Cosmos Trip through Europe

Jun 5th, 2007, 12:00 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2007
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Cosmos Trip through Europe

Hello fellow travelers!

My husband and I are taking a 2 week trip to Europe this summer through Cosmos Tours. Our trip starts in Italy (Rome, Florence, Venice), from there we head to Switzerland (Lucerne), Austria (Innsbruck), Paris, and finally we end our trip in London. We have never been to Europe before and don't know what to expect, so any feedback/information that you can provide to us in regards to the following would be GREATLY appreciated:

1) Spending money - how much should we bring? Our vacation package includes all overnight hotel stays, transfers, some meals (most breakfasts and 3 dinners), and a few tours. I know that certain cities are more expensive than others so we weren't sure how much to plan for. We both like nice meals but I figured we could go on the light side for lunch to save a bit of money.

2) Money conversions - how do they work? I've only been to the Caribbean and Mexico, where you can use US dollars, so I'm not sure how the exchange process works. Is it easier to use credit cards for most expenses or should you do a mix of cash and credit? Can you use your ATMS card in Europe and how much are the fees?

3) What tours would you recommend for the cities specified above?

4) If you have been on a Cosmos vacation before, what should I expect in regards to the quality of the accomodations, tour guides, meals, etc?

5) Are there any special items that we should bring with us (hair dryer, wash clothes, adapters, etc)?

I apologize for the many questions, but I want to make sure that we are prepared. Thanks in advance for any tips, information, suggestions, and feedback that you can provide!

Crazycatlady75 is offline  
Jun 5th, 2007, 12:31 PM
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This is a bad place to ask questions because many of the posters on this board are convinced the only way to do things is independently and really know little about these tours.

I've been on a couple of tours, a couple on cosmos. You will see what they tell you that you will see but be careful of their terminology. When they say you see such and such a castle that means as you whiz by on a motorway the tour director will say there is such and such a castle; there you've seen it. If it says why not visit such and such a castle, it means the tour will stop at the castle and it is up to you if you want to pay the admission charge to go into the castle. If it says tour such and such castle, the tour stops and the td leads you through (it could be a church or a monument).

Cosmos is considered a budget operation so the hotels will be basic; they will be clean and certainly not dives but, especially in the big cities, may be located far from the center. You will have th eopportunity if you want to go into town to take public transportation or there will be opportunities of sightseeing tours in the big cities and free time for you to do what you want and told to be back at a certain place at a certain time to be driven back to the hotel.

Included meals will be okay, not memorable but okay. Normally on each day you stop either on a motorway at an Autogril type place (like a rest area on a US toll road) or in some town on the itinerary. The tour director may recommend some restaurants for you. On the days you are on the bus all day there will be stops every couple of hours for water, coffee, tea and loo. On this type of tour you generally have 2 nights in the big cities.

Be aware that these tours contain optionals which you pay for. They are the typical types of tours you might purchase if you are visiting a city and don't feel particularly like doing something on your own. For example, most tours that visit Lucerne have an op[tional tour up one of the moutains along with a cruise on the lake. On the first day of the tour, the tour director will distribute a list of the optional tours. You can pay for these optional tours with a credit card.

In big cities such as Rome or Paris, optionals at night will usually include a dinner type thing such as the Moulin Rouge. Again you don't have to do the optionals but then you are on your own for dinner (some research necessary or the tour director or the hotel staff can help you decide).

On days you are travelling, you will be told to have your luggage out in front of your room by about 0630, breakfast will be served around 0700 and departure around 0745 so no sleeping in for the most part.

As far as money, it's no different than travelling independently in this day and age. There is no need to worry about bringing currency. Simply use the ATM's as you go along. Take out oh something like €100 at the start and keep track...the rest stops at the autogrills or the small towns will always feature the opportunity to use an ATM. As noted, the tour company takes credit cards for the optional tours which you pay for up front at one time.

Don't be put off by some of the things people on this board say. The tours can be a wonderful way of seeing things hassle free and meeting many new friends from all parts of the world. Cosmos tours generally are populated by Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and sometimes a few people from other English speaking countries such as South Africa. You will bond with some people on the tour pretty quickly and will start to do things with these people such as lunches or dinners when not included and not wishing to take an optional.

Cosmos is a very reputable organization and you should have a wonderful time hassle free...when you arrive in a new city they drive you right to your hotel, check you in, give you your key and luggage is delivered directly to your room. On a morning you travel, as noted, you put your luggage out, it is picked up, loaded on the coach, and you see it next at the next hotel.

Relax and have a great time. I am sure you will enjoy it; most people do.
xyz123 is offline  
Jun 5th, 2007, 12:40 PM
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..oh and a couple of other things. The tour directors are usually excellent, naitives of the countries you are visiting and will help you with language problems. Be aware that some of the stops are at shops where they get commissions, that are not necessarily the best value (a generalization that is not always true but sometimes) but you are never under any obligation to buy things (there are few bargains in Europe these days anyway with the strength of the euro). Also be aware that a system of rotation is used on the buses so the same people don't sit up front every day (although if they didn't use rotation, it might encourage people who are perenially late to show up early to claim their seats). On most tours I have been on, those sitting on the left side of the coach move forward 2 seats every day..when they get to the front of the coach they slide over to the other side and then move 2 seats back each day on the right side. It is a very fair system and allows everybody to have their turns in the front.
xyz123 is offline  
Jun 5th, 2007, 01:35 PM
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I have no input on the OPs questions, but had to say.... xyz123, that is one of the best answers to any question I have ever read!
celticdreams is offline  
Jun 5th, 2007, 03:16 PM
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1. Spending money: this varies on how you dine but since breakfast is included and you'll have a light lunch work on around €120 per day.

2. Money conversions: Yes you can certainly use your cards in Europe. Make sure they have the Cirrus/Maestro symbols and look for the ATMs displaying these symbols. Fees will vary according to your bank's policy. Always make sure you carry enough cash for the next place you visit. Other guests on our tour wasted time having to find an ATM when they arrived somewhere. Also don't forget to notify your bank that you'll be using your cards overseas.

3. In Rome I would defintely take an optional tour of the Vatican Museum. This museum is a must see in Rome but there may be lenghthy queues so this will make best use of very limited time. You'll visit St. Peter's Basilica as part of your tour and the Roman Forum (because it's free!).

4. We have taken 2 Cosmos tours and can thoroughly recommend them. XYZ has summed them up nicely. The hotels are a minimum of three star standard. Sometimes they aren't central but still handy to transport. Sometimes we took taxis on our own or shared one with other guests. My only complaint was the food standard. I'm not a fussy eater but the food was pretty ordinary on both tours. Still, no one else had a problem so maybe it was just me.

5. yes bring an adaptor, rechargeable batteries and recharger.

A couple of other things. Firstly when booking your tour make sure it's for a "guaranteed departure date". That means it starts irrespective of numbers. Check with your travel agent. Secondly you'll be expected to tip the tour director and coach driver. How much? There's quite a bit written on this issue in this forum. Firstly you need to be satisfied with the standard of service, of course. We paid the director €90 and the driver €50. Hope this helps. Good luck, you're gonna have heaps of fun.
worldinabag is offline  
Jun 5th, 2007, 03:51 PM
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You really helped this person. Bravo for you.
JN is offline  
Jun 6th, 2007, 05:05 AM
Original Poster
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This is great information, very helpful! I feel a lot more prepared now that I have an idea of what to expect. Thanks so much!

Another question for those of you who have been on these escorted tour vacations. Do you have any time to do your own thing or do you have to participate in the group tours that they offer?
Crazycatlady75 is offline  
Jun 6th, 2007, 05:32 AM
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When in Lucerne, if you want to do one of the mountain trips (which I would highly recommend - quite beautiful) - find out how to do it yourself. Just ask at the front desk of your hotel, or look it up on line or in a Switzerland tour book. It will surely be less expensive than buying it through the tour company. I read recently in the NY Times that cruise ships make the majority of their money on the optional tours they sell to their clients! This probably applies to land tour companies as well.
kenav is offline  
Jun 6th, 2007, 05:39 AM
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In the big cities (Rome, Paris, ) the way it usually works is a sightseeing orientation tour the first morning after arrival (or say in Florence it can be on arrival from Rome or something to that Lucerne, a quick orientation of the covered bridge and the lion monument.

At that point, there is usually some sort of optional tour which you are under no obligation to take can stay in town and shop, find your own type of place for lunch. On those evening where dinner is not included, you are of course free to find your own place for dinner instead of taking the optional dinner experience that will probably be offered. There is plenty of time to do your own thing but sometimes at the cost of some tour you might be interested in doing. Say you're in Paris, the morning will be an orientation tour perhaps but not always with a trip to the 2nd level of the Eifel Tower...a drive down Champs Elysee....a spin around les invalides, by the Louvre....this included sightseeing will then end perhaps by the Opera (a block from the 2 main department stores)..there will be an optional scheduled for that afternoon (perhaps Versailles, perhaps a guided tour of the Louvre) will have decided either to do the optional or you will have the afternoon at leisure to do some shopping and say see the Louvre on your own. There will be an evening optional scheduled which might be Moulin Rouge (expensive yes but probably worth it once)....if you don't want to do that either you are free to stay in Paris for the entire time but you will have to public transport it back to the hotel (the metro is great and should be part of the experience anyway)....of course the nay sayers will say see your stay in Paris is won't have time to do all the things you want and they might have a point but you can always come back to Paris on your own and do your own thing then!
xyz123 is offline  
Jun 6th, 2007, 05:43 AM
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I agree in many cases it is cheaper to do some things by yourself but then you have to factor in getting to wherever it is (the tour includes the transportation) perhaps not seeing everything there is to see (either the tour director or the local guide will be with you and they are usually very well informed) transportation back to the hotel. In some places, tour groups get preference and do not have to queue.

I'm not saying you're wrong and yes there is a buck or two to be made by the tour director and the bus driver for the optionals but there is a trade off in convenience and other things and in the end, and I've seen this happen, you don't save all that much when all is said and done!
xyz123 is offline  
Jun 6th, 2007, 05:53 AM
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xyz123 - What you say is true - however, when you do it yourself, you are not rushed, your time is your own, you don't have to keep up with a group, or made to stay longer than you want. No side trips to "souvenir" shops that the tour guide is paid to bring you to and in which you must spend some time.

Just my suggestion - It's easy to do the mountain trips from Lucerne (Pilatus and Rigi). Yes, takes a llittle extra effort to find out the informaton yourself. As always - how one does these things is up to what the individual person feels like doing - what's best for them.
kenav is offline  
Jun 14th, 2007, 10:24 AM
Join Date: Jun 2007
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I believe I took the same tour you are referring to starting in Rome and ending in London in Sept. 2005. I think I can offer some infomation you may find helpful.

First, I would recommend requesting information on the optional tours ahead of time. I booked our tour using a travel agency on the internet and requested info on the optionals from them in July for my Sept. tour. They e-mailed me a listing which included a brief description of each optional and the cost. I found it helpful for planning purposes since I did not receive official tour documentation in the mail until about 2 weeks before our departure date. First I'll answer some of your questions and then I'll give some more city-specific details on the tour.

1) Money and meals. Agree with other posters about simply using an ATM card to pull cash as needed. That was easiest for us. The breakfasts are fine and if you fill up then, you can do a light lunch with no problem. Included meals are just ok. It's up to you, but you may consider skipping an included meal so that you can do dinner on your own. My husband and I did that in Venice and were glad we did. Most in the tour group said the included dinner in Venice was the worst of the trip. Even though I hated to not use a paid for dinner, my rationale was that it was our last night in Italy and I was willing to pay for a memorable dinner. Be aware that Venice had the most expensive restaurants of the trip - you should research ahead of time to get an idea of where you want to go if you decide to dine on your own.

2) We used a mix of credit card and cash. For small purchases and meals, cash was easier. We used a credit card for the higher dollar purchases.

3) See comments below on recommended optional tours.

4) Tour guide was informative and friendly. Accomodations were comfortable, but not luxury by any means. Be aware that most hotels will be located out of the city's center, such as those in Rome, Florence, and Venice. My tour group stayed at the Pineta Palace in Rome - which I found to be the furthest out of the city with no restaurants or anything around the hotel. A cab ride into Rome will cost about 15 euros each way - well worth it in my opinion.

5) I don't remember if the hotels had hair dryers (I brought my own), but definitely bring adapters and converters. None of the hotels will have wash cloths. I bought some cheap ones to take along and threw them away as I used them. Wasteful I know, but I didn't want wet wash cloths getting moldy and stinking up my clothes.

Now for some city specific details:

Rome - We got to Rome 2 days before the tour started so that we would have more time there and I am so glad that we did. We did not stay at the tour group hotel, but booked our own accomodations for the first 2 nights. If that is a possibility for you, I would highly recommend it. For that reason, we didn't do any of the optional tours in Rome, so this feedback is based on comments by other tour members. First night includes an optional dinner and night walk of the fountains. People seemed to enjoy this and it is a good way to meet other people on the tour. There was an optional Vatican tour on the first morning. Our group was bussed to the Vatican early (arrived at about 8am) where everyone doing the optional tour waited in line to enter the Vatican museums. The tour was about 3 hours and everyone seemed to like it. I believe people also had a short period of time to enter St. Peter's after the Vatican tour was over. I would highly recommend spending some time inside of St. Peter's and going to the top to get a view of the city - which was spectacular. After lunch, our tour group was bussed to the Forum and the Colosseum and dropped off for another tour. Again, my husband and I spent the whole day on our own in Rome, so I can't comment on the quality of either of the tours, but I did not hear any complaints. We also had an optional Roman Hills tour with dinner on our 2nd night in Rome which I would not recommend, simply to allow you more time to see more of the city and make your own restaurant choice. Definitely make it a point to see the Pantheon on your own.

Pisa - Had about a 2 hour stop there to sightsee and grab lunch on the way to Florence. We had enough time to take pictures of the beautiful buildings, but not to go inside.

Florence - There is an optional dinner on the first night that everyone loved. For most, it was the favorite meal of the tour. We did not do it as I already had a restaurant in Florence picked out that I did not want to miss. The benefit to doing dinner on your own is that you can spend some time walking around the Florence. The next morning they bussed us into the center of Florence and we arrived around 10am - a little later than expected due to all the traffic. The walking tour of Florence consisted of 2 parts - a demonstration at a leather shop and a walking tour. The leather store "demonstration" which more of a sales gimmick than a demonstration, which I would skip, if I could do it over again. If you decide to skip the leather shop, just coordinate with the tour director to find out what time and where to meet for the walking tour. The walking tour through the city's center was by a city guide for about an hour and I really enjoyed it. Then we all had a couple of hours on our own to eat and shop before we had to meet at the bus to depart Florence - not nearly enough - so make the most of it! I'm sure your timeframe would be similar - so you should probably assume that you will need to meet with the group no later than 2pm to depart Florence. Such a shame as Florence was gorgeous and I really wanted more time there. Our hotel for the Florence stop was the Hotel Europe in Signa.

If you are adventurous and independent - you can skip the optional dinner, as we did, and make your way to Florence by train on your own on the evening you arrive to walk around the city and have dinner. We took the train to Florence on our first night and ate at a restaurant called Il Latini - which I highly recommend - and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The train station was literally across the street from the Signa hotel and we bought train tickets from the little convenience shop next door to the hotel.

Venice - there is an optional dinner in the city on your first night which is probably worthwhile since your transportation into Venice will be included and you likely won't save much if you dine on your own. The next day in Venice included a walking tour in the morning that was about 90 minutes to 2 hours and was adequate, not great. At the end, we waited in line to walk into San Marco. After the tour was an optional gondola ride and then a boat ride to Burano. Realize that if you elect to do the gondala ride it will be in the middle of the day and you will be sharing the gondala with at least 2 other people from the tour group. We did a gondala ride on our own at dusk and although it was expensive, we enjoyed the experience. We did the optional to Burano which was nice, but if I had it to do over again, I would have skipped the Burano trip and spent the afternoon in Venice to explore and experience the city instead. As I mentioned, we skipped the included dinner in Venice on the second night and instead dined with another couple from the tour in Venice on our last night in Venice. We later heard the included dinner was terrible, so I didn't feel so bad skipping it even though it was paid for. If you decide to do that, you will need to take a water taxi back to the main dock and then take either a taxi or bus back to the hotel. It's not difficult to do, just make sure to take the hotel info with you so that you can tell the taxi driver where to go.

Innsbruck - there is an included dinner, which was fine. We decided to stay in and relax that night after dinner, but the Innsbruck hotel was not far from the city's center so it would be a snap to explore on your own that evening if you choose to do so.

Lucerne - there is no included tour but you will have time to explore on your own even if you do the optionals. I believe dinner the first night is an optional and then included on the second night. Optionals: We did the boat ride and cable car ride to the top of Mt. Titlis and I would recommend both of them without hesitation. As I mentioned, you will have plenty of time to explore the city, so make sure to see the Musegg wall with towers that surrounds one side of the city - it is really neat. It's free to walk along the top of the wall and into the towers and offers great views of the city. Lucerne is a compact city and easily walkable. Most people enjoyed the optional fondue dinner that was offered. We had dinner on our own to try and save money, but looking back, that would have been a good optional dinner to partake in. We really didn't save much by going out on our own.

Paris - optional dinner the first night which we skipped so that we could go to the top of the Eiffel tower. We used the metro to get around which was a snap. We wanted to also do a river boat ride that evening, but didn't make it since we were tired after dinner. The next morning, the city tour included a walk into Notre Dame and then a bus tour around the rest of the sights. They did let us get out of the bus at the Eiffel tour for about 20 mins for some photos. We didn't mind the short stop since we had already been there the night before, but many people were disappointed not to have more time there. After that, people only had about an hour to eat before it was time to depart for Versailles, the optional excursion for that afternoon. I was very glad that we did not do the optional as it gave us some time on our own to actually go back and see some of the Paris landmarks versus just driving by. I recommend the optional dinner at Montmarte as it was a memorable experience and a sort of farewell dinner.

The next morning, the tour group departed for London. We chose to stay 2 extra nights in Paris before making our way to London on the Eurostar train.

Overall, we really enjoyed the tour. It was our first time in Europe, so we had an opportunity to get a good overview of many cities. The drawback is that the tour felt somewhat rushed at times and we didn't get to devote as much time to certain cities as we would have liked. However, we were still happy that we did it and plan to go back someday to visit places like Florence where we did not have enough time.

jjfern is offline  
Jun 14th, 2007, 02:23 PM
Join Date: Jun 2007
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I forgot to mention that there is another travel board focused specifically on Cosmos tours that you may want to check out. It has specific information on the Rome to London tour.
jjfern is offline  
Jun 14th, 2007, 03:32 PM
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Bravo, fodorites!
enroute is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2007, 01:02 PM
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Thank you JJFERN, terrific information and very helpful!
Crazycatlady75 is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2007, 01:28 PM
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xyz certainly made great posts. I've used many tour companies and have traveled on my own many times. Each has it's pros and cons. If you pick the perfect itinerary, a tour is fantastic. Great transportation, key in hand at the hotel, baggage handled, someone there to help when needed - hard to beat. Cosmos is one of my favorites. I like their itineraries, plus they are budget because they don't include much. Even with delux tours included meal are OK, at best. Much better to stop off at some great restaurant instead of running back to the hotel for 7PM. Excursions are usually good and the price is ok, but with the internet now you can book your own perfect ones for each city you are in or simply do nothing at all. Fellow travelers usually turn out to be a big family and goodbyes are a bit sad. Hotels with Cosmos are always clean and safe. Some are in town some not, but always with local transportation. Their hotel in Sorrento is on the main road right in downtown and they even stay out on Capri. Not bad for budget. Tour directors are usually very good with Globus and Cosmos, sometimes exceptional. If you pick a good budget tour and do your own excursions and meals your cost will come out about the same as a 1st class with more included things. BUT, you will have done exactly what you wanted to do. Just let the tour director know right away that you will wander off on your own most of the time, and be at the bus when it leaves town!!! You'll have a wonderful time.
TravMimi is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2007, 01:44 PM
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3) What tours would you recommend for the cities specified above?

don't plan anything in advance! you won't know the exact schedule, and you'll have a couple of hours here and there just to fit in "the optionals" - additional Cosmos tours to be sold to the group

those optionals are paid in the US currency without conversion, so one less worry for you, cash or credit card

4) If you have been on a Cosmos vacation before, what should I expect in regards to the quality of the accomodations, tour guides, meals, etc?

I didn't travel with Cosmos in Europe, only in the US, and the summer is the peak tourist season, so expect modest accomodation, comfortable but no frills, far from the center. You'll be in your hotel room overnight only, so it won't really matter.

The tour guide will be local, you never know who and how good or bad. Breakfasts buffets will be provided by the hotels, and should be good. Other meals you'll have close to the places you visit, and you won't know in advance where.

If you want to save money on meals, have big lunches, small dinners. Shop for food whenever you have the opportunity and have a picnic.

If you like to sleep later, here is a trick: put your suitcase outside in the evening, in the morning just put your pajamas and the toothbrush in the carry-on
FainaAgain is offline  
Jul 4th, 2007, 06:23 PM
Join Date: Jun 2007
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Crazycatlady - I'm glad that I could be of assistance. Enjoy your trip!
jjfern is offline  

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