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Vibrant Ireland

Paddywagon Tour: Pros & Cons; My Review

PaddyWagon tour guide Mike

Mike was a fantastic guide. He showed us how under the stone slabs at the beehive huts there are tunnels the monks used to flee from raiders. He also pointed out the glider trailers & told us about the gliding that goes on in Kerry- I would never had had a clue! At the Beehive huts, Mike told us about Tom Cruise & the huts property owner Mary. We got to chat with her & see her photos. Priceless.

Have you ever considered a Paddywagon tour?

They are reaching out for more than just the stereotypical boozy backpackers now. CEO Cathal O’Connell told the Irish Independent:

 “While our target market was originally 18 to 35-year-olds, our focus has broadened in recent years to include, not just the young but the young at heart.” (Read the full interview here.)

I reckon it was with this broadened demographic in mind that  Paddywagon and their new endeavour Daytoursworld reached out to us travel bloggers attending the Dublin TBEX travel blogger conference in October. Would we be interested in experiencing a 3 day Paddywagon tour out to the West of Ireland? Yes, several of us would– the majority of us over 30.  Paddywagon arranged everything, and said that they looked forward to our honest reviews— which is good, because that is what I write!

Now, you may be thinking ”But I don’t really see bad things written about or reviewed on Vibrant Ireland.”

That’s true- not because I don’t give my honest opinion, but because if something I’ve tried is crap or has nothing to really recommend it, I don’t write about it. This is Vibrant Ireland, not Vicious Ireland. 

For Paddywagon I’m going to give you my pros & cons of a Paddywagon tour as I experienced it, and I’m also going to give you links to the other travel bloggers’ posts & reviews. They are a brilliant additional resource, because we all remember different things, and we all took different approaches to writing about the tour. I think the combination will give you a helpful, broad feeling for the trip.

 

The Pros of a Paddywagon Tour

  • The Driver/Guide. Ours was Mike Coggins. Mike lives in Kerry, so generally does the trips in that area. If all the drivers are like him, this is by far your biggest plus in doing a Paddywagon tour. Mike was very friendly, and a great driver, storyteller, informational tidbit-imparter, photo-opp spotter, singer, and general hospitality master. YES. People like Mike are what make whirlwind tours come alive. Otherwise, you see beautiful/historic/interesting sights, but don’t really get a feel for a place. Some guides give you information, but Mike gave us a window into Ireland and hospitality. Maith thú!
  • You don’t have to drive on the wee, wind-y backroads. If you are a nervous driver, the little Irish back roads can be stressful.
    paddywagon tour: clare
    We had a brilliant time in Clare on the Paddywagon tour

    Our small bus was able to go on them, so we got to see some gems like Minard castle by the sea without anyone white-knuckling the steering wheel 🙂

  • For a single person staying in the hostels, cost is a pro: about €188 for the 3 day/2 night tour. I doubt you’d rent a car, pay for petrol & stay overnights for this.
  • Most everything is planned for you, no hassle. (This is only a pro if you hate planning & enjoy set itineraries, though.)
  • Similar to the first pro; you’ll find out things you probably wouldn’t have if you were just driving yourself, or on public transport.
  • You’ll meet other travelers, and very likely make at least one friend.
  • You can take a fun hour of Irish dancing lessons at the Annascaul Paddywagon pub for only €4. 😀

The Cons Of a Paddywagon Tour

  • The cost for a single traveller who doesn’t want to stay in the hostels. Approx €375, as there is a single room supplement of €58. It is expensive for such bland accommodation. We stayed B & B one night, and though it had a cute thatched roof and a curragh outside, disappointingly inside it was a soulless, plain, new-build type house. There was no character or warmth in the place. The B & B was immaculately clean, though; top marks on that!  But it wasn’t a happily memorable Irish hospitality experience. Breakfast was awkward, & the chairs nearly too wide to all fit under the table at the same time. This awkwardness made it fiddly to leave the table to get our milk and sugar as well as our coffee & tea; all located on a serving table. (Coffee and tea were both in teapots, which caused a few mix-ups.) The breakfast food was OK, but could be made better by even small things, like providing some Ballymaloe tomato relish, & adding that personal/Irish touch by saying a sentence or two about this Irish product, & how you may enjoy it on your ‘rasher’ (Irish bacon.) Another chance to add to the Irish-experience of visitors. Little touches can mean a lot, and the added value they give can actually cost the provider very little. The people working at the B & B were certainly nice, and I’m not criticizing the job they were doing; I just think the B & B needs to be  ‘warmed up’ & some important tweaks made. I am hopeful Paddywagon may consider these points, as they do want our honest feedback. And I will happily update this post to reflect any changes implemented.
    PaddyWagon b&b
    The Paddywagon B & B room I had. I snagged the double-bed room, VERY clean, but no bedside table or chair, so had to have my instant coffee balanced on the bed. Also no side lamp for reading or just avoiding the bright overhead light. Not worth the extra €100ish a night I would have had to pay for it (vs staying the hostel) as a single traveller!

     

  • Food could be an issue for you. The night we stayed in the B & B we were brought to the Paddywagon pub next door for dinner. It was rather expensive for ‘ boozy backpacker’ quality food. My veggie burger was €9.50 and I think that was one of the cheapest options. Living in Ireland, I know food here can be very tasty, and it doesn’t need to be fancy to be good. But if this standard is what people on the tours get, then no wonder many visitors think Irish food is pretty bad. I’m really sorry to have to write that sentence. But more and more people, especially the over 30s, want to to fully enjoy tasty food, especially if it has a bit of a ‘story.’ We have such foods here in Ireland! Please, please let visitors experience this–  at least give some in-house options other than those which taste like they are from frozen catering packs of school food.

 

  • The hostel we stayed in was definitely an old-school ‘backpacker’ hostel. Our dorm room had 10 beds- not a huge amount, but not small, either. It did have 2 bathrooms, but in one the door wouldn’t lock. When I took a shower there was only mildly lukewarm water even though no one else had showered recently. The building had a shabby feel to it, which a bit of DIY and colourful murals or such could help to rectify. Again, I’m hopeful this could be addressed, and when it is I’ll update this post. Paddywagon is operating successfully for years, I know, but if they do want to really expand their market, addressing these issues would help. I travel solo often, & stay at hostels both fancy and plain, but they must have hot water and feel well maintained.

Ok, those are my pros & cons. But look, the cons are things pretty easily addressed. And if you are a partying backpacker just looking for an inexpensive tour around parts of Ireland you may not care about those cons!

 

 But the thing is, I think that the people I met who work at PaddyWagon do care.

I think Mike cares hugely about giving all types of tour participants a hospitable, entertaining, enjoyable and warm Irish experience, one that they’ll talk about and remember for a lifetime.

And I think Zach, who arranged for us to take the tour & went along with us, full of enthusiasm & cheerful banter, wants that, too.

Although I didn’t spend time with the people who worked at the places we stayed & ate at, they were friendly and I’m sure they want to provide a brilliant experience for all types of tour-goers as well.

A few small adjustments could make middle aged ladies like myself very happy. There a lot of us out there, and we love to travel 🙂

I’ve done a stand-back-and-evaluate post on our PaddyWagon tour, but others have done posts that will give the feel for the wonderful time we had being guided around by Mike, and the beautiful places we saw.

And donkeys! BABY donkeys! AND we got to PET them! SQUEE!!!  (See a clip of them at the very end of this post)

So click the links below & enjoy!

Tanya from PA Girl Goes Abroad has fond memories of Mike’s stories

Alex & Bell from Wanderlust Marriage got lots of fab and sunny photos.

Anja from Travel on Toast had a brilliant time learning Irish dancing at the Paddywagon pub (in German, so use Google translate)

Nienke from The Travel Tester loved the donkeys & has great photos

Also, I did a photo post from the tour

More to come as the other bloggers write their posts.

Huge thanks to Mike, Zack, and all encountered on the tour, and to Paddywagon Tours as a company for having me & the other bloggers on a complimentary tour. I greatly hope you all will take my post in the spirit in which it was written- in honestly and in respect for an Irish business that is employing many well meaning people & giving so many visitors fun experiences; a business which I hope continues to grow and improve for many years to come. 

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Comments

I agree – the quality of the driver/ tour guide is a hugely influencing factor in the success of tours. Sounds like they just need to change the B&B they have an arrangement with – I’m sure there must be others that give visitors a more traditional Irish experience. Personally, I really don’t like staying in places which feel cold and soulless (not saying this was but it would put me off). If someone is paying €100 or whatever it was extra for the single supplement – the room should be luxurious in comparison and yes, hot water is essential.

In terms of food, yes, good food is important but also is the price for many people.

Convenience and the craic, as well as knowing that you’ll see all the gems have to the advantages to taking a guided tour. Sounds like they just have to sort out the accommodation.

I was on a trip to Wales recently and the hotel was superb – wonderful atmosphere and beautiful rooms, it was the icing on the cake for my trip (and apparently wasn’t any more expensive than its competitors). I have waxed lyrical about that hotel and would urge anyone going to Swansea to stay in Morgans hotel. Beautiful.

That’s what they need – people waxing lyrical about the accommodation as well as all the other gems.
I can sense this was a tough post to write and well done.

Thanks Lorna! I very much appreciate your commenting. Paddywagon have emailed me to say thank you for the honest post, & that honest appraisal was indeed what they were hoping for, as that will enable them to make changes as needed. I’m so pleased about this- a mark of a business serious about what they do. Nice people, too! 🙂

Great review and sounds like a few adjustments could make it a fantastic experience. I hope they take all your points on board and invite you back to write another review once those adjustments have been made. It sounds like the tours were excellent and a driver/guide who knows an area and its history is worth his or her weight in gold. Sounds like the Paddywagon Tours have that one nailed.

Thanks, Dee, you have hit the nail on the head!

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