Writing this in our hotel overlooking the Danube before we leave for dinner at the the Academe Club (courtesy of Tauck) on the last night of our trip.
By way of background, my wife and I have cruised usually twice a year since 2001. We have sailed with Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Windstar before this trip. We are from Texas and so naturally have hit the Caribbean a lot, but we have also been to Tahiti (Windstar) and the Galapagos (Celebrity). We also done a driving tour through Iceland (Nordic Vistor) last year. This was our first River Cruise and my first time to Europe (my wife had been here 40 years ago with her family).
We chose Tauck based on a recommendation from a former travel agent as well as recommendations from passengers on a Windstar cruise on our most recent cruise to the BVI. Little did we know that we are probably hooked for life.
For those that are not familar with river cruising on the Danube, there are numerous crusie lines that operate here, including Viking, Uniworld, AMA, etc. The boats are very similar overall style, being very long with a maximum of four decks to allow the boat to clear some of the lower bridges in the upper part of the Danube (literally going into the Wachau valley, you could lay on a lounge chair on the top deck and touch the bottom of a bridge.) In several ports, the boats tie up next to each other, so you have the opportunity to walk through the lobbies of the other boats on the way to and from shore. So from a cursory glance, they look the same.
So, the simple question - if they all have basically the same boats and go to the same ports (in our case, Passau, Dirstein, Bratislava, and Budapest), why spend the extra money for Tauck. The answers are as follows:
1) All inclusive - the only add on was your bar bill at happy hour and our understanding is that Tauck is moving to 100% inclusive next year. All our on shore tours, dinners (see below), etc. were included.
2) Organization - each city offered a tour with a local guide in the morning and then free time to shop and tour on your. All of our guides were excellent and include many of their personal experiences living the city. Our guide this morning told us of her father's participation in the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, for which he was imprisoned for over six years.
3) Extras - in our first night in Prague, they sponsored a tour and dinner at the Lefcowicz palace overlooking Prage. In Vienna, we had a reception at the Palla Palavicci next to the Hapsburg Palace, serenade by 16 members of the Viennese orchestra and a young lady from the opera. Seranaded today at the end our tour of the Budapest opera house. IT IS THESE EXCLUSIVES THAT REALLY SET TAUCK APART.
4) Directors - we had three tour directors for 120 people, plus a cruise director while on board. All very experieced, which made they whole experience seamless
I could go on, but I have to get ready for dinner. In short, try them - you will not go back to any other cruise line!!!