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Trafalgar European Whirl Tour

Buyer Beware! If you want to sit on your butt on a bus for hours on end, see most of Europe from a highway, eating at truck stops all day long, getting no exercise whatsoever and gaining weight, then this is the tour for you. I was extremely disappointed by the format of this tour. Instead of making short stops for bathroom breaks and then spending lunch in small towns along the way where you can stroll, shop, eat local food, interact with the local people and culture, we spent hours every day at truck stops while traveling to the major cities. Our travel guide was very informative and our bus driver safe and wonderful, but I will never travel Trafalgar again and I would not recommend them to family and friends. Too many terrible hours wasted on river or lake cruises that were boring when we could have been walking around the beautiful cities.

-- Post edited by Webmaster due to promotional content --

Only a few dinners and almost all the excursions and river/lake cruises were a waste of time and expensive, except for Moulin Rouge which was wonderful. The only reason we took this tour was because it went to Rome and London. We did see the Pope, which was a highlight. But we were left on our own for 2 days in London, with only a bus ride to the Palace to see the changing of the guard, big deal that was not. All in all, I regret taking this Trafalgar tour.

Posted by
13925 posts

Sorry you didn't have a good time on your tour. It undoubtedly was a lot of money for you not to have a good time.

I guess I am wondering why you have posted your review on the website of a person who runs tours to Europe? Those of us who have traveled on Rick Steves' tours are almost all unashamedly huge fans of his tours. It does not sound like they would be a good fit for you though, as there is often a good deal of free time built in for independent exploration. His guides do focus on teaching European travel skills including using local transportation such as the Tube in London or Metro in Paris so you can get around independently in the free time.

He also has a no grumps policy which I find refreshing so people usually are aware up front they have to manage their own luggage and that the hotels are often small and have no elevators. Most people I have met on the tours have done their due diligence and are aware of the parameters of his tours.

Hope you will enjoy your next trip more than this last one.

Posted by
8293 posts

"We were left on our own for two days in London ...." Presuming you are adults, was that really so terrible? Your tour description must have noted that on the list of days' activities for the trip, so a bit of preparation on your part would have helped, such as a London guide book. Anyway, London being one of the world's great cities, there are worse fates than having to fend for yourselves there for 48 hours.

Posted by
3751 posts

It is possible that the real purpose of this post is to advertise the second tour company mentioned in this post.

You made a big mistake not looking at other tour companies before booking your trip. If you had come here to the Rick Steves site on a regular basis, you could have read how satisfied the travelers are who have taken Rick's tours.

Since a quick check of your profile shows you have made one post only on this website, I am going to assume this may be some sort of spam promoting ____Tours, the one you seem to be wanting us to check out (which we won't).

Posted by
8293 posts

Aha, Rebecca ... maybe you are on to something.

Posted by
13925 posts

I totally missed that Rebecca and I agree with Norma that you are likely right.

It does always interest me, more on Trip Advisor than here, that people find their way to forums to have a first post discussing a less than optimal experience, but don't seem to find the the forums in their research before booking a tour.

Posted by
852 posts

I also agree with Rebecca in that you made this post to get people to check out Image Tours. I know people who have done Trafalgar tours and found them quite satisfactory, and didn't describe the experience anything like you did. Not my style of travel, though, and I think if you actually did do a Trafalgar tour then you didn't read the itinerary very carefully. It's really bad form to come to this forum to bash one tour company, and then also promote yet another one. Take your complaints about Trafalgar tours to them, and your advertising for another competitor company to a general travel web site such as Travelocity where people might be interested in hearing about many different tours.

Posted by
3751 posts

Yes, I agree with Anita. Bad form to come to someone's own website and promote another company.

Rather like going to a friend's house for dinner, not complimenting the hostess on her cooking, but raving on about how wonderful the dinner was over at someone else's house.

Posted by
13925 posts

****Editing my post as the Webmaster edited the original post to delete the reference to the second tour company mentioned by the original poster.

OK, I bit. I looked a the other Tour site and my goodness.

  • I could never find how many people are on the tours, but it must be a full bus of 52 since nowhere does it indicate small groups.
  • The person in charge is a tour manager, not a guide.
  • Tips for the manager and bus driver are not included. $3-$4/day each for the manager and guide and Image thoughtfully includes tipping envelopes with your tour documents. $112 for a 14 day tour for good service.
  • There are many one-night stays in 2 multi-country itineraries I looked at plus many optional tours, meaning not included. The day tour from Bussolengo to Venice is $95 plus another $45 for a gondola ride. On the RS BOE the guide did arrange a gondola tour and at 6 per gondola (as on the Image tour) it was ~$25 (I think it might have been $23) so someone is making a tip there. On the 17 day tour itinerary if you do all the optional tours including the gondola ride, it's $630 per person.
  • Shopping is continually mentioned, lol! Strikes dread in the hearts of die-hard Rikniks! I'll take a museum or a cathedral or an Alp over shopping!
  • One more thing, suitcase sizes are limited to 28" or 29". I am thinking even the known heavy packing advocates on this forum are not taking cases that are that large. Max weight 50#, and you will have to handle it yourself if the case is larger or heavier.

All in all, it was an amusing read. So if this IS a shill for the other tour company, then they didn't pick a forum where they might have a very receptive audience.

(In the interest of full disclosure it is apparent that I need to get a life but it's thundering and lightening outside so a walk is out!)

(2nd disclosure - Thank you Rick for having your policy of full disclosure and discussing the fine print.)

Posted by
10344 posts

Often, if a tour has the word whirlwind in it, it's going to be exactly that and will pass you by like a whirlwind.
Another word to avoid, or at least take careful note of, in tour descriptions: blitz.

Posted by
2252 posts

Yeah, Pam! Same weather here. Good for you for looking up that info and posting comparisons. I think you might be preaching to the choir relative to this particular post! I actually thought it was for real until I began reading the replies. I'd advise doing a lot of research and comparison shopping before choosing one tour company over another. But then I am going on tour (I believe) #15 or maybe it's #16 this summer. Obviously, Rick Steves and Co. suit me just fine.

Posted by
3580 posts

If it's Tuesday this must be Belgium! I saw a gathering of huge bags waiting to board the Eurostar for Paris at London's St Pancras, all labelled Trafalgar. And they were being managed by a tour manager. That might be the advantage of Trafalgar vs ETBD. Pack big and let somebody else handle it.

Posted by
3751 posts

Or if you are like another frequent poster on this site, just let your chauffeur handle the bags!

Thanks, Pam, for the lowdown on those tours! I was laughing out loud at all the tips and hidden fees! Also at the shopping being "pushed". Rick Steves says on one of his programs that other big-bus tour companies get kick backs from the shops, so that's what you're going to see--more shops!

Wow, a posting like this, plus Pam's excellent analysis, makes you appreciate just how good the Rick Steves Tours are in every way!

Posted by
14969 posts

I think there are some misconceptions about tours and since I used to lead them, I'd like to respond.

The vast majority of people here who take tours would definitely prefer a Rick Steves tour over a major tour company's tours. They are closer to independent type travel and from my time here it seems most like planning what to see even if they are on tour.

However, not everyone is like that. They readily prefer a large bus, whirlwind type tour.

You would be surprised how many people on my tours had no idea of what we were going to see. They might know the cities but not what we were going to see each day. It wasn't really important to them. When they had free time, they would often ask me what they should do. They just wanted to be able to tell their friends they had been to a certain place and saw the major sites.

As for shopping, well, on my first few tours I hardly made any shopping stops. I thought, "why waste time shopping when we could be seeing things." I almost got lynched. People wanted time to shop. I even got a call from my tour company telling me to give them more time to shop because the passengers were complaining. They wanted souvenirs.

At the end of every tour, passengers fill out a survey about their trip. These are extremely important and are read carefully by the tour companies. Too many bad surveys and a tour director could get fired. Too many complaints about an itinerary and it gets changed. Almost all stops are approved by the tour company, including shopping stops, and if they become unpopular, they are changed. Yes, in some cases, tour directors get commissions for shopping but it's rare for a tour company to get anything out of it. And if a stop gets too many complaints, the tour director is not allowed to stop there.

Also remember that not everyone wants to pack light. They like having bell service. They like to eat at places where they recognize the food. They want to stay in a modern, American style hotel. These are not the most adventurous people. They want it to be like home. On occasion, I'd get passengers who had researched and knew exactly what they wanted to do. Contrary to what Rick says, I loved those passengers because all I had to do is point them in the right direction and they were happy.

A good tour manager wears many hats. He has to be a knowledgable guide to discuss everything you are going to see, he has to have management and organizational skills to make sure any problems that arise are taken care of without the passengers knowing (if possible), and he must be both a friend and a leader. A good tour manager makes sure you get everything you were promised in the tour brochure.

Now as for the terms tour guide, tour director and tour manager. According to the official definitions, a tour guide is someone who leads you locally whether it be for a museum tour, city tour or anything that just lasts a few hours. A tour director is someone who is responsible for and leads tours over multiple days and overnight stops. It is more responsibility. (A tour manager is the same as a tour director but that is the term used outside North America.)

Rick Steves' guides are technically tour managers. However, he uses the term "guide" brilliantly for marketing purposes. When comparing his "guides" to others, he can include both bad local guides as well as tour managers from other companies. It's not really a fair comparison but business is business.

While most people here would probably not be happy on a larger bus tour many of the people taking those tours would not be happy on an RS tour. Just go to other travel forums and see what they think of RS.

As for the OP, I think others were right and it was a sham posting promoting another tour company. Just too much of what she wrote blasting Trafalgar seemed too made up.

Posted by
8293 posts

Frank, you are so right about some people on tours being afraid to be left on their own for a little while. I remember on a tour in Italy a long time ago, some of us signed up for an optional tour from Stresa to Isola Bella, and a few who were not signed up started whining to our leader ..... "But what shall we do while you are gone?" Our leader looked at them sternly and said "You are in one of the most beautiful places in Italy. Walk around, see it and enjoy it for 2 hours."

Posted by
8889 posts

Frank, Norma, On a recent question about whether it was worth going into Lisbon on a short layover, my answer was yes, just go to the old city, wander around, stop at the occasional café and soak up the atmosphere.
The poster came back and effectly said, is that all, just walking around and going into cafés, are there no attractions?
I just like wandering around new cities, especially unique and beautiful ones like Lisbon, looking at the architecture and soaking up the ambience. Some people want specific things to see (museums, go just from one attraction to another). To each their own.

Posted by
7025 posts

Norma, that reminds me of one instance on a tour I took. We were staying in Lugano and a small group of us wanted to go to Bellinzona during our free time. It was not an official optional tour so we were going on our own. I think our tour director was surprised that we even wanted to venture out on our own like that and was concerned about us. I think he also liked the idea of giving us an impromptu guided tour of the castles as it was a favorite place of his so he chose to come with us. But before he accompanied us he had to check with all the other members of the tour (who weren't going) to make sure they had plans and/or knew what was available for them to do in Lugano and that they knew he would be unavailable for a couple of hours.

Posted by
13925 posts

Frank, thanks for your informative post.

I did not realize there were actual definitions of guide/director/manager. I guess I just bought in to how Rick uses the "guide" term without know there were industry standards. My bad.

On the Road Scholar tours I have taken there had been a person who was the "leader" who was the person that did all the administrative work, handled complaints, kept people on track, bought tickets, etc. The "instructor" was the person that did what I would call the guiding...the interpretive stuff, the tours, the context, the history. I guess in my mind I pictured the leader as a manager, but now I see that was not a correct interpretation on my part.

I laughed out loud about the shopping experiences. Funnily enough, even though the RS tours don't really have shopping stops plenty of people found a lot to buy.

I do understand what people are saying about some people wanting every minute lined out for them. On the Road Scholar tours my biggest negative is that there is not enough free time. On a birding or hiking tour it doesn't matter much but on the international tours I would have preferred more time on my own. I will probably do other Road Scholar tours as they have some itineraries in areas that Rick does not cover and which might be awkward for me to manage independently. I hope no one thinks I am shilling for Road Scholar as if Rick has an itinerary in a certain area I would pick his tour over any others.

Interesting to read others' experiences with tours too.

Posted by
14969 posts

I have so many stories about "unique" passengers there isn't time to tell them all.

It is very important that a tour manager not show favoritism toward one person or group over another. That is something we were cautioned about regularly. If I did go with a small group somewhere I had to announce it to everyone and invite whoever wanted to go along.

I also have to laugh about shopping stops because I've read some RS trip reports where they are taken to "demonstrations" where they could buy the product being made or shown just as any other tour. It was emphasized that no one had to buy anything but that's the case with every tour.

But here's a really big secret....when you are off on "free time," the tour manager is probably either doing paperwork, confirming upcoming hotels, restaurants and the like, or napping. You're on vacation. He's working and has probably been there numerous times before. Every tour manager I've ever met will admit to taking a short siesta in the back of the coach--but not while the tour members are there, of course.

BTW--Road Scholars is such a specialized program that they are different than most tours. More in depth.

Posted by
13925 posts

"BTW--Road Scholars is such a specialized program that they are different than most tours. More in depth."

Actually, I think that used to be true when they were Elderhostel, but now, the 2 international ones I took were no more in depth than the Rick Steves tours, which are, admittedly more in depth than my perception of some of the big bus tours. Since Road Scholar uses different providers this may vary as well. The 2 I took in UK were the same provider but the 2 US based ones I've taken were, of course, each a different provider.