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Europe tours: Ireland vacation guide

October 17, 2013 - 9:16am
Seniors can explore the lush rolling hills, majestic castles and rich culture of Ireland on their Europe tours.

Vacationers on Europe tours won't want to miss a chance to visit the Emerald Isle. The island is brimming with enchanting natural features, breathtaking vistas, rich history and more pubs than the liver can withstand. It can be a truly life-altering experience, but a successful Ireland excursion takes a little bit of planning to fully enjoy the unique setting and culture. Prepare for your vacation by taking note of these key features:

Climate and Packing
A tour of Ireland will take you across the island, from Belfast in the north through Dublin in the east down to the southern city of Cork. While the weather doesn't change drastically between cities, it's unpredictable all over the country. Travelers might wake up to a cool, rainy morning but be greeted by warm and sunny conditions in the afternoon. In fact, that's why natives are constantly talking about the latest forecast, so guests who are looking for a topic of conversation with a local can always turn to the weather.

That doesn't mean that the conditions are unpleasant. Since the climate relies heavily on the Atlantic Ocean, it's typically more temperate and mild than in other European countries: The North Atlantic Drift keeps the sea at an average of 50 degrees Fahrenheit as the surrounding mountains protect the island from severe winds. On land, the temperatures average about 45 degrees Fahrenheit in winter and tend to top off at 68 degrees Fahrenheit in summer.

When packing for a senior travel tour through Ireland, visitors may want to prepare for the unpredictable conditions with layers. T-shirts under light- or medium-weight sweaters are ideal for easily adapting to sudden changes in weather. Travelers will also need windbreakers or raincoats for those cool and misty evenings. Note that visitors who want to store their dirty clothes in plastic bags should bring their own along, since the government imposes a levy on these items.

For many people, the picturesque countryside of Ireland is the main reason for visiting. During the excursion, seniors will look out at rolling green hills or explore the lakes and rivers around the Ring of Kerry. Tour members will also come across jutting stone overhangs at the Cliffs of Moher and the massive basalt columns of Giant's Causeway. For outdoor adventures, seniors may want to bring along durable, waterproof hiking boots. City jaunts, such as in Dublin, require a bit of walking along the cobblestone paths, so visitors will need comfortable shoes with ample cushioning and support.

Getting In
When arriving in Ireland by plane, members of senior travel groups will need to have passports to gain admission into the country. It's important to apply for a passport at least two months in advance, since applications can take four to six weeks to process, though the U.S. Department of State does offer expedited services at a higher cost. After receiving a passport, seniors may want to make copies of the document's data page to leave back home with a friend or family member. This can be helpful if a passport is lost during the trip.

Local Customs
There isn't much culture shock to be had on a vacation to Ireland. The locals are generally warm and welcoming, and English is the predominant language of the country, though they embrace different slang and dialects than American English speakers. Visitors may come across older natives who still speak Irish Gaelic, though only a small portion of the population uses this mode of communication regularly. Knowing a little Irish may come in handy, since the public restrooms are marked in the traditional language. Men's bathrooms are labeled "fir," while women's restrooms are labeled "mná." Some immigrants who come to the island may speak Greek, Spanish, Polish, Lithuanian or Latvian, among other tongues.

When dining out or using services at hotels, keep in mind that gratuity of 10 to 15 percent is often included in the bill. In cases where it is not part of the bill, 10 percent is the standard tipping amount. This does not include hotel porters, who generally expect a tip of one euro. Patrons also do not provide gratuity in pubs. When a worker provides particularly good service, it is customary to give a little extra gratuity. If in doubt, simply ask: It's not considered rude to inquire if the tip has been included.

All this Ireland information may seem like a lot to digest, but seniors can save themselves a lot of hassle by signing up for an escorted vacation. Along with taking care of hotel accommodations, meals, transportation and baggage handling, Ireland tours provide sightseeing guidance so guests get to experience all the highlights of the island. That means there's more time for exploring the stunning nature of the Emerald Isle and to make lasting memories.