Travel Advisor Erin Lowry experienced the rich culture, historic castles and lush green countryside of Ireland through her recent Adventures by Disney tour. After hearing positive things about the company from other travelers and knowing Disney as a trusted, family-friendly brand, Erin, along with her brother and his family, booked a 7-night tour of Dublin, Kilkenny, and Dromoland Castle.
Disney did a fantastic job overall! Two months prior to the trip, Disney began building the excitement by sending a welcome package, which included a cosmetic bag, a luggage tag, and a booklet with details about the itinerary and hotels. From the moment we arrived at our hotel in Dublin, we were very pleased with our fun, efficient, and organized guides Stephen and Landon. Their interactions with us and the kids were downright fun and made the experience personalized and memorable. They presented activities targeted toward children, such as a shamrock hunting game at the Rock of Cashel, but the tour as a whole didn’t scream Disney.
The itinerary excluded some mainstream tourist locations and when we did stop at popular attractions, visits were planned for first thing in the morning so we didn’t have to fight the crowds. When we would stop at a pub for lunch, our guides would gather our orders in advance to reduce our wait time and stay on schedule. Nearly all meals and nonalcoholic drinks were included in the package price, as well as a “snack of the day” that was usually a traditional Irish food.
We always had tickets in hand and never had to wait for Landon or Stephen to get our passes. They also equipped us with “whisperers,” which were battery operated listeners. Rather than having any local guide try to speak loudly to the whole group, we simply hung these small devices around our necks and when we inserted the earpiece, we were able to listen clearly. The range was good—about 500 feet—so we wouldn’t miss any information if we wanted to hang back a little to have a closer look or get a good photo.
Our tour group was small, about 36 people in all: six children, eight teenagers, and the rest were adults. Although Adventures by Disney promotes family vacations, the trip was also a good fit for the adults traveling without children. Safety is always a priority, and I appreciated that Disney chose to be discreet by not posting their name on the bus. This tour did involve a good amount of walking, so comfortable shoes are a must.
During our bus rides, the guides would share information about Ireland’s history and the towns we travelled through. One interesting fact was that before Ireland’s independence, people would actually remove the roofs on their homes (and castles) to avoid having to pay property taxes! We also learned about the Great Famine and its devastating effects.
Our vacation began in lively Dublin, continued through charming Kilkenny, and ended near remote Dromoland. We received a commemorative Disney pin that related to the each location we visited. The week started with a must-see on any tour of Ireland: the Guinness Storehouse, where we toured the facility and learned the origins of Guinness beer. The actual brewery closed in 1988, but the tour includes a variety of interactive exhibitions and a chance to master the perfect pour (which, according to tour guides, takes 119 seconds). The Gravity Bar on the top floor holds spectacular 360 degree views of the city.
In Kilkenny, we were taught the very popular Irish sport of hurling, which is a cross between lacrosse and rugby. We learned how to use the hurley (the bat) to hit the sliotar (the ball). Kilkenny residents are extremely passionate about the sport, even though it is not considered a professional one.
For me, the highlight of the trip was the Rock of Cashel. We came around a turn in the road and saw this massive and impressive church set high up on a rock. It was a VERY steep climb, but well worth it! The Rock, where St. Patrick supposedly visited in the 5th century, served as a monastery. The original cross started to crumble due to the elements and a replica now stands in its place. Part of the original cross is housed in the monastery.
Lorge Chocolatier was a crowd-pleasing stop and it is exclusive to Disney, which made our visit even more special. Benoit Lorge came to Ireland from France as an intern 13 years ago and now has two chocolate shops of his own. Our group was divided into three teams and we competed in challenges, including a chocolate dipping contest, a blind tasting (to guess the mystery ingredient of chocolate samples such as lavender or coriander), and a quiz on all things chocolate.
Staying at Dromoland Castle was a unique experience, and we leisurely explored the beautiful grounds and interesting features of the regal hotel and surrounding property. Here we had adults-only time at the Fig Tree Restaurant while the kids were treated to a Junior Adventurer dinner and a movie. Our castle guide explained to us that the Romans referred to the land of Ireland as Hibernia (derived from the word hibernation) because of its cold and damp weather.
My favorite activity was the Falcon Experience with Brian the Hawk at Dromoland Castle. We had a 45-minute private lesson with our guide, who walked us out into the woods where we stood amazed as Brian soared and swooped. Some of the sayings we use today actually originated from falconry, such as “fed up” and “wrapped around your little finger.”
Our week was filled with other cultural, athletic, culinary, and historical tours and activities, including clay pigeon shooting, golf, archery, scone making, and visits to EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum, and Aillwee Cave. The caves are considered “living” caves and there was a pretty neat waterfall in one section. The cave tour was about 20 minutes; however, if you are claustrophobic, you may want to wait outside where there are seats and a snack bar.
On our last evening in Ireland, we were entertained by local musicians and authentic Irish dancers who grabbed some of us from the audience to join them. Our guides presented
a wonderful slide show of the photos they had taken along our adventure which was also emailed to us with an access code so we could relive the fun back home.
A little Irish Philosophy
There are only two things to worry about;
Either you are well or you are sick
If you are well,
Then there is nothing to worry about.
If you are sick
there are two things to worry about;
Either you will get well or you will die.
If you get well
Then there is nothing to worry about.
If you die
Then there are two things to worry about;
Either you will go to Heaven or Hell.
If you go to Heaven,
Then there is nothing to worry about
If you go to Hell,
You’ll be so damn busy shaking hands with your friends,
you won’t have time to worry!