Adventures by Disney, Basic Questions Answered

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As much as I absolutely ADORE the Disney theme parks and the Disney Cruise Line, if I were forced to swear upon a cup of Dole Whip, I might have to confess that my favorite part of the Disney Destinations family is now Adventures by Disney. In 2009, I went to Costa Rica with AbD. In 2010, I sent my parents and oldest daughter to Ireland with AbD. In 2011, I saw several European countries with the combined Barcelona Escape and Mediterranean Magic AbD trips. As you’re reading this, I’m off on the AbD Quest for the West to Yellowstone and environs. Next month, I’ll be on an AbD Germany excursion. And in 2013, I’ll being seeing China and Hong Kong with Adventures by Disney.

Um, can you tell I’m hooked?

The view from my hotel bed in Costa Rica.

To date, Touring Plans has not had much coverage of the Adventures by Disney part of Disney travel. And frankly, we’re not sure if Touring Plans readers are interested, so this is little test post. I’m here to answer some of the basic questions about AbD. If you want more, let us know. Or if this seems too far afield from your regularly scheduled Disney parks planning, let us know that too.

And now, on with the show …

What exactly is Adventures by Disney?

AbD is luxury group touring to destinations around the world, with Disney-trained guides. The key words in that sentence are “luxury,” “group,” and “Disney-trained.” Currently there are trips to destinations North, Central, and South America; Asia; Africa; Australia; and Europe.

Why did you take your first trip?

We wanted to show our children more of the world. As much as we love visiting Walt Disney World (my 12-year-old twins have been more than 20 times), we also understand that Epcot’s France is not the same as the real France. (Ahhh, would that it were so.)

Aren’t the trips kind of expensive?

The lobby of our hotel in Barcelona

It depends on your perspective. Are these trips big ticket items? Generally, yes. It might be possible to cobble together similar itineraries on your own for less money.

However, when you consider that you’re staying in the poshest hotels in town, have access to activities not available to the general public, have front-of-the-line access to activities that are available to the general public, and have the expertise of experienced guides, those are value-added items that are worth paying extra for.

What sorts of activities do you do during the trip?

It varies by destination, but generally there is a mix of culture/educational experiences (museums, historical sites), culinary experiences (cooking lessons, farm tours), physical activity (hikes, rafting, biking), hands-on art activities (pottery painting, native crafts), animal encounters (meeting pandas, searching for sloths), and unscheduled relaxation.

I’ve looked at the itinerary for a trip I’m interested in. Most of it sounds great, but I’m concerned about one of the activities. Do I have to do everything on the trip?

There are often alternatives for the more strenuous activities. For example, the guests on my Costa Rica trip included a 70+ year old couple and their teenage granddaughter. The girl wanted to zipline, but the grandparents had medical contraindications. The teen was able to zip with the kids, while her grandparents were able to take a gentle stroll through a butterfly garden. If there are just one or two things that have you worried, it may be worth speaking to an AbD representative to see if there are easy alternatives.

Is it weird traveling with a group?

Kids make fast friends on AbD trips

I have to say that this was my number one biggest fear before embarking on my first Adventures by Disney trip. I mean, what if I’ve paid all this money and then I’m stuck hanging out with a bunch of jerks for a week. Won’t that ruin my family vacation?

The first thing to remember is that everyone else is in the same boat (possibly literally). They’ve all also paid big bucks for the trip and they don’t want their vacation ruined either. This basically means all participants are on their best behavior. The AbD trips typically include 25-40 guests (40 is the maximum). This is small enough so that you can have a chance to chat with everyone if you want to, but large enough so that if someone is not your cup of tea, you don’t have to spend much time with them.

While initially reticent about group travel, I’ve now come to enjoy meeting new folks almost as much the trip itself. I’ve maintained friendships with several of my former trip mates.

Also, an unanticipated perk of the group is that there are often other kids for your kids to hang out with. My daughters have found similarly-aged children to bond with during all our AbD vacations. So, much like on a cruise, they’re occupied with their friends, as well as with you. This gives mom and dad a little bonus grown-up time. Yes!

The group situation is also particularly good for families with just one child, or for families with children with a wide age disparity. You’re on a family trip, but the youngsters don’t feel completely deprived of peer companionship. I’ve also had several single parents on my AbD trips. The group situation allows some time for them to relax, either alone or with other adults, while their children are happily engaged with the other kids.

I don’t have kids. Will I be overwhelmed by them on an AbD trip?

My Mom learns perfect pour technique on the Guiness factory tour during the AbD Ireland trip

There are adults-only AbD vacations, if that’s what you’re looking for. However, on all my AdD trips there have been childless couples or small groups of friends that seemed to be having a great time. There are age minimums for the AbD trips, which means that there won’t be tiny babies crying or anything like that.

What are the guides like?

They are perfect. Really.

I sound like a commercial, I know. But you should also know that I’m more than willing to call Disney out when something isn’t working. The AbD guides are often the creme de la creme of regular parks staff (in the off season, my Mediterranean Magic trip guides work in Guest Relations and Entertainment at the Magic Kingdom), so they’re well versed in Disney attitude and service, plus they also receive oodles of specialized AbD training. But the best part of all is that they’re real people and will adjust their behavior according to the circumstances. If you tell them that you want to sleep on the bus, they’ll leave you alone. They’ll act like grown-ups around the grown-ups and like kids around the kids. They’ll make all your vacation problems go away, you’ll never see them sweat, and they’ll find you the best cocktail in town at the end of the day. If I had an AbD guide in my real life, I could rule the world.

How are the hotels you stay at?

They’re fantastic. All the hotel names are published on the AbD website, so you can go check them out for yourself on TripAdvisor. The AbD hotels are almost always in the top five or ten for the region. In Costa Rica, our hotel had panoramic windows so that while lying in bed we gazed out at a garden of hibiscus and the Arenal volcano beyond – truly breathtaking.

What’s the food situation like?

Rafting in Costa Rica

It really depends on where you are. There are always some basic items for fussy kids, or adults. For example, something like plain pasta will likely be an option in much of Europe. But in many cases you’re dining in local establishments, eating local food. You’ll nearly always have a choice, but it might be a choice between two or three items rather than dozens. Some special diets can be accommodated on most trips. I’ve had vegetarians on my trips who found plenty to eat. And on my Mediterranean trip, a gluten sensitive guest was provided with gluten-free dough during our pizza-making activity. I have found the quality of the food to be good to excellent during all my AbD travels, including one of the best buffet-style meals of my life at the Fairmont Monte Carlo. However, if you’re a seriously picky eater or you have severe allergies, you’re going to want to ask a lot of questions before booking.

Do you feel like you’re missing something by not dealing directly with the locals?

Maybe. However, many of the trips do have a fair amount of down time built into the schedule where you can go off and explore on your own. Check the individual itineraries for specifics.

On the other hand, I have to be honest and say that I’m happy to forgo some aspects of local color. For example, the AbD folks do lots of research and know where there are clean, American-style toilets at nearly every excursion venue. ‘Nuff said.

Is the trip complicated to arrange?

Watching the street artists in Florence

Not at all. Depending on your destination, you can do it all with just one phone call and one form. And really, that’s the beauty of it. If I had to plan at trip to visit Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Eze, Rome, Florence, Naples, and Majorca, including hotels, transportation, meals, and site visits, I might have spent weeks on the phone and online doing research, making bookings, confirming bookings, and problem solving en route. With AbD, the whole thing was done in less than an hour.

What happens if something goes wrong during your trip?

On each of my trips, there have been guests impacted by minor illness. Disney has access to qualified local doctors and hospitals at every destination.

For other types of trip irritations, the guides have the power to problem-solve on the fly. For example, one of my Costa Rica guides told us that on a previous trip a local transportation accident (not involving the AbD guests) forced them to be stuck on a bus for four unanticipated hours. This type of thing could happen to anyone during travel (it has happened to me on the Jersey Turnpike several times), but the AbD guides walked to a local farm stand and got fruit and water for everyone. They pulled out a ball and frisbee from the back of the bus and turned a disaster into an impromptu countryside picnic.

Of course you should make sure that your own medical insurance is up to date and that you have access to information about your own prescriptions and other medical needs.

Personally, I’d also recommend trip insurance for an expenditure as large as an AbD trip. My own Mediterranean AbD trip return home was delayed by several days due to Hurricane Irene. Our trip insurance covered the hotel, meal, taxi, and personal care costs we encountered because of the delay. You should read the fine print of any policy carefully, but it’s certainly worth looking into.

Are there any other cool perks of AbD travel?

Some of the dessert offerings during our Monte Carlo lunch

There are all sorts of lovely details about AbD travel. We got AdD backpacks and Disney trading pins. Our guides had Purell for us before every meal and often mints afterward. They bought us fun paper fans when we had a long walk in 90+ degree heat. And they’re always at the ready with bandaids, Tylenol, and duct tape.

The AbD guides are also taking photos at every stop. It’s like having your own personal PhotoPass photographer with you for the whole vacation. I LOVE that I’m actually in my trip pictures. And yes, the CD is included.

Repeat customers may even be eligible for free round trip limo service to and from their home to the airport. Promotions may vary, but you should be sure to ask.

What do you like most about AbD trips?

When I was discussing AbD with Touring Plans fearless leader Len Testa, he mentioned that he’d be reticent to take an AbD trip because he’s a control freak (his words, not mine) and wouldn’t want to leave planning his trip to someone else.

In my mind, Len’s objection is AbD’s biggest selling point. As a busy mom, all I do all day, every day, is plan things. I plan meals and carpools and entertainment and education for my family. And in my down time, I plan Walt Disney World vacations for other guests on the Walt Disney World Moms Panel. I love my family and I love helping Disney guests, but once in a while a girl needs a break, ya know. On an AbD trip, I don’t plan anything; I don’t schedule anything; I don’t cook anything; I don’t drive anyone anywhere; I’m not even plotting out how to get my next FASTPASS. Someone else is taking care of all that. For me, it’s the only time I get a REAL vacation.

So what’s the downside?

Watching a sheep herding demonstration in Ireland

Well, the trips aren’t cheap. And you may have some personal interests in a particular area that can’t be accommodated due to the tour schedule. For example, when you go to the Louvre with AbD, you’re there with a guide for a specific amount of time. You can’t really linger for hours over one stunning Monet.

There may be portions of the trip that are outside your comfort zone. My admittedly prissy daughter was reluctant to take the Ireland trip because of a moderate biking component. She powered through and ended up loving it, but you may have to endure one or two activities that aren’t exactly your speed.

So Citizen of the world, now that you’ve gotten a taste of AbD, are you interested in learning more? Would you like trip reports on my Adventures this summer? Are you interested in periodic posts as I plan my AbD trip to China? Do you have any other general AbD questions? (By the way, “no” is an acceptable answer to all of this.) We’d really appreciate feedback in the comments below. Thanks!

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Posted on July 18, 2012

52 Responses to “Adventures by Disney, Basic Questions Answered”

  • by Rob Crawford on July 18, 2012, at 7:07 pm EDT

    I’ve not taken an AbD trip, but I did take a guided trip around Italy last year. Some thoughts about AbD:

    o The odds that not everyone on the trip will be “into” it seem higher to me. Granted, the trip I took was almost obsessively focused (tied to a podcast and so focused on that podcast’s subject), so everyone involved WANTED to be there (a couple spouses weren’t as devoted). But except for a couple of days, those not interested could do something else on their own. If AbD gives that much leeway, I wouldn’t be too worried about anyone but kids.

    o The hotels — at least from their sites — chosen seem nicer than the ones I stayed in, and the only objections I had to the hotels were small rooms (I was a solo traveler who opted for solo rooms) and the lack of air conditioning at one of them. The hotel AbD chose in Rome is in a wonderful location — across the street from a Roman Empire-era bath that was redecorated into a church by Michelangelo, down the street from an incredible museum, and half a block from a McDonald’s (J/K).

    o The prices aren’t out of line. The trip I took was about the same, but included a mid-trip flight to Istanbul, balanced out by slightly less expensive hotels.

    o Definitely recommend trip insurance for any big trip.

    o And I want to reinforce your “you’ll be on the schedule of the tour, not your own” point. The AbD tours that hit Pompeii spend 4 hours there — the trip I was on spent 8 and it still felt rushed. I cannot see how you can see even the highlights of Pompeii in 4 hours; although not going to the Lupanar probably saves an hour. I’d probably have already booked with AbD if it weren’t for this fact; I’m not as much a control freak as Len, but there are some things I would be upset at not being able to see because of the tour schedule.

    Oh, and a bit of a recommendation — if the schedule permits, definitely do some off-tour site-seeing on your own or (better yet) with others from the tour. You may not get to that place again, so make the most of it!

    • In my experience, most of the folks on the AbD trips are pretty into it. The only people on my trips who have not been into it are cranky teenagers who are too cool to be into anything at the moment. (And as the mother of three teens, I say this with all the love in my heart.)

      Some of the trips have more free time than others. This is all spelled out in the itineraries. If having time to explore on your own is important, you may want to focus on those trips. Also, many folks do choose to arrive at their destinations a few days early or stay late to work in more of the sights on their own.

  • Thank you so much for this post! I have been looking at ABD lately, as my son is getting older (7 now), and he is expressing interest in traveling to other places other than just WDW (he’s been three times). We are doing our first Disney Cruise at Thanksgiving (another topic I’d like to see address more by Touring Plans), but he has also asked repeatedly about visiting other countries, especially those in Europe. I did study abroad when I was 21 and absolutely loved all of the planning aspects (Fodor’s Europe on $40/day was my bible), but I don’t even want to think about trying my previous approach if traveling with my son. Just the logistics of getting around airports and train stations with our luggage would be a huge challenge for the two of us. I love the idea of having all transportation and lodging pre-arranged! To be honest, the cost is holding me back a bit, but if I can get more information on activities, trips, quality of food and lodging, etc., I definitely see this a something my son and I would do in the next few years!

    • Thanks for the feedback. I can certainly give more info about the trips that I’ve been on.

      Putting on another of my Disney hats for a moment … I’d like to put in a plug for the Disney Moms Panel at DisneyWorldMoms.com There is a dedicated AbD mom there who would be THRILLED to answer any and all AbD questions you might have.

      • Thanks! I have used the mom’s panel before (it is great!) when I planned my son’s first trip to WDW (I had not visited in almost 14 years, so a few things had changed :)). I like to get all the details, though, and I will read every word you write about your trips!

  • Thank you so much for this post, Erin! I haven’t seen a lot of ABD information out there, so this helps a lot. We’ll have to wait for a few years until my daughter is older (she’s 3 now) but that will give me plenty of time to narrow down the trip I want to take!

  • I would love to see more posts about AbD – and would really love to get a trip report of previous/future trips.

  • This sounds wonderful, and if I were to take a trip like this, I think it would be with Disney. For me, it comes down to money. My husband and I can drive to WDW and spend a week for less than $2K, with everything (food, gas, hotel, etc.). These trips seem to be at least an additional $10K, which is just not in my budget. I’m not sure about most of touring plans regular readers, but this is probably not something I could do, and since it’s all so planned out, I’m not sure how much touring plans could help here anyway. Just my two cents.

  • We’ve been looking at AbD trips for our next big trip after WDW in 2013… we are a every 5-8 years WDW family…it was great to see this post and would love to read more as you head off to China!

    • The China trip will definitely take more planning than some of the others. I’ll keep you posted on that one.

  • LOVE that you reviewed the AbD! Having traveled around the world myself, my husband and I have a son who’s now 6, and we’ve been looking at ways to get out and get traveling– the easier way! I’ve taken a variety of guided tours, both day trips and longer, and have always had a great experience. Of course, these were trusted organizations, like AbD. One question my husband and I had was really whether the price was worth it, and it sounds like it is. I’d love to see more reviews of the AbD, particularly individual tours- noting ages of children, especially (since my 6 year old is probably not ready to climb Mt Fuji… as fun as it was when I did it…) Thanks, and do more!

    • There is a minimum and recommended age posted on the AbD website for all the trips. On the trips that I’ve been on, the children have usually been from about age seven on up. I can give you more specifics if you let me know what trips you’re interested in.

  • As someone whose soon-to-be-DW hasn’t quite caught the WDW bug yet, I’m fully in favor of these posts. Thanks!

  • I’m definitely interested in hearing some more specific reviews/details about the various AbD trips. The cost is the main deterrent from us having taken one, but I think that if I were to hear a more in depth review of the itinerary/activities/lodging, etc., it would help us determine exactly which trip would be worth it for us to start saving up our money.

    • The “is it worth it” question is the one that find most challenging. It all depends on what your personal value criteria are. If your primary goal is to see the world as cheaply as possible (the Lonely Planet $40 per day trip), then AbD will seem like a total waste to you.

      If your primary goal is to spend a week in Paris studying every Monet in town, then AbD may be too rigid for you.

      Personally, my big goal for international travel is to minimize hassle. Having someone else plan and problem solve for me is HUGE, well worth a premium price for me personally. But if you want to delve into the details yourself, then you may be disappointed by AbD.

      Also the destination plays a big factor. It may be easier to plan a US or England trip on your own, where language is not a factor. However, I am 100% certain that my family would NEVER go to China without a trained guide by our side.

      The AbD website is quite detailed. It lists every hotel you stay at as well as all the activities. So that’s a good place to start.

      But determining “worth it” is very personal. As I mentioned in the article, the hotels I stayed at with AbD in Barcelona and Costa Rica were outstanding. I might not have splurged to stay in them had I planned the trip myself, but I was THRILLED to spend time there. That extra bit of luxury and pampering made it totally worth it for me.

      • All that being said, I completely understand that hearing about a trip from a real person can help put things in perspective and give you a context to frame the answer to the “worth it” question for yourself.

  • This is awesome, Erin! My hubby and I have talked about AbD, but always with a “someday when we win the lottery” tone. More posts like this may actually convince us that it would be possible. We’re DVC members – I’m guessing it’s not worth it to use points for AbD, but it’s really just a guess. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Or know where I can find a discussion on it?

    • We are DVC members. The math of using points to pay for AbD trips is tricky. Several of the folks that are on my current trip have used points to pay for it.

      On our Costa Rica trip, my family used points to pay for two of us and cash for the others.

      You have to think about points as a sunk cost and weigh the number of points you have, your frequency of other Disney travel, and how much you paid for your points. If you own at Old Key West and paid $75 for your points, the math may be totally different than if you own at Bay Lake and paid $100 for your points. But this is a great topic for discussion. I’ll certainly consider doing a full post about this.

  • Please keep up the information on AbD. It seems like word is just starting to hit the mainstream on this (this is the second review of AbD that I have read of it in as many weeks). I wish there were more trips to Canada around Vancouver and Banff.

    • They do add/subtract tours with some regularity. In my experience, they’re quite open to guest feedback. You may want to give them a call an make your suggestion.

  • Take this with a grain of salt since I’ve never done an Adventures by Disney trip, but my feeling is that Adventures by Disney is a way for Disney to exploit its trusted brand name to sell trips to other destinations at inflated price points.

    My problems with this are twofold: 1) I would rather spend significantly less money to create my own itinerary that allows me to see and do what I want, and 2) If I were willing to pay a premium, I would look to better names in luxury travel.

    I can see paying a premium for the Disney name in cruising because it’s a more unique and “Disney” experience than is available on other cruise lines. I don’t believe that is the case with Adventures by Disney.

    Interesting information, nonetheless, and like I said, I’ve never done AbD, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt…

    • I would like to hear more about the AbD trips, but the prices are well out of our price range. I do enjoy group travel, and have organized and led several as a dive instructor and also as part of a snow ski club. Some with kids and some without. I also am used to being the planner vs. the follower, and have some of the same issues with relenquishing control over the itinerary.

      I think a lot of the readers look to touringplans for advice to make the most out of a trip for less. However many of us are always interested in reading about other travel adventures, even if we may not take the plunge and book one.

  • We priced out a Scotland trip and it was somewhere around $5-6k per person and that didn’t include airfare.
    For a family of four, ouch!

  • Ah Tom, I see that you have Len’s control freak gene in you as well. :-)

    As to your point 1: on my Mediterranean AbD trip, we visited a local family farm. If I had booked a similar trip on my own, I never would have done this. First, I would not have know it existed. Second, I would not have had the connections to arrange it had I wanted to. Third, as a newbie to Italy, I would have thought that our time would be better spent seeing more well known sights. As it turned out, this was my kids’ favorite stop on the trip. In some ways I compare this to going to WDW cold and wandering around vs. putting yourselves in the hands of the experts who have done the research and legwork for you, like with a touring plan.

    As for point two, there are certainly other luxury tours. However, maybe not so many that combine luxury with children. There are many elements of AbD tours that are planned with the needs of kids and families in mind. The importance of these things cannot be overestimated for a parent.

    • If you’re interested in offbeat experiences like visiting a local farm without booking a package like AbD, Vayable (http://www.vayable.com/) has a lot of options. I’ve also heard good things about their, “Not finding what you want?” feature, where you just tell them what you’ve got in mind, and they go find someone who does what you’re looking for, and add it to their catalog.

      Just waiting for “See WDW through the eyes of a Touring Plans expert” to be listed…

  • Erin, I had read your AbD trip recaps on Allears.net and just got my AbD brochure in the mail this week. Also as I working mom, I am certainly in agreement that having to plan something like this on my own would be daunting. My youngest is too young to go on these trips now, but I’m hoping we can plan one in about 2-3 years. Thanks for the this post. I didn’t know the Mom’s Panel had someone to answer questions on this. I’ll have to check that out as well.

  • Erin, thank you so much for this! I would love to see more posts on Adventures by Disney by you or others who have been on the trips. It would be great to see some real-world feedback. I have been considering one of AbD’s Italy trips for our family (DH, DS 6) for some time but I’ve held back because I wasn’t sure if it would be worth the cost. You’ve convinced me it would be!

  • I really enjoyed the article. I plan on taking vacations using AbD one day so I would love to see these types of articles periodically.

  • Thank you so much for this review! Sadly I want the best of both worlds. I want the posh and amazing experiences that AbD offer buy sadly the bank account just cannot afford it. I adopted my DD from China and I looked into taking the China trip but at a price tag pushing $20,000 for the two of us it’s just not an option. Too bad as I know Disney would do an amazing job and offer the very best tour ever!

    **sigh!**

  • Thanks for the info! Would love to do an AbD trip some day when it becomes more affordable. In the meantime, keep posting!

  • Thanks so much but I’m worried you’ve planted an idea that I’ll never shake! My hubby and I were reading some of the current offerings last night and some of the trips are acceptably massively expensive (if you see what I mean)

    The appeal is things like the guided tour of Costa Rica which I’d be too scared to do unguided or a private tour of the Grand Canyon.

  • I would like to read a review of the Southern Cali AbD trip. That is one that I am looking into. It’s pricer than planning myself, but there seems to be a lot of VIP perks with that one.

  • Yes definitely provide all the articles the blog will allow. Because of the expensive nature of the trips, the more information the better and hardly anyone covers this information. In today’s times, about the only way I would consider going overseas or on a cruise is Disney. So the more information the better!

  • Even if a little expensive, the guides take care of everything. No worries about booking, travel, hotels. We will be taking our second AbD trip in August to Germany. Last year we did the AbD add on with the Alaskan Cruise. It was excellent. There was no way we could have done all the excursions on our own. We finished one and had a bus waiting to take us to the next. If you can swing it, I would definitely recommend traveling with AbD.

  • We are going on the 8/17 trip.

  • Cool. I will be traveling with my wife and son and are scheduled to arrive a couple days early.

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  • How much does the 3 day Barcelona trip cost??

  • Sorry if I missed it but did you go on the AbD China trip? My husband and I (no kids) are seriously considering it. Would love to hear about your experiences and if it is worth the huge price tag. We are always impressed with disney s quality. Thanks!

    • I did go on the China trip in August 2013 (after this post was written). It was, in a word, INCREDIBLE – by far the best of the six AbD trips I’ve been on, and that’s really saying something. The hotels were amazing. The guides were fantastic. The food was delicious.

      And we saw so many of the highlights of the country. It’s funny, I’ve been watching coverage of the Obamas’ China trip this week and I keep saying to my kids, “We were there, we were there.” In addition to tourist must-dos like the Great Wall, we were also brought into real Chinese homes and saw how the people live there. While the trip was indeed expensive, I feel like the money was completely well spent in educating my daughters about the larger world. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

      If you have specific questions, perhaps the easiest thing to do would be to go over to DisneyWorldMoms.com and ask me there. I’m happy to help as much as you need.