Group travel on a big bus

Many of us prefer traveling with a group, since it is cost effective. This often means, especially during busy travel seasons, being tightly packed in a big bus. In the last six months of 2006 my wife, Marlene, and I took three such tours, which I compare below. All prices are per person and include airfare to and from Chicago.

We started with a 17-day “Grand Tour of France,” Sept. 7-23, with Grand European Tours (6000 Meadows Rd., Ste. 520, Lake Oswego, OR 97035; 800/552-5545, It cost $3,599 and we spent $180 on optional tours.

Galen enjoys a picnic lunch on the shore of Lake Bled, Slovenia.

The second was the 15-day “Dubrovnik & Beyond, From the Adriatic to the Alps,” Oct. 13-30, with Grand Circle Corporation (347 Congress St., Boston, MA 02210; 800/959-0405, It cost $2,395 plus $280 in optional tours.

The most recent was Grand European’s 10-day “Alpine Christmas Markets,” Dec. 4-12, which cost $1,959 plus $200 in optional tours.

Each had a professional guide and offered many tour experiences and different discovery events. In each case, the sights and sounds were fantastic, such as the Versailles Palace; the Pont du Gard; the Arena in Nimes, France; the Arena in Pula, Croatia; Dubrovnik; Lake Bled in Slovenia, and Christmas markets.

Accommodations were the usual hotels frequented by group tours — easily identified by the presence of a tour group from Japan. There were obvious differences. In Nice, with Grand European we were lodged in an “equivalent” hotel, one not listed on the itinerary; it had extremely small rooms and bathrooms, where it was difficult for both of us to stand at one time. In Opatija, Croatia, with Grand Circle we had a spacious 2-room suite; maybe it was given to us because of our Inner Circle status.

Included meals ranged from sumptuous evening dinners to disasters. Our best included meal was with Grand Circle in a small town in Slovenia. The most unfortunate one was with Grand European when we arrived in Bordeaux to find that the promised hotel dinner, whose elegant menu we had been presented, had not been prepared. Rather than going to an alternate restaurant, we had to wait three hours for the hotel restaurant to clear and then were served only a soup, made from dry materials, and spaghetti. No apology or refund was obtained from Grand European.

On all tours, breakfasts were included. The buffets were extensive, but often after we took a portion, the “dining room witch” would identify us as “groupies” and quickly move us to a back room so as not to mingle with the hotel’s preferred clientele.

Our favorite lunch was a baguette or Brötchen filled with ham and cheese plus a piece of fruit from the breakfast buffet. With this in hand, we chose some of the most delightful lunch places, such as the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, the shore of Lake Bled, Slovenia, and a spot on the trail in the Black Forest of Germany. By limiting our choice to one big restaurant meal a day, we not only cut down on our calorie count but, in my wife’s case, helped control blood sugar and, in my case, reduced sodium intake.

Many of the optional (extra-cost) tours included a large lunch or dinner from a set menu. These often were reflective of regional specialties, such as Kransky sausages in Slovenia and cassoulet in Carcassonne, France.

One of the drawbacks of large group tours (up to 48 on a fully packed bus) is that only a few people are able to hear the often soft-spoken required local guide. After trying to bunch in, many also give up because they cannot understand what the guide is saying. This is often due less to the guide’s poor English than to the means of expression. “Let me give you informations” is often heard.

One notable exception was Nicky, who guided us through the Palace of Versailles on the Grand European tour. He used a microphone and we each had a headset so we could hear from longer distances. This was especially good in the tourist-packed palace. This is an example that should be followed in more large bus group tours. It allows all to be included, even those, like many of us, whose hearing tends to be impaired at older age.

As one who enjoys the cost effectiveness of large group bus tours, I encourage my fellow travelers to endure the daily seat rotation and find their seats without making a daily fuss, so that we all can enjoy those travel delights which are on the list for the day. Note that European buses have a back door, so the seats on the back-door side are closer together than on the other side. Seat rotation thus insures that one is not always confined to those very cramped seats just behind that second door.

Best of all is the tour with fewer participants (more like 30 than the full 48), so there is some extra space on the big bus.

The world is a great place, full of people and places to be seen. I love to photograph them all.


Sheboygan, WI

ITN mailed a copy of Mr. Frysinger’s letter to Grand European Tours and was sent a copy of their reply to him, as follows.

We are glad that ITN has provided us with the opportunity to respond to you regarding your disappointment in one of the meals on your “Grand Tour of France.”

First off, I offer my sincere apology on behalf of GET. If you had contacted us upon your return from your tour, we would certainly have addressed this matter. We have since changed the hotel we use in Bordeaux. We look forward to much more positive dining experiences with the new choice of hotel for 2007.

We fully agree that you should have been provided with an equal substitute for the meal that was not available upon your arrival in Bordeaux. I am not certain what the extenuating circumstances were, but you certainly should have been accommodated with the quality meal promised.

In a gesture of goodwill and to express that you, having traveled with us multiple times, are our valued client, I would like to offer you an extra discount of $150 per person off a future trip with GET.

I want to convey to you that we here at GET have a main objective to provide the very best travel experience for our clientele. We always welcome the comments and suggestions of our travelers. You are able to provide insights that are helpful to the correction of any problems as we develop our future itineraries.

Please feel free to contact me anytime regarding your concerns or suggestions. It will be my privilege to chat with you, and I will appreciate the opportunity to assist you anyway I can. I do hope that we will have occasion to welcome you again on one of our future tours.

DEBORA DOMER, Customer Service Manager, Grand European Tours