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Cruising in Venice and Croatia Passengers: 224 - 264
Size: 466 feet long, 6 decks
Last Visited: 2010
Rating: Deluxe, AC, Elevators
Tauck Tour/Cruise of “Venice and the Dalmatian Coast” 2012 Dates
May 26 – June 4
June 2 – 11
June 9 – 18
September 5 – 14
September 12- 21
I’ve long been looking for other trips and cruises to suggest to barging guests. Our passengers are well-travelled, curious, and looking for new adventures…but also prefer to be taken care of on an all-inclusive basis. This is also how my husband and I now like to travel. This particular story begins with my falling in love with the idea of Croatia from PICTURES. The country looked fresh and different. Research revealed many different ways to take this trip: by overland tour, by larger cruise ships which called in at Dubrovnik before going on to Agean ports, by 14-day cruises offered by expedition ships. None of these choices were right for us. We wanted an in-depth look at Croatia, we wanted to approach it by sea, and we wanted to be gone no more than 10 days.
Tauck’s cruise-tour called “ Venice and the Dalmatian Coast” fit our criteria perfectly and also happened to be available when we wanted to travel in mid-October 2010. As a bonus, it included two nights in Venice. I had long been aware of Tauck’s superb reputation as many of our barge guests have travelled with this company. So, it was easy to make a decision, add an extra night in Venice before the tour began and finalize the trip.
Please go to Itinerary for our day-to-day sightseeing adventures and to Menu for the dinners we enjoyed on board. Some additional observations:
THE PROGRAM – The Tauck guests numbered 120 out of the total on-board number of 200. Our group was highly organized from the start with a significantly different program than guests booking directly with the cruise line. Tauck leaves absolutely nothing to chance and backs up this premise with four full-time cruise directors. Three directors led the sightseeing groups and the fourth director coordinated details with the ship. Our directors were young, attractive, fun…but very experienced and always on duty. If, for instance, we were sightseeing with a local guide, the leader was always there when the tour began and ended. Bus transfers were meticulously organized. They kept available hours in the lounge each day and ate dinner in the dining room each night. On the ship, they seemed to be involved in every aspect of the on-board experience. I rate the Tauck experience as most impressive!!!!
THE SHIP – We cruised on Le Boreal, a brand new, yacht-style ship built and operated by Compagnie du Ponant, a French company who caters to deluxe guests wanting access to specialized itineraries and smaller ports. The ship keeps a yearly schedule which includes Antarctica in winter and Europe/Mediterranean in the summer. In 2011, the identical new ship L’Austral will take over the Dalmatian Coast program. The ambiance is French-international. All announcements are made in French and English and a totally bi-lingual captain leads the show. We thought the meals were amazingly good considering the number of guests to be served. Each day, there was a themed buffet lunch with many hot and cold choices. Dinner was served formally; some of the dishes were really gourmet; and there was always a light menu choice. I would rate service, amenities and entertainment aboard as “fair” to “good.” This reflects the reality that guests are not on board to be pampered in glamorous surroundings but taken in comfort on really interesting itineraries.
OUR CABIN – It was small at 200 square feet but perfectly organized with a lot of storage space, separate toilet/shower and lots of amenities. We enjoyed sitting on the small deck. There are larger cabins and suites on board but these seem to be among the first booked. The cabin was kept very clean and the crew occasionally left us little treats. I rate as the cabin as comfortable and very adequate for what we needed.
OUR FELLOW GUESTS - Overall, this was not surprisingly a crowd tilting from middle age to older, which also describes me and my husband. The vast majority of guests were between 50 and 75; most had travelled with Tauck before and were educated and well-travelled generally. There were two “ladies groups,” one country club members from Florida and the other lawyers and judges from Phoenix. Since we had all met at dinner before the cruise, then were together in the smaller sightseeing groups, there was a great chance to meet compatible people.
WHO WOULD LIKE THIS TRIP – The Tauck cruise/tour format is a great choice for anyone who wants to be taken care of and who does not mind traveling as part of a larger group. What we enjoyed most was socilaizing with compatible fellow guests. The group split up for sightseeing into sub- groups of 20, each with a guide, and there was always time to explore a destination on your own after the tour was done. We were also impressed by the special programming at each port and liked the idea of being taken to the different sites/activities in a way that would have been impossible to duplicate ourselves. On the other hand, independent travel types would find the whole experience confining, even exasperating!
PLEASE CALL ME – I’m always here at 800-880-0071. Let’s discuss this and I’ll mail you a brochure.
Adriatic Cruise Itinerary
Venice and the Dalmation Coast
Day 1: Our Tour Begins in Venice
We are introduced to Tauck Tours – and Tauck travelers, too!
We made the very wise decision to arrive in Venice the day before the tour began. Even though our Swiss flight from Zurich was almost an hour late, our smiling Tauck representative was waiting and organized a seamless private transfer via motor launch to the Hotel Danieli. This hotel, pictured above, sits in THE action-central Venice location – right on the pier from where the gondola boats leave – and around the corner from St. Marks Square; within walking distance of hundreds of restaurants and shops lining the adorable side streets; and convenient to the vaparetto boat, which serves as public transportation in a city without cars! It was very easy to cruise to outlaying neighborhoods and then walk back to the hotel, taking in life along the shopping streets, small squares, and canalside homes on the way. We began our tour with a cocktail party/dinner in the hotel’s elegant Sala Marco Polo. Here we first met out Tauck tour guides, all of who we would get to know very well in the days ahead; Tim Lentz, Elaine Lentz, Scott Peters and Kim Stanton. The ebullient Tim kicked off the dinner by asking for a show of hands indicating how many times each of us had traveled with Tauck. We were among the few first-timers, and as Tim kept calling out higher numbers, we were amazed to discover that some in the room had traveled with Tauck as many as seventeen times! Dinner was delicious and we enjoyed meeting several very compatible couples with whom we would enjoy spending time on the cruise. So far…so good!
Day 2 - Romantic and Relaxing Day in Venice
Morning Tour of the Doges Palace
We assembled in the lobby after breakfast taken in the hotel’s lovely dining room overlooking the Lagoon. At this time, the 120 tour members were subdivided into three sightseeing groups, each led by one of the Tauck guides. We were happy to be in “Tim’s group,” and found him to be possessed of energy, charm and the all-important ability to cope when events did not go 100% as planned! Each group was divided into subgroups of 20 for local sightseeing. Tim introduced us to our guide who then walked us right around the corner to the Doges Palace, so the rain hardly mattered (see above right) and gave an excellent tour of this magnificent building which was the seat of government for centuries.
Afterward, we went back to the hotel for a nap, but by late afternoon the rain had let up and we went back outside to wander in the city now enveloped in mist and fog. Snatches of church bells and the songs of the gondoliers rang in our ears. We realized that we had just begun to experience this unbelievable city, with an ambiance right out of an opera set, and we vowed to return as soon as possible.
Day 3 - We Board Le Boreal and Depart Venice
With Many Adventures Along the Way!
Our bags were collected at 8:00am. We would next see them later in the day in our cabin. At 9:15 am, Tim’s group departed for a tour of St. Mark’s Basilica, located around the corner in a now flooded St. Mark’s Square. Our guide explained this by high tide combined with the recent rain. “Some days the water is so high that they run motorboats in the Square,” she added. We climbed onto raised walkways and made our way into the Basilica where, distressingly, the water covered in the mosaic floor in the vestibule as well. The Basilica was consecrated in 1094 but shows many additions to décor made over time. The magnificent exterior is adorned with many statues, grand domes and gorgeous mosaics, see right, while the interior is equally fantastical.
Another short walk brought us to the pier to board our private boat for two islands in the Venice Lagoon, Burano and Murano. Typical of Tauck’s commitment to high quality guides, we were now accompanied by Talia, a young and personable American woman who has lived in Venice for many years and was able to offer insights into local life. Approaching Burano, a fishing village of 2000 residents, Talia explained that there was no school or hospital on the island, then pointed out the ambulance ship which is always parked at the dock. We spent an enjoyable three hours on Burano where, as in Venice, the canals are thoroughfares, winding through streets of enchanting, brightly colored homes – see below at left. After lunch and shopping in the main square -see below at right, we boarded our boat for Murano, a shorter visit for a glass blowing demonstration and shopping on this island which has been known for glass-making since medieval times.
We were then delivered to Le Boreal’s pier where by late afternoon we had been checked in, issued boarding cards and settled into our modern, cozy cabin. As daylight faded, Le Boreal set sail on the Grand Canal, an incredibly romantic embarkation with the entire city of Venice as a backdrop!
Day 4 - Introduction to Croatia
A Gorgeous Guide for Sibenik and Split
We awoke to find Le Boreal moored in Sibenik, Croatia, see left. Although there were many more picturesque stops ahead of us, Sibenik was memorable for two reasons. Foremost was our guide, the beautiful Maria. Think of a prim and proper Angelina Joile…one who provides intelligent commentary in lilting Croatian-accented English….who begins every other sentence with the seductive words "Dear ladies and gentlemen,” the men were mesmerized…even the women adored her. The other main attraction in Sibenik was the Cathedral of St. James, a Gothic-Renaissance building that was constructed by assembling precisely chiseled stone sections, entirely without the use of mortar. Most unusual are the 72 faces on the façade which illustrate tradesmen, townspeople and prominent church figures of the day. We then boarded a bus for the short drive to Split, the largest city on the Adriatic coast, and one which has been under the domination of several empires: Rome, Venice, Austria and France.
Our program in Split was stellar. The Gallery of renowned Croatian artist Ivan Mestrovik (1883 – 1962) was our first visit. We had not heard of Mestrovik, whose emotional full-size sculptures compare to Rodin; there were many wonderful works in this large museum which was located in the artist’s former mansion. After returning for lunch on Le Boreal (now moored in Split) we again met Maria who presented the major ruins of Diocletian’s Palace built by that Roman emperor at the end of the 3rd century. Afterwards, there was an unannounced and optional tour of the Synagogue of Split, see right. This kind of value-added touring is typical of Tauck; the synagogue is offered only when a specific, excellent guide for it is available. Jews have been in Split since Roman times, and the synagogue is built into the western wall of Diocletian’s Palace.
Day 5 - Island of Korcula
Beautiful Cathedral Surprise
The sun came out as Le Boreal slid into the harbor right after lunch. Our guide was Katia, who introduced this island as small, “no larger than a football field!” It was indeed minute and while hardly a major port, produced its share of surprises. The first was found in the tiny St. Marks Cathedral where the altarpiece was a gorgeously restored Tintoretto painting, shining with deep red, blue and golden hues, pictured at left. We had seen many altarpieces in the Venice Academia Museum – how much more affecting to experience these gorgeous works in the environment for which they were created. The church design reflected the concerns of this small shipbuilding community, including a wooden ceiling which looked like the interior of a boat. We then walked by a home that has belonged to the De Polo family, which can trace their history on Korcula back to the 13th century – and on this basis, Korkula claims to be the birthplace of Marco Polo. Venice claims him, too, and since there are no written record of his birth, it is anybody’s guess!
Finally we enjoyed a special program just for Tauck guests, the Korcula Moreska Dance, a traditional sword dance that reached Korcula in the 16th century. Now it is performed on request by a troup of dedicated local volunteers, see right. We returned to Le Boreal for the Captains Welcome Reception and Gala dinner, the first of two ‘dress up nights' on board.
Day 6 - Visiting One of the World's Smallest Countries
Dramatic Arrival and Departure from Kotor in Montenegro
This was far from a usual cruise day! In the first place, we were awakened at 7:30 am by Captain Etienne Garcia (the recipient of many unprintable thoughts at the time!) to follow his navigation into the foggy Bay of Kotor, a waterway which branches off the Adriatic and flows into dramatic fjord country with villages nestling the shore and passing around incredible small islands. The Bay was filled with fog when we entered but by the time we reached Kotor, the weather was sunny and clear - revealing a perfectly preserved medieval town with palm trees and colorful markets lining the port. In 2006, Montenegro split from Serbia (which still refuses to recognize it), capping a turbulent history in which it was ruled by many cultures, including the Venetian Republic, Napoleon’s forces, and communist Yugoslavia. Today, there are 675,000 residents in Montenegro; Kotor is an important window onto the world in a country that is 90% hill and mountain terrain.
Kotor’s main heritage is as a trading and sailing town. In its wealthiest period, it was ruled by 100 aristocratic families who have long since disappeared and whose old mansions still line the narrow streets and squares. Other, less-happy eras are represented by such landmarks as the disintegrating, communist-era hotel on the harbor and an Orthodox church draped with a large Serbian flag. Otherwise, Kotor is an artfully restored blend of medieval and modern buildings, overflowing with cafes and boutiques. Our guide Vasko led us around this city in which somehow the present cannot quite outrun the past. We saw such monuments as the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, where remains of 14th-century frescos line the ceiling and we also climbed up onto the town wall for a view of the harbor.
As the sun set, Le Boreal departed Kotor and sailed back to the Adriatic through the fjords. The glorious music of Il Divo rang through the ship as most of the passengers gathered on deck – this was a magical moment that nobody wanted to miss!
Day 7 - Divine Dubrovnik
And we meet with Croatia’s former Minister of Tourism
Our day in Dubrovnik began with an 8:30 am departure from the ship for Tim’s group; however, there was so much to see in this gorgeous city that we needed the early start.
The medieval core of the city is surrounded by ramparts built between the 11th and 17th centuries. Marble patios, sloping cobblestoned streets, and narrow homes evoke the atmosphere of the fishing village that Dubrovnik once was. Today the town is elegantly restored from damage inflicted by the seven month siege by Serbian forces in 1991. Dubrovnik was liberated by the Croatian army in 1992. One enters the town gates to find a large market (see at right) and the narrow streets overflow with shops and restaurants. Our guide met us promptly and took us through the major sites, leaving the rest of the day on our own.
Our first adventure was walking the ramparts, an amazing experience in which we looked down over the streets and homes of the city (see at left). This walk is not for the fainthearted, there are many steps and it took about 45 minutes. We decided to recover at lunch. Walking one of the many second level streets, we came upon Ragusa 2, crowded with diners at a streetside patio. There we were served an impeccably fresh seafood lunch with welcoming service, too.
Dubrovnik is home to Europe’s second oldest synagogue, and although it had been visited in the morning tour, we decided we needed a more in-depth look. Accordingly, we joined a tour offered by Dubrovnik Walks – this was a fascinating experience led by a guide who was herself Jewish and sensitively took us through centuries of history ending with facts of the Holocaust and the tiny community left today. The Sephardic Baroque sanctuary is well-preserved and functions more as a museum than an active place of worship; also on display were torahs, ritual objects, letters, and historical documents all of which were stored during World War II.
There was tender service from the ship to Dubrovnik every half hour from 8:30am to 10:30 pm, so it was easy for us to get back to Le Boreal in time for one of the high points of our trip, a lecture from Croatia’s former Minister of Tourism. It was an honor to meet and hear the story of Pave Ruskovik, a dynamic woman who began her career in communist Yugoslavia. She spent many tense years working under that government, at one point she barely escaped arrest, but survived to lead the Tourist Office for the brand new country of Croatia. Among her many high-level contacts in international travel was Arthur Tauck, who was among the first tour operators to send guests to Croatia. Although we could have gone back to Dubrovnik for dinner – which many passengers chose to do – we were content to relax and enjoy another gourmet dinner on board.
Day 8 - Many Experiences on Hvar
Vineyards, Harbors and an amazing Museum
We moored outside Hvar town, advertised as one of Croatia’s most-visited tourist spots, hopping in summer with yachts and partygoers. As it was now late fall, the town was very quiet. Tim’s group departed at 8:00am for a day that was filled with many experiences. We were given a quick tour, then taken by bus up to Spanjola Fortress, built over several generations in the 13th and 14th centuries. Here we enjoyed the sight of our sleek ship in the harbor (see above) and to look down on the well-preserved buildings of Hvar town.
We then departed for a picturesque albeit hair-raising drive on the “old road” which connects Hvar town to the islands’s second port, Stari Grad, pictured above. This road winds through steep terraced fields of grapes, olives and lavender; tiny villages and picturesque homes cling to the hills. Our guide explained that farming (along with fishing and tourism) are the major industries on Hvar. The fields have been owned by the same families for generations. Once at Stari Grad, we found a very different scene than the one in Hvar: This was a true fishing port, not a tourist town, with locals relaxing in the tiny cafes lining the port. Our next visit was to a museum which documents the very ancient heritage of this area in which Greeks and Romans were the earliest settlers. Among the most fascinating exhibits were Roman coins from the first and second centuries and Roman mosaics that have been recovered from beneath streets and private homes. This was a far too quick visit of this treasure-trove, but we were off to our final stop, a cheese and winetasting in a delightful small village. Then it was back to the ship, in time for dinner and a relaxing afternoon on board.
Day 9 - Ending the Cruise in Two Croatian Towns
Memorable Roman Ruins in Pula
What is Pula? While a quiet, even sad-looking town today, Pula was an important port for the Romans – who had a large settlement there and left behind major, mesmerizing ruins. This Roman past is still very present in Pula, particularly at the second-century arena. The acoustics are so good that is still serves as a concert venue; recently Il Divo recorded a major performance here. It is unusual to be able to tour the under-space where gladiators were kept, but we did, and I felt ghosts everywhere. A walk into town reveals large and gorgeous Roman gates - see the Golden Gate pictured at right – and the square, pictured below, which was built on the site of the old Forum and comes complete with a gorgeous Roman temple.
We re-boarded Le Boreal and over lunch, sailed into our next and last port of Rovinj. Dee, the same guide we had in Pula, had driven to Rovinj to meet us. As this town had few historic sites, she was available to answer questions about life in current-day Croatia and also led us up into the old town via a very steep, cobblestoned street lined with shops. After this relaxing stop, we re-boarded Le Boreal for the last time, packed up for tomorrow’s departure and got ready for the Captains Farewell Reception and Gala Dinner. Captain Garcia welcomed us with a passionate speech about the experiences we had all shared and then introduced over a hundred members of the ship’s crew. Dinner, too, kicked off with more crew introductions, this time from the dining room and kitchen. The chefs came out to great applause and then stopped at each table, see below. After dessert was served, our adorable waiter and his busboy assistant, came around to say goodby with many hugs and kisses. We ended this incredible cruise on a high note – sitting with our wonderful new friends, sharing memories and promising to stay in touch.
Day 10 - Journey Home
We had a wonderful time!
As with every other arrangement, our departure from the ship to Marco Polo airport was on time and superbly organized. We arrived at the airport at 10:00am, several hours before our flight departed, but we made the most of this time by relaxing and eating a delicious lunch from the cafe. Our flight home took us through Munich on Lufthansa airlines, which departed Venice exactly on time. Twelve hours later we were back in Chicago, cherishing happy memories of our first, but not last, vacation with Tauck Tours.
Please note: this is a sample itinerary which may be subject to change depending on local conditions. Contact The Barge Lady for reservations and more information about Cruising Venice and the Dalmation Coast- Or call us toll free at (800) 880-0071.
Please check back soon for updated guest feed back.
Cold Fennel and
Green Apple Soup
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Avacado and Crabmeat Salad
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Grilled Sea Bass Fillet
Green Asparagus Risotto
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Roasted Beef Tenderloin
Wrapped String Beans
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Coffee Custard and
Rum Raisin Ice Cream
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Velvety Carrot Soup
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Stuffed Portobello Mushroom
Bresaola and Arugula
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Roasted Duck Breast
Sichuan Pepper Sauce
Broccolis and Bok Choy
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Passion Fruit Coulis
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Croatian's Green Vegetable
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Fresh Salmon Gravadlax
Honey and Dill Dressing
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Saffron Basmati Rice
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Light Raspberry Jam
Vanilla and Caramel
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L'Austral Floor PlanShip Specifications
Length: 466 ft.
Draft: 15.3 ft.
Beam: 59 ft.
Tonnage: 10,700 tons
Cruising Speed: 16 knots
Air Conditioned: Yes
Number of Guests: 224 - 264
Crew Members: 140
Crew Nationality: French/International
L'Austral, a sleek new yacht launching in 2011, is small enough to provide a truly intimate cruise experience; her size makes her ideally suited for visiting ports in the Adriatic, the Baltics and along the coast of Iceland that bigger ships can’t reach. L'Austral sports 6 decks that include Le Restaurant Gastronomique, the elegant main dining room serving French and international cuisine; the casual Le Grill Restaurant; three lounges offering evening entertainment, bars and access to the open decks; Le Théâtre hosting informative lectures and entertainment; a Fitness and Beauty Corner; a Medical Center; and multiple observation areas. Elevators serve all passenger decks. Staterooms (ranging in size from 200 to 210 sq. ft.) and suites (ranging in size from 301 to 398 sq. ft.) have ocean views; 95% have private balconies. Staterooms are decorated by French designers, offering individually controlled air conditioning, twin beds converting to a queen-size bed (or one queen-size bed), DVD / CD player, flat-screen TV with satellite channels, electronic safe and mini bar.