I should probably preface this posting by saying that I’ve never actually been on a cruise. But from my limited understanding of cruises, I believe that cruises involve a bunch of people all traveling on a big vehicle, going from place to place, where at the places they let you off said vehicle to go look at stuff and do things. So that’s pretty much like a bus tour. Except the water part. And the living on the vehicle part. But other than that, totally like cruises.
The tour company we went with was called Royal Irish Tours – a company that my aunt found through her travel agent – and who market just to Canadians, so all of our tour mates were also Canadian. In fact, other than myself and a couple from Gander, Newfoundland, everyone else was from Ontario1.
The deal with the bus tour is that they arrange the whole trip for you – from your accommodations in various castles and other fancy hotels to your trips to different tourist-y sites to entertainers2 to cool places to take photos along the way. Plus breakfasts and dinners were included3, as well as a few places where we got other goodies included, like tea and scones and pints of Murphy’s and Irish coffee while we shopped. Truth be told, I would have preferred fewer hotel dinners and more of the dinners at pubs or takeaway fish’n’chips4. Don’t get me wrong, the food was delicious, but appies, big meals, and desserts every single night got to be *a lot* of food!
Essentially the way it worked was that we would stay in a hotel for one or two nights and then move onto the next hotel. On the day that we changed hotels, we had to have our bags packed and sitting outside our hotel room door by 7:30 am – then you’d just go down to breakfast and the bell hop would pick up your luggage and bring it to the bus. I was kinda confused the first time the driver said this was how it worked. “You mean we just leave our luggage unattended in the hallway and no one is going to steal it?” I swear you would never do that in North America, but, true to their word, the nothing ever got stolen and it really was nice not to have to carry our bags down. On several of the days we go to stay in the same hotel two nights in a row – as we’d just drive around that area for the day and return to the same hotel – and those days were pretty sweet because packing is for suckers.
One of the best things about the bus tour, of course, is that someone else does all the driving, so you don’t have to worry yourself about such things as how to get where you are going5 or how the hell to drive on roads that are too narrow to actually accommodate two vehicles driving past each other.
As well, we have a fantastic driver and tour guide6 who not only got us where we needed to go right at the time we needed to be there, but also gave us super interesting Irish history lessons as he drove and told us jokes and played awesome CDs of Irish music for us and even read us poetry!
Martin really went above and beyond to make sure everyone was having a good time. We were very lucky to have him as our driver and tour guide.
And now, some fun moments from the bus tour:
One of our tour mates, Ed, decides he’s going to be the driver today!
Irish coffee on the bus? Why not!
When we stayed in Killarney, we actually got off the bus early and got into jaunting cars (a.k.a., horse and carriage) and took a jaunting car ride through Killarney Park before being dropped off at our hotel. Here we are on the jaunting car:
You’ll notice that my Aunt Eileen isn’t in the picture. That’s because Billy the jaunting car driver fancied her, so he insisted that she sit up front with him!
Another fun surprise on the tour was when we stopped into a gas station that had Tim Horton’s:
Apparently this stop was only recently added to the tour. Since the tour groups are almost always Canadians, apparently every time they drove past this gas station people saw the Tim Horton’s sign and freaked out, so they decided to make it an official stop so all the Canadians could get their fix!
Oh yeah, and speaking of cruises, we actually did one – on a boat called the “Rose of Innisfree”. Here’s Martin serving some tea on the boat:
Did I mention how much I love scones?
When you are on a bus tour, with all the getting on and getting off of the bus, the driver has to count heads at every stop to make sure everyone is on the bus. As well, most people were traveling in pairs, so if someone’s partner was missing, they’d be sure to tell the bus driver “hey, my wife’s not back yet!”7 Most people on the tour were traveling in couples, but I was partnered up with my mom, there was another mother-daughter pair, and my two aunts were together, though they didn’t sit together because the bus wasn’t full, so they each took a window seat for themselves. The system worked very well for the most part, except one time, there was a miscount and we left someone behind – one of my aunts! It happened at Moriarty’s, where we’d stopped to shop:
On this particular day, we had a “relief” driver, as Irish law does not allow anyone to work 11 days in a row with no breaks8, so while Martin was on the bus with us, he wasn’t driving. When we finished shopping, my aunt thought my aunt was right behind her getting on the bus, but she wasn’t. Somehow the driver miscounted, thought everyone was on the bus, and departed. We were probably 5 minutes down the road when someone said, “Hey, where’s Lynn?” And right then Martin’s phone rang – it was another driver from another bus who was stopped at Moriarty’s, telling us we’d left a passenger behind.
We turned around and headed back to get her and I was totally thinking that if that were me, I’d be freaking out, but was we drove up, there was my Aunt Lynn, cool as a cucumber, sitting next to the cute young bus driver from the other bus. I’m pretty sure she didn’t actually want us to come back and get her! Thankfully, my aunt has a good sense of humour9 and we all got a good laugh out of the whole thing!
When we signed up to do a bus tour, I figured that I’d really enjoy the not having to make any decisions part of it, as well as the not having to drive (because I’d inevitably get lost!). But I had no idea that I’d get such rich lessons in history – as well as lessons in contemporary Irish politics and culture – and I was also really pleased with what a fun group people were on our tour. Everyone was friendly and in good spirits – we really did have a blast!
So, in conclusion: A++. Would bus tour again.
- Of course, having a Vancouverite and two Newfies meant we could legitimately say we represented Canada from “coast to coast”! [↩]
- On our trip we had an Irish storyteller come and tell us tall tales after dinner one day, a harpist come and perform for us after dinner another day, a stop at an bar with live music, a night out to another pub with Irish music and dancing, and another performance of music and dancing at yet another tavern on our final night. [↩]
- Usually at the hotel. [↩]
- We went to Leo Burrdock’s fish’n’chips and it was delish! [↩]
- Especially given my sense of direction! [↩]
- Apparently there is a new law coming into effect next year that will mean that drivers will no longer be able to also do the talking, but at this point, Martin still had to both drive the bus and provide the commentary. [↩]
- There was one guy traveling alone, but everyone was looking out for him because they knew he didn’t have a travel buddy to pay attention to his whereabouts. [↩]
- Our tour was 11 days long. [↩]
- I must take after her, because she said, “That is probably the best story we have from the whole trip!”, which is generally how I react when things go sideways – just think of the story! [↩]