How to find a good tour company for a middle school trip?
June 3, 2012 12:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm involved in organizing a trip to Washington, DC and Virginia for a group of about 25 Californian junior high students for next year. We've been looking at Worldstrides as a tour company. Anyone have experience with these guys - or any *really* positive experiences with other similar companies?

Background: We've done a similar trip several times in the past, but organized it all ourselves - we hired individual tour guides, but dealt with all the plane tickets, hotel bookings, etc. We're hoping a company with expertise can deal with some of the logistical crap and make things run smoother, while also taking a lot of planning burden off our hands.

Worldstrides' offerings, on their face, look great; however, I'm seeing mixed-to-negative reviews of them on many sites online. Two more specific questions:

1. If you've been on a trip with Worldstrides (to anywhere) or particularly if you've worked with them to organize such a trip, how was your experience? Did everything go as planned? Were they willing to adapt to your needs? (We'll want to alter their itinerary significantly.) Any major problems? Anything else we should know in advance?

2. If you've had a *really* great experience with some other company, which one, and why?

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer :-)
posted by SpiralT to Education (3 answers total)
I teach students in this age group.

What do your students want to do most? Hit all the museums, learn about the history of DC, meet their congressperson? And what sort of duration are you looking at? A week or two, or just a few days? When would you go - the February President's Day/"ski week" break is a popular time but can be cold and miserable in DC, especially for Californian teenagers!

I had a look at Worldstrides' basic "Washington DC" sample itinerary and they hit 22 sites in four days. For junior high students, this seems like it would be too much, and there's only one afternoon spent on Capitol Hill, which encompasses the hallways and tunnels of the Capitol, the steps of the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives.

The things students and parents might want to do most, like go inside the White House or the actual House and Senate debating chambers, seem to be absent, but only on a very close reading of the itinerary is this clear, and you may confront some disappointment if it isn't totally clear what is/isn't going to be seen each day. I can't figure out if you even go on a tour of the Capitol at all, actually.

There were also some weird things, like a ghost tour of Alexandria and a trip to the National Zoo, and possibly just drive-bys of Embassy Row and the Kennedy Center (which has striking architecture but if you aren't seeing a performance, why are you there?), which seemed like filler en route to somewhere else.

There is not a lick of free-time in the itinerary for students with chaperones/teachers to do their own thing, like visit a museum not on the list. There also doesn't seem to be much time for tying the trip back to your own community, or learning about your local representative's work in Washington, which would be a highlight.

I'm not saying this company is terrible or anything; I've never taken people on a trip to DC. But there's a lot of room for miscommunication and misunderstanding in this itinerary because many students will be expecting to go inside these places, and this may or may not happen.

So while the itinerary is just OK, a trip like this seems like it would be far better if you went to fewer "stops" and more actual sites, replacing the ghost tour of Alexandria and the National Zoo with something like Frederick Douglass' house, the National Museum of the American Indian, added in the Newseum or the International Spy Museum, and got to go inside the Capitol, the Supreme Court, or the White House (not sure of the logistics of these things), and gave students more free time.

Finally, I wonder about student discipline on the trip. There's no time, it seems, to take a student who's behaving outside of agreed-upon bounds out of a situation to allow them to cool down or change their behavior, and for many of your students, this may be their first time on a trip away from home without their parents, staying in a hotel with their friends. The "herd" aspect of things may drive some of your students crazy, and an afternoon in which a few students go off with a chaperone or teacher to go explore whatever they want to do may prove a very necessary release valve.

As far as logistics are concerned, what about asking a travel agent to do the hotels/flights/bus/transport bit, and have students, families and teachers organize the itinerary of sights through a vote? This site explain how to visit the sites on Capitol Hill, which would be the highlight (and the toughest to coordinate with a large group, I imagine).
posted by mdonley at 1:51 AM on June 3, 2012

My son's school does European exchanges with Prometour and they've been extremely successful and the teachers/chaperones have nothing but amazing things to say about the company. On the last exchange to Spain, for example, there was some predicted weather that could have interfered with the kids taking their flight home. The tour leader couldn't get the buses to come get the kids early (they were already being used for a different group) but she got a private company to come out - at the company's expense - to get the kids to the airport.

They do US tours, too, and you can customize every aspect of a trip. I honestly don't know if they're considered pricey, but I thought I'd suggest it because of the positive experiences the school has had with the company.
posted by cooker girl at 8:08 AM on June 3, 2012

The junior high in our school district has been doing WorldStrides to DC for the last 6 years: They've had uniformly positive experiences, but it is a big production number ( as you might imagine ). I've personally had one of my three daughters go on the trip and she had a great - but very busy - time of it. Based upon her experiences another daughter will be heading off on this trip next year.

The same teacher has been leading the tour each year that it's been offered, and I'm sure he's learned a lot, refined his approach, and could provide relevant feedback. If you'd like, send me a message, and I'll see if I can put you two in touch.
posted by HannoverFist at 7:03 PM on June 3, 2012

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