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Looking for guided tour for London and Paris
Old 01-05-2013, 10:37 PM   #1
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Looking for guided tour for London and Paris

Hi folks,

I am helping my parents with their upcoming european trip and am going to suggest a tour company to help them navigate London and Paris. Neither are "experienced" travelers, in fact, this will be my mom's first trip outside the US. London should pose no difficulty for them, but I imagine Paris will be overwhelming for them in many ways. Dad is 70, Mom is 67.

Can anyone recommend a travel company they have used and liked? So far, I have looked into Trafalgar Tours (have read mixed reviews), Grand European Tours ("preferred" from the AARP website), Tauck Tours (lovely, but very high end), and Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel, and yes, I've read the helpful thread on them already in this forum).

Just wondering if any experienced travelers would have any recommendations for them. Thanks!
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Old 01-06-2013, 11:29 AM   #2
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Depends on how active your parents are. If they are "get up and go", they may enjoy Rick Steve's offerings. He has a week long London city tour. We went on it several years ago. Our guide was a "Blue Badge"--England apparently certifies guides and Blue Badges are the highest ranking. Takes quite a bit of study and experience to qualify.
We are going on Rick Steve's Paris tour this May, and have also used him for 4 other tours. Without exception, his guides have always been top knotch.
We have found his city tours particulary good because of the effective way his tours are structured. The detail organization and professional standing of his guides allows his groups early access to many venues allowing much better experiences. Besides our primary guides, we also had two other Blue Badge guides who had special depth to cover the Westminster Abby and British Museum.
We usually do the country side on our own but we have found we can see in a week with Rick Steve, what it would take us much longer(50%) to accomplish on our own.
His tour groups are smaller than many of the other groups you mentioned, the London trip maxs at 24, and is often smaller. The Rick Steves website is rich with info on both location so even if you do not travel with his groups, there is a lot of good practical info.
Nwsteve
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Old 01-06-2013, 01:17 PM   #3
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If you have a day to spend without scheduled events, I recommend the Big Red Bus Company (assuming it's still around). It's a fleet of double deckers that maintains 3 or 4 routes around town, and it comes about every 20 minutes. You can get on and off at numerous designated stops, and the routes hit major points of interest all around the city. Each bus has a tour guide who continuously tells facts and history about London. We used it all day long, I thought it was a great way to maximize my time there.
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Old 01-06-2013, 01:23 PM   #4
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If they are willing to venture out on their own in London, the tours offered by London Walks are excellent London Walks "first and best of the walking tour firms" Fodors and reasonably-priced.

The tours typically meet at the street level of an Underground Tube station and the guides are wonderful. (Had a theater professor giving us a tour of the neighborhood of the Globe theater, for example.)

omni
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Old 01-06-2013, 07:11 PM   #5
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Check out Collette vacations . They are a little higher end than Trafalgar but include some nice extras like Tauck for less money . I have never been on their tours but I know people who have and they raved . Years & years ago I did a Trafalgar tour . It was great for a first tour of Europe but we did pay for a lot of extras so you really need to see what they include .We also spent time in London on our own . Easiest town to get around and tour on your own. Everybody is so helpful .
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Old 01-06-2013, 07:35 PM   #6
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Thank you for the replies, they are good avenues to look into. I don't know why I didn't consider Rick Steve's tours. My husband and I have been using his tour books for over a decade now, but we always plan our own things. It didn't even occur to me to look into that.
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Old 01-06-2013, 07:54 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by GinaP View Post

London should pose no difficulty for them, but I imagine Paris will be overwhelming for them in many ways. Dad is 70, Mom is 67.
I am sort of bemused by this... There was a time that I would have thought of those ages as "old" and as needing assistance. DH just turned 65, though, so now I look at those ages and thing that doesn't really seem particularly old....

Anyway - last year we went to London and spent a day in Paris.

I don't know how long your parents will be in Paris - we just went for a single day trip - but I went to TripAdvisor particularly on the Paris part. We don't speak French, DH had never been there (I had but I was 17 at the time) and so were very ignorant. We ended up getting off the train and took the subway to near Notre Dame (we could have done a cab but the subway was easy) and picked up one of the bus tours that are there. You buy a ticket and you can tour around to all the major sites and can get off and on. They give you earpieces to hear a commentary of all the sites. It worked really well and was inexpensive and we could stop for the things that we really wanted to go into (Notre Dame, Louvre) but just drove by and didn't get off things that weren't that interesting to us.

For London, we did do a Black Taxi Tour which I think was booked through Golden Tours. This was a very good full day tour. We did a lot on our own but this eliminated a lot of the hassle factor.

We also did a full day tour using Evan Evans that went to Windsor, Oxford and Stonehenge private viewing. The key on this one was we wanted to go inside the stones at Stonehenge so that required being on a tour. That went great and was really a highlight of the trip.

We bought the Black Taxi Tour, the Stonehenge tour and our Eurostar ticket to Paris before we left.
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Old 01-06-2013, 08:27 PM   #8
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I second the Rick Steves tour idea, even if it's just for the Paris part of the trip. Make sure to read the tour description, though, which lists how much walking for each day and how strenuous it is--it can be several miles a day, not the hop on and off buses type of tour. They also require packing light, which might be difficult for some. I'm going on their 21-day Europe trip in the fall, and was impressed by travel classes I attended at their office, and I enjoyed hearing actual tour guides show slide shows and describe the tours. I enjoy wandering on my own, too, and their tours tend to give plenty of free time, with the guides suggesting places to eat or visit and giving public transport help.

The other tour companies, like Trafalgar, tend to stay outside city centers, tack on money-making extra tours and required stops where they get kickbacks (such as glass-blowing demos in Venice), and they fill their buses with twice as many people as the Steves tours. I decided I'd rather spend more to create a memorable and comfortable experience, and then if I want to return to specific countries then I'll have the confidence to manage on my own. I also like that they made me sign a 'no grumps' policy, meaning no whining about European hotel standards, not getting an American breakfast, or having to walk all day.

A Steves tour might not be for everyone, such as my parents, who hate walking, love 'safe', pre-packaged travel like cruises and Vegas, and especially enjoy complaining about everything. I feel sad that my mother has been on dozens of cruises to the same touristy places, but will probably never go to Europe in her life.
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Old 01-06-2013, 11:50 PM   #9
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I also recommend the hop on and off buses and walking tours. I've been to both places many times and still do the walking tours. There is quite a variety of interesting walks. Just did two in London (National Gallery and Mayfair) last month.
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Old 01-07-2013, 09:47 AM   #10
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I am sort of bemused by this... There was a time that I would have thought of those ages as "old" and as needing assistance. DH just turned 65, though, so now I look at those ages and thing that doesn't really seem particularly old....
I don't consider them old by any means. They are fit and healthy and can walk around all day long. They are simply not experienced travelers and need a tour that takes care of all the things they might not consider by planning on their own (like, how to buy a Metro card in Paris, or heck, FINDING a hotel in Paris and booking it). And I added the ages so no one would suggest "adventure" tours, like ice-climbing in the Alps, or pub-crawling. Although that does have a certain appeal, now that I think of it.


Thanks again for the suggestions, everyone. You all have been very helpful!
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Old 01-07-2013, 10:09 AM   #11
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I get tantalizing emails from the Smithsonian about trips like this--google Smithsonian travel.

Also there are threads here about Road Scholar that might also be appealing.
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Old 01-07-2013, 11:06 AM   #12
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I don't consider them old by any means. They are fit and healthy and can walk around all day long. They are simply not experienced travelers and need a tour that takes care of all the things they might not consider by planning on their own (like, how to buy a Metro card in Paris, or heck, FINDING a hotel in Paris and booking it). And I added the ages so no one would suggest "adventure" tours, like ice-climbing in the Alps, or pub-crawling. Although that does have a certain appeal, now that I think of it.


Thanks again for the suggestions, everyone. You all have been very helpful!
One of things we especially appreciate about the Rick Steves tours is how the first group event is to orient people to how to get along. They take you to the subway, show you how the sytem runs and take a short trip so you have "real time" learning. Their guides are likewise extremely competent and will give you hands on directions for side trips on your free time always with the benefit of a "locals" inside knowledge.
For a first time European traveler, RS gives you the adventure without the uncertainty and anxiety of the dealing with a language you may not understand in a place you have never been.
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Old 01-07-2013, 03:26 PM   #13
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They are simply not experienced travelers and need a tour that takes care of all the things they might not consider by planning on their own (like, how to buy a Metro card in Paris, or heck, FINDING a hotel in Paris and booking it).
If they use internet, I would really recommend the TripAdvisor site. That helped me so much when we were planning our trip. I certainly would have had no idea how to buy a metro card or how to book stuff in advance, etc. without going to those forums. I did a lot of reading that just oriented me to a lot of things.

For some things what was so helpful is that many people on that site are actually people living in the area so they can give extremely detailed information. For example, they gave me the exact steps and turns to take for some places we wanted to go to.

I'm not saying not to do the pre-packaged tours, but reading about the area on TripAdvisor in addition can really help.
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Old 01-07-2013, 03:31 PM   #14
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If they are willing to venture out on their own in London, the tours offered by London Walks are excellent London Walks "first and best of the walking tour firms" Fodors and reasonably-priced.

The tours typically meet at the street level of an Underground Tube station and the guides are wonderful. (Had a theater professor giving us a tour of the neighborhood of the Globe theater, for example.)

omni
+1 on this.

I've done these tours numerous times. The different tour guides are all highly entertaining (many are actors and know how to keep an audience.)

They're paced so even if you're not a fast walker, you can keep up.
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Old 01-07-2013, 05:56 PM   #15
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DW and I really enjoyed the London night bus tour. Don't recall the exact name, but it's really worthwhile even if you've already done another bus tour by day. It had an open upper deck, and it got really cold up there even in late August. I highly recommend the experience.
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Old 01-10-2013, 10:26 AM   #16
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When I was working as a travel agent, we used Globus and Cosmos and had many pleased customers. Globus is more upscale and the hotels are better located, but Cosmos is less expensive. Just another suggestion for you to look into.
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Old 01-10-2013, 10:30 AM   #17
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A lot depends on your budget, and whether you're looking for a group or private tour? My former boss used Abercrombie & Kent, they're outstanding, but expensive (way too much for DW & I).

For anyone who likes travel, London & Paris are wonderful, should be a very memorable trip!
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Parents Europe trip
Old 01-19-2013, 12:56 AM   #18
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Parents Europe trip

Have you considered Viking River Tours for Paris?
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