August 11, 2014

Explore Europe Travel: A Review

Before The Fam arrived in Germany, I planned many, many trips for us. I was so excited to show them around Europe! But planning 6 weeks of vacation can be pretty time consuming and stressful, ya know? So for the first of our trips, I chose to go through a travel company called Explore Europe Travel.

I've got to say, we didn't have the greatest experience. 

The bus trip began in Grafenwoehr. You might have seen some of my quickie posts about Pisa, Rome, and Florence… I'm a firm believer in making the best of a situation, so we enjoyed what time we had in each city. Sadly, there were major issues with the bus and travel company. 

Here is a quick run down of the problems: 

1. Upon arriving at the pick up point, disorganization caused several issues. There was no guide yet available for our bus, and no one making announcements on how to check in. We continued to ask personnel on site, and were simply told the guide for our bus would eventually arrive. The other employees did nothing to help check in or explain the process to the people on our bus. 

2. There were two tour buses for this trip. Lack of direction caused several people's luggage to be loaded onto the incorrect buses, and for those people to be seated on the wrong buses as well. This all took time to straighten out. 

3. We were told that there were maps in our informational packets, but when we looked through them there were no such maps. 

4. The drivers spent much of our initial ride attempting to figure out how to work the bus. Apparently it was new, and they did not know how to work the tv monitors, etc. The monitors did not work until our final day, on the final leg of the trip leaving Florence to Grafenwoehr. 

5. Only one roll of toilet paper was provided for the initial leg of the trip (around 12 hours). No announcements were made about stops, or about only using the bus bathroom for extreme cases. The roll of toilet paper was therefore quickly used. People then began to use tissue, which clogged the toilets. The issue was never repaired during the entire trip. By the final ride home, the sewage smell was so overwhelming that many people were gagging. 

6. Our drivers made several wrong turns on route to Pisa (all of them near the drop off point). We could clearly see the signs pointing toward the tower, but the bus continued to make wrong turns and needed to backtrack several times.

7. We arrived 2 hours late to Pisa.

8. The air conditioning on the bus did not properly function. We were given many excuses during the trip, ranging from it being a new bus to "this is how it works". The bus was so overheated that most people became dehydrated. The temperatures were upwards of 90 degrees outside. Inside the bus was like a sauna. Between the infants, elderly, and people with medical issues on our bus (I myself am diagnosed with MS, and the heat can bring on relapses), we were very lucky that no one had a medical issue. No options were offered to counteract the heat. For example, no one was offered a seat on the other bus that had working air. Although the bus was selling water, none was offered to make up for the issues with the air. No one was offered a chance to move closer to the vents at the front of the bus. Nothing was done, the problem was essentially ignored. 

9. Upon arrival in Rome, the bus was like a sauna. As the bus stopped, the drivers did not open the doors to let us off the bus. With even the blowing fans cut off, the heat was unbearable. The drivers of our bus did not open the doors until repeated yelling (about 5 minutes) from the passengers convinced them. 

10. We also arrived late to Rome, by several hours. Anyone with pre-purchased tickets for evening events missed them.

11. Again, no announcements were made as to how check in would be handled. Guests simply milled around the lobby, wondering and waiting for a key.

12. The trip included a bus tour of Rome… however, because of the heat, most people on our bus did not attend the tour (though we were told the AC issue had been "fixed", this was not so). Also, nearly half of the tour was outside and on foot, which was not as advertised. The tour stopped 3 times to take promotional photos, eating up a lot of time that should have been spent on the tour itself. Standard photos for a tour are usually taken only once

13. The bus ride from Rome to Florence was also sweltering, with no air once again. Again, nothing was offered to offset this issue. We arrived in Florence quite miserable, and very anxious to get off the hot bus that now smelled quite disgustingly of sewage.

14. On the final leg of the trip, from Florence to Grafenwoehr, we were told we would be able to disembark the bus for a bathroom break at the 4 hour mark. the bus stopped when it should, but the drivers kept the doors closed and would not let us off the bus. Instead, we watched from the windows as the drivers stretched their legs, used the restroom, and smoked cigarettes. The journey continued without the passengers being allowed off the bus. Just as everyone was once again falling asleep, the bus stopped and we were allowed to finally use the restroom, etc. 

15. We arrived late at our final destination as well. 

Now. I try to be as fair as possible, so I'd like to include the good points of the trip as well:

1. If the trip had been as advertised (with the air conditioned bus, tour, etc), the price was good. 

2. The hotel was as advertised, and close to the metro line. It included daily breakfast, wifi, and air conditioning. 

3. The guide on our bus was very friendly, despite the lack of training. 

4. The other customers on the bus were fun, and easy to get along with. It appeared that most were military families, so we all had something in common.

At the end of the trip, I spent quite a large amount of time contacting the company, adding my initial review to FB pages, and trying to bring these problems to the attention of the Explore Europe Travel. I found their responses to be quite rude and condescending, with a complete lack of customer service. It appeared that the company was brushing off the incident and attempting to sweep it under the rug. This infuriated me, as they had endangered the health and well-being of everyone on board bus #2. 

After some time, the owner of the company contacted me, and I could easily see the difference between her emails and those I had previously received from employees. Her tone was much more polite, and professional. We arranged a meeting between the two of us to discuss these issues. 

I was surprised to discover (only a few hours prior to the meeting) that I would not be meeting with the owner alone. Instead, I arrived alone (after an hour drive to get there), and was confronted by the owner and two of her employees. The beginning of this meeting did not go well at all. I quickly realized that the company's employees were responsible for most of the initial emails that were sent out. I found that they were actually causing the situation to be worse than it needed to be, by simply repeating excuses that had already been sent in their emails. They lacked the customer service skills that are ordinarily taught at larger companies. I believe their tour training to be good as long as no problems arise. However, they were not properly prepared to deal with any issues that came to the surface. The owner barely spoke at the beginning of this meeting, instead allowing her employees to take the lead.

Luckily, the employees finally agreed to allow the owner and I to speak privately. I found the owner to be quite personable, and easy to speak with. She seems to genuinely care about providing a good experience for her clients, and she wanted to make the changes necessary so these issues would not occur again. There were several problems with the bus company used during the trip, including the death of its owner only a few days prior to our trip. Without proper leadership, it appears that the company was floundering a bit and this contributed to the issues and lack of communication on our vacation. There were many things that could have been done differently, and I hope these changes will be implemented in the future. I have confidence that the owner of Explore Europe Travel will do her best to make these changes.

With all of that being said, it's unlikely I will book a trip with this company in the future. No reparations were offered to the people of bus #2. I don't want to risk my money or my health (especially important for me as I deal with MS) on a risky venture. If I didn't have these health issues, and the company had offered any sort of reparation (for example a discounted future tour, or a partial refund), then I may have felt differently. 

If you've had an experience with Explore Europe Travel, please feel free to post your comments below. Especially if you've taken a trip with them after this tour, let us know if you've seen any improvement. 

Until next time my friends, happy travels! 


Thanks for reading, everyone!
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