EF Tours European Quartet: London

Day 7 of our trip; 4th Country

We start super early this morning. A quick bag breakfast at our hotel and shuttle to Gard Du Nord for the Eurostar trip from Paris to London. Our ride leaves at 9; we arrive well before 7. The security to get through is similar to an airport. After waiting for them to open security no sooner than 2 hours prior to the ride, we scan passports, boarding passes, go though a security, and move on to a waiting room til our train left. We had assigned seats. The trip was around 2.5 hours. We lost an hour over the trip.

Upon arriving in London, there were no customs/security checks. We were met by a bus driver Norm who was absolutely wonderful. His thick British accent was wonderful. He was full of old knowledge and enjoyed taking us around town and showing us the sights.

The temperatures were much cooler and it was 67 degrees, cloudy with a chance of rain. This was a huge change from our 98 degree Paris day.

We were dropped by a market near the London Eye. There were probably 20 different restaurants with so many choices in this local market. I picked Thai rice and chicken. Yummm.

After our group ate, we moved to the London Eye for our 2pm reservation. We had EF Tour reservations. They actually turned out to be fast passes (Goooo EF) and so we were fast tracked to the front of the line. This took about 30 min to ride and the view was beautiful at the top.

After this we walked more, saw more (like Buckingham Palace), walked through China Town, towards SOHO, and slowly to our EF Tours restaurant Mother Mash. there was 1 other EF Tours group in there at the same time that was doing a 4 day Ireland/4day London trip. We got to chat with them some.

Food at Mother Mash included a Chicken pie with mashed potatoes. Dessert was ice cream. We then bused to Trafalgar Square as we heard dancing and music. We watched and joined in on some dancing activities in the square while we waited for our next event.

At 8:40pm we made our way 5 minutes away to the Ghost Bus Tour of London. We were 15 minutes early, however others beat us to the top of the double decker bus; so our group of 13 took over the bottom. This was an excursion we had already chosen and EF Tours reimbursed us for this as a replacement for the Belgian Chocolate Making tour we missed. Therefore we were able to also include our tour guide! One of the rules EF Tour guides have is that they cannot go on non-EF tour excursions with the group. But we loved Monica so we were excited to have her come!.

The ride took about 45 minutes. Then we took the metro towards our hotel and the bus to get us to right outside our hotel.

We divvied up our rooms and super thankful that due to the way our London hotel does rooms, there were no allowances for triple rooms, so I ended up with my own room! Oh how wonderful that was to have the space to spread out! We stayed at the MOXY London Heathrow Airport.

So lets talk location. EF Tours essentially picks all your hotels for you without input and likely for cost effectiveness. Now here in London our hotel was actually pretty new, and you could tell it was in great shape. And it was close to the airport. However travel in London is not fast or easy. If you are not centrally located in London, it is time consuming to get into London and a little costly, and for anyone who is not from a big city that uses a metro system, it can be confusing. London uses a mix of Metro, train, and buses for the general public and as the cheapest method. However. You can also uses taxis or Ubers. I think over our trip we used every single option (except a taxi despite trying to get a taxi one day). Nonetheless, we loved the hotel itself; however didn’t enjoy the extra time it took from them day to travel.

Let’s talk ease of paying for travel; For the Uber, I used the app to book and pay. Super simple. For the metro and buses, you can tap a card/ watch/phone upon entry and exit. A ticket is good for like an hour; so if you got off and got on another connection, you swipe but aren’t charged 2x. Cash is not really used from what I could tell.

The Train gives you an option to pay through train line.com prior and they send you tickets you use a QR code to go through the train station.

Day 2 in London, we woke up to a breakfast of more croissants, cereal, yogurt, bacon, sausage, eggs, baked beans, bread, coffee, tea, water, juices. At the MOXY you have to pay for breakfast. EF already had that covered for us.

We were picked up and it took a solid 45 minutes to get to where our tour guide Neal was. We also had a new driver today, Allan. He was from Scotland. Neal found some places to get out and walk. We got to see the changing of the guard however from the Gurkhas side as they were leaving their area. That was neat to listen to and watch right up front. We did a thorough walking tour through the town and then were bussed to our lunch location. Due to our scheduled excursions we requested with EF tours once we were assigned our tour guide to move our dinner to lunch. So we ate lunch at Mamuksa (fried chicken and fries with Cole slaw and ice cream).

From here our plan was to split up. 5 were going to Harry Potter studios, 5 were going to Windsor. 2 just floated around town. So we had 3pm tickets to Windsor in our group. We knew it would take an hour to get there by train so we went straight to the Waterloo station at 145 to find that there was a delay of 30ish minutes due to a car accident on or near the rail. We finally reached the Windsor and Eton station at 335 and took about another 8-10 minutes to get to the check in for Windsor. Windsor sat on a hill in the most beautiful peaceful town. Windsor was not busy as we arrived towards the end of the day. After checking in, going through yet another security check and getting audio sets and headphones to use as we walked. A worker immediately ushered us to the St. George Chapel since it closed at 4pm. It is still used and is absolutely beautiful inside and out. However photography is not permitted so we have no photos from inside. We then walked out, and went up to the state rooms and walked through the rest of the inside of Windsor. We finished at the gift shops and were walking out right after 5 at 5:10 as the Royal Mail was arriving. We were told the Queen was staying at Windsor currently however we did not catch a glimpse of her anywhere.

After this, we walked around some shops, and settled at the Carpenter’s Arms for Fish and Chips. The 2 in our group that did not go to Windsor or Harry Potter then met us for dinner.

Our bus driver wonderfully agreed to pick us up in Windsor at 730pm and take us back to our hotel.

After settling back in at the hotel, we all met downstairs at the social area and played games for several hours. The Harry Potter group came in a little later but they arrived in time to join us for the fun. The kids and adults had so much fun playing together and laughing, more than they had all week!

After a late night, The group was up for breakfast and left by 9am to be bussed to the airport. They indicated that they were glad they left 5 hours prior to the flight because it was very time consuming to get all 8 of them through check in with their bags and security.

Overall as a final thought…

EF tours just restarted their tours in March 2022 since March 2020. They have had fluctuating staff and a hard time finding enough help like so many other companies across the world. It was leveling to realize that we in the USA think these problems are only us but in reality these countries in Europe have experienced the same.

Our tour director showed us an area that was once store fronts that all had to shut down throughout Covid and then the new buyers put ‘American Candy Stores’ in their places.

We asked bus drivers we had and other locals about these things and they indicated that there is definitely a problem with people not wanting to work for very similar reasons as in the US.

Being immersed in an EF tour experience meant we heard more real-time stories as we experienced them. Our group was heavily affected by the first bus driver we had and the communication barrier and his understanding of how to relate with us. Thankfully our group leaders and tour director communicated with EF Tours higher ups as more and more problems with him surfaced and they agreed to pay for other experiences or travels that were disrupted by this situation. We begged for a new driver from day 2 on, however they said there was a shortage and it would be very unlikely to find someone before the previously scheduled switch to a new one in London. However not all groups were as lucky.

While we were traveling, there was another group stuck in an airport at JFK with a canceled flight and around 20 middle schoolers. Delta couldn’t get them on another flight for 2 days! And EF Tours would not help them because they had not officially reached their tour start yet. So they lost 2 days of their trip due to that. It’s understandable that they can’t control what the airlines do. And many who traveled probably couldn’t have extended their trip 2 more days. Such a bad situation. And all we can do is hope EF tried to help make something up but they may not have.

Also to note, we talked to several people who this was not their first EF Tour and they had a history of great experiences and would do it again. So I do think it was just the bad luck of the draw.

Do know that there’s not a lot of resting on this trip. You start earlier in the mornings, anywhere from 6-9am depending on the plans of the day, ending for sure at 7pm, and then whatever you decided to do extra for excursions. We only had a few nights we were done around 7pm and were slowly heading home. It wasn’t worth going to our hotel and back out if there was something scheduled around 830/9pm. So we definitely burned both ends of the candle. And we had lots of food options.

Someone mentioned that the EF tour dinner meals were small, so be prepared with snacks. If you have a picky eater, they may need those – make sure they think ahead and bring a protein bar they like. Stopping at multiple places to get food is not easy. These are big cities with lots of people and long lines.

Nobody was pic-pocketed in our group, but we were vigilant and yes there are signs in places warning you. I started with my kavu and carried my passport/$/cards on a mini wallet that hung around my neck. The kavu carried my water and a first aid kit. but eventually I ditched the kavu and carried a zipper bag that was a touristy item that I held tight with my arm keeping it safe to me. Other ideas were the small wallet purses that can be a fanny pack or thrown over one’s shoulder with the purse across the chest. That worked really well. Many kids used back packs. But we did get to a point that we went though the bags to figure out how much weight to have the kids carry less in their back packs. Only a few used their EF backpacks during the day. They are great bags actually. Just felt like wearing them meant we were screaming tourists to all the locals. We always knew when there was another EF tour group as they always had someone with the EF bag or some other identifier.

I’m an open book, so if you read this blog and read all 4 cities and have more questions, feel free to leave a comment/question and I’ll respond!

I hope this was a helpful blog for anyone looking for a travel option. After the 9 days with the group, another adult and our 2 kids split and stayed 2 more days successfully in London. So I feel much more confident traveling internationally on my own now that we’ve done this!

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