Pros: Got me to Europe, Let us out by ourselves
Cons: Punctuality, hotels, food, almost everything
I took a 17-day trip to Europe with EF Tours. The itinerary is as follows (It was the "Europe at Leisure" package they offer):
Day 1 - Overnight Flight to London - Perhaps the only part of the trip that went smoothly
Day 2-4 - London
Day 5 - London, Canterbury and Paris
Day 6-7 - Paris
Day 8 - Paris, Board overnight train to Switzerland
Day 9 - Lucerne
Day 10 - Lucerne, Florence
Day 11 - Florence
Day 12 - Florence, Rome
Day 13-14 - Rome
Day 15 - Rome, Sorrento
Day 16 - Sorrento, Capri and Rome
Day 17 - Travel Home
The trip itself cost about $2500.00, but with "supplies" about $3000. I went during the month of June.
I had taken one other trip with a student oriented travel company to Washington D.C. and may I say they did 4000 times better than EF could dream of. Upfront EF projected a great image and made my blood run wild through me. The thought of going to Europe was extraordinary. Things began just as planned with my group departed on time and arriving a few minutes early in London, but that was the LAST time that our group of 50 people was on-time for anything. First off if you are going to Europe a group of 50 people is way to many to try and maneuver successfully.
WHAT TIME IS IT?
The fact that EF stressed punctuality shocked my friends and me. When we arrived in London we began our hours of waiting when the tour guide was late to pick us up. Throughout the trip we found ourselves sitting and waiting for buses and people (Often times the tour director!). When we arrived in France by boat we waited for at least an hour for our bus to drive us to Paris. While in Paris we waited for about an hour and then found that there was no bus coming because EF didn't want to spend the money on us (They actually told us that). The bus was for an "excursion" to the palace of Versailles. We ended up going the next day for 45 minutes in stead of the 2 hours. If we weren't waiting for something we were hurrying to make up for "lost time". I have never seen such terrible conduct from a company that takes young people to experience culture. Because of our tardiness on three occasions we missed out on guided tours and exploration opportunities. Also because a bus didn't show up in Paris we missed out overnight train and had to break the law and stow away on a later train.
EF promised food that was native to the countries we visited. Unfortunately this was not the case. I don't know about you, but I don't think chicken breast and fries are what every European eats. Granted we did have a few variations of this especially in Italy, but for the most part we ate chicken and fries for dinner. Breakfasts were even worse. They were all continental breakfasts of cheap motels. And on one occasion we didn't eat breakfast because, you guessed it, we were late.
WELCOME TO THE RITZ?
The motels that we stayed in were absolutely atrocious. It sounded like people were being murdered in the streets of Paris from our motel there, thank god we weren't on the first floor! Our motel in Florence wasn't even in Florence it was in a town that was about 45 minutes out of town. This was also the case with our Rome hotel. We did however have nice lodgings in London. Everywhere else was a different case though and the hotels after London were VERY cramped. EF was obviously saving money by putting 4 people in a motel room with two twin-sized beds. The conditions were appalling. All the rooms had their own bathrooms, although our toilet in Sorrento looked as if it were filled with Mercury.
The tour guide that went with us on the whole trip was bilingual, and almost constantly on the phone to EF trying to figure out a way to make our trip work that is while we were at motels. While we were out in the city he couldn't communicate because he didn't have a cell phone. I don't even what to know what would have happened if there had been an emergency. Also in 17 days we never once did laundry. We kept asking our tour guide to tell us where we could wash our clothes, but alas we never did laundry.
The EF credit/phone card was useless. It never worked to make phone calls and to get the remaining balance was next to impossible with the instructions they gave you.
EF gave us coupons to use at special stores, but the stores had OUTRAGEOUS prices.
THINGS THEY ACTUALLY SUCCEEDED IN
They were always sure to remind us of the danger of pickpockets.
The tour guides that they hired actually were very informative and did a wonderful job telling us about the city and the sites.
They gave us time almost everywhere to go out on our own?In a group of 3 or 4.
Regardless of whether you go with EF or not here is what I learned going to Europe...
1. Have your trip completely planned. This is only for those who do not go with tour groups, but when in Europe phones are sometimes VERY difficult to use and also very difficult when you do not speak the native tongue.
2. Bring a debit/credit card! NOT cash and NOT Travelers checks! There are ATM's EVERYWHERE. The only place my group had a little difficulty finding one was in Rome, but it was near by and we found it with some help from the locals. With Credit cards be careful because I was charged $5 per cash advance which for me amounted to $40 in extra spending.
3. Get a pouch that goes around your neck and under your shirt. Pick pockets are everywhere and this lets you keep your valuables (i.e. Passport, Credit/Debit card) I found it VERY helpful.
4. If you want to call home a good phone card is invaluable. I used an MCI phone card which worked everywhere except for the Italian payphones, which don't work unless you buy a card for them in Italy, but if you find an older payphone MCI worked great. I have also heard that you can rent cellphones for European uses, but I do not know the cost or what it entails. But always remember you aren't going to have time or want to call home all that much.
In spite of all the bad things about EF I got to go to a different continent and because they gave you time on your own to go look through the city and experience the culture. I would NEVER go with this travel company, but if I had the choice to go with them or not at all. I would definitely go with EF again. The rewards of going to Europe, even if the conditions are poor, outweigh everything. So go, but if you can avoid EF do so. I am still waiting for refunds on the things we missed. I went 8 months ago?