Tauck Family River Cruise, August 2015
Budapest, Hungary; Bratislava, Slovakia; Vienna, Austria; Durnstein, Austria; Salzburg, Austria; Passau, Germany; Ending in Munich, Germany
There seems to be very little available about Tauck river cruises, and especially the Tauck family Bridges river cruises, so I’ve tried to include a lot of information.
The dream of traveling to villages and cities along European rivers had been on hold for several years. We have two boys (ages 12 and 15) who travel well, but the thought of them on a river boat and being the only ones under the age of 45 worried us. The boys are veteran cruisers who have seen Greek ruins and palaces in the Baltics, but they’d grown accustomed to going back to the big cruise ship for mental breaks and being with other kids in Holland America’s Club HAL.
After stumbling across an article about family river cruising, we started to check out the options. After calling several of the major river cruise lines, we found there was only one real choice: Tauck’s Bridges River Cruises.
Unlike competitors such as Viking and Avalon, Tauck is not a cruise company. Tauck has been in business for 80-years, and is traditionally known as a tour operator for well-heeled travelers. River cruising is only a part of its business. Tauck tends to have higher upfront ticket costs, but that cost includes almost everything—meals, buses, tour guides, luggage service, transfer to airports and hotels and tips. An example of what’s included: on this tour, the tour directors gave each passenger cash in euros to buy amusement park tickets and routinely bought ice cream cones and candy at each port. The company says it’s not unusual for a passenger to leave the vacation without any additional charges-- and that was true in our case.
The market for family cruises is exploding. Disney recently partnered with AmaWaterways to offer five weeklong Danube River cruises. But the trailblazer was Tauck. The company offered its first family river cruise in 2010. Currently, it offers ten departures and plans to double that number by 2017.
Growing sales prompted Tauck to move our August Blue Danube cruise to its largest ship, the M.S. Savor. The ship essentially has three levels of interior space and a rooftop with lounge chairs, a small putting green and a soaking tub. Tauck has eliminated the “tiny balcony” found on other ships and added that space back to the interior of each cabin and installed floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors to let the air in. The design is superior to the standard cabin on any ocean cruise ship. In fact, the bathroom was as big as you would find in some urban apartments— more than enough space for two!
Because this is a river boat, space is at a premium. There’s no dedicated kids/teen club facility like you’d find on a big cruise ship. For this cruise, Tauck did convert one cabin into a computer game room.
The early August cruise carried 130 passengers. Half of them were under 18. Quite a few multi-generation families were there and mentioned they had taken Tauck family land tours.
Weeks before the cruise, Tauck sent packages to the “young travelers (they never used the terms kids or children).” The boxes contained quality bookbags, water bottles, note pads and a Rubik’s Cube. After an afternoon tour of Budapest, the young travelers were invited to the ship lounge where they met experts who could quickly solve the Rubik’s Cube puzzles. The Rubik’s Cube was invented in Hungary.
Tauck had a Cruise Director on this voyage along with three Tour Directors. The primary job of each tour conductor was to watch and ensure the operation was running smoothly and manage any hiccups.
For example, on a bike ride, one young traveler experienced a flat tire. A Tour Director was there to take over and quickly arrange for a fix. So little time was lost that most in the group never knew there had been a problem.
Candidly, the tour directors admitted the family cruises are more intense and active. In fact, tour directors are given a couple of days off after each family tour because they work much harder than on regular voyages.
On regular river cruises, adult passengers are more passive. There are lectures about the history of the places the ship visits, musical concerts and walking tours. But the family cruises are anything but sedate. Young travelers (and adults) got sword fighting lessons, shot arrows from a middle-ages cross bow, hiked tall mountains to visit castle ruins, biked through villages, swam in the Danube River, rode the antique Ferris Wheel at the Prater Amusement Park in Vienna, navigated a hedge maze at a royal palace, danced in an ornate ballroom, screamed while being squirted by trick fountains in Austria, climbed the stairs where Julie Andrews taught the Sound of Music children to sing “Do Re Mi,” and learned how to mold Marzipan from a chef in Germany. A horse-carriage ride in Vienna was a special surprise.
Sprinkled between the physical activities, the young travelers soaked in culture. There was a marionette demonstration, city historical tours, folk dance demonstrations and museum visits. Surprisingly, the one event the young travelers seemed to be the most fascinated with was a pipe organ concert. In Passau, Germany, Tauck arranged for a private concert to hear the largest pipe organ in Europe. The instrument has 18,000 pipes. The young travelers were taken up into the organ loft of St. Steven’s Cathedral where the resident organist explained how the massive organ works. He demonstrated how the antique machine spits sounds out from different locations in the church. It was Dolby stereo long before stereo was invented. Even the older teenagers jerked their heads around as they tried to figure out the direction of the sounds. What does it say when kids who have grown up with digital music are mesmerized by a machine where some parts date back to the 1700’s? When the organist finished the question and answer session, he gave a 20-minute concert that featured some of the most famous classical pieces of music ever written-- Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor (Dracula’s theme) and Widor’s Toccato (loud and big). There was irony in seeing the young travelers, and their parents, whip out their modern cell phones to record videos of an organ concert in an old church.
After the first day or so of the cruise, the young travelers started gravitating toward each other and away from their parents. During a couple of meals, the young people decided to eat together. At night, they would gather in the lounge and play cards or board games. Mostly, they did what you would expect a group of pre-teens and teenagers to do. The girls talked -- and the boys grunted and acted cool.
Tauck “bought” participation in some activities by offering “cruise dollars.” The “rewards” were offered if the young travelers completed a scavenger hunt, rode the amusement park bumper cars or took a picture of a funny piece of art in a village. At the end of the cruise, the dollars were traded for dollar-store type prizes. Most of the stuff was a bit juvenile and skewed too young for the teenagers (you could tell by the look on their faces). So the older ones used their Tauck Dollars to buy the only items that were somewhat acceptable—candy.
There was obvious thought and planning to tailor the trip to families. It’s a challenging task to organize fun to engage both an eight year old and an older teen. For the most part, Tauck succeeded. The Tauck family tours are recommended for children at least eight years old. Unfortunately, some families ignored that advice.
The vast majority of the young travelers were well behaved, attentive and seemed to be having a good time. There were a few unruly younger ones who ran constantly on top of the ship and caused other trouble. Some passengers complained that as they were trying to sleep, they could hear children running on the sun deck above their high-dollar cabins and through the hallways. At one point the Captain threatened to close off the top deck. Other passengers wondered why their cabins had not been cleaned until they caught the wild children switching the “please clean my cabin” door placards to “privacy please.” Everybody on the ship knew who the offenders were. The cruise director gave admonishing announcements, but of course the wild ones, and their parents, were nowhere to be found when those announcements were made.
All food and drinks are including on Tauck. The Welcome meal, created a bit of a challenge for the crew. On this night there was one seating. Everybody descended to the dining room at the same time. The problem occurred when all of these “families” showed up together. Again, many were multi-generational who were in two or three or even four cabins. Naturally, each family wanted to sit together. We were at the end of the line and suddenly it became apparent there was no place for the four of us to sit together. There would be one place open at this table, two spots at that table, but there were not four open spots together. I would imagine on a regular voyage the staff isn’t juggling as many large blocks of people. The staff members seemed embarrassed and horrified. They sent us upstairs to the larger lounge where they hurriedly set up a table for the four of us. We were actually amused by it and not bothered at all. In fact, we had a great window view and our own private dining room! After that, the staff reserved a table for us in the main dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Of course on other nights, there was a little more wiggle room because guests did not come at the exact same time.
Tauck made some dining changes for this cruise. On the second night, a kid’s buffet was held in a smaller lounge for the young travelers to be together. This created a small dilemma for our boys. On one hand, they wanted to be with the other kids. On the other, they feared (rightly) the kid food would be hamburgers and chicken fingers. Our boys certainly eat “kid food” but they didn’t want to pass up “cruise food.”
Dinner always came with a chef’s surprise starter, a soup option, a couple of appetizer choices and usually three main course offerings (usually a meat or chicken/fish/vegetarian). Each night featured a prepared dessert, ice cream choices, and a cheese plate. In addition, kid food was available each night on the buffet line located in the center of the dining room. While we did not bother to look at the offerings each night, we did see pasta and chicken fingers. Yes, we saw a few partake, but it wasn’t heavy used. However, we did see a number of adults go to that area to the mini-salad bar. It’s not clear if that salad bar is a normal offering, or if it was part of the kid food special presentation.
The buffet area was used by all for breakfast and lunch servings. Breakfast featured everything you could ever want, and if it wasn’t on the buffet, you could order it (eggs benedict, pancakes, etc). Lunch selections included several meats, side dishes, breads, cheeses, roasted vegetables and mini-salad bar. Obviously, you don’t have 500-items to choose from like on an ocean cruise, but there is absolutely no reason for anyone to go hungry. Between hours, you could call room service and they would quickly bring cheese plates, fruit, and other light snacks. I was told by a staffer that they would even make try to make a sandwich or something if I requested it, but we really didn’t see a need. Really good cookies and soft-baked pretzels were always available for the taking in the small casual bar/dining area.
Cabins came with a small tea and coffee machine and a mini-fridge stocked with water bottles and soft drinks. The cabin steward offered to stock the drinks you prefer. For example, we asked for the Diet Coke to be replaced with Sprite. These drinks were a true blessing after experiencing a European heat wave. During our trip, temperatures were in the upper 90’s each day. After returning from excursions, we would stop by the ice machine near the lobby and fill cups with the best chewy crushed ice and take the cups back to the cabin to use with our bottled drinks in the fridge.
Since this was our first river cruise, we weren’t sure what to expect the interior of the ship to really be like. Of course we didn’t expect a barge with plastic fast food restaurant furniture, but we didn’t realize the ship would be as nice as it was. There was marble, etched glass, dark woods, wrought iron, brass and crystal. The look was very rich, warm and refined. Several times during the week, our ship would tie onto another ship at a dock and we would have to cross through that ship to get to land. Walking through the other ships was very interesting. Most of the other “brands” appeared modern, clean and maybe had some even had a few glitzy electronic screens in the lobby areas that we walked through. I would describe the Savor as more classy -- comfortably elegant but not stuffy.
Cabin beds were comfortable— think of the sheets, duvets, pillows and mattress sets at higher hotels. It did take us a couple of nights to get the room temperature right. The plush bedding was soft, but it was warm (let’s change that to hot -- remember there was a heat wave going on).
It’s my understanding that during a regular Tauck cruise, there are several different tours to choose from at each stop. Since this was a family cruise, and the idea was for families to be together, there was basically one set excursion itinerary each day. Passengers could choose not to participate, but there were no other choices. The 130-passengers would often be broken up into smaller groups. For example, some would take a walking tour for 90-minutes while another group would learn marzipan techniques and eat ice cream. Then the groups would switch. Generally, each morning was filled with a group activity/tour and several hours of free time in the afternoons.
We started our trip by flying into Budapest a couple of days early. Tauck offered a good rate at the Kempinski Hotel according to fellow passengers. We chose to stay at the Marriott because of our loyalty status. The Kempinski was definitely an upscale hotel but it was several blocks away from the water. The Marriott is one of the ugliest buildings in Budapest – and I’m serious. But the rooms have fantastic views of the river and the location was perfect for walking and public transportation during our stay (the tram to the Parliament Building goes right by the front of the hotel along the river). Thankfully, the interior of the building made up for the exterior! The public areas were upscale and trendy. In the evenings, a dessert bar was set up in the lobby, and for a small price, you could help yourself. This is one location where I would seriously consider paying for the upgrade to the Executive Level. The Executive Lounge is open 24-hours a day and always has drinks and snacks. Breakfast had plenty of choices (including several hot items). Evening featured cheese selections, breads, grilled vegetables, soups, and several rotating hot items. More than enough for a meal. The BEST PART was taking your plate out onto the patio and enjoying the view. I cannot say enough good things about sitting out on that patio/balcony at the Executive Lounge -- especially after a long day of touring.
We arrived at the Marriott needing a long nap. That nap was perfect timing. A summer hail story woke us up. We were thankful, we had not gone out to walk the streets. By now, it was time to grab what we thought would be a snack before going out. We went to the Executive Lounge and discovered the abundance of food! But we also noticed something else. The lounge is located on the rooftop and it had rained so hard that half of the lounge was covered in several inches of water! Here’s the amazing part -- the staff members had gone into action. They were cleaning up the water, using towels to block more rain from coming in from the terrace, all while keeping the food fully stocked! This was true efficiency. They had a mess on their hands but quickly mitigated the damage and kept serving the guests. This was impressive!!!! After leaving the lounge, we returned to our room where we had a nice pastry cake and bottle of champagne waiting for us (we were celebrating my 50th birthday). What a nice surprise. Sadly, we were so full we couldn’t enjoy the treat to the fullest.
We gathered our swimming suits to head to the Szechenyi Baths. Prices are cheaper after 7 pm. As I read on TripAdvisor, the person in the ticket booth was not helpful with explanations. The four of us “shared” a cabin (think of a SMALL department store fitting room). We took towels from the Marriott and had been advised to take swim caps to avoid extra charges. The experience was neat. There are basically three huge outdoor pools and then a series of smaller pools of different temperatures indoors (some VERY COLD and some VERY HOT). The fun is acting like Goldilocks and going from pool to pool to find one that’s “just right.” We rode the subway to and from without any difficulty at all. Of course the first time you ride, you’ve got to figure out the system. Ticket machines offer an English option and dispense a small ticket. Once you have that small ticket in your hand, you are supposed to punch it in a parking meter looking machine to validate it.
The next morning, our private guide, Judit, met us in the lobby of the Marriott (arranged through Andrea Makkay Private Guide www.privateguidebudapest.com). It was hot and she was already sweating! We walked the streets and rode the subway and trams all day (using a transit day pass). Her English was perfect and easy to understand. With apologies to Judit, we caught ourselves yawning all day because our bodies were still adjusting. We went to Fisherman’s Bastion (Matthias Church and lookout), Castle Hill, St. Stephen’s Basilica, State Opera House, Buda Castle, Central Synagogue, Matthias Fountain, and Changing of the Guards. We could have visited all of these places on our own, but having the guide helped us move quicker and eliminated a huge chunk of planning and research. We did enjoy her commentary and explanations (despite our yawns). For example, pointing out war bullet holes in buildings that we certainly would have missed just walking on our own. Loved the restaurant she took us to a couple of blocks from St. Stephens Basilica… mid-priced, great service, and delicious Hungarian dishes. Think of it as a Hungarian restaurant that looked like a Friday’s.
After returning to the Marriott hot and tired, we went straight to the Executive Lounge for cold drinks. We were more thirsty than hungry so we ended up eating there for dinner. My wife went back to the room and collapsed and I talked the boys into walking along the river and riding the tram back. One of our best experiences! We started out as the sun was going down and got great pictures of the chain bridge at dusk and continued walking to the Parliament Building. By the time we got there, it was dark and all of the lights were on. We stopped several people and asked them to take our picture. Sadly, our postcard perfect pictures were missing my wife! We also saw the “Shoes on the Danube” memorial that our guide told us about earlier in the day. The Nazis took Jews to the edge of the river and made them take off their shoes, and then shot them so their bodies would fall into the river. I found it moving to see the shoes at night and hearing the water hitting the river bank. The boys were fascinated with watching the bats flying above the Parliament Building. We rode the tram back from the Parliament Building to the Marriott front door and went back to the lounge so we wouldn’t bother my wife. After a few soft drinks and pastries, we went back to the room to find ANOTHER birthday cake had been delivered. It would have been sinful to let to go to waste, so we took the tray into the bathroom and ate it so we wouldn’t wake my wife.
The next morning we were fully on European time! We rode the tram to the Parliament Building for our internet pre-booked tour. Beautiful! What a treasure the Hungarian people have. We were told to take as many pictures as we wanted in the building – except inside the rotunda where the crown is kept. Our status with Marriott afforded us a late checkout, so we grabbed some snacks and drinks in the lounge before our easy walk to meet the Tauck group at the Kempinski Hotel.
We immediately meet Josh and Kurt from Tauck. It turns out they were two of the three tour guides we’d be with for the next week. Josh was the youngest of the three and would probably be one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet. He was so perky and positive and had a smile on his face the entire time. He was eager to please and genuinely wanted everyone to be happy. Kurt was the more experienced of the two and knew what was going on and checked us in. We gave them our bags (which magically showed up in our river boat cabins several hours later).
Three buses arrived and we were loaded up for a quick spin around town. The bus drove past some things we had not seen—Hero’s Square for example and also gave us completely different views of things we had seen the day before. The buses unloaded at the bottom of Fisherman’s Bastion (the day before we took a city bus to the top). Because it was such a different view, we didn’t realize where we were at first as we climbed the huge outdoor staircase. At the top, we had our first Tauck extra. We didn’t realize it the day before because our private guide didn’t take us there, but there is an upper walk that’s kind of like being on top of a castle wall. The Tauck Tour Directors went to a ticket booth and bought tokens to get everybody up on that upper wall. A nice view! Our added bonus was that we were up there at a different time of the day, so the sun was in a different direction and we got some better shots of the river below and of the city!
The buses took us to the ship which were docked near the city market we’d heard so much about. Unfortunately, the market closes by mid-afternoon, so we never were able to go inside.
On board—a Rubik’s cube activity, sail away and the welcome dinner. Loved the Sun Deck views of Budapest. Cruise Tour Guide Josh went around and snapped photos of the young travelers to use in the end of cruise slide show. On the ship, we met the third Tour Director, Carrie. She was the “pro.” She was the best with explaining procedures, tips and advice about the ports. Apparently she is a former teacher and her organization skills were evident. If I’m not mistaken, she is assigned to most of the family river cruises—and that’s a smart move by Tauck! By the way, there was also a Cruise Director on the ship who appeared to be the highest ranking Tauck person on the ship. He spoke during our large group meetings but we didn’t really have any personal interaction with him.
An early morning continental breakfast was offered for those who were hungry early, but a big “Brunch” was held from 10:30-noon. At 9:30, a presentation was held in the lounge to tell us about the next two days in Vienna. We left the ship at noon in buses for Devin Castle. We arrived and were greeted at the entrance to the property by a group of medieval characters and welcomed with musket fire and drum beats. Over the course of two hours, the young travelers got a chance to play medieval games. Some got to use a crossbow, others tried to knock a man off a stump with a javelin, slice an apple with a sharp sword and/or learn the parts of a suit of armor so they could put it together. All of this was geared for the young travelers and they were rewarded for participation with “Tauck Dollars” that would be traded at the end of the cruise for “valuable” prizes. This was a hot day and we were offered plenty of water along with sandwiches (French bread with lettuce, tomato and cheese), an apple and a packaged snack bar. I think everybody was appreciative of the effort to provide food, but nobody really ate it because we were still full from Brunch. I would recommend Tauck save some money and provide the water and the snack bars. There was a quick visit to visit the actual castle ruins (not much to see in regard to the castle, but the scenery of the border of Slovakia and Austria was beautiful) and we met the man who runs the operation. Very interesting guy to talk with—I’m guessing he was in his late 30’s/early 40’s and told us stories about how he grew up under communism near where we were standing and how he would look several hundred yards across the border into Austria yearning to walk over.
We were again divided into groups with two groups per bus. At Schonbrunn Palace two groups were first taken to the VERY hot and stuffy Marionette Theater in a side building. With sweat already pouring down our faces, a scene from Mozart’s Magic Flute was performed and then we got to peek backstage. Our local guide took us inside the Palace for a mini tour of several of the ornate main rooms. We would have liked to have seen a little bit more inside, and a few did break from our group to stay inside. Outside, we were taken to hedge maze. The young travelers were given Tauck dollars when they were able to find their way out (enough of a challenge to be fun but it didn’t take up too much time). We had 30-minutes of free time to enjoy the gardens (think Versailles in France) and take some beautiful pictures. We had a choice of a bus ride back to the ship or being dropped off in the historic district of Vienna. I think almost everybody chose to be dropped off. Some ate at famous Vienna cafes. We chose to visit the Treasury to see royal crowns, kingly robes and many other treasures. After returning to our meeting place, we took the 15 minute Tauck bus back to the ship to get ready for out night at the Palais Pallavicini.
The beautiful Palais is billed as a Tauck exclusive. It’s a neat experience. Instead of walking through the ballroom on a tour, we “lived” beyond the ropes for several hours. A catered meal was presented with “white glove service.” Most were in nice suits and dresses. String instruments played, opera singers sang and the young travelers were encouraged to “waltz.” Because the evening was so “magical,” it brings me to one of the few real “suggestions” for Tauck.
As we entered, I handed my camera to one of the Tour Directors to take a picture of our family on the staircase. The Tour Director gladly obliged --- but here’s the problem: It was simply a picture of us standing on some stairs. We tried the same thing upstairs in the ornate Clock Room and again – we got a nice picture of our family. What was missing in each was the lushness of the setting. I don’t expect Tour Directors to be expert photographers. And to be clear, I’m not a big fan of ocean cruise ships where the staff photographer is trying to sell you over-priced photos. But it would be nice to set up a photo station in the corner with some decent lighting and have someone stand there to assist families with their own cameras. It’s such a wonderful night and I bet every passenger (especially the dad or mom who usually is left out of the shot) would appreciate a picture with a good background and lighting.
The next morning, our buses took us on a spin around the historic district and dropped us off at the same meeting spot (The Albertina). As a group we visited the catacombs of Vienna. As we came up to ground level, we were surprised with Tauck arranged horse carriage rides. This was a great treat! I think everybody had a smile on their face during these rides. This is another occasion where I would beg Tauck to station a person somewhere at a picturesque spot along the route and meet each carriage and take a perfect picture. One of the tour directors gladly took our picture at the end of the ride, but the background was a street with people and cars instead of a postcard worthy shot.
Not too far away, we visited the apartments at the Imperial Palace (Hofburg). This made up for not seeing more of Schonbrunn Palace. The most interesting part was the Sisi Museum and hearing the story of Empress Elisabeth, the Princess Diana of her time. Our boys wanted to see The Spanish Riding School, but the horses are out at pasture during the summer. We toured the Vienna Opera House where a couple of weeks earlier it had hosted the premiere of the new Tom Cruise Mission Impossible movie. The major scene of the movie takes place at the Opera House and the boys got a huge kick out of seeing it on the big screen after we returned home. We enjoyed cheese trays, warm pretzels and soft drinks after being so hot.
After dinner on the ship, Tauck took us to the famous Prater Amusement Park. Tauck gave each person cash to buy a few ride tickets. The big attraction is of course the historic Ferris wheel. It was constructed in 1897 and is a must do. Some people spent a lot of money riding the other carnival rides. We happen to live near a theme park so the carnival rides weren’t as appealing to us. An interesting note: there are a number of restaurants within the Prater and we actually noticed very reasonable food prices.
I think this ended up being one of the favorite days of most people. By now everyone was into the ship routine. We had a walking tour of the small village and the church and some great views of the river! The village is like a movie set. Clean- cute—and almost make-believe. Then we returned to the ship where dozens of bikes were set up. Tauck always has a few bikes available if anyone wants to use them, but because this was a family cruise, Tauck rented MANY more. After the young travelers spent a considerable time trying out different bikes and adjusting seats to find that perfect fit, we took off on a ride through the countryside. I cannot describe how perfect this was. The bike pathway went through several tiny villages filled with flowers cascading down the window boxes and past vineyards full of grapes. It was almost entirely flat—easy! The young travelers of course went as fast as they could—the adults tried to keep up but would fall behind as they stopped to absorb.
We ended up in a small town and Tauck brought everyone ice cream. The kids were rewarded with ice cream if they tried to order in German. We biked back to the ship for lunch and then a huge group hiked up to the castle ruins. This was not easy. It was steep and obviously wouldn’t be a part of a regular Tauck cruise. The kids showed no fear of falling from the high stones as their parents gingerly moved around the peak while thinking of their mortality. Back near the ship, the young travelers were given a chance to swim in the Danube River. Even some of the adults went in the knee-high water. A few of the young travelers swam out into the deeper water but most splashed and played with the friends they had made. By now, the kids were getting to know and actually enjoy being with each other.
The ship was docked near Linz, Austria. For those who decided not to go to Salzburg, Tauck provided maps and suggestions of where to go. Tauck offered money for a train tour of the city. The kitchen staff would prepare lunch on board for those who made reservations.
The bus ride was about an hour and a half with a restroom stop just before arriving in Salzburg. The rest stop featured beautiful views of Mondsee Lake and the Austrian countryside. We were given box lunches with more food than anyone could possibly eat. Our first stop was Hellbrunn Castle. We didn’t go into the building, but toured the gardens known for the “trick” water fountains. I will not spoil the surprises, but everyone seemed to enjoy this tour. Before leaving the grounds, we were shown the gazebo prop from “The Sound of Music.” Of course everyone had to have their picture made in front of this piece of movie history. (A side note: the gazebo is now locked because so many people tried to re-create the “I am 16 going on 17” bench jumps and injured themselves.)
During a short bus drive to the historic center of Salzburg, we got a quick glimpse of the house used for the front exterior shots in movie, where Maria is walking down the road with her suitcase singing “I’ve got Confidence,” and enters the gate and rings the doorbell. In the historic center, a local guide gave us a walking tour and pointed out the “real” Abbey where the “real” Maria lived (it’s still a functioning abbey and is not open to tourists), and told us stories about the difficulty the movie makers had in talking the city government into hanging Nazi flags on buildings for the filming. Then she took us on the funicular—a train-car type of vehicle that climbs the steep mountain to the Hohensalzburg Fortress. The fortress was built in the 11th century and was never conquered. There are restaurants on top and great views. The guide released us and we were on our own to explore at our own pace and go back down to the historic area.
Back in the village we walked the streets and went inside some churches. One of the neatest spots was the “real” graveyard that inspired the graveyard where the family hid from the Nazi troops in “The Sound of Music.” It was really beautiful. The movie was not allowed to use the actual graveyard at St. Peter’s, so it was re-created in a studio. Once we met the group, we were given the ORIGINAL Mozart chocolate balls to try. The red wrapped chocolates with a picture of Mozart can be found all over Austria, Germany and other parts of Europe. Those are factory made. The originals are wrapped in blue and are handmade in Salzburg and sold by Furst store. The Tauck tour directors walked us toward the modern part of the city to catch our buses and we went to Mirabell Gardens to stand on the circular fountain and on the steps where Maria and the children sang “Do-Re-Mi.” Back at the ship, we had dinner and the young travelers were invited to a Wii Dance Party in the Lounge.
The morning began with a short walk to the above mentioned private organ demonstration at the Cathedral in Passau. A local guide showed us the town and the flood damage from over the years. After the walk, we were given a chance to mold marzipan and were treated to ice cream at Café’ Simon.
A Bavarian lunch was held on the ship and the wheelhouse was open for visits. Midafternoon there was a cookie decorating time (our boys thought it was too kiddie) and a strudel demonstration in the Lounge for adults. Sadly, we didn’t understand the going away reception before dinner. We thought it was a “drop-in” so we were late, but we were there in enough time to see a slide show of the week prepared by the Tour Directors. They were careful to include each family and provided us with a memory stick of the pictures they used.
The talk of the morning was the low river levels. The captain was visibly worried about the river the day before when the wheelhouse was open for visits. We were re-routed and ended up docking at some non-descript place along the side of the river. There was no actual “dock.” This had all of the passengers glued to the windows and railings. The crew threw some rope to the shore and tied the boat up-- within minutes, every piece of luggage and all of the passengers were unloaded and the boat left because of the fear of getting stuck. Buses met us and took us to downtown Munich.
Tauck bus dropped us, and many others, off at the main train station. We bought a one day “group” transit pass and navigated the station to find our tram (located outside). The tram ended up giving us a great city tour and stopped about 100-yards from our Marriott Residence Inn (also a Marriott Courtyard there). The hotel was not as plush as our accommodations from Budapest and the river cruise but it was certainly fine and free (Marriott points). The staff was super friendly and the breakfast was absolutely fantastic the next morning.
After dropping our bags, we got back on the tram and went to the Munich residenz, the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs. It was huge and well worth the visit. We were told the Allied Forces bombed the palace during WWII. Apparently it was almost totally destroyed and has been rebuilt. We were there for several hours listening to the audio guide when we realized we needed to hurry to get to the Munich clock (Rathaus-Glockenspiel at the Marienplatz) to see the outdoor coo-coo clock come to life at 5pm. It was funny how many of our cruisemates were spotted there. Dinner was at the surprisingly reasonable Ratskeller. Munich was caught up in soccer fever while we were there. The souvenir of the trip was official Bayern Munchen jerseys. We looked in several stores where they were $90. We bought them for on sale for $60 at the Munich airport of all places! Read Less