European Whirl » Review by Kyra
Previous to this tour I had gone on one other Contiki tour, Spotlight on Greece, but that tour was 4 nights, 5 days long, a very short tour and I felt like I wanted to have more of a Contiki experience. I decided to go ahead and book myself a spot on the European Whirl. I went on my tour at the beginning of May, and let me just say that I feel May was a pretty good time to go because the weather is starting to improve, but because it isn't technically summer yet, the main touristy cities aren't too packed (they're still crowded, just not as much as it would be in the main summer season).
I was pleased with the amount of places this tour took us, we even got to check out Czech Republic and see the beautiful city of Prague (which was one of my top cities we saw on this tour). I will say that if you are interested in checking out what London has to offer, plan on staying in London a few days (1-2) before the actual tour starts. Although the tour begins in London, it doesn't include it. So if you want to check out the main sights in London like Big Ben and Tower Bridge, book your flights to arrive early. I arrived one day early and was able to spend a full day and a half before the tour started, sight-seeing and checking out London! I even booked my accommodation at the hotel recommended by Contiki, and shared a room with a girl who just so happened to be on the same tour I was on. It was great to meet another woman who was travelling alone, and it was a bonus that she happened to be on my same tour!
Our tour was full! 51 people including myself, mostly Canadian's and Australians but there were some New Zealanders and Americans too. Our tour guide was American and our bus driver was from Australia. It was a great mix of people, and by the end of the trip we were all referring to each other as our 'Contiki Family'. I feel like the length of the tour enabled us to properly get to know one another, and close bonds were definitely formed.
I felt the length of the tour was good. I did end up getting sick after 10 days into the tour. It was pretty awful, but I tried to make the best of it and still soak in everything we were seeing. My number one recommendation is bring cough medicine, even if you don't get sick you can share it with someone else on your tour that is. I suggest bringing a day pill, so you don't get drowsy and a night pill, so you can sleep. I ran out of my medicine I had brought from home and really had a hard time finding medicine in the cities I was in that actually helped me (not to mention it can get expensive trying to find proper medicine for your needs as well as the language barrier depending on what country you’re in when you do run out of medicine). Your body is used to the medicine you have at home, so I would stick to that and maybe double up on how much you bring, just in case. I also recommend nausea prevention pills, like ginger Gravol, cause it helps when you're feeling sick (nauseous) on the coach the next day after a long night of partying, or if you just get car sick. I mentioned ‘ginger’ Gravol specifically because that type of Gravol doesn’t make you drowsy like the normal kind does, so you’ll still be able to soak in the sights during the day without feeling like you want to fall over and sleep. Most people on my tour did get sick. Most of the time people get sick and don’t have a chance to get better because you get back on the bus for hours, where 10 other people are sick, and you eventually get sick again. The common symptoms were coughing, lots of mucous/phlegm (gross), sore throats and you lost your voice. Unfortunately for me, I lost my voice in Florence, the one night that we just so happened to have a karaoke party night. I think it’s helpful to tell you the symptoms so you can plan what type of medicine you want to bring before you leave home!
Now's the time to mention that Yes, you will be travelling on a coach/bus for most of this tour. Driving is how you get to each country. Your tour manager will plan some activities you can do to make the time pass by faster, but not all the time. Most people tried to sleep, as this tour has early mornings and long nights. If you can't sleep in a moving vehicle, make sure you bring something to keep you occupied while on the bus so you don’t die from boredom. I was so thankful I had brought my iPod with me, I listened to my own music and it helped pass the time. I was also VERY thankful I had brought one of those neck pillows you see people use on airplanes. Although the bus seats do recline back, it's limited how much you can recline without annoying the person sitting behind you. The seats can get uncomfortable after awhile, so if you plan to sleep on the long drives, that neck pillow will save you from discomfort and it helped me out more times than I can count. I would say that it’s a must to bring an outlet adapter. Depending on if you’re from North America (Canada and USA) or Australia, you need an adapter. The outlets on the coach/bus and in the hostels you’ll be staying at are standard European outlets, so you need an adapter to plug your chargers in so you can charge your phones/iPods/cameras.
The accommodations for this tour was good! Keep in mind that this tour is a budget tour. Don’t expect fancy hotels with room service. You get what you pay for. The hostels in Berlin and Prague were probably the best. The beds were comfy and yes, most of the time, if not always, the beds are bunk beds, so you will be sleeping top or bottom bunk. For the majority of the trip it’s four people to a room. Girls stay in separate rooms from the guys, except couples will get their own rooms. So it’ll be 4 girls to a room, 4 guys to a room. The rooms themselves aren’t bad, it’s just the location that kindof sucks. To keep the price down, you’ll notice that the hostels you’ll stay in aren’t near the main attractions. This makes total sense, because the closer you get to the touristy areas, the higher the costs for everything. Be open to catching public transportation to make your way to the touristy spots. Your tour manager will provide you with help and local maps so you have an idea of what/where to go. Face the fact that at one point, you will get lost. Try hang out in groups so you’re not lost alone. Getting lost with a group of people is much more fun than getting lost by yourself. This is a dominantly social tour, so being social and making friends is very important and is a major part of the experience. Getting lost isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I got lost so many times with people, and we saw more of the city that way and got ourselves into quite the fun adventures. Those are the times you’ll remember the most….I had quite the amazing adventure getting lost with friends in Prague….
I went into this tour knowing that I was planning on doing most, if not all of the optional excursions. I pretty much did every optional, except the one for Switzerland, as I was so sick by then, I couldn't muster the energy to go. My top optional excursions that I'm so happy I did are: the bike ride in Edam, the Amsterdam and Berlin pub crawls, the mountain biking and paragliding in Austria, the walking tour in Venice and the ‘last-night’ activities in Paris (it’s your last night to party and celebrate with your new friends, soak it all in!). The optional excursions I would say you could skip include: the walking tour in Berlin, the canal cruise in Prague and the Chinese restaurant that floats on the water in Amsterdam. They were okay, but nothing amazing happened on them and I would have saved some money if I skipped them. I would say the worst was the walking tour in Berlin. The guide we had didn’t use a mic or anything, so if you weren’t always at the front of the group, you couldn’t hear what she was saying. Most people on that walking tour ditched after awhile and did their own thing. If you’re feeling nervous about paragliding, don’t! It’s amazing and it’s probably the most memorable thing I did on that tour. I loved it! Words can’t explain the feeling of flying in the air, with beautiful scenic Austria below your feet.
Planning a budget for this tour was difficult for me. I knew I liked to shop, and I knew I’d be out partying, and I knew that quite a bit of our meals we had to cover on our own. So what I did was set aside enough Euros’ to cover all the optional excursions. If when I was on the tour, I ended up not going on an excursion, I’d have that saved untouched money to spend on something else. If you’re a partier: I spent quite a bit of money on alcohol alone, so plan to have a budget set aside for drinking nights alone. Drinks average to about 7 Euros and up in most cities (Except Prague, Prague has a different currency and everything was cheap there!). If you’re a shopper: Save your shopping for Prague. The currency is super cheap and since that city is sustained on tourism pretty much, they’ll appreciate you for spending your money there. I also noticed that a lot of people bought loads of souvenirs in Venice. There’s just something magical about that awesome floating city that makes people want to open their wallets.
I think I covered most things! Just soak it all in, even if you do get sick, and make
connections with your tour mates as much as possible. The tour is over now, but I still keep in touch with my ‘Contiki Family’ through Facebook. When I make travel plans, I contact them to see if they want to join, and most often than not, some of them will! Contiki is filled with people who have a passion for travelling, which is exactly why I love it so much, because that’s just how I am. I would totally recommend this tour, especially if you’re new to Contiki and want a taste of what Europe has to offer!
Review written Oct 2012event 0.3