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MY FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH CONTIKI-WHAT I WISH I'D KNOWN

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I did my trip, Contiki Tours(Superior) Road to Athens tour in September. It was a wonderful way to see many cities in a short period of time. Also got to meet a lot of great people. You can party every night but I only partied every 2nd or 3rd night. If you’re doing a Superior or Concept tour the numbers tend to be lower 20-35 people & depends what time of year you’re going. If you’re going June-August tours will be full expect about 40-50 people on a typical Contiki tour. What I wish I had known: Although the age ranges from 18-35, the average age of a Contiki group is between 22-25 and 90 % are under the age of 30. There were more girls than guys-only 4 single guys in our group and about half of them were traveling alone. There were only about 6 couples on this tour, including us. I wish I had known that I am not a “tour type” of person. From the time we first boarded the coach until Athens, it was exactly what it is, “a tour” NOT A VACATION (felt like a tour of duty). It was common for us to up at 6 am, breakfast at 6:30 and on the coach by 6:45am.
It was also very routine that before we would site see in any new city, we would have to go into one of many, “contiki assigned stores”, and spend anywhere from 45mins. to an hour there, listening to the merchant talk about how wonderful their product is before being “encouraged” to make a purchase. It really does take a chunk of the already short time we spend in each city. Another thing to mention is that Contiki is a business out to make money every way possible. I felt like a cash cow (minus the bell) the minute we stepped onto the coach. We listened to the TM (tour manager) raving about how great “this store is” and how fantastic “this restruant is”. I wish I had known before I signed with Contiki that the TM’s & Contiki get kickbacks for bringing their guests to certain shops & restruants.

For example, in Austria : We were forced-yes FORCED to go to the Swarovski Museum.Which is really just a gigantic Swarovski store.The coach stops at the Swarovski Crystal World in Austria. This is not an optional site as the Contiki itenerary brochure claims. You have the “option” pay to enter the museum or wait outside of the Swarovski Museum for an hour and a half. Regardless, you are a trapped audience. If the TM’s weren’t so busy trying to up-sell everything to us examples, from perfume in Paris, Swiss Army Knives in Lucerne, crystal at a Swarovski museum in Austria, glass in Venice, Leather in Florence etc…and the TM’s done what tour managers do; show us the actual city’s ATTRACTIONS it would have been a more enjoyable, productive trip. Honestly, how many people would prefer to spend an hour watching how leather is made instead of exploring Florence? We're given a map with a couple of hours to “explore on our own” then meet back at the coach at a specific time- ON TIME!! Yes- the coach WILL leave you if you are late! Being on a ‘tour" has a very tight schedule so being on time is crucial. Be prepared to spend about 40-45% of your time on the coach. We travelled every 2nd day, spending on average 7-11 hours on the coach (coach became our home away from home). One day we drove 3 hours out of the way to Rome just to spend 20 minutes at Pisa. We had enough time to take a picture, wave and then take the 10 minute walk back to the far away, free parking lot were the coach is parked because Contiki doesn’t want to pay for parking at the closer parking lot.

I wish I’d known Contiki has these pre-arranged contracts with all the hotels we stay in & the restruants we eat at. Why does Contiki still insist on having their clients stay at the dreaded, bed bug infested, Jail Hotel? Because they have a contract with that prison where they (Contiki) receive a discounted, group rate. The so-called going rate at the Jail Hotel is anywhere from $150-$200 Swiss Francs per night!! It’s outrageous given we are staying in a dirty, moldy, prison. I’ve done my homework and believe me, you can get a better quality hotel for cheaper than what Contiki books if you just do your research. You can stay at other nearby hotels like the Lucerne Hotel 4.5 stars for the same rate! I wish I had known that a lot of our hotels were not located in the city. In larger cities (Paris, Munich,Venice Florence) we stayed outside the city limits (sometimes 30min.- an hour by taxi) from the major attractions more central to the city. Same thing with their included restruant venues.

The food on the included meals was highly disappointing and not worth the value. We had breakfast everyday and it was usually room temperature milk, cereal, toast, jam, coffee and tea). On the rare occassion we had ham & eggs (maybe just 2 hotels). We had to fend for our own for lunches (most of our lunches were from pit stops we had made on the coach). The inclusive dinners were barely edible & the service was really bad. I had asked our waiter if I could have a sample of the wine before purchasing a bottle with my meal. I asked him 3 times!! He still didn’t give me a sample but, I ended up buying a bottle of wine anyway. The service is crap because we are a group-a young group. A group that is stereotyped as "wild partiers" and "non-tippers". Plusthe restruant servers are already paid by Contiki in advance. So….hence the poor service.

The other thing to mention about hotels is that the hotels we stay in Hopfgarten are operated by Coniki. Thes are Contiki hotels. They aren’t too bad in comparison to many of the others we stayed in however, there is a downside here too-Contiki making more money from us. WI-FI is available in the hotel but only on the 1st floor & lobby area. You will not get WI-FI if you are staying on the 2nd floor. Plus, Contiki charges you to use their WI-FI. This is how Contiki treats their clients?! We’ve already shelled out thousands of dollars for a tour, the least they can do is comp. us WI-FI. There is laundry available at the Contiki Hotel but again, MONEY, they charge $15 Euro’s per bucket (bucket is very small). There is a laundromat down the street where you can do your own laundry for a lot cheaper.

OPTIONALS VS. INCLUSIVE:The inclusive meals (aside from some of the breakfasts) were all unimpresive and most of the optional meals were not any better, with the exception of George’s Boat.. The inclusive guided tours are rubbish . Most of them are done by a tour guide who speaks into a microphone while you’re wearing an uncomfortable earpiece. Between all the crackling, static & heavy accent, it is very difficult to understand the tour. The tours are rushed and you learn very little from them. Most of optional tours aren’t any better. You’re better of sight-seeing on your own OR, book directly through the site/attractions if you want to learn something about the sites. I did all the optionals except for the Venetian dinner and here’s my review…

First night in Paris we did a night bus tour. Not the best way to see Paris at night. Instead: buy a pass for the Metro and go visit the attractions yourself. It’s quicker and you’re not stuck in Parisan traffic. Eiffel Tower you can go up with little to no wait at night and the light show is spectacular.

1. Novelle Eve Cabaret in Paris: $120.00 Euro, don’t walk-RUN AWAY!!! Totally SUCKED! It’s like watching a low budget strip-tease unravel in a poorly lit, seedy area (redlight district) of Paris. The food, Chateaubriand Steak (was more like very rubbery chuck steak) definitely not worth the money. You can go up the hill in Montmarte see Sacre Couer (very gorgeous Gothic church). Then, see a real authentic, classy French Cabaret sample cherry wine, and have a full-course Parisian meal along with 3 bottles of wine for $50 Euro cheaper. No joke- I’ve done it before the last time I was in Paris.

2. Lake Lucerne Cruise $26 SWISS FRANCS: Would not have been so bad had we done it BEFORE wasting an hour in the Swiss store looking at over priced watches and army knives (they are A LOT cheaper at the Swiss store in Toronto) while the sun was still out. Might be better to do if you go from June-August when the sun sets later. We didn’t see much in darkness. It was a little chilly being on that water at night. The group gave up on trying to make out what the guide was saying over the muffled speaker which gave us the opportunity to get to know eachother better. The optional drink, white or red wine, or hot chocolate- a complete rip off. You get either some red or white wine in a 2.5 oz plastic cup OR a smidgen of luke-warm, powdered chocolate in a styrofoam cup. Value? Not worth doing. Instead of wasting time in the Swiss store, go down to the docks and book your own private tour (costs about the same) and then you have more time to explore Lucerne afterward.
2. b) Mt. Stanserhorn $46.00: Would’ve been better to do if later in the day once all the early morning mist has evaporated. Couldn’t see much going up the mountain at 8 am but again, we’re on a tight schedule and have to get back on the coach to travel 9 hours into Munich. The view was a little better going down at 9:30 am. Was it worth it? I’d say, barely.

3. Munich: Hofbrauhaus (Beer Hall) DO IT!! I’m not much of a partier the way I use to party but it’s a MUST DO!!! The Inclusive, Mike’s Bike Tour of Munich. Mike is a crass S.O.B but he grows on you & you end up loving him by the end of his bike tour. His sense of humour, eccentric personality & knowledge of Munich only heightens this fun experience. The only issue I had with this tour is that you eat breakfast at 8:30 am, meet @ Mike’s Bike’s for 9:00 am then by 10 am you’re sitting in a German Bier Garden, for an hour, having a beer with Mike (the bike tour guide & with your TM nice jobs right?) and eating again. Shame I’m paying for what I read to be a, “guided bike tour exploring the sites of Munich” only to be wasting time having a beer at 10 am when we can be as the brochure says, “exploring the sites of Munich”…

4. Austria: A) Optional Mountain bike tour & BBQ lunch Euro 30.00: Only do this if you are into exercise. This is a 25K bike ride UP a mountain. I loved it because, well I like to exercise but a lot of people in our group turned back half-way into it, questioning why they would ever pay to do this. Also not reccomend if you’ve been partying hard the night before. The BBQ back at the Contiki Concept hotel isn’t that great. You get 2 small sausages, mushy coleslaw, some soggy potatos and a small beer which is not enough to fill me up after cycling 25 K.
B) Tandem paragliding Euro 120.00: Overpriced but if you have never done this, DO IT!! C) Whitewater rafting Euro 41.00: MUST DO!

5. Venice: OPTIONALS A) Venice walking tour Euro 11.00: Waste of time. Book your own private tour if you want to learn something. You’re better off exploring on your own. B) Even though our Gondala guide spent the entire tour on his iphone (probably cuz we were Contiki group), I would still say that this optional is a MUST DO. It’s an awesome experience & fantastic way to see Venice. I didn’t do the Venetian dinner.

6. Forence: As soon as we step off the coach, we are herded like cattle into a small leather store where we need to watch how leather is made. It isn’t until the 45 minute demo is finished that our TM hands us maps of Florence where we are free to explore instead of buying leather. Another example of Contiki upselling products for kickbacks. A) Get the group photo.

B) Space Electronic Disco Euro 13.00: SKIP IT!! WASTE OF TIME AND $$$ Basically, a touristy club filled with mostly other Contiki groups dancing around to beats from the 1990’s. Get your group and go anywhere else! Far better clubs in Florence. You’re even better off going back to the hotel bar and partying it up there with your mates. Or, book a private evening tour of Florence, exploring the beautiful Tuscan sites on your own.

C) Tuscan Hills Feast Euro 38.00: Was okay (well not good). Just be prepared for really poor service since Contiki has already paid them in advance & will continue to bring their future clients to this restraunt.

Rome: *Be sure to wear “church clothing” (covered knees & covered shoulders).

A) Vatican Tour Euro 33.00- take it. You MUST see the Vatican.

B ) *Pompei is a MUST see site whether or not you’re into history. I would highly recommend NOT booking a guided tour through Contiki though. Wait until you arrive in Pompei. There are many tour guides on site that will give small group guided tours (15 or less people) for cheaper than what you paid through Contiki.

Rome to Corfu: I was very disappointed that we had to pay $8 Euro per person for our coach from our hotel to the Contiki Concept site which was 20 minutes away from our hotel for our so-called INCLUSIVE toga party- AFTER already paying thousands of dollars for this tour. They should’ve mentioned that in their brochure. Sure, it’s only $8 but per person, multiply $8 by 35 people-how much does it cost to rent a coach in Corfu for a night-really?! Do the math. Another way for Contiki to make a “quick buck”.

Corfu: A) Dinner & Greek Dancing Euro 32.00 I’m still on the fence about this one. The entertainment wasn’t too bad but be prepared for overly salty Greek food ( a trick used to induce more drinking), a late night & very early morning.

B) Caique Cruise around Corfu Island Euro 35.00 (A.K.A. Georges Boat): DO IT!!! Should not even be an option-this is a MUST!!! One of , if not the BEST optionals you can do. You will see why once you do it.

C) Water sports From Euro 10.00 – 35.00 only do this if you’ve never done water sports before. D) Car Hire Euro 55.00-155.00 (cost per day depending on car) SKIP IT.

E) Tour t-shirts From Euro 18.00 – 28.00 get the shirt. .

Athens: A) Plaka meal Euro 35.00, it’s not worth the money and you may be disappointed with the food but do it anyway because it’s a good way to chill out and bond with your group.

The 3 Day Greek Island Cruise: was when we finally felt like we were on vacation. The cruise liner Contiki chooses, Louis Cruise Lines is beyond ridiculous though. I really don’t know why Contiki chooses to have this Liner (must be saving a fortune with this budget liner). The ship was dirty. Our room smelled like old people were trapped and died in there. The sheets were stained, crusty stuff on my pillow. We were only given 1 sheet and a blanket (no cover sheet) and 1 pillow. I had to get room service to come in and clean our room ( I tipped them well and was guaranteed a clean room for the rest of our trip).

The food was bland. I had an altercation with a very rude waiter who was grabbing the menu from my lap because he refused to allow me to order appetisers (included in the meal) and was telling me to eat the appetisers that belonged to the ladies seated at our table (none who I knew). Both me & the ladies where shocked at his behaviour & I called over the manager to resolve this. At the end of our trip, reception gave me someone elses passport. We got into an argument because she was adamant it was mine, I told her to look at the picture. Then, they lost my boyfriends’ passport. We were eventually able to recover it in the KanKan Lounge 3 hours later. Aside from the Liner, the Greek Islands are BEAUTIFUL and you really SHOULD see them.

**About tipping Contiki:**
* Tipping is highly enforced by Contiki. Each person gets their own envelope and is told to “write a love letter” what you enjoyed about the tour, the TM etc… You are then told the standard for tipping is $2 Euro per-day per-person you ARE REQUIRED to TIP BOTH your TM and the Driver of the Coach at least $2 per day PP and you’re supposed to put your tip into the envelope along with your “love letter”. Now this sounds like homework to me. I don’t have a problem with tipping but this method is not only degrading, rude and disrespectful, it’s forceful. Come on, we are adults here not children.

Pack cold medications, hangover pills eg. asprin & get antibiotics. You are guaranteed to get sick at some point of your trip. Yes, the “Contiki Cough” is very real & not a myth. I didn't really party that much and was only sick for a couple of days. I wasn’t that bad but, a lot of people on the tour were really sick and it took them days/weeks to recover. Don’t bother packing heels. Just a pair of good walking shoes and a nice pair of flats. Bring a voltage converter & adapter, camera with extra batteries and extra memory cards. Keep hydrated & use common sense. You should be fine. Like I said earlier, I am not a “tour person” I am more a “vacation person”. If you’re looking for a fast-paced adventure, meeting lots of new people,partying all night and being hung over all day then go with Contiki. If you’re looking for a relaxing vacation to learn, take in the culture of each city, explore and spend time (more than a couple of days at a time in each city and even less time spent on coaches,get a Europass & book your own tours direct. My experience with Contiki all in all has been a learning one on the road to self discovery . It’s taught me alot about myself & has been an outline for how I would like to spend my vacation and not spend it. I’ve had the trip of a lifetime and met new people. But, knowing what I know now, I’ll be booking my next vacation with just a few close friends and never through another money hungry tour company.

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