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Old 08-13-2010, 10:08 PM   #1
KidDad
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ABD Gateway - London and Paris

I've been meaning to download for several weeks now, but here it is at last. My son (9) and I went on the London and Paris Gateway trip June 25-July 1. We had a fantastic time in both cities (how can you not)--but can't necessarily credit that to ABD. . . Here's the good and the bad, as best as I can now remember:

HOTELS
In London, we stayed at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge. This was a true 4-star hotel. I can't imagine a better located hotel; it was steps away from the South Bank river walk and the London Eye, and across the bridge from Big Ben and Westminster. This is a hotel you could really like, but not love. It's brand spanking new, the rooms are large and modern, beds are comfortable, and breakfasts were excellent. It's a stylish hotel, but so modern as to be a bit charmless. We had a woman on our trip who had gone on the K&L trip the previous year, and told us that the K&L hotel was less convenient, but grander and more stately. The decor is ultra-modern, so it works for now, but I have a feeling it will be dated in 5 years. All that being said, the location and comfort made it a great home base.

In Paris, we stayed at the Marriott Rive Gauche. Interestingly, the woman who had been on K&L the previous year preferred the Paris Gateway hotel to the K&L hotel (but don't recall why). The Marriott was, well, a Marriott--everything you would expect--efficient, not as stylish as the London hotel, but serviceable. The rooms were a bit on the small side, but everything worked fine, breakfasts were terrific, and the business center had internet access for a small fee. The hotel was near a metro, so was easy to get anywhere, but not particularly well located. Seemed like a 3+ hotel, especially compared to the London accommodations, but I was very happy with it--it more than met our needs and we weren't hanging out at the hotel.

MEALS
Not so great. Most of the meals were pretty mediocre and usually lasted at least two hours--some 2.5. Honestly, with all the choices in London and Paris, I preferred eating on our own. A couple of places were notable, such as eating at the Eiffel Tower (the experience, not the food) and the last night in Paris, so for those who are worried about having fewer meals included than K&L (I think it's one less lunch or dinner)--it's a good thing. The dinner the last night in Paris was amazing--the one truly Disney-esque experience (not the food so much, but everything else). I won't say more other than that was one time ABD really delivered.

GUIDES
Here's where I had my biggest disappointment. One of our guides, Eddie, was quite good--earnest, knowledgeable, and hard working. The other guide had a lot of personality, but knew virtually nothing about either city. On a Gateway trip--with more time to explore on your own--I expected him to be able to do more than simply entertain the kids. For example, he had never heard of the Courtald Museum in London, and made no effort to find out anything about it after we asked him. He gave us the wrong directions from the hotel to Leicester Square (huh? it's only 10 minutes away . . . ). He had no restaurant recommendations for London (fortunately, Eddie had names and directions for restaurants). In Paris, he misinformed another couple about where to find a famous ice cream shop--they later complained they wasted an entire afternoon in Paris being lost. We asked him about restaurants near the hotel--he told us vaguely to go a couple of blocks and make a couple of lefts and we'd find something (Eddie actually got out a map and told us the names of streets). Finally, we asked him about taking the metro from the Paris hotel to the airport. He assured us he'd provide us all the information we needed. We never heard back from him (we got the information from the hotel concierge instead). Basically, he was lazy and uninformed (although very good about reminding us to tip). After everything I had read about the Disney guides being outstanding, I was singularly unimpressed--and that impression seemed to be shared by others on the trip.

DIFFERENCES IN ACTIVITIES WITH K&L
Lion King: K&L has the Lion King, which many families did anyway. We saw it on Broadway in NY and the families that went in London seemed disappointed with the staging (the NY theatre was built specifically to stage the play). We got half-price tickets to Oliver and loved it (but saw another post that had some issues with certain scenes).

Versailles: We went to Versailles on our own. Would have been helpful to have more info as to how to get there from our guides, but we had a phenomenally good time. It's very do-able as a day trip and we rented bikes and paddle boats. This was truly one of the highlights for us, and not sure it would have been as fun or exciting in a large group.

High Tea: My son had no interest in this, but others arranged it on their own and seemed to enjoy it a great deal.

OTHER FAMILIES
We had about 25-30 people total on our trip. One of the best parts of the ABD is having a group of kids for my son to play with. The kids got along great--seemed like an 8-9 year old cluster, and then another cluster in the 14 year old range. It provided great balance for us to have dad-son time and then for him to cut loose with his friends. Disney overall did a very good job of providing kid-specific activities and balancing the needs of the adults while touring with the kids attention span. Westminster tour was simply too long for any living child under 10, but otherwise, this aspect of the trip exceeded my hopes.

BOTTOM LINE
I have done trips with Backroads in the U.S., and if were going to take a U.S. based trip, I would take them hands down--they really are full-service, completely oriented around the client and know the areas they guide through. They take care of everything and the guides are uniformly amazing (both with kids and adults).

If I were going to Europe on a regular tour, I'd be awfully tempted to go with Tauck Bridges instead. I'm more interested in going with a tour company that's earned its reputation rather than a Disney that is simply relying on the brand (although heck, that's why I booked with them). In Europe, Backroads is more adventure travel and Disney is more a sightseeing trip, so I don't see that as an apples to apples comparison.

All that being said, I really think Disney is on to something with the Gateway concept. You get preferred access to all the major attractions you'd see anyway, have hotels and transfers handled, companions for your kids, and time off to customize your trip to do the kinds of things you want to do or see. For me and my son, we saved $2800 over the K&L trip, and did everything (and more) that was important to us. As I thought about the guide fiasco, I think part of the problem is they use the same guides on the Gateway Adventure as they do on the K&L, where there's less downtime, so guides don't really need to do much or be particularly knowledgeable (thery rely on local guides for the tours). On a Gateway trip, however, it's more important for a guide to be familiar with the area. Disney needs to hire differently for this trip. In addition, Disney could have suggested itineraries for families in the afternoons with directions or information on the sights--so people have more than a shoulder shrug or blank look from the guides. But the concept is a great one, affordable (or more affordable, anyway) and--when combined with traveling with other families--doesn't seem to be something other travel companies can compete with. So will we do the Italy Gateway next year? I'm thinking, I'm thinking . . .

Last edited by KidDad; 08-13-2010 at 10:32 PM.
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Old 08-14-2010, 08:00 AM   #2
abdmom
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Thanks for the trip report! It's good to hear a report that can address the differences between the gateway and the regular trip!
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Old 08-14-2010, 08:35 AM   #3
marcemch
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Great comparison!

Thanks for your summary write-up! It's nice to have the comparison between the trips and your perspective, especially since you have traveled with another top ranked company. Have you taken a Backroads trip with your son? I too have done Backroads and VBT trips before my daughter was born, (and now Tauck Bridges trips with her), and would love more insight on the family Backroads trips.
Interesting about your perception of the Adventure Guide - am wondering if the K&L people had the same perception.

I keep bringing this up on my posts, but to me it's the ABD point of differentiation - was there any Disney "magic" besides the last night in Paris (more than the pins, photos or bypassing the lines at attractions)? You don't have to give it away - just wondering if there was some, because IMHO, that's why they are worth the extra over other top-notch, customer service oriented companies.
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Old 08-14-2010, 11:51 AM   #4
sayhello
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Thanks for your impressions, KidDad! I think most of us have been eagerly awaiting reports on the Gateway options.

I was wondering. You lucked out & only had 25-30 people on the trip. Do you think it would have worked as well if it had had the full 50 people it could have?

Did I misunderstand you, or did you say that you don't get local experts on the Gateway trips? I have to admit that would be a real downside to me! The regular ABD's I've been on have had the most amazing local experts, and that's one of the big perks of ABD for me, is that they pre-screen & pick wonderful local guides, which is something that I couldn't really do on my own.

I agree that Backroads is probably a better company (I took a trip to Nova Scotia with them several years ago when I was still crazy enough to take a camping vacation and totally loved it!), but they are also quite a bit more expensive than ABD, and most of their trips are a lot shorter, also.

From my point of view, the Gateway trips just don't seem to fit what I'm looking for from a guided vacation, but I'm glad the concept seems workable for others. Getting the access without the huge price tag makes sense.

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Old 08-14-2010, 12:03 PM   #5
KidDad
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Hi Marcemch: I've done two Backroads trips with my son: Yellowstone/Grand Tetons when he was 7, and the Canadian Rockies when he was 8. They were both family multisport camping trips. I can't say enough about them. The guides handle all the set up of tents, air mattresses and sleeping bags, and have a dedicated cook for every meal, and the food is delicious (I tell people we went "camping", but that's really stretching it). On the Wyoming trip, my son and I went fishing and they cooked and prepared the two lake trout he caught two different ways and served it to the group--two years later he still talks about it. Planned activities for kids and occasional wine receptions for the adults, and you can adjust how challenging you want your routes to be (including just riding in the van). I felt like we really got to see sights that we'd never have seen on our own (especially the hiking or rafting--biking is usually on roads). Other families on the trip were all very interesting and the kids had a great time with each other and the guides. I can't recommend Backroads USA more highly. Probably another reason I expected so much more from our Disney guide.

Other than what you mentioned (pins, photos, a couple of giveaways and, of course, the last night in Paris), there wasn't anything I can think of that differentiated the Disney trip. I'm not sure what others have experienced (sounds like there used to be more), but it was pretty straightforward otherwise.

Last edited by KidDad; 09-03-2010 at 12:29 AM.
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Old 08-14-2010, 12:15 PM   #6
KidDad
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Hi SayHello: Sorry for the confusion--we did have local guides, one in London and one in Paris. And I should say both of them were terrific--knowledgeable and personable. I had thought our guides on the trip--Eddie and Mr. X--would be our city guides (based on my BR experience), but that wasn't the case--although obviously it worked much better having the city guides . . .

That's a good question about if we'd had more people (up to 50 Gateway v. 40 K&L) on the trip. On the one hand, it would probably mean more kids, and a big reason we choose a Disney trip was for families. So I'm sure my son would have been happy. I also think with the Gateway concept (having more time to explore on your own), it wouldn't have had as much impact as on a trip with a fully--planned itinerary. The downside, I can well imagine, is that at some point, you wind up waiting for people and it could really slow you down and be exasperating. I get to experience that somewhat regularly just waiting around for my 9-year old . . . let alone 48 others. My impression is that the Gateways aren't quite as popular (yet), so the trip sizes have been smaller than the regular trips.

One other thought SH as I re-read your post--I agree the Gateway is a different type of trip than the fully-guided trips (e.g., more planned itinerary, upscale accommodations, different price points, etc.). It's definitely a choice, but I applaud ABD for at least letting folks decide.

Last edited by KidDad; 09-03-2010 at 12:29 AM. Reason: Typo
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Old 08-17-2010, 10:01 AM   #7
ennuiphobe
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KidDad,
Enjoyed reading your comparison of Gateway vs K&L. I sent you a PM about a question I had about your trip.
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Old 07-16-2011, 07:09 PM   #8
KidDad
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Hmm . . . can't delete this post . . .

Last edited by KidDad; 07-17-2011 at 01:04 AM. Reason: Started new thread instead
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