This tour had some high highs and a few lows. The itinerary was great, and so were some of the guides and hotels. I've mentioned the parts that were disappointing under the relevant section. The reason we marked "no" on going on another tour with Samurai is that we realized that we prefer travelling independently, and we can in Japan. We would recommend Samurai with some reservation, because even though we opted for a "quasi-indie" tour at a budget price, we thought it could (and should) have been more consistent.
A wonderful itinerary for seeing a more traditional side of the country. It was a bit ambitious, and sometimes felt too rushed as a result (especially with regard to transportation), but enjoyed every place we visited.
We understood that we were signing up for a "budget" tour, and one that would require more effort on our part, but we were disappointed that -- even with all the advance planning -- the quality of the hotels was all over the map. But even more disappointing was the fact that we had to stay in THREE different hotels in Takayama, and that we had to stay in a different hotel our first night in Tokyo. On the plus side, all the hotel staff were professional and tried to be helpful. All were well located. The negative is that outside of Tokyo and Kyoto, the majority of staff did not understand and speak enough English if there were problems (i.e., operating the air conditioner).
Again, the meals we had were all over the map, especially the hotel breakfasts. The best were the Tokyo and Kyoto hotels, and the worst was the hotel in Matsumoto, which had a very limited selection of Japanese food. Generally, luncheons with the guides ranged from good to very good. The Shabu-Shabu dinner was fun -- although my husband is not fond of any meal where he has to cook it himself (e.g., fondue)!
Some guides were terrific, others less so. The best were Mariko, the guide for the Matsumoto area and Kaz in Kyoto. They were knowledgeable about their areas, well-organized, thoughtful and knew how to keep the group focused. Hiro in Tokyo was knowledgeable and nice, but needed to be more "forceful" in keeping the group on track and together. The guides for Takayama and Kanazawa were less successful (seemed less experienced although still knowledgeable about their respective areas). I would like to single out the guide you found for us for our visit to Hiroshima -- Kotoe Morimoto. She was beyond terrific -- not only did she have a good understanding of English, but her manner and professionalism were exceptional. We needed a translator for communicating with our family and, if necessary, for uncovering family records. Not only was she focused on the job at hand, but she knew how to fit in different social situations and make people feel comfortable enough to speak openly. We cannot praise her enough.
Would you go on another tour operating by Samurai Tours: No.
Would you recommend Samurai Tours to friends or family: No.
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