The dreaded question we all ask when wanting to book our wanderlust moments. I have now toured with both Contiki & Topdeck twice, all with different experiences. This blog will provide you with some facts as well as personal anecdotes of my own to possibly assist in helping you find a tour company best suited to you.
The first Contiki I did in May 2016 and was 7 days, starting in Washington and travelling to Pittsburg, Niagara Falls, Toronto, Montreal and finishing in Boston. These 7 days were jam packed and felt like 3 weeks with the experiences we had and friendships we formed. They never failed to show us the best of the best and made sure we were all looked after no matter what time of the day or night. From apple pie eating contests to all shopping at Walmart for our group picnic on Niagara Lake, it was hard NOT to all unite for an awesome week together. Our trip manager and driver were a fabulous team and I feel genuinely lucky to have had them! We even caught up with our Trip manager a few weeks later whilst he was on holidays and we were touring with our Topdeck…
My first Topdeck not long after was 24 days and started in New York, then Washington, Savannah, Charlotte, Miami, New Orleans, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Grand Canyon, Vegas and LA. This tour was apart of 3 different tours which for me meant 3 different groups and even 2 tour managers over this time. It was a very intense and although amazing, an exhausting few weeks. I personally wasn’t a huge fan of a long 24 day tour. Being on the go everyday can be quite exhausting and I think it is important to have some down time between tours to recover and recoup so you can more effectively see your sights.
On our itinerary we were passing by Philadelphia on the way to Washington DC. It was outlined in our tour description that we would be having philly cheese steaks and we were all excited to run up the Rocky steps! The morning we got onto the bus we were told there was a festival on in Philadelphia and we would be taking another route…
When browsing different tours it was also advertised that one of the stops on this trip is the fabulous Grand Canyon. After booking and receiving the hotel list, only those who really paid attention would have noticed beforehand that the Hotel was actually 1.5 hours out of Grand Canyon in a town called Flagstaff. This was disappointing especially when it was pouring rain at our accommodation and then scorching heat when we arrived in Grand Canyon. It was also annoying knowing from other friends that Contiki do stay right in the Grand Canyon area making it easier to offer more inclusions and experiences around the national park.
My second Contiki was this year in August around the wonderful Scandinavia. I started in Copenhagen, then spent 5 days around the amazing Norway and was supposed to finish in Stockholm, Sweden. A couple of days into the trip half the group were discussing their extended journey to Finland and severe FOMO resulted in me adding on an extra 3 days to join them. So my 9 day tour turned into 12 which was super spontaneous (for my super organized self) but it was more than worth it. This was easy done thanks to my gorgeous trip manager with a quick phone call to head office and payment over the phone. This 12 days was easily some of the best moments of life, once again somehow making 12 days this time really feel like months. The extra little things our trip manager did to help us really immerse ourselves in our destinations was above her call of duty. She would buy the special snacks only available in our visiting countries and feed our new found (but short term) addictions to certain traditional foods wherever we were. Sometimes it is just the little things that can really change a single day let alone a week on tour (see more in ‘Trip Managers’ below).
We arrived at an optional activity, Bob sledding in Lillehammer, Norway. This activity was so fun however quite time consuming overall to get through 50 people in small groups of 4 at a time. To fill this time our leaders organized a very Norwegian style sausage grill. This kept us first of all from vanishing before our group dinner, with an included cultural experience!
One of the only things almost-disappointing about contiki this time round was they didn’t offer post-tour accommodation for me in Stockholm with my original booking. I ended up booking the same Contiki hotel through another site and actually got a full refund when my plans changed anyway so it was a tiny blessing in disguise. However I know this is only for selected trips as post and pre-tour accommodation is Canada was booked with ease.
My second Topdeck was 7 days and commenced only hours after finishing my Scandinavian Contiki. I flew to Prague to join the group with our next destinations being Berlin and Amsterdam. It was in my tour description that the next 7 days were part of a larger 21 day tour so I was expecting crossovers of groups similar to USA. I arrived at the hotel and waited with my roommate in the lobby for our 5pm start. After waiting a while with no one even remotely topdeck-ish looking in sight, we messaged the group on the fancy Topdeck app. We were told they were running an hour behind, not a great first impression.
The Topdeck app was great I must admit! Specific details about transport to and from our hotel (which was unfortunately needed due to the location of most accommodation) as well as a Currency Coverter, Budget Tracker and more. My personal favourite was the ‘Wellness’ menu which gave you good running tracks in most cities. As much as I loved the idea and promised to try and stay fit overseas, it was deemed unrealistic this time round. Luckily my food choices meant the damage wasn’t as horrific as USA, but more of that another time…
Topdeck offer pre and post accomodation and you can request as many days as you like. My Topdeck technically finished in London, however I decided I was going to finish in Amsterdam and spend a few extra days there. A few months after my booking when I received my hotel list I realized I selected ‘Post tour accommodation’ which was in London! A quick email and it was very easily sorted and I was quite impressed with how they assisted me in re-arranging my trip.
I can only believe Contiki must hold some amazing training for their staff. I find Contiki Tour Managers passionate and knowledgeable, spontaneous and adaptable to all situations. They are creative and really know how to mould a group together with their #1 priority to deliver the trip of a life time! They do work for tips, which I think helps add to their enthusiasm. They understand how much control they have over each and every individual’s experience.
Topdeck uses their ‘No Tipping Policy’ as a money saving marketing tool, however I cannot help but think it doesn’t help motivate their tour managers to be the best they can be. Australian’s especially complain about overseas tipping, it is a cultural adjustment that we can’t quite get our heads around. Nevertheless there is always method to madness and I believe the service I am delivered in a tipping environment is usually well out of the ordinary! In other words, when we are expected to tip – they deserve it! Although I did praise the fancy Topdeck app, I also can’t help but think it took away some social interaction, as any help or questions we had were usually then directed to the app. Some may call that efficient, but nothing beats a bit of old school face to face if you ask me.
The bus days are long, that’s touring for you! Don’t let that turn you off if you’re reading this as a tour virgin. It is a matter of how creative and somewhat entertaining the tour manager decides to makes those long drives. I don’t just mean chucking on a movie that somehow relates to the locations your visiting, although that never goes astray. From group games and competitions to speed dating and guest djs and much more you would be surprised what can really make hours on the road fly. This also helps to gel a group together while really getting to know one another. I pulled out my almost dusty headphones on my Topdeck as the vibes created by our manager were not engaging at all. There was also dramas over seating which I didn’t find on Contiki. People sat wherever and changed every day without any complaints! We were a family, a team. Although you could definitely thank each individual personality for this, I think we can also thank our manager for creating the atmosphere and positive vibes for us all to click and interact this way. Lastly, you see so much more driving as compared to flying, especially through picturesque and scenic countries, so nap lightly!
“We chose Topdeck because Contikis are too party crazy”
The tour is your own, you can honestly make it however you like. If you don’t want to talk to anyone, see a particular site, a certain optional or go out and drink a lifetimes worth of alcohol in 1 night, then don’t. I had roommates on Contiki who might come to dinner and maybe 1 drink and hit the hay at 10pm. They didn’t even mind when I semi-stumbled in at 4am (thankfully deep sleepers). I still got up every day and explored the city I was in. If you did want to sleep in then so be it! However I do highly suggest not paying thousands of dollars to travel half way across the globe just to booze and sleep! Yes contiki does provide awesome party opportunities, as does Topdeck. But some nights are definetly dedicated to laundry, or a nice Swedish sauna and spa instead. I had a crazy group in America on Topdeck that put my Canadian Contiki to shame, so in other words don’t only choose Topdeck because you think it’s more ‘chill’. These are just my experiences, I know some contikis can be ‘party crazy’ but my point is, Topdeck is just as capable of being wild!
Now let’s break it all down. Contiki established in 1961, Topdeck in 1973. Contiki have an extra 12 years of mastering travel under their belt. That’s a lot of years of travel… *dreams of the next 12 years*
Contiki travels with young adults aged 18-35, Topdeck 18-39. Hooray for those over 35 who are feeling more years of tour life.
Topdeck is very popular in Australia, meaning they are flooded with Aussies. As much as I love you all, making friends from all over the world is one of the most beneficial parts of travel. Through my Contiki trips I have met many people not only from all around Aus, but Canada, America, New Zealand, Germany, UK, Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Brazil & Taiwan. Majority of these people have never even heard of Topdeck.
I think Topdeck needs to think about the way they sequence and overlap their trips, especially since my 7 day part of the European tour was only selected by 4 people. Jumping onto a tour of approx 40 people that had already been going for 2 weeks was hard work for us 4 newbies, however we did still managed to have a great time.
This is all my personal opinions and experiences. I know many people who had great tours with both Topdeck & Contiki. I have enjoyed all of my tours, met amazing people and of course seen some amazing places. I cannot say any of my trips were ‘ruined’ as I made the most of all my journeys overseas and have amazing memories that will be with me forever! The final verdict for me is #TeamContiki and I cannot wait to book many more for my future travels!