All Aboard with Tauck

In the summer of 1925, a travelling salesman named Arthur Tauck put an advert in the paper, offering a new kind of vacation. It was a week-long jaunt across New England in his Studebaker, stopping at all his favourite places. The advert said 'No grumps or pessimists allowed'. Six people responded and the trip cost USD$69 all-inclusive. 90 years on Tauck Tours is still family owned, 83 year old Arthur Tauck Jr is very much involved and is up early every Thursday to read the guest feedback reports.

Despite operating for so many years, the name Tauck is not widely known outside of the USA, although we have clients who have travelled with them in the past. As well as the tours within North America, they also feature journeys and small ship cruising worldwide. In 2016 they will be celebrating touring in Europe for 25 years and will have 9 boats cruising on 7 European rivers. Sue and I were lucky enough to experience the Tauck Academy training course on a four night cruise along the Danube from Budapest to Vienna onboard MS Treasures.

Tauck-001Tauck have two types of ships, Jewel Class which carry up to 118 guests and launched in 2014, the larger Inspiration Class with a maximum of 130 guests. We sailed on MS Treasures which is a Jewel Class ship. Most of the cabins have floor to ceiling windows with French balconies that open to the fresh air. The 14 suites like the one we shared have walk-in closets, full size bath and shower as well as two French balconies. Everything is included on a Tauck river cruise, economy flights from London, transfers, services of the cruise and tour directors, local private guides, excursions and activities, meals and drinks onboard as well as all gratuities.
The staff are all very welcoming and the atmosphere is one of staying at a country house hotel rather than onboard a ship. The food was excellent with plenty to choose from and with a wide variety. Soup being one of their specialities, offering a different choice for lunch and dinner every day.

Tauck-002We joined the ship in Budapest, a city which neither of us had visited before. After a brief orientation, we were issued with a headset and joined a coach tour of the city or rather cities of Buda and Pest! The headsets are a really good idea as it means everyone can hear the guide without them having to shout and disturb other visitors. It also allows you to stop and take photos without missing any of the commentary. Our tour finished in the old town of Buda where we watched the changing of the guard before zig-zagging our way down Castle Hill and across the Chain Bridge back to the ship. We had barely scratched the surface of this historic spa city, and both Sue and I agreed we would like to make a return visit to explore it further. Back onboard we attended the Captain's Welcome Reception before going out on deck to watch as the ship sailed away from this beautiful city. The Parliament Building on the Pest side of the river looked particularly spectacular lit up at night.

The next morning we were up early for breakfast so we could be on deck as the ship went through the Gabcikovo Lock. It was fascinating to watch the Captain skilfully squeeze the ship in such a tight space alongside three others. One of the largest locks on the Danube, it raised the ship up 65 feet.
As we continued our journey down the Danube, we started our next module of the training course and after lunch we arrived in the charming city of Bratislava. Part of Hungary for hundreds of years, Bratislava even replaced Budapest as the capital and became the site where Hungarian Kings were crowned. The history of this part of Europe is very interesting; Slovakia and its people have not always had an easy time.Tauck-003 The country has both prospered and suffered under numerous regimes but it has emerged strongly since breaking away from the Czech Republic in 1993. Bratislava is a beautiful combination of many architectural styles and well worth a visit. Our local guide was extremely knowledgeable and really brought the stories to life with her enthusiasm. After the tour ended we had time to explore on our own and browse the different shops before walking back to the ship which was docked only a 5 minute walk from the centre.

During pre-dinner drinks Sue and I learned about the art of Sabrage from a couple of our fellow passengers. This involves uncorking a champagne bottle with a sword or sabre, very impressive but quite technical and dangerous if you don't know what you're doing! After dinner we were then entertained by a local band called Funny Fellows.

Tauck-004The following day we continued with our training before doing an inspection of the different cabin grades available. Following lunch we listened to commentary from the tour directors in our cabin as we sailed through the beautiful Wachau Valley. The ship docked in the pretty Austrian town of Durnstein. On the hill behind the town are the ruins of a castle where Richard the Lionheart was held for ransom for several months in 1192. He was captured on his way home from one of the Crusades. Sue chose to hike up to the castle whilst I decided to visit the town. The Wachau region is famous for its wines and we all met up again at a local wine cellar to sample some of the region's best known varieties. Fortunately it was a short downhill walk back to the ship!

After another delicious dinner we joined everyone in the Main Lounge for a boisterous game of 'Liars Club'. We had to guess which one the Tauck staff was telling the true meaning of a word or phrase. It was great fun and did get quite competitive despite a certain amount of cheating going on, not by us obviously!

The ship then continued through the night and when we awoke the following morning we had arrived in Vienna. We docked about a 15 minute drive from the centre where we boarded coaches for a tour of the city. We drove along the famous Ringstrasse and admired the many Imperial buildings before exploring further on foot. We toured the Imperial Apartments located in the Hofburg Palace, residence of the Austrian sovereigns, the Habsburgs for 600 years. On the tour we visited the Sisi Museum dedicated to Empress Elisabeth 'Sisi' who was assassinated in Geneva in 1898. Vienna is another city we would both like to return to one day especially to visit the Spanish Riding School and to watch a training session.

Tauck-005On our return to the ship, it was time to get ready for the part Sue had been dreading, the Tauck Academy Final Exam. Fortunately we both passed and are now certified to sell Tauck Tours and cruises. It was then time to get ready for one of the highlights of the trip – dinner at Palais Pallavicini. Everyone made an effort to dress up for this gala evening. The Palais is in the centre close to the Hofburg Palace and is one of only a few privately owned Viennese palaces left in the city. We enjoyed a delicious meal in beautiful surroundings whilst listening to classical music including of course 'The Blue Danube'. As well as the music there were ballet dancers and opera singers, it was a very memorable evening and great end to a wonderful trip.

After a delicious breakfast it was time to say our good-byes before being transferred to Vienna airport. What a wonderful 5 days – we had both thoroughly enjoyed the Tauck experience and look forward to passing on our knowledge to any future clients.

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