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Italian Espresso Review - 2/5

6 Oct 2010 Lainey said

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Contiki Italian Espresso Sep 17-Sep 25 Review
Overall = 2/5 stars

Would I recommend this tour to anyone? No. I would not recommend this tour to my friends or family or anyone that I like.

Background Information of Why I took the tour:
I've been on other tour companies before and wanted to try Contiki as they had an emphasis that it was geared for younger people.
I travel very often, so I actually don't need a tour. But I just wanted a tour to take care of all of the planning for me as it was a vacation. My day job is all about planning, so I wanted a break.
I was very surprised that I was scrambling every day planning on what to do each day.

I researched online and saw very negative reviews on this tour (not on the Contiki forums mind you). Even as recent in 2010. However, I figured that those people are new to tours and travelling and that they were just complaining, as people tend to just complain (see Tripadvisor for instance).
I am writing this because I felt that there wasn't a detailed enough review of this tour. I would have written this review even if it was a positive experience. Unfortunately, it wasn't.

Price: On the Contiki website, this tour is listed as a Superior experience. However it was to everyone's surprise when the tour manager stated on the first day that this was a budget tour. Considering the price, this was not supposed to be a budget tour.
I visited each hotel's website and took their rates, and the difference of what you pay per day for the tour was ridiculous.

Tour Bus:
The bus was nice and comfortable. But why did we use public transportation so often when I paid for a tour to have a tour bus drive me around? The first day we arrived, we all were given bus tickets (valued at 1EURO each) to take a public bus to the center of Rome from the hotel. Because we did this, we had to do a lot of extra walking from the bus stop to the center of Rome, and had to rush to make the last bus. Because we had to make the last bus, we had very limited time to see attractions. We had a total of 3 minutes to see the Pantheon when we reached it.

In Venice, we took a train to the ferry. I saw many tour buses driving the same route as the train. Why did we have to squish into the tight deadlines of the public train? The ferry was private and only had our tour though.

During "free nights," we had to arrange to take public transportation/taxis to get back to the hotel. They should arrange a time and pick up point (and not too early, say 9PM) to pick up everyone so that they don't have to take public transport.

Optionals:
The Imperial tour was good. Although it was pricey, you could join a walking tour instead for cheaper (there are many that you can book online or at the location).
But WHY am I paying additional for a walking tour guide? This surprised me as my tour manager on other tour companies was my tour walking guide and I didn't have to pay extra for a walking tour. Or the price should be included in the tour

Everything else was a waste of money and time.
For the gondola ride: Do not pay for it. Each gondola boat can fit 6 people. It is cheaper to arrange for 6 people (the number of people doesn't increase the fee) on the tour to pitch in together to get a gondola. We noticed that we were on a subpar gondola company, and there were nicer ones as well, which were actually cheaper than what we paid for per person with Contiki. In addition, gondola rides are usually 80-100 euro for 40 minutes, altogether we paid 120 euro for 20 minutes.

The Tuscanny dinner was expensive (38 euro): and the food wasn't that great. I could have found something better and cheaper in florence. In addition, if you attend the Tuscanny dinner, you have to leave Florence early (at around 4pm) and your entire night is wasted in Florence. I would have rather wandered the streets and enjoyed my dinner at a local restaurant.

Optional dinners forced you to leave the city early (usually at 4PM), thus killing half of your day.

Food:
Breakfast is included only because the hotels you stay at include breakfast. Do not expect eggs, bacon or anything from your typical American breakfast. Which was fine by me (no complaints). You will have toast, cereal and croissants.
Included dinner meals were terrible. You could easily find some random restaurant with better food.
Optional dinners were also mediocre in quality and expensive. You can find better food elsewhere and cheaper.

Hotels:
All hotels are very far from the city centres. Ok and wow, the Rome hotel was terrible. And this cannot be justified as the other hotels were a bit better. I'm not picky with hotels at all. I have stayed in 2.5 hotels. But I have to say that for a "superior" tour, these hotels were probably 1 star, 2 stars at best. I didn't care too much, but if they are advertising a superior experience with nicer hotels (not expecting 4-5 star, but at least 3 star quality), then they should deliver.

Tour Wasted a lot of time
A LOT of time was wasted on silly things. For instance a leather demonstration to advertise a store's products where Contiki received commission from the purchases. Similar with the Lace and Glass blowing demonstration. Or spending half a day to drive far (about 2 hours drive one way) to spend a short amount of time to sip 3 wines (It was described as wine tasting, but should be called wine sipping). I am happy that I did not join the tour for the wine "tasting" and took a train to Cinque du Terre to view one of the most beautiful scenic views I've ever seen in my life (so far).

2nd day in Rome: Half day wasted if you attended the Pizza dinner. I strolled around Rome myself instead.


Recommendation: Go without a tour. You don't need to know the language, EVERYONE speaks English. Buy a good travel book and go! Book walking tours and your own hotels (get deals on priceline, hotwire!). Taking the train is very easy, fast, and cheap.
The only benefit of going with Contiki is that you'll make some friends. But that is a very high price to meet people.
I wouldn't mind the tour if: The price substantially drops, no dinners are included, walking tours are included, no demonstrations, pickups each evening back to the hotel at a reasonable time (not at 4PM in the afternoon).

Itinerary
(details they don't provide to you until you are actually on the tour, and by then it's too late to decide you don't like it).

Day 1: Meet with tour guide, get information and 'sign in.' Have a terrible dinner at the hotel. Public bus to centre of Rome. Evening walking tour -> Spanish steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Nova
Day 2: Walking tour of coliseum and the forums. Free time from around noon. Optional Pizza dinner with a pickup point at around 4pm. Otherwise, you have the entire night to yourself and must arrange a way back to the hotel.
Day 3: Vatican tour (included). Bus trip to Florence. Dinner in Florence (included) that wasn't great, and karaoke bar (waste of time. I would have rather been given a night walking tour instead of being forced to wait for the karaoke bar. About 1.5 hours there).
Day 4: Leather demonstration in Florence (waste of time). Free time until 4pm to be picked up by bus, which will bring you to a nice spot with a view of Florence. Group picture, then drive to Tuscanny Dinner (far out from city). Space electronic disco at night if you want to go (it was already around 10:45PM at this point) and bus will bring you there.
Day 5: Drive out to a village for wine "sipping." Spend most of day there, get dropped off at city at night so you can buy your own dinner. Arrange transport back home yourself.
Day 6: Bus to Leaning tower of Pisa. Spend an hour there (very rushed), drive to Venice. Have included plain dinner in venice (it was just like a few steps away from our hotel). We should have been given more time in Pisa since we didn't do anything in the evening.
Day 7: Take train and ferry to Venice. Walking tour of venice (you have to pay for it). 2 hours of free time, and then lace and glass blowing demonstration (which I skipped to have more free time). Then meet in the afternoon (around 4-6) for a gondola ride. Free time afterwards and then ferry pick up spot at 8 and then transfer to train.. I stayed longer and took public ferry and train back.
Day 8: Then you fly back home!

Tour Manager and people: The tour manager and the people were great. I think she knew that the tour sucked and she kept reminding us that it's a budget tour. But overall, she was a great for what she could do, and the people I met were nice.
I was happy that we didn't have any young teenagers (most were mid 20s to 30s) and were mature. Everyone I spoke to felt the exact same way as I did about the tour and would not do a Contiki tour.

Unless you don't mind paying a lot and receiving little, then sure this tour is good for you.

Mind you I still had fun as some tour mates and myself made the best as we could by skipping optionals and such to see museums, visit churches, etc. and really experience Italy. I did have a wonderful time, but it wasn't because of the tour. It was because I was in Italy.

Feel free to ask me any more questions that you have.
  • 16 Oct 2010 DigitalShaych said

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    quote:
    Lainey


    this was a great review Lainey. Just like you, Im doing contiki simply because they arrange everything for me, but I most likely won’t be doing many of the optionals. A lot of the dinners seemed overpriced to me, so its good to know that they actually are and can most likely get something the same if not better elsewhere. I’m doing the simply italy tour which is 2 weeks, and I can’t wait for it (but I expect to do alot on my own) sigh

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