Celebrations International Travel Blog

Archive for the ‘Tours’ Category

We would like to thank our friends and colleagues at www.GotSaga.com for featuring my article on Guilin and the Lijiang River.  What a befitting destination to feature in light of the Chinese New Year celebration currently going on!

Celebrations International Travel’s agents can help you plan a tour to China that best suits your travel style.  Whether you prefer to participate in a tour where the itinerary is pre-set and you get to join a group of traveliing companions, or if you’d prefer a tour itinerary customized with travel dates of your choice and including only those cities and towns that interest you, we can help you explore the wonders of China and the world!

Either as a part of your tour to China or as a trip by itself, a river cruise down the Yangtze and Lijiang Rivers is a unique and unforgettable experience.  See our Cruises page to learn more.  Victoria Cruises is an American-owned and managed cruise line specializing in Yangtze River cruises.  There is no better, more luxurious way to experience the waterways of China.

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I think there’s a commonly-held misconception that anything “custom” or “customized” must be expensive.  Well, I’m here to dispel that myth, at least where escorted tours are concerned.

In my post entitled “Escorted Tours My Way:  No Whirlwind Bus Rides!” I talked about the fact that with many traditional group tours, the travelers’ experience can typically be described as  “on the bus, off the bus,” without doing much to actually experience the destinations.  “Standard vs. Custom Tours” highlighted the benefits of custom tours.

Delving further into the subject of tours, I want to explain how and why custom tours don’t have to be expensive.

– Custom Travel Dates: Unlike standard tours, which have set departure dates, you get to choose when you want to travel, and how long you want to be away.  Many times, moving your travel dates by even a day or two could make a difference in cost of the airfare, accommodations, and other arrangements.  Plus, if you decide the cost of your dream trip is more than you’re comfortable with, you can always cut down the number of days to save.  That just isn’t possible when booking standard tours with pre-set itineraries and travel dates.

– Spend On What’s Important to You: Not all travelers are alike.  With custom tours, you tell us what you’d rather spend your money on, and what you’d rather save on.  To some travelers, it’s most important to be able to see and do everything on their wishlist, and they’d rather stay in more moderate hotels in order to stay within their budget.  By contrast, other travelers might prefer very luxurious hotel accommodations paired with a more leisurely-paced itinerary with fewer cities or locales planned.  Whatever suits you, Celebrations International Travel can help you plan your custom tour.

Travel How You Want: On standard tours, your transportation between cities and between attractions is pre-set for the group.  However, with a custom tour, in most locales, there are choices in transportation that can save you money.  For instance, if a standard tour itinerary includes a flight between cities that can also be easily reached by train, you might choose the train ride to give you a different perspective and experience, provided you have the time.  Or, you might decide to forego a privately-chauffeured transfer from the airport if you’re familiar with the city’s metro system or prefer to take a taxi.

– See & Do What You Want At Your Own Pace: Standard tours are designed to please a crowd, they tend either offer travelers more of an “overview” visit to their destination and/or include the historical sites and attractions most popularly requested.  What if some things on a standard itinerary don’t interest you, or maybe you’ve done it before?  On a standard tour, you’re stuck with it because it’s included in the price of the tour, so you end up going with the group because the group travels together.  Why not make better use of your time and money?  With a custom tour, you tell us what you want to see and do, and if you need ideas, tell us what types of things interest you, and our destination experts can offer suggestions accordingly.  Not paying for tour inclusions that you don’t want saves you money for the things you do want!  As an added bonus, you can explore at your own pace because of the flexibility that a customized private tour provides.  You’re not being “herded” in mass!

– Choose the Services & Inclusions You Need & Want: In some destinations, you might choose to have a tour guide/translator, driver, and/or other professionals to assist you.  In other cases, you might prefer to explore on your own, or you might opt for a combination of guided and free time.  You may want meals other than breakfast or certain activities or special occasion celebrations included in your tour.  Any and all of that can be customized for you.  On a custom tour, you choose when, where, and what services and inclusions you want, instead of paying for a standard set of inclusions that you might not need.

Contact us for more information on custom tours, and see our Culinary Travel Homepage for delicious and adventuresome sample itineraries to inspire your travels!

Dove-tailing on my previous post entitled “Culinary Travel is an Adventure!”, I thought this would be a good time to talk more about my views on touring and tour design.

Based on my personal travel experience, I have never been a fan of cookie-cutter-type tours where travelers are seemingly herded on an off a tour bus just to gain a cursory glance and snapshots of a historical site or attraction.  What that type of experience is most apt to leave travelers with is a sense of a “whirlwind” tour at best.

That’s why at Celebrations International Travel, we work with our tour operators to customize tours that let travelers do unique and different things.  In order to really experience a destination, travelers need to have the chance to explore, and to actually do something.  I mean that literally. 

Tours should be designed, for example, to give people the opportunity to get out and walk around the hallowed grounds of Stonehenge, climb the steps of the Great Wall of China (or at least get up close and marvel at it), and visit the picturesque historic towns and villages of faraway destinations.   This is not to say that travelers have to exert themselves.  I simply mean that seeing the sights through a bus window or at a distance is far from ideal, resulting in a very different experience for the traveler.

Take for example one day’s activities in our sample Northern France Culinary Tour.  After breakfast, travelers are driven to Concale, where they are taken on a guided tour of the town that concludes with a fine oyster tasting at La Ferme Marine.  Afterwards, they proceed to the nearby town of St. Malo, where they will take a walking tour of the town before enjoying some free time.   Case in point:  These are all leisurely activities that can only be enjoyed outside the confines of a bus!  Furthermore, these are various ways in which travelers get to experience their destination, giving them tangible memories of not only where they visited, but what they saw and did.

What whirwind bus tour would give travelers these one-of-a-kind travel experiences and memories?

If you’ve ever been on a standard (non-custom)  escorted tour like I have, what do you remember?  In my case, what I remember is a bus (motorcoach) full of people, a tour director, and a driver.  (To read more about this, see my earlier post, “Escorted Tours My Way:  No Whirlwind Bus Rides!”.)

What I think is good about standard group tours (where the itinerary is pre-set, and agents book travelers into a group with pre-set travel dates) is that the tour guides are very knowledgeable and experienced, most motorcoaches are comfortable, the driving is left to someone else, you have no worries about language barriers, and you can get to know your fellow travelers.

Admittedly, some travelers may find this “standard overview” approach to touring suits their needs, and  Celebrations International Travel works with a host of tour companies to offer clients who choose this option the best possible choices for any destination they want to visit.

But here’s what I don’t like about standard group tours:

– These tours assume that “one size fits all,” which may not be true for many travelers.

– Pre-Set tours can be restrictive.  Yes, it’s nice that someone else gets to worry about all the arrangements and hassles, but what if you want to spend more time exploring a particular attraction, or if there’s something on the day’s itinerary that you’re just not thrilled about?  What if you simply would rather experience the same attraction in a different way?  What if you want to go out at night, but not by yourselves, and the pre-set tour doesn’t give you escorted options?  No matter how much flexibility or free time is built into a pre-set itinerary, you as the traveler still have to work within the choices and timeframe that the tour gives you.

– Large groups and pre-set tours can make travelers feel like they’re being herded in mass from one place to another.

– You are not in control of your own time, as the group must travel as a whole, and the amount of time spent in each locale is prescribed.

Try telling my teenage self that there was anything OK with this last point when I had a completely unobstructed view of the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, but as soon as the guards marched in and turned around, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said “It’s time to go back to the bus.”  My reaction was and is to this day:  I can’t believe I went all the way to London and didn’t even get to see the changing of the guard!

All this is why in my view, custom tours are a much better idea.  You can still experience all the benefits of standard touring:  You can have knowledgeable drivers and English-speaking tour guides, comfortable transportation, and enjoy getting to know people you meet along the way.

What custom touring gives you that standard touring doesn’t is this:

– Flexibility: Travel when, where, and how you want.  There are no pre-set travel dates or itineraries, although we can provide you with sample itineraries and other ideas to consider incorporating into your custom tour.  You see and do what interests you, and you have the flexibility to alter your itinerary on the spot if you’d rather spend more time at a particular locale or skip something else.

– Budget Considerations: With custom tours, you pay for exactly what you want.  You get to approve your custom tour before committing to it, and we work within your reasonable budget constraints.  This is helpful because it allows travelers to spend on what’s important to them, and save on other things if they choose.  Custom tours do not have to be expensive.  I’ll talk more about this in an upcoming post.

– Travel with Whomever You Want: You can bring just your spouse, or your family, friends, your bowling team or wine club, or open the tour up to your entire company if you want.  Your customized tour is just for your group, so it’s up to you!

– Theme Tours Your Way: If you have a hobby or interest you’d like to incorporate into your custom tour, let us know!  Whether your passion is food and wine, photography, art and architecture, gardening, or anything else, Celebrations International Travel’s destination experts can design a tour to focus on your interests.  Our Culinary Travel Homepage provides some sample itineraries designed with food and wine connoisseurs in mind.  These will give you an idea of what a theme tour might entail.

Contact us for more information on planning your own custom tour!

I am amazed at the response that my post from yesterday entitled McDonald’s in the Louvre!  I had no idea that it would generate such a buzz.  Thank you to everyone who has visited the blog, left comments, and referred others to view it.  And a big thank you to WordPress for listing Celebrations International Travel’s blog on their homepage.

In the spirit of fairness, I must tell you that I enjoy a McDonald’s hamburger, Chicken McNuggets, and french fries just as much as the next guy, just not all the time, and certainly not on vacation at the Louvre.  The reason why I included the words “all the time” is because many Europeans (especially the French) have long held tight to the notion that all Americans eat McDonald’s (or whatever fast-food) and chug down soda incessantly.  I am speaking, of course, of the most stereotypical of viewpoints.  I must confess:  I love my Coke, but I did go six weeks without it once in France because it was so expensive at the time.

But just because Coke’s my favorite and I eat McDonald’s sometimes doesn’t make me a stereotypical American, whatever anybody’s idea of that is.  Nor does it mean that I agree with or understand the decision to let McDonald’s take up residence inside the Louvre!  No, I don’t think the golden arches, or any other fast-food restaurant for that matter, are a good fit for the ancient grounds of the Louvre.  Frankly, I think the whole connotation is disrespectful to the institution of the Louvre.  I can only hope that the controversy over this topic is directed at a clash of cultural ideals and not intended as purely anti-American sentiment.

After all this talk of “no fast food,” I thought I’d show you my idea of what classic French cuisine entails.  As culinary travel specialists, we endeavor to share with our travelers the best that each destination has to offer, whether it be five-star cuisine or home cooking.  What’s important to us is quality and good taste.  All tours are customized for your family or group, so the sample itineraries are provided to inspire you!

We invite you to browse our sample itineraries for all culinary travel destinations currently featured and let us know your thoughts.

I received this link in a Tweet from @ZagatBuzz:

http://is.gd/3Ytpq

The article talks about Alton Brown’s musings in a recent interview.  Personally, I thought it was in bad taste for this to be reported on (magnifying whatever may or may not have been said in the actual interview), but supposing Alton Brown truly expressed how he felt in that interview, it makes me wonder what quirky take he might have on today’s announcement that McDonald’s will open next month in the Louvre.

What do you think?  I can’t decide if I think he’d put a nerdy spin on it or if he’d choose to be sarcastically funny.

Come to think of it, I wonder what Alton Brown’s take on Culinary Travel would be.  Do you think I might have to convince him that the idea of a culinary tour isn’t to just eat your way through a destination?

Check out these beautiful pictures of a small town in Tuscany (tweeted by Susan Pohlman this morning): http://bit.ly/EOEMb

Enjoy pristine vistas like these, along with superb food and wine on a Culinary Tour of Tuscany! Celebrations International Travel will customize an itinerary for you:  The sample itinerary is just there to inspire your travels.  You let us know when and where you want to travel.  We will custom design a tour to suit your particular interests, tastes, and budget.

tuscany

In a nutshell, our custom culinary tours allow you the flexibility to see, do, (and of course eat and drink) what you want, when you want.

Celebrations International Travel’s custom culinary tours are all about Celebrating Life Through Travel!


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This is blog based on the experiences and interests of travel agency owners Adrienne and Agni Mitra. Through our blog entries, we will share our travel experience and expertise. We will also have other entries of interest to inspire your travels.

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