Adventures by Disney: Seeing is Believing Part 2 - What to Expect on a Tourby Adrienne Krock, contributing writer
In my first article about our Adventures by Disney trip to Wyoming, I anticipated my family’s Adventures by Disney tour of Wyoming. In part one of Adventures by Disney: Seeing is Believing, I only scratched the surface of the magic of our Adventures by Disney experience, focusing on the tour-specific highlights in Wyoming.
Adventures by Disney offers tours worldwide in six continents. While each tour provides unique opportunities, they all provide special magic through the Adventures by Disney team on every trip, no matter the destination. This summer, my three boys and I enjoyed a 5-day Media Sample of the Adventures by Disney Quest for the West tour. When I left my husband home and take my three boys, ages 8, 11 and 14-years, on our own version of “Mommy Summer Camp,” we got to feel the magic firsthand.
My family loves to take road trips. Even when we visit Walt Disney World, our family rents a car. Why would I, a self-admitted travel control freak, let go and enjoy an Adventures By Disney tour? Let me count the ways.
Adventures by Disney handles all of the logistics for their guests. When we arrived at Jackson Hole Airport, a service contracted by Adventures by Disney greeted us and transported us to our hotel. At the end of our trip, Adventures by Disney returned our group to the airport as well. One family planned to extend their stay in Wyoming, and the service delivered them to Jackson Hole so they could continue to tour on their own.
In a side effect of group travel, many in our tour group arrived at the airport with over three hours to wait for flights home. Fortunately, we found that our wait at the airport passed much faster because we knew each other. Children sat together playing games on their electronic devices, we watched each other’s carry-on bags while we ate or used the restroom, and three of our groups even flew together on the same flight for the first leg of our journeys home.
Early on in our trip, I learned my most important lesson about the logistics of any Adventures by Disney trip: No matter the destination, plan to arrive at least one to two days early. The Adventures by Disney destinations offer so much to see and do that you will easily find opportunities to occupy yourself before the tour begins. More importantly, by arriving early, you avoid missing any part of your tour due to air travel delays. While we visited Jackson Hole, we met a handful of travelers arriving early for their tours. The Adventure Guides mentioned that most repeat Adventure by Disney travelers regularly extend their stays at the beginning of their tours for just these reasons.
The Adventures by Disney staff carefully selects the lodging for their tours, and we never once touched our luggage outside our hotel rooms. Every time we left a hotel or arrived, someone else transported our luggage for us. In fact, we rarely even saw this, it took place so seamlessly. At one of our hotels in particular, I spied a closet space occupied by the Adventures by Disney supplies. Because Adventures by Disney operates so many tours from the same locations, they maintain bases of operation at their hotels.
Most meals are part of the Adventures by Disney tours. At one location, breakfast was included with the accommodations. At another, our Adventure Guides gave us directions for charging breakfast in the hotel restaurant to Disney. The restaurant staff knew this and applied an automatic gratuity while my family had free choice of menu items. A specially printed children’s menu welcomed “Disney Kids”. My 11-year old is at that magic age where sometimes he wants to be a kid and other times he has an adult-sized appetite. He ordered from whichever menu he preferred without a problem. On the first day of our tour, we pre-ordered special meals for two of our activities through our Adventure Guides, including a picnic lunch brought along in our tour bus for one of our days touring the Grand Tetons. When we stopped to eat, our Adventure Guides had labeled each tour member’s meal with everyone's names and they very quickly distributed our lunches.
When the itinerary gives travelers the opportunity for meals on their own, the Adventure Guides can help coordinate these meals. They offer recommendations based on their familiarity with the locations, make reservations, and coordinate any transportation needs for the guests, such as free local shuttles or cabs. Travelers pay these transportation and meal costs on their own. Each itinerary typically includes one or two such independent meals. Personally, I loved this option. My family enjoys exploring new and unusual foods on vacation. The planned meals we had on our trip were wonderful, but we also appreciated a little dining wiggle room.
One of my concerns had been snacking and hydrating along the trip. Typically, we stock-up with water and snacks once we reach our destinations—how would we manage this on a tour? The Adventure Guides handled all of these logistics as well. Every time we boarded a bus, whether for a few hours to go whitewater rafting or for a full day with multiple stops through a National Park, our Adventure Guides packed ice chests with water bottles. During a hike, our Adventures Guides brought granola bars to share at the turnaround point. On the tour bus, they had baskets full of snacks including cookies, crackers, fruit snacks, chips and fresh fruit.
In selecting the activities for their tours, Adventures by Disney contracts with local vendors strives to provide unique opportunities not otherwise available to the public. Sometimes activities are private, such as our tour and lunch at Jackson Hole’s Playhouse Theater. Other times some members of the public may mix-in on tour activities. When we went whitewater rafting, we filled the rafts with only members of our tour, but others joined us on the bus to and from the river.
Adventures by Disney handles logistics and provides everything necessary to enjoy an activity, even providing supplies not otherwise offered by the vendors. For whitewater rafting, the Adventure Guides brought towels for our group to use, from our hotel. I would not have known that we needed to bring these. The Adventure Guides even arranged for the vendor to have buckets of helmets set aside for our tour, ready to distribute by the river.
In the Grand Tetons, visitors purchase fare to take a boat across Jenny Lake to the Hidden Falls trail. Our Adventure Guides took care of this without our even noticing, allowing us to arrive and board the boat without any delay. At the entrances to National Parks, our Adventure Guides hopped off our tour bus and returned with park maps and guides for everyone.
Besides the aforementioned snacks, Adventure Guides keep their tour groups happy and entertained on long bus rides. The schedules break longer trips into shorter rides with stops in between, but at times you may have to travel for up to three hours at a time. Adventures by Disney contracts luxury buses for travel; our bus featured comfortable seats, video monitors, and a restroom for emergencies.
During our travels, the Adventure Guides had tour-appropriate Disney videos for us to watch during the longer stretches. We especially enjoyed the camping- and vacation-themed Donald and Goofy shorts on our trip to Yellowstone. The Adventure Guides entertained us all with a trivia game on our journey to the Brooks Lake Lodge. Team Bears barely beat the Invisible Bison, but I’m happy to report that the Invisible Bison did earn 500 points when I helped answer the question “How many Disney theme parks are there, worldwide?” (The answer is 11.)
Finally, Adventures by Disney even handles the logistics of tipping. We never once tipped any Adventures by Disney-contracted vendor, including bell services, servers at meals, or shuttle drivers. The only tipping obligation we had were our Adventure Guides themselves. The Adventures by Disney materials explained that they recommend tipping each Adventure Guide $6 to $9 per person per day. Although this surprised me before our trip began, I now enthusiastically and gladly endorse tipping Adventure Guides at least these amounts.
Outside of travelling with several families, I never traveled on a group tour before. While my personality leans toward the extroverted spectrum, sometimes I just need time away from other people to feel relaxed and comfortable. I experienced both sides of this coin on our tour.
Adventures by Disney schedules two types of tour itineraries: Most Adventures by Disney tours include families with children, but almost every itinerary also offers an adults-only option. Believe it or not, based on anecdotes from MousePlanet readers, many couples that travel without children prefer the general itineraries to the adults-only tours; they report having more fun with families. Those tours, they explain, feel more relaxed because children have fewer inhibitions than adults. Personally, friends often comment that I overly stress about my children’s impact on others. During our trip, I noticed several adults traveling without children who enjoyed interacting with mine. Perhaps it's that traveling with children allows adults to let out their own inner child to enjoy our journey.
Traveling without my husband proved less stressful, overall, than I worried it might, thanks to the cooperation of my children. My older two helped quite a bit, but I especially enjoyed the group dynamic. The group gave me adult companionship and conversation. My family of four all enjoyed breaks from one another, be it with our Adventure Guides or fellow travelers. One traveler, Bill, complimented my son to me after he enjoyed listening to my son show off his piano-playing talents at the Brooks Lake Lodge.
When my 8-year-old experienced a “moment,” another guest actually enjoyed winning him over again and relieved me from having to deal with him. Indeed, as parents, we sometimes underestimate our children. While my little pumpkins all had their moments, the adults on the tour actually complimented my children from time to time and helped me keep perspective, appreciating their finer qualities. With children on our tour, my youngest made friends with others his own age, giving him a break from his bossy big brothers, and they from him.
Naturally, Adventures by Disney tours attract fellow Disney fans with similar interests and experiences. As a Disneyland fan, I shared stories with some on our tour who also know Disneyland well—yet I could evangelize for my favorite park for those who have yet to journey to Anaheim. Having vacationed at Walt Disney World, I shared stories and conversation with others who regularly vacation there, as well. Common interests in Disney products and travel give many tour travelers something in common before their adventures begin.
As I mentioned in the logistics section, the tour includes alone or smaller group time. When we went horseback riding, the Brooks Lake Lodge assigned my family of four to one wrangler, and we enjoyed our ride alone as a family. Throughout the tour schedule, we had opportunities if we wanted, to explore destinations on our own or with smaller groups we met on the tour.
Disney selects and trains their Adventure Guides to facilitate the group dynamic. At the beginning of the tour, they coordinate a welcoming event to introduce the group to one another. As tours progress and the dynamic unfolds, groups start to feel more and more comfortable with each other. Adventure Guides work with the vendors to coordinate smaller groups at activities. In particular, I asked our Adventure Guides about solo travelers. Having toured with Adventures by Disney for over six years, Adventure Guide Tiffany's resume includes leading tours in Germany, Australia, Arizona and Utah, Montana and Canada, and Wyoming. Tiffany shared that she has hosted several solo travelers both on general as well as adult-only itineraries. The Adventure Guides help all travelers assimilate with the group, and solo travelers always find a comfortable spot in the group, often joining other travelers and/or the Adventure Guides during their free time opportunities. No matter the individual dynamic of the travelers, the Adventure Guides help them find their niche in the larger group. Which leads me to…
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I cannot begin to convey in words the awesome jewel of the Adventures by Disney tour, the Adventure Guides. Those familiar with general tour group travel may think they know what to expect from a tour guide, but Adventure Guides take tour guiding to another level. Many tour group companies assign one tour guide per group of about 50 to 55 travelers. Adventures by Disney tours pamper guests with two guides for about 27 to 38 travelers, more than double the typical ratio.
Adventure Guides often take pictures for their guests, but the guests want pictures with their Adventure Guides, as well. Tiffany and the Krock boys take a break on the Hidden Falls Trail in the Grand Tetons while in the background, Kent Phillips takes a picture of his wife, Kitty, with Drew. Photo by Adrienne Krock.
Adventure Guides are not only extremely knowledgeable and familiar with their destinations but also helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful, brave, and, naturally, adventuresome. I lost count of how many questions I asked our Adventure Guides Tiffany and Drew, but they never seemed to tire of answering them for me, and they always knew the answers. In fact, on the first day of our Adventure, Tiffany and Drew provided us with their mobile phone numbers and instructions to use these numbers any time, 24 hours a day, without qualification, if we had any questions. One evening, I called to clarify a question about our next morning’s luggage drop.
Even after our vacation, I had occasion to call our Adventure Guides. Upon returning home, we realized that my youngest had lost his favorite hat somewhere between our final destination and home. I sent a text message to Tiffany, who not only tracked down the hat, but arranged to personally collect and ship the hat home.
The Adventure Guides are problem solvers. One member of our group spent time with Tiffany and Drew on the day of our arrival and told me, “I knew you before I met you!” As our airline flights changed due to equipment malfunctions and flight delays that day, Adventures by Disney concierge services relayed regular flight updates to Tiffany so she could adjust the logistics of our airport shuttle. When we needed help with our dinner reservations, Tiffany likewise made those arrangements for us. At various times on our journey, our Adventure Guides offered a comb to a teenager who failed to groom himself in his hotel room, pulled out a Band-Aid for a skinned knee, and shared hugs with a weary traveler in need. When the travelers caught glimpses into their bags of tricks, we frequently commented, wondering if there was anything for which they were not prepared.
The Adventure Guides work over and over again with the vendors so they everyone very well, from the staff at the hotels to the bus drivers and staff at various locations along the journey. They flow with ease in and out of locations and develop very strong working relationships with the locations. The result was that everything moved seamlessly, thanks to our wonderful Adventure Guides and the relationships they established.
We learned so much about the sights we saw through our Adventure Guides. Whether on walking tours at destinations or over the microphone systems during bus rides, they shared background, history and even scientific explanations about the locations we explored. Tiffany and Drew even had several tools in their bags of tricks for entertaining their guests. Tiffany carried rubber bands on her key chain to challenge children and adults with her magic. Drew amazed travelers with his card games and tricks. On one hike, a small group challenged the Adventure Guides and each other with riddles.
Some of the activities may not appeal to everyone on a tour, and guests of all ages may feel uncomfortable with some of the more strenuous or adventurous activities. Adventure Guides use their knowledge and experience with these activities to help guests decide on such activities, and to coordinate alternate activities for them. But Adventure Guides also encourage and support the guests who pursue the more adventurous choices. On our whitewater rafting tour, we encountered one such situation.
Midway through our rafting ride, our raft guide, Scooter, informed us that we could jump into the river if we wanted. Everyone on the raft was quiet—the rafting company reported temperature of the water that day in the low 50s. Drew announced to the boat that he would jump in the river if anyone else would. My 11-year old son's eyes lit up. Before I knew what was happening, I saw my baby boy standing on the edge of the raft with Drew, preparing to jump into the Snake River! I am forever grateful to Drew for the opportunity he gave my son and the memory he gave me.
Adventure Guides fulfill one very critical job on the tour: Photographers. Adventure Guides each have official tour cameras that they use to capture posed and candid photos throughout the trip. In addition, the guides are well-versed on using cameras of all shapes and sizes for guests, including smart phone cameras. After the Adventure ends, Disney collects the photos from the two Adventure Guides' cameras and sends a CD with all the images from the trip, to the guests; just one more level of service provided by Disney and the Adventure Guides.
Although we generally prefer to avoid unpleasant situations on vacation, Adventure Guides also provide emergency travel services. Should a guest need to end a tour early to attend to an emergency at home, the Adventure Guides facilitate such arrangements. Tiffany said that on at least one occasion, she has slept overnight in a hospital with a guest. While disappointing to hear, her story comforted me to know that Adventure Guides take such care of their guests.
Adventures by Disney, the Special Touches
Before our Adventure began, I came home one day and found a cardboard travel trunk waiting for me on my front porch. Along with our tour-specific luggage tags and itinerary, Adventures by Disney provided each of us with a backpack for our Adventure. I packed all of these documents in my carry-on bag for our journey. I found the booklet especially handy when I needed to contact the Adventures by Disney concierge to update our delayed arrival itinerary. We needed more luggage tags once on the tour than we original realized, but I had them all in my carry-on. One family on our tour left their tags at home, but the Adventure Guides conveniently supplied back-up tags.
We elected to embroider our bags with our names locally before we left for our trip. Several members of our tour group complimented the embroidery with envy as we carried them throughout the tour. Because many of us on the tour carried our matching backpacks, the embroidery helped easily set ours apart from the rest when we set them down in restaurants, on tour buses, or in hotels. And when my children left them behind, the Adventure Guides could easily identify them. My 14-year-old and I carried our backpacks throughout the trip and enjoyed them very much. The adult-style backpacks even feature a hidden rain cover. The younger two children received a smaller backpack with a single cross strap for “Junior Adventurers.” While the backpack was big enough to use on our tour and they liked these bags, I should have brought their double strap backpacks instead. Typically, all of my children willingly carry double strap backpacks when we visit Disneyland, even for a long day. The single cross strap design fit my younger son awkwardly. The backpack fit my 11-year old but for longer walks through airports and hikes, he admitted that he preferred a double strap. He regularly left his backpack in our hotel or on our tour bus during activities. On occasion, I spotted other parents carrying their children’s backpacks for them and my 14-year old graciously carried his youngest brother’s backpack more than once through airports.
On the first night of our Adventure, we each received lanyards. The pocket included nametags as well as information cards that listed the contact information for all our lodging, the names and mobile phone numbers of our Adventure Guides and the Adventures by Disney emergency phone number. Best of all, of course, the lanyards came with an Adventures by Disney pin. Each day of our trip, we received a new pin unique to our tour, customized to the theme of that day.
Time flies when you’re having fun—new friends make the time waiting in airports pass much faster. The Krock boys pose for a picture with Kitty and Kent Phillips before saying “Ta Ta For Now.” Photo by Adrienne Krock
The Adventure Guides presented each of us with an aluminum water bottle sporting the Adventures by Disney logo. Conveniently, I borrowed a permanent marker from the Adventure Guides and labeled the bottom of our four bottles with our names. Our Adventures by Disney backpacks had exterior pockets that easily held these bottles but the bottles also featured a carabineer on the lid. My younger two attached their bottles to their backpacks by the carabineers. Each family received a collapsible Adventures by Disney duffle bag the same color as our backpacks. I especially enjoyed receiving the duffle bag and anticipate packing it in my suitcase as a back-up on further vacations. It collapses and zips closed to pack easily when not in use. Now home, I need it embroidered to match my backpack, too.
Finally, one little detail Adventures by Disney attended to on our behalf: Early on in our journey, our Adventure Guides distributed rain ponchos. They fit conveniently in our backpacks, and our Adventure Guides advised us that due to the weather, we might need them at any point in our journey. My older two boys used them while it sprinkled as they fly-fished several days later.
Adventures by Disney provided every little detail we could want but one: I could not figure out how to get Tiffany and Drew packed into our luggage so we could bring them home with us. I tried. Really, I tried.