This trip had its highlights and its downfalls! It’s hard to review this particular tour because this is not your typical Contiki experience compared to a tour in Europe for example, and each time your Tour Manager will be a different person than mine, so please keep that in mind with this review. For example, we had two Tour Managers: one for the Turkey part and one for the Greek Island cruise part (3 days). Our group was 90% women, lots of Canadians, Americans, a few Aussies and 2 Kiwi’s. I was travelling solo and found it easy to make new friends and meet some awesome people from around the world.
For the Turkey part of this tour we had a freelance tour guide from Turkey, a local, who handled this part of the tour. His name is Ahmet and he was a 46 year old Turkish man. I liked him, I thought he organized the tour well even though at times it was last minute planning it seemed to work out. Ahmet was an expert in the history of Turkey and was passionate about his country, which showed. At times Ahmet re-organized the pre-planned Contiki itinerary, which proved to be to our advantage. He knew the places we were visiting well and suggested to rearrange things to create a better experience for us all.
For example one pre-planned day had us getting up super early sightseeing Istanbul and going for a Turkish bath and then sightseeing again right after. Ahmet rearranged the Turkish Bath to another location because he knew after the bath we’d be in a relaxed mood and wouldn’t want to be going on another excursion straight afterwards. He was right, we ended up postponing the bath to another location and the people who did the bath were happy, because as he predicted, after the bath most people wanted to relax and take it easy, which is what we were able to do thanks to Ahmet’s re-arranging.
This tour is very fast paced, we cram a lot of sights into the short amount of time we had in Turkey. The days start early, around 7 am each day and end late. If you do a lot or all of the optionals it can get exhausting but you have a great time though so I thought it was worth it. I had a blast in Turkey!
The included meals were not very good to be honest, most of them are buffets and significantly lack in flavor, or worse, have been sitting for awhile and are served cold. When we had free time to pick our own places to eat, the food didn’t disappoint (I had THE best chicken curry rice dish in Taksim Square area at this amazing rooftop restaurant overlooking Istanbul!)
The sights in Turkey are beautiful. Istanbul is an interesting bustling city where men dominate the streets. At times as a woman I felt uncomfortable in certain areas, especially at night, without a guy as an escort. The population is dominantly Muslim and especially with the way you dress, you could get harassed (I was tisked at verbally a lot). I went on the optional boat cruise in Istanbul which I enjoyed a lot, but beware of the crew selling drinks. We had an incident where they came up with orange juice and made it seem like they were free the way they were handing them out and insisting we take one…until they came back a few minutes later informing us that our small plastic cups of orange juice cost 3 Euro (9 Lira) each and that we needed to pay up now. Yikes!! I’ll just say that there was a lot of pissed off people…The Blue Mosque was pretty, however it held little to no resonance with me so it wasn’t a highlight for me. The Grand Bazaar is pretty cool, worth it to check it out and Taksim Square is the heart of Istanbul, with plenty of adventures to get yourself involved in.
The countryside and the coast of Turkey are picturesque. Pamukkale was a highlight for me, along with Anzac cove and Ephesus. The ancient ruins of Troy were a letdown, the reconstruction and site pales in comparison to Ephesus and Ancient Pergamum. Unexpected visits turned out to be good highlights, like a visit to a carpet maker family property and a lamb leather fashion show!
After a whirlwind of a time in Turkey, we said goodbye to Ahmet and embarked on our cruise ship to the Greek Islands.
My expectations for this cruise were we would see a lot of the islands. In reality you see more of the cruise ship that the islands as you have to be on the ship at night and miss out on the true Greek Island experience. If you really want to experience a Greek Island adventure I recommend after this tour, hop on the Greek island hopping tour which is slow paced and gives you a true visit to the islands. On the cruise you only had a couple of hours sometimes to visit the place. Then there was the Oia fiasco. Santorini is a highlight for most people, unfortunately for our tour we only saw 1 very rushed hour of it when we were promised 4 hours. Most of us paid quite a lot of Euro (55 Euro) to get off the cruise ship, take a boat, then a bus ride to Oia. But because the cruise ship arrived in Santorini an hour late, our excursion was cut down significantly because the ship was still leaving at 8:15 pm. A lot of people on our tour were upset. I wasn’t too gutted as I was getting off the tour in Santorini anyway, what I was really pissed off about was getting to the island and disembarking the cruise ship early. I believe one person on our tour was going to file a formal complaint about her experience.
There were four of us from the tour who were disembarking the cruise in Santorini (the best decision we ever made) AND going on the excursion to Oia. 2 other girls were also disembarking the cruise but not going on the excursion. For us four, it was a nightmare experience. Our tour manager Stacey was very unorganized during this time, and the experience for the four who were also going on the tour and disembarking was awful to say the least. Stacey was not very helpful and all of us were super stressed during this process. We were left to check out on our own, standing in hour long line ups on the cruise ship to pay our drinks bill and check out early. What should have happened is Stacey could have gathered us four together and explained as a group or at least notified to the staff what was happening with us as the reception clerk who handled me didn’t know what was going on and was refusing to give me my passport early (I almost missed getting on the tour because of this major miscommunication). All of us four were not pleased with the way this unfolded, the famous question amongst alot of our tour that evening was ‘What is going on?’ And the common answer was ‘I don’t know’. Our tour manager was nowhere to be found to answer people’s questions during this time which led to more confusion and frustration among several people on our tour. I’ve been on other Contiki tours where our tour manager went above and beyond to ensure our holiday was stress free and relaxed, so to experience this was a shock from Contiki. What was really annoying was we completed our evaluations for the tour manager that morning, and this fiasco happened in the evening, leaving no room to write comments on the tour manager’s performance within this situation (hence this long-winded part on this review). The situation had miscommunication problems all over, especially between Louis Cruises and Contiki and definitely has a lot of room to be improved for future tours.
All in all I had a great time in Turkey, but not as stellar a time in Greece. Luckily I got off the tour a day early to stay in Santorini so I got to experience my Greek Island adventures sans-Contiki and had a blast. One great thing about this tour? The friends I made from the group. We hung out pre-tour and post-tour for days after, it was great. The friends I’ve made outshone the downfalls of this tour and for that I’m still going to give Contiki another shot.