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.
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”).
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.
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.
Collette offer tours to 50 countries on all seven continents, with inclusiveness varying depending on the type of trip purchased. Escorted vacations are highly structured with numerous inclusions and are led by a tour director. Independent vacations, on the other hand, allow you to select your own accommodations and dining options and choose from a variety of optional tours and activities. AARP members have the opportunity to save up to $100 per person on rates. Plus, Collette also promotes limited-time specials on select vacations. Read more about tours, discounts, and the cancellation waiver on the Collette Vacations website.
Making our top five list for the first time, YMT Vacations is good choice for frugal seniors who want to fully experience destinations such as Alaska and Hawaii for $100 per day or less. Founded in 1967, this tour company offers escorted motorcoach and cruise tours to just a few North American destinations. However, YMT’s experience in the regions it does tour and its low prices help attract a loyal following—more than half its customers are repeat visitors. One of the company’s most popular tours is “Alaska and the Great Northwest” vacation, which combines a seven-day Alaska cruise aboard a Holland America ship with an eight-day coach tour of national parks and other attractions in the West. Rates start $1,399 per person, not including taxes or airfare.
Tour pricing includes accommodations, ground transportation, meals on the cruise portions of cruise tours, guide services, sightseeing excursions and attraction admissions, and baggage handling and gratuities. Like Grand European, YMT also has a price guarantee on its trips, protecting you from increases in airfare, hotel rates, and other costs for up to year from the date of your trip reservation. Visit the YMT Vacations website to learn more.
While the senior tour operators mentioned above are standouts, there many other companies that offer mature travelers appealing vacation options. To find other operators that offer seniors good-value tours, go to the vacation page of SmarterTravel.com’s senior section.