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London & Paris plus Rome Review and Advice

5 Jun 2013 Pam asked

Pam

Hey guys. I wanted to create a review here for the tour in case you guys have some questions you're not sure about. The itineraries are a little vague and my group all seemed to share the same questions so please ask me anything.

May 24th - Flight to London
Sleep on the plane. The window seats are nice because you have something to lean on and you dont need to get up a thousand times to let someone out. There's free movies (some that arent even out yet) and free booze. Try to get a direct flight because if you miss a connection and get delayed, you're screwed out of a day.
May 25th - Arrive in London
I chose to do a shared transfer from the airport to the hotel. I was pleased. I didnt want to mess with the tube and stand in there for 45 minutes with your luggage. It's about 30 dollars and you split with 4 other people. Gets you right to the hotel. You can't check into your hotel until 2 but London has a Contiki Basement you can chill out in for awhile. Wi Fi hunting becomes a sport in Europe. You have to purchase something from a place if you want a password, otherwise everyone chills out in the lobby Facebooking because there's no Wi Fi in the rooms. I ended up walking around Russel Square for awhile and grabbing a drink at the pub. We met for dinner in one of the hotels and got our actual itinerary for the next few days with times etc. Afterwards we did the walk around Covent Garden and then a couple of us stayed out to drink at the pub. Contiki isn't necessarily all about drinking. Some people split up and some people drink a few nights. Just introduce yourself to everyone and find out which group of people you connect with most because like it or not, the group of 51 sort of formed its own cliques. London is a GREAT place to get drunk. Specially because there's a bar in the courtyard of the hotel and you can crawl up to your room afterwards which I did on a few occasions. It also feels safer than the other cities you'll soon visit.
May 26th - 1st Full Day in London
I opted out of the Stonehenge and Bath tour because I knew it would take most of the day up and I had plans to see stuff. Before the trip I had bought the Original Hop On Hop Off Tour and the London Pass through Viator. Love Viator. If you just need inspiration on what you want to see, check out what they have. Do not expect to sleep in on any day of this trip until Rome. You have to meet the bus around 7 something to get where the tour is going almost every morning. Also, the food in London blows. The English breakfast is different. Everything is just different. I found myself feeling starved most of the time I was there because I just didnt eat enough. There is a McDonalds off the Kings Cross station. Remember that, and thank me later. The Hop on Hop off allowed me to upgrade for another day for just 7 pounds so I decided to do that and was glad I did. The blue line picks you up right outside the hotel and I got an entire view of the city within just a few hours. I also purchased a play at the Globe beforehand (5 pounds) because Im a big Shakespeare buff and used my London Pass for the exhibition tour. NOTE: The London Pass sucks. It is not 24 hours, it ends when everything closes on the day you use it. After the play I saw Buckingham Palace. Some days they do not do the Changing of the Guard ceremony so ask around and see when you want to do that. When I got back I ended up running into some tourmates and going out for dinner which started the beginning of the best friendships I will ever have. London plays the BEST music for clubbing, just so you know. Share a cab on the way back. It's about 6 pounds and if you go with 5 people, that makes 1 pound each. Cabs in London are luxurious. Also, the drunker you get, the easier it is to sleep on the Flintstone beds back at the hotel.
May 27th - 2nd Full Day in London
This is a free day to yourself with the exception of the performance at night. You do not get to pick which West End performance you get to see. I skipped it and bought my own ticket to Phantom at a tourism office. My new friends and I had to split up during the day because they needed to see different things than I did. So I went to St Pauls Cathedral (cant take pictures inside) and Tower of London (cant take pictures inside Crown Jewels) using my hop on hop off tour to get me everywhere. Buy the Tower of London tickets in the Contiki basement beforehand so you dont have to wait in line. You still have to wait for security but that's one less line. Go to the Tower in the morning because there will be a longer line in the afternoon. You also get the Underground pass when you do dinner the first night. Save it for this day. The Underground is so easy and there's a station a block away from the hotel. So I rode the hop on hop off for awhile and took pictures of everything. I even made it to Westfield shopping which is way the hell out of the way but it's got every store you can think of and the tube takes you right back. Made it back in time for Phantom while everyone went to see Mamma Mia. Came back to the hotel and drank at the patio. You dont want to be hungover for the travel days btw.
May 28th - Travel to Paris
This is the part where I get back into the tour activities and start hanging out with the group. You leave at 8am drive on the couch 2 hours to Dover. The coach is actually wonderful. The seats recline, you can charge your stuff. I normally get motion sickness but I didnt on the couch even when I was hungover. You get on the ferry which is sweet. It's got a duty free, an itty bitty casino, a bar and a cafeteria. Make sure you get pictures of the White Cliffs before you leave because once the ferry takes off you are hauling ass across the English Channel, only takes an hour and a half to get to Caleigh. Then it's another 4 hours to Paris. You stop and take a break halfway. Once you get to Paris you're still on the move. You have dinner which is amazing. The hotel you stay at (Ibis Porte de Clichy) is awesome and has wi fi throughout but the location is a little far off from stuff and the metro in Paris is a freaking nightmare. The trains split off, you have to make sure you catch the right one. I recommend staying with the tour manager. Right after dinner you're on the couch to the City of Lights tour which basically means you see the main stuff when the sun is setting. You get dropped off at the Eiffel Tower, tour manager gives you tickets to the summit. It's gorgeous up there. When you come back down meet the tour manager to take you back to the hotel. Enjoy the comfiest nights sleep you feel like you'll ever have.
May 29th - 1st Full Day of Paris
Breakfast is delicious. Meet at the coach and the driver drops you off right in the middle of the city. If you go to the Louvre which I did, take the entrance next to the arch. Have someone buy the tickets while you stand in line. It moves fast. Pick the pieces you want to see in the Louvre and then get out of there. There is too much to see for it to take up your whole day. I purchased the Hop On Hop Off tour for Paris but didnt end up using it. We kept meeting the coach in the middle and letting it take us wherever. Do not tip in Paris. It's included. Back at the hotel everyone decided to get dressed up for the Moulin Rouge. Regardless of the dress code, everyone wants to dress up and most of the group wanted to do this. You dont want to look silly in jeans if everyone is in a dress and a suit. The food again is amazing. The normal price for what you pay at the Moulin Rouge would be 210 euro but Contiki offers it for 144. It's worth it.
May 30th - 2nd Full Day in Paris
Meet at the coach for the trip to the perfumery. I skipped this. It seemed like a tourist trap and just walking by the place gives you a headache. The wholesale perfumes are not that much cheaper. However, I almost wish I did go because instead I had my phone stolen in the middle of the day in front of the Opera House. They do not exaggerate about gypsies in Paris. And by gypsies I do not mean Esmerelda in Hunchback of Notre Dame. They dress just like everyone else. They travel in small groups and will come up with devious plans to distract you long enough to take your shit. Sure enough, I had my phone in my hoodie pocket and made it super easy for them to grab. So keep everything zipped up and attached to your body. You will say "no" more than you ever thought possible because everyone will be trying to get you to buy or sign something. Just stay away from them. People in Paris are rude. They do not say excuse me or Im sorry if they bump into you. In fact you get the general idea that they dont care about your existence at all. Just be aware of your surroundings and what you have on you at all times. Luckily my tour manager got me to an internet cafe where I reported the phone stolen and had it wiped within minutes. We had the rest of the day to shop around Paris until the trip to Versailles. You only get a tour of the inside of the palace. King and Queens Chambers and the Hall of Mirrors. You do not get to see the gardens. Again, Parisians are assholes. Watch your toes when they shove past you. Back on the coach our tour manager organized a wonderful dinner for all of us to go to and took us out for the night. I was really thankful for that because otherwise Paris would have almost entirely lost its charm.
May 31st - Travel to Rome
Say goodbye to a couple of your friends because the London and Paris group ends here and everyone goes on their extensions. For the Rome extension, the coach takes you to the airport and you are now without a tour manager. So hopefully you made some good friends that will watch your stuff for you while you get some food or have a smoke. The flight is a nice two hours. The weight restriction is as strict as they say it is so make sure you dump a few heavy things in your carry on. The shuttle picks you up at the airport and takes you to the hotel which for us was the Hotel Champagne Palace (wi fi downstairs). Couldnt really ask for a better place. The location is literally 30 steps from the Termini metro station and the metro in Rome is the best thing ever. There's two lines intersecting at the Termini station and each stop takes you directly to a monument (Colosseum, Spanish Steps, Vatican City). You barely walk at all in Rome. And when you get the map, keep in mind that it is probably zoomed in 4 times more than the other maps you see. Everything is in walking distance. I did not use the Hop On Hop Off at ALL in Rome. Keep in mind that you'll probably want to hang out with your friends now instead of doing all the stuff you buy in advance. My group went and ate at the Trevi Fountain at a place called al Picchio and we had the best Italian food in Italy. Absolutely amazing. And just because you're having Italian food in Italy, doesnt mean it's going to be as good as you think it is. You still have to try a few places to get it right. The redder the tomatos, the better. And Rome is very romantic. There actually is an accordion playing outside your window most of the time. Eating in the street is fun too.
June 1st - 1st Full Day in Rome
It rained. Everyone will try and sell you an umbrella. Vatican City in the morning was crazy busy. The line wrapped all the way around the colonnades even in the pouring rain. A poncho did not cut it, I was soaked. So we said screw that, went and visited a few churches and then came back to pick our friend up around 3. And suddenly the line was gone so we walked right in to St Peters which is free and awesome. The Vatican City museums are entered through a different location, buy it before if you want to get in under an hour. Keep in mind they are closed on Sunday. The sun came out and we dried up pretty fast enough to eat on the street again. Came back to the hotel and went out to the Colosseum at night. Had dinner. Our bill for the 5 of us was 184 euro. So try really really hard to find the 3 course specials they have going on. Like bruschetta, pizza and dessert for 16 euro. Thats a good deal. Coke there is 8 euro. You have to pay for water. I brought 100 pounds with me and 200 euro. The 100 pounds covered London but I needed to get at least 100 more euro out for Paris and Rome. Use your card when you can. We had a great nights sleep and even slept in because there was no rushing to the bus in the morning.
June 2nd - 2nd Full Day in Rome
A couple of us went off to the Villa Borghese Park which is absolutely beautiful. I highly recommend it on a nice day. I also prepaid for my tickets to Galleria Borghese which was a good idea because this place sells out of tickets a week ahead. Buy these tickets before you go. We also went shopping near the Spanish steps where the fancy stuff is. I liked shopping near the Vatican City metro stop though. Everything was still really nice and cheaper. We went out for dinner together for our last night, found a place for dessert afterwards and had our goodbyes in the morning. Oh and buy the shuttle pass from Contiki for the transfer to the airport. Makes it 10 times easier.

I hope this helps make your experience more enjoyable! Contiki is worth it because of the people you meet in your tour. The memories and friendships you make will last a lifetime. The safety of traveling in a group makes you so happy you booked it. Be the loudest table in the restaurant. Thank god for happy accidents. Care for each other like a wolf pack and you will have the time of your life. ;)

  • 8 Jun 2013 Jenny said

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    Hi Pam,
    Thank you for the helpful review!!! I am going on the London/Paris extension tour next month and I still have some questions, haha. I’m arriving earlier in London and staying longer in Paris, so hoping to see more.
    I would really appreciate it if you can provide any input on the following questions:

    1. Are there any places in London and Paris you recommend that I will not see with the tour, maybe I can go on my own?
    2. I’ve heard mixed reviews about hotel accomendations in London, I’m staying at the Imperial. How is it there, do you know?

    3. Any thing I should definitely bring with me, so I don’t go crazy and to make my life easier? lol
    4. Should I get phone data service through my provider or is WiFi good enough?

    5. Did you leave your passport/ID at the hotel or have it with you where ever you went???
    6. Umm…I think thats it, hahah. Can’t think of anything right now.

    Thanks soo soo much :)

  • 10 Jun 2013 Pam said

    Pam

    1. The tour covers the basics of each city but they mainly focus on you being able to see what you want to see. Buy some travel guides and read up on them before you go. I had a list of the top things I wanted to see and added some to it just by finding out from travel guides. In Paris, I highly recommend finding a street artist that sells their art. It’s a wonderful souvenir to bring home and we each got one for about 20 euro.
    2. Our tour originally had us booked at the Imperial but for some reason that is yet to be known, they moved us to the Royal National down the street. The Imperial is 3 stars, the Royal National is 2 stars. So I cant tell you about the Imperial but the Royal National has some hard ass beds. Ive read in a few reviews theyve done that a few times so be prepared. I liked the Royal National simply because there’s a pub and cafe right in the courtyard whereas the Imperial is a little further down the road. All the hotels are good. The location is safe and convenient. The beds just sucked.
    3. I was thrilled that I brought some moleskine pads for my shoes. I didnt get ANY blisters. Bring an emergency charger because your phone WILL die. Lots of us brought a journal with us to write down what we did. Which is good because honestly, there’s so much going on you’re likely to forget something small. Neosporin was good to have. Those little face wash pads are good. I didnt bring an umbrella which sucked for me. You can buy one there for really cheap though. I planned out my outfits for the 11 days and didnt pack enough clothes. So maybe bring a little detergent with you and you can wash something in the bathtub.
    4. I got about 120 mg of data internationally because I wanted to have a map on me at all times and I dont regret it. Before it got stolen I didnt go over or anything. You should be fine as long as you wait to post shit to facebook when you get to wi fi. I was really happy I had the 120mg on me though.
    5. I took my passport and ID everywhere with me. My money and my credit cards. I did leave one credit card in my suitcase though in case anything were to happen. I felt better about always having it with me. ZIPPED UP! On certain nights where I only wanted to spend a little bit and was wearing something without pockets, I took my id and some cash and left my passport in my suitcase.

    Thanks for reading! These are great questions. Have a wonderful time. =)

  • 21 Jun 2013 Kaitlin said

    Kaitlin

    This was an amazing post and actually answered some of the questions I had.
    1. What is this Contiki basement in London? We arrive at 8 AM in London (!!) and I was wondering what we would do until check in/meet up.
    2. For clubbing in London, how much would you say it was to go out for the night? Were there cover charges?
    3. When you say to stay with the tour manager in France, did you travel with the entire tour group? Paris is probably the one place I’m most nervous about on this trip, so I want to make sure that we have an amazing time there.
    4. We’ve already got tickets to see the Excavations below St. Peter’s Basilica, but I don’t believe that will get us into the Vatican afterwards. Was it that much easier to get into the Vatican later in the day?

    Thanks for the awesome post! I know these aren’t all of my questions, but it should help. I am def going to look into getting the hop on/hop off in London!

  • 21 Jun 2013 Pam said

    Pam

    1. The Contiki basement is only in London because it is such a common start up point for the tours. It is located right near all the hotels used by Contiki. I learned about it by reading that guide Contiki mails out to you with your docs. They can hold your luggage for you. They have Wi Fi there, and some computers and generally just a place to sit down. Not something you want to do for 6 hours though, hah. Have them hang on to your luggage while you go roam around and grab a few drinks and a bite to eat.
    2. This is a very good question. Clubs in London will charge you cover. At Apt 58 the normal cover was 20 pounds each but since we went with a group and were like HOLY CRAP they said they would knock it down to 10 pounds. Had a few shots about 4 pounds each. The little bicycle taxi was like 16 freaking pounds for 3 of us. Dont take those. Bars and pubs however, do not charge you cover. Some of them have live music and stuff but not dancing like clubs. Still a lot of fun and drinks are generally under 5 pounds.
    3. Our tour manager (Kristin) was very accommodating. Sometimes she went into places with us, other times she waited outside for all of us to finish up. She cant play mother hen for the entire group of 50 though so there were times people had to find their own methods back if they took too long. So either on the bus (because that’s where the whole group is most of the time) or at dinner, she will give us a play by play on what times to meet and where. I.E. “When you’re done with the Eiffel Tower meet at the north pillar at 11and I will walk you to the metro station.” So don’t worry about it too much. If you have other things you need to see in Paris, go ahead and make the best of your time. My friend and I had to take a cab back to the hotel one day. No big deal. Just remember to tell them you’re staying at the Ibis Porte de Clichy because there are a hundred Ibis hotels in Paris.
    4. Well when I say I got into the Vatican I mean the Vatican city, not the museum. St Peter’s Basilica (inside Vatican City) was easier to get into later in the day but I did not even try the museum because the line was still long and they close at 4pm. I know the Vatican museum dumps you into St Peter’s Basilica but the general idea was that tours started at the Vatican museum but do not end there. Also, the line for the Vatican museum is outside of St Pietro’s Piazza up along the right side of the wall. Not to be confused with the line wrapped around the colonnades for the Basilica.

    Thank you for reading and have fun over there! P.S. Your viking hat is bitchin! =P

  • 21 Jun 2013 merdeka04 said

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    Good piece of information, i will look forward to your other posts in the future. – Wesley Upchurch

  • 29 Jun 2013 Jess said

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    Hi Pam! I’m taking the London/Paris tour in December and I was just wondering, do you think it’s better to stick with the group or to go off and do your own things? How did people usually spend their free time?
    Thanks for the awesome post :)

  • 1 Jul 2013 Pam said

    Pam

    Wow December should be beautiful in both cities! The nice thing about the tour is that you have the option to do both. One day you can follow the group with whatever they’re doing and another day you can go explore on your own. The group is not necessarily doing something at all hours of the day by the way. There are only scheduled times where the bus takes you some place. My recommendation is that you make some friends the first day around dinner time so that you can get a feel on who is there for the same reasons you are. Also, your Contiki meetup forum will give you a chance to recognize some faces if you spark up conversations beforehand. REMEMBER: The friends that you meet will probably not be using their phones to text or call so you will have to find a different means of communication. Viber was commonly used in my group.
    I honestly thought I was going to spend a lot of my tour on my own, but near the end after I made my friends, I barely used the smaller tours I bought before the trip. And we were all very conscious of what we most wanted to see and even tagged along with each other to discover other things. If you know in your heart you don’t want to see a couple of rocks in a circle, absolutely venture off on your own. This is YOUR trip, and it’s up to YOU to make the best of it.
    As for free time.. (the most common question from your other tourmates is going to be, what did you get done today?) in London a couple people took a stroll through Hyde Park, my friends went off to see Madame Tussaud’s, if you’re the kind of girl that shops then there’s ALWAYS time for shopping. Some people stick to the really touristy things like London Eye and Big Ben, a few of the girls darted off towards the Harry Potter 9 3/4 platform, or if you’re a Beatles fan you can find your way over to Abbey Road. Finding nice places to sit and eat takes about most of your time. Remember to ask for the check as Europeans are never in a hurry. If you walk past a cute place to have a bite, pass it off to some people and say you’ll be eating there around this time and we can meet up then. Paris… everyone goes to the Louvre at some point. Something I wish I had done was go to the lock bridge which a few people did. Musee d’Orsay is a fun one to do on your own. Honestly, it’s hard to think of something people did by themselves in Paris. But you might have more reason to go there than I did.

    Thank you for reading! Have fun!

  • 4 Jul 2013 Renee said

    Renee

    Hi Pam, thanks for the great review! My partner and I are doing this tour in October, and you have clarified some things for me. I didn’t realise that a trip to the summit of the Eiffel Tower was included in the trip, so that’s saved me a few pennies already. Your pointers on what to do in Rome are going to be useful for me too.
    I’m interested in the money side if things. How much did you spend in a typical day? I’ve previously contiki’d in the USA back when the Aussie dollar was strong, and had plenty of cash. The dollar isn’t so strong in Europe at the moment and I’m curious to see how far my money will stretch!
    :-)

  • 8 Jul 2013 Pam said

    Pam

    Hey Renee,
    I’m glad I could help! I made an inventory of the things I purchased in Europe and I kept all of my receipts but I havent gone through them yet. Here’s a small play by play of what I spent money on in each city. Keep in mind I took 100 pounds with me and 200 euros in cash using my credit card for everything else.
    London:
    Bars: 30 pounds
    Eating: 40 pounds
    Shopping: 50 pounds
    Hop on Hop off: 30 pounds
    Admission to places such as Tower of London, St Pauls Cathedral, Westminster Abbey: 20 pounds EACH
    Ticket to see the Tempest: 5 pounds
    Ticket to see Phantom: 49 pounds

    Paris:
    Eating: 50 euro – but not including the Moulin Rouge dinner
    Shopping: 100 euro (the best souvenirs are from Paris)
    Hop on Hop Off: 35 euro
    Admission to Louvre: 11 euro I think
    Cab fare: 20 euro

    Rome:
    Eating: A bazillion euros. Or more like 200. Seriously.
    Shopping: 60 euro
    Hop on Hop off: 30 euro
    Admission to Borghese Gallery: 20 euro

    Honestly, I had 1000 dollars in my bank account purposely for this trip in addition to the cash I took with me and it was all gone by the time I got back. I was really happy I didnt have to worry about money though. So I do recommend having a nice cushion to fall back on.
    I’m sort of a reckless spender, so Europe wasnt that different from my every day. You’re going to see a lot of the “when’s the next time we’re going to be Europe” mentality going around. And it’s going to get under your skin if you have to keep thinking about penny pinching. Have a lot of fun!

    OH. I spent at least 50 dollars on each of my family members. Dont spend that much.

  • 11 Jul 2013 Renee said

    Renee

    Awesome! Thanks

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