Irish Adventure: Belfast, Dublin & the Northwest Counties
We have visited Ireland in 2003 and a more in depth trip in 2004 but had not visited the western portion and Dublin. Knowing the history of the potato famine beginning in 1845, this trip would give both of us a little different perspective then we had had on previous trips. Spending over 4 days in Northern Ireland, we were given an excellent insight into The Troubles between 1968 and 1998. We were not disappointed.
As we have traveled with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) twenty-seven times before, we knew what to expect. The trips are designed for travelers and not for tourists. Their itineraries are generally intense with the tour director working in providing full day experiences for the group and when events occur to challenge this goal, they are well trained to adjust and help the guests. For the most part this continued to be the case.
Our Tour Director, Thomas Deasy was a refreshing and appreciated asset on our trip, Irish Adventure: Belfast, Dublin & the Northwest Counties.
Beginning with his initial email message, the phone call before the trip, and our Welcome get-together at the Temple Gate Hotel in Ennis, we knew that Thomas was well organized and prepared for this adventure.
Thomas, a native of southern Ireland, was experienced in world travel, had lived in the United States, and was able to bring the past and the present history of Ireland alive for all of us. His past understandings guiding young people on Irish tours, was a gift as he used his sense of humor to help to bond our group of 16 veteran travelers from the first group meeting.
Thomas kept the bus lectures interesting and did not over-talk any of the “History According to Thomas” discussions that began our travel days on the bus. Along with Richard our driver, they worked together to bring stories and humor as we learned more about the Emerald Isle.
Many of us had been to Ireland so Thomas tried to introduce us to the people of the country including John Custy and his young musicians, Tadhg, the hurling coach, Tom Killary and his sheep dog Silvy, and the three gentlemen from the Felons Club in Belfast.
We have known that the reason Ireland was so lush and green was the frequent rains. We encountered many rainy days, but Thomas kept us positive and reminded us that seldom did it rain all day. As luck would have it, we had rain when on the bus, but the minute we got off, the rain ended allowing for a delightful excursion.
When we were on the Causeway Coastal Route the winds picked up and we were in a gusty storm. Because we had an early departure, we were able to cross the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge just before the Rangers closed it.
Not as lucky with the Giant’s Causeway, the power was out and the park was closed. Thomas knew that this activity was a special one on the itinerary; he managed to rebook our reservations and the next day. Electricity or not, we were able to visit this geological wonder. Timing is everything and Thomas was able to monitor the weather and adjust our schedules.
Following the OAT itinerary, but embellishing the day’s activities, we had less free time or at leisure afternoons because Thomas kept us busy and engaged. There was little time dedicated to shopping as we have had in previous trips. This was a good thing as the group members as a whole were not shoppers.
Due to recent past experiences we had almost decided that OAT no longer fit our priorities for active, unique, and energetic travel. Because of Thomas and his professionalism, knowledge, and enthusiasm, we may consider another adventure with the company that we have known and appreciated in the past.
Richard, our driver was excellent. He took extra care in handling the luggage and knew we had a carry on for our computers. He took special care to protect it and when our luggage arrived at the hotel before us he ensured that the front desk took care. He also got us to our destination always on time. Even when faced with fallen trees and branches, dangerous vehicles, and the extremely high winds, he took care of us. A true professional.
The meals were plentiful to a fault and we appreciated that Thomas gave all of us options for smaller meals and plates. Many times we were able to share one meal, saving us our stomachs and OAT money.
OAT has recently begun using local guides freeing the Tour Guide of many responsibilities. Ireland was a welcome return to their earlier policy of having the Tour Director be responsible for all aspects of the trip. Every portion of Ireland we visited Thomas was there with us. He introduced, monitored, and concluded. Wonderful!
When we received the final trip daily itinerary two weeks before our departure we noticed there were several notations of "Free Time" or "Afternoon at Leisure". When in the past we would have two or three activities per day, now there were two at most. Dublin was an example of too much free time.
One of the special aspects of traveling with OAT is the Learning and Discovery experience. The authentic transportation was the horse ride in the Aran Iles and the Black Cabs in Belfast - both were excellent. The sheep farm visit, the hurling center lesson and actual on field experience, and the apple farm visit, tour, cider sampling and special lunch were all fantastic!
The historical speaker at Clifden was very poor, he did not know how to work the video slide presentation. The OAT Director for Ireland, Stephanie, who spoke to us in CarrickFergus while we sat in the bus and could not see her, was equally uninteresting.
The home-hosted meal was probably the BEST we have ever experienced in 28 trips. It was very authentic, the meal was delicious, and the couple we visited was open to discussions of the separation of the two Irelands, the results of the Brexit vote and many contemporary issues. It was one of our best OAT experiences of the trip. It was much better that the Day in the Lives that can drag on and be contrived dog and pony shows.
We would be remiss if we did not write about some other specific aspects.
We had a major concern on this trip. We had two individuals bring a bad case of a cold and cough. Uncovered sneezes and coughing into one's hand instead of one's sleeve allowed the germs to spread through the A/C of the bus. Using the hands to touch the bus seats, handles, and doors spread the germs and virus to everyone. By the middle of the trip almost everyone had been afflicted with a cold and/or cough in some manner.
This Ireland trip was a test for us. After 28 trips with OAT, we have seen the quality of the trips and the dedication of the Tour Directors decline. We have been on trips with the majority of single women who wanted to shop and not to do the activities. The gender balance of this trip was much better. The tour director was excellent, and the quality of the trip itself made us reconsider our thoughts on abandoning OAT..
What was the MOST ENJOYABLE aspect of this trip?
Our Tour Director Thomas
The Bus Driver Richard
The Black Cab Tour of Belfast
The natural beauty of Ireland and the friendly people.
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