Updated September 21, 2017
Scenic and Tauck have many similarities, even if fans of one haven't heard of the other. Both upscale river cruise lines were born out of well-established tour operators. Both offer more inclusions than their competitors and both carry fewer passengers than most river lines, ensuring that service remains at a high standard.
The reason why Scenic fans might not know Tauck, and vice versa, stems from the companies' headquarters. Scenic is based in Australia, and about half of the passengers on its river cruises are from Down Under (with the rest from other English-speaking countries such as New Zealand, the U.K., Canada and the U.S.). Tauck has its headquarters in the United States, and most of its passengers are American, with a smattering of Brits and other nationalities.
Prices and Inclusions
Both Tauck and Scenic are at the high end of river cruises, in terms of price and inclusions. You'll pay about $1,000 more than lines such as Viking, AmaWaterways and Avalon. (Scenic has its own lower-priced counterpart, Emerald Waterways.)
For passengers who like convenience, though, the extra money is worth it. Tauck and Scenic include more in their fares than anyone else, with gratuities, all alcohol, transfers, choice of shore excursions, all dining and Wi-Fi included. If you are the type of passenger who doesn't want to reach for your wallet at the end of a trip, both lines are great choices.
Choose Tauck if your idea of a great day in a port includes a leisurely lunch at a local cafe.
As part of its company's commitment to making your time in port seamless without having to deal with worrisome currency issues, the line gives each passenger 20 euros to buy a meal when an excursion spans the lunch hour. They even pay the public restroom fee for you.
Choose Scenic if you want a lot of extra activities.
Scenic makes sure that its passengers have a variety of things to do in the evening. Scenic Sundowner events are cocktail parties at an unusual or particularly beautiful locale, while Scenic Enrich immersive activities may include a concert, performance or special dinner offsite. While Tauck also has a Lagniappe event, as well as an offsite dinner, it's not as prominently promoted as the Scenic events; it's not even listed in the daily program.
Shore Excursions and Enrichment
Both lines offer passengers a choice of included excursions in every port. For each, passengers are divided into groups (around the same size on both lines) and have individual audio headsets that make it easy to hear the commentary without having to cluster around the guide. On both lines, the excursions will include walking and coach tours of local towns and villages, visits to castles and historic monuments, and experiences such as wine tasting.
In terms of enrichment, both lines bring on local entertainers, although Scenic is more likely to bring on a band to play classic rock and music you can dance to, as opposed to folk performers. On its ships in France, Scenic also offers onboard cooking demonstrations.
Choose Tauck if you want personalized attention on your tours.
Tauck not only has a cruise director onboard its ship, but it has three additional Tauck guides who give the daily briefings, attend the shore excursions (although local experts actually give the tours), hand out spending money or give you a rose to place at the gravesite of a veteran in an American military cemetery. Basically, if you need anything while you're off the ship, they are only a few steps away.
Choose Scenic if you want to be active or go off on your own.
While both lines have bikes onboard, Scenic utilizes them more, offering guided bike rides in most ports. They are also more likely to offer a hike or a strenuous walk than Tauck. Scenic also has special "TailorMade" devices that allow travelers to head out by themselves and follow GPS guided tours that are pre-programed into the personal audio systems.
Itineraries, Demographics and Fleet
Scenic and Tauck are both lines that carry lower passenger loads than most of their competitors and have put a significant effort into upgrading vessels.
Tauck has nine ships, with its four newer vessels carrying 130 passengers -- the lowest number of passengers for a ship of its size. (Most newer river cruise ships in Europe are a standard 443 feet.) The line reduced capacity on its five older vessels, which are smaller, bringing the passenger counts from 118 to 98. The line sails on the major European rivers: Rhine, Main, Danube, Rhone, Seine and Moselle.
Scenic operates 11 "Space-Ships" sailing on the main rivers of Europe -- Rhine, Main, Danube, Rhone and Seine, as well as Portugal's Douro. The line's larger ships carry 169 passengers, while smaller vessels in France have 155 passengers. Scenic also offers cruises in Russia, Vietnam and Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma).
Both lines operate Christmas market cruises.
Choose Tauck if you're looking to sail with well-heeled and sedate Americans.
The line is mostly known in the United States. Many of the river cruise passengers will have taken land tours with the company. Overall, the crowd is older and more sedate than you'd find on Scenic; the dance floor is rarely used on Tauck ships, while on Scenic, it's not unusual for dancing to occur if the right band is playing.
Choose Scenic if you prefer a more lively and diverse mix of passengers.
Scenic attracts more passengers in their 40s and 50s than you'll find on many vessels and, being Australian-owned, is not dominated by travelers from the United States. Expect to sail with Aussies, Brits and other English-speaking nationalities.
Both Tauck and Scenic boast spacious, contemporary cabins that are among the most comfortable in river cruising. Both have hotel-style amenities, including high-tech TVs with entertainment on-demand and information channels, complimentary Wi-Fi, safes, included mini-bars that are replenished daily, hair dryers and designer bath products (L'Occitane on Scenic, Molton Brown on Tauck). The big differences are between the type of access to the outdoors and butler service.
On Tauck's four newer ships, you'll find 67 cabins: nine measuring 150 square feet, four measuring 190 square feet, 32 measuring 225 square feet and 22 suites measuring 300 square feet. Cabins are located across three decks and available in seven categories; the line claims the ship offers more suites than any other European river vessel. The line's revamped older ships have 49 cabins: eight measuring 150 square feet, four measuring 183 square feet, one measuring 182 square feet, 20 measuring 225 square feet and 14 suites measuring 300 square feet.
Scenic has five cabin categories on its 85-cabin Space-Ships. These are all decorated in a modern, contemporary style and feel airy and spacious due to the liberal use of mirrors and reflective panels. Lower deck Standard Suites are 160 square feet, and Balcony Suites are between 205 and 250 square feet. Junior Suites are 240 to 250 square feet, two Royal Panorama Suites are 475 square feet and, on some ships, Royal Owners Suites are more than 500 square feet. The latter are true suites, with two rooms. There is one single cabin that is 129 square feet, and one wheelchair-accessible cabin.
Although Scenic does not have walkout verandas, all cabins except those on the lower deck have "sun lounge balconies," an innovation that is an integral part of the room. They are composed of floor-to-ceiling windows that drop down halfway at the flick of a switch, and the balconies can be shut off from the main cabin area with folding glass doors.
Choose Scenic if you'd like a butler.
Scenic offers butler service to passengers in every cabin, with set services according to the cabin category. These range from shoeshine, concierge service and restocking the mini-bar in Standard Suites, to packing and unpacking, arranging in-room cocktail drinks and even running a bath in the top suites.
Choose Tauck if you'd like a loft feel.
Another thing that sets Tauck's newer ships apart: "loft" design cabins, which have a raised platform seating area that provides extra space in lower-level cabins. Most cabins also have a French balcony, which allows the rooms themselves to be larger while still letting in fresh air. In French balcony cabins, the beds generally face the window for better views.
Both lines offer the type of amenities you'd expect on upscale ships. Both Tauck and Scenic have fitness centers, complimentary bikes (the ones on Scenic are e-bikes and slightly better) and for-fee spas. Some ships on both lines have hot tubs or plunge pools on the top deck. On its refurbished ships in France, Scenic has a salt room and a hair salon.
The main restaurant setup is very similar on the lines, with buffets at breakfast and lunch plus live cooking stations and made-to-order menu items. Dinner is served to the table (although on Scenic, you'll have a buffet your first night onboard) and, on both lines, staff are attentive. The ships on both cruise lines offer a wide choice of dishes to suit all tastes, including healthy choices and simpler "always available" dishes. Special diets can be catered for with advance notice and menus are labeled for people with dietary restrictions.
Tauck's alternative restaurant, Arthur's, has evolved into a casual grill, with a menu offering everything from hamburgers and salads to pastas and steaks. It's open for lunch and dinner, and it's free for everyone. The line also offers a "bite to eat" snack menu that can be delivered to your cabin as room service, or to any of the lounges as a small plate.
Every evening, the forward section of the lounge on Scenic ships becomes the Italian restaurant Portabellos (L'Amour on its French ships), and every passenger can dine here at least once during their cruise, at no additional cost. The River Cafe offers light bites from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for everyone, while Table La Rive is an upscale Chef's Table for upper-deck passengers only. Scenic offers all passengers a limited 24-hour room service menu, with full in-suite dining for passengers in Royal and Royal Panorama Suites.
Wine plays a role on both ships, with regional varietals served at every meal. On both ships, there's a "secret cellar," with better vintages available if you ask. You can also buy wine along the trip and have it served with your meal at no additional cost.
Choose Tauck if you like the idea of a casual grill where you can eat at any time.
While Scenic has casual dining in its River Cafe, it closes at 6 p.m. Arthur's can be a real boon, particularly if you've already snacked at a local cafe and want a simple nosh at night, instead of a full-blown three-course meal.
Choose Scenic if you'd like a wine pairing chef's table experience.
For its upper deck passengers, Scenic offers Table La Rive, a 10-person chef's table in the main dining room. It's a true gourmet experience, with well-thought-out and unusual wine pairings.
Only Tauck offers family cruising through its Tauck Bridges program. Its ship have suites with pullout sofas to accommodate third or fourth passengers. The shore excursions on the designated family cruises are kid-centric and could include visiting a castle and dressing up as a medieval knight one day, watching Hungarian cowboys perform, going on a treetop climb or visiting a salt mine. On these cruises, too, the restaurants have kid-friendly menus and casual dining options.
Scenic ships have neither facilities for children nor specific family sailings, but kids 12 and older are welcome onboard. The itineraries would be suitable for older teens interested in culture and history, and the option of bike tours and independent exploration with the Scenic TailorMade devices mean they aren't forced into day after day of walking or bus tours.
Choose Tauck for an all-inclusive river cruise with structured tours and concierge-style service.
Choose Scenic for an all-inclusive river cruise that has more options for active and individually minded travelers.