Tour or not

Old Jan 6th, 2014, 07:42 AM
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Tour or not

My husband and I are in our mid 40s and planning a trip to Europe with our 2 sons ages 18 and 23. In a dilemma to book a tour or not. Our priorities are Paris, Rome and Florence (Barcelona too if budget permits). My husband and I have both been to Rome and Barcelona. He's been to Florence and I've been to Paris but our sons are first timers. We don't exactly have the luxury of time to plan the trip but also have been forewarned about tours being "rushed". Was looking at trafalgar's city break option. Just not sure if that really is better than their regular tours in terms of being not too time restricted. Are 3 days and 2 nights per city ok to start with?
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Old Jan 6th, 2014, 07:58 AM
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It might be difficult to find a tour to exactly match the places you want to visit. All of them are easily done on your own. You might consider walking tours at each stop of tours of specific sites. For example, we love the vergers' tour of Westminster Abbey and a guided tour of St. Peters is nice.

However, if you really want experience the places you stop, 3 days and 2 nights is far from adequate. Once you factor in travel time between cities, you will lose a half to a full day each time you change locations.. Not clear how many days you have but consider at least 4 full days in each city. When are you going?
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Old Jan 6th, 2014, 08:08 AM
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You mentioned the word budget. Tours are very expensive for 4 people. The 11 day London, Paris, Rome city break would be a minimum of $9,300 for your family (plus there will be a lot of extras such as sightseeing fees, transportation, and meals). That's a lot of money. You could book your own accommodations and transportation and connect with either walking tours or private guides and come out ahead financially.

A lot of the time you're on your own with this tour. You say you "don't have the luxury of time to plan the trip" so what are you going to do during your free time which is 3/4 of the trip? Are you not planning anything to do/see?

>

You don't have 3 days in each city with this tour - you have 2.5 days. That would not be enough time for me in London, Paris, and Rome. I believe that 5 days is the minimum time in a major city.
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Old Jan 6th, 2014, 08:08 AM
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Four adults don't have the time to prepare a tour on their own? You're going to pay through the nose for your lack of concentration. Think of it this way: The vacation begins the first time one of you sits down in front of the computer screen to begin the research. You will get to know each other better by working it all out. Day tours certainly have their place and Trafalger has a decent reputation, but turning your lives over to a commercial babysitter as part of a herd, especially when you are all still young, will lose part of the experience. I prefer a minimum of four night per city but this is something the four of you can discuss since it will be your trip and yours alone.
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Old Jan 6th, 2014, 08:14 AM
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I think your sons will be very bored on a tour - and probably want more night life - andnot to have to get up before 7 am to get on the bus early every day.

Strongly suggest you divide and conquor. As a group figure out which cities and then assign one place to each person to find ahotel, suss out transports and figure out what sights - and nightlife - you want to see.

And you are counting wrong. Two nights is one full day and perhaps halves of 2 other days - depending on when you arrive and leave.
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Old Jan 6th, 2014, 08:28 AM
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I think your sons will be very bored on a tour

Especially on a regular Trafalgar tour with a bunch of oldies that make their parents look young.

Send the boys on a Contiki or similar tour for their age group if they're going on a tour. Otherwise, get them involved in the planning.
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Old Jan 6th, 2014, 08:39 AM
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Seems like Barcelona is out of the way. If we wanted to add another city to Paris, Rome (and/or Florence), what would you suggest ...London or Amsterdam? Or is Venice just going to be similar to the others? If just Paris and Rome, should I get a round trip ticket or in one country and out the other?
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Old Jan 6th, 2014, 08:40 AM
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We plan to go in May
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Old Jan 6th, 2014, 08:42 AM
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With the time you allotted to each city, your sons will barely get a glimpse. Since you and your husband have been to Europe, you know how big Paris and Rome are. And, while Florence, as you know is small....there is SOOOOO much to see.

It sounds like you only have a week. In that case, I'd pick Paris, or Rome and Florence. Or even Rome OR Florence. Your sons can investigate online some of the things that interest them and you can all make a plan.

Having been on both sides of the tour/vs independent vacation, having an expert explain the history or meaning of the sights you are seeing is valuable. On the other hand, doing your own research is rewarding, too. Just beware of the bus tours that pick you up early in the AM, drive around, point out things, and you drive on. I've found walking is the best way to experience travel.
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Old Jan 6th, 2014, 09:15 AM
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Looking at 15 days max
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Old Jan 6th, 2014, 10:34 AM
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My own kids at that age would have mutinied if I'd tossed them on a bus tour. You'll stay at hotels far outside the city center, eat dreadful group-food meals, be rushed through everything and driven by the rest. An unthinkable way to spend a vacation with kids that age, IMO.

Four adults can easily plan a simple trip like this. If you've got 15 days, pick 3 places plus a few daytrips if you like. Three days and two nights is absolutely not the way to go.

Divvy up the research responsibilities. Get guidebooks and maps. Get on the computer, each of you, for a half-hour a day or so. Just do it.
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Old Jan 6th, 2014, 10:42 AM
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Two nights is really just one whole day, as the days on either side will be travel days, with maybe a few hours free in the new destination. It's not enough time for a major city such as Paris or Rome. You really need four nights in those cities to see even a small sample of what they have to offer. If you have two weeks available, I suggest visiting just Paris and Rome, spending as close to a week as possible in each place. There are some great day trips you can do from both cities, which is a better way to see a variety of places than running from one place to another.

Traveling between places eats up both time and money.

Planning your own trip saves a lot of money. If you stick to two bases, you won't have that much planning to do. Get plane tickets into Paris and home from Rome, and take a budget airline flight between the two cities. You'll only have two hotels to find, and you'll be able to leave your schedule flexible until the last minute.
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Old Jan 6th, 2014, 10:56 AM
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I would like to reply to you as someone who has done “coach (bus) tours” as well as independent travel.

I have traveled with a number of European tour operators, including Trafalgar, Insight, and Cosmos, and can give you some first-hand insight into these types of tours. In my experience, all of them give you a good tour. They plan your tour, in case you can’t or don’t want to do that (it’s your choice whether that’s how you want to spend your time). They arrange for your transportation and your luggage handing. If you don’t want to deal with driving or schlepping luggage onto trains, or having to take luggage from the train station to the hotel and back, that is a plus. They give you interesting information about the places you visit, so you don’t have to have your nose in a guidebook all the time. Their tour directors and local guides are generally quite good. It’s a myth that you “spend most of your time on the bus,” and even when you are on a bus, you get to see a lot of the scenery as you go. (If you drive, the driver, at least, has to concentrate on driving and can’t devote all his or her attention to the scenery.) Depending on the tour, there can be a large number of people on the tour, but part of the fun of a coach tour is getting to know other people from lot of other places and being able to share your adventure with them. However, tour hotels are generally not as centrally-located as you might want, you are bound to their itineraries, you usually have to pay extra for the “optional tours,” and the included meals are not always of high quality.

If you are thinking of going on a coach tour, you need to read the itinerary very closely, because they generally won’t go anywhere or do anything that is not specified in the itinerary. However, in some cases, the tour director might allow you to skip a particular activity to do something else, as long as doing so doesn’t disrupt the tour schedule.

Both coach tours and independent travel have merit. I don’t think one is “better” than the other; they are just different types of travel that typically result in different experiences. The important thing is you understand the advantages and disadvantages of both types of travel so that you can decide for yourself which type would be the best for you for the specific trip that you are contemplating.
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Old Jan 6th, 2014, 04:38 PM
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>

Venice is nothing like any of the other cities you've listed. It's nothing like any place I've been. I love it and highly recommend going.

With 15 days total that leaves 13 on the ground. I would not add a 4th city to the itinerary. Three cities is plenty since you need to move from one place to another and that takes about a half day each time.

>

Flying into one location and flying home from another is a round trip ticket. It's not two one-way tickets.

It's far better to do this than to spend time and money back tracking to your origin to fly home.
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Old Jan 7th, 2014, 04:34 AM
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You have 15 days. Fly into Paris and spend 6 nights, the first day may be only a partial day and/or you may be jet lagged. If the five remaining are too many then take a day trip. You can book a one day tour and won't have to do any planning for that. Of course you can also plan a day trip on your own, but you can leave that for later.

Fly easyjet to Florence for three nights and then train to Rome for the rest. This means you only have two intra city transportation trips to plan. Booking an easyjet.com flight on line takes about five minutes. The train you can wait till you get there to book. To book your travel to/from Europe use Kayak.com and choose 'multi-city' and fly into Paris and home from Rome. Unless you are terribly picky about flight times/prices that should also take no more than ten minutes or so. Then go to booking.com and plug in your dates and each of your three cities to book hotels. Again, unless you are terribly picky you can do it in 15 minutes.

So seriously, in about a half hour you can book the only things that need to be planned in advance. Most of us on Fodors are serious planners, loving the experience. But I have friends who have done just this basic planning and then gotten on the plane with a guide book and planned the rest on the flight over. I think you'd have a nicer trip if you spent some time in the next few months reading about where you are going and what you'd like to see, but it's not necessary. And once you get there it will be easy to book walking or bus tours of the cities and day trip tours if you want to do those with a group.

At least you will save some money over booking the whole trip as a package tour, have more freedom, and better located hotels.
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Old Jan 7th, 2014, 04:40 AM
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Excellent advice from Isabel.
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Old Jan 8th, 2014, 04:41 AM
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Thanks isabel! Very valuable information.
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Old Jan 8th, 2014, 11:15 AM
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No organized tours, you guys can research and plan. That's half the fun. Get your sons involved! and I promise you they would hate being cooped up on tours. I think you would regret going that route afterward.

I would suggest London, Paris and Rome openjaws flight. Skip Florence. Start with London, as the culture shock is easier. Eurostar to Paris, then fly (or overnight train) to Rome.
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Old Jan 8th, 2014, 11:25 AM
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I agree that with your group, and independent trip would be best. And with 15 days, pick 3 locations - get flights into the 1st one and out of the 3rd. The only real planning you need is the flights, hotels, and transport between your 3 places. What you do while you are in each place can be determined on the fly if you want.
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Old Jan 9th, 2014, 05:57 AM
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I have never made hotel bookings other than official hotel websites. Will sites like booking.com, Agoda really give me better rates? And are they reliable? Because during my 1st visit to Rome, the owner had to transfer a group to a "partner" establishment because there was a double booking. The owner said that it happens when the non-official website bookings are mishandled or not jived with the official website booking. How true is that?

I haven't tried kayak either. Have tried Travelocity and Expedia for flights within the US though.
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