Would not have taken bilingual tour

My wife, Anne, and I took a tour of Sicily, Dec. 2-10, ’05, booked through Pilgrim Tours. The price was $794 per person, excluding airfare.

We greatly enjoyed the many wonderful Greek, Roman and Byzantine ruins dating back several centuries, plus their histories. It was truly fascinating learning of the many tribes from many countries who had invaded and controlled the country throughout its long existence.

Our trip included visits to Pa-ler-mo, Segesta, Érice, Agrigento, Armerina, Siracusa, Catania, Taormina, Messina, Reggio di Calabria, Cefalù and Monreale, all in seven days. So you can see that this was a very full trip, taking in all the important sites.

The scenery was at times magnificent, both the mountains and the coastline. Inasmuch as this was off-season, we were able to have most of the sites to ourselves, so there was no waiting or crowds anywhere we went.

Apparently, the trip was put together by a Sicilian agency called CST, which I feel may have had a relationship with the Jolly Hotels chain, as we stayed in each place in a Jolly hotel (very similar to a grade-B Holiday Inn, except in Catania where it was a step higher). Also, our meals, which were included in the tour, all were at the Jolly hotels except for a few lunches. The hotel food was, at best, mediocre; it seemed they served a lot of swordfish, which varied in quality, and pasta, which naturally was good as to be expected.

Now the downside — the tour consisted of 30 Spanish-speaking people and eight English-speaking. This meant that the tour guides directed most of their explanations in Spanish and then gave it in English at all of the sites and while traveling on the long bus rides. This became very annoying very quickly, as explanations and question answering were much longer in Spanish and quite brief in English.

Also, the Spaniards became restless and noisy during the English delivery. I will say that the tour leader tried hard to accommodate us, but the Spaniards were not always patient. Of course, not all of the Spaniards were that way, but the few who were made it irksome.

I found out about this tour by going on the Internet and typing “Sicily.” Pilgrim Tours’ website was among several that appeared. When I booked the tour on their website, there was no mention that it would be bilingual or we would have waited for an all-English-speaking tour. On the tour, the guide told us that most of their tours were that way and that Pilgrim Tours should have warned us.

However, we did get much interesting information from the guide. The only problem is that, with the need for him to constantly interpret the commentary, we would lose the continuity of what was being said. So, while it was a great trip, I would suggest that travelers ascertain beforehand if their trip is bilingual so they can make the choice if that would be to their liking.

Lastly, if a tour includes all meals, pass up some and find local eateries. We came across some excellent food away from the group choices.

Newport Beach, CA

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Pilgrim Tours and received the following reply.

We have addressed Mr. Ring’s disappointment with his Sicily tour. I will address you with the same response.

Our “Sicily Winter” tour, which is operated by CST (located in Palermo in Sicily), is advertised on our website. We clearly state that the tour is bilingual. Mr. Ring was unfortunately put on the tour with a majority of Spanish-speaking participants. This group acted poorly when the tour was spoken in English. We have no control over the actions of others on the tour. I did complain to CST about this matter but was told basically the same from them, that they cannot control the actions of others on the tour.

I must say that I have never had this problem occur, so I would say that it was an isolated incident. For the most part, our clients are satisfied with this tour, as it certainly is a great winter getaway at a value price.

As I read through Mr. Ring’s letter, he mentions that there was a “relationship” between CST and the Jolly hotel chain. This tour is a value tour priced at $788 per person, double, land only, and the hotels we use are clearly stated on our website.

I feel bad that other tour participants disrupted Mr. Ring’s enjoyment of the narration of the tour; however, again, we cannot be responsible for the actions of others on the tour.

I would certainly recommend this tour to anybody looking for a great tour of Sicily at a bargain price.

CATHY HUNDER, Leisure Sales Specialist, Pilgrim Tours, Box 268, Morgantown, PA 19543

In a follow-up letter, Mr. Ring sent copies of pages he printed out from Pilgrim Tours’ website when he booked the tour. He noted about one page, “On the bottom it says, ‘Spoken languages: English, Italian and Spanish.’ I took their statement to mean that they give tours in each of these languages separately, not in one composite group, i.e., they have an Italian tour, a Spanish tour or an English tour.”

A recent visit to the website shows that the same webpage now states, “Bilingual Tour: Languages spoken - English, Italian and Spanish.”