Globus Tour - Essential Europe 28th October to 7th November 2012
Globus Tour Experience – Essential Europe
Essential Europe Coach Tour to include 4 countries in 11 days (Italy, Switzerland, France, UK). Itinerary - 10 nights Rome to London… 2 nights Rome, 1 night Florence, 1 night Venice, 2 nights Lucerne, 2 nights Paris, 2 nights London.
I was really looking forward to experiencing an organised coach tour with Globus. We arrived into Rome Fiumicino Airport slightly early, collected our luggage and headed for the “Cotav Desk” and were there by approx 5.00pm. Our scheduled transfer wasn’t due to leave the Airport until 6.00pm but as soon as we were there we departed for our Hotel, I am not sure if they do this for everyone or if we were the last/only passengers left to arrive, but this was a very fast, hassle free process
Our welcome dinner was at a cute little restaurant called Mino where we had a 5 course Italian meal and wine, very nice start to trip. Met Giovani our driver and Hanni our Tour Director. Giovani didn’t speak much English, but enough to be polite and answer basic questions – Hanni spoke to him in Italian most of the time. Hanni is from Germany, but speaks many European languages, which came in very handy in all these countries. She was a very hard case and made the tour a lot of fun – Some of her favourite sayings were “Hello my dear family, how is the situation?” “So what can I say?” or if something went wrong “Well what can we do?”
We had a great mix of ages and nationalities on our tour – 27 pax in total (usually 40-44pax). There were 3 groups of Americans - 3 x girls in their 20’s, a family with Grandma and Grandpa, Mum and Dad and Teenager (16yrs) and a couple in their 60’s, 3 groups of Filipino’s – Family with Mum Dad and 2 x kids (approx 16yrs and 10yrs), Husband and Wife in mid 30’s (plus business partner travelling with them) and a young couple (late 20’s), an Indian husband and wife and us 6 x Kiwi’s. So this particular tour or time of year is not just the typical Globus ‘older’ clientele as I had expected.
Tour was very well structured, however started off very busy with lots of walking tours etc in Rome, Florence and Venice, but this is typical because of all the things to see in Rome and the little time we had in Florence and Venice and then it got a little more relaxed towards the end. I would definitely recommend taking a tour with at least 2 night stays in most places (or even 3 in some cities if time allows), as otherwise it is a bit rushed and you tend to not remember all your saw (i.e in Florence we arrived just before lunchtime, had a walking tour and a little free time in city and then had to depart at 7.30am the following morning).
It is expected when trying to cram as much into as little time as possible that you could experience long days and this is exactly what happened, especially on travelling days between cities. Most mornings you are on the coach departing your Hotel at between 7.00am and 7.45am so need to be up quite early for breakfast and packing before departure. The longest travelling day we had was from Lucerne to Paris – departed Lucerne Hotel at 7.20am and arrived into Paris at 5.00pm, with 3 refreshment/lunch stops along the way. The days become even longer when you have an included dinner away from the Hotel and have to travel etc. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, as I would still recommend an organised coach tour if you are limited to time and want to see lots of places in a short amount of time. I just think it is important people are aware of this so that they can be prepared.
Because of the timing of the tour, with UK/Europe coming into Winter, many things start to close down which meant there were quite a few of the optional excursions that were cancelled and we ended up with really only one option in most cities. Some of the passengers onboard were very disappointed at this and they felt like they had almost been misled, as they had obviously chosen Globus and this particular tour for the itinerary and optional excursions advertised to be offered, but when the time came all these options they thought would be available no longer were. When they decided to go away on a holiday to the UK/Europe they chose an organised tour so that they had these opportunities along the way, but when the time came if there was something in particular they wanted to do, and optional excursion was not running they had to try and organise it themselves, which defeated their purpose as these excursions became unescorted. This meant things like transportation to and from a destination was no longer included, which cost then more than expected, there was not fast entry to attractions included and instead having to wait in long lines, or the language barrier became an issue if not an English speaking destination.
The optional excursions which were still running (only 7 out of the 18 listed in the final brochure/documentation) were definitely worth doing however, as they offered unique experiences/must do’s of each city or destination, which the tour did not have time to include. If you did not take these optional excursions there was free time if there was something else you preferred to see/do instead.
Another thing which myself and fellow passengers were a little disappointed about was that our Tour Director did not collect the forms and money for the optional tours at the beginning of the tour (instead this was done on the way from Lucerne to Paris – on the 7th day) and by this stage a few people had changed their minds about tours they had put their names down for, which meant there were not enough numbers to run a couple of tours. Hanni did realise she had made a mistake by doing so, when some people pulled out of Moulin Rouge and I heard her make a comment that we may not have enough people to go, but she must have worked her magic because we still got to do the excursion to Moulin Rouge. If the money was taken on day 1 or 2 then the tours could still run and the passengers who changed their minds would loose out, not everyone else, if tours lacked numbers and could no longer run.
The tour coach was really nice and spacious, although we were quite lucky also because there were lots of spare seats and people could move around. Globus applies a seat rotation principle and each day all passengers rotate around the bus. Apparently there are a lot of passengers who do not like this principle, however I think this works really well so that everyone gets a chance to sit at the front and have a better view for photos etc and also a good way to get to know your fellow passengers.
The Hotels used actually varied in standard quite a bit, however I understand that this also probably depends on cost and location – some cities are more expensive than others. Some of them were very basic in terms of facilities (Delfino in Venice) and others were quite basic but had a great location (Starhotel Michelangelo in Rome for example) and some were very nice all-round (Astoria in Lucerne, Pullman Paris Bercy and Hilton London Metropole). Because of this variation it did feel like the accommodation was a little all over the show and not really of the same general standard, which was supposed to be 4 star and most of them were, but there were a couple I definitely would not have rated 4 star.
The local guides in each city for sightseeing excursions (both included and optional excursions) were very knowledgeable and passionate about the destination and history they were showcasing, which is really important to get the most out of your tour. Tips for these local guides were not included so if you thought they did a great job then make sure you show this appreciation. I think without these guides you would miss out on a lot of important information and history about each destination.
One more thing I thought was fantastic were the ‘whisper headsets’ Globus lent everyone while on the tour (included in tour cost). They are just a small unit which is on a lanyard around your neck and then an earpiece so that you can hear your tour guides commentaries etc at all the places where we got off the coach. This is really important so that you can hear what they have to say in the crowds at the stops along the way. Also means if you are in a cathedral for example you don’t have to stand right next to the tour guide, you can look around and still hear what they are saying.
So overall I think coach touring (particularly with Globus) is a great option, especially for first time travellers. A fully escorted tour offers peace of mind that you have a tour guide along the way who speaks the local language, which could otherwise be a bit of a problem if you haven’t learnt the basics before leaving home. You get to see lots of places in a limited amount of time, your transport and accommodation is taken care of and the main sightseeing also usually included. Then there are a few options and costs given for excursions that aren’t included in the price of the tour, but usually quite important if wanting to learn about each destination. So I would recommend client’s budget these optional excursions in when planning your holiday. One major advantage of an organised coach tour is quick entry into attractions/tourist stop’s meaning you don’t have to wait in line for your tickets/entry instead you just go straight in with your tour group, so you are not waiting precious time. Whenever you get off the coach the driver stays with the coach otherwise it is securely locked, meaning it is safe to leave your valuables onboard especially when in known tourist areas where there are lots of people and pick pocketing etc is common.
General Touring Tips:
- When you book your tour you have an option to pre-pay your gratuities for the Tour Director and Driver and also included was hotel porters etc. I personally think this is a good idea, as us Kiwi’s are not so good at tipping. Because it is not part of our culture we tend to forget, which then could lead to offence to others and in turn could mean we receive bad service. Then along the way we would just tip waiters at restaurants which we thought deserved a little extra, however often a group tip was given anyway.
- I decided the best way to have access to money was with a Mastercard Multi-currency Cash Passport which I loaded with GBP and EUR – these are not linked to your personal bank account so only a limited amount of money on there if they were to get lost/stolen. They are a card which can be used worldwide and accepted most places, however I just withdrew cash from ATM’s which is free (unless the ATM company charges a fee and this is usually mentioned on the machine before you start). Some other passengers on our tour had an eftpos and/or Visa Debit type card which was quite restrictive and they needed a certain bank’s ATM to withdraw money to avoid quite high withdrawal fees which was not very convenient.
- The Globus documentation book states that European Law requires you to carry your passport on you at all times however we were never once asked for this, so not sure that this is really necessary, it may be safer to keep it in your locked luggage.
- Safes are not always “safe” ... Alana had I had been using the safe’s along the way, and leaving our passports, wallets and valuables in them until our passports got locked in our safe in Lucerne. Alana had used this particular safe for the first day in Lucerne and then the night before we were due to depart she went to open it to put her passport in her suitcase and it wouldn’t open. She called reception at 7.00pm when she realised this and there was no-one able to help that night, so we were to call reception again at 6.30am the following morning to get this sorted (we were due to depart Hotel on bus at 7.15am). So this is what we did and a guy came up to help, he was trying for about 10 minutes to override the code we had used (as if we had forgotten our pin number), however this would not work, so he had to try and call the safe company who couldn’t help either. Apparently the batteries were going flat and so the codes they were given could not override the safe… Anyway by sheer luck he managed to shake it open about 5 minutes before the coach was due to depart.