much free time you have, and make recommendations for what to do?
Very much appreciated!

Also, maybe Tauck Emily can help me here: Does "a la carte dinner at your hotel" mean we are free that evening and can have dinner when we choose, or is there a specific time for dinner, i.e. do we eat dinner as a group but have the option of choosing off the menu?


  • edited September 2013
    Amount of Leisure Time and How to Spend It:

    All times are approximate and are based on my recollection from our particular tour.

    Pre-tour Edinburgh: we emailed the concierge at the hotel and he arranged two tours for us: 1) Rosslyn Chapel, Melrose Abbey, and Glenkinchie Distillery and 2) St. A n d r e w s and the Fishing Village of Fife. The tour pickups were from the hotel, but the return dropoffs were not. The pickup from the hotel still made this plan very worthwhile.

    Day 2 Edinburgh: The afternoon was free after about noon. We took a bus from just outside the hotel to the Royal Yacht Britannia. We toured the Yacht and had lunch onboard. The same bus returns to the hotel. Alternately there is a phone at the customer service desk inside the mall, and it has a direct line to call a cab. We enjoyed this outing.

    Day 5 Bowness on Lake Windermere: We had about 1.5 hours to shop in the scenic town. The return to the hotel was about 3:00 PM. Our tour director offered the option of having the bus drop off those interested for a long stroll through the countyside back to the hotel. The terrain was easy.

    Day 6 Chester: We had about 2.5 hours of free time in Chester. We visited the Cathedral, had lunch, and walked 90 degrees of the city wall. There was plenty of shopping for those interested. There was a nice traditional English hat store near the dropoff / pickup point, and it was fun to just browse.

    Day 7 Caernarfon: We had about 2 hours to explore more of the castle, have lunch, and shop.

    Day 9 Bath: Our afternoon and evening were free from about noon. Tauck provided the option of a bus ride back to the hotel at about 3:00 PM. There is much to do in Bath. We took a boat ride on the river and enjoyed seeing the homes and gardens along the river. Others visited museums, a restored Georgian house, and shopping.

    There is excellent dining in Bath and much of it is at very reasonable prices. We made a dinner reservation at Sotto Sotto three months before our trip and had a wonderful meal. It is the #1 restaurant on TripAdvisor. (The concierge and taxi driver were amazed that we had snagged a reservation, since it books up far in advance.). The fine dining room at the hotel is also very nice, but numerous people were unhappy with the very slow service at the hotel's casual dining venue. I strongly suggest having dinner at a nice restautant in Bath.

  • edited September 2013
    I seem to have hit a character limitation, so I am continuing under a new post.

    Day 10 Oxford: We had free time after lunch from about 1:45 PM, and we walked around the town. Later we had dinner in a pub.

    Day 11 Blenheim Palace: At about noon there was an option of returning to Oxford or remaining in Woodstock with a return pickup at about 3:00 PM. We remained in the charming town of Woodstock, had lunch, did some shopping, and walked back to the entry of the Blenheim Palace grounds and took some picture postcard perfect photos of the castle with the lake and grounds. I highly recommend spending the few hours in Woodstock.

    Day 12 London: We were free from about 3:00 PM

    Day 13 London: We were free from about 11:00 AM after the Westminster Abbey tour. Most of us then walked to the nearby Churchill War Rooms and Museum. In the afternoon people headed off in different directions.

    There was a good balance of activities vs. free time. As schedule permit, I suggest spending extra days in London and Edinburgh.
  • A la carte dinners can be scheduled at a time of your own choosing. The tour director encourages people to combine with others in making a reservation, but tables for two are permitted. Most people combined with others and varied their dinner companions in order to meet new people. Dinner selections were made from an a la carte menu. In some cases there were special a la carte menus for Tauck guests, but there were still a variety of options from which to make selections.
  • Not sure if I hit the right "reply" button.
    This is for RLMSLL - You are a Wonder!! You answered all my questions exactly with the information I was seeking, and I am (a) feeling a great sense of relief and gratitude, and (b) really looking forward to the entire tour now that I know where I can go with the flow and where I need to fill in. I am the trip "organizer" for me and my traveling friend, we are both celebrating birthdays and I want to make this a special trip for both of us. You have just made this easy for me to do. Maybe you should consider being a Tour Director? ;-) You would make an exceptional one.
    Thank you for taking the time to answer so thoroughly, and I am sure our trip will be a better one thanks to you!
  • For anyone who has been on this tour: Did you use the pool/spa facilities at any of the hotels? Was there an additional charge, limited hours, did you enjoy them, etc.?
    Thank you.
  • Hi ValleyGirl,

    RLMSLL did a fantastic job of answering your questions. Please let me know if you any other questions.


    Thanks so very much for all the great information you've given here on this forum! It's really appreciated.

    Our tour is very fast approaching and we will be sure to follow your lead in many areas. I arranged a reservation with Sotto Sotto during our stay in Bath and look forward to a wonderful dining experience.

    Did you arrange your river boat ride in Bath with the hotel Concierge? How did you like both private tours you took in Edinburgh?

    You are a wealth of great information! Thank you!

  • I want to thank RLMSLL for his/her help in answering many of the same questions I have. I've scheduled a trip for next August; also at the time of my BD. Should be in the Lake District then. Don't know if it's possible but want to visit Sawry & Hawkshead (Beatrix Potter)when we are in the Windemere area. They're across the lake. Also want to visit St. Paul and the Globe Theatre when in London without adding a lot of days. Was able to find out that both of the London sites are open on a Saturday which helps. Have planned to fly in a day early to Edinburgh. Will check out visiting the Spa at the hotel there. Want to take RLMSLL's recommendations for the other locales, especially the boat ride in Bath. I learned on a past trip to Edinburgh in 2008 to use a cane at the Castle. There is a lot of walking there.
    Will have to use the time until next August to improve my walk-ability. Have been to London twice, including Buckingham Palace, the Mews, and Parliament. Would also like to add a trip down the Thames and high tea at one of the hotels I haven't visited. Was on Trip Advisor at one time. Will be glad to comment on any areas I've visited. Have also been to Edinburgh, Glasgow, northern Cumbria, the Border area, Cardiff, and various parts of Cornwall. Have taken the trains and buses about.
  • edited September 2013
    Thanks for the kind words, everyone!

    Here are a few clarifications.

    There are apparently at least two companies providing one hour cruises on the river in Bath.

    After a long morning walking tour including the time touring the Baths, we were tired and ready to sit down for a bit and the boat cruise was very appealing. The tour director handed us a map and it indicated a location where one could get boat tours. After our gelato lunch, we headed for the boat departure area. With a little luck, we timed it perfectly and arrived about 12 minutes before a 1:00 PM departure of the Pulteney Princess. No advance reservations are needed. It rained for part of the time during our excursion. We sat in the portion of the boat that was covered, but had open windows so the rain was not an issue. The trip went round trip from Pulteney weir (on the south east side of Pulteney bridge) to Bathampton weir. There was narration in one direction. Some of the seating was cramped, but the boat was not full so we could spread out and it was not an issue.

    Pulteney Cruises also operates boats on the river. They depart from the other side of the river north west of Pulteney Bridge. Their boats are larger, and they have a totally open deck above a closed cabin. Their seating might be more spacious. I suggest checking TripAdvisor to compare the two boat lines which are priced similarly (£8.00 adult or £6.00 concession - over 60 years).

    Both cruises follow the same route so it may be best to just take the one that best fits with your schedule.

    With respect to the tours the concierge arranged for us in Edinburgh, they were not private. They were bus tours. However, with our Sheraton Hotel pickup, we were the first people to board the bus so we had our choice of seats. The tours were fine and included a fair amount of free time at sites. The tours were run by Timberbush, but you must book through the concierge (at the same price) in order to obtain the pickup from the hotel.
  • Thanks for your very thorough and quick reply! Very much appreciated!

    May I ask what your overall impression of this tour was and your Tauck provided dining experiences? Were there many pre-set menus (similar to banquet dining rather than choosing off a menu/a la carte)?

  • nyfeds wrote:
    Thanks for your very thorough and quick reply! Very much appreciated!

    May I ask what your overall impression of this tour was and your Tauck provided dining experiences? Were there many pre-set menus (similar to banquet dining rather than choosing off a menu/a la carte)?


    Hi, Denise,

    My overall impression of this tour was very positive and I hope to take more Tauck Tours in the future! Pretty much anything within Tauck's control went off without a hitch.

    The tour director was excellent. She knew the history of the countries well and was a great storyteller, and she did this without notes. She was skilled at working logistics such as accommodating a guest that had unexpected mobility issues.

    Our driver was excellent and skilled at guiding the bus over narrow roads and through high traffic / small clearance areas. We are accustomed to self-drive land trips, but for this trip we were very pleased to leave the driving to someone so skilled. This escorted tour was a relaxing way to travel.

    For the most part we were very pleased with the hotels. The room sizes were generally large and comparable in size to what one would find in the USA. We had been somewhat concerned about this, since many European hotel rooms are traditionally small, but in general it was not a concern. The one hotel with which we had an issue was in Portmeirion. Internet was down for a day, and the plumbing was antiquated. The bedroom was small, but the bathroom was large. However, the view of the estuary from our hotel room and the dining room was stunning! We did not have view rooms in Edinburgh or London, but the rooms were excellent.

  • I ran into character limits again, so this is a continuation of my previous post.

    As for dining, there were always at least two options for dinner - even at banquet type meals. In most cases there were four or five choices for a main course. Most menus contained some fish and lamb dishes which one would expect in this area. Vegetarians might find limited options. Some folks who have taken many Tauck tours were disappointed that some hotels had special, perhaps more limited, a la carte menus, but I think there were still plenty of good options and I don't see this as being an issue.

    Full breakfasts were available. They were buffets, and at some hotels one had to order the hot items from the wait staff.

    In most restaurants the coffee was not very good. It was probably instant.

    The Tower of London dinner was very special. In my opinion the dinner was quite good when you consider the difficulties of preparing and serving a multi-course gourmet dinner in a venue with limited access. Some long time Tauck guests thought the portions were small and the selections too limited, but I don't think it is practical to expect a more comprehensive menu in such a setting. Tauck also had a musician play while we dined. It was a real treat to have dinner in the Tower and see the Ceremony of the Keys.

    The local guides that Tauck hired were excellent.

    Tauck included a number of special touches that we appreciated. We enjoyed the tour of the Levans Hall gardens with the head gardener and the lunch with the owners of a country manor house.

    Overall this was an excellent escorted tour, and we plan to travel again with Tauck.

  • edited September 2013
    Your response, once again, is tremendously appreciated.

    This is our 4th Tauck tour. Last year's tour (Bellisima Italy) had some concerning/unsatisfactory issues that we expressed to Tauck's Guest Relations, including some really unsatisfactory dining experiences. We would have never thought any meal in Italy could be unsatisfactory, but several were and it was a real letdown. Last year was the first time we experienced "banquet-type" meals more times than not and the overall opinions of our entire group were less than stellar. The three prior tours we took with Tauck offered a la carte dining off of hotel or restaurant menus which were/are far more preferable. With that said, it is a bit concerning that this tour offers banquet-type dining. We will, however, wait and see what happens this time around. I do agree that the Tower of London dinner presents some complications in preparation and serving, but looks to be a real highlight of this tour. We look forward to that!

    Our tour begins in Edinburgh at the Balmoral rather than Sheraton. I've heard some great things about this particular property.

    Tauck, indeed, offers some very special "goodies" along the way when taking their tours. We hold those experiences among our best travel memories and look forward to those particular experiences in the UK.

    Thanks for all your really informative and helpful input!

  • Hi ValleyGirl,

    RLMSLL did a fantastic job of answering your questions. Please let me know if you any other questions.


    Thank you, Emily. Can you tell me whether Tauck will make arrangements for a birthday surprise, nothing major, just a slice of cake with a lit candle, or a glass of champage at dinner, that kind of thing?
  • edited November 2013
    We took the tour in July and concur with RLMSLL.

    Most of the true "free time" will be before and after with a few exceptions. As many have said in other blogs, this is a tour and not a vacation, so while you may have some spare time, you may not have spare energy! Free time is shown on the Tauck itinerary.

    This tour really lends itself to getting there a day or two early and staying a day or two afterwards.

    We got there mid-morning a day early and decided to force ourselves to adjust to the new time schedule by staying up. Before leaving the US we contacted the concierge via INTERNET and arranged to get into our rooms early so we could freshen up, then headed off to the Royal Yacht Britannia. We ate lunch/dinner(?) at a restaurant in the adjacent mall. The next morning two of us traveled (again via bus*) to Craigmillar Castle, a very interesting, well preserved "ruin" associated with Mary Queen of Scots. It was only 15 min. away from the hotel right at the edge of town. We learned about this place from watching the Amazing Race on TV. The castle was one of the challenge stops. It has a great view of Edinburgh from the battlements. You can check it out online. It was just us and four other people!

    We then caught another bus to Rosslyn Chapel where we were joined by the couple touring with us. Even though the crusades, Knights Templar, etc. connections alluded to in Dan Brown's Davinci Code are mainly literary hype, it is well worth the visit and for the first time in 14 years no longer has a scaffold and temporary roof over it. We timed it right to have a quick bite in the little visitor center cafe, hear a presentation in the chapel, then tour on our own. We walked a bit to the nearby ruins of the Rosslyn Castle (now a rental cottage so you can't go in) and make it back to the bus stop for our return to the Hotel and a short nap before the welcome dinner.

    *Edinburgh has great buses that run often. I toyed with the idea of renting a car but was glad I didn't. I downloaded the bus schedules and planned our touring before leaving the US. Stops for most of the key routes are right in front or within a block of the Sheraton. We didn't attempt to visit places as far as RLMSLL did. Cars w/driver are available but can be pricey. If it's a once in a lifetime trip, however, go for it!!

    Other places to visit not far outside of Edinburgh are Linlithgow Palace (another ruin of significance) and Hopetoun House. You can check them out on the web- Linlithgow is on the major train line to Glasgow, so extremely easy to get to. We didn't have enough time for these, but realized later we missed an opportunity to see a jousting tournament at Linlithgow that weekend.

    There was only enough free time to walk around and do a small amount of shopping in most other places. In Bath the three others went shopping and to an old book store, while I walked around town and along the nearby canal. By the time we were done we were ready to take the bus rather than walk back to the hotel. I believe the hotel/location is new for 2014.

    London- need more time there for sure!!!!! On the afternoon we arrived, we freshened up and then took a short walk across the Millenium Bridge which is right there by the hotel, to ride the London Eye- a must do! It is high enough and located close enough so you are almost looking down on Parliament, etc. The Royal Horseguards hotel is only two blocks from Trafalgar Square, the Theatre District, Parliament/Big Ben, Westminster, and there is a tube station (subway) right there, too- check it out on Google Maps or Google Earth! We stayed a extra day and went via tube to the British Museum. We could have spent a full day or two there- they have various suggestions as what to see, depending on your available time- we took the "highlight" self-guided tour which included the Rosetta Stone and other archeological exhibits. Then it was back on the tube to Portobello Road- a very extensive street market made famous in song and movies, like "Notting Hill" with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. It was extremely interesting, but since it was a Saturday, VERY busy.

    By the way, the pedestrian tunnel by the Embankment tube station next to the hotel had a "Subway" chain restaurant. It was very unremarkable except for one thing- It was the only place we saw on the entire tour where you could get self-serve ice for your soft drink!
  • This is a great thread and my thanks to those who have been on this trip and posted such detailed information. I have taken many notes as we'll be on this trip in August 2014. I'll start a roll call next year.
  • edited November 2013
    According to Tauck's web site for 2014 tours, the Edinburgh hotel for "England, Scotland" is the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa. For the "A Week In... Scotland" tour, the hotel is The Balmoral.
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