Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Contiki Tour Review: Berlin to Budapest

If you've been reading my blog recently, you have seen my many many posts about our amazing trip to Europe last summer. Now, I'm not done with those posts because we visited a few more cities after our Contiki tour ended :) but I did want to give my thoughts on the tour portion of our trip before moving on.

Now...I really don't want to give anyone a bad impression of Contiki tours, because the first trip I took with this company - their Amsterdam to Barcelona tour - was one of the best travel experiences of my life. But I also have to be completely honest and say that while we of course had an awesome vacation in August, the official tour portion of it was only average at best.

Cost-wise the tour was very affordable - we booked about a year in advance and therefore got the 2010 price for a 2011 tour, plus an extra $200 off per person and an additional $25 US gift certificate (again, per person) to use toward optional activities once we were on the tour. As usual for Contiki, our tour included basic hotels, breakfast every morning, a few dinners and of course transportation between cities. Our hotels on this tour were right near the city centers, and they were all clean and safe...we had no complaints. The breakfasts were mostly good (except for in Budapest) and two of the included dinners were average, one was bad and one was great. All in all, we definitely got our money's worth with the hotels and food :)

This tour also included a lot of activities, more so than my first Contiki. We had a trip to a concentration camp in Berlin, both a walking tour and a bicycle tour in Prague, a short walking tour with our Contiki guide in Vienna, and another walking tour in Budapest (which we actually skipped). We also participated in a few of the optionals - the Eye Spy Pub Crawl in Berlin, which was fun; the Berlin walking tour, also great; the traditional Czech dinner in Prague, which was decent; and the Vienna Schnapps Museum, which I definitely recommend!

So you may be wondering why I was worried about giving anyone a bad impression of Contiki, because up to now I've had nothing but positive things to say, right? Weeeelll...that's because I hadn't gotten to our tour mates or tour guide yet.

Now, it wasn't the actual people on the tour that I had an issue with - it was the way Contiki structured this tour. We started with a full group in Berlin, dropped a handful of people and picked up one person in Prague, picked up a few more people and dropped a bunch more in Vienna. It really kind of ruined the vibe in the group, because you didn't have 11 or 12 days together to get to know everyone. To be honest I'm not sure I would have chosen this particular tour if I'd known that it was structured like this :-/

Finally, your tour guide can really make or break a Contiki tour. I lucked out and had an absolutely amazing tour guide on my first Contiki; this time I was not so fortunate. "Kiwi Katie", as my friends and I have come to call her, wasn't unfriendly or anything of the sort...but she also just didn't seem as invested as the previous guide I had. Up until the end of the tour I kept my mouth shut around our tour mates about how disappointed we were with her nightlife suggestions and whatnot, assuming that because a lot of them went out with her every night and inevitably didn't go to bed until 5 AM that they were enjoying themselves. Turns out that wasn't the case, as I talked to at least a half dozen other people (and completely random members of the group at that) in Budapest and apparently none of them thought she was really giving suggestions based on what she thought we/they would like but rather based on what she wanted to do.

Not to mention the fact that in both Vienna and Budapest she gave us completely incorrect directions - including circling the absolute wrong area on a map of Vienna when we asked her to point out the Bermuda Triangle area of bars.

As for our bus time - it was pretty limited on this tour, just three separate 4-6 hour trips, and during these bus rides Kiwi Katie did not know how to shut up. Steve and the Natalies and I certainly weren't the only ones who wanted to use these bus trips to catch up on our sleep, either.

In general Berlin to Budapest was great because the hotels were centrally located, the bus rides were fairly short, and you got 2 to 3 nights in every city (though even that wasn't enough time for Vienna, especially). I wish we had had the same group of tour mates the entire time and that we'd had a guide who cared more about what her tour members were interested in rather than what she herself wanted to do, but we made the best of it all, gathered a few good jokes from the negative aspects, and hopefully if you are looking into this particular Contiki tour you'll end up with an amazing guide such as the one I had for my Amsterdam to Barcelona trip and won't have these types of complaints :)

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