Our tour of the Great Wall at Mutianyu was absolutely remarkable. Our tour guide Jerry was very good and couldn't be more accommodating. At first, we were not too keen on the very early departure time of 7AM because let's face it, nobody wants to get up early when on vacation. However, in the end, we appreciated it because we were able to enjoy, and I mean ENJOY, the Great Wall sans the hordes of tourists just check out the pics.
The wall at Mutianyu, being a tad farther away from Beijing than Badaling, is a perfect choice for people who want to avoid the throngs of tourists who descend on the more popular with Disney like atmosphere Badaling section of the wall. Upon arrival at the park, we took the cable car CNY 100 roundtrip to ascend up the mountain which was a very convenient and practical way to get up there because it allowed us more time to spend at the wall instead of climbing up the mountain.
Walking on the wall was just surreal. Also, because we were there during the cherry blossom season, the blooms just made it more picturesque. We started at tower 14 and walked all the way to tower 21 which is the endpoint where tourists are allowed. CAUTION!!! To fully enjoy the view from the top of tower 21 which also happens to be the highest point where tourists can go, one must be relatively fit to climb the steep and unforgiving last 500 steps up. Otherwise, take your time with plenty of rest periods and you will be rewarded with sweeping views of the wall, the mountains and the valley below once you get to the top.
We were a little apprehensive about the lunch prior to it because of previous experiences. However, the lunch that was provided actually tasted good. To add icing on the cake, this tour DID NOT include a stop at factories or stores or markets that tend to predominate and sabotage great experiences.
Overall, I highly recommend this tour.
Prompt and safe though the driver did not say ONE word to us from pick up at the airport to drop off at the hotel.
This was one of the more interesting tours weve ever done. The tour was well organized and our tour guide Eduardo made it more fascinating with his humor and knowledge of the cave and everything that had to do with it. We enjoyed the fact that it was an active tour, allowing us to fully experience what it was like being down there. At one point, he even had us turn all our headlights off and we were enveloped in utter and complete darkness.... very surreal.
Be forewarned, they DO NOT ALLOW cameras to be brought to the tour so dont bother bringing yours. This was a bummer for us since we brought our GoPro with the intention of taking pictures from some amazing displays of nature. Obviously, this forces you to purchase the pictures from them yes, a photographer goes with you during the tour if you want souvenirs from your experience. It is kinda pricey but you dont have a choice.
While the actual time in the cave was about an hour and a half, it felt like it went too fast because we were enjoying it a lot. The cave floor was uneven and though most of the hike was in shallow waters, there was minimal swimming or floating I should say since the life jacket really made you float to the surface involved. So, non swimmers shouldnt fret because they do provide you with life jackets whether you want to or not. The total time for the tour is about 3 hours including lunch and changing into wetsuits they do provide you with lockers to store your stuff.
Though the lunch provided in the end wasnt necessarily gourmet, it was good and adequate. They even provided us with Tequila shots prior to lunch.
Overall, I would highly recommend this tour. Its informative, fascinating and engaging.
First of all, it took about an hour and a half to exchange the voucher for the actual paper that the driver needed. It was absolutely uncalled for, unnecessary and profoundly poor customer service. When there's a long line of passengers waiting to use the shuttle, it is inexcusable to only have 2 agents at the counter helping people. Then, when the shuttle was filled with passengers and was on it's way to town, the driver had to stop at a gas station to get gas. Really? If it weren't comical enough from being so atrocious, I'd already have a word with the driver. What kind of shuttle goes and gets gas when it's already filled with passengers? To add insult to injury, the driver dropped me off at the wrong hotel. Not knowing the city at all, I got off the shuttle when the driver announced Hyatt. He didn't stop me to tell me that it was the Hyatt Regency and not the Grand Hyatt that we were at. Obviously, while Denver is still in the process of constructing a train option to get into town, people will have to depend on super shuttle. However, once the train option is on, I would not recommend this shuttle.
Overall, this was a good excursion while we were in Ketchikan. After getting picked up at the pier, the seaplane was already waiting for us and we were up in the air in no time. Landing in the lake was great though it would have been nice if there was some sort of commentary about the area as well.
It was challenging to find where exactly to catch the bus once we claimed our luggage. Also, though aware that we might have to wait for other passengers, the wait was a bit long.
The only reason I didn't rate this tour a 5 star was because actually seeing Mount Fuji is so weather dependent and they don't offer rain checks. It was raining for the better first half of our tour. Consequently, we weren't able to go to the 5th station as originally scheduled. We settled for the 1st station where we didn't see squat. Then, the aerial ropeway at Mt. Komagatake was closed due to strong winds. Fortunately, another aerial ropeway opened and we took that. By this time in the afternoon, it had stopped raining and cleared enough so that by the time we reached the top, we had a splendid view of the ever elusive Mt. Fuji and even as far as Tokyo which was about 100 miles away. This certainly made up for all the frustrations early on. PLUS, we were at that site for more than an hour affording us plenty of time to enjoy the spectacular view, take lots of photos and even explore the hot springs and the gift shops.
Our guide was not only very knowledgeable but more importantly VERY engaging. She provided us with lots of tidbits from the views to Japan, kanji and the Japanese way of life. Her sense of humor was very much needed especially in the early part of the tour when it seemed like we weren't gonna see what we came to see.
The lunch was good as well (included sashimi, miso soup, tempura, chicken and ice cream for dessert), unless you're squeamish with raw fish. For those who couldn't stomach the fish, there was a vegetarian option.
Returning to Tokyo via Shinkansen was much appreciated at the end of a long day because we were back in Tokyo before it got dark.
Overall, I would recommend this tour... though be warned that there's a good chance that you might not be able to see Mt. Fuji at all if the weather doesn't cooperate. Had it not cleared for us that afternoon, I might have scored this tour even lower.
The Ezstergom part was the best part of the tour as it afforded great views of the basilica as well as views of Slovakia across the river. I do wish that they extended the tour to Slovakia. The Visegrad portion was not great but OK since all we really did there was have lunch. The most disappointing part I think was Szentendre. That's because although there's history and such, the endless parade of shops hawking lace, ceramics, etc not only made the place seem like a ginormous flea market, it also kinda cheapened the experience. As for the Danube cruise at the end of the tour, there wasn't really anything to see until we reached Budapest. So, other than a different way of returning to Budapest from a day long trip, there wasn't anything special about it.
Other than the rain which plagued the entire tour, it was a good experience. The tour guide (Julie) was very knowledgeable and more importantly, very personable. The tour started at the Opera and ended with spectacular views at Castle Hill.
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