Family tour groups are increasing in popularity and it's no wonder. There are many reasons why a guided family tour makes perfect sense. The biggest reason is that parents can look forward to a worry free vacation while enjoying quality time with their kids. The tour company takes care of all the planning, activities and logistics. Your trusty guide is there, every step of the way to insure everything goes according to plan.
All the tour websites sound intriguing, their photographs are enticing and all these different tours descriptions sound so exciting. it's confusing and frustrating. The last thing you want is for your tweens to end up on a bus full of senior citizens for a week. You've always dreamed of taking a pastry class in Paris. How will that work if you're with a tour group?
Usually the hardest step in any journey is the first.
In this case, that first step is finding a tour company that specializes in family tours...one that is the right fit for your family. Working with an experienced travel agent, specifically one who has first hand experience with the destination you plan to visit will make this process much easier.
Travel agents know and have experience with guided tour companies. They can act as a matchmaker, ensuring you and your family enjoy the type of tour that exceeds your expectations. Here are a few of the considerations your agent will discuss with you to determine the very best tour options for your family....
Ages of the Kids - Just like kids have to be a minimum height to ride roller coasters at the theme parks, tour companies have minimum age requirements. Children must be a certain age to be allowed on specific guided tours. In some cases, like the theme parks, it may be a matter of safety. Your child needs to be a certain age to go white water rafting. You might not have any problem taking your 2 year old on safari. Fellow tour group members may not share your point of view. These rules are in place for the comfort and safety of everyone.
Budget vs Value - Determining a realistic travel budget will certainly help to focus your best guided tour options. For example, G Adventures offers 750 different global tours. They also offer 5 different tour price points from YOLO budget tours that include camping and hostels to National Geographic guided adventures that include stays at some of the world's finest hotels...all from the same company.
Parent may get a little bit of sticker shock when they first see the "Per person" rate for a guided tour. First point to consider is that this price includes your room, your transportation, your sightseeing, activities and most important, it includes that salary and accommodations costs for your guide. Trained guides are destination experts, they speak the language and can handle emergencies. Guides provide deeper insight to the local cultural and customs. They know how to get everyone involved and create tour commaradery that evolves into lasting friendships.
Some clients will look at the price tag and insist taking an independent trip instead of a tour will save them money. Once they start tallying up all the inclusions of a guided tour they soon realize the tour price is actually a bargain. Large tour companies get discounted admissions to the world's greatest attractions. Of even greater value, tour groups can often "jump the line" or get "behind the scenes" access offering group members priceless experiences.
Scheduled or Custom Group - A planned or scheduled group is one that the tour company has arranged to depart on a set date. Families, couples or any travelers can make a deposit and take part in this adventure. As the name implies, a "custom" group is when we work with a tour company to plan a unique, custom itinerary just for your family or invited guests. The tour company organizes everything according to your preferred departure date and will send a guide along with you to handle things every step of the way. Each tour company is different but many offer customs group packages for as few as 8-10 guests. Creating a custom group is one way to get around some of the minimum age requirement for younger children. As long as your family and friends don't mind you taking your 2 year old on safari then it's not a problem.
Size of the Group - Larger tour groups mean lower costs and more friends to share the tour experience. Small groups usually cost a bit more but offer a more intimate and engaging experience due to less crowds. In some destinations a Smaller group means van transportation instead of a bus. This can mean less walking and more convenience in European cities with narrow, cobblestone streets.
Pace of the Tour- Some tours can be an endurance marathon. Others are styled to be more relaxed itineraries with lots of scheduled free time. Some tours offer activities like rock climbing and zip lining to hiking & biking to a stroll thru a museum. The pace and activity level of any tour needs to align with the skills and abilities of every family member, regardless of age for the vacation to be enjoyable.
Accommodations - Basic or middle of the road tours usually select centrally located hotels, often well established brands that an expected quality experience. Higher priced tours may include experiences like a stay medieval-style castle, glamping at Ayer's rock or a visit to a classic safari lodge.
Meals - Food should be part of the overall vacation experience. Dining plans an important part of your total enjoyment of any destination. Tour companies that cater to families can offer group and individual dining experiences that also offer children's menus and options. It's important to understand the fine print and dining options offered with each tour. Many tour companies do offer a separate dining package that can be added to your tour for a fee. Often this saves money and offers the convenience of less decision making in the moment.
Activities for Kids - Some tour companies like Adventures by Disney provide two tour guides for each departure. This means kids can visit a vineyard and stop grapes while parents enjoy a private tasting with a sommelier. This also means more individualized attention when the group is enjoying activities together.
Attractions vs Experiences - Does your tour walk you thru the Vatican museum or will you have a private gallery after hours tour? Are you going to visit Machu Picchu or will you be walking the Inca Trail thru the sun gate?
Last but not least, a guided tour doesn't need to be an "all or nothing" proposition. Even guided tours can be customized with pre and post stays or they can be just a small portion of a total itinerary plan. Your travel agent partner can help you with all these decisions and more. They understand all the important small print in the contract and can help you avoid any "de-tours" to your tour plans.