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Italian Espresso review

7 Oct 2010 Lainey said

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reposted as a mod deleted it.

Contiki Italian Espresso Sep 17-Sep 25 2010 Review
Overall = 2/5 stars

I posted this on the official Contiki forums, and it was promptly deleted by the moderators the next day. This is why you never see negative reviews on the official forums.
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.
  • 10 Nov 2010 Lainey said

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    1. All our hotels were really far, they were at least a 30 minute ride and usually a 1 hour bus ride. You’re lucky that your hotels were close!

    2. Hotel quality was not good..I’m not picky! When I checked in on the first day, the bed had broken glass all over it. Another hotel, one of the shower walls were missing. I did a lot of research on the hotels before I went on the tour so I was expecting terrible, but not broken glass and missing shower walls =(

  • 22 Feb 2011 BeFree said

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    I booked this trip for my daughter two hours ago for her 21st birthday present and have only just read this review.
    I am so worried it is going to be awful – this will be her first solo trip to Europe. Now I am seriously reconsidering!

  • 22 Feb 2011 Kelsey said

    Kelsey

    @Befree I have done a European Contiki and have now booked an Australian one because I enjoyed my first one so much.
    I haven’t done the Italian Expresso (mine went to italy) but have talked to people that really enjoyed it. I would say that a lot of peoples complaints (not all) are because people have not done there research so they don’t know what to expect. There are some that do have bad experiences but I do not think that is usually the case.
    On my tour the hotels were basic but clean, the included meals were also pretty basic but not bad and not all hotels were in the city center but they were close to the metro etc. I had a great experience and it was my first time over seas.

  • 22 Feb 2011 BeFree said

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    @kelsey and shannon – Thanks for the feedback – good to hear and yes, i would like to be in contact with some specifics.

  • 25 Feb 2011 natii612 said

    natii612

    Well I must say, having the itinerary is definitely helpful! I’ve booked this tour and we leave in a week. I am very excited. I studied Italian in college, and I’ve done plenty of research, so I’d say I am well prepared. It’s helpful knowing what to skip, as I was on the fence about a few of those demos, etc. I’d much rather experience the ‘real’ Italy as much as I can, however going through Contiki and having it semi-structured is definitely helpful especially with this being my first time to Europe! I am looking forward to it and will try to post my thoughts as soon as I get back so that you can all have the most up to date perspective on this tour! Ciao!

  • 27 Feb 2011 Explorer1231339 said

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    Hi Lainey, I am so glad people like you take the time to write reviews. Couple of questions for you. Below I made a list of things that you have recommended to skip
    Skip dinner and karaoke bar in Florence (what do you recommend instead)
    Skip leather making demonstration Florence (what do you recommend instead)
    Skip Tuscan feast Florence (what do you recommend instead)
    Skip wine tasting Florence (you recommended Cinque du Terre)
    Skip glass demonstration Venice (what do you recommend instead)
    Can you please highlight some of the things that were good, for example I am really interested in visiting the Vatican and Collosseum; were those two guided tours any good? Also do you have any of the hotel names and restaurant names (this way I can skip those dinners) because I am going in May and they have yet to release any of the hotel names, if I know the hotel names it will be easier for me to plan my nights etc.

  • 18 Apr 2011 Explorer1245672 said

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    Hi Lainey,
    I’m dying to take a vacation to either Italy or France, but I’m worried about “safety”, security issues. I saw you wrote that in Italy everyone speaks English…how did you manage to make sure you didn’t end up in the “wrong place at the wrong time”. I’m a girl who will be traveling on her own and have never been outside of the states. Any comments, help would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks a bunch! :)

  • 19 Apr 2011 Lainey said

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    Shannon: I suggest that you don’t go on a tour, and book walking tours instead.
    NOTE: I still had an AMAZING time because it is Italy. Do not get me wrong, I had such a WONDERFUL time, but it’s not because of the tour, but because I was in Italy!!!

    Kelsey: I did my research and tried to ignore the complaints about the hotels since most people are very picky. I am NOT a picky person. As long as it SEEMS relatively clean, a bed (even if it was as hard as rock I wouldn’t care, which it was close to XD), I don’t care. But broken glass, missing shower walls (so the water from the shower head spew out onto the washroom floor, which btw had no drain. Had to dry everything up with towels) is completely unacceptable =(

    Natii612: Definitely skip some things and walk around yourself!

    Explorer1231339:
    Skipping dinner and karaoke bar in Florence: Go find a nice place for dinner instead and walk around yourself! The night is BUZZING in Florence! You will have to find a way to back to the hotel though.

    Skip leather making demonstration: Walk around Florence yourself, or visit the museums! Go see the David in person, the Pitti palace, go inside the Duomo cathedral, walk up the tower, eat at the amazing cafes or restaurants on the street…these are NOT included in the tour!

    Skip Tuscanny dinner in Florence: Like the above, do the things in Florence that you wouldn’t have time to do if you followed the tour around all day.

    Skip Glass demo in Venice: Walk around yourself! There is a GORGEOUS Doge palace that you have to pay to get inside (not included in tour either), and just wander around and get LOST in Venice, it’s part of the experience (and you will get lost, trust me LOL).

    The guided tours for Vatican and Collosseum: Recommended, go to booth.

    For the hotels, you have to stay in the same hotel. Even if it is crappy, that is what I suggest because the bus will pick you up there, or you take the bus/subway/train together from there.

    Explorer1233008: That is EXACTLY what contiki is. LIMITED things are planned through contiki and you don’t go along, but with people. But this is not ENTIRELY true. A LOT of the tour people wandered a lot on their OWN and ditched the tour for the reasons I explained above. You can find other people to chill with, but they may want to do different things from you. Good idea for opera in Venice, I wish I could have done that!

    Explorer1245672: I suggest to wear one of those money belts underneathe your shirt. I put my passport and most of my money in there. And I carried 100 euros in my purse. So if someone stole it from me, it was only 100 euros, toilet paper, and snacks. Whenever I went to the washroom I would refill my purse if needed =D But generally, I felt VERY safe. You will be in touristy areas, it is so busy, so the worst thing that could happen is someone steal from your pockets or steal your purse. I saw the police everywhere watching the crowds so it generally felt very safe.

  • 19 Apr 2011 Kelsey said

    Kelsey

    @Lainey….No where did I say that you had not done your research or that you were a picky person so I don’t know where you got that from. I was responding to a question from BeFree which is why I started my post with @BeFree.

    What I had said in my original post was that a lot of peoples complaints (NOT ALL) are because they haven’t done there research. I also acknowledged that while I had a great time on mine there are people that do have bad experiences. (For example some of your experiences).

  • 19 Apr 2011 RCG said

    RCG

    I wish I saw this before. I already had a feeling the tour would be sort of rushed and that excursions like the leathermaking and glass blowing stuff was very contrived and just to promote buying souvenirs— I am also planning to stay a few extra days in the country after the tour is over to spend a day or 2 in Cinque Terre—- how did you get there? Did you book any train tickets or hostels/hotels ahead of time? I was planning on just playing it by ear and taking a train from Venice to La Spezia. If you have any suggestions on the best way to get to Cinque terra from Venice, I’d appreciate since I don’t want to leave Italy without going there!
    Also, I am dying to see the Uffizi Gallery—- is that an optional tour or separate? Its been a life long dream of mine to see the uffizi as well.
    I also look forward to exploring on my own and finding local bars/restaurants to hang out in. I know this tour won’t accomodate that, but at least most of the transportation and tourist attraction-planning os taken care of for you. Most of all, my roommate and I are interested in meeting new people to enjoy the tour with so reach out if anyone’ll be on the tour from May 20-28!

  • 19 Apr 2011 Lainey said

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    RGG: Cinque Terre is GORGEOUS! I purchased the tickets at the station….recommend you look up the train times first, we just had to wait an hour before hopping on! Customer service helped us explain the route to us since there were transfers and times that certain trains stopped running. And they spoke English..otherwise it’s confusing.
    Cinque Terre is GORGEOUS. YOU WILL NOT REGRET THIS. This was one of my FAVOURITE places to go to! Go to all of the villages in Cinque Terre, hike and check it out!

    I never got a chance to go to Uffizi Gallery and regret it since I went to the stupid Tuscanny dinner that took up half of the day.

  • 19 Apr 2011 Lainey said

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    A note to others: Cinque Terre is NOT a part of the tour unfortunately. I skipped the wine tasting tour (which was apparently terrible, I never went), took the train and went to Cinque Terre instead. Best decision, ever.

  • 8 May 2011 Alexander said

    Alexander

    Hi Lainey, Thanks so much for your review, knowing on what to be prepared for when i go and what to skip to make the trip much better is very helpful. Just a few questions.

    Day 1: the only thing bad you sad was the dinner, How was the walking tour? From the locations you have said they go to it would sound like it would be amazing.

    Day 2: The walking tour of the Coliseum and the forums, after that there is some free time, if we skip the pizza dinner, From noon to whatever time would be free?

    Day 3: The Vatican Tour, you said this was something that is recommended, which is good to hear. After this tour of the Vatican, if we choose to skip the dinner and karaoke bar, would be free time to do walking tours? (as you suggested as something you would have done)

    Day 4: Leather demo, you suggest skipping, this would give us free time from morning to 4pm to do as wish? Do you recommend the Tuscany Dinner? Or do optional things in Florence?

    Day 5: You say we should skip the wine tasting, best to explore Florence on our own instead?

    Day 6: After the our of the Tower of Pisa, and the drive to Venice, Did you do anything in the afternoon as you said you didn’t have anything planned? Anything recommended?

    Day 7: Walking Tour of Venice, was this good? or something we should just skip, with the glass blowing demo and wonder around our selves for more free time? Do you recommend skipping the 8pm departure and staying later?

    Thanks for your help, i am really excited to go and want to plan this to make it the best i can.

  • 31 May 2011 Explorer1232720 said

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    I have been reading so many mad reviews lately that its got me really nervous for my trip in July…
    I’m so relieved for the advice because I was going to do all the optionals but now I know better.
    I’m even more relieved that they didn’t delete this post (or at least reposted it haha)…I will defitinitely take your advice Lainey and thanks again for your review…

  • 14 Jun 2011 AlexaD said

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    @Explorer1232720.. what dates in July are you going on your trip? I am also doing the Italian Espresso July 15th and was trying to find others who are going to be on my tour!

  • 15 Jun 2011 BeFree said

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    This discussion has been so useful. Thank-you for all the input. My daughter heads off on her Italian Espresso tour soon well armed with fantastic advice re what to avoid and how best to make the most of her time in that beautiful country. Ciao!

  • 15 Jun 2011 Elena said

    Elena

    @BeFree: Oh cool! :) I’m going on the June 25th-July 2nd one.

  • 5 Dec 2011 Explorer1329361 said

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    I found this blog that reviewed Contiki Europe tour – but just the food/restaurants …some good advice !

    http://eatfamilylove.com/index.php/middle-childs-culinary-compass/

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