Do you take tours when you travel? Inevitably, it seems we sign up for at least one almost every vacation. Particularly when we’re cruising.
We didn’t used to, though. Our first tour was on our Alaskan cruise, and we didn’t sign up until we were already on the boat and a couple of days into the voyage. At dinner, our fellow passengers raved about where they’d been and what they’d seen. We decided to suck it up (because tours can be pricey, especially when offered via cruise lines) and pick one.
Well, two. Though the first was really more of an excursion than a tour. It was a train ride from Skagway on the White Pass & Yukon Route. They did narrate along the way so there was information, but mostly it was just sightseeing at the spectacular scenery.
The other one was a tour out of Ketchikan. We boarded a bus that took us a to a marina where we hopped on a small boat that took us to a little island. We went on a guided nature walk, learned about the region’s flora and fauna, and had a cup of cocoa before hopping back on the boat to catch the bus to return to town. It was short, sweet, and turned out to be a fun tour.
Since then we’ve had some good tours and not-so-good tours. Some people are firmly against tours. Others love them.
Below are some pros and cons we’ve encountered. What about you? Do you love tours? What sort of experiences have you had?
- The chance to learn information you might not pick up otherwise. Nothing makes a tour better than when the guide is knowledgeable and enthusiastic and full of personality. (When they lack these things, it can definitely break a tour, as is noted in the “Cons” section.)
- Safety in numbers. Tours generally avoid shady or dangerous parts of town.
- Transportation and logistics handled. All you really have to do is get yourself to the tour meet up spot. They worry about getting you to and from a particular destination.
- Access. Some places don’t give the general public access to behind-the-scenes area like they do for tours.
- Cost. Tours can cost more than exploring on your own, but sometimes the cost includes meals or drinks or other things that actually make shelling out a few bucks more convenient. Like in Turkey one of our tours included a meal, which turned out to be in this cute little restaurant with amazing food. Pleasant surprise!
- Meeting new people. Other tour goers can be as entertaining as the tour itself. We’ve met a lot of neat people we’ve befriended during tours. Some who have supplementary info to share about whatever place you’re visiting. (ie. They share tips on good places to eat or off the beaten path attractions to hunt down.)
- Disenchanted or non-knowledgeable tour guides. There is nothing worse than a boring, ill-informed tour guide. I’d make a horrible one just because I can’t remember facts. But ones who know the facts but don’t offer any enthusiasm while sharing them? Torture! (Double torture when they’re just monotone and repeating their spiel in such a manner you know they’ve said it 1,000 times before and it’s just from memory. Ugh!)
- Tour guides who are too knowledgeable. Some tour guides have a lot of information. Too much. And they’re too eager to share all of it. At once. This can be as bad as a guide who’s not interested enough in doing his or her job well.
- You’re stuck with that group. Boy, have we been stuck with some people on tours we wish we weren’t. It’s one thing if it’s a walking tour and you can tell the guide you’re bowing out and bail that way, but when you’re on a bus going from one place to somewhere far away? Painful. (We had this happen to us when we went to tour Chacchoben. The couple in the seats in front of us on the bus bickered and brawled for the one hour ride, which felt 10 times longer. There was no way out, no empty extra seats to move to. It was not fun listening to them reveal very personal details in an obviously very troubled –and doomed– relationship.)
- Cost. Sometimes the cost is too high for what you get, be it a bad attraction or crap tour guide. There’s a cave here in Tennessee we stopped at to tour. Total waste of time and money!
- Time. Sometimes tours move too fast, feel too rushed, and you can’t savor the experience of the place. Other times you wish they’d move faster.
PRO OR CON?
On some tours you have to use equipment or wear clothes that the tour company provides. This can include helmets, protective eye gear, vests (like life vests), masks, fins, mouthpieces.
This can be both a pro and con. You don’t have to worry about lugging gear around if you don’t want to. But it’s also a con. I mean, I try to bring my own snorkel. I don’t much care to think about how other people’s mouths have shared the tour company’s ones. (I know they sanitize them, but still….ick!)