Joseph M

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Joseph M

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Jul132014

Tour/Activity

Golden Circle Classic Day Trip from Reykjavik

Reykjavik, Iceland

My Rating
4 star rating: Recommended

My Review

Quick way to see some of the island's prettier places quickly. Average traveller was middle rather than old aged. Waterfall and fault lines are the best bits - there's insufficient time to see everything and have lunch though - you have to decide which. Visit to power station's museum should be included rather than additional.

Oct182013

Tour/Activity

Full Day East Madeira - Camacha, Pico do Ariero, Ribeiro Frio, Portela, Santana

Funchal, Portugal

My Rating
2 star rating: It was OK, but could have been better

My Review

This is very much a cultural tour rather than a sightseeing trip and if it's a cloudy day, as it was for me, the drive up to the viewing peaks may be cancelled. For the large part this trip is about seeing basket makers in action, fish farms, whisky factories, walking around town centres and viewing triangle house shaped shops. There was also a view from the far end of the island - which is spectacular, but clearly this sight seeing isn't the focus of the trip as we spent far less time at viewing points than in the factories etc. It's also very difficult to find something to do on the small hill that houses the restaurant if you don't select the lunch option. This tour is best suited to people who don't want to see the sights and who enjoy wandering around tourist factories, artisan shops and sleepy town centres.

Oct112013

Tour/Activity

Tijuca Rain Forest Jeep Tour from Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

Half of this tour is the getting there and coming back as the jeep ascends through the mountains passing several viewing points of the city and descends back via the main beaches. Once in the rainforest national park the activities are sightseeing at a small waterfall and doing a 15 minute level walk. There's no need for a jeep though as the tour doesn't leave the roads at any time, but you do get a different perspective on the city.

Sep072012

Tour/Activity

Mt Fuji Day Trip including Lake Ashi Sightseeing Cruise from Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan

My Rating
2 star rating: It was OK, but could have been better

My Review

Comfortable spacious bus. Gentle drive up to station 5 on the mountain but didn't see anything. Seems the summit is only visible for 100 days a year and except for a small shrine, most of the station is shops. The lake is an hour’s drive from Fuji and you can't see the mountain from it. The cruise on the galleon is interesting mainly because it's a galleon, but is likely to be crowded. Cable car up the mountain was interesting, not much to see once you're up though and the path to the sulphur springs was closed due to overcrowding. Final stop is the bullet train station from which the trains take 40 mins back to Tokyo and the bus takes between 90 and 120 mins. You'll also have to make your own way to and from the bus terminus. There was no pickup anywhere close to Ueno where I was staying so I ended up using the JR line both ways. An interesting tour, but Fuji is only a small part of it.

Sep012012

Tour/Activity

Great Ocean Road Day Trip Adventure from Melbourne

Melbourne, Australia

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

Did this tour for a 2nd time after losing my photos first time around. Route and activities have changed a little - it stops at a small town on the way out now where cream scones are provided. 45 mins there is too long though. Lunch stop is still Apollo Bay and 75 mins is far too long there, though there is a beach to view. There's plenty of photo stops along the way though they can't stop at the surf beach any more. The 12 sisters are better when it's sunny. The stop is limited to an hour though so those selecting the helicopter option won't get to walk out to the viewing points. The remainder of the trip's a bit disappointing as was the stop in a little town with no food options before the return to Melbourne. Most of the other coaches stopped about an hour down the road where there was a wide selection of food. As always there's a pickup coaching leading to the main coach in the morning so any sense of queuing goes out of the window. Overall an interesting day, but only a small part of it is the 12 sisters.

Dec172011

Tour/Activity

Kennedy Space Center Day Trip with Transport from Orlando

Orlando, Florida

My Rating
2 star rating: It was OK, but could have been better

My Review

Second time I've done this tour, second time there's been no mock-up space shuttle to walk through. Very disappointed with the hotel pickups. The location I was given was an hour's quick walk from where I was staying near Universal and once we were on the bus, the drivers instructions regarding our day (when we should get back to the bus etc) were chaotic and difficult to understand. The coach also returns to Orlando too early (Kennedy is still open) and takes a ridiculous route around the hotels. It got to within half a mile of my pickup hotel, then drove all the way to Disney Land before returning to my hotel last. There were more passengers for my stop than any other, so making us all wait an extra 45 minutes was nonsense, especially as we could have walked the half mile in 10 minutes. Kennedy itself is OK. The shuttle ride is too quick and I was hoping for G-force (there isn’t any). Their tour round the various launch pads is a little dated as there's only one big shuttle pad left, however the Imax films are reasonable and there are a number of actual rockets to view (though no shuttle at the moment). The new Star Trek theatre show is clearly aimed at kids and the Kennedy museum on the other side of the causeway to the cape is disappointing as always, but for anyone interested in this part of America's history this is a must do tour (though based on your hotel location, the number in your party and the fact that the coach is effectively just a taxi to a theme park, you may decide that a hire car is the cheaper way to get there).

Dec162011

Tour/Activity

Universal Orlando Tickets

Orlando, Florida

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

As these tickets are sold at a slight discount online it's worth buying them this way. Be aware though that you still have to queue at the ticket windows to get your park entry pass and that you’ll be fingerprinted on entry to ensure that only you use your ticket on subsequent days. Visiting in December it was fairly empty and I was able to ride a number of the attractions multiple times. The rollercoasters are probably the best part of the traditional Universal park. Anyone who’s been to Los Angeles will notice that the Terminator and Simpsons rides are exactly the same. The Mummy is an upgrade, and during the parade I got a whole car to myself and there were no queues for any of the rides. The interactive rides (Twister etc) were pretty awful and I never figured out what to shoot in MIB - maybe the friendly aliens reduce your score as the rollercoaster goes round. The Islands of Adventure seem to be more child focused. The queues for Harry Potter were very long, even on a quiet day, though the queues for everything else were short. Those who've been to Los Angeles will recognise the Jurassic Park flume as being exactly the same, but again there are a number of reasonable rollercoasters for older people. Be aware that the Harry Potter ride is part rollercoaster, part digital simulation and lasts a long time. I felt a touch of motion sickness. The single rider queues at the traditional Universal park were very effective, less so for the Islands and especially at Potter where most of the riders weren’t single and the normal queue was quicker. Still worth it for the experience though.

Dec142011

Tour/Activity

Chichen Itza: Light and Sound

Cancun or Puerto Morelos, Mexico

My Rating
2 star rating: It was OK, but could have been better

My Review

This was the second time I'd taken this tour after I lost my photos first time round. Very disappointing. The tour includes a visit to a cenote, but last year the tour went to an impressive wide open cenote only 5 minutes drive from the pyramids. This time it went to a very interior newly opened cenote more than an hour away (where we were unsurprisingly the only people there). What hadn't changed about the tour was the driver spending 30 minutes talking up a "local" craft work shop only for us to stop there for half an hour to look at heavily overpriced mass produced trinkets which are also sold later in the day at the pyramid (by hundreds of street sellers) for a fraction of the price. The pyramid remains very impressive and is definitely worth seeing, but be aware that the daylight opening time end at 16:30 so if you want to see the two cenotes on site, the other pyramids and the observatory, you will have to walk away from the heavily drawn-out guided tour and explore for yourself. I left the tour at 16:00 and just about saw everything, but in retrospect I should have left at 15:30. The light show is OK but repetitive. If you don’t speak Spanish you need headphones, and there are no actors or dancers. The buffet meal was disappointingly poor and the cost of the drinks cancelled out any notion of it being free. Still worth it to see the pyramid though.

Dec132011

Tour/Activity

Coba Ruins Day Trip from Cancun or Riviera Maya

Cancun, Mexico

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

You get more tour for your money than I was expecting. In the morning we took zip cable rides over a cenote, then canoed out to an underground cenote that people could swim in. The only disappointment was that the canoeing wasn't mentioned before the tour started so none of us had water tight bags to keep our cameras in. The organisers do take photos of you during this stage of the tour, but it costs $40 plus to purchase them. The meal was reasonable and there's no charge for drinks, but the open air setting of the cooking and eating does lead to a concern about the safety of the food. Once at the pyramid site there's a half hour tour of the some small pyramids / sports areas at the entrance, followed by the option of a mile’s walk, bike ride or peddle taxi ride to the main pyramid. The pyramid is impressive and easy to climb for any moderately fit person, but there's nothing to see other than this single pyramid and the surrounding forest. There are a number of small constructions lining the mile's path from the entrance, but it's unlikely you'll have any time to spend at these unless you limit your time at the main pyramid to 5 minutes. We had a fairly entertaining driver all the way, but there were times when we just left belongings in a bus parked in the middle of nowhere (which felt unsafe) and on the way back to the hotels in the evening we ran down some domestic dogs. The driver radioed it in to his controller, but he didn't stop. All the same I recommend this tour, and if you take a water tight bag you’ll be able to take photos of the underground cenote, the lake and the other scenery in that area.

Dec112011

Tour/Activity

San Diego Zoo Safari Park with Transport

San Diego, California

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

This tour is effectively a bus ride to and from your hotel to the Safari Park. A first bus picks people up from outside their hotels before transferring them to the main bus for the hour’s journey to the park. The day I went, the main bus was shared by those going to the Park and Legoland. The Park is OK but less than I expected. It's a reasonably well laid out zoo (just like the main zoo in San Diego city), but it was smaller than I expected and the experience of driving through the African bush was much less than I’d hoped. There are rhinos, antelope, elephants, zebras, giraffe etc all living together, but rather than you driving through African forest to see them, they're effectively in a few hundred meter wide, one mile long paddock that you drive round in a loop on a large train like vehicle. The bus arrival time is good as it gets you there in time for the first paddock journey of the morning, but the departure could maybe be a bit later as the "chaeta running" happens at roughly the time you have to make your way to the exit. The park is worth seeing, but the coach is essentially just a taxi ride that takes the hassle out of you getting there.

Dec082011

Tour/Activity

Haleakala, Iao Valley and Central Maui Day Tour

Maui, Hawaii

My Rating
2 star rating: It was OK, but could have been better

My Review

Slightly stressful start as the initial pickup bus transfers you to a tour bus that can be packed. The views from the top of the Volcano are fantastic and there's also a stop at the national park entrance (where all the American's aboard seemed to be stamping some sort of USA park visits passport). 20 minutes at this entrance was sufficient time, however we only spent 10 minutes at the mountain summit. This was very disappointing as there was plenty to see and there are effectively three sides (three viewing points) to see it from. We then had 45 minutes at the crater viewing station, but again this wasn't enough as it takes 30 minutes just to climb up and down to the main viewing point. This made the restaurant meal in one of the villages at the bottom of the mountain very disappointing as it was very expensive, tips were automatically charged on the bill, and we spent longer eating than we spent at all three viewing stops combined. I paid to see the volcano, not to sit in a pay for yourself restaurant. After lunch we visited the innards of the smaller volcano on the other side of the island. This is interesting but nothing special as you don't visit any high up vantage points. The main volcano is certainly worth visiting, and doing it on this tour is fairly hassle free, but there was nothing like enough time at the volcano's peak and were I to return to the island I may prefer to hire a car and make my own way to the summit so that I can spend several hours there.

Dec072011

Tour/Activity

Kauai Waimea Canyon Experience

Kauai, Hawaii

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

Have done this tour before and had to do it again. The canyon is fantastic. It's only spoilt by the short period of time spent at the viewing point (just 30 minutes). The blow hole stop on the way to the canyon is unimpressive, as are the stops at sights where films have been short. The extended shop at an overpriced tourist retail outlet is particularly unwelcome, but seems to be unavoidable on these sort of trips. However warm it is at sea level, you should take your coat for the canyon viewing deck as it will be cold and windy. You may also find that every photo you take is different due to the constantly changing weather patterns. If you've opted for the river trip and grotto extension, prepare to be underwhelmed by the grotto and to be forced to hula dance on the boat trip back. The view of the final water fall is also unimpressive, but the drivers are happy to transport your luggage on the bus and drop you off at the airport at the end of the tour if this is your last day on the island. The mid-trip meal is at a reasonably priced restaurant ($20ish), but it lasted a little long for my liking and you should be prepared in case you have a comedy driver. If so, you may find that the tour is interactive and that you'll be expected to get involved in the group discussions and hilarity all day long.

Dec062011

Tour/Activity

Entire Kauai Island Air Tour

Kauai, Hawaii

My Rating
4 star rating: Recommended

My Review

Kauai is a very pretty island and I'd advise that all visitors should try and see it from the air. I was surprised at how inexpensive an hour’s flight round the island was, and got more photos from this flight than the all of the rest of the trip combined. The flight flies a loop out to the steep sea cliffs at the far side of the island before passing between the mountains (taking in a view of the highest / wettest point) and flying over the more lowland areas to finish off with an arial view of a waterfall into a cenote like feature. The tour firm pick you up from and drop you back at your hotel and ensure that you get at least one photo of yourself standing in front of the plane. The only slight issues were that towards the end of the flight the turbulence was becoming stomach churning to the point where I couldn't have taken much more, and the flight was about 5 minutes short of the hour. Other than that the cloud base was high enough for us to see everything and I'd strongly recommend this tour as you’ll see swathes of the island that you simply can’t see by any other means.

May062011

Tour/Activity

San Francisco Super Saver: City Tour plus Muir Woods and Sausalito Day Trip

San Francisco, California

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

Good way to see a lot in a day but the experience of getting on and off the tour busses at the terminal is chaotic and no one explains what should be happening or which bus you're supposed to be on. Muir woods is worth seeing though the roads in and out may churn your stomach and the stay isn't long enough so most only see the central valley. Sausalito isn't worth the stop and the driver stopped in a poor location for us to take photos of the Golden Gate bridge - it would have been superbly framed in the trees if he'd stopped just 500 meters earlier. City tour started late and felt rushed. Not enough time to get to good photography locations at the bridge, 10 minutes at twin peaks is too little, we drove past some beach but didn't stop, there's no stopping at the famous Alamo square houses and the drivers returning people to their hotels seemed a little condescending each time a passenger got off the bus. Needed more time at Muir woods, more time at the Bridge and Twin Peaks, less time at Sausalito.

May032011

Tour/Activity

Chichen Itza Day Trip from Cancun

Cancun, Mexico

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

Chichen Itza is very worth seeing - especially on a sunny day. Small bus was unpleasant with broken air conditioning nozzles and inconsiderate passengers reclining the seats into other passenger's legs. Tour guide talked a little too much and ruined all his good work by doing the sales pitch at the inevitable shopping stop (where the promised toilets didn't live up to expectations). General goods are much cheaper from the traders at the site (of whom there are hundreds if not thousands). Pyramid and complex very impressive, but spoiled by unnecessary hour long guided tour in 41 degrees heat which concentrated on headdress carvings and sport rather than showing us the site and telling us there were two cenotes to see and several stone works that are not visible from the main pyramid during our hour of self-exploration. Turned out most of the passengers hadn't realised these were there and hadn't seen them. Meal was OK but the providers make their money back on the drinks and we spent far longer there than was necessary. We could have had an extra 15 to 30 minutes at the after lunch cenote as several people felt really rushed in trying to take photos, swim and change afterward. Drove through a town on the way back but should have stopped at the cathedral for some photos. Most hotel drop offs were at the door, but two of us were dropped off several hundred meters away. The other person wouldn't have known where he was if I hadn't told him. Good pyramid but overpriced shop, slow buffet, poor talking tour at pyramid and cenote visit needs to last longer.

Apr292011

Tour/Activity

Cradle Mountain National Park Day Tour from Launceston

Launceston, Australia

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

On time pickup - stopped in Sheffield on the way which wasn't very interesting and could have been shorter. Toilets at the mountain visitor centre are pretty bad and unfortunately the weather was awful so we never saw the mountain. Didn't realize till we got back that guide hadn't even gestured to where it was within the clouds. Walks round the lake are OK, but a poor substitute. Visit to a pioneer’s house was interesting but nothing special. Quick walk round a waterfall path was probably the best bit. The inevitable visit to a shop (cheese) on the way back was disappointing and lingered for too long. Would have been better to find an additional place to stop within the park itself. Both coaches (we swapped) were OK, but there were no on-board toilets. Guide did his best with the commentary, but most of the scenery on the way there and back was shrouded in cloud (though the day before and the day after would both have been fine).

Apr272011

Tour/Activity

Great Ocean Road Small Group Eco Tour from Melbourne

Melbourne, Australia

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

A long journey in exchange for a quick stop at the 12 sisters. Picked up at hotel door and transferred to main coach. Breakfast stop was in an uninteresting place with unpleasant toilets. Surfing beach stop was disappointing as were several of the coast road lookout stops (always seemingly half a mile before or after we drove past a really pretty view). Spent an unnecessarily long time at a few twigs making up the Coast Road sign. Lunch stop could have been shorter as there was nothing to do. Forest walk was interesting, but a bit too quick to get the right photographs. 12 sisters are worth seeing and photographing, but the stay was far too short at 45 minutes and anyone wanting to fly didn't get time to walk out onto the headlands to see the spectacle from the ground. Far too long spent at some coves and other uninteresting cliff sites - should have been spent at the 12 sisters. A story is provided at the London Bridge headland, but again it's not what passengers sign on to see. Music on the coach was amusing and kept people going but food stop on the way back to Melbourne could have been shorter though the main bus did then drop us directly to our hotels. A worthwhile experience but the activities need to be better distributed towards the 12 sisters.

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