Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

What do you think of joining tour groups?

What do you think of joining tour groups?

Old Aug 11th, 2010, 12:44 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2010
Posts: 21
What do you think of joining tour groups?

Has anyone here tried any of their tours (Globus, Contiki, etc)? What can you say about the pace, types of accommodation they offer, etc? Do you stay in a centrally-located area? Is it ideal for 3 young adults with their 50-something parents? Are the guides good enough? I would suppose covering that many cities in x number of days would mean 1) waking up super early every day to cover as much as possible and 2) only going to the more famous landmarks? Pros and cons for you?

Thanks!!!
cokes is offline  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 02:25 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,007
Contiki is definitely not ideal for 3 young adults with their 50-something parents...as there is an age cut-off of 35 years old.

I've done 2 Contiki tours and 1 tour with a now defunct company called Club Europa. They were a great way to travel when I was younger and didn't have anyone to travel with.

The tours always consisted of really long days, lots of hours spent on the coach from Point A to Point B, and waking up pretty early. I enjoyed the days when we had "free time" but that wasn't always available.

When dinner is included, it's usually at your hotel. I can't tell you how many times we were served chicken breasts and french fries. I love good food, and included meals were always a disappointment.

Hotels are not always centrally located. For Club Europa especially, we were sometimes trapped many kilometers out of town.

On the plus side, I always had a great time hanging out with (most) of my fellow travelers. We had lots of late nights of going out and "celebrating" (which only made those early mornings a little worse).

After having done a few tours of those varieties, I would put going on a tour at the bottom of my list. I would, however, make an exception for REI Tours which are seriously different than anything Globus or Contiki would offer.

There's no reason why you can't plan a trip on your own...but I would seriously suggest you explore Europe at a slower pace than what the tour groups do. It's pretty exhausting, and you don't really get an opportunity to experience a city.

Just my two cents.
beanweb24 is offline  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 04:43 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 11,212
I did one Globus tour and would not do another with them. Very fast paced, lots of time on the bus, not a very good guide (this was my first tour and I have more experience now and know the guide was not very good), hotels usually outside towns/cities, included restaurants not good food.

There are much better tour companies than Globus - Taulk, Collette, Insight, Grand Circle.

You could do a trip at a fraction of the cost that a tour company would charge for 5 people. Why not plan your own trip and go where you want to go when you want to.
adrienne is offline  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 05:49 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,827
I would not do a tour unless there was absolutely no other option. Europe is very easy to do independently. All the negatives you mentioned, plus more. I've done a few day group tours, and while I would do them again because they allowed me to get somewhere that would have been much more difficult on my own they are a tremendous waste of time and end up costing more than you can do it on your own. For example, we did a group tour to Bosnia from Dubrovnik because we didn't want to rent a car for just one day and deal with border crossing cards, etc. But we spent a half hour at boring rest stops so the whole bus could pee - and did this multiple times. We didn't have enough time in some places, too much in others. Guides vary widely and you never know what you'll get. Walking tours of cities and sites - I can't tell you how many tour groups we saw this summer, usually huge groups - 50 people or more, obliviously stumbling along behind the person in front of them, listening to their guide through earphones, seeing only what the guide is pointing out.

So many places are totally different - and much more wonderful - in the mornings and evenings - after the tour groups have left. Read any post here about small towns, major sites, they all advise to go when the tour groups are not there. What this means is if you are in the tour group you are seeing the site/town/whatever at it's worse.

Another joy of traveling for most people is exploring a place at a leisurely pace - leisurely being different for everyone, but rushing to get back to the bus is not most people's idea of leisurely. Alternately, how do you feel about sitting around a "stop" that is really nothing more than a shopping experience that the tour gets a cut of the profits from for providing a bus load of people. I love going back to my hotel after a long day of exploring, resting up, then going back out for dinner, strolling, etc. Most tours are based in hotels outside of city centers and all you can do all evening is sit around the bar and drink.

What is it about doing it independently that concerns you. There are so many sites, including this one, that will help you book hotels, transportation. It's not like the "old days" when you could potentially get a lousy hotel, or have no way of knowing how to get from point A to point B. Tell us where you want to go, for how long, and approximate budget and you will get so many suggestions and helpful ideas.
isabel is online now  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 06:28 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 194
I've never done a tour and would not do one because I wouldn't find satisfaction in a trip that is structured for "everyone". I wouldn't travel without the ability to decide where, when, how, and what I experience on my travels.

Planning a trip can seem overwhelming. But, for some it's the "foreplay" to the actual travel.

A good way to start planning is to (1) consider the organized tours that most interest you, (2) borrow guide books and video travelogues from the library to learn about these destinations (always appropriate for any kind of travel), and (3) decide what is of interest to you - art, architecture, history, food, nature, shopping, etc - and make a list these places/activities. Then turn to the internet - as someone already pointed out, there are innumerable resources for planning every aspect of travel.

You will likely find your interests will not be served by an organized tour. These tours are created, obviously, by people that don't know you for sale to the general public. In my opinion, that's a good reason to venture out on your own.

Create your own trip to match your own interests. It will turn out to be a very rewarding adventure.
portiaperu is offline  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 06:59 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 8,586
I've done a tour by myself and liked it (there were annoyances). With my family, I'd not consider it for Europe. My kids would have been bored with the lectures from the guides and when they are along, we like to go with the flow and not be confined to an itinerary.

If you do decide on a tour, I would scrutinize the intinerary to make sure it would meet your interests. And, after being stuck in out of the way hotels, I would never do a tour again that didn't have hotels that were centrally located.

In Rome, we were so far outside the city that a cab driver didn't know where the town was. A group of us ditched the tour for one day, and it cost us 90 Euro (one way) for a cab ride into the city. (We were supposed to be located near the Vatican, but they changed the location last minute - buyer beware).
karens is offline  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 07:14 AM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 465
You don't say where you are considering going or how long you would be gone, so it is difficult to give you any specific recommendations.

I've done tours and gone on my own, and I think it really depends on what your goals are and what your time and comfort levels are regarding your interest and abilty to plan and execute a trip on your own.

One of the appeals of a tour is that you don't have to worry about transportation or slepping luggage around from one place to another. This might be more of a concern if your parents were going by themselves, but if three young adults are going with them, those two issues would probably be of less concern.

There are generally three classes of tours: Premier (Tauck, Insight, Collette); First-Class (Globus, Trafalgar, Image); and Budget (Cosmos, Trafalgar CostSaver). I've gone on all three classes and frankly haven't found much difference between them.

The higher classes generally (but not always) include more sightseeing activities than the lower classes. They also have better meals in the hotels. Higher classes also stay in more luxurious hotels that are (usually) more centrally located than is true for the lower-class tours. The tour description will often list the hotels for the tour, and you can put them into an internet mapping program to see where they are located.

Tours vary in terms of how long they stay in one city and how much time you spend on the road. (Of course, if you want to see a lot of places in a short amount of time, then you'll have to spend a lot of time on the road whether you travel with a tour or go independently.) The days usually do begin early, with the coach typically leaving around 8 a.m. or so, but again, this varies. Personally, I try to find tours with a number of 2-night stops when I can.

I don't think the higher classes of tours necessarily have the better tour guides - the best guide I had was on a budget tour, but so was the worst. IMO, whether you get a good tour guide is a matter of chance.

My advice would be to decide first where you want to go and for how long and what kind of a budget you will have, check out tours that match your criteria, decide on the best one for you, and then compare that to what you could do by traveling independently.

If you look at tours, be sure to read the itinerary very closely, as the tour will do exactly what is printed in the itinerary and (except for "optional excursions" that are offered at an additional cost) nothing more. So if you want to see something in a particular city and the tour description doesn't mention it, you will not see it.

However, something I learned on my tours is that you can often opt out of an "included" tour to do something on your own at that time if you talk to the tour guide in advance.

I think the important thing for you is to be aware of the pros and cons of both ways of traveling and then to decide which best fits your needs and desires.

But whatever you do, I hope you enjoy Europe!
tom18 is offline  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 07:48 AM
  #8  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2010
Posts: 21
Thanks everyone I'm actually not partial to tour groups (and would in fact prefer to do all the research and go around at my own pace and see everything i want to see), but my fiance is still considering doing one so I'm still trying to convince him otherwise! I guess if your goal is to see as much as possible minus the hassle of thinking about how to get from point A to B then maybe a tour group wouldn't be a bad experience.

But while we're on the topic of tours, what sort of organized day trips would you then recommend that are easily searchable? Stuff on viator.com or similar websites?
cokes is offline  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 08:28 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 11,212
There are many excellent companies for day trips or short walking tours. You would need to specify where you're going to get recommendations. It's no good giving recommendations for Paris, Frankfurt, or Rome (for instance) if you're not going to these places.
adrienne is offline  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 09:47 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 5,274
You have been given a lot of good info on group tour drawbacks. When you read the descriptions, beware of "words of art" such as "view" or "see" instead of "tour" meaning you will drive by or get a photo op but no visit to that place. Also, beware of any hint of option, "You may," "perhaps," etc. as this means that that activity is not included in the tour.

Guided tours do the organizational grunt work for you at the cost of flexibility, individual preferences, and changed minds. And they charge for it. Packages that include air, hotel, and transportation, but not including the details at any given place are more economical and may suit you better.
AJPeabody is offline  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 09:50 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 12,582
I'm a big fan of this lot:

http://www.explore.co.uk/

I've been on about a dozen of their tours. There's a mixed bag of nationalities (mainly yanks and empire) and ages and there's a lot of freedom to do your own thing.
Cholmondley_Warner is offline  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 12:45 PM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,827
A large variety of day tours are available from most major cities, but I don't any way of searching in general without knowing what city you are talking about. If you are going to Rome for example, then you can search on "day trips from Rome" and get lots of options. Same for most cities. And whether they are good deals or not depends. As I said, I took one to Bosnia from Dubrovnik last month. It's a three hour drive and because of the bus schedules you could not have done it as a day trip using public transportation so the tour was the only option short of renting a car, which for one day was not worth the hassle. On the other hand, from Rome we wanted to go to Tivoli and considered a tour but even the TI people talked us out of that - turned out to be quick and easy to do on public transportation and cost 6€ round trip. The tour was going to be $77. And we got to decide how long we wanted to stay there.

What cities - or at least countries - are you thinking of going to?
isabel is online now  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 01:08 PM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 7,955
It does depend on where you are going, how comfortable your group is with foreign languages, driving in different countries, whether you have been abroad before, etc. Tours give you a good overview of a place that you may decide to go back to on your own and explore in more depth.

I've been on several tours and enjoyed them, and I've gone several times on my own and enjoyed that. I do think at least Globus and Insight are doing a better job in recent years of choosing more centrally located hotels.
carolyn is offline  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 01:20 PM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 33,852
I've been on two group tours and liked them very much, but that company isn't in business any more (TWA Getaway). I think a lot of people who have never taken them or took only one kind don't realize that tours vary, and a lot of tours (like the ones I chose) are fairly independent and flexible. I chose mine for that reason. In other words, it handled the travel arrangements, and had someone available for questions at the hotel, and it included breakfasts at the hotels, but only a couple other things. What you did and whether you chose to buy and go on day trips with them, etc., was completely up to you. Where you ate lunch or dinner was completely up to you. A couple dinners were included, but that was when we were in some country inns and of course, without a car, it wouldn't have been easy to go out on your own, anyway (and not a lot around). Only a couple guided tours of museums or things were included to cover maybe a half day in a couple cities, that is all. We were not moving around every day on a bus, either, we never went very far on a bus (actually, I like buses in some cases, we did have a bus from Edinburgh down through England in one case) and stayed in the main cities about 3 days each.

The only way it was geared for everyone was the itinerary, which was pretty generic, but people would choose the tour because they wanted it.

So you can choose a kind of tour you want, but I think they are better for solo or couples (or maybe several friends, I saw that). I don't remember any large family groups on my tours. They did have a very wide age range, however. I chose that company for that reason (and they were more budget, which is when you get wider age ranges). But they weren't geared to 20-something singles like I think Contiki is.

There was a honeymooning couple and a soap star on my tour, which was sort of interesting. IN fact, all the people were pretty nice and interesting. TWAGetaway had two levels -- budget and superior or something, and in fact, we did everythign together. The only difference was the hotel for the two different groups.

I don't think a tour group would be that great for a family of five.
Christina is online now  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 07:11 PM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 57,890
I think you will have a lot of trouble finding a tour that will satisfy both 50 something parents and 3 young adults. Lots of 6 am wake-up calls and sitting on a bus all day are not likely to make 20 -somethings happy, nor are hotels at the end of gone conducive to enjoying the local night life.

As for the 50 somethings - I would think they want something more relaxing than changing hotels every night and being rushed from one sight to another to allow plenty of time for "shopping" for tscotkes that no one really wants.

If you travel independently you go where you want when and can schedule as much down time as you want. Planning is a significant amount of work (IMHO at least half the fun) but you get to see/do what YOU want - not what some company finds it easy to show you. Oh, and the cost will either be less - or you'll be getting more for your money.
nytraveler is offline  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 08:10 PM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 48,104
I wouldn't do a tour if they paid me, and I used to be a tour guide on bus tours in France. Especially with a group of 5 with 50-somethings and 20-somethings. No one will be happy.

Bad hotels far from city centers, horrible meals at preplanned, prepaid cheap places, drive-by's, seen-from-afars, all the usual miserable stuff for the most part, unless you pay for a very high-end tour.

And since you can do it all on your own far less expensively and get to do exactly what you want to do, why not? It's not hard. Back in the day, we had to buy guidebooks and go to the library and purchase maps and pin them up on our walls and calculate mileage and so on and so forth. Now it's all at our fingertips on the internet. Who needs a tour company?
StCirq is offline  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 08:19 PM
  #17  
 
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 26,710
A tour is someone else's version of the world.

That said, we have taken a number one day tours such as through cloud and rain forests, environments of which we are unfamiliar. But unless you have some physical limitation, then there is no need for someone to guide you through a modern city.

Discovery is one the great pleasures of travel including getting lost and finding your own way. We are older than your parents and we always say when we need someone to throw us in the back of the bus that is when we will take tours.

We were once in art museum in either Budapest or Prague and a tour group came trampling through. Without stopping the guide said, "That is the picture I was telling you about."
Aduchamp1 is offline  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 08:20 PM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 7,553
You might consider a cruise. It work well for the age range and can combine both guided and independent travel. We find cruises to be a very good value and relatively inexpensive way to travel and see a lot.
fmpden is offline  
Old Aug 11th, 2010, 11:16 PM
  #19  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2010
Posts: 21
To be more specific, we wanted to travel around London, Paris, Barcelona and Madrid. It will be our first time in all of those places, so we want a mix of being able to do things ourselves, plus the occasional service of a guide who could, as carolyn said, give us a good overview of a place that we may decide to explore on our own some other time, or even just save us the hassle of doing a day trip out of the city all by ourselves.

Like for London, I've gotten suggestions to do some of the Old London Walks, and go on day trips to Bath, Cotswolds, Stonehenge, etc. Any good groups you would recommend for any of those? Or would we even need that at all for those day trips? I presume it's safe enough anyway to wander around wherever your feet could take you?

And in Madrid, would going to Toledo need a guide as well?
cokes is offline  
Old Aug 12th, 2010, 04:06 AM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 11,212
How long is your trip? You're going to four major cities and in London planning three day trips. Please leave enough time in London to explore the city as it's your first time. I would suggest spending at least 3 or 4 days in each city plus the day trips so hopefully your trip is at least 3 weeks long - you need to factor in transportation time to the next place in your itinerary.

I enjoyed the tours I took with London Walks. For day trips like the Cotswolds and Stonehenge, which are quite a distance from London, I would look at organized tours which would be easier and save time over doing the trips on your own. Some museums in London have their own tours (check the museum web sites).

There are lots of options in Paris. There's a three-hour free tour which I recommended to an acquaintance and she and her husband loved the tour. I've done at least a dozen Paris Walks tours and thought they were quite good. There is also a service where volunteers show you around specific parts of the city. This is free but I think you buy the volunteer lunch. Notre Dame has a free two-hour tour given by volunteers that is very good. You learn about Gothic churches during the first part of the tour (from the outside of the church) and go inside to learn more about Notre Dame - I've done this tour twice. The tours in English are Wednesday & Thursday at 2:00 and Saturday at 2:30. I believe it's customary to give a small donation to the docent for the church.

http://www.newparistours.com/
http://www.paris-walks.com/
http://www.parisiendunjour.fr/index.php?lang=en
adrienne is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Do Not Sell My Personal Information

FODOR'S VIDEO