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We used Shearings for the first time in December 2002 to go to the snow for Christmas. Two years earlier we had been on a similar holiday with another company.
We chose the Shearings holiday from their brochure on the grounds of length of holiday available, destination and description of accommodation and excursions etc. Since we have two children, then 7 and 9 yrs of age, we were also looking for something that would suit them.
We chose an 8 day holiday over Christmas at the Hotel Krone in Oberperfuss, Austria - just a few minutes outside Innsbruck. The feeder coach picked us up promptly at our local pick-up point - the coach was clean and tidy. Yes, the driver was a bit of a slob but nowhere near what was described in another opinion on this esteemed web site! The feeder took us to the Exall interchange at Coventry. This part of the journey was a bit frustrating, not because there was anything wrong with it but because when you are going away, you want to get on with it, not take a scenic tour of the midlands bus stops.
The Exall interchange has moderate facilities but seating was scarce and the sheer number of people there meant it resembled a Nazi transit camp. Nonetheless it was possible to buy acceptable food and drink and newspapers and to relieve oneself.
Baggage handling was all taken care of so we did not have to lug cases from the feeder coach to the holiday coach. Again the hour wait was a little frustrating, especially for the kids. Once on the holiday coach, the 2 drivers introduced themselves - they were friendly and helpful, clean and tidy and rapidly became part of the overall group - just what you need. Nothing is more guaranteed to ruin this type of holiday than surly, unhelpful or uncooperative drivers.
The coach was comfortable as was the ride. Leg room was not great - fortunately none of us are tall but anyone more than my 5'8" might have been less comfortable. Drinks were supplied at a cost. The toilet was clean and useable. Although there was a TV screen, apparently the video machine had been stolen from the vehicle. It has to be said that I've heard this excuse on many coaches more than once. For some reason, I think the drivers just don't like putting them on - and indeed many passengers probably prefer them off too.
We had ample stops on the journeys out and back and they always seemd to be an appropriate length, without being too long. The previous company we travelled with (Newmarket) always seemed to hurry us so the kids were struggling to eat their food in time for departure.
Equally, the journey was made more interesting by the drivers' decision not to stick to tedious and interminable motorways - the journey through France to the Swiss border at Basle was by way of A roads over the Vosage mountains. This was something over which the drivers clearly had discretion since another Shearings vehicle which was travelling with us to the same destination had a driver who insisted on sticking to motorways. Passengers on that bus seemed less happy with "their man" so I guess we were lucky.
The hotel was very pleasant and the food was very good, though there was an over-reliance on pork for some people's liking. The Village location was also very nice and just a few minutes walk from a chair lift and toboggan hire - E10 in total for 4 tobaggans for the day which we thought was good value.
We did not go on all the excursions - we've been to Austria a number of times and know it quite well so we did our own thing some of the time. Those we did go on were good in terms of departure times, time at destination and choice of dropping off / picking up points.
Christmas Eve included an Austrian Christmas meal in the evening. Christmas Day included a tradition British Christmas Dinner, very nicely prepared.
To summarise, many people are put off this type of holiday by the fact that it is a two day journey on a coach in each direction (overnight stops in perfectly acceptable, but basic, French Novotel type accomodation). For us, this is actually one of the attractions because we lead such busy lives. The enforced relaxation aboard the coach is a blessing and the kids occupy themselves with books, tapes and games.
It is useful having the coach in the resort for excursions etc and we found the drivers sough consensus from the passengers on departure times and the like.
All in all, we had an excellent time and considered it to be good value for money, especially over Christmas. We are going again this year, with the variation that we go out by coach and return by air. 2 Adults, 2 children, 8 days in a nice hotel in the snow over Christmas. No cooking, no washing up, no television - and no need to pay the obigatory visit to the in-laws and the outlaws. £2000 - it's got to be worth it!
Our second trip with Shearings was, if anything, even better than our first. For a start off, there was much more snow than in previous years and the toboggan run was operating from top to bottom - a total of 11 kilometers - now that's what I call sledging!
Because of the slightly different itinery (coach out, air back) the pick up point was further away from our home than the previous year and we had to get ourselves to Digbeth bus station in Birmingham for 7 a.m. (about 35 miles from home.)
What a dump Digbeth is. Not Shearings' fault but considering how much Birmingham is improving in other areas, I really hope the City Council get around to smartening this area up soon.
The coach this time took us to Dover, via pick-up points in Coventry city centre and Luton. This journey was mildly amusing in that the Coach driver had never been to either place before and relyed on passengers to "spot" turnings, signs and ultimately, the pick-up points. In Luton we turned the bus around twice to go back to missed turns! Ultimately we came to a large Shearings interchange within the port of Dover. Here, with Shearings usual efficiency we were informed of where to go and when and our luggage was dealt with without us having to concern ourselves at all.
In due course two ferries set out almost side by side laden with numerous Shearings' coaches and little else.
The journey to Austria was by exactly the same route as the previous year save that we did not get the excursion through the Vosages.
The hotel was also the same as last year and every bit as good (except that, for some reason, it doesn't provide soap in the rooms so my first task was a short walk to the supermarket to get some. I wish I'd remembered this from the previous year since it was -24 degrees C. It felt OK when I set out but by the time I got to the supermarket the sn_t had frozen in my nose!!! - and I still had to walk back! Still, we went to get some real winter weather so I guess I should be pleased.)
Because this time we were returning by air, we had a day longer in Austria than the previous year. Did lots of sledging and had a fabulous horse drawn sleigh ride through the snow covered forest on the outskirts of Seefeld - real fairy tale stuff.
Eventually, of course, the holiday came to an end and we boarded our coach for the last time for the short trip to Salzburg Airport for the flight home. The coach met a party arriving on the 'plane from England who were staying for New Year before returning to England by coach.
The flight home was typically uneventful and landed at Stanstead where another Shearings coach transported us to Digbeth. This was the only real downer - simply because whilst we were waiting for our 'plane at Salzburg, there was a Flybe plane on the tarmac waiting to go straight to Birmingham International!
Anyway, another superb holiday from Shearings and yes we would definitely use them again and recommend them to others.
This year (Christmas 2004), that said, we are doing our own thing. We are driving ourselves to Innsbruck - in convoy with two sets of friends who have decided they've heard enough of us going on about how great it is to spend Christmas in the snowy mountains of Austria and have decided to see for themselves!
And this time we are staying for Christmas AND New year!