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Old 09-02-2009, 01:46 PM   #1
marcemch
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Alaska Trip reflections

Hi again folks. I promised to post my opinions/thoughts on the trip, in addition to the trip report I did:
http://www.disboards.com/showthread.php?t=2262868

I have waited to write this to reflect more on my feelings about the trip and to analyze the "why" I feel as I do. My 9 yr old daughter and I traveled together and we have done one other ABD Ė last summer in Germany.

First let me preface my comments with the fact that we had a PEAK experience last year in Germany. It exceeded my expectations in so many ways Ė the surprises, Disney Touches and how well the kids bonded. I expected it to be a GOOD tour group experience, instead it was a GREAT, magical experience in so many ways (maybe a lot of it was due to the nature of the trip and the fact that it was our first ABD experience).

That said, what we experienced in Alaska in August 2009 was a good tour experience. Alaska is truly the last frontier, beautiful and wild, and this trip does a good job exposing you to many aspects of it. That said, in my opinion (and Iím interested in otherís opinions who took children), Iím not sure itís the best trip for an active child. While we were always moving (in a bus, train, boat, raft), it wasnít ACTIVE movement. As with most kids her age, beautiful scenery doesnít hold her attention long. The train is slow and stops often Ė I have to say that I was really looking forward to it, but it was a disappointment. When you raft, you donít have paddles, so it is a sedentary activity as well. Her favorite activity was the hike to the glacier, which was an optional activity (not on the itinerary - so that was an extra special touch that I was so grateful for).

Unfortunately, my daughter didnít really hit it off with the other kids her age, so Iím sure if she would have had a buddy, both of our overall trip experiences would have been enhanced. And perhaps, working with other parents, we would have found opportunities for free playtime/space for the kids, which seemed to be lacking on this trip. The guides were super nice and knowledgeable, but maybe a little bit more could have been done to entertain the kids on the train or bus rides?

Not many surprises on this trip either, although I certainly understand how Germany, with its storybook theme, lended itself better to surprises. I thought for sure there would be more focus on the Native Alaskans - perhaps an Indian storyteller? There was almost no mention of Native Americans except for the entertainment on the last evening. The focus was definitely on nature/wildlife and scenery.

I was a little disappointed with the food too, not so much with the quality, which was fine, but the settings. I guess I envisioned meals in beautiful scenic spots or with local flavor, but there was not a lot of that. Two dinners and one lunch (aside from 4 morning breakfasts) are at the Aleyska Resort. Nice scenery, but the same view for 7 meals. I understand that options are limited in this sparsely populated area, so perhaps thatís the best that can be done while maintaining Disney standards. Maybe hotel food IS the best you can get there.

The hotels were fine Ė I have no complaints there, and if anything, they were better than I expected, given what I had heard about hotels in Alaska. I think ABD got the best that Fairbanks and Denali have to offer, and I understand that we can't expect luxury in these areas. Aleyska Resort is very nice Ė the best Alaska has to offer.

There is a lot of territory to cover in Alaska and they try to show you a lot of it. Therefore, I think itís challenging to do a tour there, and there is, by nature of the vastness of the land, alot of travel time. Theyíve done a good job arranging various independent local tour companies to give you lots of different experiences. Many other tour companyís trips focus only in the Southeast area and donít go to Fairbanks, but I was glad we went there (and very happy that we had a free day there to explore the area in a rental car). You see another side of Alaska that you donít see south of Anchorage.

I guess that sums up my thoughts. I hope my comments gave folks one personís realistic view of the trip, and you can do with it what you want. I welcome bobo912ís comments as she took her son, as well as others who took children. So much of your trip experience is about expectations, and I really understand that. The bar had truly been set high by our experience last year (I came home and booked this yearís trip a week after returning!) Had I gone on the Alaska adult only trip, I also think my perspective would be different.

So what this has taught me is to look closely at the trip and to better evaluate it in terms of what works for our family, and whatís important to us. (We need more physically active trips - even if it's just walking through quaint towns and castles!) One thing Iíve learned from these boards is that there are definitely different reasons that ABD trips work (or donít work) for people Ė certain aspects of the tour (hotels, food, guides, activities, airport pickups, etc) are more important to some than others - and so we each have to figure out whatís best for our vacation $ and experiences.
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Old 09-02-2009, 02:10 PM   #2
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So what this has taught me is to look closely at the trip and to better evaluate it in terms of what works for our family, and whatís important to us. (We need more physically active trips - even if it's just walking through quaint towns and castles!) One thing Iíve learned from these boards is that there are definitely different reasons that ABD trips work (or donít work) for people Ė certain aspects of the tour (hotels, food, guides, activities, airport pickups, etc) are more important to some than others - and so we each have to figure out whatís best for our vacation $ and experiences.

Well said! Thank You for a very honest and balanced response!

We had a great time in Wyoming and I am still putting together my trip report however expectations are HUGE for ABD on many levels.

For an Adults only it was very very active which I was fine with There were people on our trip who were "older" and had a harder time keeping up on the trails which were very very steep! Fun but Steep! Hopefully as we all give our perspectives it will help those trying to decide
if ABD is for them!

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Old 09-02-2009, 03:57 PM   #3
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Thanks for your comments on your trip. I have learned in a way that you cant compare ABD trips to one other. They are so different because of the regions and tours relating to them. Each one is still special to me. I know what are saying about expectations though.

I have not traveled enough in the US so i will be going to Alaska i hope next year. It wont be ABD tour but another time i will take this one.
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Old 09-02-2009, 08:13 PM   #4
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marcemch, I think you have made some very good observations. It seems to me that your experience on any escorted vacation is largely dependent on your personal expectations and your interaction with your fellow travelers. I think that was especially true of this trip because there was a lot of bus, train and raft time where you weren't actively engaged in doing something and that can be particualry hard on the kids. I loved looking at the scenery- my 9-year-old, not so much. When I walked into the welcome breakfast and saw a room full of adults and a couple of teenagers (in their upper teens) I thought this vacation could turn into a disaster. When the other kids arrived, there were four little girls. Still concerned, since my son was the only boy on the trip. But we were fortunate that the kids got along very well, and my DS and one of the girls really hit it off and became good buddies, and that made a world of difference.

As far as expectations go, I think that these trips are expensive and it is fair to expect excellent accommodations and food. Alaska is a somewhat rustic location and I think that the accommodations and food were appropriate in most cases. But those of you who have been on other ABD trips and stayed at luxury hotels and experienced fine dining would be disappointed if you expected the same on this trip. We had cold sandwiches for three meals and pizza for another And like you marcemch, I was expecting more Native American culture. I could swear that when I booked the trip one of the items on the itinerary was a riverside salmon bake followed by Native American storytelling. So I was very surprised when we went back to the Aleyaska and had a buffet on the patio behind the resort. I went back to the room and checked my story book, but the reference to a salmon bake and story teller was not there. But I'm pretty sure I didn't just make that up.

Our first ABD trip to Costa Rica was very active and kept the kids engaged and I was looking for something similar with this trip. I narrowed our choices down to Australia, Alpine Magic, Galapagos, and Alaska (we booked Australia first, which was cancelled, but that's another story...). This trip worked out well for us because DS is very interested in animals and the wildlife cooperated fully, and because DS bonded with the other kids, so he wasn't bored on the long bus rides or on the train. He did fall asleep on the raft trip though. Also, we had such fantatic guides and DS just loved the "famous" Mike. I enjoyed the activities and the scenery and really, really enjoy not having to be responsible for anything. So overall, we had a great experience, but I can see how it could have easily been something completely different.

Something interesting that I have found as I've researched other tour companies is that Thomson Family Adventures has a "mentor", in addition to the guide, whose job is to "engage the kids in fun games and activities" and "help break the ice among families". This is an interesting concept. The junior adventurers dinner on ABD trips does a lot to help the kids bond, but with Thomson this sounds like an ongoing endeavor. They also say on their website that they will match you to a trip with kids of similar age. Don't mean to turn this into a Thomson endorsement, since I haven't traveled with them and don't know how this plays out in real life, but I thought it was interesting. I'm still exploring my options for next year and ABD is still definitely under consideration.

I think we had a charmed trip - beautiful weather, lots of wildlife, and a great group of fellow adventurers.

Last edited by Bobo912; 09-02-2009 at 08:20 PM.
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Old 09-03-2009, 06:05 AM   #5
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Bobo912, I'm glad you thought that there was originally a Native American Storyteller on this tour - I thought I was going crazy! I think it must have been there originally on the website when I booked last summer, then they changed is because as you said, it wasn't in either book we received. In my mind, it was the welcome night in Denali, which definitely would have added a little magic to that evening and started the trip on a better foot.
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Old 09-06-2009, 04:58 PM   #6
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Marcemch,
My husband and I have only done one ABD (Viva Italia) and loved it! We eagerly awaited the offerings this year and unfortunately the trip we wanted was 'deleted'.

I can understand your disappointment with an Alaskan ABD. I have visited this state twice in the past when my brother was stationed at Ft. Wainwright in Fairbanks. This adventure in no way can be done properly in 7, 9, or 11 days. Alaska must be experienced for what it is, as you correctly stated, 'the last frontier.' It takes days, possibly weeks to understand the nature of Denali and the surrounding mountains and how they affect the entire area. A one day visit for a glimpse up close cannot possibly give you that. You MIGHT sight a group of Dall's sheep on an ABD, but this is difficult, even at Denali Nat'l Park.

One of the most wonderful experiences was at Chena Hot Springs north of Fairbanks where you experience the hot sulfur springs and watch the moose roam through the resort (use the term 'resort' loosely).

I understand your thoughts on the quality of hotels, restaurants, etc. Though nice, they are far from the usual Disney standard. I don't know about the Alaskan Adventure by Disney trip, but we went through a lot of wood plank restaurants in Alaska.

Would I return? You bet!! But, having visited twice, I would not even attempt a trip to Alaska that requires a change of location every other day or so. This wilderness is just too incredible to miss.
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Old 09-13-2009, 07:31 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by marcemch View Post
Bobo912, I'm glad you thought that there was originally a Native American Storyteller on this tour - I thought I was going crazy! I think it must have been there originally on the website when I booked last summer, then they changed is because as you said, it wasn't in either book we received. In my mind, it was the welcome night in Denali, which definitely would have added a little magic to that evening and started the trip on a better foot.
I saved the PDF of the itinerary, and their was a "Native Storyteller" included in the itinerary for the "welcome dinner" in Denali at the Denali Education Center. We had a VERY knowledgeable naturalist talk to us about the local wildlife instead. Don't know what happened to the "Storyteller". Wish I'd seen this before, I could have asked the guides...

The lunch after the visit to the Wildlife Center is also described as a "traditional Salmon Bake" outside the Hotel. Although the meal *did* include Salmon, "Traditional Salmon Bake" it was not...

marcemch, I took this trip as a single on an Adults Only trip, so really can't comment on the activity level for kids. I agree with a lot of the points you make. Also, we had some great food, but it was mostly on the "on your own" nights...

I loved this trip. I'm putting together my report, so I won't go into details here. The hotels, I think, really were the best available for the areas.

I think there is a lot to this "second tour" syndrome. I *LOVED* my Alaska ABD. It was a fabulous tour. But there wasn't quite the *WOW* factor I had with SWS. But I had no idea what to expect with SWS, so my expectations were way exceeded. I had a better idea of what to expect with the Alaska tour, so my expectations were well met. But not really exceeded. I honestly think it was really more in my level of expectation, and NOT in the quality of the trip. I hope that makes sense.

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Old 09-15-2009, 09:57 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by marcemch View Post
Hi again folks. I promised to post my opinions/thoughts on the trip, in addition to the trip report I did:
http://www.disboards.com/showthread.php?t=2262868

I have waited to write this to reflect more on my feelings about the trip and to analyze the "why" I feel as I do. My 9 yr old daughter and I traveled together and we have done one other ABD Ė last summer in Germany.

First let me preface my comments with the fact that we had a PEAK experience last year in Germany. It exceeded my expectations in so many ways Ė the surprises, Disney Touches and how well the kids bonded. I expected it to be a GOOD tour group experience, instead it was a GREAT, magical experience in so many ways (maybe a lot of it was due to the nature of the trip and the fact that it was our first ABD experience).

That said, what we experienced in Alaska in August 2009 was a good tour experience. Alaska is truly the last frontier, beautiful and wild, and this trip does a good job exposing you to many aspects of it. That said, in my opinion (and Iím interested in otherís opinions who took children), Iím not sure itís the best trip for an active child. While we were always moving (in a bus, train, boat, raft), it wasnít ACTIVE movement. As with most kids her age, beautiful scenery doesnít hold her attention long. The train is slow and stops often Ė I have to say that I was really looking forward to it, but it was a disappointment. When you raft, you donít have paddles, so it is a sedentary activity as well. Her favorite activity was the hike to the glacier, which was an optional activity (not on the itinerary - so that was an extra special touch that I was so grateful for).

Unfortunately, my daughter didnít really hit it off with the other kids her age, so Iím sure if she would have had a buddy, both of our overall trip experiences would have been enhanced. And perhaps, working with other parents, we would have found opportunities for free playtime/space for the kids, which seemed to be lacking on this trip. The guides were super nice and knowledgeable, but maybe a little bit more could have been done to entertain the kids on the train or bus rides?

Not many surprises on this trip either, although I certainly understand how Germany, with its storybook theme, lended itself better to surprises. I thought for sure there would be more focus on the Native Alaskans - perhaps an Indian storyteller? There was almost no mention of Native Americans except for the entertainment on the last evening. The focus was definitely on nature/wildlife and scenery.

I was a little disappointed with the food too, not so much with the quality, which was fine, but the settings. I guess I envisioned meals in beautiful scenic spots or with local flavor, but there was not a lot of that. Two dinners and one lunch (aside from 4 morning breakfasts) are at the Aleyska Resort. Nice scenery, but the same view for 7 meals. I understand that options are limited in this sparsely populated area, so perhaps thatís the best that can be done while maintaining Disney standards. Maybe hotel food IS the best you can get there.

The hotels were fine Ė I have no complaints there, and if anything, they were better than I expected, given what I had heard about hotels in Alaska. I think ABD got the best that Fairbanks and Denali have to offer, and I understand that we can't expect luxury in these areas. Aleyska Resort is very nice Ė the best Alaska has to offer.

There is a lot of territory to cover in Alaska and they try to show you a lot of it. Therefore, I think itís challenging to do a tour there, and there is, by nature of the vastness of the land, alot of travel time. Theyíve done a good job arranging various independent local tour companies to give you lots of different experiences. Many other tour companyís trips focus only in the Southeast area and donít go to Fairbanks, but I was glad we went there (and very happy that we had a free day there to explore the area in a rental car). You see another side of Alaska that you donít see south of Anchorage.

I guess that sums up my thoughts. I hope my comments gave folks one personís realistic view of the trip, and you can do with it what you want. I welcome bobo912ís comments as she took her son, as well as others who took children. So much of your trip experience is about expectations, and I really understand that. The bar had truly been set high by our experience last year (I came home and booked this yearís trip a week after returning!) Had I gone on the Alaska adult only trip, I also think my perspective would be different.

So what this has taught me is to look closely at the trip and to better evaluate it in terms of what works for our family, and whatís important to us. (We need more physically active trips - even if it's just walking through quaint towns and castles!) One thing Iíve learned from these boards is that there are definitely different reasons that ABD trips work (or donít work) for people Ė certain aspects of the tour (hotels, food, guides, activities, airport pickups, etc) are more important to some than others - and so we each have to figure out whatís best for our vacation $ and experiences.
Hi Marcie!
It's Wendy from the Germany trip. We just took the Austria/Czech Republic trip in June and had a lot of the same feelings about the trip that you had with yours. We were lucky in that we had a good time with the other families. But it just seemed as though we had so much downtime with absolutely NOTHING going on! I believe the guides did the best they could with the product they had, but the trip really lacked the magic of the Germany trip. We did see Jason at our hotel in Vienna, which was cool. He said he and Stefanie were able to do some Germany trips together before he started the Switzerland and Italian Alps trips. Another family on our trip had done Germany last year (with the same guides we had for Austria) and they were VERY upset with the difference in the trips. I sent a long email to ABD about my disappointment.

We're going to give them one more try with Peru next year. That was one of the few trips that was still reasonably priced.

Thanks for posting this feedback. Hope all is well with you guys!
Wendy
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Old 09-16-2009, 10:16 AM   #9
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My wife and I went on an Alaska Tour/Cruise by Holland in May 2009. I never found anyplace where I would say the food was fantastic, especially in Denali. So don't blame ABD for that. While our tour guide was fantastic. He was one guide for 37 people.
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Old 09-16-2009, 10:43 AM   #10
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Just to make sure there are no misunderstandings, I had no complaints about the quality of the food, it was just done in non-inspirational settings more often than I would have hoped for (although not different than the itinerary). The salmon bake at the hotel is one example. Again, I recognize that the choices are limited in the environment, so perhaps this is as good as it gets.

Also, no complaints about the hotels.
Overall, a lack of "magic" on this trip. It was a good tour but not a magical tour - although Alaska itself is pretty magical . Perhaps my expectations were unreasonable - I recognize that!
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Old 09-16-2009, 02:45 PM   #11
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marcemch - thank you for a well-written reflection! You perfectly captured the feelings my family had about the SWS trip, taken this year after SVIC last summer. It's not that the trips aren't good trips, it was more of a let down feeling that they weren't AS good or as perfect.

We had really wanted to do the Alaska trip this year. But when I actually looked closely at it, I became very concerned about all the time DD would have to sit still. She's not a hyper kid, but she's a kid, and I really didn't want to spend that kind of money to have her umbilically attached to an ipod for several hours a day just to get through the "boring" parts. We felt the same way about the Rockies trip - just a very lot of travel time.

I also think ABD is adjusting down a little, after maybe going over the top the first few years to bring in business and get the word out. Now it feels like they are trying to see how "low they can go" and still get mostly positive feedback. Plenty of newbies are resonding very positvely, with nothing to compare their trip to. And those who travel on the adults only, and have one less dimension to worry about in terms of the perfect family vacation, seem to have done fine this year. Unfortunately, those of us who travel with kids, and who first enjoyed an ABD when they were going all out, have been caught a little short this year.

It would have been nice to get some sort of feedback from ABD that they have at least heard these concerns, as I know you and I are not the only ones who had or expressed them. I suppose that we will have to wait and see what everyone says about the 2010 trips. I will be especially looking for reports from those like you have done a trip prior to 09, to see how things compare.

Anyway, thanks for sharing.
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Old 09-16-2009, 08:05 PM   #12
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Hi Marcie!
It's Wendy from the Germany trip. We just took the Austria/Czech Republic trip in June and had a lot of the same feelings about the trip that you had with yours. We were lucky in that we had a good time with the other families. But it just seemed as though we had so much downtime with absolutely NOTHING going on! I believe the guides did the best they could with the product they had, but the trip really lacked the magic of the Germany trip. We did see Jason at our hotel in Vienna, which was cool. He said he and Stefanie were able to do some Germany trips together before he started the Switzerland and Italian Alps trips. Another family on our trip had done Germany last year (with the same guides we had for Austria) and they were VERY upset with the difference in the trips. I sent a long email to ABD about my disappointment.

We're going to give them one more try with Peru next year. That was one of the few trips that was still reasonably priced.

Thanks for posting this feedback. Hope all is well with you guys!
Wendy
Good to hear from you Wendy! You're the reason I started checking out the disboards to begin with! Good to hear that you saw Jason too - he's pretty amazing.
It's interesting that you had the same feelings about your second trip with ABD. I'd love to hear more specifics. I guess ABD is not offering it anymore so it's n/a in determining if that's a good future trip for any of us, but the whole issue makes me wonder more about the differential between ABD and other tour companies. In other words, if I can't expect magic from ABD, but can expect a quality tour, couldn't another company do just as well (and maybe even for less $?). I guess I won't know till I try, and even then comparing trips to such different locations is hard!
For the most part, I too felt like our guides did as well as they could with the itinerary supplied. It just seemed the itinerary was a little uninspired in terms of the extra touches. As I said before, I do feel like we got a good mix of 3rd party tours to give us a good feel for wildlife and the natural environs, and I did enjoy the tour. Just no "WOW" factor!
Hope you & J are well!
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Old 09-19-2009, 10:13 AM   #13
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After getting a sneak peek at the DCL Alaska prices, I started looking at Princess. They have some FANTASTIC land packages in conjunction with their cruises. The price includes lodging at the Princess resorts and transportation. Then you can customize your vacation with lots of choices for tours during your stay. If you're interested in Alaska, take a look at Princess!
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Old 09-19-2009, 12:37 PM   #14
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After getting a sneak peek at the DCL Alaska prices, I started looking at Princess. They have some FANTASTIC land packages in conjunction with their cruises. The price includes lodging at the Princess resorts and transportation. Then you can customize your vacation with lots of choices for tours during your stay. If you're interested in Alaska, take a look at Princess!
I've done both, and I have to say they are VERY different vacations, but both fabulous in their own ways. The cruisetour was more expensive (at least in 2006), but was also longer. Again, VERY different experiences. I can try & answer specific questions if anyone is curious about the differences.

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Old 09-29-2009, 03:02 PM   #15
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loss of magic

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Good to hear from you Wendy! You're the reason I started checking out the disboards to begin with! Good to hear that you saw Jason too - he's pretty amazing.
It's interesting that you had the same feelings about your second trip with ABD. I'd love to hear more specifics. I guess ABD is not offering it anymore so it's n/a in determining if that's a good future trip for any of us, but the whole issue makes me wonder more about the differential between ABD and other tour companies. In other words, if I can't expect magic from ABD, but can expect a quality tour, couldn't another company do just as well (and maybe even for less $?). I guess I won't know till I try, and even then comparing trips to such different locations is hard!
For the most part, I too felt like our guides did as well as they could with the itinerary supplied. It just seemed the itinerary was a little uninspired in terms of the extra touches. As I said before, I do feel like we got a good mix of 3rd party tours to give us a good feel for wildlife and the natural environs, and I did enjoy the tour. Just no "WOW" factor!
Hope you & J are well!

Well like many we enjoyed our 2009 trip but have not raved about it like we did our 2008 trip. What a shame!! We are disneys best embassadors. I think one of disneys biggest mistake is the removal of the added extras (in the original brochures) and hoping no one will notice. I know I have mentioned this several times but even our story book said breakfast in the "nice restaurant" and we ended up with breakfast in the dark cold function room - guides just smiled and shrugged. It was one of several such incidents.

Oh well clearly Disney are happy with the new customers with a bigger profit margin. One thing for sure people that would never consider a family tour have bought into the idea because its disney. I just think now that Tauck bridges and thompson will now benefit because as we have enjoyed family tours so much we will now find alternatives.
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