June through September are high tourist season in Europe. Students, families and seniors visit for the warm temperatures, amazing sights, architecture, sports, entertainment, shopping, markets, squares, historic sites and some of the best tasting food in the world! With so much to see and do and so many offerings it can be a challenge to digest all of the information and get the vacation you desire.
If you are looking to see the most that you can in the time that you have, an organized tour may be the best option. The trip is scheduled from arrival to departure, offering transportation, accommodation, meals and entrance to attractions that are included as part of the tour. You will be part of a larger group, traveling, eating and lodging together with a guide. This creates a great opportunity to meet others who have similar interest and make new friends, or someone to use your camera to get take the perfect shot of you with the Eiffel Tower. The Tour Guide will provide information about destinations and attractions along the way. After an early breakfast the group boards the coach for a day of scheduled activities and travel before spending the night ready to do it all again the next day.
Tours can range from a few days to a few months and offer everything from the highlights of many countries and cities to a more intensive tour of a country. Tours are organized by country or region and offer many themes, whether you are looking for a tour and tasting of wine regions, many countries and cities, castles and villas, or biking and mountain climbing there is a tour for you. Some of the tours offer additional excursions including everything from private tours and dinner on a yacht, to a camel ride in the desert.
Some tours offer “land only” pricing which means that your airfare and transfers from your destination to the starting destination of the tour are not included. Many will offer a price including airfare from your destination. I recommend that clients purchase the tour and airfare together, so if your flight was delayed for any reason the tour operator would be aware and make accommodations. If you are traveling alone, some operators do not charge a single supplement fee and will partner you up with another traveler for the accommodations. There are options with different levels of accommodation and different levels of activity and it is good to know these items before booking. I would also suggest extending your stay before and or after the tour to combat jet lag.
Cruising can be another great way to see many countries and sites on your vacation. Cruising gives you the opportunity to unpack once in your stateroom and allow the ship to take you to the next destination and with the distance between ports being relatively short, it gives you more time at each destination. The cruising demographic has changed with cruising being very popular with families, groups and seniors. Everything you could need is on board from restaurants and shopping, kid’s clubs and water slides, casinos and night clubs, movie theatres and live shows and much much more. Cruising gives you a little more freedom from the schedule of a tour, if you decide to stay on the ship and lounging in the sun and enjoying the amenities all day, the choice is yours. That said the ship departs the port nightly and you need to be on board at least 2 hours before departure. Cruises range in length from an overnight to 3 months traveling around the world, with the majority of them from one to three weeks. There are departure ports throughout Europe, the UK and even the US.
Many of the staterooms now feature balconies, giving you the opportunity to have your own private space to relax along the way. Some ships feature adjoining rooms for parties larger than 4 and a few ships can even accommodate up to 8 people in a 3 bedroom grand suite with an outdoor terrace including a hot tub. The cruise line will also offer shore excursions at each of the ports, for an additional fee, you can see some of the sites, go snorkeling or even go diving. I would suggest purchasing your excursions through your travel agent before your departure to save some money. The ship will highlight the next port destination with an information session on board and in their daily newsletter. Cruising is great to see European port destinations in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Southern France, Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Belgium, and The Netherlands.
Most cruise pricing is cruise only but many cruise lines offer air packages as well, bundling your air and cruise together can save money. Some cruise lines have preferred hotels at destinations and can offer great rates if you arrive the day before your cruise or if you depart after the cruise. Other on board costs cover fees to premium restaurants, gratuities for housekeeping, butler, concierge and other services.
One of the newest options on the market is river cruising, offering a more intimate experience on river boats traveling down the Rhine, Moselle, Danube, Main, Rhône, Saône, Seine, and Douro Rivers. These give you the opportunity to visit many of the amazing riverside cities and villages throughout Europe, cruises range from a 1 week to a little over a month. River cruising has grown in popularity in the past few years, travelers love exploring the interior of Europe from their large stateroom, some featuring balconies, on a 2 story riverboat equipped with common lounge, dining area and rooftop outdoor patio. River cruises offer great regional cuisine and wines from the areas you are visiting. As the vessels are smaller, they have better access to the cities and villages on the route.
Staterooms generally offer a bit more space than traditional cruising and have large windows giving you a great view as you travel some offer the boutique hotel 5 star experience. Many of the cruises include guided daily tours at destinations and have lots of activities on board from cooking classes to dances and performances by local artists. River cruising gives you access to European destinations in Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, The Netherlands, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Turkey, Spain and Portugal.
If the dictated schedule on a tour or cruise is not what your looking for, fully independent travel is the ticket for you. Here you determine the schedule and the activities for your trip, shopping in Paris, chocolate in Brussels, Bratwurst in Berlin; its all up to you. Want to stay in a castle or the finest hotels? Looking to rent a villa in Tuscany with cooking lessons and wine tours? What about driving the Autobhan in a luxury sports car? Can you imagine being at the Tour de France finish line? Maybe creating your own cruise through the Mediterranean on a rented yacht is more your style?
If you are planning a tour of Europe and need some direction or even if you have your trip all planned, I would suggest working with an agent for booking. They can provide insider information, have access to specials and promotions, and can book everything from accommodation, transportation, daily activities, and many services like guides or personal chefs to create your custom dream vacation.
No matter which way you choose to tour Europe I would recommend purchasing travel insurance. With unfortunate recent events in the travel industry, being protected for emergency medical, cancellation and interruption, baggage and personal effects, can give you piece of mind and get you back home should something happen.
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