Tauck river cruises are all about in-depth cultural connections to the destination, and these are made through a very well-thought-out tour program. Each time the ship is in port there is a choice of up to three tours, all included in the fare. Tours keep to a tight schedule without feeling rushed. They are conducted by well-informed local guides or, in some cases, one of the three cruise directors who will simply lead an orientation walk around a village. Each cabin is equipped with battery-powered listening devices and earpieces so participants can hear what the guide is saying. For passengers who want to explore by themselves, a map of each port -- including local highlights -- is freely available from the travel desk in the lobby, along with information sheets on top attractions in places such as Vienna, and staff can also provide advice on places to visit.
In addition to a cruise director, there are also two tour directors (most riverboats just have one cruise director) that ensure a very high level of interaction with passengers and the ability to personalize shore tours, which are normally very rigid with other lines. For example, in Vienna we wanted to spend as much time as possible at a particular attraction that the group was scheduled to visit later in the morning. Without any hesitation, one of the tour directors walked with us to the venue -- leaving the second director with the rest of the group -- and organized the tickets so we could make the most of our time there.
* May require additional fees
Even though MS Treasures carries fewer passengers than ships of the same size, walking tours will be split into two or more groups if there are a large number of participants. This provides a much more intimate experience. There is also the option for a "mellow yellow" slower-paced walking tour, excluding hills and a large number of steps, on some of the tours. At the previous evening's "discovery briefing," the cruise director will advise on how much walking is involved to help passengers decide what to do.
There will always be a standard sightseeing tour, on foot by motor coach or a combination of the two, to provide an overview of highlights such as churches and monuments.
For active passengers, there are some great options including cycling tours along the banks of the Danube. These are run by an outside operator so are not restricted to the number of bikes carried onboard. Additionally, there are TauckFIT excursions involving more strenuous hikes, such as walking up to the castle ruins in Durnstein or to Melk Abbey.
More unusual tours where passengers are immersed in a local culture or tradition include a visit to the Spanish Riding School in Vienna to watch the Lipizzaner horses being trained during the morning exercise session in the ornate winter riding school.
Each cruise will also feature one or more special "sparkling" experiences. On our cruise this was an exclusive dinner concert at the Palais Ferstel in Vienna with orchestral and operatic performances.
Every time passengers leave the ship they log in and out with their key cards at the reception desk. Security on the shop is impressive and while the ship is docked, all outside doors are locked and can only be opened using a cabin key card. In busy towns and cities, the security officer is also stationed at the bottom of the gangplank.
Complimentary bottled water, in small and larger-sized bottles, is available from reception prior to excursions. For active excursions, such as biking tours, there is even a basket of energy snacks, including bananas and yogurt drinks.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Like most river cruises, onboard entertainment is fairly low-key and geared to a mature crowd. There's a resident pianist who plays nightly in the Panorama Lounge and will oblige with requests. Books and board games can be borrowed from the library and additional games are available from the lounge. For those with any energy left after the shore excursions, there is a small dance floor in the lounge.
There are also quizzes, German language lessons and light-hearted events such as a towel-folding demonstration by the cabin stewards. Visiting local entertainers also come aboard in the evening at various points during the cruise. These included a highly entertaining and amusing Dixieland-style jazz band and a talented trio of classical musicians.
Each evening in the Panorama Lounge, the cruise director -- sometimes assisted by one of the two tour directors -- gives a "discovery briefing" that provides an overview of the following day's activities and excursion options. In some cases, a local guide comes onboard in the morning, prior to going ashore, to give a lecture on the destination. On our cruise, this included an extremely engaging and insightful talk on the history of Slovakia.
A recap of the following day's schedule is also featured in the daily program left in the cabin each night. Additionally, there are cards providing interesting snippets and in-depth information about places being visited, such as the spa culture in Budapest or wines from Austria's Wachau Valley. These are also nice souvenirs from the cruise.
Panorama Lounge (Deck 3): The combined lounge bar is situated forward on the upper Diamond Deck and can comfortably accommodate all the ship's passengers. A natural gathering spot by day or night, it is a very inviting room, newly decorated following the refurbishment in tranquil shades of taupe, green and black. There are a variety of seating options, including a circular banquette, armchairs, couches and stools surrounding the bar, which is located toward the front of the lounge. All drinks, including Moet & Chandon Champagne, are included in the fare.
Bow Terrace (Deck 3): Situated directly in front of the Panorama Lounge, and accessed by an automatic door, there is a small alfresco area with a curved wooden bench running around the front of the lounge with armrests that also double up as small tables with enough room to place drinks. Surrounded by glass screens, it is a peaceful spot to watch the passing scenery, albeit not particularly comfortable for long periods as there are no cushions.
Aft Terrace (Deck 3): There is small outdoor terrace, with five rectangular tables and two to four chairs at each, behind Arthur's. It is a lovely quiet spot directly overlooking the back of the ship where passengers can sit and enjoy a beverage during the day or have a drink after a meal in Arthur's.
Sun Deck (Deck 4): Bartenders regularly come up to the alfresco deck to give out iced water or speciality cocktails -- such as a bright blue beverage when setting sail on the Danube -- and regularly circulate to take drink orders. Passengers are also welcome to take drinks and snacks up to the sun deck. Smoking, including e-cigarettes, is only permitted on designated areas of the alfresco deck.
The sun deck runs the full length of the ship and is covered with a material that mimics wooden decking, giving the area a traditional feel. There are plenty of different places for passengers to relax, take in views or soak up the sun on warm days, including an area sheltered by windbreaks, chairs (with tables) and loungers -- some covered by a shady canopy. Towels and blankets are provided.
At the back of the outdoor deck is a four-hole putting green and small hot tub. There is a walking track around the edge of the deck. Out of courtesy to passengers in the Diamond Deck cabins below, people are requested to refrain from walking and jogging early in the morning and late at night.
The main doors on the upper Diamond Deck lead into the grand marble-floored lobby with a large glittering chandelier. On one side is the 24-hour reception desk and opposite is the travel desk where passengers can get information about excursions, ports being visited and reserve places on shore tours. Next to the travel desk is a boutique selling an attractive range of quality accessories including scarves, jewelry, purses and souvenirs.
A pair of staircases (six steps), with gleaming brass handrails, are situated on either side of the lobby and respectively lead to the upper and middle deck cabins. At the entrance to the upper deck corridor there is a very small library containing a selection of books -- mainly novels and travel guides -- and board games that can be borrowed for the duration of the cruise. At the entry to the middle deck there are washrooms and an ice machine.
Wi-Fi is free of charge and available throughout the ship, and on our cruise there was very good connectivity. In order to log on, passengers have to take their smartphone, tablet or laptop to the reception desk to get connected to the vessel's internet service and after that they are automatically logged in. There is no limit to the number of devices that can be used per passenger.
A moderately priced laundry service is available offering washing and pressing, washing only or pressing only. Charges start at 1.25 euros for anyone who still used a handkerchief to10 euros for a jacket. Laundry is generally returned within 24 hours.
The ship has an elevator that travels between the Ruby and Diamond Decks. It does not service the lower Emerald Deck or sun deck, both of which are accessed by stairs.
Smoking is allowed on the sun deck.
The ship has a small spa and gym, both of which are located in the same area at the foot of the stairs to the Emerald Deck.
One door leads through to an area with spa products displayed in glass cabinets and the one-bed massage room to one side. The spa menu ranges from 25-minute massages -- back; head, neck and shoulders; foot -- all priced at 33 euros to a 75-minute hot stone massage that costs 88 euros. Other treatments include a Swedish-style aromatherapy massage and a deep tissue massage. Appointments can be booked at the reception desk and cancellations at less than 24 hours' notice incur an 80 percent cancellation fee.
Beyond the spa lobby area is the gym, which is a rather gloomy room with opaque floor-to-ceiling windows on each side and no exterior views. However, to help alleviate any boredom there are six TV screens situated on the wall opposite the small workout area and in front of the two upright exercises bikes, one recumbent bike and two treadmills. There are also free weights, exercise mats and a set of scales. Bottles of water and towels are provided. The gym is open 24/7.
MS Treasures has a fleet of six bicycles that are available for passengers to use on a complimentary first-come, first-served basis.
The company offers Tauck Bridges itineraries, including river cruises, which are specifically aimed at families and suitable for children over the age of 4. However, its general river cruise program is not appropriate for small children and MS Treasures does not have any onboard facilities or activities for children. Itineraries would suit mature teens, who must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. However, it should be noted that although the legal age for alcohol consumption is lower in Europe than it is in the U.S., Tauck observes U.S. laws and will not serve liquor to passengers under the age of 21.