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Small Group Tours - Scotland

Old Aug 13th, 2013, 07:00 AM
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Small Group Tours - Scotland

I'm planning a trip to Scotland for my husband and I and am looking for feedback on small group (< than 20 ppl) tour operators. I've seen a couple of negative (but older) reviews of Lynott Tours, and am considering Kensington, Odysseys Unlimited, Queenslander and a few others but would love to hear form anyone who's had experience with any of these groups.

Our alternative is to hire a driver/guide for the 10-12 days that we'd be there, but I thought having a few other travelers to interact with would only enhance the experience.

Any input? Thanks!
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Old Aug 13th, 2013, 08:23 AM
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Hi AmyInLancaster,

You name tour operators that I don't know. Perhaps someone else can review those for you.

On my trips to Scotland, I've taken a one day tour and a 5-day tour from Rabbies, http://www.rabbies.com/ Timberbush gets good reviews, I've seen, too .. http://www.timberbush-tours.co.uk/

Depending on what you want to see/do, you can get to a lot using public transport. It depends on your travel interests. This site can help plan if you use public transportation, http://www.travelinescotland.com/welcome.do

Cheers.
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Old Aug 13th, 2013, 10:00 AM
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I'd never heard of these tour companies either, so I googled the first one (Lynott tours) just out of curiosity. They are obviously a US based company, presumably contracting the actual tours in Scotland to a local operator. I couldn't believe the prices they are quoting: 7 days land only from US$2320 per person!!! That's over US$650 per day for the two of you. The so-called "first class" hotels they use include such gems as Jury's Inn and Quality Inn at Glasgow airport - hilarious. You could do the same tour for a fraction of this cost yourself using a self-drive rental car, public transport or even a local tour company like Rabbies (which gets almost universal acclaim on this forum).

But then you say you are considering hiring a private guide/driver for 12 days which will cost most likely even more than the Lynott Tours one. You either have money to burn or you are genuinely aware you are being "taken to the cleaners". Sorry if I sound negative, I'm genuinely trying to point out you are in danger of paying way over the odds.
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Old Aug 13th, 2013, 10:14 AM
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I gets worse, I just read the reviews of the "first class" Fernie Castle Hotel used by Lynott: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_R..._Scotland.html. It's a real shocker by most accounts. Save your money and go back to the drawing board.
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Old Aug 13th, 2013, 10:15 AM
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I have never heard of any of those either . . .

Look at Rabbies and Timberbush. They are Scotland-based companies and you could cobble together maybe two of their longer tours (5-ish days each). They are VERY good, quite economical, and limit the size of their groups. You'd have to book your own air into the UK but that will save you even more money.

I would NOT book w/ a US based tour company unless you have money to burn.
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Old Aug 13th, 2013, 10:19 AM
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and booking with a Scottish company puts more money into the local economy
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Old Aug 13th, 2013, 10:22 AM
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I meant "It gets worse..."
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Old Aug 13th, 2013, 11:23 AM
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Rabbies--we used them for a day trip (thanks to janisj for the recommendation.) Couldn't have been better. They offer day trips and up to about a week to just about every place in Scotland of touristic interest.
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Old Aug 13th, 2013, 04:19 PM
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We did an Odyssey tour to Turkey, which we thought was excellent, but that's a whole different ballgame from Scotland. I looked at their Scottish trip, and the price is $4,547 and includes airfare from New York, 10 hotel nights, and 20 meals. I believe you will do better on your own and booking the local tours recommended above.
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Old Aug 13th, 2013, 07:07 PM
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The mention of <20 ppl made my mind jump to a big assumption, AmyInLancaster, that you meant in-country tour operators! The smallest group size I've seen advertised from a US company is the 24-28 on a Rick Steves tour ($2995 for 10 days, doesn't include airfare, fyi).

After I made my first trips, some friends were very interested to go to Scotland too. It was their first trip abroad and they booked a big bus tour through AAA. At the end of the tour they rented a car for another 4 days. The tour part gave them an introduction to the country with someone else taking care of logistics. They felt it made the independent driving part easier for them, a sort of training wheels approach.

Cost-wise, to do some of your own planning and using the Rabbies or Timberbush approach should be the most cost effective, ex: fly to Edinburgh, visit it a few days, maybe spend a day over in Glasgow (easy trip by train), and work in some day trips or multi-day trip. I've not made it to Glasgow yet (trip reports are available by clicking my name), but that's what I did June 2010.

From leaving home to walking back in the house the 13 day trip cost me $2300. Airfare is a lot higher now, but the cost would still be in the $2700-2800 range for 13 days. I travel simply and don't spend much at all on souvenirs.
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Old Aug 15th, 2013, 09:36 AM
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Thanks all, I am waiting for Rabbies to send me their 2014 rates/tours, as I was considering putting two of them together as well.

While not interested in commenting on my finances, I can say that there is an advantage to touring with a small number of others - you get other points of view and experiences that have always enriched the trips I've taken. However, the big bus "herd" tours are really not of any interest to me, as you all know how folks are treated as they're shepherded on and off a tour bus.

Driving around Scotland on our own is not an option, which is why I've looked into a driver/guide. While they are more costly, I think there's an advantage you get being escorted by a local who knows the country, sights and history, as well as providing insider's access to little-known or off the beaten path spots.

Still not sure what to do, but I do appreciate everyone's thoughts and comments. Keep them coming and thank you!
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Old Aug 15th, 2013, 12:30 PM
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Hi AmyinL .. it's not as small as you want, but I have done one RS tour (week in London) and did really enjoy the tour director and camaraderie of the other people. Several people in my group had taken more than 5 RS tours, one lady was on her 10th. Everyone came with a positive attitude, helpful when you throw a bunch of strangers together for a week. The repeat folk said it was the same in their other RS tours. Somewhere in the terms of taking a tour was notes about happily do this and happily do that (walk, carry your own luggage, etc). I wondered if that helps self-select positive people giving the group a better chance of getting along and having fun together.

In four trips to Scotland I've only done public transportation, or a combo of public transport and Scottish tour operator. Depending on what you want to see, you can see a lot with trains/buses. It just depends what you want.

Though not a big bus, a minibus does have a mostly set itinerary. While on Skye my driver did canvas the group to set that day's itinerary from a short list of options, and then everyone went there (together, of course). Actually, I stayed in Portree for the day--wicked bad cold and I just wanted a visit to the Boots for some pills and then had a very quiet day in town. I appreciated the driver letting me do my own thing and not insisting I go with the group.

While making up your mind, do you have specific questions ? Maybe written in the thread you'd find someone who could address it?
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Old Aug 15th, 2013, 06:36 PM
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I have a friend who travels with Odysseys Unlimited and she raves about them. she has. Travelled extensively on her own but now that she is older likes the comfort of having details taken care of.
I can't believe that posters have not heard of this company.
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Old Aug 16th, 2013, 03:14 PM
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wanttogo, so many on Fodor's work on independent travel rather than tours, which could help explain it

I put Odysseys Unlimited into a web search and after the company's link, the next few include some old threads on Fodors! Now that I've visited independently, I'd probably not go with Odysseys Unlimited, but if deliberately seeking a tour visit, I'd probably consider it after reading the mostly positive remarks.

AmyinL, reading the Odysseys web site, the Scotland tour could be compared to the RS Scotland tour. I'd carefully read each itinerary and compare what's included versus what's a drive by/"look see" and see which gives you more value.

The Odysseys tour lists just a slightly smaller number of people than RS, but if they use a 44-person bus as the RS tour probably does too, then the tour is probably (definitely?) not going to go into some of the tighter roads that I visited with Rabbies in the just 16 people minibus.

Another note on the Rabbies experience .. If the Odysseys company is from the US, perhaps all on the bus would be from the US. On my Rabbies tour, I had company of people from New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Canada, and only a few of the other people were from the US. We had some nice conversations b/c we came from different countries.

Cheers.
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Old Aug 18th, 2013, 06:16 AM
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Hello, and congratulations on your trip to Scotland! I have been there 3 times now, and keep falling more and more in love with it. I have to recommend Rabbie's for small group tours. I have been with them several times, and it was really nice. Fantastic guides and scenery. My best trip to Scotland was when I mixed 1 day tours with Edinburgh sightseeing. Like: 1 day Rabbie's touring, then the next day Edinburgh sightseeing, then another day touring, etc. Once I took a 2 day- tour with them. Though also very nice, 2 days in a row on the bus was a bit much, that time, dont know why. Maybe it depends on the person, but I find that several days in a row on a bus, can be a bit much. The two different one day tours that I did was: West highlands and castles, and Loch ness/highlands. Maybe you could do those, and some Edinburgh sights in between, and then throw in another day tour like St. andrews and the fishing villages, or something. Just a thought.
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Old Aug 18th, 2013, 06:51 AM
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Hi Amy --
I'm just going to comment on two of the groups mentioned above in case you're considering them - I've used both so can compare them based on my (granted, limited) experience. I've had great experiences with both and these generalizations are based only on 3 RS tours and 1 Odysseys but also based on speaking to others on those trips who have used the same companies again and again.

The people on the RS tours have been more of a range of ages from 40s to 60s mostly while the Odysseys Unlimited group was definitely older, 60s were the youngest and mostly 70s, some 80s.

The RS tours stay right in the heart of whatever town you're in, using small usually family-run hotels. Odysseys stay in very nice (maybe higher "stars") hotels but not necessarily in town - might be at a distance requiring public transportation to get into the heart of things during your free time.

I have found the RS tours to be a little more active and unique - with some elements of off-the-beaten path vs. Odysseys seeming to visit more of the standard tourist sites.

OK, again it's based on limited experience but for what it's worth I would lean towards RS over Odysseys in Scotland of the two. However, based on others' suggestions I'd look into Rabbies because that sounds like it might be a preferable way to go.
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Old Aug 19th, 2013, 06:04 AM
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Wow, thank you everyone - great things to consider Scotlib and SandyDee. Nice to hear Rabbies is getting such a good rap. The info on Odysseys is greatly appreciated, too, so thanks Leslie S and Wanttogo. So much to think about - but who is RS Tours? Have to check them out! You are terrific - thanks again!
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Old Aug 19th, 2013, 06:06 AM
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Wait, am I being thick? Just occurred to me RS is Rick Steves! Sorry, it's a Monday....
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Old Aug 19th, 2013, 08:31 AM
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Yes, Rick Steves. Happy Monday
I only mentioned them because scotlib had above. Not getting any commission from them or Odysseys Unlimited either, I promise!
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Old Aug 19th, 2013, 08:54 AM
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Ooh, I wrote out Rick Steves once and then started with peppering posts with RS and not connecting the two! Sorry about that AmyInL. Wasn't a Monday when I did that, but almost
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