Top five value tour operators for seniors

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Hikers in northern Alaska (Photo: Michael DeYoung/ATIA)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on March 21, 2006. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: Grand Circle Travel, Molly Feltner, senior travel, tour operator, vacation package.

This year's picks for the top senior-friendly tour operators include four who made our list in 2005 and one new company on our radar. All five companies selected offer good value and appeal to mature travelers who want to learn and see the most appealing attractions, but not rush through them at a hectic pace.

Elderhostel

With a roster of almost 8,000 tours in more than 90 countries, top-notch educational components, and all-inclusive package pricing, Elderhostel is our top tour choice for travelers ages 55 and older. While many senior tour operators include educational elements in their tours, learning is at the heart of Elderhostel's programs. In-depth lectures, field trips with experts, creative workshops, and interactions with locals are built into the daily schedule of tours. Tour themes may be general, serving to introduce travelers to the major attractions of a certain destination ("A Taste of Costa Rica"), or carefully tailored for those pursuing a specific hobby or interest ("Birding The Hotspots Of Costa Rica").

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Tours include ground transportation, accommodations, all meals, lectures, field trips, sightseeing, tour guides, gratuities, and travel insurance. Airfare can be added for most international programs. And, if you have a limited budget or time, you can enjoy the Elderhostel experience on one of its three- or four-day "Weekender" tours in the U.S., some priced under $500. Solo travelers have the option to book a single room on most tours or share a double room with a roommate. Visit the Elderhostel website for more information.

Grand Circle Travel

It's no surprise that the tour operator started by the founder of AARP (Ethel Andrus) does a good job of tailoring its vacations to the needs and interests of travelers ages 50 and up. The company offers affordable tour packages to destinations worldwide and promises tour goers unique cultural experiences on every trip through its "Discovery Series" program. For instance, tours may include home-hosted meals with local families, language lessons, or visits to neighborhood schools. With a fleet of 50 ships, including the acclaimed Paul Gauguin, Grand Circle is also known for its impressive lineup of small-ship ocean sailings and river cruises.

Tours typically include round-trip airfare, accommodations, most meals, numerous sightseeing excursions and cultural events, and the services of a tour leader. Grand Circle makes its tours affordable, giving customers the opportunity to cut costs with numerous saving opportunities, including frequent-traveler credits and early-booking discounts. Learn more about the available tours and discounts on the Grand Circle Travel website.

Grand European Tours

Besides offering good value, Grand European's Europe and Mediterranean vacations include numerous built-in features that are particularly appealing to mature travelers. First, all vacations proceed at a leisurely pace, allowing participants to explore a location in-depth and still have time to relax. Tours spend two or three nights in each city on the itinerary, and trips in the SuperLeisure category spend four or more nights in each city. Second, while exploring a location with the trip leader, group members are given portable headsets that allow them to hear the leader clearly, even at noisy attractions. Third, Grand European is one of the few companies with an unconditional price guarantee, meaning that once you book a package, you won't be affected by increased fuel surcharges or other travel expenses.

Tours are fully escorted and include round-trip airfare and transfers, first-class accommodations, most meals, ground transportation, sightseeing excursions and attraction visits, the services of a tour leader, and taxes and gratuities. Grand European offers several ways to save including an early-payment discount, a frequent-traveler program, and occasional sales. Find out more by visiting the Grand European Tours website.

Collette Vacations

Although Collette Vacations is not specifically a senior tour operator, the company's trip-cancellation policy is very helpful to travelers concerned that illness or another unexpected occurrence might prevent them going on their trip. Unlike the vast majority of travel companies, Collette sells a cancellation waiver policy that allows you to cancel your trip for any reason up to the day of departure for a full cash refund. This means that you can book a vacation without having to worry about losing your money if you need to change your plans.

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