This was an outstanding experience all around for our entire family of 4 (2 daughters, 13 & 11 yrs old). We cannot say enough good things about our UK travel designer, Lindsey, and the two main guides she hooked us up with in London and throughout Ireland! We are a tough group to please, as my wife and I have pretty divergent interests, and of course, the 'tweens are always a tough sell - and the factthat we have never taken a journey of this magnitude as a family - 15 days overseas and away from home.
It was Lindsey's enthusiasm and genuine desire to make sure our vacation was planned exactly according to our wishes that made this experience so positive. Within 2 weeks after initial contact, my wife and I had spoken to Lindsey at least 3 times on the phone to communicate our vision for our vacation. Lindsey listened carefully, but also interjected her own opinions (based on her intimate knowledge of all the sites and attractions we mentioned), and together, we were able to construct the “perfect vacation”. We did have to repeat a few of our priorities a few times (e.g. she kept booking us into the wrong hotel in one city), but over the next 2 months, we built the perfect itinerary, and I would say it was a very interactive process, just the way we wanted it to be. I personally am VERY hard to please with things like seating on flights, and Lindsey could tell I am a “control freak” in that area, so she instructed me as to exactly when I could log into the airline’s website and hand-select specific seats “Sign on exactly 60 days before the departure date and do it yourself” – which is exactly how I wanted to do it!
The London portion of our itinerary was in the good hands of a private guide Lindsey had worked with before and someone she felt would be perfect for our family. Together with John (a certified “Blue Badge” guide), they mapped out a perfect combination of touring via tube, on foot, and via motorcar, hitting every sight we wanted to see. When we met John in London, we immediately realized why Lindsey chose John for us. He had a passion for the history, culture, and lore of London that translated into an amazing experience. He especially clicked with my wife, as she is an incurable history and royalty buff. Our kids and I – we would sometimes impatiently listen to his stories and re-enactments of events which delayed our entry into some venues, but in the end, we all agreed that John added tremendous value with his depth of knowledge and personal love of all things Brittania. John wasdefinitely more than a “tour guide” – he made history come to life for us.
Lindsey worked with a very capable contact in Ireland who did the building of our specific itinerary (Angela). She, in turn, communicated everything competently to our guide and driver, Don, who had the arduous task of driving us all over Ireland while making sure we got to all the spots we wanted to see. Not only did keep us on schedule the entire 7 days in Ireland, he was able to make calls to switch a few stops as well as making detours when we mentioned something new we wanted to see (my wife HAD to see the town of Ardmore, setting for many Nora Roberts novels – so Don made the turn when my wife saw a sign, and gave us a chance to stroll through Ardmore!). Don’s style matched well with my interest in “local color” and just hearing as much as possible about daily life – school system, sports, Irish politics, county rivalries, etc., as he was extremely conversant on all topics and shared his opinions and observations throughout the travels. The final 2 days in Ireland seemed a bit of a "sprint to the finish line". After 4 reasonably leisurely days of driving and touring and 2-night stays, we felt a little rushed to make it to the Waterford Crystal Factory by 4 pm one day, then to Dublin the next day to have enough time to see Trinity College and the Book of Kells. But.... we made it.
In retrospect, I can’t even think of doing this trip another way. Initially, I was reluctant to spend the money for a private guide/driver through the entire journey. However, I can’t even imagine how much stress there would have been if I had to DRIVE a car myself, or perhaps worse yet, ride a big tour bus from site to site. So the money to do the trip this way was well spent. The one element of the trip that did cause me some stress, related to money, was the whole process of money conversions: when to convert, whether to use credit or debit cards, where to get the best rates, how much cash to get each day, is it better for the merchant to run a transaction in Euros or Dollars, Pounds or Dollars, and also when to tip....or not. I think Lindsey could have explained that a little more prior to our trip, but then again, with the general range of cost of the trip, she may not have expected me to be such a “cost accountant”. Still, for anyone who is not accustomed to international travel, I think the whole area of currency conversions can be a huge block of stress and worry. Not enough to ruin the trip, but I found myself entering all expenses nightly on a spreadsheet and trying to estimate how much we had spent and how much more we would need!
Bravo to Lindsey and this travel company!!
Tough question. The pace was just a tad bit frenetic -- it would've been nice to have a "guided day" followed by a "free day" in London (we had 4 guided days, then just 1 free day). So much to explore on your own in London!
One other thing we would do differently: pack lighter. On a side note, I have to mention that when we sent a load of laundry out at the Milestone Hotel in London, it cost 300+ pounds - we could've bought a new washer & dryer for that price!! Interestingly, at the Muckross in Ireland, a similar load of laundry cost... 36 Euros. We're still scratching our heads on that one.
As much as we loved the 'luxury' hotels, we would probably opt for a slightly lower tier of accommodations, with an emphasis more on SPACE and the ability to 'do it yourself' - where you don't feel obligated to have porters handle your baggage at every turn. With our 2 daughters, it was also a little difficult to have them in either completely separate hotel rooms, or share a 'suite' with only 1 bathroom. Again, the '2 bedroom, 2 bath' option would've worked better, but in the old, world-class hotels, that type of room must not have been available.
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