Our tour officially began in London when we boarded the EuroStar train for Paris and ended in Madrid when we boarded our flight to the U.S. We did see most of the sites on the requested itinerary, but there were a few surprises, glitches and disappointments.
The first surprise came when we were met by our driver in Paris. Our Paris itinerary had been rearranged. We were to visit the Louvre that afternoon and Versailles the next day. The change was probably the best arrangement of our schedule. However, the first glitch came when we were instructed to make our way from the hotel to the Louvre via the Metro and meet our guide at 3:30 p.m. at the exit from the metro. The guide, on the other hand, had instructions to meet us at 2:45 for entry into the museum at 3:00. The Paris Metro station is like an ant nest of tunnels, and we came out at the wrong exit. We telephoned the only number we had (for the company that provided the driver) and explained that we could not find the proper exit. They contacted the company that provided the guide. Instead of telling the guide where we were and having him meet us we were told to try to find the correct exit which we finally did. We met the guide and got to the entrance to the Louvre at 4:00. Instead of two hours in the Louvre we only had one before they started closing. Our guide did an excellent job with the limited time and then took his time to escort us to the metro platform where we were to catch the train back to the hotel.
For the rest of our stay in Paris the driver took us everywhere and we did not have to fend for ourselves on public transportation. Our guide for the Versailles tour was very good, although it was a small group instead of a private tour, and we only saw the building and not the grounds. The dinner cruise on the Seine was great, the food excellent. We enjoyed the catacombs, and the Segway Tour was great fun and a good ending to our visit in Paris.
We started working with this company last November planning this trip. We agreed on the itinerary and paid the deposit. Final payment was remitted on March 16th. We expected to receive the detailed itinerary 30 days before departure, but 10 days before we left for London we had not received anything and emailed a query. We had less than a week to review the itinerary and found a couple of discrepancies which we asked to be corrected. If we had had more time we would have found several other differences between the agreed itinerary and the final one.
The major issues were local transport and tour group size. In Barcelona we were expected to find our own way from the hotel to the start of the Gaudi Tour and the Tapas Crawl, both over 2.5 km from the hotel. After contacting the company they agreed to reimburse taxi fares. For the full-day tour to Fugueres and Girona we were taken to the train station by driver. However, we were expecting to go by car and were not expecting to ride the train at all. On returning to Barcelona we had to take a taxi to the hotel.
Both the Gaudi Tour and the Fugueres/Girona Tour were with large groups rather than private tours. We specifically requested either private tours or small groups (no more than 4 to 6 people). In large groups the tour guide uses a radio microphone with each tourist wears a receiver with earbuds to hear the guide. Mr. P wears hearing aids and cannot use the earbuds. Therefore he could not hear the guide.
The French and Spanish trains were very good: on time, clean, comfortable. We enjoyed seeing the countryside of both countries.
Local transport in Seville was very satisfactory. The driver on the trip to Sanlucar de Barrameda was especially good. His local knowledge about the olive and grape industry was very helpful. Our tour of the sherry bodega was disappointing. The group was over 30 people and the guide spoke only Spanish! What happened to the private tour? The original itinerary included lunch, but it was not included.
The trip to Granada and the Alhambra was also disappointing. The tour through the Alhambra was with a group of over 30, again with the guide using a radio-microphone. I might as well have wandered around on my own.
In the original itinerary we were to have dinner and Flamenco performance in Madrid. However, it was rescheduled to Seville. We enjoyed both the very good meal and the show.
On arrival in Madrid we could not locate the driver for transport to the hotel. After several telephone calls and an hour waiting we finally found him. This leads to the final issue with the itinerary. The original agreed itinerary said: “Depart from Madrid with your guide as you drive to the nearby city of Toledo... In the afternoon get a taste of the top attractions in the city [Madrid]...” The final itinerary said: “Please go to Atocha Train Station... to take the 9:20 train to Toldeo... Take the 17:25 train to Madrid.” The tour company did agree to provide a driver to take us to the station and show us where to get the train. A guide for Toledo was also added for a half day tour. The guide was excellent, perhaps the best one on the trip, but at 1:00 pm we were left on our own to wait for the train back to Madrid. We never got the driving tour of the Madrid!
The hotels were all very good. Excellent locations, clean, modern, comfortable. The hotel staffs were very friendly, courteous and helpful.
I don’t know where the ball got dropped on our requests for this trip. It was obvious that the arrangements were made at the last minute. For example the Louvre guide and the catacomb guide both said they were only contacted the day before. The catacomb guide had to say we were her relatives to get us in. The catacomb reservations needed to be made two months in advance.
We had a good time, but it could have been less stressful and frustrating and more enjoyable. At our age (both over 75) we cannot do the things we could when younger. We need the extra help and personal attention we thought we would be getting on this trip.
Paris dinner cruise. Seville walking tour with guide
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TRAVEL COMPANY COMMENTS:
We were concerned to hear about some communication problems that marred what otherwise appears to have been an enjoyable vacation for the clients. Clearly, there were communication issues at various levels but as the owner, I take responsibility for the environment that created them. In mitigation, we were not aware of any problems experienced by these travelers until we received a copy of the review even though we are always accessible online and by phone. There was obvious miscommunication as to which tours would be private and which tours would be shared in order to keep the overall cost within agreed parameters. What is not excusable is the commentary being exclusively in Spanish and we have instructed our colleagues in Spain not to use that operator in the future.Regarding the operating itinerary being late in arriving that is regrettably true primarily due to a large amount of clients departing around the same time. Certainly no comfort to the them but offered as an explanation, not an excuse. We do however dispute the suggestion that the clients were expecting the operating itinerary 30 days out since our policy is 15 days before departure. We still missed that target but not by the degree suggested.Despite the communications errors ( and we in no way minimize them), we are pleased to see that the core elements of hotels, guides, meals etc., appear to have met Vivien’s expectations and our own standards. The communication breakdown is being addressed but we firmly believe that it was not our standard practice as evidenced by the many five star reviews from other clients. I have apologized separately to Vivien and offered a credit towards another trip should they chose to give us another chance.
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