Tauck’s Danube Reflections, Part One

Norwalk, Connecticut-based Tauck is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, offering all-inclusive tours and cruises to and within some of the world’s most beautiful regions. The company enjoys a sterling reputation and a fiercely loyal following for good reason — every aspect of Tauck’s five star experience is handled with care, alacrity and an exceedingly high standard. On our recent “Danube Reflections” cruise tour, which included seven nights aboard the 2014-built MS SAVOR, the only additional expenses we encountered were souvenirs and an occasional meal or site admission fee when exploring on our own. Everything else, from our arrival at Vienna Airport to our departure from Prague Airport twelve days later, was included: tips; deluxe hotels; most meals ashore; all meals and beverages on board the ship and all excursions.

Tauck

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All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2015 unless otherwise noted.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

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Ritz Carlton, Vienna.

After the usual battery of transoceanic flights, we were greeted at Vienna airport by a Tauck representative who led us to a shiny new Mercedes sedan for the forty or so minute ride to Vienna’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, located in the heart of the city.

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Lofty lingerie by Jean Paul Gauthier.

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St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

We took short naps then spent a cold, misty afternoon exploring Vienna’s centrum, an area that brims with museums, palaces, high-end shops and the massive St. Stephen’s Cathedral (portions of which date from the 12th Century), then enjoyed a late lunch in a local trattoria before heading back to the hotel.

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Palatial portal.

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Grand ascent.

At 7:00 PM, we joined 130-or-so fellow guests in the lobby for a transfer to the Palais Pallavicini, for a gala eve in surrounds dating from 1784, where Mozart and Salieri reputedly engaged in a musical feud.

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The ante room.

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Chandeliers aloft.

It began in an ante room meeting and toasting with fellow voyagers and concluded with a five course dinner under a canopy of gilt and crystal chandeliers that was featured in Orson Welles’ classic “The 3rd Man”.

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Brava!

As each course was presented, we were serenaded and dazzled by classical musicians, opera singers and ballet dancers.  It was a dreamy first night in Vienna.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

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Footsteps in the rain.

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Upper Belvedere Palace.

The next morning, fueled by a hearty breakfast at the Ritz, we were off on a coach tour to Vienna’s Upper Belvedere Palace, a Baroque architectural masterpiece completed in 1723.

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Klimt…?

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…or Schlee?

Today, the Belvedere is a world class museum with important works by renowned artists like Klimt, Schlee and Kokoshka.

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Karlskirche.

We would enjoy the rest of the day at leisure, trying to take in as much as we could of Vienna’s sights and museums. Our self-guided walking tour included a visit to Karlskirche with its twin columned portico (inspired by Rome’s Colonna Traiana).

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From the rafters of Karlskirche.

Construction on this site, now undergoing renovations, began in 1716 and was completed in 1737.

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Polished Athena.

We continued on the “ring”, past the Natural History Museum and the Palace of Justice with its imposing statue of Athena, to the cathedral-like Ratthaus.

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Landtmann Cafe.

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Apple streudel and Freudian sips.

No trip to Vienna would be complete without descending upon one of its historic cafes. We settled in at the Landtmann, where Sigmund Freud once spent so much time that his mail was delivered there.

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Stepping up to the Albertina.

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On point at the Albertina avec Paul Signet.

Our rainy afternoon was rounded out with a visit to the Albertina Museum, with its exhibits of Picasso, Monet and Munch (and where, to our pleasant surprise, non-flash photos were no problem). After dinner at the friendly, reasonably priced and gleefully authentic Trattoria Toscana, it was back to the Ritz for another well-earned night of sleep.

Friday, October 16, 2015

My fellow guests joined Tauck’s included tour that began with a drive through the Vienna forest and a walking tour of Baden as well as lunch and music at a Heuriger (Viennese wine tavern).

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MS SAVOR at Vienna.

I headed directly to our home for the next seven days, the 2014-built MS SAVOR, the second in what will be four Inspiration Class river ships operated by Tauck. What a welcoming sight she was, beckoning in the chilly drizzle!

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MS SAVOR bell.

This is a very exciting time for river cruise ships, especially for those based in Europe. Each operator seems to be defining its niche in terms of design and amenities provided on their new vessels, which, aside from colors, logos and exterior flourishes, all conform to the same basic dimensions to clear the locks and bridges of key European waterways. And, speaking of dimensions, the MS SAVOR measures 2,600-gt and is 443-feet long by 37-feet wide.

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MS SAVOR Gym.

Most ships in the 130-guest SAVOR’s size range carry up to 190 and lack her admittedly space-consuming pluses like a gym, spa, salon and Jacuzzi. Her interior, which might be defined as  a contemporary take on Regency, is rich and restrained, with crystal light fixtures, marble, iron railings and tasteful soft fittings.

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MS SAVOR’s handsomely appointed Bar, facing starboard.

The SAVOR has four guest decks, beginning at the top with Sun Deck (more on that in an upcoming post), followed by Diamond, Ruby and Emerald Decks. Public spaces, most of which are located on Diamond Deck, include the forward-situated Bar, which is fronted by an arc of full length windows.

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MS SAVOR Panorama Lounge, facing forward.

Adjoining the Bar is the Panorama Lounge, the ship’s main gathering spot for cocktails, enrichment lectures and evening entertainment.

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MS SAVOR Reception Lobby, facing forward.

The reception lobby features an information and reception desk, a boutique and a shore excursions office.

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MS SAVOR Deck 2 passage, facing forward.

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MS SAVOR Category 7 suite. All suites in this category have a pair of full-length glass doors that open to create French balconies.

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MS SAVOR Category 1 stateroom. These 150-square-foot cabins are on the lowest deck and feature a fixed window.

Accommodation, which is located on Diamond, Emerald and Ruby Decks, ranges from extremely spacious, 300-square-foot Category 7 suites to more-than-ample Category 1 cabins.

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MS SAVOR Loft Cabin.

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MS SAVOR Loft Cabin, facing inboard.

Of special interest were the extremely innovative Category 3 Loft Cabins on Emerald Deck. These 225-square-foot staterooms have stepped up sitting areas with a large window that slides open.

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MS SAVOR Cabin 223, facing forward.

Our home for the next week would be spacious, 225-square-foot Category 6 cabin 223 on port Diamond Deck, which boasted two sets of full length windows and a French balcony.

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Nespresso a-go-go.

All cabins have their own Nespresso coffee maker with a choice of brews, creamer and sugar.

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MS SAVOR Cabin 223 mini-bar.

All staterooms also have mini-bars that are replenished daily with complimentary soft drinks and bottled water.

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MS SAVOR Cabin 223 WC.

All bathrooms have hand-held and rainforest style shower heads. Most are configured in a rectangular footprint like ours, which was almost as large as some river cruise ship staterooms I have occupied.

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Molton Brown amenities.

Tauck supplies high-quality Molton Brown amenities (shower gel, shampoo, moisturizer, soap and a vanity kit).

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Vox station.

Like most savvy river cruise lines, Tauck also provides individual Vox headsets that allow guests to always be within earshot of their guides on shore excursions. These are especially handy in crowded locales when the guides are all speaking at once.

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MS SAVOR savories.

While waiting for the other guests, I had time to unpack, sneak in a quick workout on the treadmills and even take a brief nap. Shortly after they arrived, there was a safety briefing and orientation, followed by drinks and hors d’oeuvres in the Panorama Lounge.

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MS SAVOR Compass Rose Dining Room, facing forward from port.

At 7:15, we headed to the lovely Compass Rose dining room, which has picture windows on either side and booths of seating surrounding a central buffet.  Our leisurely four course meal was served graciously and attentively by the ship’s staff, who instantly knew and managed our varying dietary requirements and rendered them effortlessly.

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MS SAVOR Compass Rose setting.

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MS SAVOR table setting.

Tauck offers a dining experience every bit the equal of some of the more luxe ocean-going lines, beginning with elegant table settings featuring Riedel stemware, fine linens and custom chargers.

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MS SAVOR trout entrée.

All of my courses, especially the trout entrée, were outstanding. Dining on the SAVOR would be one of many continuing highlights of the upcoming week.

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The Funny Fellows.

Still lagged from our long flights, we almost didn’t make it to the Panorama Lounge to enjoy the set by the “Funny Fellows”. Although the Vienna-based quintet lived up to their name with their antics, they exceeded all expectations with their fantastic musicianship and passion for American jazz and ragtime.

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Freudenal Locks.

We braved the rain once more on Deck 3 as MS SAVOR approached the Freudenal Locks on her short, downstream, easterly passage towards Bratislava in Slovakia.

End of Part One

Much More To Come…

Special thanks:  Tom Anderson, Mark Helbig, Aaron Saunders

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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