Guided tours are not my normal way to travel. I am someone who prefers to do things on my own, with long periods in a single location leading to a relaxed pace. However, the opportunity came up to travel with Overseas Adventure Tours (OAT) to Ireland with my aunt, so I took it. OAT is one of the only companies out there with no extra change for traveling solo (a single supplement) so it allowed for the two of us to travel together and still have our own rooms.
For those considering taking a trip with OAT, and especially their Irish Adventure, I wanted to take an article to review the experience honestly, from the itinerary to the on-tour activities and accommodations to the company itself. I am not being compensated in any way for this; I just want to offer as true a glimpse into my personal experience as I can. It’s worth noting that while a few aspects are objective, most of this is purely subjective, and dependent on all sorts of outside factors. Your own individual experience could be completely different than mine.
This seems a good place to start. My tour began in Dublin, then went to Belfast and Derry in Northern Ireland, before continuing down the western coast of Ireland, staying in Donegal, Westport, and Ennis. If you imagine Ireland as the face of a clock, we went from three o’clock counter clockwise to eight.
I can honestly say that the itinerary itself was terrific. I liked starting with the large cities and then moving to the more rural areas. I spent two extra days before the tour began exploring Dublin on my own (with my aunt, of course), and would recommend that, as the tour itself only includes a single day in the capital.
Each location was at least two nights, with few truly long bus days. And all days on the bus included “comfort stops” at reasonable intervals for stretching and restrooms.
Trip Experience Leader
It’s a fancy title for main guide. My experience leader was Gillian McCormack, and she would rate higher than a ten of ten if I could. Knowledgeable, prepared (knowing background about everyone prior, and remembering all of it), funny, Gillian truly went above and beyond, even using her own personal free time to take group members out for music or a meal. This being my first tour with OAT, I can’t tell you if she is the norm or the exception; I can only say I’d gladly take any trip with her leading it.
While Gillian was our main guide, OAT contracted with several local guides in certain cities. In addition, Gillian had to leave the trip two days early, so we had a second “main” guide. All were terrific.
I’d also like to take a moment here to mention our main bus driver, Mike, who was a true joy, always agreeable to make an extra stop to see something cool, knowing all of us by name and luggage, and being a pleasure to be around. Again, if this is the typical sort OAT contracts, you can’t do any better.
This is the first mixed experience. The trip advertises three and four star accommodations. Some certainly lived up to that, with the caveat that some rooms in Europe are fairly small. The Europa Hotel in Belfast was particularly lovely. However, while all the hotels were in good locations, a couple missed the mark for me. The Central Hotel in Donegal and Temple Gate Hotel in Ennis both had nice rooms (and the view from the Central couldn’t be beat) but neither had consistently working wifi, at least in my room.
The City Hotel in Derry was an issue in every respect. Rooms were small and hot, as the thermostats were broken, and windows didn’t open enough to cool the room. Furthermore, the windows didn’t close, which led to a night of almost no sleep due to noise from a large group event in the hotel. When I called the front desk to ask them to have the group turn their music down a bit (I could sing along from the third floor), I was told, “no,” and hung up on.
All hotels included breakfast. Most were adequate, although all were pretty much the same food. Over the course of a sixteen day tour, that can wear a bit.
By and large, I enjoyed all of the included activities on the tour. I did not participate in any of the supplemental ones, preferring to do my own thing on those days. Of most note are OAT’s signature activities, “controversial topics” and “a day in the life.” The former saw us having a full day in Belfast dedicated to the Troubles (you can read more about that here), with a black taxi tour and a brilliant panel of those who had been involved in the fighting on all sides. I don’t know any other tour company that would arrange that. A day in the life gave us some great looks into rural life in western Ireland, with sheep farming, weaving, and Gaelic sports features. (Click here to read more about that.)
The only activity I had an issue with was in Derry, where a museum dedicated to Bloody Sunday took being pro-Palestinian to a place of being anti-Semitic. I didn’t feel safe there or in the neighborhood among signage glorifying violence. (Click here to read about that experience.)
A note here on included meals. Most were reasonably good, although as with breakfasts, Irish food just got repetitive over time. On average, the tour included one additional meal per day. When not included, Gillian was great with recommendations, and even making reservations when the full group wanted to do things together (or in subgroups).
OAT caters to an older crowd. At 42, I was probably at least 15 years younger than anyone else, and 30 years younger than most. That doesn’t bother me, and with only fifteen of us on the trip (OAT is solely small groups), I got to know everyone. All were nice, although as with any group there were some I got along with better than others. Given the group, it’s natural that the trip was fairly low impact physically, and walking tours fairly slow moving. Just be aware of this if you choose to book. If you like lots of physical activity, this is probably not the tour for you. Same with intensive drinking and partying, though most of the group enjoyed far later nights than I (the young kid) did.
This was also mixed. My aunt chose to invite me on the trip since she had a large credit with the company due to tours being canceled over Covid. At every step it was an issue using that credit, especially to be applied toward my tour. It required numerous calls to the company, and as there are no direct lines for anyone, it wasn’t possible to just work with a single representative who was aware of our situation. That was extremely frustrating.
While I booked airfare on my own, my aunt did hers through OAT. Her flights were changed multiple times, and while some of that is the airline, OAT could have done a much better job with making her itinerary a comfortable one. At the end, she had her choice between an extra stop on the way home or a nine hour layover in London. Neither is fun.
Beyond that, communication from OAT was constant. Too constant, and all by snail mail, where I got at least one piece of correspondence a week for months. It’s overwhelming. But once the tour began and my contact with the company was over, the experience was much better. (I’ve also been told that customer service was better pre Covid, so take my experience with a small grain of salt.)
Overall, my Irish Adventure with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) was a good one. There were some frustrations before the trip began, and a few low points, but my tour was by and large terrific. If you can deal with the customer service issues, and the pace of the tour sounds like one you’d enjoy, I would recommend both the company and this particular tour. And if you can go with Gillian, I can guarantee a great time!