All shore excursions on Tauck are included; there's at least one a day and, on some days, a choice or an optional one later in the day, such as a bike ride or a hike. Tauck has carefully selected these excursions to ensure they are suitable for all ages: with a minimum age of 8, all of them could be enjoyed by parents and kids alike. Some of the optional ones (such as the longer bike rides and the hikes), would be more suited for older kids. Note that all excursions are for the whole family, Tauck does not offer "kids only" excursions, and this sometimes is a challenge as there were times (for example at the Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna) when it might have been better to offer slightly different options.
As well as the crew of 39, Joy has a Cruise Director and three other Tauck Directors onboard, who accompany all the shore excursions. On a Bridges sailing, passengers are divided into groups of no more than 25 (with fun names such as "Dragonslayers" or "Knights"), with each group guided by a local expert. You'll find voxes (headphone systems) in your cabin and the line will tell you whether you need them or not (on some excursions it's not necessary).
Joy carries a small selection of bikes, but hires enough for the kid-friendly rides, with a van turning up to each destination with a wide choice of different sizes -- even one with a trailer for the smaller kids.
A nightly "Discovery Briefing" before dinner gives logistics as well as what to expect the next day.
A couple of things really make Tauck's excursions stand out from others. For one, the company uses modern branded buses that have bathrooms and plug sockets for charging phones (bring your cord), and drivers stay with you throughout the trip.
Two, the staff make sure that you have money for incidentals, such as change for the public washrooms in Europe or to get a snack or a drink; as well as buy you ice creams on numerous excursions.
Three, Tauck has "exclusives" -- i.e., no other operator offers these.
Bearing in mind, this was a specific family cruise, here are a number of our observations (note that excursions on non-family cruises will be different):
There was a choice of three shore excursions in Passau: a walking tour, a geo-caching adventure or a bike ride, which was an ideal way for families to determine abilities and engage interest from their kids on the different types of excursion available.
The Tauck exclusive at the 18th-century Palais Pallavicini was a true standout -- a sumptuous dinner, followed by an opera recital and waltzing.
There was only one long coach ride (to Salzburg), but there was a stop, and the coach did have facilities. Tauck had the foresight (and thoughtfulness) to provide us with a packed lunch for Salzburg, due to the timings on the day.
The visit to the Prater Amusement Park in Vienna (including 30 euros spending money), was an inspired choice for a family cruise. As was the visit to Hellbrunn Castle and its trick fountains, outside Salzburg.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
There is a packed program of daytime activities for families and also specific ones for kids onboard. In the day, this includes: quizzes, get to know you bingo, crafting, apple strudel demo, golf putting tournament, Rubik's Cube demo. A folkloric dance show and -- we kid you not -- kite flying on the top deck of the ship.
In the evening expect: a music and magic show, karaoke night, dance night, a kids-only dinner and an evening scavenger hunt.
Another lovely touch is kids can earn "Tauck bucks" for completing the quizzes and participating in the events, which they can then spend in the pop-up Tauck shop at the end of the cruise. This is a brilliant way of bribing, encouraging your kids to get involved (especially the shy ones).
As is common with most river cruises, most of the enrichment takes place off the ship, however onboard you will find the odd lecture. For example, we had a talk about the architecture of the region, but that was only on one afternoon.
Also, Tauck provides commentary from one of the Tauck Directors when the ship is sailing through the day through a particularly beautiful or historic region.
There is also always a Discovery Briefing before dinner the evening before the next stop, where as well as logistical information, we learned about our next port of call.
There are just two spots to drink onboard, although wait staff do serve on the top deck when it's good weather.
Panorama Lounge (Diamond Deck): This is where most of the action takes place throughout the cruise, whether that's lectures, briefings or all the numerous kids' activities. It's a large space at the front of the ship with a bar in the center at the top end and a combination of banquette seating and tables and chairs. There is access to the Sun Deck at the front of the ship and a small deck on the same level.
The Discovery Briefing is held here at 6:30 p.m. most nights ahead of dinner. A small area near the front of the room is full of kids toys, games and balloons during a Bridges sailing.
Arthur's (Diamond Deck): The aforementioned Arthur's doubles (or triples) as a bar, restaurant and game room and is situated at the other end of the ship, overlooking the stern. Nothing official in terms of talks or lectures takes place here, but it's a great spot for a quiet drink either inside or on the deck outside or above on the Sun Deck.
There is a four-hole putting green, which was in constant use by the kids, as was the tiny hot tub, both at the back of the ship.
There are ample loungers, tables and chairs, with smoking toward the back of the ship.
Most of the services are near the lobby where passengers board, or just below. It's a beautiful space, bedecked with marble and wrought iron and is as impressive as we have seen on any river ship.
Here you will find the main Reception Desk and opposite a little niche where the Cruise Director sits, offering information and maps. Beside her is a boutique shop with almost entirely luxury goods such as scarves, jewelry and purses; logowear is discreetly tucked away.
Tauck has instituted a security system where passengers get their photo taken when they receive their keycard. You're instructed to check-in and out when you leave the ship. It's a simple and non-onerous process.
Across from the front desk is where the cruise director sits. Here you can find town maps and receive information about restaurants in town, bike paths, transfers and more.
There are men's and women's restrooms just beside reception and an elevator, which does not go to the Sun Deck, just down.
Wi-Fi is free and reasonably good (don't expect it to work in locks!). You can register multiple devices and it works all over the ship.
Note there is no self-service laundry and laundry costs are eye-wateringly expensive (you have been warned).
Grace has a salon, a massage room and a small fitness center, all on Emerald Deck (the middle deck), clustered in one spot.
The salon takes hair and nail appointments. Hair services consist mostly of wash and blow dry, or updos. They range in price from 18 to 49 euros for women. Men can get a cut for 15 euros or a wash and cut for 25 euros. A manicure in the nail salon costs 25 euro and a pedicure is 35 euro. Get both and it's 50 euro. Reservations for salon and spa services can be made at the front desk.
The massage services are run by the ship's partner Mi'Ara Asian Spa Academy. The treatment room is small, but it's lovely with a water feature that lulls you as you get your massage. The costs are very reasonable by U.S. standards and include gratuity: 59 euro for a 50-minute full-body massage and 60 euro for an hourlong Thai foot massage that includes lower leg, neck and head massage -- which is a lot cheaper than on an ocean vessel.
The fitness center is tiny and comes with two treadmills, two recumbent bikes and some weights. There are numerous notices that children must be accompanied by an adult, but for some reason kids kept gravitating there. However, no one minded and most adults used it in the morning first thing while their kids slept. You can watch TV while you work out. The upper deck has a walking track.
The ship has 12 bikes onboard, and they come with a helmet and an automatic locking system that makes it easy to ride into town and park while you shop or eat.
Yoga was held one morning in the Panorama Lounge.
Most Tauck ships do not cater for kids; ms Joy was especially built to do so -- one of two new-builds commissioned by Tauck to support its "Tauck Bridges" product, which is aimed squarely at families. So, during select sailings throughout the year (July and August), the ship is almost exclusively a family ship. Outside of these times it reverts to its usual demographic.
The minimum recommended age is 8 years old (but we traveled with a 7-year-old, and he had a great time), due to the type of excursions and the facilities onboard, which are limited.
There is just one kids-only dinner per cruise, the rest of the time families eat together, however there are always kids' favorites on offer at every meal (waffles at breakfast and mac n' cheese and burgers and pasta at lunch and dinner). Adults generally order a la carte while kids can browse at the buffet.
There are no connecting cabins, but there are a large number of suites with sofa beds and some smaller cabins which might suit a teen who needs his or her space, or an elderly grandparent.
Tauck Bridges aims to bring families together, not separate them, so most shore excursions are designed for the family, as are onboard activities.
There is no kids club, but there are play areas such as in the Panorama Lounge and Arthur's, where you'll find board games, coloring books and games. However, kids really are genuinely welcomed everywhere.
Despite just a select number of sailings that are designated family, every single member of the crew was delightful (and very tolerant when it came to running about and filling the hot tub all day) toward the large number of children onboard.