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Our travel agent has been raving about Tauck for years, so when we said we wanted to do a cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest, she suggested Tauck. We had been on a fabulous Viking river cruise a few years earlier and decided to try something different. What a mistake. Logistics: Problems with logistics began even before we boarded the ship. We were told to wait for a driver at the east pick up point at Centraal train Station Amsterdam. We waited over half an hour, finally called and found out the driver had been told to pick us up at the west pick up point. He was cross and so were we. Then we found out the ship was a 5-minute walk from the train station. In many places, we had to stand around in the cold and rain waiting for buses. The two worst so far involved Nuremberg where the guides gleefully told us that because it was Sunday NOTHING was open, but we had over an hour ‘free time’ before we could return to the ship so we had a choice of going into a bar at 11 am or standing in the cold plaza waiting. A few days later, we were told we had an early tour and needed to board coaches at 8:30. We arrived at Melk Abbey 15 minutes later where we stood around in a cold courtyard for over 30 minutes waiting for guides. When the guides showed up, they had tour tickets for 9:15. There were many other similar logistical glitches, which might have been understandable on a less costly or larger tour. Sometimes, it would take the tour directors 15 - 20 minutes to divide us into groups - which could have been done on the warm, dry ship, rather than on the cold, rainy sidewalk. Health: Although folks, including crew and staff, began falling ill with an upper respiratory virus two days into the cruise, it wasn’t until day 11 of the cruise - well over a week later – that hand sanitizing was pushed aggressively. Food service, especially once the virus started spreading, helped to fuel the problem. Napkins in the bar, which are placed on the table for drinks and for people to use when eating hors d’oeuvres, were then collected, and piled up neatly for folks to use again!! Buffet lines, where people reach in for food, often with their hands that they may have just used to cover a cough or blow their nose, also helps spread germs. We've been on larger ships that closed buffet lines at the hint of a virus to try to stop its spread. Other cruise ships also have signs reminding guests to use a paper towel to open bathroom doors (which carry huge amounts of germs) but not Tauck. In short, Tauck did nothing to prevent the spread of this virus. They did, however, call in a doctor for a very sick guest. Prevention would have been a better solution! Standing around in the cold and rain worsened this health problem. Many folks on the cruise are over 65 and standing for long periods exacerbates issues with hips, knees, and backs but most of the ‘walking’ tours have involved long periods of standing while a guide told us of the history of the city (information we could have gotten in a printed or oral form before leaving the boat). Schedule and activities: Most days, time off the ship has been limited to a few hours (although there have been some evenings when folks could stay in town for dinner at their own expense). For the most part, activities and excursions have been limited to walking tours of the old town (which all began to look much the same!). This is not much fun in cold rainy weather – which is common in this area - and no alternatives were available. One day there was NO time off the ship which wouldn’t have been a hardship had there been anything to do other than eat and drink. There was a pile of games and puzzles in the main lounge, but no place to work the puzzles. One waiter offered to put up a table for several of us who wanted to work a puzzle, but it never happened even though there is an unused part of the lounge that would have been perfect. There are 3 public areas on the ship: the main dining room which is open only for meals, a large bar/lounge which is open all day but with muzak playing constantly and passengers congregated there all day with nothing to do but drink, the noise level is so high its hard to hear anyone sitting next to you - much less try to read a book. There is also a small 'cafe' on the aft end, but it too is noisy. I went up one morning at 4 am just to get a quiet cup of coffee (self serve coffee there), but a waiter showed up, flipped on the muzak. I asked him if he could turn it down - or off - and he said "But people LIKE music." I said I don't, I'm the only one here, and I'd like quiet. His response was to walk away leaving the muzak blaring. Quality of the few local musicians is very uneven and not up to the standards set on a Viking Cruise of the area we took a few years ago. Staff: Usually polite and knowledgeable, but some do not hold up well under pressure and snap at guests who ask questions. Also, significant gaps in knowledge. One small city we visited had an amazing museum city which they knew nothing about; instead, they suggested a museum of tools. The Ship: Although recently updated, no noise abatement was added. In the public areas, with low ceilings and no noise abatement, conversation is difficult or impossible for those of us who are hard of hearing. During presentations, staff and guests continued to talk making it difficult to hear the speaker. Our cabin was the smallest one I've ever seen. We are not large people, but we could not pass each other walking around the room. There were two problems with our first cabin: a door that wouldn’t stay closed and a stopped up sink, were fixed eventually (for a couple of days, I was told the door wouldn’t stay closed because I wasn’t holding the key properly and the only way to close it was to slam it - thus annoying our neighbors, but when the maintenance man finally came, he had to re drill the door closing). The worst problem was the HVAC which kept our room very cold no matter what we did. This was even more uncomfortable after we got sick. After several days, of the maintenance guy coming and 'fixing' it, on day 11 of the cruise, we were moved into another cabin which also has problems with air, wildly vacillating water temperatures (i.e. cold to scalding in a flash), and cooking odors coming up through the HVAC system. That seems like a lot of problems for a ship that had recently been overhauled. Fitness and Recreation: One tiny room - claustrophobic, with a stationary bike and a few weights - was at the bottom of circular stairs and no way to signal anyone if there was a problem. I could have stood in there and screamed and no one would have heard me. We sent these complaints to our travel agent who forwarded them to Tauck. The Customer Service Representative apparently told our travel agent that this was all normal. The woman at Tauck finally agreed to talk with me, but it was a very unsatisfying conversation: no “sorry that happened,” all she’d say was that it is their policy to talk only with travel agents. Apparently, once they've been paid, they have no interest or concern that this was the worst two weeks of our lives.

The worst two weeks of our lives

ms Esprit Cruise Review by Nancyjack

Trip Details
Our travel agent has been raving about Tauck for years, so when we said we wanted to do a cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest, she suggested Tauck. We had been on a fabulous Viking river cruise a few years earlier and decided to try something different. What a mistake.

Logistics:

Problems with logistics began even before we boarded the ship. We were told to wait for a driver at the east pick up point at Centraal train Station Amsterdam. We waited over half an hour, finally called and found out the driver had been told to pick us up at the west pick up point. He was cross and so were we. Then we found out the ship was a 5-minute walk from the train station.

In many places, we had to stand around in the cold and rain waiting for buses. The two worst so far involved Nuremberg where the guides gleefully told us that because it was Sunday NOTHING was open, but we had over an hour ‘free time’ before we could return to the ship so we had a choice of going into a bar at 11 am or standing in the cold plaza waiting. A few days later, we were told we had an early tour and needed to board coaches at 8:30. We arrived at Melk Abbey 15 minutes later where we stood around in a cold courtyard for over 30 minutes waiting for guides. When the guides showed up, they had tour tickets for 9:15. There were many other similar logistical glitches, which might have been understandable on a less costly or larger tour. Sometimes, it would take the tour directors 15 - 20 minutes to divide us into groups - which could have been done on the warm, dry ship, rather than on the cold, rainy sidewalk.

Health: Although folks, including crew and staff, began falling ill with an upper respiratory virus two days into the cruise, it wasn’t until day 11 of the cruise - well over a week later – that hand sanitizing was pushed aggressively. Food service, especially once the virus started spreading, helped to fuel the problem. Napkins in the bar, which are placed on the table for drinks and for people to use when eating hors d’oeuvres, were then collected, and piled up neatly for folks to use again!! Buffet lines, where people reach in for food, often with their hands that they may have just used to cover a cough or blow their nose, also helps spread germs. We've been on larger ships that closed buffet lines at the hint of a virus to try to stop its spread. Other cruise ships also have signs reminding guests to use a paper towel to open bathroom doors (which carry huge amounts of germs) but not Tauck. In short, Tauck did nothing to prevent the spread of this virus. They did, however, call in a doctor for a very sick guest. Prevention would have been a better solution!

Standing around in the cold and rain worsened this health problem. Many folks on the cruise are over 65 and standing for long periods exacerbates issues with hips, knees, and backs but most of the ‘walking’ tours have involved long periods of standing while a guide told us of the history of the city (information we could have gotten in a printed or oral form before leaving the boat).

Schedule and activities:

Most days, time off the ship has been limited to a few hours (although there have been some evenings when folks could stay in town for dinner at their own expense). For the most part, activities and excursions have been limited to walking tours of the old town (which all began to look much the same!). This is not much fun in cold rainy weather – which is common in this area - and no alternatives were available. One day there was NO time off the ship which wouldn’t have been a hardship had there been anything to do other than eat and drink. There was a pile of games and puzzles in the main lounge, but no place to work the puzzles. One waiter offered to put up a table for several of us who wanted to work a puzzle, but it never happened even though there is an unused part of the lounge that would have been perfect.

There are 3 public areas on the ship: the main dining room which is open only for meals, a large bar/lounge which is open all day but with muzak playing constantly and passengers congregated there all day with nothing to do but drink, the noise level is so high its hard to hear anyone sitting next to you - much less try to read a book. There is also a small 'cafe' on the aft end, but it too is noisy. I went up one morning at 4 am just to get a quiet cup of coffee (self serve coffee there), but a waiter showed up, flipped on the muzak. I asked him if he could turn it down - or off - and he said "But people LIKE music." I said I don't, I'm the only one here, and I'd like quiet. His response was to walk away leaving the muzak blaring.

Quality of the few local musicians is very uneven and not up to the standards set on a Viking Cruise of the area we took a few years ago.

Staff:

Usually polite and knowledgeable, but some do not hold up well under pressure and snap at guests who ask questions. Also, significant gaps in knowledge. One small city we visited had an amazing museum city which they knew nothing about; instead, they suggested a museum of tools.

The Ship:

Although recently updated, no noise abatement was added. In the public areas, with low ceilings and no noise abatement, conversation is difficult or impossible for those of us who are hard of hearing. During presentations, staff and guests continued to talk making it difficult to hear the speaker.

Our cabin was the smallest one I've ever seen. We are not large people, but we could not pass each other walking around the room. There were two problems with our first cabin: a door that wouldn’t stay closed and a stopped up sink, were fixed eventually (for a couple of days, I was told the door wouldn’t stay closed because I wasn’t holding the key properly and the only way to close it was to slam it - thus annoying our neighbors, but when the maintenance man finally came, he had to re drill the door closing). The worst problem was the HVAC which kept our room very cold no matter what we did. This was even more uncomfortable after we got sick. After several days, of the maintenance guy coming and 'fixing' it, on day 11 of the cruise, we were moved into another cabin which also has problems with air, wildly vacillating water temperatures (i.e. cold to scalding in a flash), and cooking odors coming up through the HVAC system. That seems like a lot of problems for a ship that had recently been overhauled.

Fitness and Recreation:

One tiny room - claustrophobic, with a stationary bike and a few weights - was at the bottom of circular stairs and no way to signal anyone if there was a problem. I could have stood in there and screamed and no one would have heard me.

We sent these complaints to our travel agent who forwarded them to Tauck. The Customer Service Representative apparently told our travel agent that this was all normal. The woman at Tauck finally agreed to talk with me, but it was a very unsatisfying conversation: no “sorry that happened,” all she’d say was that it is their policy to talk only with travel agents. Apparently, once they've been paid, they have no interest or concern that this was the worst two weeks of our lives.
Nancyjack’s Full Rating Summary
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