On the whole the trip was well-planned and turned out to be a pleasant experience, especially given the short lead time to arrange for accommodation, tours and private guides at such popular destinations. There were a few "hiccups" along the way which I will mention below but all in all it was a very enjoyable trip.
I was impressed by the process of gathering detailed information about our general travel history and preferences to use as a foundation for crafting the type of experiences and situations we would enjoy or prefer to avoid. Our travel specialist was great to work with. She was professional, personable and responsive. The itinerary created for us allowed us to appreciate Greece the way we aimed to: ponder the remarkable history and antiquities, explore and savor the ancient ruins and incredible artifacts, delight in the fabulous food and wine, drink in the intoxicating beauty of the islands studded in impossibly azure waters, and relish the warmth and gregariousness of the local folks.
Now the few "hiccups":
Hotel problems. (1) Athens hotel. The hotel is in a fabulous location but its age inevitably showed in the rooms we were given, and the bathrooms exhibited signs of deterioration and deferred maintenance. (We stayed there twice on the trip for a total of 5 nights, in two different rooms.) The sound of the toilets flushing (ours and the neighbors') was deafening! Truly. There were no electrical outlets in the bathrooms and no wash/face cloth; there was not a single mirror in the bedrooms.
(2) Hotel in Rhodes.Upon arrival in the early afternoon we were told we had no reservation. After showing the front desk our printed itinerary from the travel company and waiting 30 minutes for the hotel to contact our Greece contact to clear things up, we got room #54. It was very small, and the bathroom was tiny: the door could only be opened 90 degrees before it hit the toilet, and there was a barely one foot gap between the edge of the door and bathroom counter so we had to suck in our chests in order to squeeze by and reach the toilet. The small shower had no door, just a narrow strip of glass partition so shower water splashed out onto the floor and the counter. There was a floor drain outside the shower and we realized why when we finished showering --- the BA floor was flooded. Dangerous because the floor was marble and very slippery when wet. The bottom of the BA door was rotting away from repeated moisture penetration. But the worst part was that the BA was a step up from the bedroom. Small step, but so out of the ordinary that we stubbed our toes every time we went to the BA, and missed the step leaving the BA and fell or crashed into the wall of the BR. So when we went out to dinner we stopped at the front desk to complain and asked for a room change. The woman who checked us in was surprised; she didn’t know such a room existed! She couldn’t do anything that night but promised to speak to the reservations manager in the morning. I texted our travel specialist and sent photos of the BA. She was apologetic and promised to fix the situation. We were given a new room the next day, slightly larger and a much better BA with no step up.
(3) Hotel in Heraklion. The hotel is situated in a convenient location, up on a rise. Our room had a nice view of the harbor, but airplanes started taking off early in the morning (5am) and roared over the hotel and inevitably woke us up. We're not sure if most or all of the hotels in that part of the city are affected by the flight patterns or just our hotel.
Arrival problem. Rhodes. On arrival in Rhodes we did not see anyone with a sign waiting for us. We waited and walked around all the other agents holding name plaques outside the arrival area but did not find our greeter. Finally after 10 minutes and most passengers had been picked up, we walked down the hall and found a young woman at the end of it standing next to a booth chatting with friends, and a sign TAPED on the booth with our name on it! We complained to our Greece contact.
Our Greece contact was quick to act when she found out about the ferrymen's 24-hour strike that was to occur on the day (Sept. 24) we were to take the ferry from Santorini to Athens. She called us (we were driving from Chania back to Heraklion) and immediately booked us on a flight, securing 2 precious seats. If we were not able to get back to Athens on time, we would have missed our early morning flight back to the US on Sept. 26. The strike did happen, and it affected not just the ferries but also extended to the rails and buses, and caused the closure of schools and banks in Athens. Arriving in Athens on the day of the strike, we felt very lucky to be met by our pre-arranged transport! Our driver for Athens (and the excursion to Delphi) was wonderful.
The most memorable moments were: (1) the killer view of the acropolis bathed in morning light from the rooftop restaurant of the hotelHi in Athens. It sent chills down my spine. (2) the first views from the patio of our apartment/villa in Oia (Santorini): mesmerizingly blue water of the caldera against an equally azure and cloudless sky above iconic white buildings lining the slopes, studded with sprinkles of blue church domes.
Having pre-arranged transport from airport to hotel to ferry to hotel to airport was incredibly convenient and comforting. The private guided tours were marvelous. All the guides were professional, knowledgeable and personable (Thank you to all of them). We enjoyed learning about the places we visited, the ancient Greece, for sure, but we also reveled in discussions with the guides (and other English-speaking Greeks who engaged us in conversation) about many other topics during long drives, at lunches and in restaurants: current social, political and economic issues and the recent financial crises affecting Greece and its people; everyday folks' lives that revolve work and families; regional food and drink; tourists and tourism in general; biases and immigrant issues .... in other words, we got to know a little bit about contemporary Greece and its people too. We travel to learn, to absorb, to connect.
It was a great advantage to have a pre-arranged and pre-paid itinerary when traveling in a country where the language is so different. We tried to learn some Greek before we left but it was difficult, and we never got beyond the simple greetings and "thank you". Even when we knew how to pronounce the words (which was not easy), we still did not know their meanings. So not having to deal with booking ferries, land tours or even hailing a taxi was a great relief and reassurance, and gave us more time to focus on enjoying the trip. Finally, a pre-paid trip freed us from having to constantly look for ATMs! Based on the agency's suggested gratuities to the guides and drivers (and our estimates of tips for hotel personnels and restaurants), we bought Euros at our bank before departure and it came out almost right on the money, so to speak.
We would not do anything differently except perhaps give more lead time. We usually plan overseas trips several months or even a year ahead of travel, and we usually make all the travel arrangements ourselves. We started making plans in the beginning of 2019 for a trip to Greece in June, but personal business intervened and we had to drop the planning and aim for 2020 instead. But the business concluded sooner than expected so we decided to make a go at it by turning the planning over to a travel agency. We decided on Zicasso after reviewing several companies on the internet, and we are glad we did.
TRAVEL COMPANY COMMENTS:
Thank you so much for your review! We appreciate the time you took to such thorough feedback for your trip, and are so happy you had a wonderful time in Greece! In our discussions, it was very clear that you wanted to experience the country in a unique way, so it is good to know we accomplished our goal.
I was a bit surprised to see your comments on the hotel in Athens as we spoke with you following your initial stay there (when resolving the confusion in Rhodes), and you specifically noted how delighted you were with the Athens hotel - commenting on the class, service, and the view. If we had known there were issues, we could have made other arrangement for your return to Athens at the end of the trip. As you said, although the property is a bit older, the room size and location are fantastic, particularly given the price. I am not surprised the Acropolis view was one of your trip highlights – it truly is unsurpassable!
With Heraklion, the airplanes are a bit difficult as the airport is in the city. We did discuss other properties with you, one being in a quieter area, just outside the main center. However, you had fallen in love with the one hotel, so we worked with you to ensure your stay there even when the original room proposed was no longer available due to the last-minute nature of your trip.
As for the situation in Rhodes, we would like to apologize again. The island was hit by a heavy storm and abnormally high winds that resulted in many flight delays, ferry cancellations, tourists stranded…it was certainly chaotic. We checked with the driver - the crowds and flight delay made it difficult for her to find you, so she went back to the booth to wait there. We expect a higher level of service from our drivers – as you know, all the others were waiting for you very promptly - so I sincerely apologize. The hotel computer system was also having trouble because of the storm, making it very difficult for them to retrieve/read reservations. When you wrote regarding your room condition, we made sure changes were made as soon as possible as we do not book rooms with such small bathrooms for our clients. The hotel also apologized for the initial situation as they were flooded with new requests from the people stranded due to boat cancellations and were trying to accommodate everyone as best as possible considering the system malfunctions. I hope the room after that first night was satisfactory as we did not hear from you during the remainder of your stay on the island.
We believe all stages of a trip are important – from the creation to the execution. Although we were a bit short on time for planning, I was proud to read your appreciation for our process and trip development. As you mentioned, while you were in Greece we responded promptly to any issues and were proactive when there was the initial mention of strike to make sure your trip ran as smoothly and enjoyably as possible! I am so glad you were able to appreciate all Greece has to offer from sights and history to the people and culture!
Thank you again for your feedback. It always helps us in ensuring the best possible services for future clients. Please do not hesitate to reach out if we can assist with any future European travels!
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