Travel Weekly reporter Michelle Baran is sampling two motorcoach tours in Europe: one a highlights tour of several destinations, and the other a regional tour of Milan. Baran will be detailing her experiences and observations in dispatches.
Dispatch, Karlsruhe, Germany: “The names of most tours promise only that you will visit a destination and that the experience will be both generic and cliché ...”
That was a thought posed by Travel Weekly’s editor in chief, Arnie Weissmann, in a March column entitled “Inauthentic Authenticity.” In the column, he explored two divergent approaches to travel: a niche, and arguably more authentic, characteristic of a given destination versus tours with names that promise a much broader experience such as “highlights” tours.
The column sparked much discussion between Arnie and me, and between each of us and operators that make a good portion of their revenue selling the kinds of tours that promote these generic dreams.
What better way, we decided, to advance the discussion than to go on a highlights tour in Europe and then sample something more regional or niche-related. So that’s what I’m doing.
Today I’m in Karlsruhe, Germany, on the fringe of the Black Forest, on day three of Trafalgar’s European Horizons tour. I will be on this 18-day tour for the first week of it, traveling from London to Belgium; through German castle country; to Innsbruck, Austria; and ending in Venice. In Italy, I will join Trafalgar’s Milan and Italian Treasures tour, which is tailored to a specific region: It starts in Milan then heads to Lake Garda on the outskirts of Milan.
In the European highlights category of tours, Trafalgar has numerous offerings that package several Western European countries, including European Highlights, European Whirl, European Dream and European Splendor. The itineraries vary mostly by their length. One tour might include Italy, while another might skip ahead to France. People sometimes lean toward one over the others for a specific reason.
For example, today I ran into two couples from Nebraska traveling together on Trafalgar’s European Whirl tour (we met on a 90-minute Rhine River cruise). One of the women said she was really hoping to see the Matterhorn, but that since the Whirl travels through the Alps, that was good enough for her.
She had a desire, a dream. As cliché as it may seem, that’s where the decision to take this kind of trip begins, with some kind of simple dream.
For people coming to Europe for the first time, the presentation of that dream hasn’t changed much since the birth of group motorcoach tours in the mid-20th century. Seeing London’s Big Ben for the first time in 2008 is not much different than seeing it for the first time in 1968. And most people want to see Big Ben if they’re in London for the first, and possibly only, time in their life.
So I am lining up right next to my fellow travelers (46 people from the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand), as they frantically snap photos of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace (a first for me, too!) and gasp as they round the corner into the Grand Place in Brussels for the first time.
It’s only day three, and we’re all a bit tired. It’s been a whirlwind. Still, despite 6 a.m. wake-up calls and hundreds of miles logged each day in our motorcoach, everyone here is pretty thrilled about all the firsts that await them tomorrow.
If it ain’t broke, why fix it?