As a quick summary, this next series of posts will be about an escorted tour I took with my parents through Central Europe last December. I’ll start by going over the booking process and everything leading up the the trip, then review the actual trip and lastly my final thoughts on taking an escorted tour and the tour company.
Finding & Booking the Tour Deal
I should start off by saying that while I did want to go back to Europe, I was not actively looking for a European tour or vacation. What happened is that I subscribe to Travelzoo e-mails and happened to see the tour deal in one of their e-mails.
Travelzoo is basically a website that compiles travel or entertainment deals into one place and if you subscribe to their e-mail list, they send a weekly list of top 20 deals that usually consist of escorted tours deals, hotel deals, cruise deals, etc. It just so happened back in May of last year, I was perusing one of the weekly top 20 e-mails and saw a deal for an escorted tour of Central Europe that had discounts for not only Los Angeles (which is pretty common) but also Charlotte, where my parents live. Deals in Charlotte do not usually come up as often so when I saw it included Charlotte, I immediately e-mailed the deal over to my mother.
The original tour I sent my mother was for an escorted tour with the Globus tour company through their off-season version of tours Escapes by Globus. Globus is a tour company that leads tours all across the world. They also have off-season tours through Escapes by Globus, more affordable tours through Cosmos, river cruises through Avalon Waterways and trip-planning through Monograms. The original tour I was looking at was for a 7 day tour that would stop in Budapest (Hungary), Vienna (Austria) and Prague (Czech Republic) for $1,149. This package included airfare, hotels, breakfast, two dinners, a few city tours and the transportation between cities via tour bus. All things considering, it was a very good deal. The travel dates were for the wintertime but they had dates in December during the Christmas markets season and that is what interested me.
So I e-mailed my mother and texted her to go check her e-mail and tell me what she thought. Her and my father had never been to Europe though they were going in a few weeks from when I received this deal to Amsterdam, Belgium and Paris with Gate 1 Travel (another option for escorted tours). They live on the East Coast so it is a much quicker trip to Europe but since most of our extended family is in Taiwan, as a family, we tend to travel more to Asia. However, my parents are living what I call the “semi-retired” lifestyle where they are both still working but traveling quite a lot when they can and they have been more and more interested in visiting European countries.
In the end, both my mother and father were interested so we booked for the week before Christmas and because they had the option, we decided to add the city of Berlin at the end of the trip. And with three of us, we split the booking for two rooms with my parents in one room and myself in another. Luckily at the time they were waiving the single supplement so I did not have to pay extra for my own room. Otherwise, I think it may have been an addition $250. Therefore, we booked what Globus calls the “Imperial Escape with Berlin” tour for $1,449 per person. It basically extends the tour from 7 days to 9 days with the additional days in Berlin, Germany.
You can reserve the tour online through their website but since I was flying in from a different location from my parents, we could not reserve online altogether and since my mother had a lot of questions, she called Globus and reserved via phone. Once booked, we had 24 hours to make are initial non-refundable deposit of $550. Then the remaining balance was due by October 15th with our trip starting December 13th. Just so you have a better idea of the timeline, we booked our trip on May 9th.
Before the Trip
After booking the trip, Globus will send you an e-mail with a travel packet. In the travel packet it has your Globus booking details which you can use to access your information online on their MyGlobus website, your airfare itinerary and airline record locators, your tour itinerary and some other travel information. If you go into your MyGlobus page, you will see information about your tour itinerary, a payment page for you to pay down your balance, your most updated travel packet and other information. Not all information can be immediately found. For example, they do not release hotel names until much closer to your travel dates. You can also see additional excursions and prices that are available during your trip that you may want to add-on. Personally I recommend you wait to add on any excursions. When you actually start your travel, your tour guide will review the excursions more in depth and give you the opportunity to buy again. I thought it was easier to choose after hearing more about them since there is really only a very brief description of each excursion before the trip starts.
Also, another tip is that I highly recommend you not add tips beforehand and instead tip your guides and drivers at the end of the tour. While it is nice to not have to worry about having the cash for tips at the end of the tour, sometimes the wrong person may end up with the tip. For example, on our trip, we had one tour guide for the first three cities and a different guide for the last city but people who pre-tipped were told their tips would go entirely to the last tour guide because of the way it was set up in the Globus system. This was pretty unfair for our first tour guide who was with us for the majority of the trip but there wasn’t anything they were able to do about it and I think some people may have ended up still giving a cash tip to the first tour guide on top of their prepaid tip since it was not split correctly. Plus tips are supposed to based on service and you never know if someone is going to be amazing or horrible so it does not really make sense to tip beforehand. If you have an amazing guide you could tip more at the end but if you had a horrible guide, well, too bad because you already tipped.
The last thing I want to mention is that your travel packet does get updated here and there before the trip with a final packet with all the details of the trip including arrival and departure transportation, your hotels and information and tips about the places you will be visiting. I do recommend that you take a look at the hotels as there is a lot of free time during the trip where you can either join an optional excursion or go off and do your own thing, typically at least a few hours everyday up to even a full day of free time. Before you receive your hotels you can already do a little planning but after you have the names it will make it easier to map out what you want to do in your free time. I will say that I wish they gave a better estimate of how much free time you will have each day but they do not really tell you until you are traveling. Overall, it was more than I expected so I recommend having a list of activities or places ready before you start your travels.