TRAVEL HERE/TRAVEL THERE: PAULINE FROMMER AT THE DALLAS TRAVEL & ADVENTURE SHOW
Earlier this month I visited the Dallas Adventure and Travel Show. I hope you followed my advice and did the same. The first seminar speaker I heard was Pauline Frommer of the famous Frommer Guides. Her talk was chockful of fabulous advice. I was so busy writing down the websites she recommended I nearly got writer’s cramp.
The biggest ah ha moment? Well, I’m planning a cruise for next year and I’d always heard you were supposed to book your shore excursions with the cruise lines or you could find yourself on shore watching your cruise boat float away. If the independent operators made you late returning to the boat, you were just out of luck.
Seems there’s been a change in recent years. Now there are operators that guarantee to get you back to the boat in time and if they don’t, they will get you to your next destination on their own dime. Ms. Frommer recommended crusingexcursions.com, shoretrips.com and viator.com. I’m going to do a little more research on it, because I wonder what would they do if your next few days were actually at sea, but since they recommended the same thing in a cruise seminar later in the day, I’m guessing they’ve worked out the kinks.
Though Ms. Frommer had me nodding my head in agreement with most of her scrimp vs splurge suggestions, on one item I differed with her. She panned “hop on/hop off tour buses.” She doesn’t think their guides are any good and feels the time could be better spent. She also pointed out the temptation to mark an attraction off your list, when you’d only driven by.
I agree that some of the hop on/hop off trolley drivers are not among the most knowledgeable guides available. That being said, they usually know more about their route than the average tourist. Many a time I’ve stumped a trolley driver with one of my questions, but I’m not average. Few people put as much time into researching their destinations as I do. For most folks, I think the canned speech is plenty.
These hop on/hop off tours are particularly good if you only have a few hours in a town with a lot of things to see. The first time I was in London, I was only there for the day. I planned to come back through later in the trip, but I only had a few hours before heading off to Dover. I took a bus tour and eagerly listened to the canned schpiel. Sure, I was coming back and would spend hours wandering through the museums, but using the bus to drive past many of the monuments and buildings was a great introduction to an overwhelming city. I’ve done the same thing in many other cities very satisfactorily. It’s better to have driven past the Tower and Buckingham Palace than never see them at all.
Even though a goodly number of these trolley drivers do well to get their canned speeches out, it doesn’t mean that’s the case with all of them. More times than I have fingers to count, I’ve had the privilege to meet a trolley driver who has deeply enhanced my visit to their city. Sometimes they have a personal connection to a particular attraction or historical event. Other times their family has been in the area for generations and they can share local color better than any guide, on or off the trolley.
I also find hop on/hop off tours to be an invaluable tool for another reason. When I’m in a strange city, finding places to park near the attractions I want to see and fighting the traffic can really take the fun out of a trip. For instance, when I was in Chicago for a week, I used Gray Line Trolleys and Chicago’s Free Trolley System every day. My husband was in a training seminar on the north side of town. I’d drive into the city by myself, park my rental car and then use the trolleys all day long. The driver’s were very helpful. I became a regular fixture on a few of the routes and they were anxious to see that I visited everything I wanted to. They helped me make decisions about what to miss when I was running out of time, warned me about rip-offs and suggested great places to eat.
Overall, I think Ms. Frommer suggested great ways to save money on trips. However, I also think she’s a seasoned traveler with a lot of miles under her belt. When you listen to suggestions from someone like her, you have to weigh the information you receive and compare it to what works for you as a casual traveler. Is it OK to merely drive by the Lincoln Memorial? Well, of course it would be better to spend some time there, meditating on the life of Lincoln, his presidency and the artistry put into the memorial. Not to mention, reading everything you could get your hands on and seeing the new movie that’s out. But it’s also better to say you’ve actually seen it, rather than be in the city and miss it completely. At least that’s my opinion. What do you think?