Travel Agency staff were always kind to deal with, but did not proivde accurate knowledge of critical information when booking our trip. First off, they provided the wrong information regarding the age limitations to drive a 5 passenger rental car in Ireland. The info may be in their handout, but I expected an accurate response. Ultimately, if they had told me the correct information before we booked flights, we would have booked a trip to a different European location. However, once our airfare was booked, there was not much we could do but proceed with the trip. While their error caused a great deal of stress, luckily Hertz granted us an exception at check-in. Hertz recommended we rent a GPS unit -- this was a total waste of money, as there wasn't even viable reception in Dublin, let alone the outlying areas. Will have to dispute this with Hertz.
The hotel in Dublin was nice and in a great area with easy access to many attractions (Guiness, Museums, nice pubs). The Leprechaun Museum (not recommended by our travel company), was a silly toutist trap, but inexpensive and fun none-the-less. Guiness Tour was a great way to start the trip.
One resort that we stayed at was a beautiful, isolated, country spa - great if you want to sit out in a spa and relax. Not good if you want to see sites and experience the culture. The hotel in Clare, was our favorite stay. The city was fun and had easy access to nice local venues. The Cliffs of Moher, were the most scenic, beautiful, memorable part of the trip. The medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle was extremely over-priced. The entertainment was OK and cute fun, but the food was so ridiculously bad that I would not recommend this to anyone. We have these venues at home, and both the food and entertainment are much better at half the cost...but they're missing the authentic castle vibe.
Then we arrived at the Lodge at the Ashford Castle -- the second part of the trip where we were led to believe the travel agency failed and provided very wrong misrepresentations about our lodging. Originally we were suppose to stay at the castle, but that option filled before we could book (due to rental car confusion), so we were diverted to stay at the Lodge at Ashford Castle. I was told it was another facility on the Castle grounds with full access to the Castle and the only difference would be where we slept. Luckily our itinerary stated "The Lodge at Ashford Castle, overlooking Lisloughrey Quay with a spectacular view of Lough Corrib, offers an exemplary boutique country house experience in Cong, Co. Mayo. This hotel has so much to offer in terms of its stunning location and allows guests to enjoy all the amenities at Ashford Castle itself. The Lodge at Ashford Castle offers plenty of space to relax and unwind, cleverly maintaining the tradition of a fine Country House combined with the contemporary luxury and style of today." While the Lodge was beautiful and overlooked the castle, we were not allowed to even walk around on the castle grounds without a scheduled tour and escort. We were stopped at the bridge and asked if we had a reservation. The Manager at the Lodge was so upset about the information provided by the travel agency that he arranged for a 30 minute escorted tour of the castle for us. However, we were not allowed to see or use the gym, pool, pub pool table bar. There no or really late PM reservations for dinner and no openings to have drinks in the bar (this required a reservation too). Other than a 30 minute tour of the lobby and a few dining rooms, we were not allowed to see any of the Castle. While the Lodge was very nice, we were made to feel like the "peasants" staying at the Lodge - it became the running joke of the stay there. The manager tried to make up for the misrepresentation, but several other guests were quite put off by this as well. Apparently there are miscommunications coming out from Ashford Castle and the Lodge about their relationship --- it appears the rules change daily and on a whim. If you want the Castle experience, I suggest you demand to stay at the Castle to avoid any issues. The Falconry, archery, and clay shooting were great fun. Dinner at the restaurant on grounds was very nice.
Our last stay was at a castle back in Dublin, it is owned and operated by the same company that owns the Lodge. It was nice, but not a true castle experience as it is primarily a commercialized facility with standard hotel rooms and venues attached -- not comparable to staying in an authentic castle. It was close to the airport, but not really amendable to any other site seeing unless you had a car.
Overall, Ireland was beautiful and I am happy we went. I felt the travel agency misinformed us on critical issues that reduced the overall happiness and enjoyment of the trip.
Favorite Site - Cliffs of Moher
Favorite Activities - falconry, archery, and clay shooting at the Lodge/Ashford Castle
Favorite City - Kinsale for its local pubs, culture and dining; not too commercialized or inundated with tour buses!
Favorite Tours - Guiness, Jameson and Tullamore!
I would've stayed in Dublin and only two other locations and spend much less time packing and unpacking the car and racing to the next hotel. Packing and driving to the next local nearly everyday was tiring and much dreaded by the time we hit the third of our five stays. The drives were not enjoyed as they were overshadowed by our objective to get to the next place for check-in. Day trips to different sites from one or two hotels would have been much preferable.
The resort we stayed at is great if you want to stay someplace and just relax - it was the equivalent of an all inclusive in Mexico - except you paid for everything other than breakfast. Traveling with 4 young adults - we wanted to see and experience as much of Ireland as possible -- not to sit, relax and be pampered at a spa. We would have much preferred to stay in a small town like Kinsale or someplace with local culture and quicker access to entertainment and more scenic venues.
The medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle was the worst tourist trap - an awful rip-off. It was an extremely over-priced tourist trap with mediocre entertainment and horrible food. I would not recommend this to anyone. Save your money, tour a real castle and eat in one of the many wonderful local restaurants. You will be much happier for it!
We wanted to stayed in a real castle - even if only for one night. We were told that we were in fact staying at 2 Castles....Ashford and Clontarf. In my opinion, we did not stay in any castle and this was the biggest disappointment of out trip. I will not go back to Ireland for my castle stay, but will make sure I stay in a real castle somewhere else on a future vacation.
With airfare, car rental, lodging and food, $17K USD was spent on this vacation for 5 adults for 7 nights.
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