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Gate 1 Travel / They provided a budget tour at a deluxe price

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This describes my evaluation of Gate1's "11 Day Athenian with 3-Day Cruise" package in June 2008. Gate1"s contract hotels are not anywhere close to 5 or 4 stars, as advertised. The best, the Royal Olympic in Athens, which is billed as 5 stars, had a single restaurant, not two as advertised, and it was closed for dinner on 2 of the 3 nights I stayed there; so I had to have dinner "poolside, " which, because of the temperature, was definitely not my choice. Dinner selections were extremely limited, to essentially one entree per type (chicken, beef, veal, fish, etc.), hardly the mark of a 5-star hotel, and the prices were, in a word, outrageous ... Dinner with house wine for two came in at over 100 Euros in one case and nearly that amount in the other! The remaining hotels are worth perhaps 2 stars for the Europa in Olympia and Amalia in Delphi, and a bare 3 for the Divani in Kalambaka.

The Athens city tour was brief and rushed, included entirely too much "lecturing" by the tour guide in the hot Athens sun and the ferocious wind atop the Acropolis, while not allowing enough time for unhurried photographs, did not include a visit to the fabled National Archaeological Museum, and the afternoon of the second day in Athens was basically wasted, because there would have been ample "at leisure" opportunities to explore the city on the previous (arrival) day, if our flight had arrived as scheduled (see below). However, the first really serious turn-off came when, on June 23, we had to wait in the hot sun for 30 minutes after being dropped off by the hotel pick-up bus at a so-called bus "transfer point" waiting for the tour bus to Olympia ... No seats, no shade, only standing room in the direct sun ... Unacceptable!!!

The overland bus trips of up to 8 hours were incredibly long and boring, with few stops for sightseeing, and some of those included disguised "shopping" opportunities. Once at a major sightseeing destination, visits often seemed too short and hurried, and were scheduled during the midday heat, rather than early mornings or late afternoons. In the case of Olympia and Delphi, visits to air-conditioned museums were scheduled in the morning, while the heat was still bearable, and before the visits to the outdoor archaeological sites, which were scheduled in the full midday heat. It would seem intelligent, considerate, and feasible to reverse the sequence in both cases.

The cruise ship M/V Aquamarine was yet another story. It was billed as 3 stars, yet it was far inferior to ships on which I had taken multi-day river cruises on the Yang Tse in China and the Nile in Egypt. Although I paid for a cabin upgrade and thought I was getting a "superior" outside cabin, I have never been forced to live in anything so small, so sparse, so cheap-looking, and so inconvenient. The tiny portholes were partially painted over! The worst part was the bathroom ... The shower stall was almost too small to turn around in (and I am a quite "normal" 5'10", 172 lbs) ... Flimsy, shabby, without even any bath soap or other amenities. The in-cabin safe didn't work, or at least it didn't work for me. For the first two nights on the ship, there were diesel fumes in the cabin. After I complained to the tour director, they seemed no longer to be present on the 3d night. The restaurants were also not satisfactory to me. The main restaurant, while attractively decorated and featuring white linens and formal place settings, served lukewarm food, and it was almost impossible to get the wine steward's attention. The "Bistro/Pub" looked like a cheap version of a McDonald's, the food on the serving line was habitually cold, one orange juice dispenser did not work, and the only reason we used that facility rather than the main restaurant for breakfast was the ease and speed of self-service versus the incredibly slow service and directed seating in the main restaurant. Then came the shore excursions sold through the cruise ship! First, they were vastly overpriced, even though the tour guides were generally competent and knowledgeable. But up to 59.95 Euros per person for a less than a half-day tour is simply too much for the experience, especially when that experience includes more disguised solicitations/opportunities to shop. In general, the escorted portions of the shore excursions were also limited and brief, with passengers left to "explore" on their own afterwards. This was especially true on Rhodes, where we were literally rushed through the old city/citadel in about one hour. At least another hour should have been allotted for a guided tour of this World Heritage site.

Finally, our experience with Gate1's contract airline, Olympic Airlines! Our outbound flight (OA 412) was originally scheduled to leave JFK at 4:30 PM, on June 20. It finally took to the air at about 1:00 AM, on June 21 ... 8-1/2 hours late, causing us to miss at least a full afternoon of "at leisure" activities in Athens! Similarly, our return flight (OA 411) was scheduled to leave Athens at 11:25 AM, on June 30. It took off over 2 hours late, at about 1:35 PM, almost causing us to miss our connecting flight at JFK. In fairness to the airline, I will note that we were provided a room at the JFK Holiday Inn and two meals on June 20. A word about our connecting flight at JFK (Delta 5619): The plane's air conditioning did not work, and we sat on the tarmac at JFK sweating for over 1 hour because the flight also was late taking off. To add insult to injury, the stewardess served lukewarm water; on request, she added some ice cubes!

Va
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  • Di
      9th of Aug, 2011
    0 Votes

    GATE 1 August 9, 2011
    455 Maryland Drive
    Fort Washington, PA 19034

    Re: Russian Waterways Trip Reservation #351402

    Atten: C. E. O.


    My wife and I have traveled internationally for over thirty years. The following comments are based on considerable experience with a wide variety of travel companies as well as travel on our own.

    We learned just a few days before departure that our Visas had not been issued because the passport photos we sent in reflected a “smiling face”. Did Gate 1 not know that a “solemn face” was required?

    We entered into a contract many months ago for the St. Petersburg to Moscow river cruise. Our early booking was to insure flexibility in travel arrangements. Due to five recent successive right shoulder surgeries and some other orthopaedic issues, my wife needed the bracing afforded against the right (starboard) window side of the plane flight for the long, ten hour flight to Moscow and then the two hour flight to St. Petersburg. When I requested such seating (any row in the cabin would be acceptable) a GATE 1 agent replied that seating assignments could not be made at such an early date.

    I contacted GATE 1 at a later time and was told, “GATE 1 is not and can not be responsible for seating assignments.” During a later phone conversation, a GATE 1 agent informed me that “seating assignments can only be made by Russian Aeroflot officials –according to Russian policy.” I conferred with Aeroflot personnel and was told that seatings were determined at the departure gate at flight time. I was also told that prior boarding passes could not be issued and that also must be done at the gate. I confirmed this information at the airline’s web site.

    To insure that we would be first in line on departure day, we spent an extra night and day in the JFK area. Long before departure time (with a 5 hour delay) and with almost no passengers at the departure gate, I requested right side window seating. I was informed that “all window seats have been PREVIOULSLY assigned.” We were placed in the center of the cabin with no shoulder bracing and my wife experienced 10 hours of hell. Since the departure time for the flight was almost five hours later than we had been told on the previous day, we stood in line and sat that much longer in the airport waiting area, again with no shoulder bracing available.

    Now one might accept this unfortunate circumstance as a difficulty encountered traveling with foreign carriers. However, as we met fellow passengers on the cruise, an entirely different scenario appeared. NUMEROUS passengers had GATE 1 documents identical to ours in format which clearly contained specific seat assignments that were finalized well prior to departure, and most of those assignments were at window/wall seats.

    I can only conclude that we were lied to by GATE 1 representatives. Will we travel with GATE 1 again? Of course not. Will we recommend GATE 1 to our extended family and our numerous travel companions? Make your guess.

    Enclosed is a brief list of other concerns that we feel detracted immeasurably from a potentially marvelous excursion.


    GATE 1 could only afford to provide pure drinking water at the dinner meal. Water should be available at all meals, all tour sites, all bus tours, etc. There were NO refills at any meal. No coffee refills either at dinner.
    Get some class…….up the price a few dollars and provide the basics.


    Itinerary mismatch. We signed up for Russian Folk Lore night. That particular optional tour didn’t even begin until the first of June. We went on an optional tour to Pushkin and Peterhof for $100+ each. Nope, Peterhof was closed that day, so we only strolled through the park, and the local guide had no idea what the trees or birds were or any historical information.


    Tour information. Much of it was provided only verbally. The daily single page sheets were entirely inadequate. On day one we should have received local maps, tour maps, historical lineages of people described later, simple language translations, etc. As an example, we received NO in hand out materials at Varaslovl. We considered only three of the guides as being knowledgeable about the particular area/site as well as being literate in the English language.


    Walking tours were often races to keep up with the guide so as to hear his/her descriptions. At least 50% of attendants never heard a thing as they necessarily walked a bit slower or could not get close to the guide. Forty people can not walk simultaneously at the same speed. Only on the tour of Hermitage was the guide on a microphone.

    We asked for information about times and rates for massage, sauna and the hair dresser. We were told that no such printed sheet was available. We could only scribble down what the receptionist told us from her single copy.


    When the piano player entertained at cocktail hour, his choice of concertos
    and his playing was so loud that casual conversation was impossible.

    The Convention room was far too small for the number of passengers. Many
    people simply never entered for any program.

    98% of the company employees did not speak even basic English. It was almost
    impossible to ask for a spoon or replacement for a fork that had fallen. When the
    coffee pot went empty in the morning, good luck getting it refilled. Even to order
    a beer was a matter of getting up and pointing to the dispenser.

    There were at least three separate tour groups put together on this trip. The dining experience was chaos especially at breakfast when there were overlaps of the groups.

    The “spartan” rooms should be more fully described as well as the kind of cots provided for sleeping.

    Dr. Richard A. Solberg
    Box 187
    Whitefish, MT 59937


    Cc: Customer Service Representative

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