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Italian Espresso Disaster

27 Sep 2008 Explorer1113558 said

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To Whom It May Concern

I am writing this email to provide feedback from the Contiki Tour we just finished, The Italian Espresso, Sept 16-24, 2008. My husband and I signed up for this tour over 9 months ago in January and pre-paid in full immediately. We had received a strong recommendation for your tour and were looking forward to having an organized tour through Italy. Unfortunately, our trip was a complete disappointment. Our dissatisfaction was with our Tour Manager, Cristian. Overall, his behavior on the trip was unacceptable and he lacked any knowledge of Italy's history. Additionally, his actions were inappropriate and he did nothing to remedy issues that arose during the tour. Below you will find a day-by-day recount to support these claims.

Day 1- Checked into Hotel Ciccerone, met the group and went to the first included dinner.
Everything seemed to be off to a great start. The group was nice but the dinner was a complete disappointment. The food was cold and cafeteria at best.

Day 2- We boarded the Tour bus for what Cristian advised was a 5 1/2 hour trip to Venice. He explained that we would need to have mandatory stops every 2 hours for people to use the facilities, but that we would arrive to Venice by 3 or 4pm, traffic permitting. We did not encounter any traffic, and stopped every 45mins-1hour at several Auto Grill (rest stop cafeterias). Each stop would be for 30mins to 1 hour, inevitably putting us into Venice at well past 6pm. The group was very disappointed in arriving so late. Cristian did not use the time on the bus to gather the necessary information (i.e. passport numbers, travel insurance, collection of money for optional activities). Instead, we had to waste another hour or more waiting in the lobby for the full group of 51 of us to give him this information one by one. Upon arriving to the Holiday Inn Express, we checked in and decided to shower before dinner. The water was cold, so we switched rooms. The next room still did not have hot water, it was tepid at best. Both nights, we did not have any heat either, which we complained about and Cristian did nothing and blamed Contiki for the hotel selection. The next morning, the shower situation was worse. Everyone in our group had cold water showers. When we addressed this issue with Cristian he said it wasn't his fault and made no attempt to rectify the problem. My husband and I then went to the front desk and voiced our complaint. Cristian did nothing to help accommodate our concerns.


The hotel in Venice was 30-40 mins outside of Venice by train ride. It was our impression based on the itinerary that we would be staying within the city limits of Venice, but clearly we were not. On our ride in, we were only presented with a map and some key sites to see, but no information as to why these sites were important and their historical significance. We also were told that if we wanted to head back to the hotel early, we could take the train back ourselves, which some of us elected to do. Cristian did not provide any train schedules, maps or written instruction as to how to work the train systems. We were left to fend for ourselves without knowing the area or the language fluently. The area was not very safe, and this was quite a risk. Several people on the tour got lost, past the stop and were scared.

On our way to Venice, Cristian also offered the paid optional activities and said we had to decide right then and there and pay up front. We were given 5 mins to make a decision on spending lots of money for activities we did not receive any clear explanation for. When we challenged the price of the Gondola ride, Cristian said that the $21 euro per person was a great deal. That if we were to ask any gondalier, we would see that the ride would cost $80 euro per person for a 30 min ride. When we arrived and had already paid for the Contiki gondala ride, we asked a gondalier and he quoted us $80 euro for all 6 of us and was willing to negotiate. Cristian blatantly lied to influence our decision to purchase the ride through him. On the Contiki gondala ride, everyone noticed that the gondaliers were rude and did not provide a historical tour of Venice during the ride, as was provided to one of the couples that decided to take another gondala ride on their own.

At the Holiday Inn Express, everyone on our tour was well aware of the fact that Cristian slept with one of the girls on the tour. They were speaking openly about it. I find this to be completely inappropriate and un-professional. The tour manager should be looking out for our best interest, not looking to hook up with anyone on our tour. This made many of us very uncomfortable and really made it awkward.

On Day 4, we left for Florence. Cristian said the trip would be 4 hours including the stop at the Auto Grills and a 40 min stop in Pisa. Again, we stopped at the Auto Grills every 45mins-1 hour, even with everyone asking if we could skip some of the stops. We then arrived to Florence at 6:45pm. The entire day was wasted on the bus, when we could have organized the trip to arrive with time to enjoy Florence. Again, we were not in Florence, but rather, the hotel was again 25 mins outside of Florence. Cristian told me the neighborhood was safe enough for me to run alone. But, upon arriving, we noticed bars on the windows and sex shops lining the street where our hotel was situated. Clearly, my husband and I did not feel we were safe. The hotel was a complete disaster. It was rated as a 4 star hotel, but the rooms were dirty, there was not hot water again, there was mold growing in the corners of the rooms and bathroom and there were bugs. Several people were bitten by spiders and had welts on their arms, face and legs.

We were so disgusted with the accommodations and Cristian's lack of making any concessions, that we went to the hotel next door, Hotel Cosmopolitan, and PAID to stay there the second night for $99 euros. Cristian should have voiced to Contiki and the hotel the unacceptable conditions, but rather he did nothing but place blame on Contiki's selection of hotels and said there was nothing he could do. When we moved hotels, 7 other people from our tour joined us, while the others wanted to come along, but did not feel financially that they could afford the additional cost.

It was after the first night in Florence that we were made aware that Cristian was not only doing drugs while on the tour, but also offered cocaine and heroin to people within our tour. This again, is COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE and made many of us very uncomfortable. This puts our safety at risk. The fact that Contiki would set us up with a tour manager that not only has no knowledge of Italy, but also behaves in this manner is beside me.

The next day, we were scheduled to leave Florence to head back to Rome. As we had been very disappointed in how long we were on the bus between cities, we asked Cristian at what time we would arrive to Rome. He said we would arrive between 12pm and 1pm for sure, and most likely earlier than that. My husband, and another couple and I
decided that we wanted to get to Rome early, as every other bus ride was significantly longer than Cristian quoted. We paid an additional $36 euro per person to take the Express EuroStar train from Florence to Venice in 1 1/2 hours. This got us to Rome at 9:30am with a full day to enjoy Rome. The tour bus arrived to the hotel at 4:15pm. The group wasted an entire day on the bus when the trip by bus should be no longer than 3 hours. This was poor management of time on Cristian's part. He wasted our money and valuable vacation time. We do not regret for one minute taking the train on our own, but feel it should not have been necessary. One other girl on our tour was debating taking the train and Cristian said the train would cost her $100 euro and would not get her in but 1 hour before the bus would arrive. This was another blatant lie.

As the bus arrived so late to Rome, our driving tour through the city was then given at 8pm in the pitch dark. You couldn't see any of the sites and Cristian gave NO INFORMATION about any of the site aside from their physical location and name. His English was very broken and it was difficult to even get simple instructions from him when needed. He never offered to provide information on where to find internet cafes or laundry mats, ATMS, etc. He did the bare minimum.

We did the walking tour through Rome, guided by Cristian. As he explained that he was not a licensed tour guide, he would pull us back into side alleys to give any explanation of the sites. Unfortunately his information was way off. He told us that the Pantheon's 9 meter hole miraculously did not allow rain to pass through. When I challenged that as defying gravity, he dismissed it and said he didn't know. Our claim was validated when it rained the next day and the Pantheon floor was wet and roped off. This is one example of the lack of knowledge he has. The included dinner that night was right next to the Colessium and was again a cafeteria style dinner with rude waiters. At the end of the meal, we found out that our driver had gone over his driving quota because the time was not managed correctly in the ride to Rome. Cristian took us back to the hotel by walking through dark alleys at 10pm. This was very risky, unsafe and unacceptable.

This summarizes our dissatisfaction with Cristian's performance and Contiki's Italian Espresso trip. We feel that we have been swindled out of $2600 dollars + the cost of our flights to get to Europe and our valuable vacation time. Additionally, we spent several hundred euros more to try to salvage our vacation. We only have 2 weeks per year in vacation, and we wasted it on this tour based on your website's description and previous travelers recommendations. We feel that should we have had a more qualified and professional tour manager, that the experience would have been vastly different.
  • 29 Sep 2008 Explorer1113703 said

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    wow!!

    I am so sorry for the terrible vacation!
    I am currently looking at a few of the Contiki trips. I am torn between the Trafalgar and the Contiki trips. As for Contiki I am looking at the Simply Italy tour.

    I am a little hesitant because my husband doesn’t want to be ‘stuck’ with younger rowdy people…nor people like what you mentioned. He rather spend a few extra hundred dollars to avoid things like this.

    What age group was your tour group?

    I am 28 and my husband is 34. We have busy jobs and only can manage to take 17 days off for our vacation as well…. and this 13 day tour is perfect..in addition to us staying a few extra days and doing things by ourselves.

    Were most of the hotels dismal? I really love to indulge in nice hotels with good linens… but from what I have heard from different reviews..the hotels were slightly dismal and farther from the sites than planned?

    Aside from your tour guide..how do you rate the rest of your experience?

    Was the bus ride a drag? Did they only stop at gas station type places then?

    That sounds very disappointing. And I really need to research my deicsion very carefully!

    Please email me at: eereyes1@hotmail.com if possible. I would like to know more.

  • 30 Sep 2008 K said

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    I was on this tour with this couple. My then boyfriend had booked the tour for us for him to be able to propose to me in Italy. EVERYTHING that the she mentions is true word for word and our stay was mostly HORRID. We will have to spend another $5k to go back to Italy one day and get a proper experience. On top of that we had a huge flying cockroach in our hotel room, we encountered prostitutes next to our Florence hotel, and didn’t get any hot water. I wish that my trip wasn’t wasted on coach rides when the train is so much faster and not as expensive as contiki makes it out to be. In a way I blame contiki for the problems we came across because it is their responsibility to make sure that we are well taken care of in a country we have no knowledge of. Besides the proposal the trip was a waste of our money and time and an utter disappointment. I am only glad of the friends that we made on the trip and will travel to Europe again but never with Contiki.

  • 6 Oct 2008 Kate at Contiki said

    Kate at Contiki

    Hi original poster,

    I’m Kate from the Contki web team.

    First off, I am so sorry to hear about your negative experience with Contiki and your unprofessional tour manager. The behaviors and situations you have described are unacceptable and completely uncharacteristic of what a Contiki tour and tour manager should be. I definitely understand your dissatisfaction, and I have forwarded this issue to our Europe Operations Manager to investigate on your behalf.

    Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention so that we can address these issues and ensure that Contiki only offers the best to our clients.

    -Kate

  • 6 Oct 2008 PinaI said

    PinaI

    Although I don’t work for Contiki, I’m really, really sorry to hear about your experience. That does sound horrendous but, fortunately, UNLIKE any tour I have done in the past.

    Unfortunately, your TM has clearly ruined what should have been a most amazing holiday for you and probably put you off Contiki for life.

    The things you state he was doing are definitely unacceptable and you have a right to be concerned and angry.

    I will forward this email to the couple of people I know who work for Contiki and hopefully it will make it to someone who can respond directly to you and investigate your claims further.

    Please rest assured though that I have never heard of another TM being so bad and disrespectful on a contiki tour and I hope you don’t hold your experience against all other TMs and tours.


    EDIT: Reposted after an accidental delete! LOL!

  • 18 Oct 2008 Caz said

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    Original Poster – You have my sincerest condolences — if that happens on my trip – on your behalf I will convince the bus to mutiny and demand a refund. Everything you have said is completely unacceptable to any professional person, and it really is the reason we take these trips, so we can be safe, informed and enjoy ourselves.

    I hope Contiki does the right thing by everyone on your tour. Keep us posted – I’d very much like to know what happens next.

  • 19 Oct 2008 Explorer1090458 said

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    Hey, I am sorry to hear your experience, but I hope people realize that that should not have happened. I did the Simply Italy tour in April and had an amazing time, our tour manager although not really social definatly knew her stuff, and we were never stuck on the bus that long. Our tour manager definatly got times right and her information. We really got a chance to see the sites and she recommended sites to us as well, stuff that are not the most popular sites but definantly worth it to see. Also whenever there was a problem on the trip she generally did a really good job to try to fix it as fast as she could.

    Another thing to realize is that because the tours are so much cheaper than others you do not stay in the center of the cities and that is clearly stated in a lot of the information that they give you especially these forums. Also there is a list on this website of the hotels that they use for each tour. And hotel standards are not the same as North America, however even saying that our hotels throughout the trip were really great and there were no complaints.

    Again I am sorry to hear of your horrible experience, but I do think that that is rare, I would definatly recommend the Simpy Italy tour to anyone as you are spending more days and you stay longer in places and get to see more which maybe makes all the difference when comparing these two trips.

  • 27 Nov 2008 Canadian_adventurer said

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    Wow, that is terrible. It’s unfortunate because the Italian Espresso tour is one of the most popular so it shocks me (as well as all other contikiers!) to hear about your experience.

  • 27 Jan 2009 Camille said

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    OMG…this trip sounded awful! I am doing the Italian Espresso in June. It will be my second tour with Contiki. Back in October, I went on the Berlin, Prague, & Vienna tour. I had an amazing tour. I definitely think your tour manager ruined it for you…Cam was my tour manager and he was awesome…knew his history. We had to make the mandatory stops on the road, but we got 10 – 15 min max! As far as the hotels are concerned, they weren’t what I was used to, but they weren’t that bad either.

  • 16 Mar 2009 vicstar said

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    I really feel I have to stick up for Cristian here.
    I was on the Italian Espresso over New Year just gone, with Cristian as our tour manager and cannot praise him enough. He made the tour even better than it already was and was a fantastic tour manager. His knowledge was fantastic, he was a real laugh, someone you could talk to and couldn’t do enough for you to make the holiday as great as it could be. All of us on the tour had exactly the same opinion as well.
    Yeah the bus journeys to Venice and Florence were long and the hotels left a lot to be desired (Holiday Inn Express in Venice was as good as it got!), but in my opinion you get out of it what you put into it. I had an amazing time despite the rotten hotels and bus journeys, but the journey times were communicated to us the day before, so we were prepared what to expect, and you do see some absolutely amazing scenerey along the way too and can sleep, so it’s not all that bad!
    I found Cristian’s knowledge second to none, he made time for every single person on the tour, always answered any questions we had about where we were visiting, historical sites, where to eat, etc and as for the point of him speaking broken English, he speaks better English than me and I AM English!
    I was absolutely shocked to read this about Cristian as nothing written here, I feel, is a true reflection of how he was on our tour. I’d love to have him as TM on any other tour that I do!

  • 17 Mar 2009 daisymay said

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    wow,

    your holiday really sucked and i’m so sorry to hear that. i was looking up some contiki trips and this very trip was one i was considering but in winter as it’s a bit cheaper. i hope that you get a satisfacory response from contiki and would be interested in any updates.

  • 6 May 2009 Explorer1125633 said

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    Hi,

    I am sorry to hear your experience. I just took this tour in April. Our Tour Manager was Emma. She was an absolute darling. She was so interetsed in what she was doing and was so forth comiong with information. We all absolutely loved her. She was the only reason I liked this trip. Apart from that the included meals were terrible and any optionals were also pathetic. Thank God, i had taken another Contiki before this one. So i knew taht COntiki optionals suck. And I opted out of most of it. I just took 2 optionals.

    1) THe Roman Forum guided tour- This was extremely pathetic. The Forum in Rome takes about 2-3 hours each to cover and has so many temples and stutures in there. But our tour guide was really old and lazy. I wish Emma would have done this tour for us instead of paying this old Italian lady who could harldy walk. She did the forum, colloseum everything in almost 2 hour time. It was a disaster. I would have prefered taking my own audio tour. I would have got more information and would have njoyed it.

    2) The Tuscan dinner wasnt worth the price at all. It was regular Italian meal Not worth 38EU. Ofcourse the ride to the restaurant was nice and pretty. BUt I dont think its worth the price Contiki charged.

    3) Gondola ride in Venice is a must must NO to anyone who wasnt to do Gondola ride in VEnice. Please do not take the one the COntiki offers. you can bargain and get better deals by yourself. 21EU is absolutely worthless. The driver doesnt speak English, he doesnt sign or anything. He is indiffernt to you. We took another Gondola ride by ourselves and we paid like 10EU and the driver was so sweet. He sang for us. Showed us differnt historical stites and was nice.

    4) THe Venice Cruise dinner I heard from people was terrible. I am glad I did not do this. It was said that the view was ok. But for the view you can take any cruise on your own for like 20EU and you dont need to pay 48EU and go for a dinner cruise where the food is crap and terrible.

    We arrived in Florence around 4:30pm. We should have gotten a walking tour then since we dont have a lot of time in Florence city adn there is a lot to see. THere are 3 wonderful museums, Palace PItti and Doumo and lots of shopping oppurtunity. Instead the walking tour was organized right in the middle of the day at 11am. This was absolute diaster as we could not see the important stuff in Florence. If we had gotten teh walking tour the night we arrived, we would know where we need to go the next day and target to see maximum.

    Emma was very nice in arranging the tickets for the museums. Since it was cultural week in Italy, everything was free but the line was terrible. Emma got us line-skipping tickets for the face value of 4EU. This helped most of us to atleast do the museums.

    Contiki tour should be more into including several sites and doing more walking tours with more information for the price paid. For what we paid, its way too much. The hotels were not very great and the included breakfasts were terrible. Dinners were terrible. Transportation was ok.

    You will have to extensively research about the places you are visiting before you go on contiki since you have to be prepared to explore on your own.

    Again the only advantage is making friends. Else I dont think I would recommen contiki to anyone.

  • 7 May 2009 SweetCityWoman said

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    I was in the same tour as the woman above.

    I agree, the optionals are a total waste of money. Although, the Tuscan dinner was a lot of fun due to the company. But – you can take off for some GOOD dinner and have fun on your own with the friends you’ve made on the tour.

    DO NOT go on the Lagoon Dinner in Venice. One of the courses is boiled chicken breast in salted water. Every course was barely edible, and we were all hungry afterward.

    DO NOT go through Contiki for the gondola ride. They totally rip you off.

    DO NOT go on the optional Forum/ Colleseum guided tour. You can rent some headsets and get a more informative experience.

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