I booked directly through Trafalgar. My tour peers from the US recommended for me to book through a travel agent in the future. They advised that travel agents are often able to obtain better deals through their wholesale prices and in turn, provide further discounts. I am unsure whether this is the case for Aussies.
The person responsible for my tour bookings was absolutely fantastic. She was my main contact person for any booking enquiries. She managed my last minute change like a dream. Mum was suppose to come with me on this trip, unfortunately she was too sick with the flu to fly. So the afternoon before, my contact person helped me changed all the bookings and flight (which we had to pay extra) for my partner to travel with me instead.
We did Singapore on our own and the amount of planning and booking was a little bit insane. Having someone else book our flights and the whole shebang was fantastic. My contact person was extremely professional, very empathetic and was very on top of things. I was SO stressed but she reassured me and even gave me her personal number so she is more accessible to me!!
THE COACH, THE DRIVER AND THE TRAVEL DIRECTOR
The coach is a luxury coach with comfy reclining seats. There is an on-board toilet it was not encouraged for use other than for emergency. There are seat belts on each seat. The coach can carry 48 passengers. Air con and heating system included as well as sun protecting blinds.
Our coach driver was with us for approximately 12 days before he needed his legal days off. Our driver was fantastic, he drove the bus like an absolute pro through the tight winding roads of Slovenian villages. We felt incredibly safe and he was always on time. Oh not to mention he was also the one loading all our heavy luggage.
Our travel director did a great job planning everything for 48 people. We had a hard time planning for 3 to Singapore, imagine planning for 48!!!! He provided great knowledge and insight about the history of EU during our trip. We again, felt safe and well looked after. Our tour director would also purchase small local sweets for us to taste - this was included in the budget. But we thought it was really nice! At each hotel our Tour Director will put up an info sheet as per below regarding schedules:
The one and only criticism we have was when it was time to provide written feedback, we all sat on the bus and had a pep talk about how we should think about all the good things and not to focus on the negative. This tactic may be effective on some but on others it can result in reverse psychology where people feel pressured in giving negative feedback.
Approximately 50% of the meals for the entire trip. The cost of our tour included 100% daily buffet breakfast at the hotel. We received 6 dinners and 1 lunch which was a "Be My Guest" lunch where we enjoyed local home cooked-style lunch and hospitality. It was one of my highlight.
I found the food provided in Trafalgar's chosen restaurants were either Ok or sub par. This may be because as a food instagrammer, I am spoiled for choice and the standards of food in Sydney are quite high.
Overall huge portions, you won't be hungry that's for sure.
If you are vegetarian, vegan, lactose intolerant, diabetic etc - let your travel directors know. My partner is a non-meat eater, we were lucky that the countries we went to were coastal with an excellent range of seafood. Gluten free goers can be tough, we had a lady who was gluten free and food variety was a little bit more limited.
We stayed at the following hotels: The Hilton, Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort, Park Hotel in Lake Bled, Jezero Hotel, Ariston Hotel, The Westin.
Our rooms were mostly up to scratch. The hotels itself were generally nice with excellent views from breakfast. Our room in Hvar was a bit smelly, our balconies were either facing the car park or some concrete. I heard a couple of people received beach views. Apparently if you are willing to fork out to upgrade to a beach view room, you can pay extra but make sure to advise Trafalgar way in advance because hotels in Hvar are booked out very quickly.
THE INCLUDED TOURS
Included tours went for about an hour in each major city we went to. These were usually let by "Local Specialists" - I will touch on this later.
We each received a VoxBox so we can listen to what the guides are saying while we are on our walking tours. This device is fantastic, I've only been on one other international tour and we all had to gather around the guide whilst having difficulty hearing what they are saying, the device it reminds me of an old Walkman set.
You will get approximately 1 hour. After the Local Specialist's guided tour, you will be given
A LOT of driving and time on the coach was involved take it this way, our driver drove close to 3000km in 12 days. However they will break out driving time nicely. i.e., we drove from Dubrovnik to Zagreb which took over 8hrs. We took a break every 1hr 45mins. I pretty much slept through most of the driving after taking Travel calm for long drives.
Other than Croatia, all other countries we visited accepted Euros. However we found that in Croatia a lot of places also accepted Euros - they would convert the currency - sometimes it works out better some times it didn't.
The exchange rate was
1AUD = 0.615 EU
1EU = 7.3KUNAs
1AUD = Approx 4.5-4.8KUNAs
DO NOT exchange your currency at airport, we were ripped off badly. For 200 KUNAs they charged $120AUD. Partly our fault that we didn't do our research in advance and were quite desperate to have Kunas prepared.
Trafalgar is very accommodating, they will recommend where to get our money converted and the local tour guide, also known as "Local Specialists" will point out the currency exchange provider in town for the best rate. We converted 30euros in Split for 200 Kunas.
OPTIONAL TOURS and LOCAL SPECIALISTS
There were 10 optional tours, I personally think they are of good value compared to the cost of some of the local tours. We were asked to pick all the tours we wanted to do on the 2nd or 3rd day. This was difficult cos we weren't sure what to expect so we decided to do ALL of it. There was only ONE optional experience in which we felt was unnecessary - Panoramic Cavtat in Dubrovnik. Most people felt sick on the boat from Dubrovnik to Cavtat. When we got to Cavtat we were let lose and directed where to eat. Depends on the purpose of your travels, we wanted to learn about the arts, history and culture of places. At the end of this optional experience we were quite confused and sea sick - we didn't really understand what the significance of Cavtat was.
We picked up a local specialist at pretty much every Country/City/Town we went to. Local Specialists are native to the area, some of them were selected by our Travel Director, others may be recruited via a different travel agency. I am unsure how they specifically source local specialists, but most of the local specialists provided real expert inside knowledge about the history, culture, architecture etc etc. The only Local Specialist we were unhappy about is the one in Dubrovnik, the fact that she was quite disengaged and mopey was a different story, but she missed out on quite a few facts and details that we had to later google when we got back to our hotel.
We LOVED our Local Specialist Tamara in Slovenia she was very cheeky and a bundle of joy, as well as Neville in Zagreb, very very knowledgably and insightful. I learned a lot about Marshall Tito.
Most of our tour companions were retired, I would say that the median age is between 63-64y.o There was a family with their teenage daughter and a couple in their 20s on their honeymoon.
There were people from all around the world, Australia, NZ, S. Africa, Canada, US, India and Singapore.
During my booking period, there was a fab flight deal - $699AUD return flights per person. via Qatar airline. The average cost of a return airfare from to Europe is approximately $1500
I purchased the optional Gold Seal Protection which was $198AUD (for 2 people) which was for cancellation, unfortunately this didn't cover last minute cancellation which is understandable. I've been on cruises where someone didn't turn up and they were only able to refund taxes. This is an optional purchase, this is NOT travel insurance.
The tour package itself was $4525AUD per person this included some of the guided tours, transfers to and from the airport (at scheduled times only, i.e., we landed at 7am and the transfer bus wasn't till 10am), all transport via a comfy coach throughout the tour, all hotel costs, some guided tours of the main destinations, approximately 50% meals, all porterage, all taxes and your Travel Director to handle on tour logistics to be with everyone at all times during the tour.
This was an optional choice, we decided to prepay at $170AUD per person OR you can chose to tip your travel director and bus driver at the end of your trip. We were happy that we pre-paid as our bus travel and travel director were fantastic and definitely deserved the recommended rate, if not more.
For this trip, we received a total of $100 discount. I am sure there can be other discounts if you dig around.
If I missed anything, or if there is anything else you would like to know, leave a comment below and I will try my best to answer it!