Winter Wanderer » Review by Shecontiki
Winter Wanderer is an amazing tour best of what Europe has to offer. I have been on 6 Contiki tours ranging from 9 days to 24 days to a variety of places and this would have to be one of my favourite experiences. Below I have put some bits together remember that most tours run similar but a lot of how successful the trip is depends on your attitude, the mix of fellow travellers, tour manager, driver and the weather.
What did you see: I saw everything if it was in the brochure you saw it, just remember that if it says see then you do only see it and at times this is only through the coach window while driving around the city, it is up to you on your free day to go back and see inside so you certainly before you leave try and plan what you want to see in each city, I suggest not following what others do, if there is something you really want to see then go and see it because you may never get back to Europe and also you don’t want to go home and say I wish I saw that. It is tricky to pre-book your tickets on line before you leave Australia as they time you have in each city varies greatly some you may get a full day egg. 8hrs and others eg. Florence 4 hours max & this is taken up with a leather demonstration & a walking tour, don’t be afraid to do what you want to do. As long as you are back on the coach before it leaves for the next city that’s all that matters.
What were the optionals like: I only got to do half the optionals as I injured my knee in Rome so I couldn’t do too many of the optionals after Rome. Paris: what can I say the Moulin Rouge – 3 course meal you choose what you want from 3 choices for entree, beef or fish for main & dessert is like a choc mousse. Then the show its one of those things you just have to do when will you ever get to go again (unless you’re like me & do another tour), I know it’s expensive but it’s the first real night you get to know each other as then you can go to the bar next door and dance & drink the night away.
Lucerne: mt Pilatus you get about 1 -1/2 hours up the top of the mountain the gondola ride is pretty good the higher you go the less you can see and you go through the clouds. Don’t be fooled into thinking you will get to go on the train as this wasn’t even offered as an optional on my tour. Once on the ground the others went to the fondue lunch most of them said they enjoyed it – just remember its cheese fondue not chocolate.
Barcelona: Tablao De Carmen dinner & show: 4 course meal with endless sangria half way through dinner the show starts so you watching & trying to eat at the same time. I think the show went for about 45 mins-1 hr could have been shorter but it felt like it went for ever – Google flamenco dancing & singing & that’s pretty much it but it adds to the spirit of the tour experiencing Spanish tradition.
Monaco – nice meal 4 courses get to choose 3 courses unlimited wine. Then off to the casino which will cost you 10 Euros to enter. Usually back in Nice by 11pm and then can go out in town if you like.
Florence: Photo you must buy we had people who thought it was too expensive but could spend 15 Euros on a drink. It’s a great photo and probably the only one that you will get of everybody together that actually looks any good. Dinner is amazing they have singers and you can dance as a couple, unlimited wine and lots of food – antipastos, pasta, lasagne, meat & potatoes & dessert. Then off to space disco which depending on which night of the week it is depends on how busy well we were the only one’s there but it has karaoke & for the 12 Euros you get a free drink. But you get this card to put your drinks on instead of paying cash & then you must pay for them before they will let you out of the club & you must have your receipt to say you have paid. But it’s a great night.
Rome: Vatican tour – good to get in past everyone but still no time to just take your time & stop and take in the amazing Sistine chapel but good to get an overview of the history of the Vatican & st peter’s Basilica. Our tour was at 2pm but at times it is in the morning
Venice: 6 people to a gondola about ½ to 45 minute ride through the cannels.
Vienna: nice meal but you go to the restaurant and then you have to get back on the bus and get dropped off at the theatre. The concert is ok but if you don’t like classical music then you probably would find this boring.
Prague: buffet lunch with 3 drinks included about 2 hour cruise, eat for the first half then the second half the local guide gives you info about Prague. Was good but its right in the middle of the day so depending on what you would like to do in Prague it can take up a bit of time as you have to meet down near the water.
Berlin: Although I did not do this optional I wish I could have as it goes around the main sites get some history information from the local guide and its about 3-4 hours long walking all the way, it ends at check point Charlie.
Amsterdam: Dinner was a great way to finish the tour 3 course meal with 2 drinks & a little starting cocktail/shot, the cannel cruise is great all you can drink wine, beer & soft drink for 1 ½ hours and the host tells you information about Amsterdam. Remember to allow extra money for nights out as there was always a pub/club crawl most nights on if nothing was actually offered as an optional eg. Drinks in Rome, pub crawl in Prague, so be prepared to spend a bit of money.
Describe your accommodation: I must admit I did a Europe Contiki in 2007 and the accommodation was pretty average, so I didn’t have high expectations for this tour, but on this tour the hotels were pretty amazing pretty spacious rooms I had a single room so I only had my suitcase to deal with for space, but the beds were comfortable most times I got a double bed. But be aware that in Rome & Florence the hotel showers are TINY if you are a bigger person then squeezing into the shower can be a bit of a problem but I guess its all part of the experience they seem to think you need more room to wash your bottom on a dubae then in a shower. Otherwise most of the hotels were within walking distance to metro stations, a corner shop close by to buy water and if there wasn’t then the hotels had vending machines. In Barcelona we had to put our cases in the back of a small truck and the truck took our bags up to the hotel and we walked up the road rather than dragging them up the street ourselves. In Prague the bus parked approx. 500 m away and they had to take the cases off then drag them to the hotel in the dark (that was a little crazy) and same as in the morning when you leave you have to take them to the bus but most times the bus would be right outside the hotel. But Prague hotel was amazing location it was easy to get around and pretty much right next door was a 5 floor shopping centre with supermarket, take away and all the other shops you could think of. Lucerne hotel I was worried about because the review weren’t that great on the net but it actually was ok it was clean, the Chateau don’t be fooled that it’s this grand fabulous place, yes some of the rooms were nice but every room is different and it kind of has that spooky hunted feeling to it, it certainly was one of the hotels everyone was glad to be leaving.
what food did you eat: Most meals included were pretty good, all 3 course meals – soup or salad or pasta, main meal – chicken & chips, meat & carrots (yes just carrots), fish & rice, pasta & schnitzel, buffets the best buffet was in Barcelona OMG it was good. For dessert it was things like apple pie and tiramisu. Breakfast was buffet most times sometimes you got bacon & eggs but other times it was cereal, yogurt, fruit, bread, meats (ham/salami), cheese, juice tea & coffee. I have to say the breakfast had improved a lot in 4 years previous I had a hard bread roll & that was breakfast. With the meals Contiki included you do not have any choice in what you get except you will get a different meal if you have dietary restrictions. But don’t forget you can try all the local food while you are exploring the city such as frogs legs or snails or crepes in Paris or Lyon, fondue or Swiss chocolate in Lucerne, Tapas’ or churrios or Sangria in Barcelona and don’t forget the macaroons in Nice. Pizza, pasta & gelato in Florence, Rome & Venice, crispy pork knuckle & a stein of beer in Munich, schnitzel & soktort cake in Vienna, goulash in Prague, fritz in Amsterdam (fries with mayo & ketchup). On travel days which is pretty much every second day there isn’t a lot of choice at the service stops as they are usually in service stations so mostly sandwiches & pizza or salads some hotel food. We also stopped at Macca’s or Hungry Jacks (burger king) a couple of times. Just ensure you have lots of water to drink or at least bring a drink bottle you can fill & filter the water they say that the tap water is safe to drink everywhere but depending on how sensitive your stomach is you don’t want to risk having to miss a day because you have a stomach bug.
What did your crew do for you?
My crew were great, very approachable and easy to talk to. They answered any question I had and as I was meeting people I had met on previous tours along the way they were able to tell me where to meet them & the group after I was done with my catch up. I was the only one in the group to want to go to the Eiffel tower on our free day to see it up close in day light and they did a drop off at the Eiffel tower so I could see it, they also did drop offs at the Louvre & arc de triumph. Also after I injured my knee in Rome they were pretty good, ensuring I was still able to participate in most of the itinerary and the plans they had eg. In Prague they were walking from the palace back into town and then back to the hotel, the tour manager had called the hotel to find out which train I needed to take to get to the hotel, he assisted me in purchasing a ticket and made sure I knew which train to catch and notified the hotel that I would be arriving early. Also in Amsterdam they asked what my plans were for the day as I was not going to Anne frank, I said the von gough museum & they dropped me off pretty much just down the road, so they ensured I was still a part of the tour and if I was behind the group most times the tour manager got the group to the place they were going and then walked back to me and walked with me, but in saying that there were times where I had to find my own way eg. In Munich because it was so busy and I wasn’t walking fast I got lost in the crowd. So my tip here is make sure you have your map & hotel sheet. Also for the whole of the trip they did (except on the drivers day off) pickups eg. In Munich you could stay out or go back on the coach to the hotel at say 9:30 or so there was always a pick up.
How was the transport?
The coach (don’t call it a bus the driver doesn’t like it) was comfortable enough, as I had been on several tours I knew what to expect. There is overhead storage but this is taken up very quickly with everyone’s coats & backpacks and stuff that just won’t fit in their suitcase. Also bags are placed under the seat which can be very cramped and when you’re sitting for 2-3 hours at a time. But in saying that I slept every day the best thing you can buy is the bean filled travel pillow (not the blow up ones), a pair of sunnies and iPod as you may not like the music the tour manager is playing or you might just want to block out the chat of your fellow travellers. The coach has a toilet on it and you will be told only to use it in absolute emergency and definitely no Number 2’s. You may think it’s cool to sit up the back of the bus but as the tour went on the people who started off up the back moved up the front as it is very bouncy (not good if you get travel sick) and can be very warm. This will be your best friend as you are on it every second day all day. Some days you will leave early as 7:30 or so and then not get to the hotel that night until 6 at night so it’s a long day and the only stops you have are at service stops so a day could be 2 ½ - 3 hour drive, 45 minute break, 2 ½ - 3 hour drive, 45 minute break, 2 hour drive to hotel or town etc. Coach has about 6 from memory European plugs so you can charge your iphone/phone/camera
What were your tour mates like, best moments, would you recommend it?
My tour mates were pretty good no one really rocked the boat or caused any friction. Some were amazing always helping me with my suitcase after I hurt my knee and walking with me when I was not able to walk as fast as the rest of the group, I was a bit worried about going on the tour as we had a face book group and from this the majority of the tour was going to be 18-22ish, and me being almost 30 I was a little worried but I as the saying goes don’t judge a book by its cover and it was ok, you will always get people that you may not get along with but in saying that the group is 51 people so there are plenty of other people to talk to. I liked the whole tour even though I injured myself half way through the tour and continued on the tour just adjusting what I could do I still had a great time I think it would have been an excellent time if I was able to fully participate but you win some you lose some. I certainly would recommend the tour it goes everywhere that is really on the must do of Europe and you have a fair amount of time in each city to site see basically they give you the tools eg. A map & info sheet and it’s up to you to make the most of your time in each city. I would probably recommend going later in November so you get the Christmas markets. I think deciding on when to go would depend on how much you can handle the cold and if you are prepared for the itinerary to change due to bad weather eg. Snow. But I would definitely do it all over again.
• It gets dark very early it’s not uncommon for the sun to start to set at 4pm
• taxis about $15-$30 Euros
• rain coat/umbrella
• research what you want to see
• budget – what you think you will spend and double it (this is how Contiki explains it)
• have a first aid kit with a strong bandage so if you do injure yourself ankle/knee/wrist you are able to stabilise it
• be aware of the symptoms of DVT & PE’s as on my return home I had these and came very close to not being here
• Always have your hotel name – eg. Take the hotels business card for quick reference easy to show taxi drivers
• always have your travel insurance number on you and passport and cash/credit card as if you go to doctors etc be aware that most times you have to pay for medical treatment first and then claim it from your travel insurance company
• pack light as you will buy clothes along the way
• bring wash powder or buy it when you get to London
• bring medicines such as antibiotics, hand gel, etc
That’s about all, I enjoy Contiki they offer a great service and a safe way and Hassel free way to see the amazing sites of Europe. If you are thinking about Contiki and just not too sure I say just go for it and you will be surprised by how much fun you will have. Don’t be put off if you are not a drinker or going out person you don’t have to go out or drink, just make sure you put in the effort to talk to people in the group as you are going to be spending the next 24 days with them and at the end of it just remember you may or may not see these people again, this is completely up to you.
I know its a long review but I remember how I felt the first time I was going on Contiki I didn't know what to expect so I like to give as much information as possible so you have a realistic expectation.
Review written Feb 2012event 0.3