By Eileen Ogintz
ABOARD THE MS JOY ON THE DANUBE RIVER IN BAVARIA (Day One) – I love the bathroom!
We’ve just boarded the MS Joy, Tauck’s newest ship that was christened in Straubing, Germany last week.
The christening ceremony along the Danube River marked the launch of Tauck’s second new ship this year, following the christening of the MS Grace in April.
The company has announced Tauck will be doubling its family river cruise departures next year to 20, part of its collection of Tauck Bridges family journeys.
I’ve never seen a nicer bathroom onboard a river ship. It’s so spacious! It has a rain shower. And as the MS Joy boasts more suites and fewer guests than other similarly sized vessels, it is a good bet for families.
There are many members of the Tauck family on board—this is after all a family company—and that includes many representatives of the fourth generation on board ranging from age nine to 20. (The oldest Tauck grandchild is now 30.)
“Poker Night was the most fun,” declared Lena Mahar, the youngest Tauck grandchild on board. Her dad Dan is CEO of the Connecticut-based company. “Everyone was having so much fun.”
Her brother John,12, opined that the food onboard was very good, especially the fish, but he especially liked the opportunity to visit places like Salzburg, Austria – especially Hellbrun Palace with its world-famous “trick” fountains designed in the early 17th Century to surprise—and soak–unsuspecting guests of Markus Sittikus von Hohenems, Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. Imagine sitting down at a lovely outside table drinking chilled white wine and suddenly, water shoots up from the bench where you are seated.
Both kids liked the small alleyways, cobblestoned roads and the history found in the small cities we visited along the Danube like Regensburg, Germany that dates back almost two thousand years to a Roman camp. “You learn about history in school “but here you get to see it,” Lena said.
Another plus: the guides (Tauck always has local guides at each destination in addition to their capable tour directors)—“could answer every question,” said John.
This being a River Cruise, itineraries can shift based on the height of the river (too high and the boat won’t be able to clear bridges.) That happened to us—we were supposed to sail from Vienna. Instead we were bused six hours to Regensburg. And that meant the trip to see Salzburg was a three-hour bus ride each way, twice as long as on the regular itinerary.
I was impressed that the tour directors did what they could to make the journeys as painless as possible—snacks and Austrian wines (for the adults) on the late-afternoon drive from Vienna and even a DVD of the Sound of Music to watch on the return from Salzburg. The famous movie was filmed in Salzburg, which draws as many or more tourists who come because Mozart was born and lived here.
The kids surprisingly didn’t mind the long drives. “The landscapes were so pretty,” explained Lena. We drove past farms, rolling fields, quaint villages. “I could have looked out the window all day,” said their other brother Will, 20.
A signature of Tauck trips are special events not available to tourists otherwise. For example, in Vienna, we lunched at the historic Palais-Pallavicini (parts dating back to the 16th Century), where Edoardo Marchese Pallavicini, a member of the family that has owned the palace since 1842, welcomed us and we were treated to a concert and demonstration of the Viennese Waltz by the Vienna Residence Orchestra. (I’m told on designated family trips, everyone gets up for a waltz lesson.)
“That people open their homes and share their stories guarantees that every guest will be offered a special experience…they wouldn’t experience otherwise,” said Tauck CEO Mahar.
There are also special surprises all along the way. They included in our case the famous Mozart Ball dark chocolate invented in 1890 by master confectioner Paul Furst by forming small balls of marzipan, coating them in a praline cream and dipping them in dark chocolate. The Mahar kids said that while they’re not usually fans of dark chocolate, these were “really good!”
In Regensburg, we were treated to German sausages and beer made at a local Brauhaus . On board, there was a concert by the Spitzweg Quartet founded by four adults of the 1,000 year old Regensburger Domspatzen (the name means “Cathedral Sparrows” ) with music ranging from classic German songs to the Beatles.
This was all especially impressive, given the itinerary changed twice in the course of a couple of days because of the height of the river. “You have to be very flexible and very positive,” said Mary Murrin, a longtime Tauck employee and one of the ship’s three godmothers for the christening ceremony.
Bravo for handling the changes with a smile! Another Mozart ball, please!