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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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!