Germany Tour – Highlights of Germany

Highlights of Germany – Our Germany Tour Route, Itinerary and Comments:

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Germany Tour - Route Map

This is the itinerary of a 12-day Cosmos Highlights of Germany tour which we did in September 2010. It’s actually 10 days of touring when you discount the arrival and departure days.  This tour starts and ends in Frankfurt.

When we were looking for tours of Germany in 2010, Cosmos was the only tour operator that offered an itinerary covering the north of Germany.  In particular we wanted to visit towns like Hamelin and Lübeck.  Cosmos is the budget brand of the Globus Group and when we booked this tour we were aware that the hotels would be of a lesser grade than the premium tours and that they would probably be on the fringe of towns, rather than in the centre.

In  preparation for the trip, I researched a few of the hotels for the tour and emailed them to find out about internet access and transport to the city and the sightseeing attractions.

Unfortunately, some of that preparation work went to waste as by the time we joined the tour, six out of the nine hotels had been changed.

Occasionally tour operators can swap hotels due to operational reasons, however, having such a large number of hotel changes is quite unusual.  In choosing our tours, the itinerary and hotels are important considerations, so the hotel changes were very disappointing.

The itinerary for this tour was good but in discussing with our fellow travellers on the tour we found concerns about the following:

  • the inconsistent standard of the hotels used
  • many of the substituted hotels were a considerable distance from the city centre
  • at a couple of hotels there was no porter service
  • as the tour covers a huge distance in only 10 days, most of the travel was on the autobahn so we saw little of the country when we were on the road, except for a stretch along the Romantic Road

The sections in blue are from the brochure, followed by my comments in the white panels.

DAY 1: Frankfurt (Wed.) Fly to Frankfurt where you will be met and transferred to your hotel for one night. (D)
Hotel:  Mercure at Friedrichsdorf (4*)
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Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof © Travel Signposts

The package that we bought did not include transfers so we made our own way from Frankfurt Airport to Friedrichsdorf by train and were surprised at how far out of Frankfurt the hotel was.  The Mercure Friedrichsdorf is about 25 km north of Frankfurt central station.  When we arrived at Friedrichsdorf, we shared a taxi to the hotel with another couple.  It cost Euro 5.00 which is a very small price to pay since we had no idea where the hotel was.The Mercure at Friedrichsdorf appears to be one of the hotels that Cosmos uses for its Highlights of Germany tour start hotel.  The choice of this hotel to start a tour from is ‘interesting’ as it is a long distance from the centre of Frankfurt. Apart from a large supermarket and a petrol station, there was nothing of interest near the Mercure.

The tour briefing was held in a small bar downstairs and this was followed by dinner.  The bar was far too small for the size of the group.  There were not enough tables for all to have dinner at so some of us had our dinner at the bar whilst others ate at little round bar tables where you’d normally have drinks at.  The food was what I would classify as survival food, edible but nothing to write home about.

The next morning, breakfast was again at the downstairs bar.  The early risers got some food, but when we arrived there was little food left, i.e. no milk, cheese, fruit or choice of breads.  The young waitress on duty was overwhelmed by requests for coffee cups, milk etc..  We did see the breakfast arriving just as we had to leave.  For a 4* hotel, one would expect better service.

DAY 2: Frankfurt – Rhine Cruise – Cologne (Thur.) Begin today with a leisurely cruise along one of Germany’s most famous rivers – the romantic Rhine. Board your cruiser and sail between steep, forested banks and awesome Rhineland panoramas. Pass the legendary Lorelei Rock, said to have been home to sirens who lured sailors to their demise, before heading to Cologne for a visit to the impressive Gothic cathedral with its breathtaking interior. (B, D)
Hotel: Holiday Inn Koeln or Bonn Airport at Cologne (4*)
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Rhine River Cruise © Travel Signposts

The 1.5 hour Rhine River cruise was from Oberwesel to Boppard.  Cruises on the Rhine are always enjoyable, no matter how many times you’ve done it, especially when the weather is fine.  The small town of Boppard was a lunch stop.  We weren’t given any information about the town, so we just strolled along the main street and along the riverfront.Next we headed for Cologne and arrived at about 3:30 p.m.  We were given two hours to roam on our own.  Again, not much information was provided as to where to go and what to see, etc. Fortunately for us, we’ve been in Cologne on a couple of visits previously and we knew our way around.

Our hotel tonight was the Ramada Bruehl (3*) and not at either of the 4* advertised hotels in the original itinerary.  The Ramada Bruehl is some 25 minutes out of Cologne so we didn’t feel inclined to try and get into town in the evening.  The hotel room was fine, but there was no air-conditioning in the room.  It was a warm day so when we arrived, the room felt like a sauna.  Tony did the wise thing and asked for a fan to be delivered to our room.

Dinner was a buffet.  Breakfast was good and more in line with what we expect traditional German breakfasts to be, i.e. good choice of breads and yoghurt and fruit.

DAY 3: Cologne – Hamelin – Hamburg (Fri.) This morning, journey into the Lower Saxony region to visit Hamelin, a town made famous by the Brothers Grimm Pied Piper fairytale. Spend time exploring the beautiful medieval old town, with its Haemelschenburg Castle, the town centre’s colourful historical buildings or the Hochzeitshaus, whose elaborate gables and clockwork figures depict the Pied Piper’s tale. Later, continue to Hamburg and arrive in time for an optional harbour cruise. (B)
Hotel: NH Suite Hotel or Queens (4*)
Hamelin Pied Piper Follow Me on Pinterest

Hamelin, Pied Piper © Travel Signposts

It was a 7:30 a.m. departure this morning as the drive to Hamelin was 3.5 hours.  Not many smiley faces this morning and there were complaints about hot rooms and not sleeping well.Being a long drive, there was plenty of time for our Tour Director (TD) to download on optional tours.  There was a Hamburg harbour cruise this evening to see Hamburg’s famous port area and she needed to know numbers straight away.  Cruising around the industrial port area didn’t attract too much interest initially and TD added a little ‘sweetener’ by saying that after the cruise, she would take us on a walk of the Reeperbahn district to see the nightlife.

10:30 a.m. – We stopped at a petrol station cafe for half an hour morning stop.  It had been raining and accidents have caused traffic jams.

Back on the coach and TD gave a briefing on Hamelin, the legend of the Pied Piper and the German autobahn.  I think many of the  passengers were too sleepy to pay too much attention.

Arrived in Hamelin at 12:00 and our TD escorted us to the Hochzeitshaus for the the glockenspiel.  We had arrived just in time for this.   After this 15 minute show, we had time for a quick lunch and a dash around the main mall. Hamelin is a beautiful town, but unfortunately, it was wet and grey.  Time here was too short as well.

Drive to Hamburg hotel was two hours and the hotel tonight was the Best Western Queens.  This hotel is in the suburb of Winterhude, north from the centre of Hamburg.

We were due to leave for our Hamburg Port cruise at 6 p.m., half an hour after arrival at the hotel.  After 15 minutes’ wait and no sign of our luggage, Tony went and fetched our cases.  TD tells us later that the porter at this place is notoriously slow.  Our friends who chose not to do the cruise stayed in the hotel as, like the first two destinations, there was nothing nearby except for a petrol station and a supermarket.  I believe the railway station is about 10 minutes walk from the hotel but in the wet and dark, finding one’s way into town on public transport probably wasn’t too tempting a proposition, especially after a long day on the road.

Hamburg Reeperbahn Follow Me on Pinterest

Hamburg Reeperbahn © GNTB

The Hamburg port cruise was in a small private boat for the group only.  There was a covered section that was heated, but after a while it got too hot.  The local guide gave commentary about all the ships in the harbour, what was being built, ship tonnages, the freight and Hamburg’s trade with the rest of the world, etc.  She was a fountain of information and even knew all the statistics about the cranes in the port.  The cruise was pleasant but unfortunately with the rain and grey night skies, photography was impossible.After the cruise, we drove through the Reeperbahn district and saw the bright lights of Hamburg’s red light district with its many clubs and discos.  Although the TD said that she would take us on a walk through the Reeperbahn, she changed her mind when the time came.  This was a little disappointing as we were hoping to get some shots of Hamburg nightlife.

When we got back at the Best Western Queens, we went in search of this ‘Italian restaurant’ which was the only other place for dinner if you didn’t want to eat at the hotel.  The Paradise City Club isn’t exactly an Italian restaurant, but they do serve pizzas, pastas and some other foods.  Apart from a couple of elderly ladies there, the place was deserted which got us a little worried as to what the food might be like.  The restaurant was actually closed, but the owner said that he could do us a pizza and salad, which was all we wanted.  That was very kind of him as his mates at the back were waiting for him to join in for drinks. We were quite surprised when the pizza turned out to be quite nice and complimented the owner on this.  He was quite chuffed and stayed around to chat with us.

DAY 4: Hamburg – Lübeck – Berlin (Sat.) Enjoy an orientation drive around cosmopolitan Hamburg, Germany’s greatest maritime and second largest city. Observe the impressive merchants’ houses, glistening canals and lavish promenades before continuing to the ‘Queen of Hansa’: Lübeck. The founding city of the Hanseatic League, Lübeck was a former centre for all the sea-borne trade around the Baltic and North Seas. Still adorned with beautiful medieval and Gothic architecture, the city is considered the cultural capital of northern Germany and its oval Old Quarter is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Later, continue to Berlin for two nights in Germany’s vibrant capital. (B)
Hotel: Abba Berlin (4*)
Niederegger Marzipan Follow Me on Pinterest

Niederegger Marzipan © Travel Signposts

We were meant to depart at 8.00 this morning but there was a slight delay.  The ‘slow porter’ did not show for work this morning so the driver, TD and some of the passengers helped with loading the cases onto the coach.  TD was ropable about it!We had an orientation drive around Hamburg city centre and then were given some time to take snaps.  Being Saturday morning, most of the buildings were not due to open till about 10 a.m. so we didn’t get to see the inside of any of Hamburg’s attractions.

Next stop was Lübeck.  We were dropped off at the Holstentor and it’s about a ten minute walk to the old town.  This beautiful Hanseatic League town deserves more than the two hours we had.  Lübeck is famous for its marzipan and you could spend half an hour in the Niederegger patisserie alone, admiring all the sweets.  Like most marzipan lovers, I stood in the long line to pay for my marzipan treat.  The marzipan was very good and worth the time queuing.

After dashing around town, we also went up the tower of St. Peter’s Church for an aerial view of Lübeck.  This is well worth doing but you do have to watch your time as there is only one lift transporting visitors up and down the tower.  Lübeck was one of the reasons for doing this tour and this beautiful medieval town did not disappoint.

After Lübeck we made tracks for Berlin and the Abba Berlin Hotel was our home for two nights.  The Abba is a smart hotel and the only one so far that was quite central.  There were several restaurants close by, so dining out was not a problem.

******************************************************************************************************************

See here for Part 2 of our Highlights of Germany tour itinerary >

How will you use this information to the fullest?

Comments

  1. avatarToni says

    Thank you for this detailed description of this tour! I am going on this same tour in July. I’m a little apprehensive though about the hotel situation. When did they let you know of the changes, when you got your documents or not until you arrived for the tour? Also, who was your Tour Director, and were you happy with him/her? I’ve been on tours where we’ve had mediocre TD’s and they can really make or break the trip. Did you feel you had enough leisure time and time to get to know the other people on the tour? Thanks in advance for your help!

    • avatar says

      Hi Toni,

      We booked online and, in spite of special pleading, Cosmos told us that they could not give us the documentation till three weeks before the start of the tour. By that time we had already left for another tour that we were doing before the Highlights of Germany tour. So unfortunately for us, we weren’t prepared for the hotel changes.

      As you will probably be getting your documents before you leave, I suggest that you have a good look at the hotels, find out the location of these hotels and how easy it is to get to the centre of town and sightseeing attractions. On our tour, the majority of the hotels were so far out of town that most guests didn’t venture out in the evenings.

      I totally agree with you that Tour Directors can make or break the trip. Our TD was a young lady by the name of Xenia. We’ve been on many other tours and I must say that this Cosmos tour was a difficult tour to manage because of the poor quality of the hotels she had to work with. As I indicated in my posts, on two mornings, there were no porters and she had to deal with getting the bags onto the coach. German efficiency was somewhat lacking in some of the hotels we stayed at and Xenia gets full credit for keeping the show going.

      As regards having enough leisure time and time to get to know your fellow travellers, this tour itinerary covers a big distance and each day you’re doing a lot of travelling. When you arrive at a destination, you’re pretty much on your own to do sightseeing at your own pace. And then at dinner, there’s time to socialize with your fellow travellers. For us, when we go on tours we’re actually working, so our priorities are different. However, we thought that it would have been better to have covered the itinerary in 15 days.

      As you’re booked to go on this tour in July, the best thing you can do is be well prepared and to make sure that you enjoy your holidays. The autobahn travel was boring, but when you get to the destinations you won’t be disappointed.

      Kind regards,
      Helen

  2. avatarToni says

    Thank you, Helen, for your input! I appreciate the wealth of information you have posted on your site. I will let you know when I get my documents and we’ll compare the hotels. I do look forward to this trip and will keep your tips in mind! Thank you again!

    • avatar says

      Hi Toni, I’m glad you found our information useful. Please do let me know, when you get your documents, if there are any changes. Also, I’d love to hear from you after your trip as well.

      Kind regards,
      Helen

  3. avatarToni says

    Hi Helen, I will definitely keep you updated. Also, one more question, I know tipping is a touchy subject, but did you get an idea of what most people tip on these tours? I spoke with well seasoned travelers who said they only give $20 euro per person and that not much more is expected, but Cosmos guidelines are practically double this amount. What are your thoughts on this?

    • avatar says

      Hi Toni, we first became aware of this tipping issue over 10 years ago when we took our first coach tour and it’s interesting that years on, people still find the subject touchy. Generally, people are happy to tip the tour director and driver for a job well done, but it’s obvious that what’s at issue is the recommended rates, otherwise the tipping issue would never arise at all.

      The recommended amounts are provided as guidelines only and based on your satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the tour director and driver you can choose to adjust up or down. Over the years we’ve had a few excellent tour directors and drivers and we had no problem rewarding them appropriately whereas on other tours where the tour directors were quite average, we would scale the amount down.

      If after the tour you feel that 20 Euro is a fair tip, don’t worry about the ‘guidelines’. The Cosmos tour that we went on had 50 passengers and even if each one gave 20 Euros, the tour director would still have received 1,000 Euros in tips for what was essentially a 10 day tour – not an amount to be sneered at.

      Oh, if you want to read about the tipping debate, here’s a link you may be interested in.
      http://forums.insightvacations.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/53110241/m/944105905/p/1

      Insight Vacations is a higher standard tour company than Cosmos, but the tipping issue is the same.

      Cheers,
      Helen

  4. avatarToni says

    Thanks for that link, Helen, LOL…it just goes to show there are dozens of opinions out there when it comes to this issue. I guess I’ll just tip what Cosmos recommends and maybe a little more if the TD is outstanding. One other question, I was re-reading your tour review and now I’m curious about the excursions. What did you think of the ones you went on, was it worth the cost? Also, I read on another site where the Hofbrauhas dinner was moved to another location and people were upset about it. I wondered if this happened to you also. If this is a standard practice I’m thinking about passing up this excursion. Thanks again for the great review!

    • avatar says

      Yes, some people have very strong opinions about tips and one river cruise operator told us recently that on one of their cruises, the discussion got quite heated.
      In regard to excursions, there weren’t many on this tour.
      The Hamburg Port cruise didn’t sound appealing to many, i.e. why would you want to go on a sightseeing cruise of the container port. However, having done it, we’re pleased that we didn’t give this a miss. Apart from the container port, you are also shown the buildings along the harbourfront. Harbour cruises are always more enjoyable when the weather is nice. When we were there in mid-September, it was wet, cold and quite dark so we missed out on the photography aspect. Luckily for you, It should be much lighter when you travel.
      In regard to Hofbrauhaus, I thought it was bad that the guide didn’t make it clear that the dinner was at the Hofbrauhaus city restaurant and not the Hofbrauhaus tent at Oktoberfest. We and a few others thought that we were going to the Hofbrauhaus tent at Oktoberfest. I’ve included a couple of links for you to look at.
      http://www.travelsignposts.com/Germany/sightseeing/hofbrauhaus-munich-beer-hall
      http://www.travelsignposts.com/destination/Germany/Munich/Hofbrauhaus?page=1

      Cheers,

  5. avatarToni says

    Thanks again for the advice, Helen! I’m still looking at the excursions trying to decide but I’m thinking I may skip the Hofbrauhaus. Did you do the optional at the Ziko’s restaurant? I’m not reading too many things favorable about this so this may be another that I skip. I think based on your recommendation will do the Hamburg Port Cruise, and strongly considering the trips to Potsdam and Dachau. I’m so glad I found your site, lots of great information about many different destinations!!

    • avatar says

      We didn’t do the Ziko’s restaurant and I don’t remember anyone talking about it. Perhaps it was cancelled due to lack of numbers. We didn’t do Potsdam and Dachau either as we’d previously been to Potsdam and Auschwitz and Berkenau.
      You may want to keep an open mind on the optionals until you find out where your hotels are. Hopefully, you are luckier than us and don’t end up in way out locations. If you’re stuck miles out of town, the optionals may be your only means of seeing that little extra of Germany.
      Glad to hear that you like our site … the more readers the better!

  6. avatarToni says

    Hi Helen,
    Just wanted to report back that I received the documents and it looks like we’ll be staying at all the hotels that Cosmos has advertised for this tour. We’re starting out at the Tryp in Frankfurt, and it looks like we’re also staying at the hotel you wanted to stay in at the Black Forest. I questioned them about my “friend’s” hotel changes last year when I made my final deposit and they said it might have been due to the Passion Play. Did they ever tell you why? 5 days to go!! Thanks for all your advice!!

    • avatar says

      Hi Toni,
      Thanks for getting back to me. I must say that the ‘Passion Play’ excuse is hardly credible. Passion Play is once every ten years so they did know that it was going to be busy last year. Also, Passion Play is in Oberammergau and it shouldn’t have affected hotel stays in Frankfurt, Black Forest and other places where we had hotel changes. There’s nothing wrong with hotel changes, but they should have organized substitutes of equivalent standard as that advertised.
      Hope you have a fabulous trip and drop me a line when you get back.
      Best regards,
      Helen

  7. avatarToni says

    I will be sure to report back, Helen. Right now I’m struggling with packing…in looking at weather forecasts for Germany it’s only looking to be in the mid 60′s and rainy for the next several days. Was hoping for a little better weather, and this sounds unusual to me for July weather. Oh well, I’ll manage :-)

  8. avatarGilles Demers says

    I made this tour in may 2012 and everything was perfect. It due to the work of Raph(driver) and Bundi(tour director. The weahter was nice all the time. I like the Cosmos way to organize the tours since i like to go on my own. I agree that there a lot of driving since the country is big. I think if you select that compagny you must do your homework before. You have to study a little bit about Germany.

    I dont advise pople to think that to rent a car is a better way to do this tour. The country is so big and most of the time you visit city.

  9. avatarMike says

    Helen,
    After a Google search all the internet has to offer about Cosmos “Highlights of Germany”, I found that your information is the best!
    My spouse and I booked the September 27, 2012 tour in November, 2011.
    Getting started with an Air Inclusive issue…
    On July 29 we received an email from Cosmos. On our long overseas Delta flight from Detroit to Frankfurt, we were assigned the worst seats on the plane; row 27, right in front of the rest rooms, with “limited” reclining seats. We had the same seats on the return flight. An attached note from Cosmos stated, “…best available (seats) at the time of your reservation”.
    I called Delta. Their representative said Cosmos did an “auto-pick” on May 14th , and we received the first row of economy (cheap) seats. If Cosmos would have given us a Delta confirmation number at that time, we could have changed our seats assignment.
    I called Cosmos on July 30 to have them change our seats. The best seats remaining (together) were in row 35, in the back of the plane, so we took them.

    • avatar says

      Mike,
      I’m glad that you found our information useful. The problem with buying air-inclusive packages is that the flight booking is held by Cosmos and you don’t get your confirmation and seat allocation until much later which is your experience.
      I hope that your tour works out fine. I would love to hear your experience when you’ve done your tour.

      Kind regards,
      Helen

      • avatarMike says

        36 days until Cosmos “Highlights of Germany”… received notice from Cosmos today that our return flight from Frankfurt to Detroit was changed.
        We will now be going from Frankfurt to Paris(CDG) then Detroit. This will take 4 hours + longer.
        The flight from Frankfurt to CDG is on an Air France A318 airbus. Cosmos had us listed in row 38, however I informed them there are only 24 rows on an A318.
        The Cosmos travel agent asked ME to call Delta for details. Delta rep. said “since it is an Air France connection, THEY cannot assign seats.
        They asked ME to call Air France for seats. :-)

        • avatar says

          Hi Mike,
          Thanks for sharing your ongoing pre-trip saga. Apologies for not responding earlier as we are currently on the road in Italy and unfortunately, the WiFi service at a couple of the hotels so far has been either ultra expensive or non-existent, inspite of being advertised as free.
          Tony says that 38 is a lucky number – all you have to do is make sure that you hang on tight to the tail of the plane.
          I hope you haven’t had any further surprises from COSMOS, but it seems that their service so far has been poor and unacceptable.
          Not too long before you take off and we wish you all the best for your German holidays. We look forward to hearing your experience when you return.

          Kind regards,
          Helen

        • avatarPaul says

          Mike,

          How did you trip go with Cosmos? I know you had a lot of trouble with your flights, but how was the land tour? Was there a optional excursion to Dachau? We are considering this tour next July with Cosmos.

          Thanks!
          Paul

          • avatarMike says

            Paul,
            WE had a better time with Cosmos “Highlights of Germany” tour than I though we would.
            In fact, with a great tour director (Budi), great weather and a wonderful group, it was better than I expected. Both, my wife, and I kept journals. However, she has used her information to write about it on her WINDOWEB “virtual tourist’ web site, while mine is still unopened since returning home. I’m just lazy about reporting GOOD things; nothing to complain about.
            Dachau: WE had decided long ago NOT to go on this optional tour because it is so sad.
            Instead, we spent the day at Octoberfest, which we very much enjoyed. The next day, some of the people in our group said we were wrong for not going to Dachau. “You should have gone; it is even sadder in person.”

        • avatarPaul says

          Thanks Mike for your comments, we took a trip to Greece and Greek Islands on Cosmos last year and had a great time. We are a little more price conscious then most people since we take our kids with us. We stayed in nice clean places a little out of town but nothing a good walk could cure. Looks like the Cosmos tour is the way to go.

          Paul

  10. avatarMike says

    Helen,
    Thanks again for all the information. We made a copy of your blog and looked at it daily while touring.
    If anyone has more questions, let me know.
    Mike

    • avatar says

      Hi Mike,
      Sincere apologies for not acknowledging your report earlier. After our grand tour around Italy, we came home and embarked on some renovation works which have kept us pretty busy.
      I’m really pleased that your trip went well and that you and there were no unpleasant surprises or hotel changes. Having a good tour director makes a lot of difference and I’ve heard someone else pouring praise on Budi and Ranier. So, you’ve scored well.
      As regards your comment on “German double” bed, we’ve experienced “Italian double”, “British double”, etc. It seems that hotels have a larger number twin-bed rooms than double. At least a good hotel will send up a maid to remake the beds with a single large sheet that holds the two beds together so that you’re not slipping in the gap at night.
      Thanks for your offer to take more questions and I see that you’ve already helped Paul with his query.
      Time to plan the next trip?

      Kind regards,
      Helen

  11. avatarMike says

    <<>>

    “The Interstate Highway System across the United States has made it possible
    to drive form Coast to Coast and see nothing!”
    Charles Kuralt

    <<>>

    Did Toni ever report back?
    Mike

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