Personal Evaluation of Our Trip: Exploring Australia & New Zealand with Odysseys Unlimited
Word to the wise - think twice and do your research prior to traveling with Odysseys Unlimited.
Our group was much older than I expected (previous travel groups). I am 66 and my wife is 64. We both are very active and wish to be challenged in visiting new countries. Most of our group did not participate on any activity on the days on our own. Of 22 people, only 8 did anything on their own. Some people were physically unable to do much more.
I did ask our tour director (TD) in AU and he said we could walk, meet people, and see other sights on our own. He then told us to ask the hotel what was available. He then mentioned that while in NZ we would do more outdoor things - we did, thank goodness.
Our bus experience also needs some mention. Many of us on this trip were avid photographers. While riding the buses from one point to another, we would ask our tour guide and drivers if we could stop and take some photos. NO was always the answer. "We cannot stop here as the laws and our company do not allow." Other vehicles were stopped but we could not. We did stop often and at our request in New Zealand.
We spoke to many other tour groups while in Sydney and they reflected on what they had done while in Australia. It seemed to us that they were much more involved in the life of the country and not just visiting large metropolitan areas. They visited ranches, schools, nature preserves, business enterprises native to Australia, and other locations of interest. It appears to us that Overseas Adventure Travel does a MUCH BETTER job of showing the true Australian spirit than Odysseys Unlimited.
We would be remiss in not reflecting on Australian sights that truly disappointed us. The most disappointing was the Great Barrier Reef experience. From Cairns we were taken in a large vessel with many people to a cay about an hour from port. There we saw other vessels and many more people. The cay was a nature preserve so we only had a small portion to use - rightly so. Our dive experience was very poor, water was not clear - either due to the tides or the number of people in the water. We have seen much better dive locations in the Caribbean, Mexico, Belize and South America.
Our interaction with the native population was non existent. The visit to the aborigine village was contrived at best. It was a tourist attraction. The noted Australian animals we saw were only in zoos or sanctuaries. In New Zealand it was completely different. Our tour guide went out of her way to make our experiences much more real and reflective of the country.
As to our two TD. Gennie and I have been in over 45 tours and were ourselves TD in the Rocky Mountains. IN AU, Leigh, previously featured in the web site and their brochures was one the the three worst TD we have ever had. He was lazy, was more interested in getting a smoke, never accompanied us on excursions-just told us where to go and what to see. And on the bus he would talk about real estate prices everywhere we went. He repeated the info on Canberra three days in a row. All from prepared scripts. Melanie in NZ worked very hard to get us activities on days on our own. She was always part of all activities, extremely helpful and along with the bus driver, really did their country proud. Unfortunately she had a very poor group right after us and she now feels OU will not have her back.
Qantas is the worst airline we have flown. As they are the only airline out of AU, they do not care for their customers. Most on our trip were seated away from their travel partner - ON ALL FLIGHTS. Do pre-trip preparation by trying to talk to Qantas and getting appropriate seats. Our tour directors could never get them on the phone, could not organize our seating for in country flights, and were frustrated. If you can fly business then it is better but there is a $7,000 mark-up by OU for that.
No Visas, it is all taken care of on the plane flights. Do not worry about this aspect - we did and it was wasted.
We did not do the Auckland post trip - but the people who did spoke highly. My personal feeling is that this trip by OU has a lot of days in large cities. Due to the earthquake in Christchurch, we spent two extra days in Sydney. Wish we had spent those days on the South Island of NZ and hiking at Mount Cook.
One other thought - AU and NZ are extremely expensive. Most things much more expensive than Europe. A steak dinner (Texas Roadhouse Steak dinner as an example would be $20 in the USA) would be 60 to 80 AU or NZ dollars. Fortunately, OU picks up many meals and beverages. We did eat lunches at Subway and at kebabs.
Finally, we did submit an evaluation to Odysseys Unlimited. There was no reply to the comments above. I subsequently wrote them a personal letter that reflected our concern with their in-country people management skills. They wrote back that they were satisfied and felt no change was needed.