Last June, my husband Mark and I tried a Tauck tour for the first time. Tauck is a luxury tour company based in Connecticut. They have been in business for over 100 years and are known for high quality, smaller group tours all over the world. We were interested in visiting the Baltic region, and there were a lot of options available to us. We considered booking our own hotels and transportation in Europe, and also larger ship cruises which would visit the most popular cities of the region, but in the end, itinerary and fantastic reviews from friends led us to choose Tauck. We absolutely LOVED our Tauck trip! Here are our favorite things about this particular adventure:
- Ease of Travel – We wanted to visit Stockholm, St. Petersburg, and Copenhagen. To do this on our own would have required all sorts of planning for travel between cities via ferries,trains, motorcoaches, etc. With Tauck, once we landed in Stockholm for the start of our trip, we had no further transportation arrangements to worry about once we got to Europe. Tauck even arranged to pick us up at the airport and brought us to our hotel – even though we arrived FIVE DAYS prior to the start of our tour. Many tour and cruise companies that offer airport transfers only do so within a very short window of time from your tour start and finish dates. This is not how Tauck operates. They take care of it all for you! We boarded our elegant small French ship, The Boreal, and unpacked for the week, after a few days touring Stockholm with Tauck and staying at the Hilton in town. The ship took us to Helsinki, St. Petersburg for three days, Tallin, and then Copenhagen. It was nice to not need to pack and unpack!
- No Visa requirement – In order to visit Russia, Americans are required to obtain a VISA. I am told this is not all that easy. However, there is a loophole for travelers who arrive by cruise ship and are accompanied by guides. The cruise line obtains all necessary visas, so no hassle for us! On most larger cruise ships, you would be docked about 45 minutes outside of the city of St. Petersburg. This means you get up in the morning, board your bus, go on your tour and return at the conclusion of your tour. But, with our small ship docked right in the center of town, we could spend additional time ON OUR OWN in St. Petersburg, exploring as we chose. We returned to ship at our leisure.
- Excursions all included – Tauck had our agendas planned for visits to the most important and interesting sights at every location, so we didn’t need to worry about working all of that in. We also didn’t need to purchase these excursions separately from our tour price. It was all included! They did, however, give us free time in every location to visit additional sights as we pleased. And we did!
- Special Events – Tauck is known for this, it turns out. They arrange special events on their tours that would be very, very difficult to do on your own. For us, we had the Vasa museum TO OURSELVES on our first night of the tour. We had a private tour and a lovely dinner and cocktail hour, right next to the recovered ship in this #1 tourist attraction in Stockholm. Wow! In St. Petersburg, we had private access to the Yusopov palace. This is a very grand palace that happens to also be the sight of the assassination of Rasputin. We had a private tour, with details of the assassination. This tour was followed by a cocktail reception right where the Yusopov’s would have served us champagne and then a ballet and concert piano performance in the Yusopov’s private theater. I thought this was amazing! Whenever I tour these places I try to imagine what it would be like to attend an event or live there. This is surely as close as I will ever get to this lifestyle.
- Quality of the small ship – The Boreal is a luxury yacht type vessel. It is a French ship, and the food is excellent. Only about 200 people are on the ship, so all cabins have windows and nearly all have balconies. Everything about this ship is elegant.
- Price is all-inclusive – The cost of this type of cruise/tour is more than for a traditional large cruise ship. However, you rarely need to pull out your wallet after that payment. ALL of your meals and ALL drinks, tips/gratuities, excursions, airport transfers, and hotels in the first and last cities are all included. There were a few meals that we were told ahead of time would be “on our own”, so those were our expenses. But we enjoyed having some unstructured time to explore. It was nice to pay once and then be done. No surprise charges were ever added to our bill.
- Tauck will work with you if you need to make changes to your schedule – This one didn’t affect us, but I am keeping it in mind as a plus for next trip. We learned through talking with other folks on our tour that Tauck is extremely good about letting you change plans if anything happens ahead of the trip and you need to reschedule. A few folks had planned to take other trips and ended up with us instead.
- Community – We found a nice balance of mingling with our fellow Tauck guests and time alone. These folks come back again and again, and that is not without good reason. This is a top quality trip! These folks are also very well travelled and extremely interesting for conversations.
- Tour Guides – We had a designated tour guide for our sub-group of about 20 guests (there were four small groups with Tauck on this trip). Our guide was with us all the time and he was fantastic. In addition to our great Tauck guide, we always had top-notch local guides in every port of call. They were so interesting, and really gave us a good feeling for life in these cities.
- Early Access to very crowded attractions – We were granted early access in St. Petersburg to Catherine’s Summer Palace and The Hermitage. These are two of the most crowded tourist attractions IN THE WORLD, which we visited during their very short peak tourist season. We got in 1.5 hours prior to opening. In The Hermitage, we had many rooms to ourselves. At Catherine’s Summer Palace, we weren’t alone, but we didn’t need to wait in the line which would have taken several hours for general admission. This benefit is huge. When you have only a short amount of time in a city, you don’t want to waste it waiting in lines! On top of that, there is value to viewing these sights without the huge crowds.
All in all, this was one of our best vacations ever. We will definitely use Tauck in the future!