Written on: 08/08/2012
I have just returned from the Great Rail Arctic Circle Express holiday. The holiday does not reflect the glowing description in the brochure and we were accompanied by the most ineffectual tour-manager.
10 days before departure we were sent ‘final details’ of flights and times; two days later we were informed that we would be departing Gatwick and returning to Heathrow. We were advised to catch a coach from Heathrow to Gatwick on our return. After some discussion this was amended to ‘claim for a taxi from the rank. After much pressing Great Railey agreed to pre-book and pay in advance for for a private hire car.
A highlight of the holiday was the excellent tour of Stockholm and the insights provided by the local guide. Dinner in the Radisson was timed for 7:30 and it took until after 10pm to serve the meal. Despite our unrest, no intervention was forthcoming from the tour manager.
While the Gamla Teatern may be an interesting hotel the meal took from 7:30 until 10:15 served by the receptionist. Despite requests the tour manager sat unmoved throughout.
The Inlandsbanan proved torturous and monotonous for most travellers. While lunch is ordered in advance to be paid for at the stop, some passengers spent the whole 45 minutes in the queue to collect their meal. The day was saved by the excellent Sami reception and meal.
The Ofoten railway is a highlight but the Quality hotel in Narvik was the first of three hotels undergoing renovation during our stay. On returning to our room late on the second evening we were contacted by reception to say that we had to change rooms as the safety equipment in our section had been knocked out during the day. As there was only one person on reception and no porters we had to collect the key and move everything to a new room.
The day travelling to Trondheim is torturous from 06:45 until 22:30. To describe dinner as included is insulting. A plastic case of salad topped with three slices of roast beef, that has been carried on the train all day, hardly constitutes a meal.
The Rauma railway and coach to Geiranger are stunning. In the Union hotel, a scrum rather than a meal is a more apt description of the buffet service.
The Freitham hotel at Flam is good and served an excellent meal. The Radisson in Bergen is undergoing improvements with the restaurant closed. Breakfast buffet was not the usual Radisson affair, being temporarily housed in a conference room. In Oslo, yet another hotel with extensive building work. The breakfast facility was unsatisfactory and potentially dangerous. Everything including hot drinks had to be carried from the foyer, down a ramp , and into the room, meaning 2 or 3 trips for everyone.
There is a feeling that the holiday has been planned from a set of timetables rather than a well constructed tour with regard to time and distance.
And as for the tour manager:
- to everyone’s amazement he led the group into the conference centre rather than the hotel at Stockholm;
- ignored the main entrance to the Union hotel at Geiranger and led everyone towards the rear staff entrance before retracing his steps;
- made no attempt to ensure hotels delivered on service of meals and provided porterage;
- directed everyone in the wrong direction during rail stop on the Inlandsbanan thus wasting their time;
- and to cap it, at airport was not prepared for check in, then gave everyone the booking reference for the wrong flight.
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