I’ve enjoyed many trips as a tourist, meaning I let a
tour company or cruise line make and execute the plans for my travel.
While it’s possible to do much of the research on line, there’s nothing
like a brochure with maps, itineraries, dates and of course, prices.
Since travel agents are paid a commission by their suppliers the cost to
you is the same whether you buy from an agent or direct.
There are many things to consider when making
comparisons for your trip. Time and timing are usually the first
constraint with a limit on days off or working around school schedules
or the desire to see a certain event. Check out
www.visitscotland.com for a
list of festivals, competitions and highland games; you may find an tour
will not work for you.
In Scotland the organized tours generally start in
April and end by mid-October though there are exceptions. If you’re not
going to the Edinburgh Tattoo, Festival or Fringe Festival, avoid
traveling there in August as tours that include those events are at a
premium price. The upside is that they will frequently include tickets
and transportation to and from the venue for the Tattoo.
CIE Tours is Irish owned, but one of the largest tour
operators in Scotland, Ireland and the UK; other major companies such
as Brendan, Globus, Insight, Trafalgar and Tauck operate numerous
departure dates with trips of varying lengths. Church groups, clans and
even Tours with Beth & Marti may offer one trip a year with emphasis on
a specific subject. There are also tours for those seeking active
vacations such as hiking, biking, fishing or golfing.
When reading a tour brochure be sure and check out
the dates that are listed as guaranteed. If an operator does not sell
enough seats on any given trip they may cancel the departure and if you
have already cashed in your miles or bought a airline ticket it’s going
to be an expensive fix, especially if you can’t change your vacation
dates. Always look for guaranteed dates or have your agent see if the
trip has enough participants to operate.
Should you buy your air from the tour operator? Have
your agent check out the price for air provided with the tour, then
determine the best price you can find and add it to the “land only”
price. You may do better on your own, especially if you are in a mileage
Watch the inclusions. Most day by day itineraries
will show which meals are included. B L & D indicate breakfast, lunch
and dinner, sometimes there are special dinners or buffet breakfast so
check out the codes.
If a brochure says you will see, view, or travel
through an area or suggests you may “enjoy a stroll” to visit a specific
spot you can be sure it’s not going to be a real sightseeing event. If
something is listed as included, listed in bold type or says your guide
takes you to visit a specific sight it’s probably included in your tour
price. If the itinerary says your afternoon is free for independent
activities they may offer an optional tour or you can explore on your
own. As a rule you will pay more for a tour that includes more meals
and sightseeing but with the dollar being in poor shape against the
pound right now it may be the best course of action. Also, you will
have more of your tour guides time as they are not trying to constantly
sell “optional” tours.
Several major cruise lines now offer summer
departures that will cover the British Isles with ports that allow for
sightseeing in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Orkney and Inverness. Lindblad
offers a unique 10 night Heart of the Highlands cruise on the 48
passenger Lord of the Glens.
In 2007 they offered a 12 night itinerary on the 110
passenger National Geographic Endeavor following the footsteps of the
Celts and Vikings, so there is something out there for everyone.
The Royal Scotsman offers the ultimate in luxury
train travel with journeys from 1 to 7 nights and would make a wonderful
pre or post cruise adventure.
Check out the weather at
www.wunderground.com, click on
trip planner and see when you may expect the least amount of liquid
sunshine. No matter what is says, take your rain coat and umbrella and
enjoy Scotland, a vacation you’ll never forget.
Anyone out there have a favorite tour operator from
Australia, Canada or elsewhere?