www.getaway-villas.com I have recently done a review of Cyprus and this review is designed to go hand in hand with that. The other one concentrated on how to see and experience the real Cyprus and now I want to tell you about the wonderful company I chose to book my accommodation through, and how like me you can have a ... wonderful holiday and save money over the traditional all in one package offered by villa holiday companies. If you have children these can be very expensive, and with most families tied to the school holidays it is nice to think you can enjoy a foreign holiday in luxury at an affordable price.
I found out about Getaway- Villas by chance. I have a large family and in recent years our holidays have mostly been to Scotland, which we all love, but sometimes you just want sunshine and with my youngest son now 16 it was time to branch out and go abroad to allow the family to experience some of the cultures of another place outside the UK.
www.getaway-villas.com is a web-site owned and operated by Safe Ventures Ltd which is a registered company based in Leeds. The company has strong links with Cyprus and act as agents to the villa owners who are themselves Cypriot.
Having been to Greece many times I had thought about Cyprus but as we wanted to go in August and to a private villa- the prices seemed far beyond our means. That is until one day surfing the net I came across a company called Getaway- Villas. I read that they specialized in hiring out properties owned by Greek Cypriots. This appealed to me straight away.
The website is clearly set out and on the right of the home page is a great feature allowing you to select the areas in which you would like to spend your holiday. I suggest you buy a Rough Guide to Cyprus and also consult a website called www.cyprus-maps.com so you can select the area which appeals to you.
If you are still not sure then select the theme option at the bottom of the menu and you will see you are offered a selection of options so you could choose "away from it all" which is what I did. If you like beach holidays you can select this as well and there are many options. Please consult my other review on Cyprus if you like to be away from the tourist places as this will help you to pick a villa to suit your personality.They offer the opportunity to hire everything from tiny places for a cosy romantic time, to large mansions ideal for an extended family reunion.You pay per villa not per person so it can be very affordable.
We chose for our first trip the Villa Nikoletta in Argaka. This was a 3 bedroomed villa in total seclusion with a swimming pool, and was in a Greek white and blue style. Everything about the villa was immaculate. We were met by the owner who was not an English speaker but he came with a translator and he was so friendly. The welcome pack in the villa was like a banquet and the location was stunning and peaceful. It was near to lemon and orange groves and was truly idyllic.
I booked flights with First Choice Airways one year in advance which I would recommend because Cyprus is not a cheap destination to fly to, and the later you leave it the more expensive the fares so for a guide look up your flights early.
The booking process is simple. First you make a booking request having checked that the property you require is available for the dates you would like on the availability chart on the website. Here the company is so much more flexible than an all in one package, as you may be able to book mid week or for an unsual number of nights. This may secure you a cheaper flight as weekend flights are often more expensive. Then you must wait while the company checks with the villa owner to make sure the calendar of availability was correct. They get back to you quickly and then reserve it for you with no obligation for 48 hours so you have time to book your flights.This done you then pay a deposit.
If you go to www.moneysupermarket.com you can get a good price comparison of the various airlines that fly there. British Airways is a good option as long as you book ahead. The facility to check airlines also exists on their website which has a link to Sky Scanner and E Bookers.
The main airlines to choose from are:
Easy Jet (Summer only)
The site is extremely helpful and they are very conscious that individuals require different things so for instance if you have young children you can request a gated swimming pool which is safe. If you are scared of things like snakes then talk to them because they will point you in the direction where these are not likely to pay you a visit. I say this because snakes are common in Cyprus, there are six varieties of which three are poisonous. They are about in even beach front areas especially the long black whip snakes. These are harmless but they look scary, and they love the lemon and orange groves and if you choose a remote location they and some of their friends could be in the garden so just be aware if you don't like them!
The company will also arrange car hire for you and don't forget travel insurance. Just note the price of things like air conditioning and heating of the pool if you are booking certain properties as these may be extra. If you are going in the winter you will need to find one with central heating as the nights are quite chilly.
In conclusion I must say that I priced a similar holiday with several all in one firms at the time I went and I halved the cost by booking independently and acting as my own travel agent. I am not criticising these firms but just want to say that there is an alternative since you are paying them to do what you can do yourself.
I have been delighted with every aspect of my holiday with Getaway- Villas and will be going to Cyprus again soon and booking with them will be my first thought.
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Choosing a boat for my dream Galapagos Islands holiday was a little daunting at first, however as this was a place “on my list” for about eight years I decided that there would be no skimping on the budget and narrowed it down to the higher end of first class or luxury boats. Ecoventura popped up on a google search and caught my ... attention with their effective marketing boasting of three identical first class boats and experienced naturalists and crew.
I contacted Ecoventura by email and promptly received a reply from somebody based in Miami with information I requested and a booking form. To secure our places I had to fax the form back with our details and credit card authorisation for a $600 deposit. Shortly afterwards we received more information in the post including a DVD, which had been sent after my initial contact but had understandably taken longer to reach me than it had for me to decide to proceed anyway. In any case the DVD was excellent and certainly whetted my husband’s appetite for the trip immensely.
We reserved the cabin we wanted six months in advance and were required to pay in full 60 days before departure. My dealings with the company were all with one person and I thought communication was very good, all my emails were dealt with by return more or less and additionally I was sent some comprehensive pre-departure information.
The cost of the week long cruise, for two people was $7,000 (approx GBP3,500 at the moment). This included $100 park entry fees and flights from Ecuador’s capital, Quito to the islands and back.
Joining the tour~~~~
We planned three nights in Quito ahead of the tour. When we checked in we found we had been left a message telling us what time to get to the airport and who we should look for as we had to obtain our tickets from this person. We got there 30 minutes before the Ecoventura representative turned up so this was slightly annoying and I would rather they had left the tickets at the hotel for us. Nevertheless we were soon checked in and had been told which of the three boats we would be on (M/Y Eric) and had been given stickers to wear so we could be readily identified at the other end. We were also given a waiver to read and sign.
On the plane was another Ecoventura representative, I am not entirely sure what her purpose was, she did not hand out landing cards like other reps we saw which led to some confusion upon arrival in the Galapagos, her role appeared to be to collect the signed waiver agreements which we had been handed just before the flight.
The waiver appeared to waive every conceivable legal right or future recourse to the company and eliminate them from just about every passenger responsibility as far as I could tell. One clause that caught our attention was about the company being able to change cabins even if a particular one had been booked. We were concerned about this as we had booked (and paid for) an upper cabin and this was confirmed in the info we received in the post but in the same info sent by email we appeared to have been relegated to a lower cabin. We assume had we been put in a lower cabin we would have been refunded the difference, but the point was we wanted an upper cabin and had booked six months in advance to ensure we got it. So we told the rep that we had a query on the waiver and would like to discuss it first.
I was not at all surprised at the concept of a waiver, although I had never seen one quite like this one before, but what I and other passengers objected to was being handed the waiver for the first time at the airport and at this point being told you sign away all your legal rights or you don’t get on our boats. No refunds. I thought this should have been provided at the point of booking, that it was unethical not to do so and this seemed at odds with the image Ecoventra tries to portray of being ecological. During the first evening, this was a significant talking point amongst guests all of whom seemed taken aback and even a US lawyer on the boat expressed her concerns about it and said that if need be, she would recommend arguing that it was signed under duress. Nobody ever came back to us about our query and we got away without signing it at all, but we were the only ones.
Anyway back to the arrival, at the airport we were quickly identified by Ecoventura crew by our Eric stickers, our luggage was taken from us and transported to the boat whilst we waited for the rest of the passengers. All present and accounted for and we too were on our way to the boat.
Our boat had twenty passengers of whom seven were children or teenagers. The middle deck of the boat contained the lounge and dining area, both were pleasant and kept clean and tidy, although they occasionally got stuffy and I think if there had been twenty adults it would have been rather overcrowded. There were two cabins on this level, four downstairs and four more upstairs. On the very top level was the partially shaded sun deck, which most people enjoyed.
We did get the upper cabin that we reserved in the end, however it was a disappointment. I had selected Ecoventura expecting a high degree of comfort, well the cabin was no more than 8 foot by 7 foot, with a bathroom just about large enough for the loo, sink and shower. It was virtually impossible for two people to even be in the cabin at the same time other than at night in bed and even then we got ready and got up one at a time. We had no room for luggage, we pulled out some clothes and put them in drawer under the bed and then we took all the coat hangers out of the tiny wardrobe so we could try to cram our half empty bags in there, otherwise they would have taken up all the available floor space. We could not shut the door of the wardrobe with the bags in though and generally left a rucksack propped up against it to stop it from banging. The beds were incredibly uncomfortable, it was like sleeping on a slab of concrete. Neither of us could sleep on our sides as it was simply too painful, I felt like I was crushing my ribs and bringing on a collapsed lung when I tried to do so. The last couple of days my gallant husband gave me his pillow to sleep on lengthwise as I was suffering from so little sleep. I would say that at least the cabin was kept clean, beds made and fresh linen provided daily.
Organisation and excursions~~~~
The days were planned out very well and clearly. Each evening everybody would gather in the lounge to be briefed on the following days visits, where we would be visiting, what time, what wildlife we could expect, what to wear and what to bring. There were two land excursions each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon and in-between we would have lunch and sail to the next site. Most days we had time for snorkelling as well, all the snorkelling gear was provided and there was more than enough for us all. There were also wetsuits available and again enough for everyone that wanted one although some of the children had trouble finding one small enough (our youngest on board was about nine years old).
Each boat in the Galapagos has to submit an itinerary proposal but the final decision is made the by the national park authorities, they plan where all the boats should be and when to avoid too many people in one place at any one time. We did not think to find out what our itinerary would be in advance, but in the event we were entirely satisfied by the places we visited and we went to all of the places mentioned in our Lonely Planets “highlights”.
The Eric was too large to go to shore for the visits so we were taken in on one of the two pangas (dinghys) and would then explore in these two smaller groups of about ten, each group led by one of the naturalists on board. I will not go into details of what we saw as that would be more appropriate for my Galapagos Islands review and this is about Ecoventura.
Of course all the excursions are optional and occasionally people would skip one. One of the group missed a few as he could not cope with the heat and he made the point to me that there was not much by way of alternative activities on offer and that one day a few people missed an excursion but asked to be taken on a quick panga ride as they spotted some sea lions playing however the request was refused. Another asked to use the kayaks outside designated “kayaking time” but was also refused even though the boat was anchored and the kayaks were sitting there. There were only two kayaks for twenty people and as there were only two designated “kayaking times” during the whole week, it meant most people did not get a turn. So to conclude there could have been a bit more flexibility.
Food and drink~~~~
Three meals a day were served in the dining room at set times and this was a very enjoyable time and a good opportunity to get to know the other passengers. We were encouraged on the first day to try to sit with different people each time (tables were for four) and even the families of four would split up so this was effective and there was a very nice and friendly atmosphere on board.
Breakfast was buffet style and was a very comprehensive breakfast, cereal, eggs, bacon, ham and cheese, fruit, toast, juice and tea or coffee. Lunch was also buffet style, typically comprising salad and pasta or chicken or something. Dinner was three course, table service and usually we had two choices of main course. I thought that we got off to a very good start and was impressed with the quantity and variety of food on offer. Unfortunately I could not help but notice that standards dropped off significantly towards the end of the week, despite there being a land visit to a populated area in the last few days, hence opportunity to stock up. I felt we were being rationed, dinner became buffet service, fresh bread ran out and strange combinations of food were on offer. One evening I ate potatoes and tomatoes only as the prawns looked like they were making their third outing to the table and the beef looked like shoe leather. Other passengers made similar comments. I think when paying the best part of £2000 for a week, one is entitled to expect to be fed properly for the full seven days.
All soft drinks on board were included in the price, alcohol could be bought and a beer was $3 and a glass of wine $4.50.
Service and crew~~~~
There was a crew of eleven on board, we interacted most with the two naturalists, I thought they did a satisfactory job but don’t feel like I came away with many real insights. The next person I saw most of was the bar tender, who not only tended bar but also worked the dining room each meal time and after the excursions would meet us with canapés and cold drinks, a nice and very welcome touch. He did not speak English so we did not get to know him very well, however he appeared to thoroughly loathe his job and the passengers and one morning was extremely cross with me for taking the lid of the eggs at breakfast at 7.28am. Breakfast not until 7.30am you see.
There were a few men working the pangas, and would help us on and off the boats as well and would be close by when we were swimming or snorkelling to pick anyone up. These guys were generally cheerful and paid good attention to safety. Overall I would have nothing to grumble about or rave about in terms of service.
On the last night many people in the group were niggled by some comments made to us about tipping. We were firstly told that $175 per person, and this meant children too, was a good guideline. We were then lectured on the very low wages the crew receive and how important our tips were. We did not really appreciate the lecture. Considering Ecoventura grossed almost $80,000 for the week from twenty passengers, if they really cared about the crew’s low salaries then perhaps there is a solution other than lecturing passengers on tipping policy. Apart from this we thought a $350 tip a bit excessive and the families certainly thought $700 was over the top.
Despite some of the comments in the above, we thoroughly enjoyed our holiday and there was nothing that could really distract from the enjoyment of the Galapagos Islands. I have done several cruises on similar size boats, including the Red Sea, the Nile, the Yangtze and the Mekong and Ecoventura does not compare unfavourably with any of them, in fact it is definitely in the top two or three. But the crucial difference is that none of the others claimed to be or charged top end.
If I had to make some recommendations to Ecoventura to really live up to their claims then the first would be to upgrade the boats and definitely to one with slightly bigger cabins! Other more easily implemented suggestions would be (a) invest in softer mattresses, plenty of people on my boat complained of discomfort, (b) send your legal waiver with the booking form and not provide it on the plane, most people on my boat felt aggrieved at the manner in which this was dealt with, (c) stock enough food for the whole week and finally (d) revisit the pricing, the Galapagos is an expensive place but nevertheless I still feel this particular trip was 25 – 30% overpriced.
Worldwide Sales & Reservation office
5805 Blue Lagoon Drive, Suite 160
Miami FL 33126 USA
Telephone: (305) 262-6264
Facsimile: (305) 262-9609
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The observant amongst you may just have noticed that I went to Iceland for a holiday last September. The dedicated amongst you may well have read my reviews on Reykjavik. The broke amongst you will doubtless be hoping that I am not going to write any more about a place you cannot possibly afford to visit. ... Well, you needn?t worry, there will be no more rambling on about geysers and northern lights and the like from me. Instead, I am going to ramble on about the travel company I booked my holiday through: Yes Travel (and no, you probably won?t be able to afford anything to do with them, either).
Yes Travel are a specialist, independent travel agency based in sunny Peterborough, who spend their days arranging for people to have tailor-made holidays in Iceland and Norway. They have been doing so for 4 years, after stepping in to fill a niche market for those of us who want a summer holiday somewhere other than on a beach in a very hot climate (yes, we do exist). It was only when I tried to find brochures for Iceland that I realised just how big a niche this actually is. I walked into the (frankly enormous) Lunn Poly in Newcastle as my first port of call, and all the assistant could find amid the ?summer sun? brochures was a one page weekend trip to Reykjavik tucked away in the back end of a city breaks brochure. I managed the same feat in the (virtually as large) Thomas Cook and the Going Places (where, to be honest, the assistant looked rather bemused at my request). It took a trawl through the internet to find any specialist operators - all 3 of them ? and request some brochures to look at. Yes Travel?s brochure was one of these.
The first thing that struck me about the brochure was, well, the fact it didn?t look like most other holiday brochures I had seen. (Well, I would expect somethi ng pretty good seeing as they were finalists in the 2000 Guardian/Observer Best Brochure Awards). For the first few pages, it seems to think it is a travel guide and geography lesson. Before you ever get to the hotels and holiday packages available, you are presented with pretty much everything you might need to know in deciding if Iceland is the holiday destination for you. A ?when to go? and ?where to go? guide, a description of the country, a map of Iceland, a brief history lesson and best of all, the wonderfully useful ?quickguide to Iceland? that lists all your tourist questions (passport & visa, currency, weather, language, time zone, etc). When you do actually get to the proper holiday bit, it is all just as clearly and helpfully laid out, first the hotels, then the available excursions and then the holiday packages themselves. Each holiday description is accompanied by a ?tourfile? listing number of nights, accommodation type, food (such as breakfast or full board), changes (the number of different hotels used if you are touring) and the ?rating?. Now, this is the one little thing I was not clear on. The brochure merely says ?a mark out of 10 based on a range of factors: price/duration/meals/activities/what?s included, etc?. There was no further information on how the ratings were awarded and I felt a little more explanation would have helped here, as this should be a useful way to compare holiday packages. But still, I think I coped remarkably well without fully understanding it.
Now, although Yes only visit a relatively small number of destinations, the real advantage of them being a specialist firm is that you get a great choice of what you want within those destinations. This is effectively a pic`n?mix holiday company. First of all, you pick your holiday (there are 32 to chose from, from a budget weekender in Reykjavik to action holidays to s elf drive holidays to farm holidays to the two week grand classic tour of the whole country). Next, you decide if you want to add extra nights, to get the length of holiday you want. Thirdly, you chose your Reykjavik hotel (as all holidays begin and end there) from the 11 available to get the accommodation you want. Finally, you look through the list of 40+ optional excursions (believe me, something to suit everyone!) and add them into any free days you have in your holiday. And if that isn?t enough flexibility for you, then you are free to phone Yes ?to discuss your own holiday ideas?.
But what are they actually like to travel with? Well to start with, booking was straightforward and the staff at Yes were friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. My information (and money!) was taken quickly and correctly, with the booking confirmation arriving in just a few days and the rest of the paperwork following shortly after that. Yes do not have any agents or reps based in the holiday destinations, but instead you get a series of vouchers to take with you to exchange for the services you have paid for (Flybus into Reykjavik from the airport, hotel and any excursions). I was a little bit concerned at this before I departed, but it really was well organised and all the information we had been given was correct. Well, apart from the departure time of one of the excursions ? the bus turned up half an hour earlier than expected ? but as I didn?t actually miss the trip, then it wasn?t really a problem. Oh, and one other point here. All of the excursions offered by Yes are operated by local companies employing local guides with local knowledge, so you aren?t faced with tour leaders reading points about the region off a crib sheet and promoting local businesses to you on the basis of who had paid them the most to do so (are you, Thomas Cook?).
The prices of travelling with 89;es are a little harder to comment on, as there are so few other similar companies to compare them with. This sort of specialist tour operator is always going to be more expensive than bulk package holidays to mass market resorts, but it is one of those things where you get what you pay for. They seemed to be comparable with the other Iceland brochures I looked at (after all, if they were vastly more expensive, I wouldn?t have chosen them in the first place). Let me give you an idea of what they charge (and I really hope you are sitting down at this point). For the ?budget weekender? - 2 nights in Reykjavik with a half-day tour included- in peak season you would be paying between £407 and £545 per person, depending on your hotel. (I suspect you could get a week on a Costa for that!). So not cheap, then. But worth it? Well, I thought it was. I liked the flexibility of being able to have exactly what I wanted out of the holiday, I liked the feeling of independent travel (with a safety net) and I liked that I wasn?t herded onto an overheated coach by the same bored travel rep day after day as I was on so many of my previous holidays. And do I recommend Yes Travel? Certainly. You could a lot worse if these are the destinations you want.
I suppose all that is left for me to do now is sample one of their holidays to Norway ? in the cause of producing a properly balanced review, you understand. All donations to this cause will be gratefully received.
Phone: (01733) 340345
Yes are an ABTA recognised travel agency.
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