When I signed up with C*ntiki for our trip, it was mostly because they were the cheapest and most convenient way to see everything we wanted to see. I was really nervous about touring in a group, so actually liking my tour mates was a happy surprise!
First of all, I don’t think a tour is for everyone. You definitely need to be outgoing. When we piled into the bus at 7 am the first day, with Italian pop music blaring on the speakers, I was a little nervous. But I quickly adapted, and socializing on the bus was soon part of the fun. We tried to switch seats every day to get to know new people.
There were 40 in our group, which sounds big, but we were still pretty nimble getting around. It was a great mix of people, with probably a third over 30, and several couples as well as singles. There weren’t as many different nationalities as I’d hoped--Canadians were the largest group, followed closely by Australians, a few Americans, and one man from South Africa. The Aussies were the best partiers, by the way.
The group dynamics are pretty interesting. We tried to eat with different people at most of the meals, but we still didn’t get to know a few people as well as we’d hoped. As a whole, our group got on together marvellously (except by the end we were a little, OK a lot, divided about our guide).
I adored our guide. The fact that he drank beer with us on the boat at 9:00 in the morning did not bother me one bit (a few folks had a problem with that). As long as he shared (which he did) most of us were cool with it. IMHO it’s just not right to be sitting on a boat on a beautiful day without a frosty beverage.
Christian (the guide) is a very cool guy. He is s funny, street smart and tough, yet he did something sweet for every anniversary, birthday, and occasion that took place during the tour. At the nightclub in Florence he took over the mike and enlisted a couple of us to get the 10-year anniversary couple up on the platform for a dance. In Tuscany, he remembered a mother’s day toast for Sam (mother of 4 girls!) and I. He sent us with champagne on our gondola ride. He is charming and generous, and I miss him already.
We had the most impressive driver, Cornelius. I get such a kick watching people drive in Europe—I couple of times we sat in the front seat to be entertained by his maneouvers. In Florence, during a particularly dicey turn, we got stuck, unable to advance or back up. Four of the strong men on the bus hopped out and literally picked up a car to move it enough for Cornelius to inch by (all the while, an old man held up behind us was out of his car, shouting and grabbing his crotch, the signal for “you’re busting my balls!) Unflappable, Cornelius always had an infectious grin and a cheerful “buonjourno!” I miss him too.
We had a couple of party animals in the tour, Adam and Steve. I think they both managed to party until 3 am every single night of the tour (I had to alternate nights). Easy going, always smiling, they are my kind of people.
Another very chill person, beautiful and lovely, is the object of my girl-crush, Julia, from LA. I’ve asked her to come visit us in Toronto some time, and I hope I sold her on our city.
Then there was Azzat, who I had to help with all the social drama caused to him by facebook. He cracked me up with all of his stories of exploits with the ladies.
But most of all, I really bonded with Sarah. Another English major, we had so much to talk about, and instantly clicked. She is so smart, and sweet, and fun (she’s another participant in the absinthe incident I told you about earlier). She just lives in Chicago, so I definitely hope to see her again.
There are so many more folks to talk about, but this is getting long, and if you’re still here you’re probably bored. My point is, two thumbs up for the group tour. We had plenty of free time, but some of the experiences were greatly enhanced by being communal (the blue grotto, for example). At our farewell dinner, where we were serenaded by wonderful singers, we all sang together, and made a racket with the instruments they had thoughtfully provided (McHotty and I joked it was just like circle time, but the only one who got it was the childcare worker). I was actually a little veklempt at that moment.
Anyone else done a tour like this? Which operator? Did you like it? Did you form any lasting friendships?