My wife and I took this tour on May 31, 2014 and had a great time visiting this beautiful country. We have received positive comments about our previous tour reviews, and hope that this review will also be helpful to those who might be considering this vacation and are curious about the tour details, or are already booked and simply want a head start on planning.
Let me know how this format works (send comment at bottom of page). I chose to put the most relevant information on one long page rather than have many short pages that involve clicking on links for navigation.
Although I have details of what we did, I have avoided revealing too much concerning my impressions of various activities and places. Some things are better experienced on your own right from the start!
Great trip...beautiful country...friendly people! So glad we went, and especially glad we went with Tauck. We covered a lot of ground, experienced many different aspects of Ireland, visited many sites, saw picturesque landscapes. It was interesting to see the contrast between UK-linked Northern Ireland and independent Republic of Ireland. The itinerary was well planned and thought out; the tour director informative and very organized. Taking this Tauck tour was a great way to see Ireland, and we would definitely recommend it to others!
We chose Tauck for a number of reasons:
- We have toured with Tauck numerous other times, and have been very impressed by the entire experience. We have been excitedly waiting for our next opportunity to take another vacation with them.
- We have taken other tours with Trafalgar, Uniworld, and Insight. Tauck has been our best experience.
- Tauck has a good balance of scheduled activities and free time.
- Tauck has a great reputation, and continues to win many awards in the travel industry.
- We appreciated the way their literature starts with Day 1 as the actual day the tour starts (many other tour agencies list Day 1 as the day you leave home and start flying).
- Tauck tends to use hotels that are better located, making it easier for us to explore on our own during our free time. The quality of chosen hotels is also better than other tours.
- We appreciate how Tauck does not try to upsell extra activities or options during the tour.
- They also do not make stops at places that are clearly shopping stops thinly disguised as sightseeing.
- The Tauck reputation as a company helps them attract top-notch tour directors.
- Tauck is a generous company. They give back to our world community on local, national, and global levels. And they promote volunteerism in numerous ways.
Ennis, Cliffs of Moher, Killarney, Ring of Kerry, Blarney, Waterford, Kilkenny, Galway, Connemara, Lough Corrib, Drumcliffe, Belleek, Enniskillen, Derry, Bushmills, Belfast, Giants Causeway, Dublin.
First, a word for our travel agent Mindy. She gets us the best prices available anywhere (not only with Tauck, but on our cruises also), and has booked many vacations for us. Mindy is very experienced with booking Tauck tours, and has been great to work with. Pavlus Travel books more Tauck Tours than any other travel agency. I have no hesitations recommending her if you are considering booking a tour with Tauck. Here's how to reach Mindy.
Here is the information Mindy (our travel agent at Pavlus Travel) needed to relay to Tauck order to book our reservations:
- Tour name
- Departure date
- Traveler names (exactly as on our passports)
- Traveler’s mailing address
- Traveler’s phone number(s)
- Emergency contact name and phone number
- Interest in purchasing Tauck’s travel insurance
- Interest in pre- or post-trip hotels
- Interest in Tauck air arrangements
- Pre- and post-tour flight numbers, times, and connecting city, if making our own arrangements.
I emailed her with my tour request, she called Tauck and made the booking, and emailed me back within the hour with details. I confirmed pricing details, and authorized her to charge my credit card information for Tauck's required $600 per person per tour deposit.
By the end of the day, I had received an email from Pavlus Travel with a PDF attachment that contained our tour reservation details, payment information, and the standard fine print disclosures and notices.
Incidentally, Pavlus Travel claims to be "the world's largest single office seller of Tauck World Discovery Tours". I appreciate working with a travel company that has plenty of experience with the specific travel I am doing.
Taking various factors into account, we are usually comfortable declining travel insurance. But we always try to familiarize ourselves with policies concerning cancellations. Tauck's cancellation fees (if you didn't have Guest Protection or Cancellation Fee Waiver) for this tour were:
- 60 days or more before departure - $600 per person per tour
- 8 to 59 days before departure - $900 per person per tour
- 1 to 7 days before departure - $1500 per person per tour
Our documents were delivered via UPS from our travel agent on January 27th. The most important item was a spiral-bound booklet customized for our trip. This booklet contained numerous sections:
- Summary of Purchase
- Request for Flight Information
- Hotel Confirmation for Additional Nights
- Arrival Instructions
- Tauck Director and Driver Gratuities
- Day-by-Day Itinerary
- Hotel Information for Family and Friends
- General Travel Information
- Reading Guide
- Necessary Gear
- Photo Contest Rules and Entry Form
- Conditions of Tour
There were also two Tauck luggage tags to be used on our checked luggage.
In addition to Tauck documents, the package contained numerous items complements of our travel agent.
Thursday May 29 Travel day
Our journey started today when we began our three-flight air transportation. We met some fellow Tauck travelers while we were in the Delta Sky Club at JFK, waiting for our New York to Shannon flight.
Friday May 30 Travel day; Shannon; Ennis
[See photos of Day 0]
Our overnight flight arrived in Shannon at 10:40am. Seeing the island of Ireland (video) as we approached was exciting! At the airport, proceeding through immigration, picking up our luggage, and going through customs were uneventful and smooth.
Our Tauck-provided transportation was easy to find. The agent was standing in easy view, holding a Tauck sign, directly outside the customs doorway where the general public can meet arriving passengers. After everyone on his Tauck list had arrived, we divided into two vans and drove 20 - 25 minutes to our Hotel in Ennis.
The Old Ground Hotel is conveniently located (video) right in the center of Shannon. Although our 11:45am arrival was earlier than check-in time, we were pleasantly surprised by being told that our room was available. We unpacked, hung suit coat and dress in closet, tested the safe, and freshened up. We made dinner reservations at one of the hotel restaurants (The Town Hall). Then we went out exploring Shannon for the afternoon. When we returned to our room at 4:15pm, there was an envelope awaiting us in our room. It contained a welcome letter from Tour Director Steve, with suggestions for wandering around, restaurants, and time line for tomorrow's tour start. There was also a separate form to fill out indicating some preferences (bed; diet), emergency contact, and return airline information.
Reservations are recommended for the hotel's Poet's Corner restaurant, as they fill up fast. The menu was very interesting; the food quite good. All items were à la carte, with large portion sizes. Service was quick.
Lodging: Old Ground Hotel (1st of 2 nights; this night was an extra pre-stay night)
Saturday May 31 (Day 1) Ennis
Tauck “Best of Ireland” tour begins with Day 1.
Tauck Description: Tauck's Best of Ireland tour begins at 1:00 PM at the Old Ground Hotel. A transfer is included from Shannon Airport to the Old Ground Hotel in the charming village of Ennis. If you wish, travel with us to the mighty Cliffs of Moher this afternoon, where towering, sheer headland plummets into the Atlantic Ocean. Travel back to Ennis through the Burren, a barren, rocky outcrop of desolate but beautiful countryside that is among the most evocative landscapes in Ireland. Tonight, join us for a welcome cocktail reception and dinner with local entertainment at your hotel, originally built as a private mansion in the 18th century.
[See photos of Day 1]
Because we chose to arrive one day early, we had all morning to explore more.
Breakfast opened at 7:00am in the hotel's O'Regan Room. There was a good continental buffet, plus menu selections that were made to order.
After breakfast we headed out for the Tourist Information (TI), down the quaint main street. We saw an ATM that was conveniently located and safe, so we used it to withdraw Euros. The TI had very helpful maps, and was staffed by a friendly woman. We then went to the Ennis Friary, which was again staffed by a very helpful person, who enjoyed answering questions about the Friary. For the rest of the morning, we did a lot of walking and sight-seeing, with the help of the TI maps. We got takeaway sandwiches at a café, and had our own little picnic in one of the public squares, watching the Irish life pass on around us. We eventually made our way back to the hotel to meet up with the group.
At 1:00pm, the group was all gathered in the hotel lobby, and we met our Tour Director Steve. He promptly invited everyone to board our awaiting coach. He had already prepared name cards and had them in place over each row of seats, so we easily found our assigned spots.
Tour Director Steve talked to us about many things along our one-hour drive to the Cliffs of Moher. We arrived at the coach drop-off area at 2:00, and followed Steve just inside the visitor center, where he handed out tickets to everyone. We had one hour to spend here as we chose; Steve instructed us where to meet the coach at 3:00. Some chose to spend time in the Cliffs Exhibition, but my wife and I chose to go right to the cliffs (video). Outside the visitor center, there are basically two ways to go...right, towards O'Brien's Tower, or left, along a very long path following the cliffs. We went left, walking at a brisk pace, and followed the path to one of the numerous unofficial vantage points. Some of the path was unpaved, narrow and rocky, making us slow down due to the number of people. We then turned around, retraced our steps, this time going past the visitor center and continued uphill to O'Brien's Tower. The highest point of the cliffs are just past the tower. This area has very nice views looking across at the long cliff landscape. We felt we chose wisely to go both directions, but it took a rushed pace to do it. We returned to the coach and were on board at 3:00. It was breezy the entire time, but a very light rain sprinkle started just as we were headed back to the coach. We were later told that we were extremely lucky with the weather on our visit; apparently rain here is fairly common, and sometimes it is downright blustery. On our drive back, we were able to see the Aran Islands, which is another indicator that the weather was good that day.
Our drive back to Ennis took us through Lisdoonvarna, which is known for its annual Matchmaking Festival. We later stopped at a viewpoint past Corkscrew Hill. At 4:10, we made a half-hour stop in the Burren area, and walk out onto the fascinating lunar-like landscape unique to this area, and get close to the Poulnabrone dolmen, a huge stone portal tomb (video).
Before our 5:20pm arrival back at the hotel, Tour Director Steve asked the group if they wanted to dress up tonight for the Welcome Dinner. The group consensus was to "come as you are", or smart casual, which Steve said would be quite appropriate for the evening. He noted that Ashford Castle would be the most formal dinner night (jackets required for dinner in the main dining room), and also the Farewell Dinner. He also reminded us to bring our cameras to tonight's dinner.
Dinner was at 6:30pm in the hotel's Banner Room (one level above lobby), which was a banquet room reserved for our group only. When guests entered, they gave Steve their completed information sheet as he requested. He handed a guest list out to each person. There was an open bar for beverages, and appetizers. We had about 20 minutes of mingling and meeting fellow travelers. Then Tour Director Steve took the floor, reading down the guest list as each person identified themselves. We were then invited to sit anywhere we chose at the five tables of eight people each. The dinner menu had a choice of four starters, five main courses, and four desserts. Just before dessert service, a group of entertainers came into the room. They were fine musicians who played and sang many Irish songs, accompanied by Irish dancers. Luckily our Tour Director reminded us earlier in the day to bring our cameras, as it was fun and energetic! After dessert and entertainment ended, the guests retired for the evening, many still tired from travel.
Included Meals: D
Lodging: Old Ground Hotel (2nd of 2 nights)
Sunday June 1 (Day 2) Killarney
Tauck Description: Discover the importance of farming in the west of Ireland on a visit to a working dairy farm, which has been in the same family for generations. You're invited inside the family home for a light Irish lunch and some excellent stories! Then it's on to Killarney and a visit to Muckross House, an Elizabethan-style mansion which was built in 1843. Set in Killarney National Park, the estate features distinguished 19th-century interiors and magnificent gardens in a palette of sensational colors. Your accommodations for the next two nights are at Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa, one of Ireland's most gracious hotels. Overlooking the Lakes of Killarney, your hotel exudes the warmth of a country home-and every Tauck guest room gazes out upon Killarney's incredibly beautiful landscapes.
[See photos of Day 2]
We had our suitcases ready for pickup inside our room at 7:00am, as instructed by Tour Director Steve yesterday.
Breakfast again opened at 7:00am in the O'Regan Room.
After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and boarded the coach at 8:15, as instructed yesterday. Steve told us that he would always tell us the time of departure from the hotels, and suggested we plan on boarding the coach 15 minutes prior to that time. Everyone in our group did that for the next two weeks, and it worked out very well, helping to maintain on-time departures. This morning we departed at 8:30am.
This morning we found a large Ireland map and a detailed daily schedule on our seats. Steve said that he would draw our tour route on the map if we wanted; we were to leave the map on our seat at the end of the day, and he would return them tomorrow. The detailed schedule for the entire tour was great; we have not had this detail ahead of time on other tours. It helped us plan, read and research ahead of time.
On our way to an Irish family farm we drove through County Limerick. Tour Director Steve used this as an excuse to tell a few of his favorite limericks, which kept everyone laughing. He invited everyone to come up with their own limericks as our trip progressed, and he would read them to the group along our journey.
At 9:40 we made our morning rest stop in Kilmallock at a small hotel (Deebert House Hotel). There was time for us to take a quick walk in a loop around the block and across the adjacent stream, and see a few church ruins in the distance. We then reboarded the coach and made our way to the Molanna Dairy Farm.
At 10:45 we arrived at the farm where we were greeted by Paddy and Margaret Fenton, the owners of this old family dairy farm which is still a working farm. Paddy showed us around, and then invited us into his home. We all squeezed into his living room and Paddy treated us to some wonderful stories and Irish poems. We were then led into their eating area where they were prepared to seat us all for a light turkey lunch and wonderful homemade breads. Paddy and Margaret walked us to the coach at 12:10pm, graciously thanking us for joining their family for lunch, and waving goodbye.
We drove to Muckross House, arriving there at 2:00. We immediately gathered in a grassy area just past the main entrance for our group photo. Tour Director Steve had already made arrangements with a photographer, who was ready to help arrange us for the picture. We then entered Muckross House for a guided tour. This was one of the few times that photos were not allowed on the trip. The guided tour lasted until 3:20 although a few people left the guided tour early so they would have more time to explore the expansive outside. At this point everyone was on their own until the 4:00 coach departure time. This allowed us to do a quick walk along the paths to the lake, passing by some huge rhododendrons. The wind coming off the lake was stronger, and there was off-and-on slight rain. If the weather was more ideal, we probably would have chosen less indoor guided tour time, and more outside exploration time.
Our short drive to the hotel in Killarney was slow because there was a motorcycle fair in town, attracting many people who were cruising slowly and parking where there wasn't any parking. In any case, it was fun to see this activity. Tour Director Steve reminded us that since Monday (tomorrow) was a bank holiday, which usually meant that the entire weekend was a holiday, which would explain the number of people.
After checking into the hotel we immediately walked across the street to the picturesque cemetery. After wandering through with our cameras, we returned to the room, freshened up for dinner, and met back on the coach at 6:25 for the four minute drive to the Rozzers Restaurant at the Killeen House Hotel.
Although the restaurant was within walking distance, our Tour Director chose to drive us because it was down a narrow roadway with traffic, and down a hill which would have meant walking up a hill on the way back. We boarded the coach at 6:25 for the five-minute drive. In the parking area, the restaurant proprietor Michael Rosney stepped onto our coach for a friendly welcome, telling us a little about his restaurant and the menu. He led us inside, and we were given menus in preparation for our two-hour meal with table d'hôte menu.
After dinner we got back on the coach, and Michael again joined us, thanking us for choosing his restaurant, and bidding us happy travels. Back at the hotel many people walked across the street to a viewpoint; others went to walk the cemetery before retiring in the comfortable hotel rooms.
Included Meals: B, L, D
Lodging: Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa (1st of 2 nights)
Monday June 2 (Day 3) The Ring of Kerry and Killarney National Park
Tauck Description: Today is devoted to the natural beauty of the lveragh Peninsula, known as the Ring of Kerry. On a drive 'round the Ring, drink in the scenes of sandy beaches, mountains, lakes and cliffs, old oak forests and bogs. The country's highest peak, Corran Tuathail, reigns over Killarney National Park at the peninsula's heart. Along the way, history waxes and wanes in the ruins of ancient monasteries, castles, forts and small villages like seaside Waterville, where quiet and warmth are a way of life that brings the scenery's dramatic scale down to earth.
[See photos of Day 3]
The Lake Room Restaurant officially opened at 7:30am for breakfast, but Tour Director Steve arranged for it to open at 7:00 for our group; most of our group did indeed arrive before 7:30. There was a buffet breakfast, but items could also be ordered from their menu. The head waitress Brigid was extremely efficient, just as Steve had forewarned us. She also asked each of us about our preferred dinner reservations for this evening, including who we wanted to be seated with, and our choice of times between 6:30pm and 9:00pm.
The group boarded the coach at 8:15am for our scheduled 8:30 departure; everyone was prompt so we were able to leave early for our Ring of Kerry drive.
On the drive, Tour Director Steve described our activity choices for two days from now when we have our free afternoon at the Mount Juliet Hotel. He passed around a sign-up sheet, starting in the back of the coach. We made a photo stop at a viewpoint to admire the hillsides where the rhododendrons were in full bloom, creating many splashes of purple. Apparently there is a limited window when the rhodies can be seen this colorful.
We had very nice weather for the Ring of Kerry drive. Exceptional visibility allowed us to see the Dingle Peninsula. We later made another photo stop overlooking the Dingle Bay.
Further along the Ring we made a stop in Waterville. There were restrooms here, and then everyone had a pleasant a short walk along the waterfront to meet the coach, which had moved. It was now parked by the local statue of Charlie Chaplan.
After Waterville we drove upwards, stopping for 15 minutes at an overlook where we could look down the valley and see a circle fort and the bay, again showing us how excepgtional the visibility was. The purple foxglove was just starting to blossom.
We continued our beautiful Ring of Kerry drive, avoiding sheep, and stopping at 12:00 for lunch at Avoca. We were served good homemade soup and bread, and then selected our own delectable treat from their well-known pastry display. We then had another 40 minutes to walk around, relax, take photos, and talk to the sheep. We left at 1:20.
We very soon came to our next stop, which was called Ladies View, staying for 15 minutes. We then continued our drive, ending up in Kilkenny.
The coach pulled into a main coach parking area in Kilkenny. The majority of the group got off here, but some stayed on the coach which was going directly back to the hotel. Tour Director Steve walked us around for 10 minutes, pointing out an ATM, general store, electronics store, Aran wool store, knick knacks store, restrooms, and taxi stand. He instructed us to meet back at the same coach parking lot at 4:00 for a ride back to the hotel, or we can also make our own way back. Everyone went their own way, exploring the area. At 4:00 most of the same people were gathered at the parking area for the coach ride back. We arrived at the hotel at 4:15.
Dinner was in the hotel restaurant, with our seating guests and dining time that we had given to our server at breakfast. We were able to order anything on the menu. The food platings were all very nicely done.
There was a nice swimming pool and exercise facility that some people used after dinner, but it was not open very late.
Included Meals: B, D
Lodging: Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa (2nd of 2 nights)
Tuesday June 3 (Day 4) Blarney Castle, Waterford
Tauck Description: Journey to 15th-century Blarney Castle to see the famous Blarney Stone. Legend has it that if you kiss the stone, you will be blessed with the gift of gab. Next up is a visit to the city of Waterford and a tour of the Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre for a look at the centuries-old story of Ireland's famed glassware. Arrive early this evening at your hotel, a country estate where you'll dine à la carte this evening.
[See photos from Day 4]
After another 7:00am early opening breakfast in the Lake Room Restaurant, we departed by coach at 8:30 for Blarney. Before departing, some people walked across the street to the cemetery, which had very nice lighting this time of day.
Tour Director Steve had drawn the tour route on our large maps and had them awaiting on our seats. He discussed our dinner options for the next two nights at the Mount Juliet Hotel. One venue was their fancier slower Michelin-rated Lady Helen Restaurant and the table d'hôte menu (sample menu); another choice was the Kendals Brasserie which is a bit more casual but still top-notch food (sample menu); the third choice was the more casual speedier dinner in the President's Bar. Steve then continued his ongoing history lesson, offering a few more tidbits. We were told that Lady Helen Restaurant preferred we form tables of four rather than requesting a table for two only.
We arrived at Blarney Castle about 10:00, and the weather was sunny without a cloud in sight. Against our intuition, but heeding Steve's prior advice, we took our umbrellas and rain jackets. The coach parking lot was pointed out to us, where we were to meet at 12:30. We continued a short distance to the drop-off point. We were given maps and were led through the admissions gate (here's a map and guide for orientation). We were then on our own to spend time as we desired. It was a 10-minute walk past the Castle Field Arboretum (good spot to get selfie photos with castle in background) to the castle itself. From there it took approximately 40 minutes to climb up the steep short stairs to the stone at the top (video). The line moved towards the stone where there were two people waiting to help visitors - one assisting with getting the person on their back and kiss the stone; one to take a photo available for purchase in the gift shop. Most visitors stopped to kiss the stone, but some simply bypassed the kissing station so they could see the views over the castle top. Because the stairway up was narrow, people had to ascend in line even if they were intending to only see the stone and views but not kiss the stone. Once past the stone, there were plenty of areas to look out over the valley. The descent to the bottom was without line and went much faster.
After the castle, we had time to walk some of the nice grounds. We chose to go past the picturesque Blarney House, then spend our remaining time walking through the mystical Rock Close where there are fairy-like trees, a dolmen rock, wishing steps. By this time it had started to rain, which actually kept it less crowded; today was a good example of how Ireland weather can unexpectedly change within minutes. We eventually headed towards the parking lot, passing restrooms, and leaving 20 minutes for a quick sandwich at the cafeteria/gift shop.
The coach left Blarney Castle at 12:30. At 2:00 we arrived at a hotel in Dungarvan for our prearranged afternoon rest stop. We were able to use the restrooms, and there was also a banquet room set up for us with water, coffee, tea, and cookies. After 30 minutes here we departed for Waterford.
We arrived in Waterford 45 minutes later, parking across the street from the House of Waterford Crystal. The group was led in, where there was a guided factory tour, with plenty of time afterwards to make purchases in their retail store. The group was in Waterford about 1 1/2 hours total, meeting back on the coach at 4:45.
My wife and I actually chose to forgo the guided tour, opting to leave the group and wander around the Viking Triangle, learning much about Waterford's Viking history (here's a helpful map, and another of a Blue Plaque Walk). We climbed Reginald's Tower, visited Christ Church Cathedral, and did a quick walk through many of the streets.
At 4:45 the coach left Waterford for our Mount Juliet Spa. On the way, Tour Director Steve came around and noted our preferred dinner reservations for tonight, which he then passed on to the hotel staff.
At 5:35, we were met at the hotel entrance by staff who gave each guest their room key and escorted each to the room. Luggage was efficiently delivered to the room in about 15 minutes.
It was about a 5-minute walk to Kendals Restaurant, where we had a very enjoyable meal from an interesting menu. We were there about 2 1/2 hours. There was a light rainfall when we were done, so the restaurant offered to call for a ride from the hotel, which most guests accepted.
Included Meals: B, D
Lodging: Mount Juliet Hotel (1st of 2 nights)
Wednesday June 4 (Day 5) Kilkenny
Tauck Description: You'll discover that Ireland's antiquities tell the tales of days gone by ... and today's visit to the ruins of the Cistercian Jerpoint Abbey introduces some remarkable medieval architectural artifacts. Take a guided walking tour of Kilkenny, world-renowned as a center for craft and design, for insights into the Black Abbey and Kilkenny Castle. Back at your hotel this afternoon, you'll have an opportunity to take advantage of some outstanding leisure activities.
[See photos from Day 5]
We sent a couple items of clothing out for laundering this morning. The Lady Helen Restaurant opened for breakfast at 7:00. After breakfast we departed by coach at 8:45am for the five-minute drive to Jerpoint Abbey. Our group was allowed entry at 9:00 even though it did not open to the general public until 10:00. There was a steady rainfall for the entire one-hour guided tour, but we found enough covered areas to remain protected (video). Tour Director Steve made a comment, which was appreciated by many in the group: he suggested women and men try to keep their perfumes and colognes to a minimum, as it can be quite overwhelming in a closed space such as on a coach.
At 10:00 we continued on, 40 minutes into Kilkenny where we were met by a local guide at Cathedral Church of St Canice (video). The rain stopped just as we were continuing our tour by foot for another hour, ending at the Kilkenny Castle (video) but not going in. At this point we were given some lunch recommendations and shown where to meet the coach next to the castle at 1:30. The group dispersed for one hour of free time, some going into the castle, others choosing lunch. The café/gift shop was convenient but had a long slow line. We went a few blocks away to Kafe Katz, a casual quick (our goal) eatery (menu).
At 1:30 the group was all on the coach, and we drove for 20 minutes to the Mount Juliet Hotel (video). The rest of the afternoon was at our leisure. Most everyone had given Tour Director Steve their preferred activity, and we in turn were given meeting times and locations. Options included a tour of the hotel estate grounds by car, selected spa treatments, golf, and horseback riding. We chose the guided tour the grounds. Our guide was very friendly and informative. After the one-hour tour we walked some of the roads and trails around the grounds. Some were paved; others were not, and on the muddy side.
Our laundry was delivered to our room at 5:45pm, earlier than we expected. Although not required, we dressed up tonight for our dinner at the Lady Helen Restaurant, as did many others. This dinner was a treat, with beautiful presentations, great tastes, and numerous little special touches.
Included Meals: B, D
Lodging: Mount Juliet Hotel (2nd of 2 nights)
Thursday June 5 (Day 6) Galway City; Connemara; Lough Corrib
Tauck Description: Travel through the towns of Portumna, meaning "the landing place of the oak tree" on the River Shannon, and Loughrea, "town of the grey lake, known for the cathedral dominating its skyline. Later we arrive in fast growing Galway City, where you'll have time to explore. Then it's on into Connemara, a region of windswept mountains, sparkling lakes and coastlines. On arrival at Lough Corrib, enjoy a cruise across the lake, past secluded beaches and enchanting woods. Then it's on to Ashford Castle, a beautiful private estate.
[See photos from Day 6]
Breakfast was again available at 7:00am, which was also the time designated for us to have our luggage ready for pickup in our rooms. Departure time was at 8:30.
On our morning drive, Tour Director Steve read three more limericks that guests had written and handed to him. This was quite fun, and he enjoyed having so many limericks contributed by our group, saying that his last group had only given him one the entire tour. The drive was very pretty, with stretches where the trees completely arched over the roadway, and numerous old ruins were seen dotting the landscape.
At 10:10 we arrived at a hotel for our morning rest stop, which was again prearranged and set up with coffee, tea, cookies. They had a small garden area outside where we could walk. We stayed for 30 minutes, then departed.
Another two limericks were read. Then Steve played some comedy routines by Irish comedian Hal Roach, which kept the entire coach chuckling, and confirmed that the Irish enjoy laughing at themselves.
We stopped in Galway at about 12:15pm where we were given a short walking orientation with our Tour Director. We then had 45 minutes on our own. There were a couple of main streets, with many places to eat, as this was quite busy with tourists. The group was on their own for today's lunch. We had takeaway sandwiches made in a deli/bakery, and ate them outside as we watched Galway life go past us. We also stopped at a convenient ATM to withdraw more Euros. At 1:50pm we had made our way uphill to our meeting spot in Eyre Square. When our coach pulled up at 2:00 we did a speedy boarding because of the busy square, then immediately headed off.
The weather was fine today, as Steve confirmed when he pointed out Croagh Patrick Mountain in the distance, which was not often seen on the tours.
Steve made a comment today which seemed to be appreciated by the group. He suggesting coughing into tissues, as there seemed to be an increase in people in our group who were sniffling, coughing, and sneezing.
We arrived at Lough Corrib where we disembarked the coach and boarded a sizable boat for a lake cruise. It was a beautiful day, and most people sat on the upper open-air level; sunglasses were a must. The lower level was enclosed, and had access to rest room and beverages. The cruise lasted about 45 minutes, and had occasional narration by the captain. We were also entertained by Martin Noone, who played accordion, sang, and told stories. He was very proud of the fact that he was an extra in the Quiet Man movie.
Towards the end of the cruise, we could see the beautiful Ashford Castle coming into view. As we drew closer to the dock, we could hear bagpipes. We soon could see that it was from a bagpiper by the pier, playing music for our arrival! We disembarked the boat, and the piper led us across the bridge to the castle entrance, where the staff was lined up to welcome us. It was indeed quite a memorable greeting.
Once inside, we were given our room keys and a grounds map, and given directions on how to find our room since the castle was quite large with many stairways, halls, and doors. Our bags were already in our rooms, having been taken there by coach while we were on the lake cruise. We immediately went back outside and wandered around the grounds until dinnertime (video).
Dinner the next two nights would be our choice of one of the hotel restaurants, à la carte. George V Dining Room is the fancy one (sample menu); Cullen's At The Cottage is nice but less formal (sample menu), and in a detached building 5-minute walk away; or downstairs at Cullen's At The Dungeon, which is casual pub style. Reservations were recommended at all of them. Men were requested to wear a jacket at the George V Dining Room; dress at Cullen's was casual. We chose to eat in the pub tonight because we wanted to have Irish stew but had not had it yet. They had a good stew, and also a great Guinness beef stew. We chose the Rhubarb Crumble for an excellent finish.
Lodging: Ashford Castle (1st of 2 nights)
Friday June 6 (Day 7) Kylemore Abbey; Ashford Castle
Tauck Description: Today you're off for some amazing sightseeing in the wilds of Connemara. See a Gothic Revival lakeside castle, magnificent Kylemore Abbey on the shores of Kylemore Lough. A Benedictine abbey in World War I, it is now a girls' boarding school. Return to Ashford Castle, where the remainder of the day is yours to pursue some of the castle's many outdoor activities. Dine a la carte tonight in one of the castle's celebrated restaurants.
[See photos of Day 7]
For early risers, coffee is available in the lobby sitting room, across from the George V Restaurant.
Breakfast this morning was in the elegant George V Restaurant, opening at 7:30am. They had an excellent buffet; those who enjoy ham must try it here if they have it at the carving station. We were asked to make dinner reservations for dinner tonight before we left for the day.
Our coach left at 9:00 this morning for Kylemore Abbey. Today's weather was completely opposite of yesterday; we were greeted with overcast sky and rain. We stopped for a photo stop at the top of a hill overlooking Kylemore Lough. Our ride there was through peat bogs, and was quite bumpy (video) because the soft land made it impossible to build solid roadways, and the surface was constantly shifting.
When we arrived at Kylemore Abbey at 10:30 we went first to the visitor center. Our coach was one of the first to arrive. Tour Director Steve told us that this was the best place to use the restrooms, as other areas on the grounds had minimal or no facilities. He instructed us to meet back here just before noon for lunch. We were to go through the cafeteria line and get whatever we wanted, and he would be waiting by one of the cashiers to tell her that we are part of the Tauck group. He also told us that there is a nice Victorian walled garden, but there really is not sufficient time to see this and also see the abbey and the church (map). We were then on our own.
Because of its location at the end of the lake, there was quite a breeze. Coupled with today's rain, we noted that umbrellas were often not effective, and occasionally ruined (video). A good coat and hood were much more functional today.
The Abbey was nice, but only a limited area was open to the public. It did not take much time to see everything inside. There is a public restroom, but it has only one stall. We decided that we enjoyed the abbey for its picturesque exterior from various vantage points outside rather than the insides. We proceeded further along the Lakeshore Walk to the Gothic Church This is also small, but architecturally interesting; sort of a miniature cathedral. Even further along the shore is the Mausoleum, which contains Mr. and Mrs. Henry, builders of the castle-turned-abbey; it is viewable from the exterior.
At this point we strolled back to the visitor center for lunch. Still having some time after lunch, we braved the wind and rain, and went to the spot that we determined to be the best photo point -- the walkway bridge connecting the parking area to the visitor center. This gave a nice view of the abbey across the lake, with a good foreground. There were plenty of visitors doing the same, so was easy to find someone to take our picture here.
By the time we left at 1:00, there were many other coaches in the parking area, and many visitors also.
The rain was letting up when we arrived back at the hotel at 2:30. The rest of the afternoon was free time. Many in our group had already signed up for one of the activities offered by the hotel, which include golf, falconry, equestrian, fishing, shooting, bicycling, kayaking. Some waited until our return to the hotel before deciding. We chose the one-hour "Hawk Walk" at the Falconry School, which was an amazing experience. These activities are not included in the Tauck tour, but I can say that the falconry experience was well worth the extra cost.
We chose to dine in the George V Restaurant tonight. We had 7:00pm reservations, but went 15 minutes early because we heard that there was a large group arriving at 7:00. Our intuition was correct; they seated us promptly, and were glad we arrived early. The staff was very friendly and attentive; food was reasonably portioned and beautifully presented, and excellent. We were able to order à la carte.
Included Meals: B, L, D
Lodging: Ashford Castle (2nd of 2 nights)
Saturday June 7 (Day 8) Drumcliffe; Belleek; Enniskillen
Tauck Description: Travel today to the foothills of steep-sided Benbulben Mountain and the village of Drumcliffe, where the final resting place of poet W. B. Yeats lies in a graveyard marked by carved Irish "high crosses" dating back to a 6th-century monastery. Continue on to the villages of Mullaghmore and Ballyshannon and the market town of Belleek, for a behind-the-scenes tour of a porcelain factory where you'll meet craftspeople using techniques handed down from generation to generation. Following lunch, travel to our resort hotel in Enniskillen, set on the shores of one of the world's most beautiful lakes. Dine at the resort tonight.
[See photos of Day 8]
Breakfast was once again a nice buffet and menu service in the George V Restaurant. Luggage was to be ready for pickup in the room at 7:00. After breakfast we checked out with plenty of time to settle our bill, which consisted of falconry, and miscellaneous beverages. Today's weather appeared to be another gorgeous day.
Our morning rest stop was a little earlier than Tour Director Steve preferred, but had convenient facilities. We stopped at 9:20 at the Knock Shrine (video), which is the site of an 1879 apparition. We had 30 minutes here. We were earlier than most other visitors, so had plenty of time to see the important areas of the shrine. I found the self-serve push button holy water dispensers to be interesting.
Back on the coach Steve was discussing Irish names and their meaning. He explained how "Fitz" means "son of". He gave examples of Fitzpatrick, Fitzgerald, Fitzsimmons. I told him that I don't know any of this, but I do know that after two weeks of food on a Tauck trip, my trousers FitzTighter!
Our next stop was at 11:05 at Drumcliffe, at St. Columba's Church which is the final resting place of W. B. Yeats. We also saw a well-preserved Celtic high cross in the Drumcliff Cemetery, and a round tower. We were back on the coach at 11:45, headed for lunch.
We arrived in Belleek at 12:20, at the Belleek Pottery Visitor Center, which is located right across the Northern Ireland border. Tour Director Steve informed us that lunch was arranged at the visitor center Tea Room because it allows better scheduling, but don't have high hopes for our meal compared to some of our others. Tables were prepared for us on the upper level. Fixed plates were quickly brought to everyone, with soup, salad, bread. Our group was divided into two groups. The first group was called over the speaker system to proceed to the lobby for the tour; the second group was called 15 minutes later. Afterwards there was time to make purchases in the showroom.
A few people chose to pass on the Belleek activities, walking instead up the street into the small Enniskillen town. There is an ATM for those who want to withdraw British Pounds, and a small grocery store. A coffee shop called The Thatch is cozy and serves pastries and small lunch items.
We were scheduled to leave at 3:00, but everyone was on board and we left a few minutes early.
On the coach Steve passed around a sign-up sheet for a Bushmills whiskey tasting this afternoon at the resort. We could select 4:15 or 5:15 tastings, which were in the Member's Lounge, above the lobby. He said that once we arrive at 4:00 and are in our rooms, the hotel staff will call our room to ask for our dinner reservation for tonight. Choices are in the fine dining Catalina Restaurant (sample menu), or Loughside Bar & Grill (sample menu); both were smart casual dress.
Taking advantage of the enjoyable weather, we stopped at the front desk for a map of the grounds. It included a suggested walk through the golf course and to the water, which the concierge said would take about 45 minutes. We followed the path at a leisurely pace, taking over an hour to complete. We chose to do this rather than attend the whiskey tasting. We talked to others who went to the tasting, and they said it was fun and informative.
We had dinner in the Catalina Restaurant tonight. It had fast service, and nice portions. We like to try foods that we don't find at home, and there were a few items on the menu that were new to us, so we daringly gave them a try, and were glad we did.
Interestingly, in 2013 the international G8 Summit was held at this resort. We heard some interesting stories about preparations for the event as well as a very successful hosting of the summit.
Included Meals: B, L, D
Lodging: Lough Erne Golf Resort (1st of 2 nights)
Sunday June 8 (Day 9) Derry; Omagh
Tauck Description: Threads of history continue to unfold on a tour of Derry; among its sites are St. Columb's Cathedral, the Bloody Sunday Memorial marking the troubled events of 1972, and wall murals painted since the peace process began in 1994 with messages reflecting the cultural identities of local residents. Your Derry visit ends with a walking tour of its old city walls, marking the only completely walled city in the British Isles. From Derry, head to the Ulster American Folk Park which tells the stories behind three centuries of Irish emigrants who sought to make new lives in North America.
[See photos of Day 9]
Breakfast opened at 7:00am; it was a cold buffet and à la carte. We were asked to make dinner reservations before we left for the day. After breakfast, a local guide named John Cunningham joined us as we boarded our coach for our 8:30 departure. He immediately began narrating our 1-hour 45-minute drive to Derry. Incidentally, Derry is also known as Londonderry, and the naming dispute still continues. We saw signs that said Londonderry and hand the London portion spray painted out.
We arrived in Derry at 10:15, going to the Tourist Information center where we could use the restrooms. A Derry local guide, Martin McCrossan, met us for our walking city tour. He was very interesting, and very passionate about his people, culture, and history. He did a great job of painting a picture in our minds of the local events leading up to Bloody Sunday as we walked through the streets and along the city wall (video).
When we returned to the coach at 11:45, John continued his commentary. We drove through the misty weather to the Ulster American Folk Park, about 45 minutes away. The park is an open-air museum, consisting of 30 buildings recreating a time line of Irish immigrants sailing from Ulster to America. Many buildings have people dressed in period costume, discussing the significance or demonstrating skills. We first had a light lunch in the café, consisting of sandwich quarters, soup, and apple pie. We then had until 3:00 to go through the park (map) at our own pace. It rained for the first 20 minutes, then the sun came out. The paths are mostly packed dirt, so tended to be on the muddy side. The park was interesting, but my wife and I concluded that we would have rather spent more time in Derry, and less or none at this park.
The coach left at 3:00, with more narration by John. The roads were again wavy and bumpy because we were traveling across peat bog areas. We arrived back at our resort at 4:00. Having some spare time before dinner, we walked down the road towards the main entrance, to the river and swans.
Since we dined at the Catalina Restaurant last night, we chose the Loughside Bar & Grill tonight. Many from our group decided to dine a bit more casual tonight also; there were many of our group at tables for two. Service was again quite speedy.
Included Meals: B, L, D
Lodging: Lough Erne Golf Resort (2nd of 2 nights)
Monday June 9 (Day 10) Belfast
Tauck Description: Arrive in Belfast, where your day begins in the Titanic Quarter, developed on the site of former shipbuilding docks from which vessels like the RMS Titanic were built and launched. A newly opened Titanic exhibit shows life in early 1900s Belfast and the experience of sailing on the Titanic, including what it felt like to be on the ship when it encountered an iceberg. After checking into your hotel, enjoy a city orientation tour followed by time to explore on your own. This evening, join us for a nine-course Titanic tasting menu dinner in the sumptuous Great Room of The Merchant Hotel, honoring the ship's grand style.
[See photos of Day 10]
We had our bags ready for the 7:15am pickup. Breakfast opened at 7:00 in the Catalina Restaurant. For breakfast this morning we tried the Brie pastry, which took 20 minutes to cook, but was a nice treat. We also had brioche French toast.
Our schedule today had to change. We were scheduled to visit the Titanic Belfast, but there was a movie being filmed there, so no tourists were allowed. Tour Director Steve made alternate arrangements of a tour of City Hall.
At 8:45 we departed for Belfast. Tour Director Steve read us a 10-minute story about the Irish potato famine, followed by 45 minutes of quiet time. We arrived in the outskirts of Belfast at 10:30, and were at City Hall at 10:45, where we were met by our local guide. We all went into City Hall, taking time to use the restrooms. We had an 11:30 tour admission, at which time we were met in the lobby by a City Hall guide who took us on a 30-minute tour of the building, pointing out many historical details that would have been otherwise overlooked (video).
Everyone had some free time for lunch on their own, until our 2:00 city tour. We were right in the center of the city, so there were many places within a couple of blocks for whatever style of lunch that was desired. As we often do, we chose a simple café for a quick sandwich so we could maximize our exploration time.
Our coach picked us up at City Hall at 2:00 for our city tour, which lasted 1 1/2 hours. We were then taken to our hotel. Inside the hotel we were directed to a separate area from the regular lobby. Here the hotel staff gave us beverages and cookies, and handed out our room keys. We were each accompanied to our room by a hotel staff person who showed us the amenities and answered any questions. After checking in, there was time to go out and explore the neighborhood.
Dinner tonight was at 6:30pm for the entire group. We were dining in The Great Room Restaurant, and being treated to the nine-course Tasting Menu, which is representative of dinners that First Class passengers on the Titanic would have been served. We were all able to sit where we wanted, and choose our own table mates. There were tables available for 2, 4, 6, and 8. Wine was included. This meal was a lot of fun, and had some interesting courses. Although there were many courses, they were not large portions. Although casual would be appropriate in this restaurant, many people chose to dress up a bit more for this dinner.
Included Meals: B, D
Lodging: The Merchant Hotel (1st of 2 nights)
Tuesday June 10 (Day 11) Carrickfergus; Ballygally; Bushmills; Antrim Coast; Giant's Causeway; Belfast
Tauck Description: Castle towns are this morning's focus on a stop in Carrickfergus (the subject of a classic Irish folk song) and in Ballygally, where a charming baronial castle looks out over the sea. Drive on to Bushmills, where lunch is served up with a warm welcome and a "fire that is always lit", a tradition at the Bushmills Inn whose origins date back to 1608. Your afternoon is spent on one of the world's great drives, along the Antrim Coast Road. Explore the Giants Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where over 40,000 symmetrical basalt columns lead from looming coastal cliffs out to the sea - a geologically formed path of intrigue. Your evening is at leisure.
[See photos of Day 11]
We sent out a couple of items for laundering so we would have fresh clothes for our travel home.
Breakfast opened at 7:00am in The Great Room Restaurant where we had dinner last night. There was no buffet; we were able to order from a nice menu.
At 8:30 we departed for Giant's Causeway via the Antrim Coastal drive. Our morning rest stop was at 9:30 in the small fishing town of Carnlough. There was a Spar convenience store, and public toilets. We had 30 minutes to take in the pretty fishing harbor.
Back on the coach at 10:00. At 11:00 we stopped at a viewpoint that overlooked the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. We did not have time scheduled to actually walk over the rope bridge; we only viewed it from a distance (video). We stayed at this scenic viewpoint for 20 minutes, then continued on to Bushmills.
We arrived at the town of Bushmills at 11:40, but we drove right through it so we could view Dunluce Castle ruins on the other side of town before lunch. We then returned to town, arriving at The Bushmills Inn Restaurant at 11:55. They had three long tables ready for us in back; we passed an open fire that was burning peat. Lunch was a set menu; a very good salmon and potatoes. This was followed by coffee and a wonderful sticky toffee pudding dessert; they handed the recipe to us on our way out. We were on our own to walk the town until our 1:30 departure. It was now raining hard, but intermittently. This kept some people in the restaurant drinking tea and coffee, but not us!
The drive from Bushmills to the Giant's Causeway was less than 15 minutes. We went into the visitor center and were given admission tickets by our Tour Director. From here we could either walk 20 minutes down the path to the water and the iconic rocks, or take a shuttle. We chose to walk down, as the scenery was beautiful and weather pleasant. At the bottom we climbed around the rocks and outcroppings, taking many photos and admiring the geological wonder (video). About this time the rain started, and quite heavily. Most people then chose to take the shuttle back up the path rather than walking. Inside the tourist center there is a coffee shop and gift store.
Everyone returned to our coach at 3:00 and departed for our return drive to Belfast. We arrived back at the hotel at 4:35. Steve learned that the Titanic Belfast exhibit was open this evening, so he gave us the option of staying on the coach for a ride to the Titanic. People could then see the exhibit and make their own way back to the hotel.
Everyone was on their own for dinner tonight. Tour Director Steve gave us a handout with restaurant suggestions. We had an acquaintance in Belfast, so we spent a nice evening with her, comparing notes about our Ireland experiences.
Included Meals: B, L
Lodging: The Merchant Hotel (2nd of 2 nights)
Wednesday June 11 (Day 12) Downpatrick, Dublin
Tauck Description: Your first visit today, to the Saint Patrick Centre, relays the story of Ireland's patron saint in the countryside setting where he lived and where he is buried (his grave overlooks the centre). Travel to Dublin, and upon arrival, take a guided walking tour that includes a visit to Trinity College, home to the Book of Kells. The afternoon and evening are yours to experience a bit of Dublin. Nightlife in Dublin entices with traditional music and popular pubs, like the trendy Temple Bar area.
[See photos of Day 12]
7:00am breakfast opened. 7:00 luggage pickup in rooms. 8:30 departure.
This morning we drove to the town of Downpatrick to see where Saint Patrick is buried. We arrived at 9:25am at the Down Cathedral, going immediately to the burial site outside, adjacent to the church. A church director met us and gave us some historical information about the Saint. He then led us down the hill to the nearby Saint Patrick Centre where we used the restrooms and saw an informative 15-minute Imax-style presentation. The group then had 30 minutes on our own. Some went back up the hill to the burial site again, and go into the Cathedral; others wandered the grounds.
We were on the coach again at 10:45, and departed for the 2-hour drive to Belfast. Awaiting on our seats were the Tauck guest comment card, and the airport transportation schedule. Tour Director Steve told us the history of Tauck, and how it got to where it is today (think coin trays). He then reviewed the transportation schedule for each couple, and confirmed the times that each should have their luggage ready for pickup. He acknowledged that the larger the group going to the airport, the earlier the luggage needed to be ready for pickup; this was to assure that there were no problems with keeping everyone's schedule. He then handed out a Dublin map, courtesy of the Four Seasons Hotel, reviewing the location of our hotel, the shuttle location, National Museum, Temple Bar, and other landmarks. He gave us a list with recommended restaurants. Lastly, he told us about how our Trinity College viewing of the Book of Kells will be done.
We arrived at our hotel at 12:55 and were immediately let inside to a separate room for light lunch, consisting of soup and sandwiches. Then Tour Director Steve passed out our room keys. Our luggage had already been delivered by the time we got to the room. We spent the next hour or so unpacking, settling in, doing a little hand laundry, and reading up for our upcoming sights.
The group got back on the coach at 3:00, along with a local guide, and drove to Trinity College. We were dropped off just around the corner from the National Museum, and the local guide walked us to the college, pointing out where our shuttle back to the hotel would be located. For our group it was outside the National Museum entrance on Kildare Street. He also reviewed the shuttle times for today and tomorrow. We passed an interesting sculpture on the Trinity College campus (video).
Once we arrived at the Old Library (where the Book of Kells is displayed) we handed back our listening devices since we were now finished using them. The earpieces were ours to keep.
Our group was allowed entrance into the library ahead of general admission. Once inside we could take our time studying the exhibits, but because the next room where the Book of Kells is displayed is fairly small, only limited numbers of people were given entrance at any one time. Once in the next room, there were four glass cases with the pages on display. Because the pages are not very big, and there is so much detail, people would have to jockey for position to get a good view of them.
Once done viewing the book, people went up the stairs which led to the next level of the Old Library. Usually the Book of Kells is the focus of conversation, but this main chamber is quite a sight in its own right. It is a very long narrow room with bookcases filled with old books, each bookcase having a marble bust of someone famous or not-so-famous. Many people actually spend more time in this library chamber than they do in the Book of Kells exhibit and display room (video). After exiting the library via the gift shop, the group gathered at the predetermined location by Fellows' Square.
From here, our group was given the choice of being taken back to the hotel on our coach, or staying and making our own way back to the hotel at our convenience. Although many in the group chose to return with the coach, we went out exploring. We walked towards River Liffey, then followed it west to Christ Church Cathedral. From there we wound our way through many Temple Bar streets, stopping for a good Italian pasta and pizza dinner. We meandered back to the hotel shuttle meeting point and got the last hourly shuttle back to the hotel at 7:30pm. We spent the rest of the evening planning our next day, and then went to bed early.
Included Meals: B
Lodging: Four Seasons Hotel Dublin (1st of 3 nights)
Thursday June 12 (Day 13) Dublin
Tauck Description: Depart today for a guided tour through city streets lined with brick Georgian row houses, famous for their intricate, glass-laced doorways. Dublin is well known for its beautiful parks, and today you'll see Phoenix Park, one of Europe's largest walled urban parks, and St. Stephen's Green. Drive along bustling O'Connell Street and see the Lord Mayor's residence, with a guided visit to the State Apartments at 13th-century Dublin Castle in the heart of the city. Join us this evening for a farewell cocktail reception and dinner at the hotel.
[See photos of Day 13]
The Seasons Restaurant opened for breakfast at 7:00. Although good, it was not quite as fancy as I had expected, based on other Four Seasons hotel stays.
Our coach left at 9:00 for our final full day. We started with a city tour by coach, with the same local guide that we had yesterday. The city tour ended at the Dublin Castle at 10:15. Our group had a 10:30 reservation for the castle tour, which was given by a castle-supplied guide, and lasted about one hour. Then the group returned to the coach. At this point, some guests went out on their own for the rest of the day; other guests boarded the coach and were dropped off in the museum area; and others boarded the coach to be dropped off back at the hotel at around 12:45. In any case, this was the last time we were to see our coach driver, so was the time that people give our driver Martin his well-earned gratuity.
We chose to take the coach to the museum, then we easily found a place for lunch on Dawson Street. Then we explored Grafton Street, ending at St. Stephen's Green. We explored this park and then went to Merrion Square Park, in search of the Oscar Wilde statue at the north corner. We finished our afternoon by stopping in two different bakeries for pastry treats that beckoned us, before we arrived at our hotel shuttle pick-up spot for one of the hourly shuttles arranged for our group. Back at the hotel we did some more reading, and planned our day tomorrow based on what we learned and already saw today.
Tonight at 6:30 was our Farewell Cocktail Reception and Dinner. It was a nice final evening for our group. For details of this evening, see the Farewell Dinner section below.
Included Meals: B, D
Lodging: Four Seasons Hotel Dublin (2nd of 3 nights)
Friday June 13 (Day 14) Dublin
Tauck Description: Farewell to your Ireland tour! Fly home anytime. A transfer is included from your hotel to the Dublin airport. We suggest that you allow a minimum of three hours for international flight check-in and clearing security at the airport.
[See photos of Day 14]
The tour officially ends today, but we scheduled one extra night in Dublin, so we had the entire day on our own.
After breakfast we took a taxi from the hotel to Parnell Square, which was about €10.50. We explored this area, and slowly wound our way south back towards the River Liffey. We followed the river eastward, walking on the north side of the river, past the Famine Memorial (video), to the Tall Ship and Famine Museum. We then crossed the river and followed it westward, all the way past Temple Bar and to St. Patrick's Cathedral (video). We had a good pub lunch of Irish stew. After lunch we went to St. Stephen's Green where we took the silly-but-fun Viking Splash Tour (video), which lasted 1 hour 15 minutes. After this we spent the remainder of the afternoon in the park. To return to the hotel we got a taxi at one of the taxi queues adjacent to the park.
In preparation for tomorrow's travel day home, we organized our belongings, letting the hotel staff come in for the evening turn-down service while we packed. We had dinner in the hotel lobby lounge, opting for salads, vegetables, and chips.
Included Meals: B
Lodging: Four Seasons Hotel Dublin (3rd of 3 nights; extra night by Tauck)
Saturday June 14 Dublin; Travel Day
Our flight home was at 10:50am. We had our luggage ready for pickup by 6:45am as instructed by our Tour Director. Our van was scheduled to leave the hotel at 7:20, so we left our room with plenty of time to check out and confirm our luggage was outside, again as instructed by our Tour Director. The dining room opened at 7:00am for breakfast, but we opted to skip it, and get something light at the airport while we were waiting for our flight.
The drive to the airport took about 30 - 40 minutes. Our driver said that it was light traffic this early on a Saturday, and the drive can take longer during busier hours.
Dublin Airport is one of the few airports that has U.S. Preclearance. This means that we actually went through U.S. customs before boarding our flight in Dublin. This was wonderful, as it saved us from having to go through customs in Atlanta. Upon our arrival in the United States we were treated as any other domestic arrival.
The rest of our journey home was uneventful. We had our usual jet lag for a few days, but it didn't take long before we were discussing where to go on our next Tauck trip; the choice was...India!
Getting to hotel: At the Shannon Airport, we exited the customs area with our luggage, and easily spotted our Tauck-provided ground transportation to the hotel. The Tauck agent was standing in easy view, holding the Tauck sign. We gave him our names, and he checked us off his list. There were other Tauck travelers also, so we waited until they were all accounted for. Then we divided into two vans (father and son drivers) and drove 20-25 minutes to the hotel in Ennis. The driver was very friendly, telling us stories the entire way. He pointed out a curve in the highway where locals demanded that the new road didn't disrupt a fairy tree that was directly in the planned roadway path.
At the hotel: The Old Ground Hotel has a great location, right in the center of Shannon. Although our 11:45am arrival was earlier than check-in time, we were pleasantly surprised by being told that our room was available. We unpacked, hung suit coat and dress in closet, tested the safe, and freshened up. We made dinner reservations at one of the hotel restaurants.
We went out exploring for the afternoon. When we returned to our room at 4:15pm, there was an envelope awaiting us in our room. It contained a welcome letter from Tour Director Steve, with suggestions for wandering around, restaurants, and time line for tomorrow's tour start. There was also a separate form to fill out indicating some preferences (bed; diet), emergency contact, and return airline information.
Next day (Day 1 of the tour): The group met in the lobby at 1:00pm as instructed. We immediately boarded the coach and set off for the Cliffs of Moher. We started with an orientation talk by our Tour Director...
The first time the group was all together was on the coach at 1:00pm on Day 1. As we departed for the Cliffs of Moher, our Tour Director gave us an orientation talk on various topics to make our 2-week tour more relaxed and enjoyable.
He told us about himself, and introduced our driver (Martin) who would be with us the entire tour until Dublin.
He explained the seating arrangements on the coach. He made name cards which would be placed by the window at each pair of seats; this is where we would sit each day. He will rotate the name cards clockwise two rows every day, thus giving everyone an opportunity to sit in the front rows.
He asked the group about tonight's Welcome Cocktail Reception and Dinner; specifically on whether the group preferred to dress up or keep it casual. He said either way would be fine for this one. Most of the group chose to keep it casual, not formal.
The Welcome Cocktail Reception and Dinner was at 6:30pm on Day 1. As guests entered the room, Tour Director Steve handed each one a guest list printed with names and home towns. Dress was "country club casual", as chosen by the group earlier in the day. Most men wore slacks and collared shirts; a few sports coats; a few ties. Women wore slacks or casual dresses.
There was an open bar for beverages, and appetizers. We had about 20 minutes of mingling and meeting fellow travelers. Then Tour Director Steve took the floor, reading down the guest list as each person identified themselves.
We were then invited to sit anywhere we chose at the five tables of eight people each. The dinner menu had a choice of four starters, five main courses, and four desserts.
Just before dessert service, a group of entertainers came into the room. They were fine musicians who played and sang many Irish songs, accompanied by Irish dancers. Luckily our Tour Director reminded us earlier in the day to bring our cameras, as it was fun and energetic!
After dessert and entertainment ended, the guests retired for the evening, many still tired from travel.
The Farewell Reception and Dinner was on the last evening of the tour, Day 13, in Dublin. As opposed to the casual Welcome Reception, people dressed up for this evening. Most men were dressed in sports coats, and many had neckties. Many women were in dresses.
At 6:30pm the group met in a private banquet room adjacent to the Seasons Restaurant in the hotel. As guests entered, they gave Tour Director Steve the completed guest comment forms. Many chose this as their opportunity to give Steve a gratuity and convey their thank-you in private.
There was an open bar, and numerous tall narrow tables to gather around. Restaurant staff came through frequently with fancy hors d'oeuvres.
Guests mingled, shared tour stories, and exchanged contact information. After about 30 minutes, Tour Director Steve got the group's attention and said thank-you to the guests for a wonderful two weeks, then inviting us to be seated for dinner. A gentleman in our group said a toast to Steve in return. Steve then said a few more words of wisdom in his congenial way. The dinner menu for our group had a selection of three starters, three main courses, and three desserts. There were a variety of tables of 4, 6, and 8 available; guests chose their own tables and dinner companions.
After dinner, coffee was served, and guests mingled around again, saying their final goodbyes and exchanging more contact information before adjourning to their rooms for the night.
Tour Director: Steve Jolis. Steve was an excellent Tour Director. He is a perfect example of the top-notch talent that works for Tauck. He was very knowledgeable, obviously having done his homework. He kept the tour running smoothly every minute of the day. His personality was congenial, making him approachable. He had many funny stories, jokes, and limericks to share. Once in a while, his entertaining patter reminded me of G. Gordon Liddy. Steve also does Tour Director work for Tauck in India and Switzerland. His past experience with tour groups is quite extensive and impressive. His passion for his work is obvious, and this naturally works its way down to benefit the guests. He has developed relationships with many people in all the locations along the tour, and it was obvious that those people had high respect for Steve.
Driver: Martin Hayde. Martin did a great job. He effortlessly maneuvered the coach through many tight areas. He was always there to help guests on or off the coach, and worked hard behind the scenes to assure all the luggage was properly transferred.
Steve and Martin have worked together for many years, and were a great team. They bantered back and forth in a friendly manner, and were frequently quietly fine tuning the details of the day's plan.
In many locations, local guides joined us. This was sometimes for an hour; other times for a couple of days. True to Tauck style, they were all excellent and knowledgeable.
There were 40 Tauck guests on this tour, which I believe is the most that will be taken on this tour. Everyone was from the continental U.S.
All guests were adults, probably ranging from fifty years old to early seventies. The majority were couples, but there were a number of single friends traveling together. There were not any solo travelers in this group.
Most guests had taken Tauck tours before (one was on her 26th tour), but there were some first-timers. Some retirees, some working part-time, some still working full time. All were experienced world-wide travelers (this isn't a prerequisite for this trip; Tauck just seems to attract well-traveled clientele).
The coach was very comfortable. Tauck is known to use only finer quality newer coaches. It was easy to enter and exit, had large windows, and good climate control.
There were two doors, one in front and one halfway back. The steep steps in the back might cause difficulties for someone with mobility problems. There was a built-in cooler next to the front steps that was always kept filled with complementary bottled water. There was a small garbage receptacle by each door.
So that everyone had a chance at front row seats, the Tour Director assigned seats every day, and posted the new seating nametags over each row of the bus each morning. Every day the group would rotate clockwise two rows. This allowed everyone an opportunity to sit in the front seats. It also resulted in someone new sitting across the aisle from you, creating opportunity to get to know fellow travelers.
Legroom was good, even for a few taller people. Each seat had a fold-down foot rest, but these were not used much because the large legroom space made it a stretch to get your feet onto the footrest. There was also an armrest on each side which could be pushed out of the way if desired. A small carry-on bag easily went on the floor along with your legs. Space under the seat in front of you was less than on an airplane, but items could still be placed there, but there was no guard or divider to keep the items from sliding too far forward into the feet of the next person. As with most coaches, overhead space was smaller than on airplanes, but had a bit more room than many other coaches I have been on. Plenty big for a small carry-on, jackets, or the day's shopping purchases. The seats reclined, but this feature was rarely used by anyone.
There was a bathroom available by the back door. Typical of bathrooms on most coaches, it was extremely small. It was not used very much on the tour, and was looked upon more as an emergency bathroom. This was fine, as the tour schedule is good at taking bathroom stops into consideration everywhere we go.
I was concerned at first because there were no individual vents for the air conditioner, but it did not become an issue. The driver kept the air conditioner and fan circulation volume at comfortable levels.
Each seat had a seatbelt with a shoulder belt. A few people buckled up routinely every time they sat down, but most of the group never used the safety belts.
We were able to safely leave belongings on the coach any time we left for a tour or rest stop. Often the driver was physically with the coach even when we were gone. If not, it was always locked up and parked in a secure area.
The term "coach" seems to be preferred, and is more accurate. "Bus" is a general term for many different kinds of vehicles that carry passengers, whereas "coach" refers to a type of bus that carries passengers on longer road journeys. Coaches usually have separate luggage hold areas, and sometimes a toilet, where regular buses do not. Coach drivers are proud of their job driving a quality Tauck coach, and appreciate it when travelers refer to their coach rather than their bus.
In the Republic of Ireland, the official currency is the Euro, which is the € symbol.
In Northern Ireland, the official currency is the Pound Sterling, which is the £ symbol.
We used cash for almost all our purchases the entire tour, utilizing ATMs to get our money. We didn't have any problem finding machines. We only used ATMs that were outside an actual bank, and made sure the symbols on the ATM matched the symbols (such as Cirrus or Plus) on our card. Our ATM card uses a four-digit PIN, and was accepted in all the machines we found. English was the default language on the ATMs.
Even though Ireland is safer than many places we have traveled, we still always kept safety in mind. We were very selective in which machines we used. We would prefer ones that had plenty of people around, but nobody standing right there at the machine. If we found one, but had any uneasy feeling about the area or the machine, we would move on. Once we chose one, we would both stand very close to the machine, shielding my actions with our bodies, my wife constantly looking around while I got out my wallet, ATM card, made the transaction, put the cash and card back into my wallet, and secured my money belt. I would not turn around until this entire process was done.
Some machines dispense only large currency. Usually the front desk at the larger hotels we stayed at were glad to exchange it for smaller bills if we only asked them to do it for one large bill at a time.
We choose to use cash for these reasons:
- Safety. Sometimes credit card transactions get "accidentally" charged twice, or overcharged. Or the credit card number is copied and passed on to a dishonest person. The less you use your credit card, the less likely it is that you will have any surprises.
- How much we spend. We probably spend less out-of-pocket than the average person on these tours; not because we are cheap, but only because of our personal preferences. We are not souvenir shoppers. We prefer a take-out picnic lunch in a park or picturesque square instead of a larger sit-down lunch. We would rather dine with average locals in a small local restaurant instead of a three-star Michelin restaurant. We drink almost no alcohol, so don't have extra wine or cocktail costs. We prefer water instead of soda.
- Cost is roughly the same. Our bank adds 3% international transaction fee to any credit card charge, and to any international ATM withdrawal. Some banks have a lower fee for ATM withdrawals.
We would take plenty of cash each day to cover meals and incidentals. We left any larger amounts locked in the hotel room safe. We often calculate gratuities for the Tour Director and the driver well in advance, and get enough cash for them well ahead of time so we won't run into any last minute cash access problems.
Be familiar with the maximum limits on your account, and know approximately how many Euros or Pounds this converts into. Most banks have a limit in U.S. dollars on how much you can withdraw in a twenty-four-hour period, and how many times a day you can do a withdrawal. Some banks now let you set your own maximum for your account.
I always take home at least 150€. I save this for our next trip so we will have money for incidentals at airports, taxi to first hotel, and a meal. That way we are not rushed to find an ATM, or resort to getting a poor exchange rate at a money exchange place or hotel cashier. One less detail to have to worry about at the start of a vacation.
Some people assume that their U.S. dollars will be welcomed in Ireland. This is not the case, and should not be expected.
Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted at hotels, most restaurants, and stores. Discover and American Express are not nearly as widely accepted. Be sure to call your credit card issuer (or go online) and inform them of your travel dates and locations, or your account might be flagged and frozen as suspicious activity. Taking two different credit cards (different accounts) is a good idea in case there is any trouble with one of them. Do not take cash withdrawals with your credit card unless it is a real emergency; credit card advances are very very expensive.
Tauck states that the following gratuities are included in the price of the tour. This is very nice, as group tour travelers always have questions about who, when, and how much to tip.
- luggage handling
- dining room servers
- local city guides
Gratuities were not included for meals taken on our own, or for taxi rides (tips are not yet expected for taxi rides, but are increasingly appreciated).
Gratuities for Tauck Director and driver are not included. Tauck's literature wisely suggests giving any gratuities on an individual basis, and not as a group. They suggest:
- Tauck Director: USD $8 per person per day
- Driver: USD $5 per person per day
We tipped both of them with Euros. We tend to be generous tippers for exceptional service. We tipped more than the recommended amounts because we felt both Steve and the driver Martin were exceptionally hard workers, which contributed greatly to the success of the tour. We have noticed that others on our previous Tauck tours tend to be generous with tour director gratuities, tipping more (sometimes substantially more) than the Tauck guideline.
- The driver was tipped on Day 13 in Dublin. Our morning stop at the Dublin Castle was our last time seeing him.
- The tour director was tipped by most people at the Farewell Cocktail Reception. There was no tacky gratuity envelope provided. Some used the hotel envelope; some passed cash during a handshake; others bought a card from a local shop and included a personal thank-you note.
Not included in the tour price:
- Hotel accommodations before or after tour (except those offered to previous Tauck travelers as a special)
- Occasional lunches and dinners taken on our own
- Tips for meals taken on our own
- Alcoholic beverages (other than those provided with some group meals)
- Phone calls
- And, of course, souvenirs.
Since Tauck includes so much, there are no optional excursions offered, which is a refreshing contrast to many other non-Tauck Tours.
There were a few activities available through the hotels during our free time in a couple of areas which were up to us to pay for if we chose them:
- Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa
- Ashford Castle
An obvious difference with Tauck Tours is that they don't make specific shopping stops as a group at any tourist traps. This is a big advantage over other tours! Those shopping stops can be quite a waste of time, overpriced, and boring.
There was usually some independent time that could be used for shopping in most places we visited. Depending on the schedule and the location, this could be anywhere from twenty minutes to many hours.
Water is safe to drink in hotels and restaurants all around Ireland. Bottled water is available everywhere. Cooled twelve-ounce bottled water was always available on the coach.
We were pleasantly surprised by the food. We expected the stereotype Irish meat-and-potatoes, but found this to be just that, an outdated stereotype. We learned quickly that corned beef and cabbage is not truly a common Irish food like we thought it was.
All breakfasts were provided at the hotels, most being served buffet-style. The selections were generally similar from hotel to hotel; juices, breads and pastries, fresh fruit, cereals, yogurt, eggs, bacon, potatoes, cheeses. At a few hotels we were able to also order items directly off the menu if preferred. We were able to go to breakfast at any time after the announced dining room opening. Our Tour Director arranged for our group to be allowed in 30 minutes early on a few days to help our departures. The usual routine was to tell the maître d' or server our room number, or that we were with Tauck. We could usually sit anywhere we chose, although on a some mornings they asked us to sit together at a few of the larger tables. Coffee and tea were usually served to each table, and sometimes we could order espresso or cappuccino. The breakfast buffet at Ashford Castle was particularly good; the ham is not to be missed.
5 lunches were included. Some tours do not include any lunches; some include more. This tour included a good balance; lunch provided when it was in a convenient location that helped our schedule, and lunch on our own when there was adequate time and selection of restaurants for guests to choose what matched their mood that day.
- Day 2 lunch was inside a family home on a farm, after the fabulous story-telling by the colorful head of the farm.
- Day 7 lunch was at the Kylemore Abbey. We went through the cafeteria line at the visitor's center, selecting whatever we wanted. Our Tour Director stood at the cashier to let them know we were part of the Tauck group.
- Day 8 lunch was at the Belleek Pottery Visitor Center. This one was not our best lunch, but was very convenient and quick, right before the guided tour of the Center.
- Day 9 lunch was at the Ulster American Folk Park. There were sandwich quarters, soup, apple pie, and coffee awaiting us, just prior to our entry into the actual park.
- Day 11 lunch was at a fun restaurant in Bushmills. We were warmed by a wood-burning fireplace, as there was a slight mist in the air that morning.
11 dinners were included.
- Day 1 was the Welcome Cocktail Reception and Dinner in the Banner Room of the Old Ground Hotel.
- Day 2 dinner was at a restaurant very close to our hotel. We actually took the coach there, although it was less than a 5-minute drive. The restaurant proprietor was very friendly, coming aboard our coach as soon as we arrived, and welcoming us. Dinner lasted about two hours. Once back on the coach to return to the hotel, the proprietor again came aboard to thank us and say goodbye.
- Day 3 dinner was at the restaurant in the Aghadoe Heights Hotel. Our Tour Director took our preferred dinner reservation time and seating mates ahead of time. We were able to order anything on the menu. The food had beautiful plating and presentations here.
- Day 4 and Day 5 dinners were a choice between the Mount Juliet Hotel's Kendals Restaurant or Lady Helen Restaurant. We could choose our restaurant, reservation time, and seating preferences for each dinner. Kendals is the more casual of the two; it is a French Brasserie, and had some very interesting menu items. Lady Helen Restaurant has a Michelin star, and was very nice. Special courses were brought between most ordered courses, and the presentations were fabulous. Dressing up would not be required for Lady Helen, but would definitely be appropriate. We ate one night at each, and were glad we did so.
- Day 6 and Day 7 dinners were again a choice between the hotel restaurants; this time at Ashford Castle. George V Dining Room is the fancier restaurant. Service was attentive; presentations beautiful and reasonable in size. Pub-style casual dinner in the nicely decorated downstairs pub was also a choice. And dinner in Cullen's at the Cottage (a separate building) was somewhere in between the fancy George V and the casual pub. As at the last hotel, for each dinner we chose our restaurant, time, and eating partners.
- Day 8 and Day 9 dinners were again a choice between hotel restaurants; at the Lough Erne Golf Resort this time. We chose where to eat, what time, and our seating party. The Catalina Restaurant is their fine dining restaurant. The Loughside Bar and Grill was more casual, but still nice. We were able to select a starter, a main course, and a dessert from their regular menu at both restaurants.
- Day 10 was the Titanic tasting menu dinner at The Merchant Hotel in Belfast. It was in the beautiful Great Room Restaurant, and consisted of nine separate courses, representative of a dinner served to first class passengers on the Titanic.
- Day 13 was our Farewell Cocktail Reception and Dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin.
Restrooms availability was never a problem on this tour. The Tour Director did a good job of informing us of public restroom locations everywhere we went. He would also mention places where we might not have restrooms available for a longer period than usual, or if the number of toilets at a particular rest stop was limited. On those days with longer hours on the road, a mid-morning or mid-afternoon stop was scheduled at locations with restrooms. Frequently these also had snacks and beverages available. We did not come across any facilities that required coins or had an attendant as is sometimes found in other European areas.
Tauck literature requests that guests restrict suitcases to one per individual. This is primarily due to space limitations on the coaches since luggage is stowed in the lower level luggage compartment. We were asked to keep a colored Tauck luggage tag on each piece that we want taken from our rooms to the coach, and that we inform the Tour Director if we ever add another suitcase. He and the driver keeps a precise count of how many pieces of luggage should be gathered from the rooms on departure mornings, and counts them before they go on the coach. He also counts them when they are removed from the coach.
We saw luggage of various sizes, shapes, designs. None were huge; all were easily manageable by the hotel bellhops and coach driver.
Even though the luggage was quite safe during its journey from inside the room to the coach luggage compartment, we still locked it every day. It was easy to do, and simply adds one more layer of protection.
In addition to the main tagged suitcase, some people would also have a small carry-on bag. These could stay in the room during breakfast even though the tagged bags would be picked up. Guests would carry them down to the coach when they checked out, and driver Martin would stow it underneath in the luggage compartment. Small carry-ons and large purses could be brought onto the coach and put either overhead or under the seat in front of you.
During the day, I use a Pacsafe Metrosafe 300 Gii bag. It is a shoulder bag; a satchel; a "man bag". It is lightweight, comfortable, has many security features, and can hold plenty. Although I didn't take all of this every day, on a couple of days I put in our full-size Nikon D610 camera with zoom lens, book, notes, water, snack, iPhone, iPad, passport, and umbrella. By using this, and always being very alert to my surroundings, I felt safe carrying it everywhere.
We have gone through our share of luggage over the years. Our favorite one now is Boyt® brand, as it has lasted through more trips than other brands we have used. It is high quality and well built, and has done a good job of withstanding the rough airline baggage handlers. It has a number of small features that make travel more convenient. It is not a designer brand, or top of the line, so price is still reasonable.
Some museums, galleries, churches, and other attractions limit the size of bags and purses people can take inside. They are primarily concerned with the purse, backpack, camera bag, or satchel damaging things. I never had problems with my Pacsafe bag being questioned. To be safe, however, I would always enter with it shifted to the front of my body, and my arm over it, rather than dangling at my side or behind me. This is exactly what they often instruct people to do who have smaller backpacks or large shoulderbags. If it is too large, it will need to be left in a locker (if one is available) or on the coach.
Many tour companies routinely have guests place their luggage in the hotel hallway for pickup. I was never very comfortable with this. Tauck, however, has agreements that allow guests to leave the luggage inside the hotel room until it is picked up by hotel staff. We appreciate this extra security measure taken by Tauck.
This generic packing list is a helpful start for some travelers.
As a general rule, we always try to limit how much we bring, and finally have learned to bring less than we think we will need. It is rare that we wish we had brought more; but we have wished we brought less on a number of trips.
Some general travel packing tips we follow:
- We split up clothes when traveling to our arrival city. If one person's luggage doesn't arrive, they will still have some clean clothes available. Then we repack separate suitcases once we arrive.
- We pack small items of clothing in gallon ziplock bags.
- We pack shoes in plastic grocery bags. The bags will be useful later in the trip when shoes get dirty.
- We use small travel-size containers of toiletries, packing them in a ziplock bag in case they leak.
- We don't overpack the suitcases. Items tend to grow as your trip progresses.
Once we arrive at our first hotel, we repack both suitcases, so we each have our own suitcase rather than mixing between the two for the flights.
At the hotels, we never completely unpacked the suitcases. When we arrive at a new hotel we usually get out the next day's clothing so the wrinkles would be minimal. If we were staying more than one night, we hang a few items up. We try to keep the suitcase organized at all times rather than throwing things in, or having to paw through it to find something. Having a few extra plastic bags is useful for dirty clothes or laundered items that might not be completely dry yet.
Prepare for all weather, from wet blowing wind to warm sunshine; from chilly mornings to hot afternoons. Dressing in layers is prudent. A waterproof (not just water resistant or water repellent) windbreaker or raincoat is necessary unless you are extremely lucky with your weather for two weeks. Watch this short video at Kylemore Abbey that shows why all-weather preparation is important.
Versatility is the way to go. We remind ourselves that nobody except our fellow tour travelers will ever know that we only have a few outfits. And our fellow travelers don't care; they are usually following the same rule.
Dress is more casual in Ireland than in many other European countries (video). Most on our tour wore slacks, but many wore jeans. Jeans worked during the day, but might not be "smart casual" enough for some of the evening restaurants. Shorts would be acceptable during the warm days, but were not common in our group, and are not seen often on locals.
Shoes should be comfortable for long walks, and suitable for uneven rocky ground. They should keep your feet dry when rained upon. The soles should be substantial, allowing good grip on wet surfaces, including dirt and rocks. Make sure any new shoes have been broken in. For cleaning dirt, dust, and grime, we brought these KIWI shoe shine wipes, which were very helpful for this tour.
We like ExOfficio underwear and undershirts for traveling. I prefer the ExO Dri product, which is a wicking material, but still feels like normal clothing, unlike other wicking items. I can launder them in the sink in the evening, hang them on our laundry line, and by the next evening they are completely dry. I always wear the short-sleeve tee as an undershirt, but at home I often wear it by itself.
Sunglasses were helpful on the lake cruise to Ashford Castle.
Bring a sturdy umbrella. Cheap ones, especially cheap compact travel ones, do not hold up to some of the gusty winds that are occasionally encountered. Many locals actually prefer a good raincoat and hood to using an umbrella.
A hat or cap is useful on sunny days, or days when there is a slight mist but you don't want to use the umbrella or raincoat hood.
The women found scarves to be nice on the windy days along the ocean. A couple of women were glad they had light inexpensive knit gloves also.
A few of the hotels had very nice swimming pools. We brought swimsuits, but actually never used the pools, as we were simply too busy doing other activities, even when we had time on our own.
Attire was more dressy for everyone at the Farewell Dinner. On some tours, it is also appropriate to dress up for the Welcome Reception, but our group decided to keep that one casual. Some chose to dress up a bit more for dinners at a couple of the nice hotel restaurants, but nobody would feel under-dressed if they dress smart casual in these restaurants also.
Most travelers who have taken long tours before know to bring a laundry line and laundry soap. The 2-night stays that Tauck likes to schedule makes it easy to do some hand laundry and have it dry by departure time. I've found the lines with hooks on each end work best. Individual Tide detergent packets are also convenient.
When on longer tours, we usually plan on sending a few items out for laundering along the way; we simply consider this one of the normal expenses of our trip. For us, the convenience of having freshly washed and ironed clothes is worth the higher costs that are typical in hotels. Here are some laundry lists from some of our hotels.
Most hotels on this tour had dry cleaning and/or laundry service available, but a few had time restrictions that didn't work with our arrival/departure schedule. For example, Lough Erne Golf Resort did not have laundry service available on Sundays, which was our full day there. We sent some items out on Day 5 morning at the Mount Juliet Hotel, and they were delivered back to our room at 5:30pm. We also sent a couple of laundry items out on Day 11 at The Merchant Hotel in Belfast.
There were irons in our rooms at these hotels:
- Old Ground Hotel, Ennis
- Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa, Killarney
- Ashford Castle, Cong
- Lough Erne Golf Resort, Enniskillen
- Merchant Hotel, Belfast
Visas are not required for U.S. citizens traveling to Ireland.
Passports are required for U.S. citizens. The passport must be valid for 6 months past your return date. Check this well ahead of time; I have seen people with valid passports denied travel because the expiration was too soon. Names on travel documents (Tauck paperwork; airline tickets) must EXACTLY match the name as it appears on the passport. It is suggested that a copy of each passport's first page is carried in a place other than with our original passport, and another copy is left with an adult back home.
We locked our passports in the hotel safe at every location. If you do take it with you, be sure it is in a waterproof bag, such as a Ziplock baggie, in case the rain penetrates your bag, pack, or clothing.
We keep our passports (and chip credit cards) in an RFID-resistant pouch to minimize chances of the information being scanned by unscrupulous thieves (also known as wireless identity theft, or contactless identity theft).
Our Tour Director referred to these as our "devices". On other tours, they have been called "Whispers", and "Vox".
Tauck uses these listening devices on many of their tours, including this one. People love them, or people hate them. In either case, one was handed out to each guest at the beginning of the tour, and collected at the end of the tour in Dublin at Trinity College. Each guest also got their own brand new ear piece, which was theirs to keep at the end. The Tour Director let us know ahead of time when the devices would be used, but it was the responsibility of the guest to bring it that day. The unit is attached to a lanyard that hangs on the neck. The disposable ear piece has a cord that plugs in to the unit, with the other end held in the ear by a D-shaped clip. The ear piece cord uses a standard mini-jack connector. I was able to use my iPad earbuds, which were more comfortable and fit my ear better.
This system has a lot of benefits. It allows guides to narrate in a normal voice volume, and not disturb others. It helped us to hear the guide more clearly, especially in crowded locations. It allows us to wander a little further and still be able to hear the guide's narration or instructions. If powered off in between uses, one charged battery can last the entire two-week tour. Multiple channels are available, so the tour group can be divided into smaller groups with separate channels and separate guides.
The system can have some drawbacks. It is an electronic device, and sometimes is finicky. It depends on a rechargeable battery, which can lose power at inopportune times. If not powered off in between uses, the battery will quickly drain, and will not last the entire tour. Sometimes the transmission can be dotted with static, especially if the guide does not have their microphone adjusted properly.
The devices were quite helpful, but not always required. Those people who had trouble with theirs, or simply couldn't adapt to it, stayed close to the guide and heard everything just fine.
Before leaving home, we activated the AT&T international roaming plan for our iPhones. We had very good connectivity in most areas we visited.
We also activated the Global Messaging package, as we enjoy exchanging text and picture messages with friends. Text messaging service seemed to work fairly well, but I had the feeling that some texts were very delayed, and possibly simply didn't get through. So I would not depend on text messaging for important messages.
We also activated a Data Global add-on package for iPhones and iPad. We primarily used it to sync documents between iPad, iPhones, and Apple Cloud. We also used it for checking weather, researching destinations, and reading news. We were careful to turn off our iCloud sync of photos we took, because that would have used up the data allotment very quickly.
Free Wi-Fi access was available at most hotels we were at. Speed and connectivity quality varied, but was always adequate to at least get emails done. Some required a login password; others were unsecured. We use a VPN service on our iPhones and iPads for extra security any time we connect to a Wi-Fi network.
We used a full-sized 35mm Nikon D610 camera with a zoom lens. On this trip, we tried this rain sleeve on a few rainy days, and it worked well. Without this protection, our camera use would have been more limited. Using the lens hood that comes with the lens also helped protect from rain drops.
Memory cards: You will take more pictures than you think; there are lots of beautiful things to photograph in Ireland. Bring more memory cards than you think you will need. On every tour we go on, there are people who need to buy additional memory cards for this very reason.
When we fill up a photo memory card, it becomes very valuable to us. We either lock it in the safe, or keep it in my wife's purse. We know of one person who's memory card was packed in her suitcase, and it didn't make it home; all of her cherished photos were lost.
Batteries: Consider buying a new battery so it will hold a good long charge (old rechargeable batteries tend to run out faster). Having two batteries adds convenience, takes away the worry of running out of power, and might eliminate the need to recharge every evening. On more than one occasion, we have heard of someone who couldn't take all the pictures they wanted because their battery was old and would run out of power too soon.
We recharged our camera batteries every single evening, whether they were run all the way down or not. That way, we knew that we were starting every day with full power, and running out of power would never be an issue.
Camera: People had all types of cameras -- phone cameras, iPads, compact point-and-shoots, film cameras, consumer SLRs, professional digital SLRs. Bring the one that you are likely to use the most. If you are not completely familiar with it, it is helpful to bring the manual also; if not for yourself, then for someone else to read about how to solve a problem you might be having. I have a PDF version of our manuals stored on both the iPad and iPhone.
- Inside Muckross House
- Dublin, Trinity College, Book of Kells display
There was no list distributed at the end of the tour with guest contact information. Guests simply exchanged email addresses and phone numbers throughout the tour, and at the farewell dinner, with those who they chose. It is Tauck's policy to not give out personal information about guests. Occasionally the Tour Director will assist in copying a list if one is voluntarily passed around by guests, but this was not done on this tour.
There was a group photo taken on Day 2 outside of the Muckross House mansion. The photographer was ready and waiting for us upon our arrival. He helped arrange everyone and took a couple of pictures.
One complementary 8"x10" printed photo was given to each couple or individual traveler. It was placed on our seats in the coach on Day 11, while we were out at Giant's Causeway.
Electricity in both Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is 230 volts, 50 Hz. Electrical plugs and outlets are the British three-pin rectangular blade type. The adapter is commonly known as "type G" ungrounded, but some adapter makers use their own classifications. The wall outlet often includes an on/off switch.
Some hotels on the tour had lots of outlets; some only had a few. But all were adequate. Besides bringing two adapters, we also brought this Belkin outlet multiplier/surge protector. It allowed us plug in both phones (into USB plugs) and two battery chargers all at the same time.
Bringing one or two adapters on this tour should be adequate for most people. Many electronics are made to operate on either 120v or 230v; read the label on the charger cord of each of your gadgets to find out. Our iPhone, iPad, and camera battery chargers were all okay with 230v (labels say something like "Input 100-240v").
The hotels all had hair dryers. If you bring your own, or use a curling iron or other heating device, make sure can be used with 240v; most hair gadgets in the U.S. do not work with the higher voltage, and your device will quickly burn out, possibly with a fire hazard. There are some hair devices made specifically for travel, and can be changed from 120v to 220/240v with the sliding of a switch.
Here is a good summary of the difference between adapters and converters.
Although this was not one of the more active Tauck tours we have taken, it still requires average fitness and good mobility. It involves waking on uneven surfaces, dirt paths, rocks, up hills, up stairs and steps. If one depends on a walker, this tour would not be a good match. Canes would be fine, but if this is an indication of limited mobility, then one must be realistic about the ability to participate in this tour.
The Tour Directors are very helpful to those who needed a little more assistance. But they are limited in how much they can accommodate. They cannot put so much effort into accommodating individual needs that it disrupts their tight well-planned schedule, or slows down the rest of the group. When they led a group on an outing such as a city orientation tour, they were mindful to stroll slowly so that all could keep up.
The local guides were usually good at walking at a slow pace, but they were not always as accommodating. They expect people in their group to keep up with them, even when the pace is more than a stroll.
Many European countries do not have the ADA (Americans with Disabilities act) access standards that we have grown accustomed to in the U.S. Don't expect curb cuts (or even sidewalks), ramps, hand rails. People depending on wheelchairs, scooters, or walkers would not be able to participate in the majority of the activities.
No vaccines are currently required for U.S. residents.
If taking prescription medications, bring enough to last the entire trip, plus a few extra days in case there are delays. Order them at home well ahead of your travel date to allow plenty of time for doctor review, refill request, and pharmacy order filling. Bring a list that details every prescription name (generic and brand name if possible), strength, daily dose, and reason prescribed. This will be of help to a foreign pharmacist and/or doctor if an emergency refill is needed for whatever reason.
It is wise to bring a spare pair of prescription glasses also. Imagining losing your glasses, and having to go without them for weeks. Again, better safe than sorry.
Just like on any coach tour, colds and other illness tend to spread quickly. There are a couple of practices that everyone can take, whether ill or well, that will keep everyone healthy.
- Wash hands frequently.
- Use the alcohol-based hand sanitizers when unable to wash.
- Cover your mouth. But...cough or sneeze into your arm, not into your bare hands. The old theory of covering your mouth with your hand just gets germs on your hands, which are then transferred to everything that is touched. And of course, don't sneeze or cough without covering your mouth at all!
- At buffet breakfasts, use the serving utensils.
- Avoid shaking hands.
- Open doors with your elbow, arm, or coat-covered hand.
If you find yourself ill, try to avoid spreading it to others. In addition to the above practices, use cough drops or cough medicine. Don't initiate a handshake. Stay away from other people when possible. Have food brought to you instead of going to the dining rooms. Use the bathroom in your hotel room instead of the public restrooms.
Our Tour Director Steve actually said a few words on the coach to politely instruct them to cover their mouths when coughing, and he pointed out where a box of tissues was located for people to cough or sneeze into. This was appreciated by many in the group, and some commented that it should be a common instruction on all tours.
Read more details on the separate Hotels and Overnight Accommodations page.
- Old Ground Hotel, Ennis - One extra pre-tour night, night 1 (photos)
- Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa, Killarney - Nights 2 - 3 (photos)
- Mount Juliet Hotel, Thomastown - Nights 4 - 5 (photos)
- Ashford Castle, Cong - Nights 6 - 7 (photos)
- Lough Erne Golf Resort, Enniskillen - Nights 8 - 9 (photos)
- The Merchant Hotel, Belfast - Nights 10 - 11 (photos)
- Four Seasons Hotel Dublin - Nights 12 - 13 (photos)
All of the overnight lodgings were true to Tauck's philosophy of balancing high quality with excellent location.
Ireland is full of green beauty all year. Remember, this beauty is due to abundant rainfall. Don't shun it; just be prepared for it. Better yet, embrace it as Ireland's "liquid sunshine."
Be prepared for everything. Ireland weather can change very quickly, but it is rarely extreme. A day that starts out cloudless and sunny won't necessarily stay that way; clouds could move in and rain coming down within 30 minutes. Some say that Ireland frequently has four seasons in one day; we certainly found that to be true on a number of days. We found weather forecasts to be helpful for temperatures, but quite inaccurate for rain predictions. If there was even a remote possibility of rain, we learned to take our umbrellas with us. They could always be left on the coach if unneeded that day. We learned that the weather is often nicer in the mornings, and not to assume that the nice morning skies will remain throughout the day.
Try to have a raincoat that is waterproof (and breathable), not just water resistant or water repellent. There is a difference, and in Ireland you might learn the difference first hand. Although umbrellas are often useful, there are days and locations where there is enough wind along with the rain to make umbrellas quite useless. A good waterproof coat with a hood is a must for those days.
All umbrellas are not equal. Bring one that is sturdy. A cheap one might only last a couple minutes when the gusty wind comes in. Here's a video at Kylemore Abbey that shows what umbrellas might have to tolerate in Ireland.
Some days start off chilly, becoming quite warm later in the afternoon. Dressing in layers helps.
The last weather comment is that we found it to be nicer in the mornings.
All of our hotels had safes available in the rooms. We kept our passports locked in the safe any time we were out of the room, including going to hotel restaurant for meals. This minimized the concern about pickpockets, purse snatchers, hotel staff. We have had hotel room safes that we weren't comfortable using, but we were fine with all of them on this tour.
We tend to be overly cautious. We also used the safe to secure other items we didn't want to lose. Our cameras; camera memory cards (specifically the ones with photos already taken); iPhones and iPad (contained private names/addresses and personal information); cash (our U.S. currency, and Euros we were saving for gratuities); occasionally our wallet.
Overall, Ireland is a safe place. The main safety concern for this tour is probably pickpockets and scams. We have read quite a bit about this, so felt well-versed and fairly confident. We did not hear of anyone in our group having any specific problems. Although it seems to be less prominent in Ireland, it still seems to occur at any popular tourist destination, anywhere in the world.
Here are some general safety precautions we take while traveling:
- Our passports are always locked in the room safe in the hotel when possible. If not possible, it was always secured in our money belt.
- We keep a copy of our passport and credit cards in our suitcase, so if we were to lose our passport or credit cards, we would still have the information necessary to deal with it.
- If we know we won't be needing a credit card, they are left in the safe.
- Most credit cards have a specific 24-hour phone number to call if there are problems. We enter these numbers into our phones so we can call and cancel them within seconds of discovering a problem.
- We carry enough cash to cover the day, but leave the rest of the cash in the safe.
- We keep our passports and chip credit cards in an RFID-blocking pouch.
- We do not bring any expensive jewelry. Jewelry and watches that we did bring were replaceable, and did not look obviously expensive.
- My wife's purse and my shoulder bag are always carried diagonally, strap on the left shoulder, bag on the right side. It is usually positioned in front of us rather than at the rear or side.
- When we are on public transportation, our bag or purse is being hugged by our arms.
- We watch each other when there are crowds. When my wife stopped to shoot a photograph, I would step behind her, watching her, her purse, and people around her. She did the same for me.
- When we stopped in cafés or restaurants, we never set our bag or purse down, or even hang it on our chair. It stays on our lap or on our shoulder.
- My bag and her purse are more secure than average. They have zippered compartments within zippered compartments.
- Any time we hear or see a commotion, we always assume it was a purposeful distraction, and are on our guard, no matter how innocent the commotion looks.
- If we wander down a street that just didn't feel right, we simply turn around and go back the way we came, and choose a different route.
- If a stranger approaches us and says something, we always assume it was not legitimate, no matter how legitimate it looks.
- When we need more cash, we only use an ATM that was associated with a bank, is in a location with plenty of people around, and feels completely safe. If it doesn't feel right, we would wait until we find a different one. ATMs in bank lobbies are preferred.
- When using an ATM, I stand very close to the keypad and screen, guarding my keys from anyone else. My wife stands right next to me, looking around at other people, making sure nobody is watching us or the ATM screen. I immediately put the money and debit card into my money belt, and secure everything before backing away from the ATM.
- When walking on a sidewalk close to the street, we are aware of motorcycles coming from behind or from in front, and make sure they can't snatch our bag or purse as they pass us.
- My wallet is never kept in my pants pocket. It is always in my money belt or deep inside my locked shoulder bag.
- We dress to look more like locals or business workers rather than tourists.
- We only use licensed taxis. We try to research ahead of time so we know what to look for.
- We keep our suitcases locked when we are leaving our hotel room for more than a few minutes.
- We do not leave items out that might be tempting for housekeeping or hotel staff to take; we keep them packed away when not being used.
- We read all of the "Scam Alerts" on Rick Steves' website, which has very good discussions on this topic.
We have found that when traveling frequently or on long trips with multiple destinations, it is easy to forget the name of the hotel we are staying in on any particular day. When we get to our hotel room, we look for something with our hotel name and address on it, and put this into our wallet or purse. If we ever get lost, we can show this to a taxi driver, another hotel concierge, or a tour guide, and they will help us get back.
I have heard different Tour Directors give different bits of advice. They are worth repeating, as they apply to most group tours.
- There is one word of advice that can make the difference between someone enjoying a foreign vacation, and being miserable. Flexibility. We need to remember that we are in a foreign country, with foreign customs and ways. We will be eating foreign food, and surrounded by a foreign language. If we are flexible and able to adapt and embrace these differences, we are more likely to enjoy our experience than those who are inflexible and intolerant.
- Accept the fact that occasionally something might not go exactly the way you want.
- One of the worst things you can do when traveling the world is to try to recreate your home environment. You are not at home. You are here to experience a foreign land. Be adventurous in all aspects of your travel, including the things you eat.
- Get to know fellow travelers early in the tour and it will make the entire experience more fun.
- Don't form cliques. Trying to interact with all your fellow travelers rather than forming small groups can greatly add to people's enjoyment of the tours.
- Be okay with compromise. When in a foreign country, expecting to have everything the way you want is a set-up for disappointment.
- Try not to speak disparagingly about your fellow travelers, or those you meet in a foreign country.
- Observe the locals around you; take time to learn. Gain their respect by trying to follow their customs, manners, and etiquette. Don't assume that others around the world do things the way you do.
- Be humble. Check your ego when you check your bags at the airport.
- If you have a problem, discuss it with your Tour Director early rather than complain about it later.
More than one Tour Director has commented about keeping talk to a minimum while he/she or local guides are speaking on coach; even though you might not be interested in what is being said, others around you might want to hear. This is especially important when meeting times and locations are being discussed.
Tour Directors also like us to know how it improves the tour when people are prompt and on time. Not only is this a courtesy so that other people aren't kept waiting by a tardy guest; it also allows the tour director more schedule flexibility, and sometimes they can add in extras.
Cell phones are commonplace nowadays, but can be an annoyance to those around you. Phone conversations should take place when you are not with the group, especially not on the coach.
Smokers should be considerate of non-smokers; smokers frequently do not realize how much their smoke bothers non-smokers. Standing downwind rather than upwind of the group will avoid offending them. This can apply to any place the tour group assembles, such as outside the coach, outside the hotel, outside a restaurant, at a rest stop, or at a viewpoint.
Keep others healthy. If you have a cold, or cough often, use sensible personal hygiene to prevent others from catching your bugs. Cover your mouth. Wash your hands frequently. Carry hand sanitizer. Avoid touching things that others might be touching also.
Smell good, but not by using perfumes. Hold off on your use of perfume, cologne, and aftershave. Wearing scents, even in small amounts, on a coach can be extremely irritating to others around you. Some people get painful headaches when forced to breathe perfumed air. Keep this in mind even if using the coach just to travel to an evening restaurant.
Follow the Golden Rule, and the rest will fall into place.
- DK Eyewitness Travel Guide, Ireland
- Rick Steves' Ireland
- A Short History of Ireland
- Fodor's Ireland
- Ireland - Culture Smart
- Books by popular Irish authors
- The Quiet Man
- Michael Collins
- Discovering Ireland
- Waking Ned Devine
- The Field
- Angela's Ashes
- Widows' Peak
- The Boxer
- The Field
- In the Name of the Father
- Wikipedia list of films set in Ireland
- The Best of Ireland
- Loving Ireland 2011
- Foggy Cliffs of Moher 2012
- BBC: The Story of Ireland, 1 of 5, Age of Invasions
- BBC: The Story of Ireland, 2 of 5, Age of Conquest
- BBC: The Story of Ireland, 3 of 5, Age of Revolution
- BBC: The Story of Ireland, 4 of 5, Age of Union
- BBC: The Story of Ireland, 5 of 5, Age of Nations
- History Channel: A short History of Ireland
- History Channel: Deconstructing History - Ireland
- History Channel: Deconstructing History - Titanic
- History Channel: Deconstructing History - St. Patrick's Cathedral
- Irish History in 6 Minutes
- A Brief History of the Conflicts in the North
- Rick Steves
- Difference Between United Kingdom, Great Britain, and England Explained
- Wikipedia: Ireland
- Wikitravel: Ireland Travel Guide
- Google News: Ireland
- CIA World Factbook: Ireland
- U.S. Department of State: Ireland
- Ireland Newspapers
- Tripadvisor: Ireland
- Fodor's: Ireland Travel Guide
We have already recommended this "Best of Ireland" tour to a number of our friends and acquaintances. It was a great two weeks, and the itinerary planned by Tauck is a perfect way to get an overview of the beautiful island and its friendly people. We brought back many memories and many photos.
If you are comparing between Tauck and other escorted tour groups, chose Tauck; you will not be disappointed! They run a first-class tour, taking every little detail into consideration. It costs a little more than some other tours, but is absolutely worth it. In our opinion, Tauck sets the standard for group tours.
Videos taken on the tour: (requires QuickTime plug-in, or watch on iPhone/iPad)
- Flying into Shannon Airport -- First sight of Ireland
- Ennis - Outside of Old Ground Hotel
- Cliffs of Moher
- Poulnabrone dolmen
- Blarney Castle and Stone
- Cistercian Jerpoint Abbey
- Kilkenny - St Canice's Cathedral
- Kilkenny Castle
- Mount Juliet Hotel
- Kylemore Abbey, showing weather
- Inside the coach - showing bumpy bog road
- Ashford Castle
- Knock Shrine
- Derry/Londonderry - City tour with local guide
- Belfast - City Hall
- Belfast - Ulster Hall
- Carrick-a-Rede Island Rope Bridge
- Giant's Causeway
- Dublin - Sculpture at Trinity College
- Dublin - Inside Old Library, floor above Book of Kells
- Dublin - Street scenes, showing typical clothing
- Dublin - St. Patrick's Cathedral
- Dublin - Viking Splash Tour
- Dublin - Famine Sculpture
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