Great Britain & Ireland » Review by Colin
This review will cut off part way through, so msg me if you want the whole thing.
I wrote a pretty long review for the escapade and received positive feedback from others in my situation who were tentative to go on their own. After 2 Contikis, I have learned that there is no reason to be worried about traveling solo with this company. Whether or not your are into partying, sightseeing, or a combo of both, Contiki does an excellent job of catering to everyone's interests. There are always people on the group who want to drink, those who want to sight see, and those, like myself, who enjoy the combo.
I had a phenomenal tour guide named Roxy this time around. She was genuinely interested in the happiness of the group. The Contiki personnel is exceptional, I have never had a bad experience with them. Our driver, Pat, was a crazy good driver. They will give you tips on each city, maps, and answer any questions you have. I went into this trip with very minimal knowledge of each city, so let them tell you what's cool! It's their job!
First and foremost: money. The trip ran about $2500 CAN to book. A flight from Toronto should ring you $1300 or so, don`t be stupid like me and forget to include airplane taxes and pay $1900. I am bitter. You will be eating out A LOT on this trip, but it is up to you as to where. MOST pubs cost around £12.00 for a meal plus drink. Pints ranged from £3.50-5.00 depending on the town, and soft drinks were usually £2.50 for a 200-300ml tiny bottle. Try to find Tescos and smaller shops to eat. On days where there is no included dinner, try to eat a bigger lunch and then a smaller meal (maybe street meat) at dinner. That will save you £8.00 or so, but it is nice every once in a while to get a dinner. I figure I spent about $400 CAN on gifts, but food/alcohol is the killer. Bars/Clubs can be quite costly, and some nights rang me up around £75.00. But you don't have to be stupid like me and buying people shots because they have heard of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Budget about $75.00-100.00 a day and you should be more than fine unless you are an alcoholic or buy expensive clothing/gifts. You will be charged for almost every building that you go into, and this can range from £6 to £20. Every castle, church...just be ready to drop a lot of money on sightseeing. Your tour guide will let you know what's worth visiting or not. I probably finished around $1500-1600 in extra altogether in food/gifts/drinking.
Food is generally good. Every morning you get an English Breakfast (scrambled eggs (usually shitty), bacon, sausage, toast, hash browns, beans, cereal, fruit, blood pudding, etc. Only 2x did we only get cereal. The included dinners are fairly good, only 2x or so were they sub par, but they will fill you up, and they are generally tame for people who are picky eaters. Sometimes you get options as well. The optional dinners were too expensive for what you get, but I would recommend doing them regardless.
Accommodations were fine. I am 6'5, so I had issues with how long the beds are, but for most people they would be fine. They do not have AC in most hotels, so be ready for some warm nights, especially if there is a freak heat wave like I just had. That can get uncomfortable. They paired me up with somebody and we shared rooms the entire time. If you are worried about being paired with a stranger, I'm not sure how much extra it is for your own room, but to be honest I wouldn't worry about it. Hotels ranged from standard Holiday Inns/Jury Inns/Ibis, so more character buildings like the Loch Ness Lodge and Kilford Inn. 1 hotel had a gym, so if you need to work out, it's not happening. 1 hotel had a tiny pool.
What to bring. I came prepared for every type of weather, and all we got was blistering hot weather that they never actually get there. I had 4 pairs of shorts, 2 pairs of jeans, 2 nicer shirts for going out, 10 t-shirts, 10 pairs of underwear, lots of socks, runners, nicer shoes, and sandals, a rainproof jacket, and 2 sweaters. I think that's it. All your typical grooming stuff. I just used hotel soap/shampoo, but many of the girls complained about its quality. Bring lot's of medication. Have strepsils or throat lozenges handy, because YOU WILL GET SICK. If you can, even get some antibiotics from the doctor before you come, haha. Going to the doctor in Ireland is quite easy, but in England they throw some roadblocks.
I'll start off in London. Give yourself an extra day at the start to get rid of some of the jet lag. The Royal Imperial is a nicer hotel for slightly more, but you will have to drag your luggage to the Royal National on the morning of the trip to get to your coach (really not a big deal). When you get to Heathrow, take the tube. I was afraid to the first trip I did, but holy crap is it foolproof. Just follow the signs at the airport and jump on the Piccadilly line to Cockfosters. It's actually the only train there, and ran me £5.50 opposed to a £60-£75 cab ride. From Gatwick, take the train to Victoria Station, and then a cab ride is about £15 to the National or Imperial. I will advise booking another night after your tour as well, as you will arrive quite late and probably won't make any flights on the last day of your tour...take that extra day. Consult with a travel agent to make sure the dates line up if you are unsure. Check in with the Contiki basement to see when you have to meet your group. Afterwards, grab a drink with them at the pub and get to know everyone. If you don't then it becomes more difficult down the road, as everyone already knows each other! Your tour does not include anything in London, so give yourself time to see stuff. I know it mentions that you "see" some stuff in the tour, but it is literally a drive by 30 before heading to Liverpool.
ME Time Optionals. This trip is actually quite inexpensive for MeTime Optional activities. I'll go through them and some of the stuff I saw in each city for recommendations etc.:
Liverpool -- Wasn't a fan of this place, really. The Beatles bus tour was pretty weak. The Maritime Museum isn't really worth it because there is an infinitely better Titanic Museum in Belfast. Nobody really liked Liverpool, lol. The Cavern Club was awesome and we bar-hopped after.
York -- Very cool little town. It's a neat place just to wander. I did the Jorvik Viking experience, it was neat, but definitely OPTIONAL! Like, only if you really love vikings, heh.
York Ghost Walk -- It was neat. Very inexpensive. Expect to tip all tour guides, or at least it's recommended (even when you pay for the tour).
Windermere Cruise -- somewhat pointless. Just wander around instead. It's relatively cheap, but there was nothing I couldn't see from the water. Rent a kayak instead, it would definitely be more fun. You're only there for 3 hours or so anyway, just wander around the shops.
Activities -- I can't say because our bus broke down. Only the High ropes are £25, Archery and Rock climbing are cheaper. I think your group goes there regardless, so choose something.
Edinburgh -- See the castle, the underground Close tour was really cool, I can't remember the cost.
Hadrian's Wall -- you are stuck there for about an hour. Might as well do it. I personally love it, but I am a history nerd.
Gretna Green -- don't bother. Somebody will upload the picture to facebook.
Scottish Evening -- expensive for what you get, but everyone does it, so you might as well.
St. Andrews + Loch Ness -- one of my favourite days on the trip. Breathtaking views everywhere.
Isle of Skye Day -- Amazing day, just all outdoor stuff.
Eilean Donan Castle -- go in, pay the £6 or whatever it costs. Amazing.
Stirling -- William Wallace Monument was cool, I think it was around £7. The town has a ton to see as well. The beheading stone sounds cool, but it's kind of weak.
Glasgow -- Kind of a nothing town except for the nightlife.
Dublin -- Kilmainham Gaol wouldn't let us in because we came "as a group". So be sure to find a small party and sneak in. The Leprechaun museum was NOT worth the money. You will come back here, so if anything you can use this night as a rest, as you will arrive just about when everything is closing. Either that or go drink in Temple Bar, but again you can do that the last night as well.
Belfast -- Visit the Titanic Museum. There is Titanic stuff in Liverpool (weak), and Titanic stuff in Cobh (but it's free), but this is like a super multi-million dollar museum. Just do it.
Giant's Causeway -- DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Londonderry -- Walking tour was quite good, excellent guide. He was the only one that almost 100% of the people tipped.
Galway -- There is nothing to do in Galway.
Aran Islands -- Do it, otherwise you will be stuck in Galway. But honestly, this was one of my "WOW" moments as Roxy called it. Fantastic views, amazing culture. Rent the bike, be ready for a tough day, haha. This and Giant's Causeway made my Ireland leg the best.
Blarney Castle -- Very cool. Lengthy line to kiss the stone, but you're there anyway! There's also lots of cool stuff to see around the grounds. Also, included!
Cliffs of Moher -- nice views, and included!
Jameson Distillery -- decent tour. The Guinness one is better, but you are stuck in that town. So you might as well do it, because everything was closed in the town for those who tried to save money here.
Cork -- We played ping pong, pool, and Bowling! Actually quite fun. Not included in the optionals list, but it was organized by Roxy (13 euro).
Kilkenny -- Take the tour. Actually quite a neat town. It's inexpensive anyway, some people skipped out. If you don't do it, not a huge loss. Some very neat pubs there.
Dublin Again -- Guiness tour is amazing, even if you don't like Guinness.
Remember to join your Contiki meet-up and talk with people before hand. It really makes a difference when you arrive and don't know anyone. Usually somebody makes a facebook group ahead of time, and trust me, just knowing somebody's name and attaching it to a face makes things way easier. The first couple of days, you HAVE to be outgoing. People won't just come to you. Make an effort!
Review written Jul 2013event 0.3