The GOT tour that finally transpired into something wonderful!
Updated: Jan 31
So how does my holiday trip to Europe turn into life-changing lessons for delivering great customer experiences to my customers? Come with me on this incredible trip that was over two years in the making, and you will find out.
In December 2019, we started making plans for my son Nick’s wedding to Hannah, which was to take place in May 2020 in Italy. The plan was to attend the wedding in Italy and then continue on to Ireland to enjoy a Game Of Thrones tour, thus visiting Ireland for the first time. We all know what happened in March 2020.
They did get married in 2021 in Boston!
The world started shutting down due to Covid19. Fast forward two and half years, and the possible loss of deposits if travel credit was not used by the end of 2022. and a new plan was developed. My son Tyler and I hatched a plan to go to Florence, Italy, and then on to Ireland in December, as part of Tyler’s college winter break. This was his maiden voyage outside of the United States.
Now, as most of you know, I am a huge Christmas decorating enthusiast. However, traveling to Europe in December has made me realize that I am a holiday decorating rookie.
The Hotel Lungarno (video of the view included above) we stayed at in Florence had multiple Christmas trees, fully decorated, in almost every room we went to, and that was in addition to decorated swags and ornaments. It was beautiful no matter where you looked.
The first day that we landed in Italy we attended a Pizza & Gelato class. We learned how to make pizza and gelato from scratch in a small group setting. It was fantastic! Not only were we able to eat what we made, as well as collect the recipes, but we also received a graduate certificate for completion of the class. This was a first for us,Tyler and I cooking and enjoying the fruits of our labor together. We both agreed that this class was the highlight of our time in Italy. The small class, personal attention, and overall quiet nature of the event were attributes that we both found delightful.
Day two in Italy was filled with a private tour of multiple locations around Florence. We walked to meet our driver and I was very thankful for Tyler’s google maps skills to get us there. I have to confess that following Google maps and going in the right direction is not a strength of mine. I am so glad he has this skill, as I might have gotten us lost more than once if I was responsible for directing us. I have read and watched shows repeatedly on how developing this skill helps keep the brain more sustainable, yet the skill just never seems to materialize, so I will keep trying. Now back to the journey. Thankfully the weather in Italy was nice and mostly sunny for our day. This day was supposed to include a private tour of Siena, San Gimignano, and Monteriggioni.
Unfortunately, so much of the day was spent on our own, with little guidance. What we learned was that we are not the kind of people who necessarily want a self-guided tour of cities that we know little about. We realized that we are people who want to be guided and informed about the importance of the historical sights, as well as what makes them so special. I kept asking myself, how is this a private tour if there is no guidance? For places like San Gimignano, which is primarily a shopping location, there was very little for us to explore. To be honest, I do not really like to shop, but the good news was that I did leave with a handmade Italian Christmas ornament. The lesson learned was that I need to really research the details of tours before I book them.
Now on to Belfast, Ireland, and the long-awaited Game Of Thrones adventure.
We stayed at the Hastings Grand Central Hotel, which was absolutely beautiful (a video of our room beyond expectations is included below), and so well-decorated for the holidays. There were so many Christmas trees that I lost count.
On New Year’s Eve Day, we had a tour scheduled to Carrickfergus Castle, followed by a tour of The Gobbins Cliff Path. The castle tour included mild walking, following a well-laid-out path that Tyler guided us through. The castle did a nice job putting together all the information to make this self-guided tour an experience that one can enjoy on their own. The Gobbins was a physically challenging tour where we spent two hours climbing rock ledges, exploring sunken caves, and traversing bridges in the wind and rain.
I have to say there were times when it was downright scary, but overall it was a fantastic experience, and the tour guide was great! My watch told me that I had climbed 54 flights of steps and walked more than 10,000 steps when we were done. The delicate balance of adventure, capability, and knowledge was well orchestrated for us. This was not a feat for the faint of heart, and it took everything I had. The quiet ride back to the hotel was much appreciated.
We enjoyed room service and watched the fireworks go off in Belfast to bring in the new year!! The lesson from the day was knowing the delicate balance of my capabilities and my client’s as we embark on their organizing adventures.
Day two in Belfast included a tour of the Titanic Museum and a Black Cab tour. While the Titanic Museum is housed in a magnificent modern building, the tour itself was a little underwhelming. There were a lot of interesting details in the museum, but overall the ride inside and the interactive displays left a lot to be desired. Perhaps if you are a nautical or history buff it might have been more interesting.
On the other hand, the Black Cab tour was both fascinating and intimidating. Our guide was fabulous, filling us with the dark history of Northern Ireland, as well as the challenges that exist today. The inside view of its modern history, which we had only heard about through the news media, was captivating. Until this tour that I did not have a real appreciation for the Catholic and Protestant battle lines, and the delicate environment that both still live under today. I also realized that I am the type of person who not only needs to hear the history, but also try to put myself in their place. I am definitely thankful that I do not live in such an area where unrest is a mere brick’s throw away.
My takeaway is being grateful for what I do have, as well as a better understanding of Ireland’s tension-filled history.
Now, the BEST part of the trip to Belfast, and the number one reason for going to Ireland, The Game of Thrones (GOT) tour. Our tour guide, Flip Robinson from Giant Tours Ireland, picked us up at our hotel. Let me tell you, he did not miss a beat for nine hours straight. For those of you that are GOT fans, this is the tour to take. Fun fact, Flip was a stand-in for the character Hodor in the GOT series.
As such, he was filled with insider information for every location that we explored, from the Cusendum Caves, Murlough Bay, Fair Head, Carrick-s-rede Rope Bridge, Ballintoy Harbor, and The Dark Hedges, to name a few. Flip brought every location to life, and connected it to GOT with details and stories. My only regret was not booking the HBO Museum GOT Studio tour for this trip. The personal tour of all of these locations, as well as details on all of Belfast, far exceeded my expectations, but also made me appreciate being on a private tour and not on the GOT busses that were at some of the locations. Flip brought us to locations that only an insider would know, like going just another 100 feet and seeing something extraordinary. This tour was worth the two and half years wait, as well as enduring it in the wintertime. While it was cold and windy most of the time in Belfast, we didn’t mind.
The final day of our trip was traveling down to Dublin to start the trip home. We stayed in The Westbury Hotel in Dublin. which was rich with history and had a premium location. Again, another hotel that was decorated beautifully and had great customer service. Dublin is a city filled with shopping and pubs wherever you go.
We did participate in a private walking tour of Dublin, which included a tour of the Grand Squares and Georgian streetscapes, Trinity University, and a lot of historical monuments. I am not sure that we were the best tourists, as we were both very tired and “toured” out at this point. While our guide offered a plethora of details and stories, it was hard to muster up the energy. That’s OK though, because the best part of Dublin was yet to come.
While going through security for US Customs, Tyler realized that he had not retrieved his laptop from the first security checkpoint. At this point, we did not have enough time to go all the way back through security and start over again and still make our flight home, so I needed to go to Plan B. I asked one of the security workers what to do, and he said to contact the airport security in a day or so and they would help me. I felt a bit panicked that we would never see his laptop again, and I would be buying another. Fortunately, that would not be the case. The day after our return I went on the Dublin Airport website and typed in “Lost and Found” and up popped a very detailed list of all the items that are found by day and location in Dublin Airport. On the list of the date we were, there was a laptop that seemed, given the brand and location, it could be Tyler’s lost laptop. I called the number and they were able to verify it was in fact his and gave me directions and a source to get it picked up and shipped back to me for $250.00.
WOW, I just did not expect that to be the outcome, especially while receiving such superb customer service, for a lost item in an airport. I am not sure what the investment is to have this exceptional service, but I can tell you that they set a high bar for an area that is many times the very low of travel when an item goes missing. Thank you Dublin Airport! The lesson here is to set your service bar high and have faith that there might be times when expectations exceed even your highest standards.
Overall this was a great trip that I was able to enjoy with my son, filled with adventure, learning, and wonderful people. The things I worried about before the trip (masking, covid testing, restrictions) were all nonissues, and the places we stayed exceeded expectations. All of our hotels had customer service levels that, sadly, our most recent travel in the states did not. The one thing that I have to say is that ALL of the Ireland folks (drivers, hotel personnel, guides) that we met were so friendly and accommodating during our travels.
We had a blast and I learned a bit more about setting customer service levels, as well as being clear about what I really want on my own vacations.
If you would like to learn more about my charming winter vacation (Thank you @darbydestinations), or anything else for that matter, just drop me a note or give me a call.