We had waited a long time for our special Tauck River Cruise having booked many months in advance and having reviewed on-line brochures for most of the main river cruise lines. Our departure was a smooth one and the flight was without problems (except for major delays passing through security in Frankfurt). We arrived in Budapest on a clear, sunny day, collected our luggage and looked for the Tauck representative who was meeting us (even though we were arriving a day ahead of the official beginning of our tour and staying at a non-tour hotel for one night. There he was holding a sign with our name on it. He walked us and 2 other couples on our cruise to the private shuttle to take us to our hotels. We walked our luggage the short distance to the Intercontinental hotel the next morning thinking that we would check the luggage and check in later in the day. Nope - Tour Directors were already at their table in the lobby; we were greeted with friendly words and smiles, checked in and had our luggage in our room in about 10 minutes. Wow - became our favorite word for the attitudes, knowledge and friendliness of the Tour Directors for the next 12 days.
We had an amazing Welcome Dinner at the Budapest Academy of Sciences the first evening, toured Pest and Buda via buses with Tour Directors in charge and local guides at some places (Opera House, Castle Hill). On the second day, we boarded the boat mid-afternoon, were welcomed on board by Cruise Direct Lynn Hardcastle, provided our room keys and found our luggage already in our cabin. We were met by our room steward, Giorgio, unpacked and made our way to the lounge for orientation by the Captain and staff. The Captain was a hoot - so clever and funny and visible throughout the trip.
We had a wonderful welcome reception and dinner that included beautifully presented full course meal with wine flowing throughout dinner (complimentary every evening during dinner).A full description would be too long to include here, so I'll just include the highlights. The beauty of Budapest and then the countryside as we cruised away was just the beginning of a lovely way to see some of the best parts of 4 countries (Hungary, Austria, Germany, and Czech Republic). The excitement (that never waned) of watching the Captain take us safely through multiple locks with little room to spare at times was one of the new experiences. Sailing through the Wachau Valley after visiting lovely Durstein was spectacular, especially when we passed the Melk Abbey. Surprise stop for coffee and local pastries on the only slightly rainy day that we encountered in Bratislava was so much fun and much appreciated. Fantasizing about Julie Andrews running across the meadows in the Austrian Alps as we passed the meadows on our way to Salzburg and seeing the fountain where Maria played with the Trapp children in the Mirabel Gardens and visiting Mozart's birthplace in Salzburg. Two days in Vienna, the organ concert in Passau's magnificent St. Stephen's Cathedral, sausage lunch in Regensburg are just a few of our special memories.
But most important was the way we were treated all the time and by everyone on the staff. The Tour Directors - David Lane, Jeremy Shifferly and Fero Bakos - were incredible. They made a great team - knowledgeable and presenting great lectures in the lounge, problem solving every day with ease and grace, telling stories while in transit to inform us and pass the time while traveling. We felt like we were leaving good friends when we said good-by. Lynn and her staff on the boat were always ready with something to drink and a cool towel when we returned to the boat after excursions, reception desk staff were friendly and always ready to meet needs, cabin was always clean and bathroom sparkling when we returned to it each day. Bartenders learned our favorite drink quickly and within a day of boarding and called us by name (especially, my DH and how he likes his martinis).
Food was plentiful and good - a bit on the high fat/too much salt side for us, but delicious most of the time. Buffets in the AM and for some lunches were presented beautifully and more than ample. Highlights were the welcome dinner and farewell dinner. Lighter food was available in the Lido Bar area but we didn't find it to our taste. Although we certainly loved the coffee/ hot chocolate machine!Entertainment was 'folkloric' - several times local entertainers were brought onboard to present local music and dances and well appreciated by all. One night, there was a hilarious staff show featuring the captain and one of the reception staff as an elderly couple getting into a bed (made with sundeck lounges and bedding)...very funny!!
Local guides used microphones and each guest had an Audio-vox with headphone. We loved all of the guides that we had (guests were divided into 3-4 groups with one guide to a group) except one who walked and talked too fast for some of the guests. Guides were s so proud of their hometowns and very knowledgeable about the history and relevant sights. Excursions were very interesting and there was adequate time to take the guided walk and also have some free time to explore on our own. We learned so much - I feel like I've just passed a course in Central European history.
And the pictures!! I can't even count how many I took - there was something that screamed for a picture to be taken at every turn. What a beautiful part of Europe.
Disembarkation was easy and well organized. We left our luggage in the hallway outside of our room and next saw it in our room in Prague. Our tour ended with a bus ride to Prague from Regensburg and two days at the Prague Marriott (we added an additional day at that end as well so we had 3 full days to see and learn to love this city in the Czech Republic. Two Tauck tours and a private tour that we arranged for our extra day (plus an orientation walk by our Tour Director, Fero, when we arrived in Prague). On our day of departure, we were told to leave our luggage in our room and come down to the lobby at 7:30 AM to meet our ride to the airport. The bellman at the hotel had a list of times people were leaving and automatically went to the room and had our luggage in the lobby before the car came. We had a last look at Prague as we drove to the airport. As we got out of the car, we were met by a Tauck representative with a cart who walked us to the correct line for checking baggage. Our last works were - They think of everything!!