What sets Tauck Tours apart from other travel companies?

When is a Tour Not a Tour? When it’s a Tauck.

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Most of my travel is done independently. I research the places I visit and make all my own arrangements for transportation, accommodations and sightseeing. Once in a while, however, I’m offered the opportunity to take a tour, where I travel with a group and stick to a set itinerary. I have always recognized the benefits of these trips, especially for those who are uncomfortable with solo travel, but I usually turn these offers down because I fear I will be dragged around to one tourist trap after another or have to endure the “cattle herding” that often defines packaged tours.

A few months back Tauck invited me to try one of their Tauck Events. I read up on the company, which bills itself as “the 88-year-old leader in premium quality guided travel” and browsed their events on offer. One in particular, the Tauck Jazz Event, piqued my interest. Not only did it include five days of exclusive events and access to experts in the field of jazz that would be impossible for me to arrange, the event was also curated by Ken Burns, the filmmaker responsible for the PBS documentary Jazz. I eagerly accepted their offer.

Private concert by Donald Harrison for Tauck Jazz Event

Private concert by Donald Harrison for Tauck Jazz Event

As the date of the event grew nearer, I began receiving literature about the event. A few things immediately caught my attention. Accommodations would be at the Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans, a posh, historic hotel in the French Quarter. Although the event could accommodate up to 210 guests, the entire group would be together only for the major musical performances. The rest of the time we would separate into breakout groups of no more than 35, each of which would be on separate sightseeing tracks from other groups, ensuring that we would not be tripping over one another. And we would be asked to wear name tags the first night only, during an “informance” on the history of jazz by musician and National Park Service ranger Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes & the Louisiana Sunspots.

Jazz performance by Tornado Brass Band at New Orleans' famous Preservation Hall

Jazz performance by Tornado Brass Band at New Orleans’ famous Preservation Hall

Perhaps most intriguing to me was Tauck’s no tipping policy. From the doorman to the bellman to all restaurant servers, tips were included in the price of the event. While this may seem like a small thing, tipping always causes me stress. I never know how much to tip, or even if I should tip at all. Do I tip the man who hails a cab for me outside the hotel? Do I tip a concierge who provides me with information about the city? How much per bag is considered adequate for a bellman? I ask repeatedly for guidance, but the answer I usually receive, which is in no way helpful, is that tips are at my discretion. With Tauck covering all tips, this burden was lifted from my shoulders.

By the time I arrived in New Orleans, I knew Tauck’s Jazz Event would be much different than group travel offered by other companies. Our itinerary included private concerts by legendary jazz performers Donald Harrison and Ellis Marsalis, both of whom commanded the stage and left me mesmerized. At the famous Preservation Hall we were treated to a private performance by the Tornado Brass Band that, as Ken Burns so succinctly put it, “rearranged my molecules.”

Exquisite mansion in the Garden District of New Orleans is owned by actress Sandra Bullock

Exquisite mansion in the Garden District of New Orleans is owned by actress Sandra Bullock

Though live music was our focus, Tauck also provided unequaled access to insiders, including Tulane University historian Bruce Boyd Raeburn, who spoke about the history of jazz in New Orleans; a lecture by environmental architect Nellie Watson, who explained how and why city flooded during hurricane Katrina; and a presentation by Lolis Eric Elie, writer and co-producer of the PBS documentary Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans and staff writer for the HBO TV series Treme.

Of course, no trip to New Orleans would have been complete without seeing the city’s most famous sights, so between concerts and lectures we visited to the grave of Voodoo Queen Marie Leveau in St. Louis Cemetery #1, where believers still hang beads and mark her tomb with X’s; strolled through the Garden District, past Sandra Bullock’s gingerbread-festooned mansion and another used in the filming of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; and learned little-known facts about the history of New Orleans during a tour of the historic Cabildo Museum with Louisiana State Museum historian Charles Chamberlain.

Tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Leveau in St. Louis Cemetery #1 in New Orleans

Tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Leveau in St. Louis Cemetery #1 in New Orleans

What Was Great:

Despite having vacationed in New Orleans on four previous occasions I’d never been able to dig beneath the city’s tourist veneer. Tauck’s meticulous planning, knowledgeable staff and inspired itinerary accomplished what I had been unable to do; in five short days not only had I learned about the history of New Orleans and jazz,  I felt I had connected with both at a much deeper level.

From the moment of our arrival, Tauck promised “lagniappe” a French word that translates as “a little something extra.” They did not disappoint. Between unscheduled stops for Cajun snacks; surprise appearances by Big Chiefs from the Mardi Gras Indians and a stop at Congo Square, where I fulfilled a lifelong desire to play the bongo drums, our event was packed with loads of lagniappe and all-around fun.

Even though our five days was jam-packed with activities, two afternoons and one evening were set aside as free time, during which we could explore the French Quarter on our own.

I never once, not even for a moment, felt like we were a herd of cattle being driven from tourist site to tourist site. Quite the opposite, we were continually attending special presentations that had been developed exclusively for our group and were far more educational and interesting than anything the normal tourist would have access to.

What Could Have Been Better:

In general, the food was not up to the quality I had expected in a city famous for its cuisine. To be fair, I attribute this to the fact that I am a vegetarian and the restaurants where we ate were not particularly equipped to cater to non-meat eaters. I will say that in the places where I had disappointing meals, the meat-eaters among us raved about their food. However I do think more attention could be paid to providing quality vegetarian fare as well.

Because I’m a very active traveler, I was a bit uncomfortable with the average age of the guests, a number of whom had difficulty walking. I spoke to the staff about this and was told that some of the firm’s other products, such as Tauck Culturious, which bills itself as “culturally immersive active travel,” might be more to my liking, as it attracts a younger demographic.

The Final Assessment:

Was I happy that I had accepted the trip? Yes, very. Would I recommend Tauck to others? Again, yes, without hesitation. Tauck offer a wide range of guided travel options for all ages and interests, from family travel adventures to river cruising to small ship cruising, all of which provide in-depth cultural experiences. If my Jazz Event was any indication, Tauck certainly lives up to their claim to be the leader in premium quality guided travel. But don’t just take my word for it. One guest in my group had been on more than 20 Tauck trips, and almost everyone had used their services at least once before. The consensus among the participants was that Tauck does it better than anyone else.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Tauck on their Tauck Jazz Event, one of their custom designed once-in-a-lifetime Tauck Events that provide insider insight and access for savvy travelers. However, the receipt and acceptance of complimentary items or services will never influence the content, topics, or posts in this blog. I write the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

23 Comments on “When is a Tour Not a Tour? When it’s a Tauck.

  1. Hey! I just wanted to let you know that the tomb that you pictured is NOT Marie Laveau’s grave at all. It is something called a “Faux Laveau” or false resting place. The actual grave is painted white and is about twice the height.

    • Interesting, Tyler. I was on a tour with Tauck and their tour guide indicated it was Laveau’s tomb.

  2. Barbara, your Tauck tour sounds wonderful and we’ve heard many great reports about the company… so now they are on our list for our next group tour.

    After decades of only doing independent travel around the world, we decided in 2009 (due to many reader requests for info) to take our first package tour. Surprisingly enough, both of us had a fantastic time and actually enjoyed letting somebody else guide us around – it sure beat walking everywhere with our heads in guidebooks.

    We just returned from our fifth tour and this was actually one of the best trips (of any kind) either of us has EVER done. A huge bonus was that we didn’t have to wait for hours to get into any of the major sites in Italy (unlike independent travelers) and our tour director was beyond fabulous.

    We say, “Don’t knock a group tour unless you’ve tried it”.

    • I wholeheartedly agree Viv and Jill, however with one caveat. You have to choose the right company for tours/guided travel.I’ve been on some that herded us around to all the top tourist sites – ugh! I’m pretty certain that would never happen with Tauck.

  3. I’m glad you had a good time! I’m usually hesitant about tours too, but some of them really are worth it. I mostly go for shorter tours, like a half or full day tour because I don’t want to be herded around. It’s nice that they worked in a little free time for you. I’ve only been to New Orleans twice, both less than a full day, so I’ve barely seen anything!

    • Hi Ali: I’m also not a big fan of tours – usually – but Tauck seems to have found the right formula.

  4. Hello,
    Nice article!!! keep writing up good work. I am looking forward for your next interesting post.

  5. I also prefer independent travel but 100% agree that tours at times give access or organise trips that would be impossible or too time consuming or awkward to do independently. Tauck sound very special.

    • I think they are an excellent company, Mark, and I’d recommend them highly for anyone who wants to do guided travel.

  6. My parents would have loved this New Orleans Jazz Tour. My dad has since passed, but they always loved their Tauck Tours. I have not yet traveled to New Orleans and I have never joined a Tauck Tour. What a trip!

    • Hi Nancy: I was extremely impressed by the loyalty of Tauck guests. They told me that one client has done more than 90 trips with them. Now, that’s brand loyalty, but it wouldn’t be happening if the company wasn’t doing such a good job.

  7. Thank you for this good info. Very nice blog and I’m like your blog and the way you present your post. I found many useful information around this blog. Thanks for sharing,keep it up bro!

  8. it’s okay to take a tour every once in a while. However, I had never heard of Tauck before — I must say I’m impressed after reading your post!

    Sounds like a very unique company, I’ll have to check them out (specially Tauck Culturious)!

    -Maria Alexandra

    • Hi Maria: I hadn’t heard of them either, before being invited on their event, but after talking to people it seems I am definitely in the minority. Do check them out, and if you decide to take a Tauck Culturious trip, please let us know in the comments how you liked it.

  9. I miss New Orleans, but I always felt sorry for the vegetarians I knew when I lived there. It’s a city that doesn’t really understand the concept of cooking without crawfish and sausage.

    The tour sounds fabulous, though!

    • The tour WAS fabulous, Jess, and eating a little less food didn’t do me any harm:-)

  10. One thing that I have found helpful if I plan to stay several days in one city is to take a full-day or half-day orientation tour of that city. Then you can go back to visit the places that most interested you on your own schedule and spend as much time as you wish without the constraints of the time schedule of a tour group. And, of course, hit those places not included in the tour.

  11. I always tend to avoid tours as well but this one sounds a bit different from the rest. It would be nice if more companies started offering this kind of package for people like us.

  12. I went to New Orleans for a conference once and really enjoyed it. I didn’t know you’re a vegetarian. I’m vegan.

    • Hi Kate: I’ve actually tried being vegan but found it impossible to do while traveling perpetually. Plus, I decided I just couldn’t give up cheese. Other than that, though, I cold definitely be a vegan!

  13. I agree, there are times when a tour is the way to go! I traveled solo to New Orleans over St Patricks Day and absolutely loved it. I would have loved to immerse myself more in the jazz culture – after all – this is where it all began, but found myself missing out on that aspect of my experience! Loved touring town, learning about the history and looking at the amazing homes in the Garden District with my amazing bike tour leader…but did not get myself organized enough to get into a night time excursion. Plan on going back and will make sure to experience more of the wonder of the NOLA music scene! An insiders tour like this sounds perfect for this solo gal!

    • Hi Anita: If you’re up for a tour, check out what Tauck offers – I was pretty happy with them.

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