Great hotel accommodations and luggage handling. Efficient and organized. Worry free traveling to destinations.
Know what your getting into with a tour we did. If a tour is what you want, you won't have a problem with Globus.
As two 24 year-old girls with little traveling experience we decided to explore Europe with a tour. We’re not into the backpacking and hostel staying way of travel. We did extensive research and even contemplated doing a Contiki Tour. After reading less than favorable reviews on epinions, we opted for Vacation Outlet' “The Popular” Europe tour based on its itinerary and superior tourist class hotels even though the age range skewed to the slightly older. As pointed out in many reviews below, if you want to truly blend into a culture of each country then don’t do a tour. A tour is a fast paced glimpse of each country's touristy "must sees" – this means most of the places you will go will have English menus, straight-out-of-college backpackers and an assortment of souvenir tchotchkes. You might have only 25 minutes to explore the Sistine Chapel or 90 minutes to take a picture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in your hand.
However, we still had a great time. Vacation Outlet does allow you free time after group sight-seeing tours in the morning and afternoon. Take advantage of this free time.
The tour guide will try to scare you into joining the overpriced optional excursions by making it seem dangerous and difficult to use the subways, buses, or trains. This isn’t true. Most of the hotels are either centrally located, very close to metro stations, or a cab ride away. Don’t let your guide deter you from seeing the cities at night. For example, our day in Venice ended around 6pm. Our tour guide said it would be dead at night and advised everyone to go back to the hotel for dinner. We stayed and had an amazing time. Venice is totally different at night. The tourists and pigeons are gone and St. Mark’s Square is simply breathtaking. By contrast, our tour mates had a lousy “Italian” dinner at the hotel with rubbery chicken and dry pasta.
Don't expect to eat well in Europe – this is something you need to take initiative about. Your breakfast consists of bread, cold cuts and cheese. Your lunch is eaten "on the run" – either at a roadside stop or at a pit-stop town where you don't have enough time to sit down for a proper meal. Dinner is your only chance to find an authentic meal. Don't be too afraid or too cheap to find REAL local cuisine because you already paid for the "included" hotel dinner. Hotel dinners are overrated as they (1) eat up time as you make small talk with your tourmates (if you are into socializing, this can be accomplished at a more opportune time, such as the hours you spend on the bus together), (2) force you back into the high school facing the "where do I sit dilemma", and (3) usually consist of some cultureless variation of meat and potatoes. Ask a local for recommendations or come prepared with a list of restaurants from a guidebook.
Don’t fall for the optional excursions. These are by far not worth the money and extremely overpriced. The excursion to the Lourve cost about $48. We thought it would be crowded and we would get extra things. Instead we ran around the Lourve with a local guide that spoke really fast. Plus, you have to listen to tour mates complain about the all the steps they have to climb. By contrast, the actual ticket cost about 8 euros (with a little extra for headphones) and you can wander and look at what you want. The only excursions that are economically worthwhile are to places out of the way, such as the Palace of Versailles or the fishing town of Volendam. Remember that every excursion means time away from independent exploration – which might be what you're looking for.
Our strongest piece of advice, Bring some guidebooks and maps. We brought Frommer's “Guide to Europe” and Rick Steves “Italy.” Use these as tools for things that might not be covered on your tour. They list addresses and points of interests. We also used the internet to see the location of our hotel and any places we wanted to see that were not listed in our books. Internet can be expensive over there. Our proudest find was the library in Amsterdam that offered free internet. Other tips: Often times you are concentrating so hard on making sure you capture the moment on film for later that you forget to capture the moment for yourself. Remember to stop and take a minute to drop your jaw and be amazed by Europe's beauty. Make use of the time you have in each place to actually enjoy the place. Rather than squander this time frantically searching for presents to bring home, shop at the convenient Autogrills and roadside stops. They provide a variety of cookies, chocolates, postcards and other touristy things and you're usually stuck there for an hour anyway. The slightly higher price is worth the convenience.
Beware that the quality of your tour will depend on your tour guide – and this is really hit or miss. Our tour guide was really great. She seemed scatterbrained at first, but was actually very organized. Though everyone moaned and groaned about 5:45am wake-up calls, they allowed us to avoid the swarming masses at each stop. Our tour guide knew that we liked to do our own exploring and never forced the excursions on us. Instead, she would give us directions and instructions on how to get around. These weren’t always correct or detailed (we couldn’t find our tram in Amsterdam, but a kind local pointed us in the right direction), but she had the best of intentions. Our tour guide had extensive knowledge about each country and you can tell she does her research. She was able to give first-hand impressions and experiences with the countries – even if some of it was a little bit outdated. We never saw her sleep on the bus and were amazed at the amount of energy she had. Members of the other concurrent Globus “Popular” tour complained nonstop about their horrible tour guide who told horror stories about getting robbed in Rome and introduced each stop with "This is where we're going to have lunch. Be back at 1pm." Many of their excursions were cancelled due to lack of interest.
Overall the tour is organized and efficient. We would never have been able to see as much as we did on our own. While tours have a tendency to promote dependence and hand-holding, Vacation Outlet also allows you to grab on or let go according to your comfort level (while never instilling the fear that you will be left behind – see other tour company reviews). Remember that these are foreign countries and things will be different from the U.S. Don’t gripe and complain (as many of our tour mates seemed to do). Don’t forget to explore on your own. If you ask nicely, locals are more than willing to help. Enjoy it.