(3:15 p.m. EDT) — Tauck River Cruising President Jennifer Tombaugh sat down with Cruise Critic members for a question and answer session in mid-November. Here are her answers to queries about the all-inclusive luxury river cruise line:
Aloha 1: Why should we consider Tauk over Scenic, Avalon, or Ama? What makes your company a better choice?
Jennifer Tombaugh: Thanks for your question, and I understand how sorting out the differences between river cruise lines can be a challenge, particularly when everyone seems to use the same language to describe their offerings. We point to four things that, when combined together, distinguish the Tauck river cruising experience, and we quantify each of those differences with a number:
ZERO. Our river cruises are fully-inclusive, with zero options sold. Included in our cruise prices are all shore excursions; all gratuities; unlimited onboard wine, beer and spirits; airport transfers; taxes; port charges; luggage handling; and much, much more. Also included are selected meals ashore in some amazing venues, including castles, private palaces and traditional restaurants.
ONE HUNDRED THIRTY. We intentionally limit our ships’ capacity to accommodate no more than 130 guests, where other lines’ ships routinely hold up to 190 passengers (or 46% more). Bear in mind that all riverboats are limited to the same maximum dimensions because all have to fit in the same locks and under the same bridges. With fewer guests aboard, we’re able to offer far more suites and more spacious public areas to deliver a more intimate, club-like atmosphere.
NINETY. Tauck has offered industry-leading guided land journeys for 90 years, and we are thus true destination experts with unmatched experience revealing the cultural stories of the different places we visit. We bring this expertise to each of our river cruises.
FOUR. Even with far fewer guests aboard, we provide more service personnel than other lines’ ships carrying far more passengers. Each Tauck riverboat is staffed by a Tauck Cruise Director and three Tauck Directors to tend to the needs of up to 130 guests, where other lines’ ships carrying up to 190 passengers have just a single cruise director.
(For more, read our Tauck River Cruising profile).
Host Jazzbeau: Tauck has a great reputation as the most luxurious and most inclusive line. The only negative I can think of is that you have relatively few ships and, therefore, fewer itineraries than the other top lines. Do you have plans to expand, and, if so, which itineraries are likely to be added first?
Jennifer Tombaugh: Your two observations are probably more directly connected than you realize! By carefully managing our growth, we’ve been able to keep our quality at Tauck’s customarily high levels and earn the great reputation you mentioned in your post. We don’t want to be the biggest, but rather the best at what we do. Please know, however, that we continue to grow our fleet, and over a two-year period concluding next summer we will have more than doubled our fleet size.
In 2016, we welcome two more ships to our Inspiration Class fleet: ms Grace and ms Joy. And while we’ve been growing our fleet, we’ve also been growing our portfolio of river cruises. We’ve added an exceedingly popular new itinerary along the Rhine for next year, we added two new itineraries this year, and we added four new cruises in 2014.
Host Star: I have always wanted to take a river cruise. As a solo, would I be paying double?
Jennifer Tombaugh: Since 2014, we have eliminated the single supplement on all of our Category 1 European riverboat cabins. The waived single supplement applies to every Category 1 cabin on every Tauck riverboat, on every departure of every Tauck river cruise itinerary. In all, the single supplement is thus being waived on over 220 Tauck river cruise departures for the coming year.
Mikeyto: What type of wheelchair accessibility accommodations does Tauck offer, including onboard and excursions offered by Tauck?
Jennifer Tombaugh: Unfortunately, the boats that we use at the moment are not equipped well for mobility challenged cruisers (although there is a lift to all decks apart from the sun deck). Tauck asks wheelchair users to travel with someone who can help them during the trip.
The biggest challenge — which is out of our control — is getting on and off the ship because, depending on the docking facilities and river water levels, the gangways can be quite steep. Also, riverboats often have to dock side-by-side, two or even three abreast. So even if Tauck ships would be 100 percent wheelchair accessible, there’s no guarantee at all about the other ships guests might have to pass through in order to embark and disembark. We do hope this will change in future!
Host Walt: With the proliferation of river cruises in Europe, frequently folks on the last boat to arrive in a port will find the earlier arriving boats tied up in tandem requiring folks to walk over several boats to get to land. As a policy matter, does Tauck coordinate with other riverboat cruise lines to minimize or eliminate those situations?
Jennifer Tombaugh: Yes, the popularity of river cruising has led to instances where riverboats dock alongside each other in popular ports. Because the docking arrangements in most locations are handled by local authorities, Tauck has no real ability to coordinate with other lines.
Pan_Am_Girl: I am very interested in your Christmas Markets itinerary, Cologne to Basel, for 2017 and wonder if you are contemplating multigenerational programs?
Jennifer Tombaugh: I’m glad you find our Christmas market river cruise appealing; the Christmas season is certainly a magical time to visit these traditional markets with your family. We do not have plans for Christmas Market River cruises specifically for families currently — although occasionally children do come on these sailings — mainly because most markets conclude on December 24th, and many children are still in school up to or near that time.
You might be interested in knowing that we do offer three fantastic multigenerational family river cruises on the Rhine, Rhone and Danube in the summer months. Due to our more intimate atmosphere on board, we’re able to outfit each Tauck riverboat with a far higher percentage of suites perfect for families. Our Inspiration Class ships offer more suites than any other European riverboat in their class, accommodating families like yours with 300-square-foot cabins, which offer triple and quadruple accommodations for up to two adults and two children.
One other important thing to note: We do have a minimum age requirement of 3 years across all Tauck river cruises and a recommended age of 8+, based on the action-packed nature of most of our itineraries.
Wendy The Wanderer: What is the size of the normal excursion group? Do passengers stay with the same group for the duration of the cruise? Are there “gentle walker” options, and if so, would that be for the whole cruise?
Jennifer Tombaugh: Unlike other river cruise lines, we run each of our excursions with a maximum of just 25 guests per group. Each morning before the tour, guests choose a colored chip, which determines their tour group for that day.
Regarding your questions about “gentle walker,” we offer this option based on each day’s planned sightseeing. In certain cases, it may not be necessary or we may not be able to provide this service every day.
SFL: How many tours do you offer on a daily basis? Do we have time to roam on our own? If we choose to roam will the staff be helpful in our planning? For the “onshore” meals that you offer, do you take your passengers to factories or company shops that will serve a meal after a “tour”? Are their charges for “optional” tours or events, or are all tours and special events included? Should we choose to use your air travel arm for our trip, are passengers ticketed on most direct routes or at your most profitable route?
Jennifer Tombaught: We’ll often offer one tour in the morning, but on a given day there may be two or even three tours available. Every itinerary includes not only free time to explore on your own, but also relaxing cruising time. Our Tauck Directors and Tauck Cruise Director are great sources of information to help you get the most out of your free time.
Our cruises offer a number of onshore dining opportunities, often in incredible venues including a 14th-century German castle, a chateau in northern France, a wine estate in Germany and a private palace in Vienna. We’ll typically tour these venues prior to enjoying an included meal at each. We’ll also sometimes include an included meal at a traditional restaurant in a town or city, following a tour there. In addition, we offer tastings of wine, beer, sweets and treats, and they’re always included — there’s never an added charge. We do not take guests to “factories” or “shops” for a meal; we never offer organized shopping programs or “tours.” Tauck Directors are strictly prohibited from leading shopping programs or accepting any commission from any venue.
Everything we offer is included in one upfront price, including all shore excursions and tours, special evening events, gratuities, airport transfers and all onboard beverages throughout the day, including beer, wine, spirits and even Champagne. We never sell options on our river cruises, period! As we say: You get what you pay for, and then some.
We always try to ticket our guests on the most direct routes, and many of our guests appreciate the convenience of having Tauck handle their air arrangements. We do, however, have some guests who prefer to make their own air arrangements for different reasons, and of course we welcome those guests equally on our river cruises. Unlike some other lines, we provide complimentary arrival and departure airport transfers from the airport to the start of the tour regardless of whether a Tauck guest has booked their flights through us or independently.
For more from Jennifer Tombaugh, read all of the questions in our River Cruise forums.