Tauck Grand European River Boat Tour itinerary map

My wife and I went on this river cruise in September 2013 and had a wonderful time!  Although marketed as one Grand European tour, it was sort of a combination of two cruises, Amsterdam to Budapest + Budapest to the Black Sea. We hope this overview will be helpful to anyone considering taking these Tauck tours, or for those who are booked and are excited about the details.

Quick Jump Menu:

Our Experience

Great trip...we thoroughly enjoyed our first river cruise! Visiting so many countries and seeing the differences between Western Europe and Eastern Europe was fascinating. Tauck did their usual top-notch job of organizing a great experience. The river boat and crew were equally impressive. We had the opportunity to see other river boats and compare notes with their guests; when we do another river cruise, it will definitely be with Tauck! Here are some details, hopefully they won't spoil your own fun.

Tauck graphicChoosing Tauck

We chose this Tauck Tour for a number of reasons:

  1. We have toured with Tauck before, and were very impressed by the entire experience.  We have been excitedly waiting for our next opportunity to take another vacation with them.
  2. We have taken other tours with Trafalgar, Uniworld, and Insight.  Tauck has been our best experience.
  3. This will be our first river cruise, and we heard many people say that Tauck is the best.
  4. We appreciate how Tauck does not try to upsell extra activities or options during the tour.
  5. The Tauck reputation as a company helps them attract top-notch tour directors.

Booking Our Tour

In April 2012, I noticed on the Tauck website that they were accepting early reservations for 2013 departures, even before the details were finalized. Tauck river cruises frequently book up quickly, so we decided to make our reservation. We immediately had our travel agent Mindy (at Pavlus Travel) make our reservation, and charge our $600 deposit.  By booking so early, we were able to get the exact room that we wanted.

I must start with a good word for our travel agent Mindy. She gets us literally the best prices available, and has booked many trips for us. Mindy is very experienced with booking Tauck tours, and has been great to work with.  Pavlus Travel books more Tauck Tours than any other travel agency. I have no hesitations recommending her if you are considering booking a tour with Tauck. Here's how to reach Mindy.

Here is the information Mindy needed to relay to Tauck order to book our reservations:

Incidentally, Pavlus Travel claims to be "the world's largest single office seller of Tauck World Discovery Tours".  I appreciate working with a travel company that has plenty of experience with the specific travel I am doing.

Pre-Tour Documents From Tauck

Final payment was due 60 days before departure. We made our final payment 4 1/2 months before our trip, and the following week we received our Tauck documents from our travel agent via FedEx. Our "Guest Documents" were all contained in a custom 5.5" x 8.25" spiral coil-bound booklet. Contents of this booklet:

It also contained two luggage tags.

Cancellation Fees

Taking various factors into account, we are usually comfortable declining travel insurance.  But we always try to familiarize ourselves with policies concerning cancellations.  Tauck's cancellation fees (if you didn't have Guest Protection or Cancellation Fee Waiver) for riverboat tours are different than for their land tours. For this tour, the fees were:

The cancellation time is determined to be when notice is received in their Norwalk, CT office.

DAY-BY-DAY — Our Itinerary at a Glance

Text in yellow is from the Guest Documents booklet mailed to us prior to the trip. It had some minor differences from the day-to-day description posted on the Tauck web site, some of which I didn't notice until that day.

Friday Sept 6 (Pre-tour day) Travel Day; Amsterdam

1:00pm Flight arrival in Amsterdam
Transportation from Amsterdam airport to InterContinental Amstel hotel: Provided by Tauck
Rest of afternoon and evening is on our own.
Lodging: InterContinental Amstel (1st of 2 nights)

Our transatlantic flight was uneventful. Passing through immigration and customs in Amsterdam was routine, and moved fast. There were no customs forms to fill out. Just outside customs, there were many people waiting to meet passengers. We spotted our driver in the group, holding a "Tauck" sign. He checked our name against his list, we waited a few minutes longer for four more people, and then we were taken to his awaiting van right outside.

Two passengers were dropped off at a different hotel, and then he took the rest of us to the InterContinental Amstel; the drive took less than 30 minutes.

Hotel check-in was smooth. We were about 1/2 hour early for the 3:00pm check-in time, but our room was ready.

After unpacking and settling in to our new home for the next 22 days, we went out exploring. The concierge gave us a map, and showed us how to get to the closest Tourist Information center. We walked the several long blocks there, taking in the sights along the way. We purchased a 48-hour IAmsterdam City Card, which we had researched prior to our trip. The card includes most museums, a canal cruise, and unlimited access to public transportation. It actually comes as two cards; one with a magnetic strip for the sights and attractions, and one with an embedded chip for the transportation.

We took the trolley back to the hotel (lines #7 and 10 go by the hotel). The routine is to board the trolley and swipe the card in front of the marked sensor on the way in. Then when exiting, swipe the card again by the door.

We tried to get into the hotel restaurants, but did not have reservations, and they had no tables available. We went to look at the indoor pool, and were greeted by a staff person who gave us a tour of the fancy pool and spa facilities. He asked where we were from, and when learning we were from the U.S. he reminded us that in the Netherlands the spas are clothing-optional, so as to be prepared when we entered.

We decided to dine out to an Italian restaurant we had passed earlier, where we noticed many locals eating. It was a delicious meal in a charming atmosphere, with the outdoor table allowing us to watch the people ride by on their bicycles.

Saturday Sept 7 (Pre-tour day) Amsterdam (Netherlands)

Entire day is on our own.
Lodging: InterContinental Amstel (2nd of 2 nights)

We had breakfast in the hotel dining room, which had a nice view adjacent to the river. There was a small buffet, along with made-to-order items such as eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, American pancakes. Service was excellent. Room was not at all crowded at 8:00am. The menu price was €35, but it was included with our room.

We left the hotel at 9:00am and didn't return until 8:00pm. We spent our entire day exploring museums and sights, utilizing our IAmsterdam City Pass to the fullest. Lots of walking, occasional public trolley. Some of the places we went:

The sun was just setting when we returned to the hotel at 8:00pm. The bridges were not yet illuminated, but we were told that the bridges are beautiful after dark. We found an envelope under our room door, with papers from Tauck. There was a welcome letter, with the names of our Cruise Director and the three Tour Directors. There were also instructions about joining the group tomorrow, which specified to have checked luggage tagged with Tauck bag tags and left inside the room for 11:00am pickup; check out of hotel by 12:00pm; meet in lobby for transportation to ship at 3:00pm. Another handout contained helpful hints. There were also handouts about Amsterdam (1, 2, 3).

Sunday Sept 8 (Day 1) Amsterdam (Netherlands)

Transfers directly to your riverboat are included for guests arriving today into Amsterdam's Schipol Airport or Amsterdam Central Train Station. (If you have arrived early into Amsterdam prior to the official start of your cruise, you will receive complimentary transportation from airport or train station to the Tauck-designated pre-cruise hotel, and you will also receive complimentary transportation from the Tauck-designated pre-cruise hotel to your riverboat.)
Check-in time on the riverboat is 4:00 PM. If you arrive between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM, you may enjoy the ship's public areas. No formal lunch is provided today.
Enjoy dinner on board your riverboat this evening.

Local currency: Euro
Morning and early afternoon on our own.
11:00am luggage ready for pickup inside hotel room
12:00pm hotel checkout
3:00pm meet in lobby for transportation to ship
4:00pm board the MS Treasures

We woke up to heavy rain, but by the time we had breakfast and were ready to go out at 9:00, it had almost stopped. We packed our checked luggage, and made sure they both had the Tauck tags attached so they would be picked up by the hotel porters at 11:00am inside our room.

We had over five hours of free time this morning, so we checked out of the hotel and utilized our IAmsterdam City Pass. We took the #10 trolley to the Van Gogh Museum (crowded; glad we went early), explored many canals, took a short canal boat tour that went by the moored MS Treasures, and had lunch. A few hundred photographs later, we returned to the hotel at 2:30pm.

Many Tauck guests were gathered in the lobby by 2:45pm. Two Tauck coaches started boarding people at 2:50. We were told that there were 50 people going to the ship, and 40 seats per coach. Both coaches left the hotel promptly at 3:00. A Tour Director was on each coach accompanying us for the drive to the Central Station area, which took less than 25 minutes. We saw other riverboats there, some moored side-by-side three deep, but ours was moored by itself.

Our Cruise Director Jeremy was at the riverboat entrance greeting each passenger as they stepped on board. The line quickly went into the reception area where moist towels and juice were handed to each guest. Then the line went by the reception desk where passports were collected and room keys given out. To keep the check-in line moving quickly, credit cards were not processed at this time. We were all asked to return at our convenience to provide a credit card for their record. Then a crew member escorted each guest to their cabin, described room amenities, demonstrating how to use the safe and the coffee maker. In the room was a guest list with passenger names and home towns. There was also a Daily Program for the remainder of the day.

Our actual stateroom attendant came by within 30 minutes, answering any further questions, and inquiring about beverage preferences for the mini refrigerator. She returned in another 20 minutes to restock the refrigerator with our preferred drinks.

After unpacking, we had time to explore the ship. There was a meeting at 5:15pm for guests to meet with the chef if they had any dietary restrictions they wanted to discuss.

At 5:30, the Cruise Director (Jeremy Shifferly) had his introductory talk in the Main Lounge. He discussed how the days typically progress, how the excursions work (poker chip system, using chip color to designate assigned coach and local guide), Daily Discovery Briefings, tomorrow's schedule, choices for off-ship lunch in two days. He introduced the three Tour Directors (Adrienn Godo, Andrea Nagy, and Joeri Happel). This was followed by Happy Hour in the lounge from 6:00 -7:00.

Seating for dinner began at 6:30. Guests could dine any time they wanted during dining room hours, and could sit anywhere they chose. Most tables were for four or six. We arrived right at 6:30, and were finished in about two hours. Some of the initial tour literature had the Captain's Welcome Reception listed for tonight; the more current information had it scheduled for tomorrow evening.

When we returned to our room, we found that an evening turn-down service had been done by our stateroom attendant. Our bathrobes and slippers were there, as well as a treat and tomorrow's Daily Program on our bed.

Evening entertainment was provided by Thomas, the on-board musician, in the Main Lounge.

The ship remained moored at the Amsterdam pier throughout the night.

Monday Sept 9 (Day 2) Amsterdam (Netherlands)

A brief sightseeing tour of the city this morning includes a visit to the renowned Rijksmuseum, one of the world's most beloved museums since its opening in 1885. Afterward, you will also enjoy the sights of gabled homes and tree-lined canals trimmed with beautiful flowers on a private luncheon canal boat cruise.
You will rejoin the riverboat further down the river.
Join us this evening for the Captain's welcome reception and dinner aboard your riverboat as we sail toward Germany.

Local currency: Euro
Dining Room breakfast: 6:30am - 9:00am
Dining Room dinner: 7:00pm

We set our alarm for 6:00am since we were not adapted to local time yet. Dining Room breakfast service began at 6:30. At 8:00 we gathered in the Main Lounge after exchanging our cabin key for a Shore Pass. We brought our Vox (the "blue box" personal audio system). First order of business was to turn on and test everyone's Vox and ear pieces. Some people chose to use their own ear pieces; others preferred the ones supplied. They use the same plug as iPhone-type headphones. We were informed during the test that these Vox audio boxes would be used during all but one day of the tour.

Everyone was reminded to get one poker chip per person from the table in the lounge. The color of the chip determined the bus and guide for the excursion, so any people wanting to stay together for an excursion needed to be sure and get the same color poker chip each day. Today there were three colors of chips...black, blue, and green. As we left the lounge at 8:30, each person placed their poker chip in the ice bucket by the door, remembering their color as they left.

We were walked to the buses where the driver, Tour Director, or Local Guide would be present by the door holding a sign corresponding to our chip color, hence our assigned coach, for the day. The coaches pulled out as soon as the last person was on board. We could see the ship crew already making preparations to leave the pier, and proceed to Arnhem, where we would join up again after our Amsterdam day.

It was only a short drive to our first stop, the Rijksmuseum. Our local guides were already on the coaches and began their talks. The coaches dropped us off in an underground bus lot at the museum. All groups went into the museum, where individual tickets were distributed to us. We were given time to use the restrooms right there, which were clean and plentiful even though the museum was already getting crowded. Large bags and backpacks were not allowed inside the museum, so one of the Tour Directors collected them and checked them at the coat and bag check, all as a group. We then entered the museum with our smaller assigned groups and local guide. We were shown the museum highlights and given very good commentary about the various works. We used the Vox audio system, which allowed the local guide to speak in a normal voice, and allowed guests to hear them with much better clarity, and also allowed guests to wander slightly if desired. Photographs were allowed inside as long as no flash was used. The tour lasted about 1 hour 45 minutes.

We exited the museum and walked about two blocks where we immediately boarded the three canal boats awaiting our Tauck groups. This pleasant canal tour lasted about 1 1/2 hours, and included a three-course lunch, beer, wine, and coffee. There was narration by a local guide as we navigated the various canals. The boat was covered, which kept out a few small raindrops initially, and later the roof was retracted when the sky beautifully cleared.

We walked back to the museum to use the same restrooms, and shown the large iconic IAmsterdam sign, with instructions to meet back there by 3:30, when the group would leave.

People used this free time from 1:00 until 3:15 in various ways. We chose to walk to the Anne Frank House. Our intentions were not to go in, but to climb the tower of the adjacent church. It took about 30 minutes to walk there from the museum, allowing for many photo stops along the way. Unfortunately, only guided groups of six people were allowed up the tower at a time, and only every 15 minutes, and these time slots were filled for two hours. And we could see that the line to get into the Anne Frank house was very long and moving slowly. So we explored the surrounding area, and strolled back to our meeting point via different streets, stopping for a few snacks along the way. Back at the museum we walked the outside gardens and took more photos at the IAmsterdam sign. The rain started again at 3:15.

Promptly at our designated time of 3:30pm, the group was walked downstairs to the parking garage, where we boarded our coaches and left for the two-hour drive to Arnhem. Our Tour Director brought honey-filled biscuits around to the guests as a treat, and reviewed tomorrow's schedule. She then gave us some history of the Netherlands. Still weary from travel, about 25% of people nodded off.

At 5:30, all three coaches arrived at our ship. As usual, moist towels and juice were offered in the reception area. We exchanged our Shore Passes for room keys. Passports were returned to guests who were only going to Budapest, but were kept for those continuing on to Bucharest since it is outside of the European Union. We made reservations for dinner in the Lido for tomorrow night. We were asked to select our entrée ahead of time so the chef could be prepared.

We had 45 minutes to prepare ourselves for the Captain's Welcome Reception. At 6:15 Captain Liemberg greeted guests as they entered the Main Lounge, and glasses of white, red, or sparkling wine were given. Guests sat anywhere they preferred in the lounge. Various hor d'oeuvres were brought around, and fresh oysters were available. At 6:45 the Cruise Director introduced Marina, the Hotel Manager, who in turn introduced the crew as they made a grand entrance. Guests were then invited to dinner at 7:00. Unlike most nights, there was only one set seating for dinner tonight since it was a special dinner. Guests dressed up more than usual for this dinner. Well over half of the men were wearing jackets, and many with neckties. The dining room staff served a course to all the tables at the same time. Then cleared, then served the next course. It was a good meal, fun atmosphere, and continued until about 9:15, when people were finished and started to leave the room.

Evening entertainment was again the informal music by Thomas. The ship departed Arnhem at 11:00pm for its next destination, scheduled to arrive tomorrow at lunchtime.

Tuesday Sept 10 (Day 3) Köln (Germany)

Disembark your riverboat this morning in northern Germany and travel to Düsseldorf for an orientation tour and time to explore the city.
Then, travel to Köln (Cologne) and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. A guided tour follows, which will take you through the historic and modem parts of the city, including an inside visit to the 14th-century Gothic cathedral. You will have some free time to explore this beautiful city on your own before returning to the ship.
Enjoy dinner on board your riverboat this evening.

Local currency: Euro
Dining Room breakfast: 7:00am - 9:00am
Dining Room dinner: 6:00pm - 8:00pm

Today's scheduled activities didn't start until 10:00, so people slept in and ate breakfast later.

At 10:00 in the Main Lounge, a Discovery Channel documentary was shown on the flood barrier technology of the Netherlands. Flat-screen televisions were raised from hidden recesses in strategic locations around the room, so they could be viewed from most seating areas. This was well attended, and there were few seats left once the program began; a few latecomers could not find a seat. The presentation lasted about one hour.

There was a light rain, and it was chilly outdoors, so many people were watching the scenery from the Main Lounge and from a crowded Lido, although some still braved the elements for the better sundeck view.

The ship arrived at the Düsseldorf port at 12:00 noon, 15 minutes early. It stayed there only long enough to drop off the guests for the afternoon excursion. When exchanging our room key for a Shore Pass, we were also given a colored card that indicated our previously-made choice for today's lunch entrée. At 12:15pm, we were boarding the coaches. There was a light sprinkle as we walked from the ship to the coaches, but it stopped shortly after.

As the coach drove to Köln, the Tour Director handed out maps and marked our meeting point on them. We arrived at our drop-off point for the Köln Cathedral at 1:10, and walked the one block to the cathedral. Our first activity was lunch, so we walked past the cathedral as the Tour Director pointed to our meeting spot by the steeple replica right in front of the cathedral. We continued walking about 10 minutes to the restaurant. All three of our groups entered together, and were seated both upstairs and downstairs. We placed our colored card by our fork so the servers knew what to bring us. Beer was brought around, followed by a hearty lunch. After lunch, many people lined up to use the single restroom.

There were no colored poker chip assignment of groups today. There were five local guides waiting at the restaurant. As people exited the restaurant at their own pace, a guide would count them. As soon as 20 or 22 people were there, the guide would take them away for their tour. The rain had returned, and umbrellas were necessary. We had a slow narrated walk back to the cathedral, where the guide picked up tickets (which were only necessary for guided groups). Once inside, we were taken in the typical cathedral tour loop, hearing about the various features of this church. Afterwards our group left and headed towards the museum next door. Some of the group left at this point, choosing to climb the church tower instead. We had 1 hour 15 minutes until our departure from the designated meeting point.

We felt that the tower climb was a wise choice for us. It cost €3 per person, and took about 25 minutes to get to the top. It was quite a climb up the 543 steps, and was challenging to a few people we passed. At one point we had to walk past the bells, which still ring on the quarter hour. We did not think of this, and got quite a start when they rang right behind us! We spent 10 or 15 minutes on the small top viewing deck; luckily the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to come out. The climb back down was faster. We took advantage of the sunshine, and took our touristy photos outside the cathedral.

We met the group at the predesignated meeting point at 5:15, and we promptly left at 5:30 for the parked coaches. The ship was only an eight-minute drive away, which apparently was further than our Cruise Director had hoped. Our boat was moored adjacent to another, so we walked over and across the upper deck of theirs to get to ours. As usual, towels and hot cocoa was waiting for us. We were 15 minutes behind the predicted schedule, so Happy Hour was extended to 7:00pm.

Tonight was our Lido dinner night that we reserved on Day 1. When we arrived at 6:30, we found our names on place cards. Soon all 10 guests had arrived. Dinner was casual, and a little faster pace than the Dining Room. The Lido can hold up to 22 people for dinner. It was enjoyable, but we realized it might have been nicer if we booked it on an evening when the ship was cruising the river rather than moored at a pier.

Evening entertainment started at 9:00pm in the Main Lounge. It was a classical string trio; very good musicians; good comments from others who attended also.

The ship departed at 10:30.

Wednesday Sept 11 (Day 4) Rüdesheim (Germany)

This morning your riverboat will meander through the scenic Lorelei Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, en route to Rüdesheim. Enjoy commentary by your Tauck Directors as you sail and relax on board.
This afternoon in Rüdesheim, depart your riverboat via mini-train for a guided visit to the historic Musikkabinett and its unique collection of instruments, followed by a local dinner at a traditional wine restaurant with live music.
You riverboat departs Rüdesheim after dinner.

Local currency: Euro
Dining Room breakfast: 7:00am - 9:00am
Dining Room lunch: 12:30pm

Since this was a cruising morning, the breakfast crowd was again sparse when we arrived at 7:10. This morning was a scenic cruise through the Lorelei Valley, with its many riverside castles.

Commentary by Tour Director Joeri began at 7:50am over the public address system (which goes to Main Lounge, outside decks, but is optional inside staterooms, and is not broadcast inside the Lido or the Dining Room) as we approached Koblenz. We went onto the upper deck to view the scenery, the many castles, and the vertical vineyards. It was a little misty outside, so there were only a few hearty people outside. The commentary could be clearly heard from the outside speaker systems. We walked down one level to the covered outdoor area directly in front of the Main Lounge, but it was quite breezy here. We also spent some time inside our room with the French doors open, and the commentary turned up. All morning long, people were walking all around the ship, in and out, up and down, getting various vantage points for various castles, and hiding from the occasional showers or breezes. Mostly the weather was overcast with an occasional sun beam.

We arrived early in Rüdesheim at about 2:00pm. Our Discovery Briefing remained at 3:00pm, where the rest of today's schedule was explained in more detail. We were also told of a schedule change for the next couple of days: tomorrow would be Wurzburg (originally scheduled for Day 6), and the next day would be Rothenburg (originally scheduled for Day 5). Cruise Director Jeremy explained that this would make the Rothenburg schedule better, and decrease time on the coach.

At 3:15 we left the ship for Rüdesheim. Those walking were asked to go first, which ended up being most of the passengers. Then those left who wanted to take the mini train into town were taken for a short walk to a pick-up point. The walkers were guided by Tour Director Adrienne, who was surprised by how many people chose to walk. The boat was moored at the far end of the river boat pier, and adjacent to another riverboat that we walked over to disembark. It was about a 15-minute walk into town along the riverside street. We then turned uphill on the main tourist street, passing the restaurant where we would later be dining. She pointed the restaurant out, informing us to be there at 6:00pm if we separate from the group.

At the top of the street, Adrienne took the group to the "bucket" gondola loading area for those who were going to the Niederwald Monument. She bought our tickets and helped us load up, two to a gondola, for the 15-minute trip to the top of the hill where the monument is located. It was a scenic peaceful ride over vineyards. The panoramic view from the monument is impressive, as is the monument itself. We had about 20 minutes at the monument, then rode the gondola back down.

Next the group was taken to the Siegfried's Mechanisches Musikkabinett (music box museum). Even though this attraction was one of the most popular in Rüdesheim, we decided to forgo it, and spend time walking and exploring the town on our own. We got out our map, meandered through many picturesque side streets, coming to Saint James's Church. We thought at first it was Protestant, but it was Catholic. We were surprised to see a shell plaque on the outside marking "The Way" to Santiago in Spain. We continued on until we reached the river, and followed the street along the river, doing some souvenir shopping, and buying a treat for our stateroom attendant. We then went back up the tourist street towards the restaurant. It was less congested now, and allowed us to slow down and take the photos we missed before. We ended up at the music box museum just as our group was coming out.

At 5:50pm the group went to the Rudesheimer Schloss restaurant. It was very large inside, with many tables for 12 set up. There were many other tourists, with locals situated more in the courtyard area. We could sit anywhere we wanted. The meal was a set menu of wine, bread, salad, pork schnitzel, apple strudel, and coffee. There was a lively band playing inside, but they were in a different section, so we could hear but not see them. Some of our group participated in the "shots on a stick" drinking routine. After dinner, most of our group started leaving about 8:30. We again had the choice of walking or taking train back to the ship, and again most walked. It was very dark; it rained heavily while we were inside the restaurant, but had stopped by now, and the air was very fresh.

The ship departed shortly after everyone was back on board.

Thursday Sept 12 (Day 5) Würzburg (Germany)

This morning we visit the historic town of Lohr, nestled along the slopes of the Spessart mountain range, to view its half-timbered houses and 14th-century watchtower.
After enjoying time in Lohr, we depart for the city of Würzburg. Here we'll tour the city's Residenz Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was originally built by two prince-archbishops in the 18th century. Sample Franconian wines in the palace's historic wine cellar.
Return to your riverboat this evening for dinner

Local currency: Euro
Dining Room champagne brunch: 10:00am
Dining Room dinner: 6:00pm - 8:00pm

Beginning at about 8:30am, the Tour Director commentary was broadcast over the public announcement system as we navigated a narrow scenic stretch of the Main River. We passed under some very low bridges, so the sun deck was closed, and only the area directly in front of the wheelhouse was open. Even there, people were asked to remain seated rather than standing when we passed under the bridges. We arrived at Aschaffenburg at 9:55am.

Champagne Brunch was served at 10:00am. There were many fine selections at the buffet table, along with a carving station. Items could also be ordered from the kitchen.

Our schedule was moved ahead 15 minutes. At 11:30 we boarded the coaches for a 1-hour 15-minute drive to Würzburg. The Tour Director gave 45 minutes of interesting narration. She taught us that "burg" means castle, and "borg" means hill. We were dropped off in front of the Würzburg Residence Palace where we joined five local guides. We separated into five groups and were led on a tour of the palace. No photos were allowed; no packs or large handbags could be taken inside. The tour lasted about 1 1/4 hours. We were given a 10-minute bathroom break, then went outside and walked to a different door that lead to a wine cellar in the west wing. Here we were all lead downstairs into the musty room, and were seated at two very long tables. The room was illuminated with 400+ lit candles. There were three white wine samples offered, along with bread and sparkling water. Each wine sample came with a full narration. We left the wine cellar at 3:15pm. There was a slight rain just after we boarded the coaches, the first rain of the day. Water and chocolate was handed out on the coach.

Our 1-hour 15-minute drive back to the riverboat included commentary on German beer and beverages. We arrived back at the boat at 4:20, and the boat promptly departed.

Sandwiches, fruit, and cheeses were served in the Main Lounge from 4:30 - 5:30.

The Discovery Briefing for tomorrow's schedule was at 5:45.

At 9:00pm there was a Glass Blowing Demonstration in the Main Lounge.

Friday Sept 13 (Day 6) Lohr; Rothenburg (Germany)

This morning we will dock and travel the Romantic Road to Rothenburg, Europe's most perfect fairytale town, with its gabled houses, centuries-old churches and beautiful gardens. Visit St. Jacob's Church and view its famous altarpiece. Enjoy lunch in this quaint town at your choice of restaurants.
After free time in town, travel back to the riverboat for a Bavarian-themed dinner on board this evening, as the riverboat cruises toward Lohr. After dinner, learn about the art of glassblowing from a local artisan on board.

Local currency: Euro
Dining Room breakfast: 7:00am - 9:00am
Dining Room dinner: 6:30pm - 8:30pm

We arrived at Lohr 15 minutes late because of lock schedules. When we exchanged our room key for our Shore Passes, we were given €20 each for lunch today in Rothenburg.

Those who wanted a walking orientation through the "Snow White" village of Lohr were divided into two groups. The walk started at 8:45am, and lasted 45 minutes. We returned to the boat for a brief rest, then at 10:00am everyone boarded the three coaches and departed for Rothenburg.

On the coach we were given Rothenburg maps, and shown where to meet in the center of town at 3:45pm. Upon arrival, we walked through a city gate, stopping at a public restroom, as the WC options might be limited the rest of the day. The groups then walked to the main square by the city hall and divided into our groups with the local guides. We were taken on a 1 1/2-hour guided tour, including inside St. Jacob's Church and its Holy Blood reredos. We ended up back at the main square, where we were allowed two hours of free time on our own.

This free time allowed us to get a pretzel roll and then take the challenging climb up the city hall tower for a panoramic view. Then we walked the city wall for a few sections, returning to the quaint streets below. We went to the Uhl Café for bratwursts, sauerkraut, and onion pie, plus a schneeball pastry to go. We also bought some apple strudel and a springerle cookie to go at another spot.

The group left the meeting point at 3:50, and returned to the coach area for our drive back to the boat. We got caught in a traffic jam, and didn't get back to the boat until 6:15, which was over one hour later than anticipated. The boat departed as soon as the last person stepped back on board so they could maintain their lock schedule.

Guests were able to sign up at the reception desk for Bridge Tours for tomorrow morning.

For dinner tonight, Chef Laszlo prepared the dishes in the buffet area so that guests could watch the process while they dined. It was fun to be able to watch his meticulous attention to the details.

After dinner there was a special Cherries Jubilee and ice cream in the Main Lounge. This was followed by a 9:15pm picture trivia game and prizes.

Saturday Sept 14 (Day 7) Bamberg (Germany)

Enjoy a leisurely morning and brunch on board. Before noon, we'll travel by coach to Bamberg for a walking exploration of its Old Town. Known for its unique architecture and colorful gardens, the city is also home to the magnificent 13th-century Bamberg Cathedral. The remainder of the afternoon is free to explore Bamberg on your own.
Enjoy dinner on board the riverboat this evening, with a barbecue on the sun deck (weather permitting).

Local currency: Euro
Dining Room brunch: 10:00am
Dining Room dinner: 6:30pm - 8:00pm

The morning was spent sailing the Main Canal, so a brunch was scheduled to allow guests to sleep later. There was also a continental breakfast set up in the lounge at 7:00am for the early risers.

Bridge Tours were at 9:00, 9:20, and 9:40. All three groups were full, so I'm glad we signed up the evening before. Captain Liemberg invited us into his bridge, and showed us the various high-technology instruments for maneuvering the lengthy riverboat, and told us a little about himself and his sailor background. He was a very pleasant gentleman, and had interesting stories.

Today there was a brunch at 10:00 instead of the usual breakfast and lunch.

At 11:30am we boarded coaches at our mooring spot at Gerlachshausen and drove to Bamberg, arriving there at 1:00. We were dropped off right at the end of one of the main streets. It was closed off to traffic today because there just happened to be a local day-long festival. It was very busy, crowded, noisy, and exciting. We saw a few men wearing lederhosen; it is still worn on select occasions by locals. Our local guides walked us down the street to a public toilet, and then on a 1-hour 45-minute walking tour. This included the Bamberg Cathedral and a tomb carved by the same sculptor who made the Holy Blood reredos in Rothenburg. At 3:00 the tour ended at Scheiners Gaststuben pub for a tasting of their smoky beer. Some of the group chose to skip this, taking the time to explore on their own instead. Everyone met at a predesignated location (the half-head sculpture) at 5:00pm. From there we walked ten minutes back to our coach drop-off point for reboarding. It was a shorter (one hour) drive back to our riverboat, which was now awaiting us at Schweinfurt.

The boat was staying moored at Schweinfurt until 11:30pm, so some people chose to go explore this town on their own, although there were no organized tours or activities here. Most guests, however, stayed on board because a strong rain had started.

At 9:00pm we were entertained in the Main Lounge by a lively Oompah Pah band, with beer service beforehand to add to the atmosphere.

Sunday Sept 15 (Day 8) Nürnberg (Germany)

Enjoy the morning cruising the Main-Danube Canal, reaching the highest point of any commercial waterway in Europe. A lecturer on the canal and gorge will explain the construction of this important waterway.
This afternoon we arrive in Nürnberg, where you have the choice of a tour of Medieval Nürnberg including the St. Sebaldus church, the old City Hall and the Imperial Castle, or a tour focusing on World War II history including views of the courthouse and documentation center, Zeppelinfeld and Nazi parade grounds.
Enjoy dinner this evening aboard your riverboat. The riverboat departs the city after dinner.

Local currency: Euro
Dining Room breakfast: 7:00am - 9:00am
Dining Room lunch: 12:30pm
Dining Room dinner: 6:30pm - 8:30pm

A few of the locks we went through this morning were very tall, and a few of the bridges were very low. A guest lecturer joined us at one of the locks, and at 10:00am gave us a good lecture in the history and construction of the Main-Danube Canal and the many locks.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon was at our leisure.

The boat ended up mooring at a different location than planned because of lock delays. So we boarded our coaches for Nurnberg at 3:00pm in the town of Firth for a 25-minute drive. There were two tour options, and each had two groups of people. One choice was the "World War II Tour". The second choice, which we chose, was "Medieval Nurnberg".

Our coach drove to a coach drop-off area where the local guide joined us. We continued for a short city drive, then got off at another drop-off point by one of the five city wall gates. We were met by a sudden rain downpour, but it only lasted ten minutes, and then disappeared for the remainder of the day. The walking on this tour was more strenuous than some prior walking tours, as it involved walking up and down some very steep rugged cobblestone streets. We were given admission tickets to the Albrecht Durer House where we were allowed a 30-minute self-tour with audio guides. We then strolled to St. Sebaldus Church, toured inside, then walked one more block to the city center where the locals were having a one-day festival. We had 30 minutes on our own here, and took advantage of it to get one of the half-meter-long bratwursts that we saw. From here it was a short walk back to the coach, and then a 15-minute drive to the boat. We arrived back at 6:30pm.

The ship arrived at the first of three very tall locks right at the end of dinner time. A few guests spent the rest of the evening outside watching the fascinating and somewhat eerie passage through them. These locks were intriguing, and watching our passage caused us to miss the evening Crew Show, but I'm glad we made the choice we did; it was much more of a unique and memorable couple of hours.

After tonight's dinner, Tauck opened a complementary bar in the Main Lounge, followed by an entertaining Scylla Crew Show with some very talented crew members having lots of fun.

Monday Sept 16 (Day 9) Regensburg (Germany)

Have a relaxing morning enjoying your riverboat's amenities as we cruise the Danube.
This afternoon, arrive in the ancient Roman town of Regensburg, rich in medieval heritage. Enjoy a guided walking tour, which includes the Steinerne Brucke (the Stone Bridge) and St. Peter's Cathedral, followed by a guided visit to the splendid Thurn und Taxis palace.
Enjoy dinner on the riverboat this evening, followed by entertainment by former members of the Regensburg Cathedral boys' choir.

Local currency: Euro
Dining Room breakfast: 7:00am - 9:00am
Dining Room lunch: 12:30pm
Dining Room dinner: 6:00pm - 8:30pm

This morning we awoke to find ourselves on our way to the Danube River, which we would be sailing all morning. After breakfast we went outside to watch passage through the last of the Main-Danube canal locks, and our official entry onto the Danube River.

There was a stretch class at 9:15am, and a presentation on German Composers at 10:30am, followed by the Discovery Briefing at noon. We were asked to make our entree selection for our upcoming special evening in Vienna.

Things were running ahead of schedule today, so the Cruise Director was able to change the day's schedule, adding a walking city orientation tour at 2:00pm. It was raining, which discouraged some from participating. The riverboat pier area was long, and it was a 15-minute walk to our meeting point, which was the Historic Sausage Kitchen. The Tour Director then walked us to and through St. Peter's Cathedral. We left the group at that point, exploring on our own, while others continued on with the director to the shopping area.

We returned to the Sausage Kitchen at 3:45, where others from the boat were now arriving. We divided into two groups, one for each awaiting local guide. Our group chose to not to use our Vox headsets today, and we set out at a fast pace, winding down many side streets with many interesting sights that we never would have seen on our own. We ended at 5:00pm at the Thurn and Taxis Palace.

We were given a brief restroom break before entering the palace, and then regrouped with a palace-supplied guide. She took our group on a tour of the palace, lasting just over one hour. Photos were allowed only in the courtyard, but not inside.

We had time on our own, as the ship wasn't leaving until after dinner. At this point, some of the group walked to the nearby coaches for a ride back to the boat. Others in the group, including us, chose to walk back. When we arrived at the Sausage Kitchen, we couldn't resist the smells and sights, so we found an open seat and ordered a plate with eight sausages and sauerkraut. This ended up being the best bratwurst we had sampled to date on our river cruise!

Evening entertainment started at 8:30, a 45-minute performance by an acapella quartet comprised of former members of the Regensburg Boys Choir.

Tuesday Sept 17 (Day 10) Passau (Germany)

This morning enjoy a guided walking tour of historic Passau, situated on a peninsula between the rivers Danube and Inn. Its historic legacy dates back to Roman times. Our walking tour will take us to St. Stephen's Cathedral, home to Europe's largest church organ with over 17,000 pipes. We'll also stroll through the Old Town with a visit to the Altes Rathaus (Town Hall). Afterward, enjoy some free time in this lovely town, or choose to attend the daily noon-time organ concert.
Lunch will be served aboard the riverboat. The riverboat sails toward Melk in the afternoon.
After dinner this evening, enjoy an onboard musical performance by a classical trio.

Local currency: Euro
Dining Room breakfast: 7:00am - 9:00am
Dining Room Bavarian lunch: 1:00pm
Dining Room dinner: 6:00pm - 8:00pm

At 9:00am the boat docked at the pier right in Passau. We left the boat at 9:15, separating into four groups for a walking tour with local guides. We first walked uphill to St. Stephen's Cathedral and toured inside, seeing the ornate ceiling and magnificent pipe organ. We then walked further outside. The walking tour finished at 10:45 outside the cathedral where one of our Tour Directors met us with tickets for a 12:00pm pipe organ concert for those who would like to attend.

We utilized the one-hour period to explore on our own, and have coffee in a quaint local café.

We returned to the cathedral and entered at 11:45 for the concert. By noon it was completely filled up. There was a five-minute introduction in German and in English, and then the live pipe organ concert for over 45 minutes. There were no photos or videos allowed, and this was enforced by someone walking around during the concert. The music was invigorating and penetrating. The crowd was extremely quiet the entire time, until applause at the end of the concert. We stayed for a little while after the concert, allowing crowds to thin and more photos to be taken.

Since the boat was located so close, we returned to it for the special Bavarian theme lunch. We rushed through this, and returned to town to find the recommended strudel shop. We were successful, and purchased some splendid strudel to take back on board.

The ship departed 15 minutes early, at 2:45pm. We were told that it would be a nice view looking back as we sailed out of town, seeing where the three local rivers converged. The sundeck was full of passengers because of this announcement, and because the deck had been closed the last couple of days due to the many low bridges.

We left Germany, passing through one more lock at the Germany-Austria border. At the exit of this lock, there is a statue on a rock where people traditionally throw coins. Legend says that if you hit the statue with a coin, you get one wish. The lesson most people learned was that it was farther away from the boat than it appears, and requires a hefty throw and preferably a weighty coin. One of our Tour Directors was thrilled because she hit it for the first time in her many passages through this lock. We spent the rest of the afternoon all over the boat, inside and out, watching the scenery pass by.

At 5:45pm we went to the Discovery Briefing in the Main Lounge. This one coincided with Happy Hour, so we were able to enjoy complementary hor d'oeuvres.

This evening's entertainment was the Donau Klang Trio, which started at 9:00pm in the Main Lounge.

Wednesday Sept 18 (Day 11) Melk (Austria)

We'll dock in Melk this morning and enjoy a guided tour of the famous Benedictine Abbey, a monks' residence for 900 years, and explore the 16thcentury Old Town.
Lunch is served aboard your riverboat as you sail the lovely, vineyard-covered Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Arrive in Vienna in the early evening, where you may choose to see the illuminated city after enjoying dinner on the riverboat.

Local currency: Euro
Dining Room breakfast: 7:00am - 9:00am
Dining Room lunch: 12:30pm
Dining Room dinner: 6:00pm - 8:00pm

After breakfast, we met in the lounge for the 9:10am departure. It ended up being 9:20 because we were moored to another riverboat, and their guests were gathered in their reception area; we had to wait for them to disembark first to clear the way for us.

We boarded our three coaches, and drove ten minutes to the Benedictine Melk Abbey on top of the hill. It was raining today, so most people utilized their umbrellas. We walked through the spacious gardens, into the covered entrance area, where we were divided into four groups, each with a local guide. Our Tour Director gave everyone an entrance ticket. The crowd of tourists was large, and entrance times were very specific and enforced for the guides. We entered at 10:00, and spent about five minutes in each room or exhibit. Photos were allowed except in the library. The tour ended in the cathedral, where we could take some time, and exit at our leisure. The exit route went past an interesting spiral stairway with a mirror at the bottom; then through a crowded gift shop.

The rain had stopped by now. The group was directed to the awaiting coaches, or we had the choice to walk back. A minority of our group chose to walk. It was all downhill on cobblestone and steps to the main street. We followed the main street towards the river, passing some farmer's market-type stalls, and stopping in one butcher shop for a schnitzel sandwich. The walk took a little longer than anticipated, but we reached our boat at 12:10, plenty of time before the 12:30pm All Aboard time.

The afternoon was spent sailing towards Vienna. A Tour Director was pouring samples of liqueur she purchased at the abbey, along with chocolate-covered espresso beans.

Our Discovery Briefing was at 4:00pm. This one was a bit more involved than others, as it concerned our days in Vienna. Maps were handed out, and various orientation landmarks were shown on the television screens.

Since we were scheduled to arrive in Vienna at 8:00pm tonight, the dining room opened earlier to allow for the city drive. After the Austrian-themed dinner, we departed at 8:30pm for a driving city orientation tour, accompanied by a Tour Director. It was nice to see the city at night, to get a feel for the layout, and to see the coach drop-off/pickup point for tomorrow. It was raining, so being on the coach was a bonus. We were back at the ship by 9:30pm.

Thursday Sept 19 (Day 12) Vienna (Austria)

Today is another day filled with choices!
First, enjoy a guided city orientation tour by coach, including the Ringstrasse, the Opera House, Parliament and City Hall. You may then choose a guided tour of magnificent Schonbrunn Palace, or a guided tour of the Sissi Museum at Hofburg Palace.
Afterwards, you may choose to have lunch on your own in one of the city's many restaurants and further explore all the city has to offer, or you may return to your riverboat for lunch on board and a free afternoon to do as you wish.
This evening, we depart for Palais Pallavicini to enjoy a magical Imperial Viennese evening, featuring dinner and Viennese music.

Local currency: Euro
Dining Room breakfast: 7:00am - 9:00am
Dining Room lunch: 1:00pm
Dinner at Palais Pallavicini: 5:45pm departure

This morning I downloaded a $1.99 Rick Steves' Vienna Walk ebook for my Kindle app; it was helpful in planning our limited free time.

At 9:00am we boarded the coach for Schonbrunn Palace. Those who chose the Sissi Museum boarded their coach at 9:15. We started with a driving orientation tour, some repeat of last night, but mostly new. We ended at the palace at 10:30 where we met our local guide in front of the palace. We paused for a restroom break, then proceeded to the palace for the tour inside. No photography inside; no large bags or backpacks. The palace was beautiful inside, but very crowded and slow-moving, so we left our group about 2/3 of the way and went forward on our own. This allowed us a little time to go into the gardens outside, and up to the statue at the end. If we had remained with the group, we would have had little time for this.

We met the group back at our outside starting point at 12:00pm, reboarded the coach, and drove to Albertina Square, where most people got off the coach. A few remained on for a ride back to the boat. The coach with the Sissi Museum group arrived here at about the same time.

The coaches dropped us off at Albertina Square at 12:30pm, and we were on our own the remainder of the afternoon. The coaches were scheduled to shuttle guests from Albertina Square back to the boat at 2:30pm, 3:30pm, and the last one at 4:30pm (we were given slips to carry with this schedule). This allowed us time to explore Vienna and have a small lunch and coffee outdoors at Cafe Mozart, finished by their triple dessert sampler. We utilized our Rick Steves' guide to help us decide on a few spots we wanted to find, including a unique crypt, fountains, squares, stores, and more brat. At the designated times, at least two coaches were present to drive people back to the boat.

Tonight was the night for the special dinner, so we allowed plenty of time to get ready. Everyone left the boat at 5:45pm for the coach drive to the Palais Pallavicini.

Traffic was heavy, and the drive went slow, but we managed to arrive at 6:25pm. We checked our coats just inside, and we were escorted up three flights of stairs, where champagne and musicians were awaiting our entrance. After ten minutes enjoying this greeting, we were invited into the dining room, and were able to sit at any of the tables of ten. We were served numerous courses by animated waitstaff, with entertainment between each course, topped off by a wonderful dessert and a few more surprises. We were driven back to the boat, arriving at 10:15, where we were greeted with a very appropriate goody.

I have purposely not described this evening in much detail because I don't want to spoil it for those who might be taking this tour in the future. Suffice to say that it was a magnificent evening; a highlight for most, and not to be missed! It is definitely an occasion to dress up. I estimated that 90% of the men wore sports coats, and most of these included neckties. Those who didn't wear sports coats had either a nice sweater or necktie. Almost half of the women wore dresses, some of which were long and formal; the remainder wore nice slacks. If you are not sure what to wear, I would recommend erring on the overdressing rather than underdressing side.

Friday Sept 20 (Day 13) Vienna (Austria); Bratislava (Slovakia)

Spend the morning exploring Vienna as you wish; shuttles will run between the riverboat and city center throughout the morning.
At midday you will say goodbye to Vienna, sailing towards Slovakia while you enjoy lunch on board.
En route to Bratislava, enjoy an onboard lecture on the history of the Slovakian Republic, presented by a passionate local expert. Then, arrive in Bratislava, the dynamic capital of Slovakia, and depart for our guided walking tour of the city, with its Baroque palaces dating to the Habsburg era of Maria Theresa.
This evening, join us for a Slovakian folkloric performance after dinner on board. The riverboat departs Bratislava after the performance.

Local currency: Euro
Dining Room breakfast: 7:00am - 9:00am
Dining Room lunch: 12:30pm
Dining Room dinner: 6:30pm - 8:30pm

We started early so we could maximize our morning free time. After breakfast, we took the first coach shuttle to Albertina Square, which was at 9:00am. There was also another coach leaving at 9:30am. Traffic was heavy, and it took us 40 minutes to arrive at the square.

From Albertina Square, we walked around, stopping for a leisurely Austrian coffee, doing some shopping, people-watching, and sightseeing.

The morning went fast, and we went back to Albertina Square for the 11:30am shuttle back to the ship, which got us back to the ship at noon.

At 12:15pm, just before the boat left Vienna, there was a Discovery Briefing by the Cruise Director. After 15 minutes he dismissed those guests continuing on to Bucharest, as the remainder of the briefing was directed at those guests ending their tour in Budapest, providing them with disembarkation information.

At 2:30pm there was an informative presentation on Slovakia in the Main Lounge.

We arrived in Bratislava at 4:30pm, and promptly left the boat to join five local guides for a one-hour walking tour of the town. The tour ended in the town's main square where we were given directions for the easy walk back to the nearby boat. Half the people walked back then, and half stayed to explore on their own.

Most people had dinner back on the boat, although the schedule would have allowed dining in town because the ship did not leave until 10:00pm.

After dinner there was a complementary open bar followed by a Slovak Folklore Show at 9:00pm.

Saturday Sept 21 (Day 14) Budapest (Hungary)

Spend the morning sightseeing in the magnificent city of Budapest, capital of Hungary. A guided tour takes you to Fisherman's Bastion, Heroes' Square, the neo-Gothic Parliament Building, and Matthias Church, where the final two Hungarian kings were crowned.
Lunch is served on your riverboat. You'll have time at leisure in Budapest for the remainder of the day.
Tonight features a festive reception and dinner on board.

Local currency: Hungarian Forint
Dining Room breakfast: 7:00am - 9:00am
Dining Room lunch: 1:30pm
Dining Room Farewell Dinner: 7:00pm

The morning arrival in to Budapest was very scenic, and was accompanied by Tour Director commentary beginning at 8:15am. The weather was nice and warm, so the top deck was a popular spot as we approached the pier in the heart of the city, just past the Erzebet Bridge.

We left the boat at 9:30am for a five-minute walk to the awaiting coaches. We were taken on a one-hour city tour with a local guide on board narrating the entire time. We ended on the top of Castle Hill where we got off the coaches and walked ten minutes to Matthias Church. Our local guide purchased admission tickets and took us in for the church loop tour. Afterwards we had a ten-minute WC break outside, then walked around Fisherman's Bastion for nice views of the city. The group strolled fifteen minutes back to the coach which was now parked at a different location. We were driven across the river and back to the boat where only a few people got off. The coach and most of the group continued to the Market Hall where the remaining people were dropped off. We had a brief walk through the hall for an orientation by the guide. We were then left on our own for the rest of the afternoon.

For our free time, we first spent more time further exploring the busy Market Hall. Then we walked down the main pedestrian street. We found a restaurant that looked interesting (and had prices listed in Euros), and enjoyed a great lunch of Hungarian Goulash soup and paprika chicken.

We continued walking and exploring, going towards Erzebet Square. We then went to the river and followed it towards the Hungarian Parliament Building, in search of the Shoes on the Danube memorial. We found this hidden treasure right on the promenade just before the Parliament.

Then we reversed our direction, making our way back towards the moored boat, going back and forth across various bridges along the way. When we arrived back at the boat, it was time to get ready for the evening's Farewell Reception and Dinner.

Those passengers who were ending their trip tomorrow were asked to settle shipboard accounts today, and return the blue Voxes to the Cruise Director at his desk in the reception area.

At 6:15pm the Farewell Reception began in the Main Lounge. The Captain greeted passengers as they entered the lounge. Once inside, people mingled, exchanged stories, and said some goodbyes. At 6:45 the Cruise Director said some words and thank yous, proposed a toast, and then invited everyone to proceed to the Dining Room. The Farewell Dinner was similar in fashion to the Welcome Dinner. There was one seating, and everyone was served a course at the same time by a very smooth staff. The Captain's table was occupied by the Captain, the Cruise Director, and two couples who were on the tour. Once everyone was seated, the good-natured Captain stood and addressed all of the guest, and gave a nice toast. This dinner was our favorite of all we have had onboard so far.

Sunday Sept 22 (Day 15) Budapest (Hungary)

This morning you'll enjoy additional sightseeing and lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch, you are free to explore fascinating Budapest, where architecture and monuments offer an in-depth look at Hungarian history. Your Tauck Director will have recommendations for how to best enjoy your time in the city.
This evening, join us for dinner aboard your riverboat.

Local currency: Hungarian Forint
Dining Room breakfast: 6:15am - 9:00am
Dining Room Welcome Dinner: 7:15pm

This is the morning that about half of the passengers ended their tour. They disembarked early, and were provided transportation to the airport or hotels. For those who were continuing the tour to the Black Sea (which included my wife and me), separate activities were planned for the day.

We were given another sightseeing excursion. At 9:30am 27 of the remaining guests (some chose to either stay on board or go out on their own) boarded the coach with a local guide and a Tour Director.

We started by driving to the new National Theatre where we got out and were able to walk around the architecturally interesting building and grounds. Then we went to the Dohány Street Synagogue. A guide from the synagogue took us inside and gave us a 30-minute talk about the history, and current status of the Jewish religion in Budapest. We walked through the Jewish Cemetery and into the memorial park where we saw the Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs.

Here we reboarded the coach and went to the Buda side of the city, and up the hill. We were dropped off and walked about ten minutes to our lunch destination, the Fortuna, where we had a fine and fun lunch.

After our efficient lunch, the group strolled back to the coach pickup point arriving there at about 2:00pm. The coach would drop people off at the Marriott Hotel, which was fairly close to the boat but actually quicker than driving back to the drop-off point right by the boat.

We chose not to get on the coach, opting to walk back on our own from this point. We walked down the hill to the Chain Bridge and the Castle Hill funicular. We continued downriver to the Erzebet Bridge, continuing even further to the Liberty Bridge. Here we crossed to the Pest side, and were near the Central Market Hall (which is closed on Sundays). We walked back upriver on the Pest side, arriving at our boat at about 4:00pm. We saw new guests arriving for their first night on the boat, and learned that this was Day 3 for them, as they had already had two tour days in Budapest.

Back at the boat, we were greeted by Bridget, the new Cruise Director. We were given a new Wi-Fi access code when we picked up our room key at the reception desk. In our room we found fresh bathrobes, new list of guest names and home towns, Daily Program for remainder of day.

At 5:15pm there was a Discovery Briefing. The new Cruise Director first started with introductory information for the new guests, and then turned the briefing over to Tour Director Andrea for discussion of tomorrow's schedule.

We sailed out of Budapest at 6:00pm, complete with commentary by one of the two new Tour Directors. For a scenic sail-away the Captain navigated our ship upstream first, past the Parliament Building, then turned around and headed back downstream and quickly out of the city.

A Welcome Reception started in the Main Lounge at 6:30pm. At 7:00 the Cruise Director introduced the Hotel Manager (Marina) who in turn introduced the crew and Captain. It was similar to the introductions two weeks ago, but we now had a different Captain, and a few crew changes.

Guests went to the Dining Room at 7:15pm for the onetime seating for the Welcome Dinner. This time it was more casual than the one two weeks ago. It was more similar to dinners of other nights rather than being similar to the Welcome Dinner that we had on Day 2. The Daily Program specified to "keep it casual", and the dress by guests could be described as "country club casual".

Monday Sept 23 (Day 16) Kalocsa (Hungary)

This morning, learn about the history of paprika production in Hungary when we visit the Paprika House in Kalocsa, as well as the 18th-century Folk House Museum and the Library in the Bishop's Palace. Return to your riverboat for lunch on board. Afterwards, we'll visit a local winery for a tasting.
Dinner tonight is on board the riverboat as we sail toward Croatia.

Local currency: Hungarian Forint
Dining Room breakfast: 7:00am - 9:00am
Dining Room lunch: 12:30pm
Dining Room dinner: 6:00pm - 8:00pm

We arrived at the port in Kalocsa in the middle of the night. After breakfast we stopped at the Reception Desk as requested yesterday, and filled out a customs form. It was in list form, each guest completing one line and indicating name, amounts of cigarettes, wine, and spirits in possession, and quantity of US dollars and Euros currency in possession. I found this a bit awkward as there was no privacy to the list. But apparently the border control process in Eastern European countries can be very changeable and unpredictable as to what they require and how they process everything each time the riverboat passes through.

At 8:45am Cruise Director Bridget announced over the public address system the morning departure routine for those who weren't at the briefing yesterday.

At 9:30am we departed to the coaches where the local guides were already awaiting. The coaches were able to pull right up next to the boat here. We had a 15-minute narrated drive through town, and then went to the Bishop's Palace. Outside the palace we were given a 20-minute history of the area. We entered the palace and soon made our way to its highlight, the library. It isn't a huge library, but contains many very impressive works.

Outside again, we walked next door to the Paprika House. We spent only ten minutes inside it before walking outside to a nearby church. All of our groups were seated inside for a private pipe organ concert. The skilled organist played five familiar pieces, including Bach's Toccata and Fugue, and Ave Maria.

We returned to the boat after a ten-minute drive, arriving back at 11:50am.

After lunch the group left at 1:30pm for a tour and tasting at a local winery; it was a one-hour drive each way. A few guests skipped the winery tour, and walked into the small town on their own, trying a local restaurant for lunch.

The boat left Kalocsa a few minutes early, at 4:15pm. The Discovery Briefing was at 5:45pm. Dinner tonight was followed by Cherries Jubilee and ice cream served in the Main Lounge.

The riverboat arrived in Mohács, Hungary at 8:00pm for a required passport control. As we were warned might happen, the security officials wanted to do a "face check". At 8:50 there was a ship-wide announcement for all passengers to assemble in the Main Lounge. From here we were directed to go past the reception desk and present our passports to the officials so they could compare our photo with our face. Once confirmed, they stamped the passport, keeping them for the ship crew to safely store. The actual face match was very cursory, and the line moved very quickly. It was clear however that the officials were strictly business.

Because of the passport face check, the scheduled Majority Rules game was rescheduled for another night.

Tuesday Sept 24 (Day 17) Vukovar (Croatia); Novi Sad (Croatia)

After breakfast, take in a lecture by a local expert on the history of this war-torn country. We'll then visit Vukovar, once renowned for its elegant 18thcentury mansions. Today it symbolizes the ravaging effects of the 1990s Yugoslav Homeland War. Enjoy some home atmosphere as you learn about the war from families that experienced it.
Return to the ship for lunch aboard as we cruise to Serbia. Arrive in Novi Sad this evening, where you will participate in an orientation tour before enjoying dinner at a local restaurant

Local currency: Croatian Kuna
Dining Room breakfast: 7:00am - 9:00am
Dining Room lunch: 12:30pm
Dining Room dinner: 6:00pm - 8:00pm

The guest lecturer was delayed 15 minutes due to traffic, but he started at 8:45am, and had interesting commentary and PowerPoint presentation about Croatia. He covered many topics including geography, Dalmatian dogs, politics, famous Croatians, neckties, and its recent war.

At 9:30am we met on shore in three groups with three local guides and our three Tour Directors. The groups each walked about 20 minutes through town, stopping intermittently to be shown a sight or hear a fact. We came to our coaches and boarded them. Each coach drove about 30 minutes to get to the home of a local host family. Each coach further divided into two groups of twelve. The two homes for our coach were across the street from each other in the village of Aljmaš. The husband and wife were awaiting our arrival to greet us and invite us into their home. The husband spoke no English, the wife spoke some, and the son spoke it fairly well. We were served tea, coffee, juice, and apple cake. We had an open table discussion, with guests asking the host family many questions about many different topics, and in return we heard some fascinating stories, giving us tremendous insight into their lives, culture, country, and effects of war. It was a wonderful experience, giving us insight into their country that I don't think we could have attained any other way. The 45 minutes went fast. Looking back, I wish we would have brought some type of small hostess gift.

The coaches returned to the ship at 12:15pm.

After lunch there was an ice cream social in the Main Lounge as the ship departed for Novi Sad.

At 3:00pm there was a presentation by one of the Tour Directors about Yugoslavia, her home country. She was able to provide great insight that would not be normally learned from a typical local guide; the lounge was packed to capacity. Once again, we were able to hear personal stories from our Tour Director that we would not have been able to hear from a local guide.

One of the ship crew held an exercise class on the sun deck at 4:00pm.

The boat arrived in Novi Sad at 5:30pm. The Discovery Briefing was at 5:45pm.

At 8:00pm there was a city walk with a local guide, lasting about one hour.

Some people chose to have dinner at a restaurant in Novi Sad. This group left at 7:00pm, and had a guided city walk after their dinner. All aboard was at 10:45pm tonight.

Wednesday Sept 25 (Day 18) Belgrade (Serbia)

Serbia is the cosmopolitan capital of modern Serbia. Begin your day with a lecture on the country by a local expert. Then, depart for a guided tour of Belgrade, including bustling Slavija Square, the city's main square. Your sightseeing today includes Parliament, City Hall, Republic Square, the National Theater, the National Museum of Serbia, and Tito's Memorial.
As a special treat, you'll have an exclusive visit to the Royal Palace of Dedinje.
Return to your riverboat for lunch, before setting off on an optional visit to Kalamegdan Fortress and free time in the city.
Dinner is served on your riverboat this evening, followed by a performance of traditional Serbian music and dance.

Local currency: Serbian Dinar
Dining Room breakfast: 7:00am - 9:00am
Dining room lunch: 12:30pm
Dining room dinner: 6:00pm - 8:00pm

Today we were instructed to carry our passport on our person when we got off the boat, as this is required by Serbian law. Cruise Director says they have never had any travelers asked to show passports to local officials before, but since it was the law, it will be followed. We were given our passport at the reception desk when we exchanged our room key for the Shore Pass. We immediately placed our passports in our money belts.

At 9:00am we boarded the coaches, and had a city tour of Belgrade with a local guide. We saw a number of buildings that still had not been repaired from war damage.

Our next stop was at the Royal Compound, and its Royal Palace of Dedinje and the Royal Chapel. We were informed that it is the home of Alexander II, Crown Prince of Serbia, and his wife Princess Katherine. We first toured the chapel, and then the lovely palace itself. What we didn't know was that the Prince and Princess were there today, and were planning on meeting with us, which apparently is quite unusual! We gathered on the steps leading to the back gardens, and soon they came out to greet us, and talked to us about the family history, their part in ending the war, and their current philanthropology efforts. They had a photographer on hand to take photos of each guest alongside of the royal couple.

After our special time with the Prince and Princess, we continued on to the Museum of Yugoslav History, where former Yugoslavia President Tito is buried at the House of Flowers. Then on to the Cathedral of Saint Sava, a still unfinished Serbian Orthodox church. After this, the coach took us back to the boat, arriving at 12:45pm, for lunch.

At 2:30pm, we left again with new local guides, this time for Kalamegdan Fortress. After a tour of the fortress, we were given time on our own to walk around Belgrade. A main pedestrian walkway was just outside the fortress. Returning to the boat could easily be done by walking. There would also be coaches shuttling us from the fortress to the ship at 3:30, 4:00, and 5:00.

After the tour, we walked around the fortress on our own, then explored the pedestrian street. There were a few good spots to sit down on a bench or by a fountain and simply watch the locals go about their busy daily routine. We also found a pharmacy where we bought some cold medicine. Our easy walk back to the boat took about 10 minutes, going down the hill and following some steps that were pointed out earlier. We were back by 5:00pm.

The Discovery Briefing was at 5:45pm. We were reminded to set our clocks one hour ahead tonight due to a time zone change. Also, the photos taken at the Royal Palace were available for guests to pick up.

Service at dinner was a little slower and frantic than usual. We would later find out that they were shorthanded, as a crew member did not return to the ship in time last night, and missed the all-aboard. He made his own way to Belgrade this morning where he was given his belongings and his employment was terminated; missing the boat is simply not tolerated for ship crew.

After dinner there was a Serbian Folkloric Show, full of energy.

Thursday Sept 26 (Day 19) Cruising day

Spend a relaxing day cruising the Danube River through the scenic heartland of Eastern Europe while enjoying your riverboat's amenities and various shipboard activities, ranging from cooking demonstrations to games to lectures.
Cruise through one of the most spectacular stretches along the Danube: the Kazan Narrows and the Iron Gate, where the Danube courses down from the towering Carpathian Mountains.

Dining Room breakfast: 7:30am - 9:30am
Dining Room lunch: 12:30pm
Dining Room dinner: 6:00pm - 8:00pm

Today was spent cruising the Danube River, with the most scenic portion, the Kazan Narrows, in the morning. Commentary began about 8:45am as we passed Golubac Castle, considered the entrance to the 100km-long Iron Gate. The Captain slowed down at the castle, and maneuvered so people on both sides of the ship could view it.

After this point the river narrowed significantly, and the wind picked up, making it quite chilly on the sun deck. Everyone was wearing a jacket, and there were some caps and mittens seen also. Crew brought up hot chocolate, which was welcomed by all. Most everyone had gone back inside by 10:00, but were watching the scenic cruise from public areas or from the French doors in their rooms.

Commentary started again at 12:10 as we navigated through the narrowest part of the river, passing Tabula Traiana and the large Statue of Decebalus.

At 1:45pm we were at Djerdap lock, the first of two tall locks, and the last ones of our journey towards the Black Sea. By now the wind had subsided, the sun was out, and people were shedding their jackets, and some actually putting on shorts. Rum Punch "locktails" were brought to the sun deck, and the Cruise Director gave a toast to the group. We exited the second lock by 3:00pm.

There was a 4:00pm fitness class on the sun deck.

Discovery Briefing was at 5:45pm. Options for upcoming Bucharest excursions were detailed (Snagov Monastery or Transylvania), and guests signed up for their preferred choice.

The ship passed through the very last lock of the tour during the dinner hour.

After dinner, there was a complementary open bar at 8:00pm, followed by a fun game of Majority Rules at 8:45pm.

Friday Sept 27 (Day 20) Ruse (Bulgaria)

Spend the morning cruising through the countryside in Bulgaria. After lunch on board, we will arrive in the city of Ruse. Here, you may choose to depart by coach for the celebrated Rock Churches of Ivanovo, carved into steep cliffside caves. Or, remain in Ruse for a walking tour of the city, often referred to as "Little Vienna" for its Art Nouveau homes and lively cafés.
The ship sets sail after dinner on board tonight.

Local currency: Bulgarian Lev
Dining Room breakfast: 7:30am - 9:30am
Dining Room lunch: 12:30pm
Dining Room dinner: 7:00pm - 9:00pm

This morning and early afternoon we continued to cruise the Danube.

At 10:00 there was a presentation in the Main Lounge with two of the Tour Directors. It was an informal discussion and question/answer session of their lives growing up under Communism. Szilvia was raised in Hungary where Communism was not as extreme, and Yener in Romania where it was in full effect. It was a fascinating candid view that both complemented and contrasted our current views.

The riverboat arrived at Ruse at 1:45pm. Realizing that we could easily walk into town, we decided to skip both of the excursions that were offered (Ivanovo rock caves or Ruse walking tour), and explore the town on our own. We picked up a map in the lounge and disembarked as soon as customs was cleared, about 2:00pm. We walked along the riverside until we came to a street we thought should lead into town. We wound our way towards where we thought the large main square would be, and found it in short order, about 10 minutes' walk from the ship. We had an enjoyable time leisurely exploring the square, fountains, and surrounding area including an interesting small old church. We noted that there were far fewer tourists in Ruse than most of our previous stops.

We decided to have an early dinner and skip dinner on the ship, as it is always refreshing to be able to eat off the ship rather than on. We picked a restaurant right on the square, confirming that they accepted credit cards before we ordered. While we ate we saw the walking tour group pass by. After eating we had a slow stroll back to the ship, arriving there at about the same time as the returning tour groups, which was at about 6:00pm.

There was a 6:15pm Discovery Briefing announced which was not on the printed daily program. Most people then stayed in the lounge for the 6:30pm Bulgarian Folklore Show that lasted 45 minutes.

Since we had an early dinner, we watched an on-demand movie on the television, our first of the trip.

Saturday Sept 28 (Day 21) Cernavodă; Constanta (Romania)

This morning we arrive in Cernavodă, Romania, and depart for a visit to the seaside city of Constanta, with its numerous Greek and Roman antiquities. Continue on to a seaside resort for lunch and pool access by the Black Sea.
Return to Cernavoda to reboard our riverboat and enjoy the Captain's farewell reception and dinner this evening.

Local currency: Romanian New Leu
Dining Room breakfast: 7:00am - 9:00am
Dining Room Captain's Farewell Dinner: 7:00pm (single seating)

This morning we docked at a very small one-dock port, Fetesti, which is close to the Cernavodă Bridge. There were no buildings in sight; only a lone shepherd with his sheep and his dogs.

At 8:30am the coaches were boarded, along with local guides. It was just over one hour drive to Constanta, and the guide gave us commentary most of the way; we arrived at 9:35. We were dropped off at the National History and Archaeology Museum where we were given a 10-minute restroom break. From here we walked to the adjacent Archeology Park to see the excavated ruins of the port market. We reboarded the coach at 10:50am, and in ten minutes we parked in front of the picturesque casino for a photo stop.

We arrived at the seaside resort town of Mamaia after a fifteen minute drive, at 11:25. We were dropped off at the Hotel Iaki where we went inside and were immediately seated for a very nice buffet lunch. After lunch we were given time to walk through the hotel and to the seaside, and dip our toes in the Black Sea. The weather was very gray with an intermittent mist, so those enduring the weather didn't stay outside very long.

We reboarded the coaches and left at 1:00pm. Since we were running ahead of schedule, two of the three coaches took guests to the town's local Harvest Festival; the third took guests directly back to the ship; guests were given a choice to change coaches first. We had 30 minutes to walk around the market-like festival, complete with live entertainment on the stage, many grills full of aromatic sausages, and vendors selling flowers, meats and cheeses.

We were back on the coach at 1:45pm for the 1.5-hour drive back to the boat.

The rest of the afternoon was spent preparing for tomorrow's disembarkation, returning borrowed items, collecting passports from reception desk, and settling shipboard accounts. Bathrobes were also taken today.

There was a Discovery Briefing at 4:30pm where a Tour Director discussed tomorrow's events, including the disembarkation process, airport transfers in Bucharest, and answered questions.

The Captain's Farewell Reception began at 6:15pm in the Main Lounge. People dressed up more tonight, but not as much as we noticed on the first half of the tour (the Day 14 Farewell Dinner). The Captain gave a toast, and then invited guests to dinner at 7:00pm.

As with the other special dinners, there was only one seating tonight, at 7:00pm. The Cruise Director and Tour Directors accompanied the Captain at the Captain's table. The Hotel Manager (Marina) thanked the kitchen staff for their wonderful work, and then dinner was served. Guests had a choice of Surf & Turf or vegetarian; almost everyone chose the steak and lobster.

Sunday Sept 29 (Day 22) Bucharest (Romania)

Disembark your riverboat in Cernavoda and travel through the Romanian countryside to Bucharest, Romania's capital and largest city, where you'll have lunch in a local restaurant.
Explore the city on a sightseeing tour. See the Triumphal Arch and Revolution Square, with a visit to the gigantic People's Palace.
Arrive at the JW Marriott Bucharest Grand later this afternoon and check into your room. Enjoy dinner on your own in the heart of the city.

Local currency: Romanian New Leu
Dining Room breakfast: 7:00am - 9:00am
Lodging: JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel (1st of 2 included nights)

Today we packed our bags and left the ship one last time for our drive to Bucharest. Tagged luggage was placed outside our room door before leaving, where it would be picked up, transported by coach to our Bucharest hotel, and delivered to our assigned room. We were again reminded to thoroughly check our safe, emptying it of our belongings. We were also instructed to keep our passports on our person, not in our bags, as we would need them to enter the People's Palace in Bucharest.

The dining room was more crowded than usual for breakfast this morning; I'm glad we went early. While we were at breakfast our stateroom attendant stripped our bed linens so they could begin the long turnover day laundry process.

Guests turned in their keys at the reception desk, but no Shore Pass was given in exchange this time. Everyone gathered in the Main Lounge with their carry-ons, and we disembarked promptly at 9:00am and boarded the coaches. Rather than assign new coaches today, everyone kept the same coach (same color poker chip) as yesterday.

Once on our way the Tour Director handed out the schedule for tomorrow, along with a Bucharest information list. The Tauck comment forms were also handed out, and we were asked to complete these at our leisure and return them later to one of the directors. Questions were answered, and we were treated to commentary the entire drive. At 10:25 we stopped at a rest stop that had WC facilities but nothing else. We pulled into Bucharest at about 11:00.

As soon as we arrived in Bucharest we started the city tour as we passed block after block of old Soviet-era housing. We stopped at Revolution Square and our Tour Director Yener, who grew up in Bucharest, told us his first-hand account of the 1989 Romanian Revolution leading to the overthrow of their country's last Communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu. As a youth, our tour Director lived only a few blocks away from this spot. Hearing him describe the events day-by-day and hour-by-hour as he observed them was incredible; it gave a perspective that never could be learned by reading or any other media. This stop turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip.

We continued our city tour, arriving at the Caru cu Bere restaurant for lunch at 12:00pm. This restaurant is beautiful inside. It held many people, and was crowded with both tourists and locals. They were prepared for us, and started serving immediately. It was a fun and very filling meal of beer, salad, grilled chicken and sausages, potatoes, vegetables, and dessert.

At 1:30pm we returned to the coach and drove to the People's Palace for our 2:15pm admissions reservation. Inside the lobby we were given security instructions, which were quite strict. Anyone entering had to leave their passport in exchange for an ID badge. Coats and bags went through x-ray, and people went through metal detector; no cameras allowed. Each of our groups was assigned a local palace guide who helped keep the slow process running smoothly. Our Tour Director said that the exact security protocol can vary from day to day; some days they only require photo identification; other days it must be a valid passport.

Once everyone passed through security we started our tour of the palace. We were shown many rooms, halls, lobbies; there were many steps to climb. The tour lasted until 3:45pm, and was filled with fascinating facts and sites. On our way out, we exchanged our voucher for our passport at the security desk. Then we went back to the coach for the five-minute ride to the hotel, which was located just behind the palace. At the hotel we waited a few minutes on the coach while our Tour Director went in and got our keys, and handed them out to us on the coach. We were able to go directly to our rooms, and found our suitcases waiting for us in the room.

There were Bucharest maps available at the Tauck hospitality desk in the lobby. Two ATM machines were also available by the shops inside the hotel; we withdrew 400 leu (about $120 U.S.) from the Banca Transilvania one. There are a couple of convenience stores right across the street for buying beverages and snacks.

Dinner tonight was on our own. It was raining outside, and most of the group chose to eat at the hotel, which had a couple of restaurant choices (Italian, steakhouse, American, and Sports Bar) on the upper (first) floor, all of which are good. There was also a Vienna Lounge that had good coffee, tea, and sweets.

The hotel beds were on the firm side, but had top-notch pillows.

Monday Sept 30 (Day 23) Bucharest (Romania)

Today you have two choices on how to spend your day. You may choose a full-day excursion to the historic region of Transylvania, where you'll visit Bran Castle. Today a national monument, the castle was used as a fortress by Vlad Tepes (also known as Vlad the Impaler, or Dracula) during his campaigns in the region. You'll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, followed by free time to explore on your own. You will return to the hotel in time for dinner. (Please note that travel time from Bucharest to Bran is approximately 3.5 hours each way.)
Alternately, you may opt for a boat ride to Snagov Island, the reputed burial place of Vlad Tepes, and a stop at Cadarusani Monastery. Enjoy a simple lunch before returning to an afternoon at leisure in Old Town Bucharest.
This evening, join us for an after-hours visit to the People's Palace for a Tauck-exclusive farewell reception and dinner.

Local currency: Romanian New Leu
Hotel Breakfast: opens at 6:30am
Farewell Reception and Dinner: coach departs at 7:00pm
Lodging: JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel (2nd of 2 included nights)

Breakfast at the hotel was included with our room, and was at the JW Steakhouse restaurant on the first floor starting at 6:30am.

7:30am departure for those who chose the Transylvania and Bran Castle excursion option. This involved a three-hour drive on the coach each way, arriving there at 10:30am for the actual castle tour. Lunch was at 1:00pm at a nearby restaurant. The coach left at 3:00pm for the drive back, arriving at the hotel at 6:00pm.

8:00am departure for those who chose the Snagov Island and Caldurusani Monastery excursion option. The drive took about one hour, arriving at the dock where guests transferred to boats to get to the island. Lunch was at 12:00pm at the monastery. The coach left at 2:00pm for the drive back, arriving at about 3:00pm.

7:00pm departure for the Farewell Reception and Dinner at the People's Palace.

I cannot give you any details about the two optional tours today, or the Farewell Dinner. I was not feeling well, so I chose to forgo all group activities today. But I did think it was suspicious that I could see a building from our room that was marked as a Fitness Center on maps, but it had "No Photography" signs all around the outside, and armed guards checking cars at the perimeter gate entrance.

Tuesday Oct 1 (Day 24) Bucharest; Travel day

Your memorable river cruise exploring the scenic and historic waterways from Amsterdam to Bucharest concludes this morning. Following breakfast, you will be transferred from the hotel to Bucharest's Henri Coanda International Airport or one of Bucharest's train stations for your journey home.

Local currency: Romanian New Leu
Hotel Breakfast: opens at 6:30am

Our flight was scheduled to depart from the Bucharest airport at 7:10am. A few days before, Tauck gave us our transfer information which instructed us to be in the hotel lobby at 4:35am for a 4:45am departure to the airport. We were to have our bags ready inside our room for the bellman to pick up; we were to inform the bellman the night before what time to have our bags picked up.

It turns out that many guests were flying out this morning. A box breakfast was provided in the lobby for those leaving before the restaurant opened. The airport transportation was another full-sized coach, which was filled with departing guests. There was a Tour Director in the lobby counting bags and talking to the bellmen, making sure all were accounted for. The coach was about 15 minutes late in arriving which was starting to make guests nervous, but the Tour Director reassured us that all was still well and time was plentiful before flights. Then the bags were loaded onto the coach, as were the guests. All passengers were dropped off at the same location at the airport, and the Tour Director was again on hand to solve any last minute problems.

Airport check-in was uneventful. The line for security was long and slow, but also uneventful. The waiting area at the gate required another security check, and had limited seating, but was uneventful. And thankfully, our flights home were uneventful as well. Bon voyage!


Connecting With The Tour Group

The guest documents sent by Tauck before our travels had instructions concerning airport transfer, complete with various phone numbers to call in case we had any travel delays. We kept a copy of that page handy, but luckily we didn't have to refer to it.

Tauck provided transportation from the Amsterdam airport to the hotel. Tauck asks that guests supply flight information to them at least three weeks prior to traveling, including Tauck reservation number, tour name, date tour begins, arrival flight airline/number/date/time, and departure flight airline/number/date/time. We also take our own printout with the hotel name, address, and phone number, printed in the local language. This is so we can show it to a taxi driver if there is ever any problem with the provided transfers and we have to get there on our own.

We easily spotted the Tauck representative waiting for us outside of customs, holding a Tauck sign. He matched our names to his list, and let us know that he was waiting for four other Tauck guests before we would leave. Two showed up shortly, but the last two never arrived. Once the group was assembled, he escorted outside to his awaiting van. He went to one hotel to drop off the other two guests, and then drove us to our Hotel Amstel Amsterdam. The transfer took less than forty minutes. Checking into the hotel was uneventful. In the lobby, we spotted the Tauck hospitality desk. We made a mental note to return later to see if someone would be there.

A handout with joining instructions was slipped underneath our hotel room door during the night before Day 1 in Amsterdam. It gave hours for a Tauck Hospitality Desk in the hotel lobby (9:00am - 12:00pm; 2:00pm - 3:00pm). The handout also instructed us to put the colored Tauck luggage tags on our checked luggage, and have them ready for pickup inside our room by 11:00am. We were also informed of our 3:00 transfer time from the hotel to the ship by coach, and our 3:30 embarkation time, and reminded to have our passports with us.

By 2:45pm, many Tauck guests were gathered in the hotel lobby, and making introductions. At 2:50 we started boarding two awaiting full-sized Tauck coaches. There were fifty Tauck guests; each coach had seats for forty passengers each. The coaches left promptly at 3:00. A tour director was on each coach, and gave introductions.

The drive to the Central Station area, where the ship was moored, took less than 25 minutes. Our ship, the MS Treasures, was moored by itself, but we could see numerous riverboats at other piers that were moored two and three deep, side by side.

Day 1 Orientation

We boarded the ship, where Cruise Director Jeremy greeted everyone at the door. Immediately inside, a crew member was handing refreshing moist towels to each guest, while another crew person was offering glasses of juice.

The line went by the reception desk, where we quickly exchanged our passports for room keys. To keep the check-in line moving, guests were asked to return at our convenience in the next few days with their credit card so it could entered on the accounts. Then a crew member escorted us to our cabin where luggage was already awaiting. Instructions were given on how to operate the safe and coffee maker, and any questions were answered before they left us to unpack and settle in.

In the cabin, there were some handouts for us.

Within 30 minutes, our room attendant came by to meet us, answer questions, and inquire about refrigerator beverage preferences. She came back 20 minutes later with more of the bottled beverage we had requested.

We explored the ship for a while, orienting ourselves with the layout.

At 5:15pm there was a meeting with the maître d' for any guests who had dietary concerns or allergies.

At 5:30 all of the passengers gathered in the Main Lounge for an introductory talk by the Cruise Director. He discussed the ship facilities, and how the shore excursion system works. He reminded of the Welcome Reception and Dinner tomorrow night, saying that this is the night that some people choose to dress up a bit. He told us how to use the wi-fi internet connection, saying that it is a satellite connection, and works best for everyone when people use it with moderation and not to sync their photos. He did the Daily Discovery Briefing for tomorrow's activities, and then discussed lunch selections for Day 3 lunch on shore in Cologne. The three tour directors were then introduced. Everyone was dismissed in about 45 minutes.

Directors

There is one Cruise Director, and three Tour Directors. These are the people employed and provided by Tauck.

Cruise Director:

The Cruise Director is the top dog, organizing all the details of the river cruise tour, and keeping in touch with Tauck. The Cruise Director has a desk right in the lobby where they do the work. He/she usually stays on the ship even when the guests leave for shore excursions. He/she is like a company CEO, keeping things running smoothly by coordinating the three tour directors, the ship captain, the ship hotel manager, and the onshore contacts at each port of call. Although some of our pre-tour literature stated that we would have the same Cruise Director throughout our tour, we actually had two different Cruise Directors, one for each of the two segments.

Tour Directors:

The Tour Directors accompany guests on the shore excursion activities. Usually one is on each of the three coaches. They keep us informed with their talks, hand us over to local guides, make sure we stay on schedule, do frequent head counts, and show us where to meet the bus after the excursion. They can be thought of as the equivalent of a land-based tour director.

Crew:

The ship crew includes everyone working on board except the tour director and three cruise directors. They are employed and provided by Scylla. Scylla contracts with Tauck to provide ship services according to certain specifications. Of course, as with any ship, the captain is the top dog. But the Hotel Manager is the one who is responsible for maintaining the high quality of comfort that Tauck and their guests expect.

The Riverboat

This tour was aboard the ms Treasures. Here are photos we took inside and outside.

This ship takes a maximum of 118 guests, unlike many other riverboat companies that pack on many more people on the same sized ships.

The French balconies were a nice feature. There is no veranda outside the door; there is a railing immediately outside the door. But the doors are large, and when opened, gives the feel of a veranda when sitting or standing right inside. This allows the room itself to be larger.

Our room had a Nespresso machine. We were shown how to use it when we were first shown to our stateroom, and we quickly became quite adept at using it. It worked well at making espressos in the morning and often during the day also. There were three capsules to choose from (one medium, one robust, one decaf), and they were kept stocked by our stateroom attendant. We learned that the water reservoir needed to be watched and filled regularly.

The television had a variety of inputs (photo 1, 2, 3) for various cameras or computers.

Every evening during the turndown service, the stateroom attendant left a little something special for us. It might have been a chocolate bar, a plate of fruit, a travel-size shaving cream, or something else. I don't know if this was standard for all staterooms, or if it was only done for our room category, but it was nice to come back to the room after dinner and find this little nicety!

Laundry service is available on the boat. There are two pickups every day, corresponding to stateroom attendant service in mornings and evenings. The laundry list is filled out and placed in the plastic laundry bag along with the items. The bag is set on the bed for pickup by the attendant. The laundry is returned on hangers, usually within 24 hours. There is no dry cleaning service available. Clothes may also be sent for pressing only.

Exercise Room has 3 stationary bikes, 2 treadmills, 1 rowing machine, weights and mats.

Tauck does not own their riverboats. Tauck leases them from the Swiss company Scylla. Scylla provides the crew, and runs the hotel service. The only non-Scylla people on board are the Tauck-employed Cruise Director, and the three Tauck-employed Tour Directors. I talked with a number of Scylla crew, and they have a very good relationship with Tauck; both companies have similar philosophies about quality and service.

In-Room Safe

The safe is located on a shelf in the closet. It seemed quite secure and modern; you could select an access code that was up to eight digits long. At first, it was confusing to program, but after a few tries and reading the instructions, it became second nature.

The safe held our full-sized 35mm camera and telephoto lens, small camera, wallet, cash, passports, phones, and iPad. It would probably hold a small netbook computer, but not a regular size notebook computer.

It was sometimes difficult to see all the areas inside the safe because of its position and lack of direct lighting. I placed my black iPhone upright on one side of the safe and put in more items. Later I took the items out, but missed the phone because it was black and almost completely hidden. I learned a lesson from this...when clearing out a safe, use your hand to "sweep" all along the bottom and sides, front and back, to make sure nothing large or small is left behind. Another trick that our Cruise Director Bridget told everyone was interesting; on your last night, place one shoe in the safe. That way, you will have to open your safe before you check out, and are less likely to leave items behind when you leave. It might have been helpful to have a very small travel flashlight to see all areas of the safe.

Welcome Cocktail Reception and Dinner

There were two; one on Day 2 and one on Day 15. The first one was more formal since everyone on board was just starting their tour. The second one on Day 15 was called "casual" in the Daily Program since it was on the first night aboard for the guests taking the second half (Budapest to Bucharest) leg.

First one on Day 2:

Between 6:15 and 6:45, the Captain greeted guests as they entered the Main Lounge for the Welcome Reception. White, red, or sparkling wine was offered as we entered. Hors d'oeuvres were brought around to guests as they enjoyed their beverages and chatted with each other. There were fresh oysters available at a side table. At 6:45 the Captain was formally introduced by the Cruise Director. He introduced the Hotel Manager (named Marina), who in turn introduced the crew as they paraded through the lounge. At 7:00, guests were invited to proceed downstairs to the Dining Room for the Welcome Dinner. This was a one-time seating for everyone, contrary to the usual choose-your-own-time routine. Guests could choose who to sit with, request to be seated with someone else, or request to start a new table. Dinner lasted until about 9:15.

The attire was varied, but definitely on the nicer side. Well over half of the men were wearing blazers, and many with ties. Most of the men who were not wearing blazers did have either a tie or a sweater. Many women wore dresses or skirts; nice slacks were also worn. No formal dresses or evening gowns.

Second one on Day 15:

The Welcome Reception was very similar to the first one. It started at 6:30, with the Captain greeting everyone as they entered the Main Lounge. Thirty minutes of informal cocktails and socializing. At 7:00 the Captain was introduced, who introduced the Hotel Manager, who introduced the crew. We noticed that there were a few new crew faces, which is normal on riverboats due to scheduling, breaks, and rotations to other company boats. At 7:15 we were invited to the dining room, again for a one-time seating for all passengers.

Guests heeded the "keep it casual" advice in the Daily Program (it did say "no jeans or shorts" though). Attire tonight could be described as country club casual, with very few men in jackets, and women's dresses were not as dressy.

Farewell Reception and Dinner

There were two; one on Day 14 (since some guests were disembarking in Budapest) and one on Day 21.

First one on Day 14:

The Farewell Reception began at 6:15 in the Main Lounge. It was an informal happy hour atmosphere, with hors d'oeuvres brought around by the crew, and guests sitting with new-found friends. At 6:45 Cruise Director Jeremy talked to the group, saying thank you and making a toast. He then invited the group to proceed to the Dining Room for our 7:00 dinner. Once everyone was there, the Captain and his table guests entered. The Captain stood up in front of all the guests and proposed a nice toast. The six-course menu was set, with only a choice of main course. Each course was masterfully delivered to all tables at almost the same time. It was a great meal, and very fun.

Second one on Day 21:

This Farewell Reception was very similar to the first one, beginning at 6:15. People dressed up, but not as much as at the first Farewell Reception. The Captain made a toast, and the group went to the dining room at 7:00 for the one-seating dinner. Here the Hotel Director (Marina) thanked the kitchen staff for their wonderful job. There was a six-course menu again, with a choice of main course. Most of the guests chose the Surf and Turf (beef and lobster tail). Another great meal with excellent service.

Handouts

Daily Programs:

Room Service menu

Internet access

Money

Here is a list of the visited countries, and the currency they use:

Or, put another way, here are the currencies that were used on different days:

We actually only used cash in two currencies; Euro and Romanian New Lei. Hungary uses their own currency, but finding a restaurant or shop that accepted Euros was not very difficult. Some restaurant menus actually had prices in both Forint and Euros. But always ask before ordering to make sure. We never had a need for the local Forint money during our two days in Budapest. In Croatia, Serbia, and Bulgaria we either had no purchases, or used our credit card. In these countries, it should not be assumed that the Euro or US dollar will be accepted anywhere.

As we do on most of our travels, we tried to use cash for most of our purchases the entire tour, using ATMs to get our money. We only used machines that were outside an actual bank. Our ATM card uses a four-digit PIN, and was accepted in all the machines we found. On most transactions, the selection for English instructions was obvious.

We had no problem finding ATMs to withdraw Euros in any of the four EU countries. And in Romania there were two ATMs inside the Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel where we were staying for two nights.

We always kept safety in mind. We were very selective in which machines we used. We would prefer ones that had plenty of people around, but nobody standing right there at the machine. If we found one, but had any uneasy feeling about the area or the machine, we would move on. Once we chose one, we would both stand very close to the machine, shielding my actions with our bodies, my wife constantly looking around while I got out my wallet, ATM card, made the transaction, put the cash and card back into my wallet, and secured my money belt. I would not turn around until this entire process was done. Safety first; better safe than sorry!

Some ATM machines dispense large currency; others dispense in smaller denominations. You don't know until your cash is dispensed.

Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted at hotels, most restaurants, and stores.  Discover and American Express are not nearly as widely accepted. Be sure to call your credit card issuer (or go online) and inform them of your travel dates and locations, or your account might be flagged and frozen as suspicious activity. Taking two different credit cards (different accounts) is a good idea in case there is any trouble with one of them. Do not take cash withdrawals with your credit card unless it is a real emergency; credit card advances are very very expensive.

We always take some Euros home with us to use on our next trip.  It is always nice to arrive at our new Europe destination with enough Euros to guarantee a meal, transportation to the hotel from the airport, and any emergency.  Just one less detail to have to worry about.

Tips, Gratuities

Tauck covered all these gratuities:

Gratuities we were responsible for:

That being said, we found that it is by no means uncommon for Tauck riverboat guests to give gratuities to the Cruise Director, the Tour Directors, stateroom attendant, and some riverboat staff (such as the Hotel Manager, Maître d', or others) who provided exceptional service.

Most people used Euros for tipping, which is preferred because it is easier to deposit, and they do not lose anything in exchange or transaction fees when they get local currency. But they would graciously accept any currency a guest preferred to use. These tips were most often simply handed directly to the person along with a handshake and a thank you.  We frequently include a hand-written note with some personal sentiments when giving gratuities on tours.

Local goodies are also very much appreciated by the directors and ship staff. They usually have little cabin space, and try not to accumulate items that they must take with them when they pack and head home for their breaks. But treats that they can eat and share with others will make their day.

Extra Expenses

Not included in the tour price:

There are no optional excursions offered, which is a refreshing contrast to the other non-Tauck Tours I have experienced.

Shopping

An obvious difference with Tauck Tours is that they don't make specific shopping stops as a group at any tourist traps.  This is a big advantage over other tours!  Those shopping stops can be quite a waste of time, overpriced, and boring. The tour director mentioned this point of distinction, because so many other tour agencies include shopping stops since the tour directors get a split of the commissions.

Time available for shopping varied greatly from stop to stop. Sometimes there was plenty of independent time that could be used for shopping, but on other occasions the schedule was so tight that it allowed time to shop.

The Tour Directors avoided giving the group specific shopping recommendations during the daily Discovery Briefing, but were happy to give individual advice when asked. The Cruise Director was also very helpful with shopping advice. Many of the local guides would also give shopping advice when asked.

Europeans frequently say "hello" when they enter a shop, and "goodbye" or "thank you" when they leave.  When we tried to do this in the local language, even as obvious tourists, we could tell that they appreciated it.

Water

Water on the riverboat is quite safe to drink, including the stateroom taps, dining areas, and lounges. Bottled water is available in the staterooms and dining areas, and is complementary. Sparkling water may be requested also.

Twelve-ounce bottles of water are also available when leaving the ship for a shore activity.

Water was safe at all locations where we dined off the ship, but we always drink bottled beverages just to be safe.

Food

Eating venue options on the ms Treasures:

Dining Room is open seating. This means guests may go to breakfast, lunch, or dinner, whenever they want during restaurant hours. Many other riverboats have set dinner seating times. Guests may sit at any table with anyone else. Tables are for four or six people; there are no tables for two. Hours vary slightly, depending on the day's schedule, but are typically:

We noted that the dining room seemed to be quieter than on an ocean cruise ship. This, along with the smaller tables, made it easier to converse with dining mates.

Lido hours are typically:

Room Service is only available to Category 7 passengers, and is breakfast only. Here is a menu.

Snacks, called "A Bite To Eat", are available from 10:00am until midnight. They may be ordered for delivery anywhere on the ship, including staterooms. Choices include Snack Attack, Sweet Time, Fruit Basket, Ice Cream Break, and Pretzel Break. These snacks are complementary, and are very tasty.

For breakfast in the Dining Room, there is a self-service food buffet, and a cook-to-order station with omelets and other rotating dishes available. Guests may order cook-to-order items from the servers, or directly at the station. Some cook-to-order items are prepared in the kitchen, such as a number of pancake choices.

Lunch in the Dining Room is also self-service buffet style, with a hot station or carving station at the end. The buffet had an impressive variety of selections, and most varied daily. It was difficult to keep lunch servings small because there were so many enticing items to try. I usually avoid salmon when traveling because I have been spoiled by having so much great Pacific Northwest salmon around me at home, but salmon was a lunch choice one day, and it was incredible! Desserts were ordered from a menu, and brought by the servers.

Dinner in the Dining Room was very pleasant. Service by the crew was attentive; menus had a nice variety of selections; serving portion sizes were just right. There were a couple of special dinners for which all guests were seated at the same time; Day 2 Welcome Dinner, Day 14 Farewell Dinner, Day 15 Welcome Dinner, and Day 21 Farewell Dinner. Many dinners included an amuse-bouche.

Public Restrooms

Tauck did a good job of planning restroom stops for the group when off the ship. The Tour Directors either coordinated this with the coach drivers, or instructed the local guides when a stop would be appropriate. On a couple of occasions, the Tour Directors provided coins for guests to use when needed for public restrooms. On the river cruise, restrooms were not as much of an issue since time away from the ship was not as lengthy compared to time between towns on land tours. In some locations, the restrooms were not very big, so lines were long. It is best to be prepared by using ship restroom right before going ashore.

Luggage, Suitcases

Tauck requests that passengers limit their checked luggage to one average size suitcase per person. Although this is primarily a riverboat tour, there are still a number of hotel, bus and airport transfers. Almost everyone appeared to abide by this recommendation. Of course, travelers must be aware of luggage restrictions implemented by each airline also.

Once in the riverboat stateroom, most empty luggage can easily be stowed underneath the bed. If a suitcase was too large to go under the bed, it could technically go in the closet, but might interfere with long hanging clothes. Carry-on bags can be stored inside the suitcases. Incidentally, there is also a large plastic tub underneath the bed that can be used for storage.

Tauck supplies colored luggage tags. They asked that these tags be placed on checked bags for the Amsterdam hotel to ship transfer, the ship to Bucharest hotel transfer, and the Bucharest hotel to airport transfer. This greatly helps the bellhops and tour directors assure that all the suitcases are accounted for at every step. These tags should not be put on carry-on bags, or they might be inadvertently taken by the hotel staff.

Many tour companies have guests place their luggage in the hotel hallway for pickup, but Tauck has agreements that allow guests to leave the luggage inside the hotel room until it is picked up by hotel staff. We appreciate this extra security measure taken by Tauck. When disembarking the ship in Bucharest, suitcases were placed in the hallway, but security concerns on a riverboat are more controllable than in a hotel.

I like to carry certain things when I am off the riverboat or away from the hotel. For the last couple of trips, I have used a Pacsafe Metrosafe 300 Gii bag. It is a shoulder bag, a "man bag", made with travel safety in mind. It works great, and I will be using it on future trips. It is lightweight, comfortable, has many security features, and can hold plenty. Although I didn't take all of this every day, it could hold our full-size Nikon D200 camera with zoom lens, guidebook, notes, water, snack, iPhone, iPad, passport, tissue, and umbrella. By using this, and always being very alert to my surroundings, I felt safe carrying it most everywhere.

Some museums, galleries, churches, and other attractions limit the size of bags and purses people can take inside. They are primarily concerned with the purse, backpack, camera bag, or man bag damaging things. I never had problems with my Pacsafe bag being questioned. To be safe, however, I would always enter with it shifted to the front of my body, and my arm over it, rather than dangling at my side or behind me. This is exactly what they often instruct people to do who have smaller backpacks or large shoulderbags. If it is too large, it will need to be left in a locker (if one is available) or on the coach.

We have gone through our share of luggage through the years. Our favorite one now is Boyt® brand, as it has lasted through more trips than other brands we have used. It is high quality and well built, and has done a good job of withstanding the airline gorillas baggage handlers. It has a number of small features that make travel more convenient. It is not a designer brand, or top of the line, so price is still reasonable.

Packing

Even though we have traveled extensively, we still use a packing checklist every time to make sure we don't forget needed items.  We like to use this travel packing list.

Some general travel packing tips we follow:

At the hotels before and after the riverboat cruise, we never completely unpacked the suitcases. When we arrive at a new hotel we usually get out the next day's clothing so the wrinkles would be minimal. If we were staying more than one night, we hang a few items up. We try to keep the suitcase organized at all times rather than throwing things in, or having to paw through it to find something. Having a few extra plastic bags is useful for dirty clothes or laundered items that might not be completely dry yet.

Once checked into our riverboat room, we completely unpacked all of our suitcases. Closet hanging space was plenty adequate. More hangers could be requested from the stateroom attendant. Drawer space was minimal (as on most boats and ships) but workable.

Laundry and Ironing

We washed our undergarments by hand in riverboat bathroom sink. We routinely bring two elastic travel laundry cords, a small bottle of liquid laundry soap, and a rubber disk-shaped sink stopper. The sink stopper in our stateroom worked well; we could have left our rubber one at home. We try to bring underwear and socks that dry quickly. Thick cotton socks do not dry very fast. Wickable t-shirts dry very fast. ExofficioExternal link is one brand of underclothing we have had good luck with.

We utilized the laundry service on the riverboat a few times. Some consider it expensive, but it sure was convenient! We usually mentally include this into the price of our vacation. It is usually returned within 48 hours, and sometimes back the same day if it goes out in the morning. Plastic laundry bags and a price lists were in our closet. We placed dirty clothes in the bag, filled out the list and placed it in the bag, and left the bag on our bed in the morning. The stateroom attendant would take it from there. If we had laundry to go out after the morning room cleaning service, we called the reception desk for a pickup. Dry cleaning service is not available on boats.

There was an iron and ironing board in our stateroom closet. I think that only Category 6 and 7 rooms had them. We didn't have to use it much, as we try to travel with clothing that isn't prone to wrinkling. There is also a pressing-only service available on the ship.

Clothing

A versatile and adaptable wardrobe is essential. This is for ease of packing and for proper weather preparation.

We always try to limit how much clothing we bring. We remind ourselves that nobody except our fellow tour travelers will ever know that we only have a few outfits. And our fellow travelers don't care; they are usually following the same rule.

Bring comfortable shoes; this is probably the most critical item! There is a lot of walking. If they are new, make sure you thoroughly break them in before the trip. Bring Band-Aid in case you get blisters. Pick shoes for comfort rather than style, but avoid the clunky white athletic shoes (that will mark you as an obvious tourist). There are many cobblestone streets, and some are quite uneven. Shoes with narrow or tall heals do not work. Shoes with thin soles might pack well and look good, but will allow every cobblestone and crack to be felt all day.

A lightweight rain-resistant coat is useful, especially for the time of year that we went (September). One with a hood is practical. A travel umbrella is also a must.

We were also prepared for all temperatures, which we got. We had some hot days, and we had some chilly rainy days. My wife even brought some knit cotton gloves, which were very useful some mornings and evenings that we were outside on the deck watching the scenery.

I like ExOfficio underwear and undershirts for traveling. They are the ExO Dri product, which is a wicking material, but still felt like normal clothing, unlike other wicking items. I could launder them in the sink in the evening, hang them on our laundry line, and by the next evening they would be completely dry. I always wore the short-sleeve tee as an undershirt, but at home I often wear it by itself.

I try to study how the local people dress in places we go. They do not dress nearly as casual as we do in the United States. Colors are subdued, and lots of black. Long pants were worn regardless of temperatures. Jeans were seen, but were dark, fitted, and stylish. Shoes are important, and were usually black and fashionable. Trendy sunglasses were also a common accessory. What we did NOT see (except by tourists) were many shorts, athletic shoes, bare shoulders, t-shirts.

Passports, Visas

No visas were required on this trip.

Passports were required. They had to be valid for at least 6 months beyond the last day of our travel (many countries have this requirement now). Names on travel documents (Tauck paperwork; airline tickets) were required to EXACTLY match the name as it appears on the passport. It is suggested that a copy of each passport's first page is carried in a place other than with our original passport, and another copy is left with an adult back home.

Our passports were collected the first day we checked into the river boat. For those guests only going to Budapest, the passports were returned the next day. For those guests continuing all the way to Bucharest (those on the Grand European tour), the passports were kept because of the numerous border crossings once outside of Hungary and the European Union. The passports were securely stored in the ship's safe, and at those border checks everybody's passports were processed at the same time.

There was an on-board passport check by Croatia customs officials on Day 16 when we arrived at their port. Passports were returned to us earlier that day. Once this customs "face check" was completed, the passports were returned to the crew by the customs officials.

In Serbia on Day 18, we were given our passports again as we exchanged our room key for the shore pass at the reception desk. Serbia requires that foreigners actually carry their passports with them. The cruise director said that they have never had anyone questioned about it, or asked to show it, but since it is their law, we were required to abide by it. We gave the passport back when we returned aboard and picked up our room keys.

Passports were returned to us for good once in Romania. We were required to have them for our entrance into the People's Palace on Day 22.

iPhones, iPad, Internet

Before leaving home, we activated the AT&T international roaming plan for our iPhones. We had decent connectivity in most areas we visited, including many areas on the rivers where I expected to have no phone service.

We also activated the Global Messaging package, as we enjoy exchanging text and picture messages with friends. Text service was not as predictable as voice service; it was hit-and-miss. Some texts were received many hours after they were sent. I would treat texting as a fun feature, but would definitely not consider it for any important, critical, or emergency communications.

We also activated a Data Global add-on package for iPhones and iPad. Like text messaging, service was spotty and irregular. But it was nice to have; we used it many times when ship Wi-Fi was not available. We primarily used it to sync documents between iPad, iPhones, and Apple Cloud. We also used it for checking weather, researching destinations, and reading news. We were careful to turn off our iCloud sync of photos we took, because that would have used up the data allotment very quickly. On a couple of occasions I received a text message stating that my international data plan did not apply in that country. That information didn't match what I had learned from my phone company; I still don't know if that info just had something to do with one spot I was in, or if my phone company didn't have correct information.

The riverboat's Wi-Fi service was actually better than I expected. There were times when it was not available, and times when we could connect but activity was very slow. But I was expecting much worse, based on what I heard and read from other riverboat travelers (mostly with other companies). Early on, the Cruise Director wisely advised people to use the Wi-Fi internet service with moderation. He recommended not using it to upload photos or streaming videos, as these require a huge amount of bandwidth. He suggested using it primarily for emails. He wanted everyone to realize that there is only one satellite internet connection on the ship, and it must be shared by all passengers. Here are some handouts about onboard internet access.

Phone service was very intermittent on Day 19 as we passed through the Iron Gate.

Cameras

Memory cards: You will take more pictures than you think; there are lots of beautiful things to photograph. Bring more memory cards than you think you will need. On every tour we go on, there are people who need to buy additional memory cards for this very reason.

When we fill up a photo memory card, it becomes very valuable to us. We either lock it in the safe, or keep it in my wife's purse. We know of one person whose memory card was packed in her suitcase, and it didn't make it home; all of her cherished photos were lost.

Batteries: Consider buying a new battery so it will hold a good long charge (old rechargeable batteries tend to run out faster). Having two batteries adds convenience, takes away the worry of running out of power, and might eliminate to recharge every evening. On more than one occasion, we have heard of someone who couldn't take all the pictures they wanted because their battery was old and would run out of power too soon.

We would recharge our camera batteries every single evening, whether it was run all the way down or not. That way, we knew that we were starting every day with full power, and running out of power would never be an issue.

Camera: People bring all varieties of cameras. Phone cameras, iPads, compact point-and-shoots, film cameras, consumer SLRs, professional digital SLRs. Bring the one that you are likely to use the most. If you are not completely familiar with it, it is helpful to bring the manual also; if not for yourself, then for someone else to read about how to solve a problem you might be having. I have a PDF version of our camera manuals stored on both the iPad and iPhone.

Every morning, I would use my iPhone to take a close-up picture of the Daily Program. Then we could refer to it while off the ship if we needed to recall an "all aboard" time, or some other detail (although these were always subject to change from what is printed the evening before).

Photos Not Allowed

Group Contact List

Towards the end of each cruise segment, the Tour Director made a sign-up sheet available for guests to write their name and email address, or other contact information. It was completely optional. He then made photocopies of the sheet and handed it out to any guests who wanted copies.

Group Photo

Although Tauck land tours often include a group photo, there was no organized group photo on this river cruise.

Electricity

The riverboat stateroom had plenty of electrical outlets. Above the desk were two 120-volt U.S.-style outlets. Above each bedside table was a 220-volt European outlet. I brought an outlet multiplier/surge protector so I could safely charge multiple devices at the same time. Here are pictures of some of the outlets in our stateroom.

When using the 220-volt outlets, a simple plug adapter might be all that is needed, depending on your gadget, as some work equally well with 120 volts or 220 volts. Other gadgets, however, are designed for 120-volt only, and plugging them into a 220-volt outlet will ruin the gadget. Read the gadget specs to find out if a converter is needed in addition to an adapter.

Physical Activity

Although riverboat tours can be a relaxed pace, they are not for people who aren't in decent physical condition. Tauck is correct when they state in the guest documents that "Guests should be able to walk moderate distances at a steady pace, and be able to navigate uneven surfaces."

There is a lot of walking with some climbing up steps and steep hills or inclines. People who get winded easily or need to take frequent rest stops when walking moderate distances or climbing inclines would have difficulty with a few of the excursions. You don't need to be in the condition of a mountain climber or cyclist, but be realistic with any limitations you personally might have.

People with arthritis, joint problems, are overweight, or have other conditions need to be realistic about their condition. If you find that your condition limits you at home, then it will probably limit you on this tour, perhaps even more so.

The Tour Directors were very helpful to those who needed a little more assistance. But they are limited in how much they can accommodate. They cannot put so much effort into accommodating individual needs that it disrupts their tight well-planned schedule, or slows down the rest of the group. When they led a group on an outing such as a city orientation tour, they were mindful to stroll slowly so that all could keep up.

The local guides were usually good at walking at a slow pace, but they were not always as accommodating. They expect people in their group to keep up with them, even when the pace is more than a stroll. There were a few occasions when someone in our group decided to turn back because they felt that the pace was too fast, or the walking went too far.

Most full-size cruise ships have done a great job of accommodating wheelchairs and scooters. Riverboats, however, are far smaller and have more limitations that make it difficult for those in wheelchairs, and practically impossible for scooters.

Many European countries do not have the ADA (Americans with Disabilities act) access standards that we have grown accustomed to in the U.S. Don't expect curb cuts (or even sidewalks), ramps, hand rails. People depending on wheelchairs, scooters, or walkers would not be able to participate in the majority of the activities.

Health

No vaccines are currently required for U.S. residents.

If taking prescription medications, bring enough to last the entire trip, plus a few extra days in case there are delays. Order them at home well ahead of your travel date to allow plenty of time for doctor review, refill request, and pharmacy order filling. Bring a list that details every prescription name (generic and brand name if possible), strength, daily dose, and reason prescribed. This will be of help to a foreign pharmacist and/or doctor if an emergency refill is needed for whatever reason.

It is wise to bring a spare pair of prescription glasses also. Imagining losing your glasses, and having to go without them for weeks. Again, better safe than sorry.

Just like on any cruise ship, colds and other illness tend to spread quickly. There are a couple of practices that everyone can take, whether ill or well, that will keep everyone healthy.

If you find yourself ill, try to avoid spreading it to others. In addition to the above practices, use cough drops or cough medicine. Don't initiate a handshake. Stay away from other people when possible. Have food brought to you instead of going to the dining room. Use the bathroom in your stateroom instead of the public restrooms.

Hotels

InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam

We stayed two days in Amsterdam before the river cruise officially started. We booked the hotel as part of our Tauck package; the rates were competitive with what we found if booking on our own. The InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam was a very good hotel, and in a nice location. Tauck is usually able to get decent rooms for their guests. Here our rooms were on the river side of the hotel, overlooking the scenic Amstel River (when booking hotel rooms on third-party web sites, often it is difficult or impossible to specify the quality or location of the rooms).

Our room had an ironing board, iron, hair dryer, safe, Illy Iperespressoe coffee maker, teapot, good temperature control, evening turn-down service. Wi-Fi internet access was free for hotel guests, but was very slow. It worked okay for basic emails, but would not be very efficient for larger data usage. The safe was large enough for my iPad, but probably would not have held a notebook computer.

The hotel spa and pool is superb, and complementary for hotel guests.

Breakfast in the hotel dining room was included with our room. It had a small buffet with made-to-order items available. Service was very good, and the room was not crowded. Menu price for this buffet breakfast would have been €35.

JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel

The riverboat portion of the tour ended two days before the tour itself ended. The final two nights were at the JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel. It also was a very good hotel.

Weather

We had it all on this 24-day September river cruise. Blue sky, overcast sky, mist, occasional shower, torrential downpour. Chilly, comfortable, hot. Calm, windy. Be prepared for a little of everything. Hope for great weather, but if it isn't, don't allow it to spoil the day.

We were told that every year there are a couple of weeks of rain, especially on the Amsterdam to Budapest part of the cruise. The rain can be counted on. When the rain will come is the unknown; it can happen anytime between June and October, and is different every year.

Personal Safety

The main safety concern for this riverboat cruise is probably pickpockets and scams (which seems to apply to any popular tourist destination, anywhere in the world). We have read quite a bit about this, so felt well-versed and fairly confident. We did not hear of anyone on our tour having any specific problems.

Here are some general precautions we take while traveling:

Carrying a copy of the Daily Program can be helpful. It usually has the name and phone number of the local port agent, in case anything happens while off the ship, and you need to contact the ship.

Courtesy

The land excursions were improved when people were prompt and on time. Not only is this a courtesy so that other people aren't kept waiting by a tardy guest; it also allows the tour directors more schedule flexibility, and sometimes they can add in extras.

Keeping talk to a minimum while Tour Directors or local guides were speaking was appreciated by all. Occasionally someone would forget that their conversation was interfering with other people. Even though one might not be interested in what is being said, others might want to hear.

Cell phones are commonplace nowadays, but can be an annoyance to those around you. Phone conversations should take place when you are away from the group, especially not in public areas on the ship or on the coaches.

Smokers should be considerate of non-smokers; smokers frequently do not realize how much their smoke bothers non-smokers. Standing downwind rather than upwind of the group will avoid offending them. This can apply to any place the tour group assembles, such as outside the coach, outside the hotel, outside a restaurant, at a rest stop, at a viewpoint, and even in the designated smoking area on the ship.

Flexibility

This concept can make the difference between someone thoroughly enjoying their tour, and someone finding it problematic the entire time. Go into it with the right attitude, and you will come out of it smiling!

I have heard various Tour Directors give advice that is worth repeating.

Secondly, a word on schedules. Riverboats are influenced by timing issues that are different from land-based tours. These usually concern lock schedules, port reservations, river conditions, strikes, and other factors that are out of the control of Tauck, the Cruise Director, Tour Directors, ship captain or crew. They all do an excellent job of planning the details of every single day, and printing it in Tauck documents and the Daily Program. Occasionally the schedule must be changed; sometimes with weeks of notice given, sometimes days' notice, sometimes hours or even minutes of notice given. If you are the type of person who might be upset by schedule changes, then perhaps river cruising might not be your best mode of travel. Flexibility is indeed an essential ingredient for river cruise travel.

In Summary

Having never taken a river cruise before, we really did not know what to expect. We could only base our anticipation on prior land tours and full ocean cruises. This trip turned out to be different from what we expected. Not in a bad way; just different. It was a great way to see a lot of territory, and was fun being on the ship, making so many new friends.

We will no doubt take another river cruise someday, and when that time comes, it will definitely be with Tauck! Tauck might cost a little more than some other river cruises, but it is worth it. In our opinion, Tauck has again set the standard, this time for riverboat cruises!

Photographs and Documents from the cruise

Videos taken on the tour

Video 10
Amsterdam Canal
Video 11
Street Protest
Video 12
Street Organ
Video 13
Amsterdam Square
Video 14
Bridal Party on Canal Boat

Video 15
Amsterdam Parade

Video 16
Amsterdam bicyclists
Video 17
Amstel River Swimming
Video 18
Cruise Director Jeremy
Video 19
IAmsterdam sign
Video 20
Castle on hilltop
Video 21
Koblenz statue
Video 22
Castle on Rhine
Video 23
Loreley sculpture
Video 24
Loreley Rock
Video 25
Castle on Rhine hillside
Video 26
Rüdesheim choo choo train
Video 27
Rüdesheim restaurant drinking tradition
Video 28
Passing under bridge
Video 29
Passing under bridge
Video 30
Pianist Stefan
Video 31
Tour Director Adrienne
Video 32
Chef in dining room
Video 33
Bamberg Rathaus
Video 34
Locks
Video 35
Locks
Video 36
Viaduct on Main Canal
Video 37
Locks at night
Video 38
Upper deck folded down
Video 39
Locks
Video 40
Ship mast rising
Video 41
Leaving Passau, throwing coins for luck
Video 42
Tour Director Andrea
Video 43
Vienna, Schonbrunn Palace
Video 44
Vienna Dinner entertainment
Video 45
Budapest Jewish Memorial sculpture (Shoes Along Danube)
Video 46
Budapest Jewish Synagogue
Video 47
Budapest Funicular
Video 48
Budapest Parliament
Video 49
Serbian Prince and Princess
Video 50
Belgrade Street Life
Video 51
Castle on Danube, entering Iron Gate
Video 52
Rock Sculptures on Danube
Video 53
Bucharest, Tour Director Yenner Narration

 

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