Itinerary: Vienna, Vienna, Melk, Salzburg/Linz, Passau, Regensburg, Nuremberg
December 2017 - As the saying goes, this was not our first rodeo. And, with a 90-year history of conducting tours and cruises all over the world, it is most certainly not Tauck's first rodeo. Our recent European Christmas Markets Cruise aboard Tauck's ms Savor was our fourth Christmas market river cruise on as many cruise lines in the past three years.
Tauck River Cruises is what we consider a "Luxury" brand. By our definition, a Luxury brand includes most, if not all, excursions in the cruise fare. All cocktails, beer and wine are also included as are gratuities. Of course, the ships must be modern with comfortable accommodations. And, "luxury" means that service levels must be unmatched.
We arrive at ms Savor in Vienna about 10:00 in the morning, several hours before actual embarkation begins (3:00pm). As we arrive at the bottom of the gangway, we are pleasantly surprised to be greeted by Cruise Director, Steve Marchant, whom we immediately recognized. Steve was the Cruise Director on our 2014 Tauck ms Inspire river cruise. Steve welcomed us aboard and offered to let us hang out in the Panorama Lounge until embarkation begins, or, take a taxi into Vienna to do some sightseeing. We chose the latter. Another couple who also arrived early shared a taxi with us, with Tauck picking up the tab. What other cruise line would offer to pay for our taxi into town just because we showed up early?
When we returned from our time in Vienna (around 12:45pm), Steve informed us that our stateroom was now ready. After a quick check-in at Reception, one of the Reception staff members escorted us to our stateroom (216).
Our Category 6 Cabin was 225 sq. ft. and was nicely laid out and quite comfortable. Even though there is no desk, there is a tall coffee table that can be used as a desk. Two chairs are placed at this table.
The substantial closet (9) would hold enough clothing for two people for up to two weeks. A storage cabinet (6) with drawers is something you don't find on all river cruise ships. The electronic safe is found in this cabinet.
There is a large sliding glass door with French-style balcony (1) and another floor-to-ceiling window (3) on the opposite side of the cabin. Between the two windows is a flat-screen HD television (2) with good programming choices including CNN, BBC, Sky News, Euro News (What? no Fox News?) and a couple of movie channels. There are also some CCTV channels with safety information, a bow cam, and some On Demand movie channels (complimentary).
The bathroom (10) is the largest and nicest you will find on any river cruise ship. The very roomy shower stall (11) is outfitted with both a rain shower head and a hand-held wand. An expansive medicine cabinet-style mirror hangs over the sink offering tons of lighted storage for all of your toiletries, cosmetics, etc. There is even more storage under the vanity and above the toilet. A small, magnifying makeup mirror is attached to the interior of the medicine cabinet. Tauck supplies a nice hair dryer and top-quality Molton Brown amenities, including shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and shower gel.
We found the pillow-top, queen-size mattress (4) to be comfortable, but the pillows were a little too soft for our liking. No problem -- a visit to Reception and a request to Simona for firmer pillows quickly resolved that issue. Firmer, foam pillows were delivered to our cabin and were perfect!
More information about Tauck Christmas Markets cruises
Tauck has intelligently included three 110 US-Style outlets. There is one on each bedside table and one by the stateroom door (next to the Vox charging device).
Overall, we found the Category 6 Cabin to be very quiet and very comfortable. Rickee still prefers the Category 3 (Loft) cabin, but I think I prefer the Category 6. They are the same square footage, but laid out differently.
The main appeal of river cruising is the included tours in each city/town visited along the river. And, this is one area where Tauck has no real competition. They just do everything to near perfection. Disembarking the ship requires guests to be "swiped out" by presenting their room key to the crew member manning the "reader". This allows ms Savor staff to know who is on board and who is ashore. Upon returning to the ship, each guest presents his/her card to a crew member who "swipes" the card through the reader once again, showing that the guest has returned. It is the most secure system we have seen on a riverboat as each passenger's photo appears on the check-in screen when the card is swiped. Complimentary bottles of water are available at Reception before every excursion, with Tauck thoughtfully offering both small and large bottles.
When motor coaches are required for transport, Tauck uses modern, clean and comfortable coaches. Colored signs in the window of the bus correspond to the color designation of the tour group you have chosen for that excursion.
Tauck continues to provide guests with the Audio Vox receivers for use when on walking tours. Each stateroom has two Vox receivers placed in a charging base by the cabin door. Guests are responsible for making sure the Vox units are always charged and ready to go, a simple matter of placing the Vox units back into the charger when you return to your cabin after an excursion.
Another way Tauck sets itself apart from other river cruise lines is the presence of Tauck Tour Directors on each sailing. On our sailing, there were three Tauck Tour Directors overseeing the local excursions. Even though local guides are used on many walking tours, A Tauck Tour Director is never far away should additional support be needed. These Tour Directors also make onboard presentations about local culture and customs.
Coordinating all of the local tour guides and other activities on board is Tauck Cruise Director, Steve Marchant.
On this Christmas Markets cruise, Tauck included several special events. One such event was a group lunch at St. Peter's Restaurant in Salzburg, perhaps the oldest restaurant in the world! Another special treat was a tour of the Thurn and Taxis palace in Regensburg, which included admission to the palace's private Christmas market.
A tour of Shönbrunn Palace in Vienna, along with a special buffet lunch at Palais Pallavicini, was also included. These are optional excursions on most other river cruise lines, at additional cost. But, Tauck includes them, which is another reason we consider Tauck a "luxury" brand.
In addition to these special events, Tauck also throws in a few lagniappes (unexpected little extras) along the way. One such lagniappe on our cruise was a gingerbread demonstration and tasting at Cafe Simon in Passau where we were given a decorated gingerbread star to take with us. Another little extra was a coupon for a warm drink at the Christmas Market at Schönbrunn Palace and you even got to keep the decorated mug!
We also enjoyed the little pillow gifts left on our bed at turndown each evening. It was like Christmas every night!
When it comes to excursions, nobody does a better job than Tauck.
Food and Dining
At this point, we should note the special relationship between Tauck and Scylla. All Tauck-branded river cruise ships are owned and operated by Scylla. Therefore, all hotel operations, including Food and Beverage, engineering, and getting the ship from one place to another, are the responsibility of Scylla. Tauck basically handles all of the excursions and guest activities. It is a unique partnership that leverages the skills and assets of each company, and it works seamlessly.
As with most river cruise ships, the main dining room, Compass Rose, is located on Deck 1 forward. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style with a few á la carté items available at breakfast. Dinner is available from 6:30pm until 8:30pm on most nights and is open seating. Unlike the dining policy on many river cruise ships where there is only one time for dinner, on Tauck you can dine any time within that two-hour window. So, there is no mad rush to the dining room when the restaurant opens like we've experienced on other ships.
Breakfast each morning in Compass Rose features a variety of fruit, cereals, breads and pastries. Scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage are available from the buffet. An eggs-cooked-to-order station is available where you can get omelets or fried eggs cooked to your specifications. Eggs Benedict and pancakes are available from an á la carté menu on the table and ordered from your waiter. Rickee tried the Eggs Benedict and they were perfectly poached.
Lunch items change each day and include a nice salad bar, some sort of sandwich, a couple of hot entrées and side dishes, soup and a carving station. Dinner menus change each evening and offer a variety of starters, main courses and desserts. The Gala Dinner, held one evening during the cruise, it not to be missed.
The Gala Dinner was a multi-course, elaborate meal with some impressive offerings. The Smoked Duck Breast starter was especially nice.
Overall, the food served in Compass Rose falls into the "good to very good" range. Service from the wait staff was excellent. Complimentary red and white wines were offered each evening, and were also very good. When I mentioned to my waiter that I preferred a Reisling instead of Savignon Blanc, he did not hesitate to fill my glass with a very nice German Reisling.
There are only two two-top tables in Compass Rose, one on each side of the dining room. However, because guests have the option to dine any time between 6:30pm and 8:30pm, there are usually enough four-top tables available allowing you to dine alone if you wish.
Tauck is the only river cruise line on which we have sailed that offers an alternative dining venue that is open all day long, from 11am until 11pm. Arthur's is located aft on Deck 3 and starts each day with an Early Riser breakfast at 6:00am.
A selection of cereals, yogurt, fruits, cheeses, meats, juices and pastries is available each morning in Arthur's. There is an automatic coffee machine available 24 hours-a-day along with a very nice selection of tea. Cookies are always available for the taking.
At lunchtime (beginning at 11am), Arthur's offers a lunch menu with a choice of sandwiches, flatbreads, burgers, salads and soups.
In the evening, the dinner menu at Arthur's changes to offer a steakhouse-style menu with a variety of steaks, chops, chicken and fish. One item that spans both lunch and dinner menus is the Goulash Soup, a spicy and rich broth with chunks of beef and a flavor reminiscent of Texas chili. It was delicious and a good way to warm up on a cold winter day!
There is also a full bar in Arthur's, making it a great place to go for a drink, even if you don't want to have a meal.
Arthur's is a great concept offering an all-day dining alternative to Compass Rose.
Bars and Lounges
The Panorama Lounge is the main lounge on ms Savor. It is located forward on Deck 3, just forward of Reception. The elegant decor of Panorama Lounge is reflective of other Tauck/Scylla river ships on which we have sailed.
Seating is very comfortable and there are expansive, scenic views of the landscape as the ship sails the rivers of Europe. The bar is located in the front half of the lounge, with a few smaller tables in front of the bar.
Tauck river cruises are all-inclusive, so there is no need to sign a ticket for cocktails, beer or wine as all drinks are included in the cruise fare. The quality of cocktails is unmatched, anywhere. There is a house sparkling wine, or, you can order a glass of Moet & Chandon Champagne. My Crown Royal (below) pour was nearly double what was delivered on another river cruise line, and I was paying $7.50 per drink on that cruise! And, on Tauck, if you want a double, just ask for it. The price is the same!
As you can see from the photo above, there are mixed nuts on each table in a proper "pour out" bottle. There is a Cocktail Hour each evening before dinner where waiters/esses circulate with trays of delicious hors d' oeuvres. A "premium" cruise line may offer hors d' oeuvres once or twice per cruise, but a "luxury" cruise line, like Tauck, does so each evening. This is a pretty big deal for us because we often don't go to dinner. We can eat two or three of the hors d' oeuvres and be set for the night.
As mentioned previously, there is also a full bar located aft on Deck 3 in Arthur's. So, if you prefer a smaller, more intimate spot to enjoy your favorite beverage, you have that option.
As with any river cruise, the main form of entertainment is the destination and the excursions. However, Tauck provides guests with an array of onboard activities and entertainment. There is a resident pianist who plays in Panorama Lounge each evening after dinner and during Cocktail Hour. A small dance floor allows those who so desire to "cut a rug."
In Regensburg, we were treated to an acapella concert by Spitzweig Quartet. They performed a series of Christmas songs in both German and English. When we returned to our stateroom that evening, a CD of their music was waiting for us on our bed!
One afternoon, there was a gingerbread house decorating competition in Panorama Lounge. Each "team" was given a kit with pre-formed gingerbread pieces and instructions. Candies and a piping bag filled with icing were provided for construction and decorations.
Team members start building the house by using the icing to "glue" the pieces together.
Then, pieces of colorful candy, and more icing, are used to decorate the house.
At the end, each team's gingerbread house was put on display in the Reception area for everyone to admire. Rickee said it was the most fun activity she has ever had on a cruise ship!
Another fun activity was when Tauck gave each guest 10 Euros to purchase a Christmas ornament at one of the Christmas markets we visited. These ornaments would be placed on the Christmas tree in the Reception area. We all gathered one evening to place the ornaments we purchased on the tree. Christmas music was playing and hot beverages were served along with Christmas snacks. It was such fun! At the end of the cruise, each guest got to take his/her ornament home with them.
If you are one of those who cannot go a week without exercise, there is a nicely-equipped Fitness Center on Deck 1, and even a steam room and sauna! There is a hair salon on Deck 1 for those who want additional pampering.
Although not used on this cruise due to cold weather, the Sun Deck (top deck) has a hot tub and golf putting green. It is important to note that there is an elevator that travels between decks.
The Tauck Experience
The dress code is casual with one opportunity to "dress up" at the Gala Dinner. During the day, I wore blue jeans, vest, jacket and flannel shirts. After 5pm, it is suggested that guests not wear shorts or jeans in the public areas or dining room, a non-existent issue on this sailing with temperatures in the 30s most days. Umbrellas are provided in each cabin as well as at Reception; however, packing a small portable umbrella is advisable.
River cruising, in general, tends to attract a mature crowd, and the guests on Tauck fit this description. You will rarely find families with small children on a river cruise and, there were none on this sailing. Tauck does offer river cruise itineraries designed specifically for families.
Tauck delivers an all-inclusive experience that includes gratuities and beverages in the cruise fare. Depending on the package you purchase, it may also include a pre-/post-cruise hotel stay and airfare. This can make Tauck a very good value compared to other river cruise products. Gratuities on other river cruises can be as much as $20 per day/per person. On this sailing, that would be $280 for two people! An unlimited drink package on another popular river cruise line costs another $20 per day, so add another $280. Tauck also includes special events and meals off the boat that would easily cost you several hundred dollars on other cruise lines.
All meals on board
Special events and meals off the boat
Soft drinks, bottled water, beer, wine and liquor
Complimentary use of bicycles when docked
WHAT'S NOT INCLUDED
Incidentals (gifts, postcards, postage, etc.
Salon services (hair, nails, massage)
One important thing should not be overlooked, considering that this was billed as a "Christmas Markets" cruise. Of the four Christmas Markets river cruises we have enjoyed, none evoked the feeling and spirit of Christmas as completely as this Tauck cruise. Everywhere you looked, there were beautifully decorated Christmas trees, greenery and ornaments.
And, of course, Cruise Director, Steve Marchant is not going to be outdone. He wore a different colorful Christmas sweater each day.
Tauck also puts a lot of emphasis on giving to those less fortunate. There is a Giving Tree in the lobby and guests are encouraged to purchase gifts or necessities (diapers, clothing) etc. for children up to the age of six and place these unwrapped gifts under the tree in the Reception area. In addition to the presents, Tauck contributes 200€ to the charity.
We have been singing the praises of Tauck River Cruising for years. So, we were not surprised when this cruise lived up to our high expectations. This was our 15th European river cruise and our fourth Christmas Markets cruise (on four different cruise lines). Every Christmas Markets cruise we have taken has been enjoyable. But, none has evoked the feeling of Christmas like the ms Savor cruise. If you love Christmas and want to immerse yourself in the Christmas spirit, take a Tauck Christmas Markets river cruise!