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Eastern Europe trip

Boynton Beach...
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Eastern Europe trip

looking to travel to Warsau, Krakow, Budepest, Vienna & Prague. Maybe extend a few days in Prague. Looking at Gate 1 Tours & Odyssey. Have never done this before. Want to know which would give us the best value and decent & conveniently located hotels. Odyssey includes sightseeing that Gate 1 has as an option. I think Gate 1 might still come out cheaper with the optional trips. Can,t decide. Need advise.Thank you.

Burnley, United...
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for Vienna
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1. Re: Eastern Europe trip

Since when has Vienna been in Eastern Europe?

Malibu, California
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2. Re: Eastern Europe trip

I am booked with SmarTours on their Great Cities of Eastern Europe tour after hearing positive reviews from others who have gone with them. It takes you to Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, Vienna, Prague and Helsinki. I understand that there is a lot of walking and stairs involved in this tour so which ever company you choose, try to find out what the endurance level is so you don't get stuck with something too slow paced or too strenuous for you.

You may find that not all cities on the itineraries you look into are really "Eastern" Europe but several tour companies have lumped those cities under that title.

Brno, Czech Republic
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for Czech Republic, Slovakia, Train Travel
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3. Re: Eastern Europe trip

In fact none of those places in in Eastern Europe - you have to go to Russia/Ukraine for that. Regardless of the term that tour companies may use in reference to Central Europe, you should use it sparingly as Czechs, Austrians, Hungarians, former East Germans, Finns, Poles, etc, can be sensitive.

Otherwise I think there have been quite a few posts about Gate 1 on various forums, it might be worth doing a quick search.

the Czech Republic
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4. Re: Eastern Europe trip

Vienna has been in eastern Europe ever since it was built east of Prague -- from the perspective of Prague, it is "eastern Europe". How relative it all is!

Nashville, Tennessee
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5. Re: Eastern Europe trip

When are you planning on taking this SmarTour trip to the cities mentioned? Have you taken a tour

with this company prior to this one? Just curious about the company. Price is wonderful although it appears that many meals are not included. The fact that airfare is inclusive with the price is quite amazing!

Any information you can share would be appreciated.

Also, when is the best time of year to travel to Prague,Krakow, Budapest, Vienna? The order mentioned

is not correct, but those are the cities in which we are interested.

TWC

Chicago, IL
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6. Re: Eastern Europe trip

If you haven't done so yet, I would do a search here on TA for both companies and see what posters think. I would call each company with a list of questions and get their responses. Just comparing the cost in the brochure or online doesn't necessarily tell you everything. Does the company include international airfare in their price; do they offer transfers to and from the beginning and end of the trip; do they include all day trips/tours in the price or do you have to pay for those on top of the initial trip cost; do they offer extra value (private concerts, visit to a local person's home, maybe a tea, discussions of issues of the region by locals, etc.); are most meals included; do they include all tips except for the tour director and maybe the bus driver; what is their cancellation policy (if you do a tour, get trip insurance); how many people are on the tour; if it is a large group, do they divide the group; what happens if you have an emergency - illness, death at home or on the trip, does the company really step up and help you are are you basically on your own; what about the tour director, what kind of experience does the person have, are they local to the country, etc.? Lots of things to consider. We have done one Odyssey trip (Turkey) and loved it. Good luck.

Portland, OR
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7. Re: Eastern Europe trip

I echo the sentiment regarding reference of these countries as Eastern European. Maybe you could call Krakow that without any issues but definitely be careful with the other ones. This would be tantamount to calling Iowa, Arkansas or Missouri "Eastern US". I happen to know many Hungarians and every single one of them cringes when people refer to their country as being in Eastern Europe! Not sure how those in Prague would feel if you just look on a map, all of these areas are really more central than eastern and I think it makes more sense to refer to them that way.

Regarding the actual trip, i would definetely recommend allocating any flex days to Prague. Those other cities are great indeed but Prague just cannot be beat in my opinion. Have you considered doing this on your own rather than booking with a tour company? This allows you SO much more flexibility and is easier than most people think.

Denver, Colorado
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8. Re: Eastern Europe trip

I took this trip with smarTours in 2011. I would never have guessed that I would like Poland. I'd be happy answer any questions you have. It is a very walking-intensive trip on cobble stone streets because that is what central or eastern Europe is.

Nashville, Tennessee
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9. Re: Eastern Europe trip

Thank you for posting about the SmarTour you took in 2011. Would you recommend using this tour group?

Were the hotels well located and what level hotels would you consider them to be? What do you recall about

the tour guides in the various cities? Also, did you feel it was well planned and the SmarTour office was

friendly and forthcoming with information when needed? Some posts have made the office sound almost unfriendly and difficult. Do you recall which airline was used for the RT flight? Will think of some other

questions as I continue to do my searches of the various tour companies .

Thanks for your input.

Denver, Colorado
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10. Re: Eastern Europe trip

Sure – I can provide info.

The first thing to understand about Smartours is that they run a very lean staff and do essentially no advertising. They are completely dependent upon word-of-mouth. Your travel dollars are put into the trip rather than paying for a huge staff overhead, marketing gimmicks, sales commissions, etc.

Smartours is located in NYC. Sometimes people outside of NYC confuse a NY accent for rudeness. Also, since smartours runs on a lean staff they don’t spend any time on the phone hand-holding the traveler. My experience with OAT/Grand Circle, for comparison, is that they have 500 people at their main office who will spend all day talking to you but in the end you get no more info from them than smartours offers on their website. And your travel dollars go to pay the salaries for those staffers.

Smartours documentation for the trip is a few sheets of paper. Other companies send out big booklets….but when you examine them you discover they have no more info than is given in the standard Fodor’s travel guide; the big booklets are just another way they waste your travel dollars.

Smartours partners with local companies to run the trips. For the Eastern European trip it is Kuoni Travel, a huge European travel company. Their tour managers are very experienced with every traveler problem. The local city guides used are the same for every tour company – freelancers. My experience is that tour managers make sure the local guides are the best. And the one we had in Vienna was the best I’d had anywhere in the world. (She had lots of interesting tidbits, the kind of things you remember long after you’ve forgotten about the trip.)

Their group size ranges from 20 to 40. (I personally prefer larger groups. I was just with 16 on an OAT trip and talking to so few people day after day got very old very fast. At least with a large group there is a greater chance you can find more than one kindred spirit – people who want to do what you want to do when there is free time to fill.) Larger tour groups use the headsets so hearing the guides isn’t an issue in a big group.

The tour managers say the smartours owner selects the hotels himself to make sure that every traveler can get an identical room. This differs from tour companies who stay in cutsy local places that sound great until you understand that some travelers are going to end up in the basement by the boilers and there is no alternative because your group took every room in the place. Thus with smartours you will stay in a lot of places like Crowne Plazas and Sheraton. The hotels are listed on the website; you can check them out. Some of the cities they go to are so large and dispersed that there is no ‘best’ location.

Every smartours traveler is treated equally, which is very different from many of their competitors. I was just in SE Asia on an OAT trip and several times during the trip the guide had to follow the protocol to make a big scene about who were the most important customers or who were not (me and one other). Everyone is equal in a smartours group.

We flew Finn Air with a change of planes in Helsinki. On the way back you actually spend the night at a very nice hotel downtown Helsinki. (It is my guess that the Finnish gov’t subsidizes the air costs to get people to stop in Helsinki to see how beautiful it is. The downside for them is I am pretty sure for everyone on my trip that completed our Helsinki experience!)

Smartours is not the type of trip where you go into people’s homes or walk down back alleys to see ‘the real deal.’ They offer a highlights trip of the designated cities.

I only travel with other companies because smartours doesn’t go everywhere –or when- I want to travel.