Trafalgar ground tour of Devon and Cornwall September 22-26/09
As requested, I completed Trafalgar's pre-tour Express Check-In form and noted that my "name usually used/commonly known as" is Dyan. However, throughout this tour I was referred to as "Lynda". Trafalgar continued the error in their emails to me.
This indicates it was a waste of my time to have completed this form because Trafalgar simply use my full name as it appears on my passport regardless of the fact that I have always used my second name "Dyan" and not "Lynda". When we ran into the tour director heading out for another tour from the small lobby of the London Park Plaza County Hall Hotel on September 29/09, she too called me "Lynda".
When this tour director started our September 22-26/09 Best of Cornwall and Devon tour she stated that she previously did "event management" and "usually does Chester and York" but "had not done this tour for two years". Well, it showed. Her local knowledge was outdated and some of her historical information was incorrect. Having not done the tour recently, or even done a full dry-run prior to this tour, she referred to what had been rather than to what is now available. She should return to "event management".
Some examples: in Tintagel she did not inform us there was a vehicle to take people to the cliff ruins and back for 1.50 GBP. Many of us walked there and back. Then, because of complaints from the non-walkers on this tour she had the bus driver go to the parking lot of a hotel which overlooked the ruins, making a point of telling us the hotel bar was called ExcaliBar. It turned out that bar is no longer there. In St. Ives she was surprised passengers had to pay the shuttle bus driver before being driven back to the cliff top parking lot; she thought payment was only on arrival at the top, not departure from the bottom. In Plymouth, she was confused about which hotel was booked for our group and the driver had to tell her we were closer than she thought. In discussing the Battle of Hastings, she called William I "king". He was not. He was a duke (of Normandy) in 1066.
Our tour started off badly when an envelope was slid under the door of our room in The Park Plaza County Hall. No welcome phone call, no meet-and-greet, just a piece of paper and two luggage tags. The next morning we wasted the first of many hours on this tour by driving over to the Trafalgar Tours Office to pick up the remainder of the 48 people who filled the bus to capacity. We sat on the bus and watched as bags were loaded on the bus and people checked in. Finally we set off in mid-morning London traffic.
The first of many negative itinerary adjustments had us visiting Hampton Court on the way out of London. We waited while 48 people, many of them morbidly obese and/or physically disabled, slowly got off the bus and moved through the Rose Garden. Trafalgar's itinerary states we will "stop to see the gardens at Hampton Court" then we should do so. See all the gardens. Try to include some of the rooms. A rose garden in September is not at its best. We omitted Runnymede and Windsor Great Park (which would constitute a "surprise" on our return to London) and went directly to Salisbury and Stonehenge.
Trafalgar's 'Cream Tea Experience' at the Crossbow in Tintagel was unacceptable. The scones our group were served had a stone-hard crust and were ice cold with a leaden centre. What was called jam/preserves was a tasteless red paste of indeterminate origin. I have had wonderful cream teas many times in S.W. England at bed and breakfast establishments advertising this delicacy and they have been nothing like the disaster served at the Crossbow. Trafalgar needs to find another place for their tours to sample a real Cream Tea.
Given the large number of people on this tour (and also on the 50-person Trafalgar Best of Portugal tour) there is no excuse for not having Whisper audio technology available. It is impossible for this large number of people to cluster around a tour guide and hear all that is being said during excursions. If Trafalgar insists on cramming so many people onto their tours then make Whisper technology available.
I would willingly pay more money for a smaller tour group. Having never taken a Trafalgar tour before, I was shocked at the large number of people they pack onto their tour buses. I have taken escorted tours with other companies since 2004 and have never had more than 29 people in a tour. Obviously, Trafalgar is trying to maximize its profits at the expense of a quality tour experience.
To make matters worse, Trafalgar's Best of Devon and Cornwall tour included many people who could not walk more than half a block at a very slow pace (definitely less than even the "leisurely" pace stated in the brochure) either because of physical disability or excess weight. These handicapped prima donnas were also given priority seating near the front of the bus because of their lack of mobility. It is not fair that able-bodied people are penalized because they can actually walk normally. The majority should not be made to suffer for the deficiencies of the minority. Again, we missed a lot because of the slow pace of these people getting on and off the bus (even from near-front seats) and slowly moving along during excursions. Does Trafalgar not have specific tours for the handicapped? Why were such people on a regular tour? Nor should Trafalgar expect able-bodied people to assist handicapped tour members. I do not carry liability insurance for such instances and neither do most other people. Again, Trafalgar is trying to maximize profits by accepting everyone on board regardless of mobility issues.
While at the Jury’s Inn Hotel in Plymouth, my 5:30 AM wake-up call was cancelled by the tour director’s 6:00 AM wake-up call. When Trafalgar inputs group wake-up calls, do not move earlier times back to the later group call. If I had wanted to wake at 6:00 AM, I would have asked for that time. I had asked for a wake-up call at 5:30 AM and I would have much appreciated Trafalgar leaving that earlier call time alone.
Also in Plymouth, the tour director moved the Harbour Cruise from the afternoon of the first day (there was mist only in morning) to the morning of the second day when we were to depart for Bath and Bristol. Those of us not on the Harbour Cruise were left at the Jury’s Inn Hotel with nothing to do while the cruise group departed at 8:00 AM for the harbour. The bus returned at 8:55 AM to bring the rest of us to the harbour. And there we sat on the bus waiting for the cruise boat to return to port – another poor choice and mis-management of tour members’ time. Had the original itinerary been left alone, this situation would not have occurred.
Trafalgar's Cornwall and Dartmoor dinner excursions may work well during the summer months when the sun sets later and there is light longer into the evening but, by the end of September, we returned from these excursions in pitch blackness. We saw nothing. In the autumn, Trafalgar needs to either cancel these excursions or hold them earlier in the afternoon.
Another sequencing problem occurred during Trafalgar's "drive along the rugged Cornish coastline". Our tour director chose to reverse the itinerary and make the first stop of the day at St. Michael’s Mount before proceeding to Land’s End and lastly, St. Ives. This meant that we were forced to squint into the morning sun and try to take a photo of the Mount visible only in a dark outline, when going to St. Ives and Land’s End first, as outlined in Trafalgar's itinerary, would have provided better photo opportunities and a better tour experience. Changing an itinerary to improve a tour is fine; changing it and making a tour worse, is not fine at all.
As for the bus used on this tour, the upholstery was worn and faded. I know this is only a short domestic tour for Trafalgar but try to lease newer buses with fresh interiors. Then, returning to London on Saturday we were "entertained" on the bus with a CD of an Irish comedian taped from a show in Dublin. Does Trafalgar not know any British comedians? We were, after all, touring S.W. England. Also, if this was a pirated copy of a performance taped by an individual, it raises legal questions of copyright violation with Trafalgar’s use of this material.
Our Best of Devon and Cornwall tour ended with a "surprise" stop in the town of Windsor and a speedy drive by Runnymede because, after all, we had already seen the one garden at Hampton Court at the beginning of this tour. And, after a stop in Avebury, there was nothing else left to fill our final afternoon before arriving back in London where we sat on the bus yet again as tour members were dropped off at three different hotels. Why not accommodate all tour members at one hotel? The Park Plaza County Hall had rooms available before and after this tour.
When these issues were brought to the attention of Trafalgar's customer relations department (located in Geneva) I received a reply rationalizing all the screw-ups on this tour and excusing the behaviour of the tour director. Obviously, Trafalgar has no intention of listening to customers and revising its operating procedures. And obviously I have no intention of booking a Trafalgar tour again.