I could talk about books forever (yeah, say some of you, you kind of did…) but now we can finally get back to the travelogue. Thanks to all the Tauckians for the thumbs ups – no more interruptions, I promise!
But let’s backtrack a bit: since we’d never been on a river cruise, we had some question marks in our minds about whether it was a good choice for us. In addition to the daunting concept of group travel, we had other questions about making this trip. And even though I spoke with our travel agent and with with Tauck representatives by phone, I had trouble getting definitive answers to my questions. Here are a few things I’d wish we’d known before we went:
How does a river cruise compare to an ocean cruise? Well, maybe like a house cat to a tiger, or a chapel to a cathedral. The spirit of the adventure is the same, but in a much, much smaller package. A hundred-plus-change passengers compared to thousands. One dining room – the Compass Rose – but a lovely one, indeed! There was also a separate bar and then of course the lively top Sundeck, where we whiled away many hours.
Was a river cruise for us? An ocean cruise is verboten for us since the CE suffers from Mal de Débarquement Syndrome. The “pitch and roll” of a big ship seems to be the catalyst for the ailment, which leaves one reeling for weeks, months or possibly forever after a cruise. Oddly, it’s not about finding one’s “sea legs” on the ship, but rather a dysfunction that prevents one from reacquainting with life back on land. The CE was told after our second ocean cruise and a months-long bout with nausea and vertigo that another cruise could leave him permanently impaired.
So it was with a bit of trepidation that we boarded the river boat. Would he be similarly affected? Truth be told, we were both a little queasy at first. I hadn’t even brought any sea-sickness medication with me and for a few hours would have traded a little piece of my soul for a vial of Dramamine. But my brain caught up fairly quickly and by Day Two, I was fine. The CE managed his prescribed potions and I’m happy to report that both during and after the cruise he was fine.
What’s it like onboard? Our room compared nicely with an ocean cruise staterooms. Lovely Molton Brown toiletries – no need to bring your soap and shampoo, but there were no cotton balls or swabs, and there was no magnifying make-up mirror, so ladies, you are on your own there.
We were on the Joy’s “Diamond Deck” which is the uppermost level of cabins, affording us a lovely view from our room – while the ship was cruising, that is. As novice river cruisers, we had not realized that while in port, we would almost always be “boxed in” on both sides by other boats mooring alongside us. Some days we had to close our balcony door because of diesel fumes or draw our drapes to avoid a too-close encounter with crew members from the adjacent ship staring right into our room. But the views from our floor-to-ceiling windows while we were en route almost made up for it:
Would we – newbies to a tour experience – be bored or feel claustrophobic on a small boat? Emphatically no! For one thing, Tauck keeps you busy with daily excursions. Secondly, there is a comfortable sense of community that develops among the fellow passengers – quite literally you are “all in the same boat” and it just kind of works.
My biggest concern pre-cruise was accessibility. Bad back, long boring story. I’m fine on flat land, but steps and inclines can be an issue. Would the stairs on the boat be a problem?
I’d also read that for some people, crossing the decks from one boat to another while “boxed in” in port could be an issue. No problems there for us, everything was flat and manageable. And yes, there are some stairs on the boat, but I found them quite manageable. Tauck makes it clear that they cannot accommodate wheelchair users but I did see a few people with canes who seemed to do just fine.
What about the motor coaches?
One of the great things about the snazzy Tauck motor coaches is that you are enthroned so high you can see everything! But that also means a few high steps to climb in and out of your coach. I was assured by an agent on the phone that there would be a step stool to help with that first particularly high step. But the intel was wrong. There was no step stool at any point during our trip. I was fine, but if the pitch of a bus step is a problem for anyone, it could be a deal-breaker for a tour.
Other accessibility issues to keep in mind are that part of Europe’s charm is cobblestoned streets and steps, steps and more steps. One can always opt out of an excursion, but keep in mind that there will be challenges.
River cruising is not exactly an extreme sport. There might have been a few couples in their fifties and a smattering of adult children along for the ride with their families. Tauck provided more challenging options like bicycling excursions along the Danube for the more adventurous passengers. Most of our group were, I’d say, were active folks in their mid-sixties to late seventies. I was probably among the less spry members of the group, but luckily, I managed to keep up just fine.
So. Here we are now, happily back on the tour.
After a memorable day in Engelhartszell, we re-boarded the M.S. Joy and sailed for our next port of Linz. The weather was divine, although rumors abounded that many cruises were being re-routed due to the Danube’s low water levels this fall. It made us appreciate every moment on the boat!
Next week – our excursion to Salzburg.