Our first time trip to Australia was amazing. We wanted to experience the country away from the mainstream tourism and large groups. Everything turned out as described or better. We had no complications, no additional paperwork and other than for the car rental no voucher to carry. The app was very helpful as resource, reminder and showing directions. Our agent followed up with us along the way and we felt that he was always available if something might occur. However, everything worked out great. The local agencies that were picked truly cared for us as customers, knew their way of making a difference and were very personable. The two agencies that we would like to highlight were a local tour company and a local yacht company. The former made our Melbourne and Phillip Island tours a truly local and very memorable experience. The personal service was incredible and after a short while we simply felt that we are touring with a friend. The latter, a sailing crew, was an extraordinary team, around a principal person. They went above and beyond to satisfy the group and added an extra hour to the tour, so that we could all enjoy the sunset. Equipment was modern and well taken care of and the service was fantastic.
Our private Melbourne city tour, Phillip Island, Great Ocean Road and Hamilton Island were the highlights of this trip.
There are very few things I'd plan differently: I'd consider one airline over another for the domestic flights, because we have status with that group. That would enable us to continue earning miles, get preferred seats and would ease the challenge with the luggage. Weight adds up quickly when you travel internationally and one airline gave us a bit of a hassle every time when we boarded. Our suitcases were about 1kg over their limit and re-packing at the counter in the airport is never fun. In one instance - Hamilton Island back to Sydney - my carry-on luggage was considered too heavy, while the combination of my wife's and mine was below the limit. They made us re-pack it which after security we of course changed back.
Similar with the car rental: My preference was one agency over another. I have status with one agency and typically get an upgrade free of charge. In addition it would have been closer to the hotel, in walking distance in Melbourne. It was unfortunate that the car had to be returned within opening hours of the office (5:45 PM), something I never experienced before. That cut our second day of the Great Ocean Road trip short and took away one stop we would have loved to make. Hence I would plan a third day for that beautiful rugged coastline. Loch Ard was our personal favorite and the hotel in Port Campbell was a wonderful accommodation.
Last but not least we wouldn't repeat 'Explore' on Hamilton Island and Featherdale Wildlife Park, as it is embedded in a residential area, too small of a space for the amount of people, and it was super hot that day (42C) and the animals were desperately seeking shade. We much prefer observing animals in their natural habitat and felt a bit set back by the feeding approach and the people's behavior.
Explore picked great spots for snorkeling and a walk on Whitehaven Beach as alternative to the trip out to the Bait Reef which was disappointingly cancelled by them due to weather (!?). However, the group was way too large for our personal taste, people don't know what they are doing snorkeling and the crew wasn't giving sufficient instructions for such a big group in small spaces. The level of inconsideration by other guests reached New York City afternoon rush hour and it was very obviously run as a business, lacking the personal touch we experienced everywhere else.
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