)Note: These multi-day tour reviews all feature my impressions from tours taken with these tour companies before COVID.
“Sharing adventures means enjoying them 100% more.”
This post is the second part of a series. The first part is 15 Tips for Successful Incorporating Multi-Day Tours Into Your Long-Term Round-the-World Travel.
Multi-Day Tour Reviews for Fifty-Plus Nomads
Multi-Day Tour Reviews #1: Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT)
I have been on three tours by Overseas Adventure Travel:
- Crossroads of the Adriatic: Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, and Slovenia (including extension trip to Budapest);
- Ultimate Galapagos, Ecuador Exploration, and Amazon Wilds
- Route of the Maya: Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, and Honduras.
All the tours had outstanding guides-extremely knowledgeable, personable, organized, and accommodating- all among the best guides of all my tours. (In fact, my focus on the Crossroads of the Adriatic tour, Milan, is in the running for the two best guides of all my multi-day guided tours!). OAT spends considerable effort on guide selection, and training and their investments have paid off. OAT ensures that guides are willing to address any questions about their destinations with frankness and honesty.
OAT also does an excellent job at integrating short experiences like:
- Market visits.
- Public transit rides.
- Visits to schools and other non-profit projects (that are funded in part by OAT),
- Meals hosted by locals in their homes that help participants to get a little taste of everyday life of residents in the places they visit.
OAT also encourages participants to get to know each other by limiting most tours to approximately 15-20 participants and using vans that give the tours an intimate feel.
OAT also has several features that allow people to make the price of the tours fit into participants’ budget, including:
- Up to a ten percent discount for early prepayment by check;
- Deals for past tour participants, and a credit if you refer someone to OAT who signs up for a tour.
- OAT has also won several awards for offering some places on most tours without a single supplement. I have always taken advantage of this benefit and will remain loyal to OAT partly because of this policy.
While I generally prefer tour companies that include all the tours in their upfront price, I have always taken the additional tours offered by OAT, which were all well-done, enjoyable, and worth the price. OAT also does an excellent job of ensuring that the participants know that these tours are additional and accurately describe what is and isn’t included in their tours.
While OAT is open to all ages, its guests tend to be over the age of 50, partly because:
- Its parent company, Grand Circle Tours, has been primarily oriented toward the senior market.
- The bulk of their tours last at least two weeks, which tends to dissuade younger travelers who cannot take off so much time from work.
Multi-Day Tour Reviews #2: Road Scholar Tours (formerly known as Elderhostel)
I have been on twenty Road Scholar tours. All but one of these trips was in the USA or Canada. The trips I attended have usually been 3, 5, or 7 days (though I did have one 9-day tour).
Perhaps more than any other tour company, Road Scholar does a great job of offering a wide range of different types of tours and price points, particularly within the US and Canada, including all of the following options:
- Short and long trips (from three days up to several months).
- Traditional bus tours that visit several places for 1-3 days each in a given region. I enjoyed their tours of the Maine coast, from Asheville to Nashville, and northern New Mexico.
- A large number of tours concentrate on exploring one place or small region in-depth. The majority of the my Road Scholar experiences are ¨signature city¨ tours, which spend five days in one city and visit many of the cultural attractions in the given city. I particularly enjoyed their signature cities’ tours of Philadelphia; San Antonio, Texas; Burlington, Vermont; and Detroit, Michigan. They also have some tours that stay in one hotel and feature day trips from that hotel. I have been on these tours of the Saguenay and Charlevoix regions of Quebec, and the Southern Georgia Coast and First Coast region of Northern Florida.
- Visits to attend special events (like film and theater festivals and significant events like the Kentucky derby),
- Special tours for grandparents and their grandkids,
- Volunteer programs (also called service-learning projects-I attended one of these for 12 days- where we helped repair a high school and provided brief English lessons near Cochabamba, Bolivia, while visiting the tourist attractions as well).
- Developed around a specific theme. I, for example, have been on Road Scholar tours featuring:
- The civil rights movement (with visits to Atlanta, Birmingham, and Montgomery. (One of my favorite of their tours),
- Julia Child´s life in Santa Barbara, CA,.
- Christmas music, lights, and decoration (mainly at historic plantations) in Charleston, South Carolina. (The tour stayed at a church retreat and was thus cheaper than most other road scholar tours).
In keeping with their origins as Elderhostel, Road Scholar offers many tours and classes (though overall, most of their tours stay in relatively upscale hotels) at college campuses, church retreat centers, and other similar accommodations. (I have done several of these tours and enjoy the home-like atmosphere and low costs, around $100 a day per person, and my only problem with these tours is that many of them are not accessible without a car).
While most Road Scholar tours have a single supplement, it is usually only around 25-50% additional. (Some tours charge single travelers the same as a couple).
What distinguishes most Road Scholar trips is their use of outside speakers who give performers and lectures related to the topic or place. (Sometimes they impersonate famous people in history- for example, in Montgomery, all the civil rights tours featured an excellent impersonation of Rosa Parks). Many of the lecturers are top-notch professors.
I have never been on Road Scholar tours outside of the USA and Canada, but I have heard almost universal praise for these tours. My only qualm is that the tours generally are pretty pricey, particularly if you, like me, have to pay a single supplement. (This is the main reason why I usually choose OAT for overseas tours). However, Road Scholar has been one of the few tour companies to offer tours to Iran and Cuba.
Since Road Scholar was originally Elderhostel, it is somewhat rare to find many participants under 60. (I have almost always been among two or three participants under sixty years old).
That said, I usually like my fellow participants on these tours since most have had an exciting life (many former professors and teachers), are well-educated, and most importantly for me, they enjoy learning.
Multi-Day Tour Reviews #3: Caravan Tours
Multi-Day Tour Reviews #4: Rick Steves Tours
In 2014, I went on his nine-day tour of Sicily. (Sicily is the cheapest of all the trips he offers). The guide, Tomasso, was outstanding (extremely personable, knowledgeable, and accommodating). The tour featured a lot of opportunities to interact with Sicilians in off-the-beaten-path places. (The first day’s visit to a local Count’s home was something I doubt you could do any other way).
Besides, the tour was well planned and an excellent way to get to know Sicily in a brief period. The hotels and restaurants reflected the style of his books- rustic places patronized by Sicilians. (Keep in mind, however, that his tours require more walking than most other tours. Additionally, while the hotels and restaurants are pretty good, they may be a bit too basic if you are used to more traditional tour companies like Colette or Trafalgar tours).
Multi-Day Tour Reviews #5: Intrepid Tours
Intrepid has an incredible array of tours.
Multi-Day Tour Reviews #6: Trafalgar Tours
Small, Specialty Multi-Day Tour Reviews
Small, Specialty Multi-Day Tour Reviews #1: Global Exchange Tours
Small, Specialty Multi-Day Tour Reviews #2: Season of the Heart Food Tours
Small, Specialty Multi-Day Tour Reviews #3: Green Tortoise Tours
I took a short Green Tortoise trip in September 2002 from San Francisco to the Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert (a journey of around 225 miles). (Note: The Burning Man Festival, though increasingly commercialized and somewhat expensive ($200 for a ticket), brings together over 30,000 people on Labor Day weekend (primarily artists) who share their interests and passions with other people. If you are not easily offended by some of the odd goings-o, like “art cars” decorated with a giant phallus, it can be a lot of fun).
The onboard sleeping accommodations were not very comfortable since the company crammed the passengers in like sardines. The passengers represented a surprisingly wide range of ages and cultural and economic backgrounds. Even though many were leftover hippies, as a whole, they were more conservative than expected. The food was good (primarily vegetarian; a tad on the greasy side), and the staff was generally helpful.
Green Tortoise provides 14-day cross-country tours in the US and Mexico, a week to fourteen-day tours in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Alaska, and Baja California, and short trips from San Francisco to Yosemite and Death Valley. Most of the tours cost around $100 a day (including the food kitty).
Small, Specialty Multi-Day Tour Reviews #4: Marina in Mexico Tours
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