No matter how glossy the brochure or tempting the offer, a personal recommendation from someone who’s actually been on the trip you’re considering is always your most reliable research.
This is particularly the case if you are thinking about forking out a large sum of cash for a trip with a company you haven’t travelled with before.
And if the destination is on the other side of the world, the stakes get even higher. Paying for a holiday with little or no hard evidence of what the brochures say to expect is a leap of faith to say the least.
Gate 1 Travel Australia takes great pride in showcasing customer experiences from its vast range of global holidays so first-time travellers can get that peace of mind that it will indeed be the holiday of a lifetime.
The company owns and operates its own luxury river cruise ships and here, Sandra F from NSW offers her insights into what it was like cruising with Gate 1 after she recently returned from the 16 Day Classic European River Cruise (details here).
SANDRA: “People say that when a deal sounds too good to be true, it usually is, so avoid it. I’m glad to say we ignored that and proved it wrong.
We approached the trip with much trepidation, thinking that as Gate 1 Travel was so much cheaper than other companies – not just by a few hundred dollars, but thousands – that we were going to be missing out somewhere, but I can honestly say I don’t know of anything that anyone could have done better.
From the beginning with our Qatar flight (again another bargain which Gate 1 booked) 23 hours on a plane is never going to be fantastic, but the airline did everything to make it a good experience.
We were met at Amsterdam airport by a luxury car, compliments of Gate 1, even though our flight from London was an hour late our friendly driver was there waiting. At the ship, the driver and crew didn’t let us lift a finger and we were escorted to the lounge as we had three hours before check in.
A lovely light lunch was waiting and we soon got chatting to another two couples, who were to become our new best friends and we will remain in contact with them and I’m sure have many reunions.
Once we got to the cabin another nice surprise – it was roomy, loads of cupboard space, light, airy and big windows to enjoy the view later.
Dinner that night we added another couple to increase our Aussie gang to eight and met our favourite waiter, Sevann, who was always happy and with a few tricks to make us laugh.
I was on a lactose-free diet but the food I had was delicious, usually the same as the others but made without the lactose so I never felt I was missing out. The food was always great. In the two weeks we never a bad meal and so many courses – how they do such a good job in such a small space is a credit to the staff and those poor waiters up and down the stairs and still smiles on their faces. The cheese waiter at the end of the meal was great entertainment value.
With only 100 on board you soon got to know everyone, which is really good. You’re never short of someone to talk to. We did swap around tables, as is encouraged, so we got to experience all the lovely waiters and fellow passengers.
The shore excursions I expected would be just a walk around with one of the crew sharing whatever knowledge they had, but no – certainly not, we were always met by an experienced tour guide and our earphones were great, especially for the hard-of-hearing like my husband, so they didn’t miss anything. Even with the guide, our trusty tour director Peter was always there, usually bringing up the rear making sure the tour kept a pace everyone could keep up with and always with a hand up and down steps and of course the cry of “watch out, bike coming”.
During those excursions we always saw the tours from others ships, so they were doing the exact same thing as us only paying more. If we weren’t close to town a coach was always laid-on and we were given plenty of time to do our own thing if we wanted.
Evenings were always great entertainment with Peter on the Piano, fun games with our cruise directors, Mick, Adrian and Peter, and we even won some prizes. Our bar staff Adriana and her husband were always there and they both had a really good sense of humour – we had a few half-price happy hours which went down well with our Aussie group!
I was fortunate to celebrate my 70th birthday on board and received a lovely bottle of champagne in our room from Gate 1 and a wonderful happy birthday – complete with delicious cake – at dinner. I was lucky it was half-price drinks too that night. I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate my birthday and of course everyone on board knew, so I had so many good wishes.
Afternoons laying on the bed resting your feet, watching the beautiful scenery, is a great experience and when there was lots to see there was always an excellent commentary on the sundeck or lounge. Truly on a river cruise the world comes to you, you just sit and enjoy.
Every member of the cruise was so friendly, the guy who tied the ship up at locks always gave us a wave when finished (couldn’t be easy, all those people watching to see if he managed to get the rope over), the reception staff who returned all for lost property (I always leave something on my chair), the lovely Charmaine who looked after our room, the cool drinks when we got back on board after excursions and all the staff in the background who made everything go so smoothly.“