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escorted tours - do you love 'em or hate them?


Nov 23rd, 2003, 03:43 PM
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escorted tours - do you love 'em or hate them?

Hi everyone,

I'm planning on sending my parents on a trip to Europe next year (they've never been). They are not savvy travelers (they've never really taken vacations) and have never been to Europe. In light of that, I'm thinking that an escorted tours (kind of like one of those Perrillo Tours you see advertised in magazines or a similar tour company) might be the best way to go (FYI - my parents are in their early 60's).

HOWEVER, my uncle (who is also in his 60's and an active traveler) said that he hates those type of tours and would never do one because they just hussle you on and off buses all the time like a school fieldtrip so that you never really feel like you're on vacation and he feels stifled...

I've done some research and seen that most of these escorted tours allow you some free time. Is the free time adequate???

Please post whether you recommend these escorted tours as an option or not... Also, if you know of a tour company that you had a good experience with, please let me know.


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Nov 23rd, 2003, 04:00 PM
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I'm sure you will hear a lot of different comments. My family, including my 70 year old dad, 3 "kids" ages 15, 18 and 25 and my husband and I spent 21 days on a UK trafalgar tour in the summer of 2001. It had its plus minuses. The 3 days we spent in Paris and the 4 days we spent in London on our own, everyone loved. You see a lot with a tour and all details are taken care of. I would suggest that you do a tour with many 2 day stops. We are actually going to do another trafalgar tour (Paris and Provence) this April then spending 4 days on our own afterwards. I know trafalgar has a website and you can ask questions about specific types of tours. It can certainly feel a little like a field trip but so is going on the cityrama day tour in Paris or the Edwards Edwards day tours in London but without a good guide. Hotels are usually not centrally located, food is just fine but usually a good bargain for what you get. Ages when we went in the summer varied from 15 to 80. Mostly people in mid-life.
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Nov 23rd, 2003, 04:20 PM
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I've never been a big fan of escorted tours. We just recently took one to Russia because I thought it would be easier than dealing with the paperwork but I wished at the end that we had done it on our own. Particularly bothersome to me was the waiting and the inconsiderate behavior of many on the trip who didn't seem to be able to show up at the designated time.

That being said there were many people on our trip that really should have been on an escorted tour, especially in a more challenging country like Russia. Since your parents have not traveled, I think it might be a good idea to sign them up for a tour. Or maybe sign them up for a tour for the first part and schedule a few days on their own afterwards. Or maybe a cruise, we took an excellent one to Scandanavia and you could either sign up for shore excursions or many ports were easy to do independently.

What we ended up doing in Russia was going off on our own when the tour wasn't doing what we wanted to do. Perhaps if your parents get over there and feel comfortable they can do the same.

Beware of the budget tour groups, sometimes you really do get what you pay for. Check the hotels to see how far outside the city they will be but if they don't intend going off on their own it won't really matter.

I did up a list of Pros and cons when I got back

-meeting nice people
-no hassling with train/plane/bus/hotel reservations
-at least in our case we had an excellent guide (but you can always hire a private one with independent travel)
-bypassing the lines (once again with a good private guide this is also possible)

-Waiting for other members, on our tour someone was late for virtually everything we did
-all those bathroom stops!
-noncentrally located hotels, the tourist class ones tend to be located on the edge of the city
-included meals tend to be what is easy to do for a group (ie buffets, mostly with cold food that should have been hot, stops at food courts and grocery stores)
-often inconvenient flight arrangements
-often not enough time to see the attractions so you can stick to the schedule
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Nov 23rd, 2003, 04:23 PM
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Hate them I can't stand the idea of someone else telling me when to go where, and pushing me through shopping trips everywhere. HOWEVER, some people would never go on their own. My aunt (mid-50s, travels some, but not wild about planning a trip on her own) recently went on a tour organized by a local college. She enjoyed it (although had trouble with the hustling pace occasionally), and is planning to go on another next year. It really depends on the travelers..would they rather go at their own pace (fast in some places, pokey in others!) or have the security of someone else doing the planning.

Ask your parents which they would prefer. 60s is certainly not old, so assuming they are in good health, they might prefer to go on their own with some local tour guides or 1/2 day tours of some places lined up ahead of time.

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Nov 23rd, 2003, 04:36 PM
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Hi everyone -- Thanks so much for your enlightening posts. I really appreciated your input.

My aunt and uncle are also thinking of going on a tour (separately from my parents since they have different destination interests). They recently moved here from Chile and don't speak any English so I'm afraid they'll feel awkward when the other American, Australians, Canandians, etc., on the group can't communicate with them. FOR PEOPLE WHO DON"T SPEAK ENGLISH, IS A TOUR A DEFINITE NO-NO?? I can just picture some well-intention, overly friendly woman trying to chat up my aunt who can't speak back! Thoughts???
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Nov 23rd, 2003, 05:10 PM
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There have been many posts on this topic. People seem very polorized about it. I've done both and I like both for different reasons. I think if your parents are not gennerally travelers a tour would be the way to go. But like some others I would suggest a few things.
Choose a tour that has as many 2 night stops as possible, too many one nighters is tiring. Pay attention to the wording in the catalog. Nearby means just that and will probably mean a hotel away from the city center. Be careful of less expensive tours. The way they work is to tack on seperate prices for day trips, shooting the expense up.
I like tours for their camraderie and the fact that someone else has taken care of the details. I've only traveled with Rick Steves' tours and I have always enjoyed them. They are not cheap. but the guides are terrific, the number of people limited and the price and what it includes is clear. The biggest drawback of a tour for me is the people on the tour who make me crazy. Luckily I've only been on one tour where there were some people who drove many of us nuts and they were quite easy to avoid.
Have you considered a cruise for your folks? It would provide the whole daily European life thing, but would give them a worry free and relaxing vacation as well as a taste of Europe.
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Nov 23rd, 2003, 05:56 PM
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We've never taken a tour so I can't say yea or nay. However, as a 60 something, may I suggest that if your parents don't usually travel and don't speak French, they may be more comfortable with a tour. The secret would be one of the very small group tours that stays several nights at a place and offers some free time that they can use to go off on their own . . . or to rest.

Someone else suggested you ask your parents what they prefer, and I think that is an excellent idea. We would hate a tour because we like to do what we like to do. We lease a car, avoid the autoroutes and stay in small local hotels for 3 days to a week. We would both go crazy if people didn't show up on time or follow basic rules, so it sort of depends on what your parents are like. If they're more flexible than we are (not difficult) and enjoy the camaradarie of group dynamics, they might enjoy a tour. There's much to be said for both, but people tend to be strongly for one or the other.

I hope they enjoy the trip. I think it's wonderful that you are doing this for them.
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Nov 23rd, 2003, 07:03 PM
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Take a look at Grand Circle Tours. Most of their tours are leisurely. Usually 4 or 5 days in each city. You tour one day and then you have the next day to do things on your own. They also have something called dine around. It gives you about 10 restaurants to choose from for dinner. They usually include some cultural things such as lunch in someones home, a language lesson etc. and optional tours are also available This company used to be aarp. The website is gct.com Most of the tours are at least 15 days and are in the shoulder and off season so they are reasonable priced. If they can travel Sept through May this should meet their needs.
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Nov 23rd, 2003, 07:10 PM
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When doing European country I prefer escorted travel only. But when it's a city like London that I've been to many times we do it on our own. I like not having the stress of driving in a foreign country and knowing that I'll be seeing the best sights while on tour. You will also learn alot about a countries history and customs and are able to ask questions. One thing your Uncle should consider is that if you are visiting an entire country you will be spending a lot of time traveling whether by escorted coach or not. You will find that there are many tour companies whose itineraries are adjustable to the type of traveler you are. I have traveled with 5 different tour operators and haven't been let down yet. Other tour operators in Perillo's price range are Collette Vacations, Insight, and Brendan Gold vacations. BTW, We've had several spanish speaking people on our tours, they do just fine. We smile & get along with them just as well. No probs. Good luck whatever you decide.
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Nov 23rd, 2003, 07:15 PM
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Just wanted to add that most busses also have bathrooms onboard and you may opt to do your own air flights(book on your own). Depending on the class of your tour the more centrally located your hotel will be. I think Perillo's will always be in the city center. Have considered them for Italy before. Have fun.
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Nov 23rd, 2003, 08:01 PM
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I tried my first escorted tour after a lifetime of doing it on my own, except for two or three short 8 hour day tours.
I think the key question to ask is this:
Does the tour provide something you do not want to tackle on your own?

In my case because of age I decided I did not want to try driving on the left side of the road in Ireland. One mishap and the whole tour, if not more, is ruined. I did not want to trust myself in an unfamiliar situation.

I found that I paid a high price for the convenience of the tour bus.
Most of the time I was a bus rider and not much else. A few minutes here, and quick lunch there, then back on the bus and on to the next few minutes here and there.

Some of the hotels were really poor.
I remember one where some of my tour-mates rooms were over a bar where a band played music very loudly until 3 am.

I, thank heavens, was not in one of those rooms. But the other hotels except for one in Cork were hardly memorable.

Other than the fact that I did not have to do the driving, I enjoyed little of the tour. Most of it is just a big blur. The three items I remember the most are (1)the hotel in Tralee where the toilet handle was in the shower, (2) the fact that we were allowed only 45 minutes at the Clifs of Moher -- one of the scenic wonders of Ireland, and
(3) the narrow roads on the Dingle Peninsula and the car driver who wedged her car between a rock and the bus. Neither of us could go. So about 6 guys on my bus got off,picked up the rear end of the car, and moved it over so the bus could get by.
I vaguely recall a woolen mill and hand weavers and the commecial stop at Blarney Castle so we could shop.

Other than that, we spent very little time in Dublin. Not really a thrilling tour to say the least. I enjoyed it more once I freelanced for a few days.

So I think you have to weigh the pros and cons well. I don't think I would do it again unless I was going somewhere that was totally foreign and unknown culturally and linguistically.
dixon is offline  
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Nov 23rd, 2003, 08:39 PM
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Trafalgar tours may be one of the least expensive, but the old adage applies, you get what you pay for. The days spent on one's own pre and post tour were heaven compared to the tour .We were, after all, on a tour not to be confused with a vacation.
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Nov 23rd, 2003, 08:44 PM
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Check out insightvacations.com---they stay at very nice hotels and have many 2 night stays. Their hotels are generally centrally located. Meals are pretty good and the guided tours very informative.

They have a new program where they are taking less passengers on each tour and taking out severals rows of seats on the bus, giving more leg room and more attention to each passenger.

They also have guaranteed dates on their tours so you don't have to worry about cancellations.

It's a wonderful thing you are doing for your parents! Have you decided where you would like them to go? Or are they deciding? I would suggest a tour of Italy. I think everywhere you go in Italy is incredible. So much to see and appreciate. Italy was my first tour and I came home on cloud nine and looking thru the catalogs planning where to go next as soon as I got home.

Good luck with your planning!
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Nov 23rd, 2003, 10:26 PM
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Re Tours:
I could not bear to be part of a tour group longer than a day tour in a town.
I have taken a few river cruise tours and they are a nice way to see a part of Europe. Their advantage is that you only unpack once and you are served good food and have day tours at different stops.

Re going it on your own:

If I were your parent I would want to have an apartment or hotel in one or two towns or cities where I could explore on my own and at my own pace. Transfers could be arranged by you at the airport and between towns and I would enjoy a few discussions of where I would like to go and what I would like to see and then have you or a good travel agent do the arrangements.
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Nov 24th, 2003, 11:42 AM
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PLEASE check out a company by the name of Idyll Untours. www.untours.com
I have travelled with them 4x now. It works like this: You choose the country, they find you an apartment based in a small town for a two week stay. They will arrange a train pass (or car, depending on locale) and your flights. They meet the group of Untourists going to a specific geographic location at the airport and accompany the group to the appropriate town destination. Your host/landlord meets you there and takes you to the apt, where a bottle of sparkling water (or wine) some fruit and a loaf of bread await you. Your specific area "group" meets at a designated site the next day to ask questions/learn how to read train timetables/get info on area events.
There is an native Untour guide available to contact in each small town. You get TONS of information on area sights and happenings in advance. There are 3 or 4 optional group excursions during the two week stay, and a going-away dinner the night before leaving. The remainder of the daily sightseeing choices or 'sleep-in' days is up to YOU.
Generally, paticipants in the same, or area towns happen to meet up at the train stations and impromptu daily plans are made. There is the security of a person on site to help with emergencies, and extensive info on english-speaking doctors, dentists, etc is given. Your hosts may be friendly enough to invite you to a little wine-tasting or to provide you with free tickets to an area event. You may happen upon a festival known only to the 'locals.'
You have the convenience of your own kitchen, bedroom, bath and may shop in town at the local grocers, whenever you wish to 'eat in' or dine at the tiny cafes before walking back home for the night--no tour bus, no room set up for thirty...
This is an excellent way for the first-timer or less-adventurous traveller to see a specific country in-depth, with the security not available in independent travel. I have since gone to Germany and Switzerland three more times on my own.
Untours travels to France (more than one location), Italy, Germany (two locations-one in a castle), Switzerland (3 locations), Spain, the Netherlands, Budapest and more. A sister organization works out of Scotland and Wales.
Peruse their website, you won't regret it!
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Nov 24th, 2003, 12:19 PM
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Wow, Rach's recs. sound the best!
What a great idea!
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Nov 24th, 2003, 12:20 PM
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Dixon.......you would not have experienced any of the tour problems that you had on your tour if you had taken Tauck World Discovery...though more expensive, they are sensational,and in EVERY way and well worth every penny....We have friends who also like Untours and highly recommend the company.
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Nov 24th, 2003, 12:22 PM
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I'll just say this, you lose any chance of seeing anything but the highlights. You don't get to 'experience' much. + the whole 27 countries in 15 days & such is usually a bit much. But, if it is the only way they'll go...
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Nov 24th, 2003, 12:23 PM
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Better yet, I'll take them myself..
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Nov 24th, 2003, 12:36 PM
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I do think a good word must be said for the kind of tours available for senior travelers where you don't push as hard. In particular I would recommend both Grand Circle Travel and Elderhostel which we have enjoyed. Yes, there are plusses and minuses as compared with going on your own. Often with these or other tours you can be on your own if you wish and also can stay over extra days. We've also been with Globus, Backroads and others. Unitours and Perrillo as mentioned are likely fine. In the U.S. we've traveled extensively on our own to many places including nineteen Elderhostels which provide a learning component. Actually GCT is emphasizing this too though less so. Prices are reasonable for GCT & EH.

This past summer we were in Scandinavia with GCT and it was an excellent trip.
We stayed in five locations with some included and some optional tours. Contrary to what kristi says (although such could happen), we had excellent hotels that were centrally located, no trouble waiting for folks, and the food was mostly where we chose to dine. McBetsy, SalB, kristi and others do have good advice, also kybourbon on GCT.

Several years ago we were in Ireland with Elderhostel (www.elderhostel.org).
This was for three weeks at two locations with extra days on our own in Dublin, then Killarney. We took many days trips along with lectures dealing with history, topography, culture so the sightseeing was more than just famous sites.

Good luck and glad to further advise...
Bill in Missouri [email protected]
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