Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Are Group Tours Worth the Money?

CIE Tours in Northern Ireland
I resisted group tours for years. I envisioned a bus full of boring geriatrics with whom I would have nothing in common with. The other thing I imagined was a huge travel bill.

I first dipped my toe into tour group travel with a day trip out of London. We boarded a bus from central London and headed out with a large group to see Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath. I found that I liked having everything managed for me. We paid the bus company and they took care of the transportation and the admissions. Not only were we dropped right at the door of the attractions (thus no parking hassles), but as a group, we were escorted right in and skipped the queue. 

My second foray into group travel was a day trip in Cancun. We boarded a bus downtown and made two stops along the way for lunch, shopping and swimming in a cenote (which I opted out of). We were dropped at the entrance to Chichen Itza where we were disbursed and explored the area on our own for several hours.

Then we got serious about group travel. When we decided to take our first trip to Ireland, my beloved suggested that we try a group tour. I was hesitant because every multiday group tour that I had looked at online was jaw-droppingly expensive. I could book similar trips on my own at half the price.

However, someone recommended that we try CIE Tours. We checked their reviews on Tripadvisor.com and they had very high ratings. When we looked at the site, we were pleasantly surprised at the cost of the tours they offer. We could not beat the prices by booking on our own.


CIE will make you feel a bit spoiled before you even leave home. They walk you through every step of the booking process and even help you find a discount that will apply toward your trip. You can book your own air travel but if you book it through them, your transportation to and from your destination airport is included in the fee.

I highly suggest that you let them book your air travel. They know the best flights and if anything goes awry, they can be your advocate with the airline.

About two weeks before you depart, you will receive a little present in the mail from CIE. They send you a very nice, very sturdy backpack containing all your trip vouchers. They send a map of your destination, as well as a brochure about the country/countries you will be visiting. They send luggage straps and luggage tags. They even send a VAT refund card that you can register before you leave home, making getting your VAT (Value Added Tax) refund quick and easy at the end of your trip.

When you arrive at your destination, you will see a sign saying, “CIE Tours” posted just outside the arrivals area. If you’re sporting your CIE backpack and have used the bright yellow luggage straps, your greeter will notice you instantly and rush to your side. If not, you can find your neatly dressed greeter by the sign.

He will check your name off the list and instruct you where to wait for the rest of your group. If you have wisely booked your air travel through CIE, you will find that many members of your group came in on the same plane or on one that arrived very close to the time that yours did.

You are then shuffled off to a bus where your hand over your luggage and head off toward your first night’s lodgings. This is the last time you will have to drag your luggage until the end of your trip. At every stop, your bus driver makes sure that your luggage gets to your room at check-in and back on the bus at check-out.
Once aboard the bus, your driver will chat along the way and let you know what to expect for the rest of the day. That night you will meet all your fellow travelers for dinner and your guide will give you all the information you need to know for the duration of your trip.

Every day you be well-fed and shuttled everywhere you go. You are never lost or alone unless you want to be. Your driver/guide is your guardian angel who will answer every question and help you to have as nice a trip as possible.

I have traveled with CIE twice. On the first trip, I went to The Republic of Ireland with my beloved. We traveled during the first week of the travel season. Because of last minute cancellations due to a snowstorm in the States, there were only six of us on a bus designed to hold many more. The small group allowed our guide the freedom to be even more attentive than usual. I felt completely spoiled and pampered by the time we had to fly back home.

My sweetheart did not want to come along when I decided that I wanted to go to Northern Ireland. I’d never done an international trip alone but I knew that if I booked with CIE, I wouldn’t really be alone. On this trip, I traveled in the fall and the bus was nearly full. What a wonderful time I had! I was instantly embraced by the whole group. The only meals I had alone were lunches the first two days and that was because I wanted to go off and do my own thing. Otherwise, every meal was shared with then new and now treasured friends. The other advantage to going on a group tour, especially if you are traveling without a companion, is that you will always be safe.

All dinners were included in the trip fee, except for one. All the breakfasts were included. Lunch was generally on our own except for one day when we made a special lunch stop as a group.

The tour company arranged for visits to several wonderful places, many that I would have never thought of on my own, such as Avoca Woolen Mills, Belleek China, Blarney Castle, Bunratty Castle and more. One our first trip we spent a night in Dromoland Castle and on my second trip I spent a night at Cabra Castle. I would have never have thought to arrange such magnificent accommodations myself. Walking tours with local guides were provided in some cities. They also arranged for memorable welcome night and farewell night dinners. If you go with CIE Tours, you will most certainly come home with many wonderful memories.

The comradery of the group was a favorite part of the trip for me. Far from a group of dull fuddy-duddies, I found myself surrounded by fun-loving people of all ages, from 25 to 85. We got to know each other and became fast friends over countless shared laughs. My only regret is that I did not make a point of getting contact information from more of these dear people than I did.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat!



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