A seasoned traveler's first-time ABD perspective for Alaska 8 - 15 July 2019

mtmueller

Earning My Ears
Joined
Nov 3, 2014
In the interest of full disclosure, we are DIS shareholders and have a financial interest in Disney, the more folks like Disney activities, the better for us.

We are also Gold-level DCL cruisers (all three of us). LOVE DCL!

We also just returned to the US last year from living abroad for the past 4 years, the entire family (myself, wife, and 10yo daughter) are very seasoned independent travelers across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

I truly saddens me to say, we were entirely unimpressed with our ABD trip to Alaska, consider the trip as "lost money" (or an expensive lesson), and would never entertain paying current rates for any ABD trip. We just absolutely did not see much value in it.

We booked this trip on our last DCL cruise based upon the information provided and our trust in the Disney brand experience from DCL. My biggest concern as a shareholder is how this trip diminished the Disney brand from our perspective (my wife is a marketing executive, and had an entire tirade on how ABD is mis-marketed at best.) We can’t be the only ones.

I would suggest any seasoned family travelers out there would do well to look past ABD.

After reading all the glowing comments on this board, how can it be that we found ABD to be such a disappointment?

Having lived abroad for a few years, we felt it was important to introduce our daughter to the majesty contained within the good old USA. Alaska being a great way to start her experiences. I also have a close college buddy who lives in Alaska full-time (I was a groomsman in his wedding up there 15 years ago), so this would be a "2-fer" and get to spend time with him and his family as well. We selected an early July itinerary based upon their years of Alaska weather experience as having the highest probability of warm, dry weather. We happened to hit Alaska during their epic record-breaking heatwave. Like much of Europe, Alaskans don't have many air-conditioned facilities - but we are used to that from our European experience.

We arrived on the 4th so we had a few days to adjust, visit our friends, and try a couple of things on our own before ABD started. The 4th set a record high of 90F in Anchorage. Due to the sun angle and the lack of a true "night", it felt much hotter (coming from Virginia heat and humidity.) We decided on some activities that were not specified in the ABD agenda, so we did a glacier landing on Denali in a ski plane from Anchorage, and a full-day off-road adventure to the Knik Glacier. Those were incredible experiences. Both Rust's Flying Service and 49th State Motor Tours (and their “world-famous salmon quesadillas) are highly recommended! Based upon the average daily price of ABD per person, those were also quite reasonably priced.

We probably started on a too high a note before our first ABD activity.

We met with the ABD crew on the 8th of July. Our two guides, Amber and Morgan, could not be sweeter ladies. Our driver, John, was a consummate professional and one of the smoothest coach drivers I have ever experienced.

The first night, and our first major disappointment with ABD. After our experience on DCL, we had high expectations for the quality of food and beverage on this trip. The first night's dinner was so disappointing, we thought it must be a fluke. The dinner was in a private room at the 49th State Brewing Company, which has a VERY good reputation around Anchorage, and our local friends recommended as well. The previous evening we ate at Glacier Brewing down the road and had an amazing meal at a comparable venue. Unfortunately for the ABD dinner, we had a set menu (nothing off the regular menu), and the fish was dry and tough. How can a true Alaskan screw-up fish? The apps were quite good, but the mains were just disappointing. This trip was far more expensive than our last 7-day DCL, and the food on day one. Wow!

The next day, we started at the Alaskan Heritage Center. It is a great little museum, and I think everyone came away with new-found knowledge. A pretty solid start to the trip.

Then we went up to Eklutna Lake for the first activities of Kayaking and Mountain Biking. The approximately 35 people on the trip were roughly divided in half and split the activities, had lunch, then flipped. My wife was excited to learn some paddling skills, but we just got a basic briefing and were told to "find a partner" and get in a kayak (after hauling all the gear down from the gear hut ~10-minute hike across a rock field.) My daughter was going to “ride” with me, but if you know anything about tandem kayaks, they are not fun if front and back paddlers are mismatched. Not what we were looking for. My wife was visibly frustrated, and the ABD guide did nothing to remedy the situation. My wife walked away in disgust and discovered our “basecamp” unattended and random hikers browsing through people’s gear. Unsat. After lunch, a few of our fellow travelers decided to man the camp to watch everyone’s stuff.

Lunch at the “camp” was “Thunderdome”. My wife felt she shouldn’t have to face a rugby scrum of kids and parents to get what she wanted (did I mention the ridiculous price of the trip?) She had to wait for everyone to finish, then ask the staff if they had anything left she might like. Really?

Mountain Biking in the afternoon was quite good. Short (~3 miles) but challenging. My daughter took an early spill and bowed out of the ride, and it’s probably good that she did. She had a good scrape, and my wife tried to get some water to wash the wound but she was told the water was for ‘guest drinking only’ but she got a “Mickey” band-aid instead. OMG. Good thing we travel with our own First Aid Kit.

They did NOT have a “beginner, intermediate, and advanced” ride. It was all basically “intermediate” with some technical terrain that some folks had to walk the bikes through. Sure wish we had known all these details before the day began, or even better before we paid for the trip! Not convinced this was a well-planned activity by ABD.

From Eklutna we finished the day up in Talkeetna, where we had a short time to shower and change for dinner. The kids had an optional “Junior Adventurer’s Night”, which our daughter thoroughly enjoyed and bonded with some of the other kids for the rest of the trip. A pretty good move. For the adults, again we had a fixed menu, but at least this time the food was okay (but still far, far from DCL quality and the reputation of the local chef.)

In the morning, we went to the “world-famous” Talkeetna Roadhouse for a hearty family-style breakfast and stories of the town over the years. Very quaint, but again it seemed like we were directed into a “dining area” for us, then ushered out at the end. My wife went back to the roadhouse a bit later and discovered an amazing bakery we would have never found otherwise… My other big beef with this part of the trip was that our rendezvous time-shifted, and we didn’t know how much “On Your Own” OYO time we would have until just before an activity. We ended up just milling around town. Had I KNOWN the agenda in advance, I would have booked a short jet boat ride. I really feel that was a badly missed opportunity wasted time in lieu of more fun at one location.

We met to board the Alaska Railroad for Denali. This part was very posh and enjoyable. The train staff was top-notch. The local gin for the G&T’s was fantastic! The meal served on board was really well done. This was the best part of the trip to this point. By the time we got to Denali National Park, we had about an hour or two to walk around the visitor center. We watched a couple DNP informational videos (which we liked), but then it was time to go to the hotel. Again, the hotel restaurant has a good reputation across Alaska, but the set-menu meal we were served was sub-standard and none of us finished it.

I was quite anxious that evening because I could not find out how we could get back into DNP or how much time we would have after the morning activity. This was an unnecessary stressor. Even aboard DCL you got a schedule well in advance of debarkation and all-aboard times. This never happened with ABD, and I really felt let down even though things worked out.

In the AM of Day 4, we did Whitewater Rafting. I have to say the vendor providing this experience was fantastic. ABD wasn’t the only group on the morning run. There were over 50 hitting the rafts, and the vendor got everyone (including little kids) into dry suits without any issue. Amazing organization. The ride was a hoot, and the safety briefer was a guy called “Mud Flap”. This guys’ famous, been featured on a few “Alaska” TV shows including Sarah Palin’s. I really great ride. Yes, the water is very cold so wear your layers underneath…

We finished lunch early (the fish tacos this day were actually one of the best things I ate on the trip), so the ABD driver agreed to take a few of us back up to DNP for OYO time. This was just enough time for the three of us to summit Mt Healy. We did the roundtrip in under 3 hours, but we were really pushing it (the Park Rangers will tell you to plan 4), and we made it back JUST IN TIME to catch one of the last shuttles and miss a big hail storm on the mountain. We shouldn’t have to work so hard for this since my nose bled when I paid the ABD fees, but how often are you going to be able to summit a peak in DNP?

Dinner was OYO, and we went back to the Lodge. This is when we discovered the chef really knew what he was doing. Is ABD skimming off the top and not paying the vendors very well? We know they only pay the guides bare subsistence and they rely on tips, but this would also explain the shockingly poor food quality we experienced. We were really souring on the Disney brand at this point. We also noticed that Princess Cruises had their own dedicated lodge (my Anchorage college buddy’s wife later told us she used to drive for Princess and gave us the full low down – for later in the story)…

Day 5 was the very long haul from Denali down to Girdwood, south of Anchorage. This was broken up with a lot of Iditarod stops, including Martin Buser’s kennels and the kids getting some quality time with puppies (always a win…) I have had several dogs, but in this brief visit, Martin taught me a few new tricks WRT raising dogs. Very interesting, and walked away even more in awe of people willing to endure that race. A bit further down the road, we stopped at the Iditarod Race HQ and even more puppies. This is actually intentional. The sled dog breeders want to get them habituated to people as quickly as possible, and no better way to let kids play with them. We arrived in Girdwood at the Alyeska Ski Resort fairly late and tired, so we just ate in the lodge. Typical ski lodge food, nothing remarkable other than the fried brussels sprouts.

The next day (6) we started with the gold panning activity. Now I found this to be fun, and everyone had at least a few flakes in their “pay” (as in “paydirt”.) I can see how it gets addictive when you see those shiny gold flakes just emerge from the dirt as you pan. Again we broke into two groups and one did sluicing whilst the other panned, then we swapped. As a family, we harvested 20+ gold flakes which we got to keep. The Crow Creek Mine is very quaint with a lot of Alaskan history, and the local guides did a great job bringing the site to life. At the end of the day, you’re just digging dirt along the side of a crick, but they managed to make it quite a beautiful setting and memorable history-related experience.

Lunch was OYO back in town (most of the group went to Chair 5 restaurant), and it was pretty good. After lunch, we boarded back on the bus and went out to catch the Alaska train again to the trailhead for Spencer Glacier. A nice hike out to the launch site for rafting out to icebergs and the edge of the glacier. You may be warm when you get out there, but the wind coming off the glacier and the cold water makes for a very cold experience. In the middle of the glacial lake, you stop for hot cocoa, a nice touch. Then you head back to the beach where the rest of the crew has prepared an amazing salmon dinner. This meal in the bush was the best tasting we had all week. Yes, food always tastes better in the field when your tired and hungry, but the guides said the salmon had just been caught in the next town over and cooked fresh. You can really tell when you are eating very fresh salmon (never frozen) cooked properly. This was a culinary experience (but no wine to pair, a miss in my book…)

You take the train back to Girdwood, riding an old school bus on the way to the pickup stop. The vendor was playing “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Will Rock You”, so nearly everyone sang along at top volume on the way to the stop. This was actually very endearing, and now kind of sad as the trip was ending. Felt a bit like old school summer camp.

The last day, we went to the Alaska Wildlife Center and saw bears and moose up close. This was a very nice ending to the trip. We had the afternoon OYO, so we climbed North Face at Alyeska (sitting around isn’t part of our thing, man) rewarding ourselves with pints at the bar on the summit.

The farewell dinner was nicely done, most folks cleaned up for the event and the Alaska Heritage Center came back to demonstrate native dance and customs. Again, the food was ski lodge good. Not amazing, good. By this time the kids had grown together to the point most wanted to hit the hotel pool once more before everyone split.

Day 8 is basically the drive back to Anchorage. Our flight didn’t depart until midnight, so we spent the rest of the day with my old friends. That’s where we got more of the locals lay down on Disney vs. all the other operators in Alaska. The biggest is Princess. They have their own dedicated lodges and true “concierge” service. My buddy’s wife was rather horrified at the dearth of concierge services for the price we paid, having been a former Princess employee. Our conclusion was that Disney corporate must not be paying vendors or guides as well as the competition, and therefore ABD will continue to provide a substandard experience. I guess Abigail Disney is right, Bob Iger needs a pay cut (and the ABD CEO needs to be fired.)

The other part of this is how incredible the experience could have been had Disney put the same resources they put into DCL. I can’t understand why Disney wouldn’t build cabins up at Denali and run it like an overnight “Castaway Cay”. They have tours from both DCL and ABD. I would also have put 3 nights in at Denali to allow for guests more time to explore the expanse of that amazing National Park. Probably cut Girdwood to 2.

At the end of the day, the value we felt we received for this trip was extremely poor. For the price we paid, I expected much, much more in terms of concierge-level experiences and much better food and drink, particularly as we booked this from a Disney Cruise. I don’t see how long Disney can survive on name recognition alone if they keep this up. Then again, look at Boeing. It seems to be Corporate American “chic” to screw vendors and labor until you kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

I can't place many faults on the ABD guides. They are on the front lines and only have what Corporate provides...

But at the same time, we are a family of three with extensive travel experience on our own. We have ridden camels across the Sahara, explored Petra, even learned how to make papyrus scrolls by hand at the foot of the pyramids in Egypt all “OYO”. We book our own excursions out through Rome and climbed Vesuvius just using the EU “Trainline” app. Hired a sommelier to take the three of us through the Champagne region in France to learn how the product is made and end with a paired, Michelin starred luncheon. All of this was less expensive than ABD. Based on the plethora of positive reviews for ABD, I might conclude that our experience and expectation does not match what ABD offers, and won’t make that mistake again.
 

aggiedog

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 13, 2012
Thank you for your report. We haven't done a trip with ABD, though the overall concept of it, as our family's main planner, is highly appealing to me. That said, we are also comfortable traveling extensively on our own, which is why I haven't actually pulled the trigger yet.

From IRL friends we have that travel with ABD, the main driver seems to be that they do not wish to make their own arrangements for a variety of reasons, they are not confident traveling overseas, and/or want a "safety net" of sorts of someone there to handle any issues that may come up. For them, those points make ABD "worth it." We just returned from a family trip to Yellowstone and Glacier NP. We used Off the Beaten Path to arrange and organize the whole thing, though we did not have a guide with us. It was VERY nice not to have to make all the arrangements, as this was a short fuse trip - 2 months from deciding to go to actual travel, but I KNOW I could have done it cheaper had I made the arrangements myself. It's not necessarily all about the money but it is a factor.

I'm sorry you felt your trip money was not well spent.
 

TXTransplant

DIS Veteran
Joined
Jun 28, 2012
I was listening up until I read this..."The other part of this is how incredible the experience could have been had Disney put the same resources they put into DCL. I can’t understand why Disney wouldn’t build cabins up at Denali and run it like an overnight “Castaway Cay”. They have tours from both DCL and ABD. "

With no disrespect, that tells me that you do not understand the product that ABD (and other comparable group tour operators like Tauck and National Geographic) offer.

That statement is like asking why Disney doesn't have a hotel in The Grand Canyon, The Great Wall of China, or The Great Barrier Reef. I don't post here very often, but I don't want anyone reading these threads to think that's what the average ABD (or Disney) guest expects.

Yes, Princess has a lodge in Denali; however, they are THE LARGEST tour operator in Alaska. The Princess lodge has 663 guest rooms. I don't think ABD even takes 663 guests to Alaska over the course of the season (2020 shows 20 Alaska trips available; if you assume 35 people per trip, that's a total of 490 guests). In comparison, DCL transports 2000-3000+ visitors to Castaway Cay EVERY SINGLE DAY. To expect ABD to provide a DCL-type of experience in Alaska is simply unreasonable and not at all what Disney/ABD does.

According to the DCL website, there are only 16 Alaskan cruises in 2020. DCL also does not offer a “land and sea” trip combo like some other companies do. And the DCL cruise route starts and ends in Vancouver - which is over 2000 miles from Anchorage, where many land-based Alaska trips (including the ABD) begin. The logistics for combining an Alaska ABD with a DCL cruise to Alaska are not trivial (the Princess land and sea trips include a one-way cruise, which DCL doesn't offer). I’ve looked into the combo trips offered by other companies, and they are a pretty significant time commitment (7 night cruise plus another 5 or so nights for the land portion). That limits how many people are able to book.

And while I still have plenty of questions about your review and complaints, I'll just sum the "value" of an ABD (or Tauck, or Nat Geo) trip up like this...

I just took my son to Canada for 10 nights for significantly less than the cost of the two of us to travel on a 7-8 night trip to the same place with ABD (or Tauck). We had a wonderful time, and if I had it to do all over again, I would do an independent trip rather than a group tour. But, what did I sacrifice by not going with a tour operator? We were responsible for all of our own bags, and I was the one who drove the rental car 1000+ km (no snoozing on the bus rides), I literally spent HOURS before our trip researching the area and making hotel reservations and excursion/activity reservations, which resulted in multiple different email confirmations that were my responsibility to keep, print out, and bring with us on the trip. And, some of our most exciting activities were pretty expensive, simply because it was just the two of us doing something. For example, we spent most of a day doing a private Via Ferrata mountain climbing adventure. That activity alone was about $500, and that price was comparable to other "guided" activities we've done together (i.e, the Road to Hana in Maui). I would say the average vacation "excursion" - something like kayaking, zip-lining, or snorkeling - costs $300-$500 for 3-5 hours of entertainment for the two of us. We were on our own for ALL meals (and sometimes, at the end of a long day, all I wanted was for someone to guide me to a restaurant), and on a lot of our stops, we had no guide whatsoever to point out areas of interest, history, or "off the beaten path" sights.

For reference, I've done two ABD trips, and my son and I have also traveled extensively - both on what I would call "budget" trips and on "high end" trips that I planned using the ABD model. I've also done several Disney Cruises - DCL and ABD are NOT comparable products and should not be compared to each other.

We are booked on an Alaska trip for 2020 (not with ABD because their dates didn’t work). I knew before I booked, though, that I would be using a tour company for this trip because I did not want to spend hours piece-mealing a trip together. After three consecutive independent trips, I’m ready to sit back and let someone else do the planning and reservations!
 
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  • Chirple

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Sep 30, 2009
    I've also done several Disney Cruises - DCL and ABD are NOT comparable products and should not be compared to each other.
    ^^^This! We are platinum with DCL and DVC members. We have one completed ABD under our belts with the second one coming up next month.

    DCL experiences do not equal ABD experiences, and neither of those equals DVC experiences. All different entities of The Walt Disney Company. I would not want my Disney-related trips to be the same; I like that they are unique vacations.

    @mtmueller, I would kindly suggest that you take a look at @abdgeek's China summary in this forum. The first post cements why people put their trust in ABD when traveling to unfamiliar territory. Perhaps it's your extensive traveling experiences that make this type of vacation not a good fit for your family.
     

    dt14890

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Jul 29, 2007
    Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Yours is to hate the trip you took. For that, I am sorry. ABD is probably best for those who just want to sit back and not have to do all the planning theirselves. I still love the comment one of the people in my tour group back in 2007 said when the guides asked at the welcome dinner what each of us was most looking forward to: ‘I am looking forward to not having to make a decision for the next 7 days’. The trip I took had one experience I didn’t like; creating dream catchers. But I did not allow that one bad experience to cloud my judgement for the rest of the trip. Your report reads like you never really wanted to give the trip a second chance. Others who read this report, please keep in mind this is NOT everyone’s view of ABD.
     

    tink1970

    DCL Platinum
    Joined
    Dec 29, 2012
    I am so sorry OP did not enjoy his vacation-time is a precious resource and none of us have unlimited time, so when it isn't used happily that is a shame.

    I think ABD is a great product for multigenerational trips, trips where language/culture/logistics are challenging (and everyone's definition is different) and/or for someone who really enjoys a group tour experience.

    ABD is likely not a good product for trips which can be arranged easily/more cheaply on your own, especially if you're an experienced traveler and/or if you have certain standards for food/hotels/etc. I've read many comments that for a very active family, ABDs might not be ideal, either (that said, we had a quite athletic family on our last trip who were up every morning running except for the day they did a 24 mile bike ride in 98 degree heat).

    I do hope anyone reading this thread will read the trip reports many thoughtful people have posted and ask questions to determine if their resources of time AND money would be best spent with ABD.
     

    sayhello

    Have Camera, Will Travel
    Joined
    Oct 28, 2006
    I was listening up until I read this..."The other part of this is how incredible the experience could have been had Disney put the same resources they put into DCL. I can’t understand why Disney wouldn’t build cabins up at Denali and run it like an overnight “Castaway Cay”. They have tours from both DCL and ABD. "

    With no disrespect, that tells me that you do not understand the product that ABD (and other comparable group tour operators like Tauck and National Geographic) offer.

    That statement is like asking why Disney doesn't have a hotel in The Grand Canyon, The Great Wall of China, or The Great Barrier Reef. I don't post here very often, but I don't want anyone reading these threads to think that's what the average ABD (or Disney) guest expects.

    Yes, Princess has a lodge in Denali; however, they are THE LARGEST tour operator in Alaska. The Princess lodge has 663 guest rooms. I don't think ABD even takes 663 guests to Alaska over the course of the season (2020 shows 20 Alaska trips available; if you assume 35 people per trip, that's a total of 490 guests). In comparison, DCL transports 2000-3000+ visitors to Castaway Cay EVERY SINGLE DAY. To expect ABD to provide a DCL-type of experience in Alaska is simply unreasonable and not at all what Disney/ABD does.

    According to the DCL website, there are only 16 Alaskan cruises in 2020. DCL also does not offer a “land and sea” trip combo like some other companies do. And the DCL cruise route starts and ends in Vancouver - which is over 2000 miles from Anchorage, where many land-based Alaska trips (including the ABD) begin. The logistics for combining an Alaska ABD with a DCL cruise to Alaska are not trivial (the Princess land and sea trips include a one-way cruise, which DCL doesn't offer). I’ve looked into the combo trips offered by other companies, and they are a pretty significant time commitment (7 night cruise plus another 5 or so nights for the land portion). That limits how many people are able to book.

    And while I still have plenty of questions about your review and complaints, I'll just sum the "value" of an ABD (or Tauck, or Nat Geo) trip up like this...

    I just took my son to Canada for 10 nights for significantly less than the cost of the two of us to travel on a 7-8 night trip to the same place with ABD (or Tauck). We had a wonderful time, and if I had it to do all over again, I would do an independent trip rather than a group tour. But, what did I sacrifice by not going with a tour operator? We were responsible for all of our own bags, and I was the one who drove the rental car 1000+ km (no snoozing on the bus rides), I literally spent HOURS before our trip researching the area and making hotel reservations and excursion/activity reservations, which resulted in multiple different email confirmations that were my responsibility to keep, print out, and bring with us on the trip. And, some of our most exciting activities were pretty expensive, simply because it was just the two of us doing something. For example, we spent most of a day doing a private Via Ferrata mountain climbing adventure. That activity alone was about $500, and that price was comparable to other "guided" activities we've done together (i.e, the Road to Hana in Maui). I would say the average vacation "excursion" - something like kayaking, zip-lining, or snorkeling - costs $300-$500 for 3-5 hours of entertainment for the two of us. We were on our own for ALL meals (and sometimes, at the end of a long day, all I wanted was for someone to guide me to a restaurant), and on a lot of our stops, we had no guide whatsoever to point out areas of interest, history, or "off the beaten path" sights.

    For reference, I've done two ABD trips, and my son and I have also traveled extensively - both on what I would call "budget" trips and on "high end" trips that I planned using the ABD model. I've also done several Disney Cruises - DCL and ABD are NOT comparable products and should not be compared to each other.

    We are booked on an Alaska trip for 2020 (not with ABD because their dates didn’t work). I knew before I booked, though, that I would be using a tour company for this trip because I did not want to spend hours piece-mealing a trip together. After three consecutive independent trips, I’m ready to sit back and let someone else do the planning and reservations!
    💓 💓 💓 Thank you for so eloquently saying (and quantifying!) a lot of what was going through my head, but that I really didn't know how to articulate. This is a fabulous post, and I agree with all of it. It just really seems to me that the OP did not know what kind of a product ABD was and ended up signing up for a trip that was not a good fit for their family.

    I'm sorry it wasn't a fit for them, and that they see the money spent as "lost money". Nobody wants to do that. But as several people who posted above have said, ABD is a fabulous fit for lots of people (including me!) and one person's missed-fit is another person's perfect fit. You just really need to research which category you fit in! Based on this sentence "We booked this trip on our last DCL cruise based upon the information provided and our trust in the Disney brand experience from DCL" it honestly doesn't sound to me like the OP researched the details of this trip beyond what he saw on his cruise, but that's just a supposition. But saying "DCL fits my needs, so ABD will because they are run by the same parent company" and then complaining and blaming ABD because that wasn't the case, doesn't seem to be very productive. I *love* ABD. Their product is absolutely what I love for my travels. But I really couldn't care less for DCL. Their cruises really are NOT my cup of tea, but that's not DCL's fault.

    Sayhello
     
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  • Donalyn

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jun 2, 2008
    I'm sorry that you didn't see value in your trip. That's too bad, understanding that value is a very personal concept. However, I'd like to point out a few things:

    Your family actually seemed to enjoy a lot of this vacation. You liked the guides, the driver, the Alaska Heritage Center, your daughter liked the junior events and having kids to travel/hangout with. You liked the railroad, white water rafting, the fish tacos, that the driver went out of his way to take you back into DNP so that you could do things that you wanted to do. You liked the time at the kennels and the puppies. You liked gold panning and the Spencer glacier hike, cocoa and meal. You liked the Alaska Wildlife Center and the farewell dinner. You were able to do active things on your own time. You generally didn't mention the hotels, so I'm assuming that they were satisfactory.

    Now to what you didn't like:

    No one was watching the bags at the kayaking event - this is a valid complaint and one that should be addressed by Disney.

    No help with your daughter's biking injury - this is a valid complaint and one I'm surprised by. Our guides had a first aid kit and were very involved when anyone was injured or needed medical assistance.

    That the biking activities was not what was expected - not sure how this was billed, so maybe a valid complaint. You did also indicate that you liked the activity.

    On your own time - generally, your comments about this are that it is annoying that they don't tell you in advance exactly when this will be and for how long. I actually had similar frustrations with this when planning our trip. That said, I'm not sure how they would actually do it, given that minor details are always changing in a group trip like this. I think that this certainty is something that you have to give up when you are traveling with a group. (I don't see the comparison to when a cruise ship will depart as being anything near the same thing, as those things are scheduled years in advance with harbors.)

    You also apparently want more "concierge service". Not sure exactly what you mean here, but our guides gave suggestions for dinners and made reservations. They also gave suggestions for what to do on our own time.

    That they didn't give your wife special instructions on how to paddle a kayak - not sure how to respond to this one.

    That you had to carry your own kayaks to the water - not sure how to respond to this one.

    That your daughter isn't a good fit to you for kayaking - not sure how to respond to this one, other than I'm not sure how this is ABD's fault.

    The "Thunderdome" lunch - are you saying that your fellow tour-mates were rude?

    That ADB didn't tell your wife about a bakery - not sure how to respond to this one.

    That you had to stress over trying to climb a mountain in Denali National Park - this gets to the on-your-own time thing above. When doing group travel, you don't get to do everything that you want to do. Trade-offs. And here you actually got to do it (with the driver going out of his way to make this happen) and yet ABD takes a hit because you had "stress" trying to do something extra not on the itinerary.

    That there was limited time at Denali - you knew this going in. (I do agree with you - more time at Denali would improve this itinerary.)

    Now to food - This is sort of a running joke around here. No one takes an ABD for the food. Any bit of research on this board would confirm that. More typically, people take ABDs in spite of the food. Now, to address the particular complaints - the main course in the welcome dinner was bad. This was in spite of the location having a good reputation normally and the fact that the apps were good. So, something went wrong with the main course. And apparently, one other meal with the group wasn't great. And they didn't serve wine with one meal.

    Seems that your family is well suited for DIY travel. Alternatively, a tour company with more active trips. A colleague took a Backroads bike tour in France, where they got to pick their level of hotel and food choices. Something like that may be more to your liking.
     

    carpenta

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jan 26, 2010
    I have to agree with the OP that the food is not a good aspect of ABD. Other travel providers usually just let you pick off the menu. We found that when we traveled to Alaska with ABD even the OYO time dining venues we had chosen (recommended by the guides) had "killed" our fish.....never had worse halibut and salmon in my life. I still talk about it to this day. Hope your future trip go smoother.
     

    WishUponAStarryNight

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Oct 4, 2014
    I’m sorry you were so disappointed. Perhaps a smaller, more active group would have been more to your liking, though group travel may not be the best fit for your family at all. It’s frustrating, for sure, to learn this after investing the time and cost of an ABD. That being said, you may want to do a bit more research before jumping in. Honestly, it sounds like you got what you paid for, but you didn’t know what you were buying.
     

    Rapunzellover

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Sep 3, 2014
    OP, I'm going to venture that you and your family have never used a package tour before. Most of your complaints (other than the bike scrape and unattended stuff at kayaking, which are, in my 7 ABD experience, not typical of ABD) seem like typical package tour issues.

    Re: food- There's always a mediocre meal or two...it comes from the logistics of feeding a huge group quickly. I just traveled with Tauck, and while in general, I thought the food better than most ABD, there were still a couple disappointing meals. It's a trade off.

    Re: OYO time- this gets frustrating, yes, so let me tell you my secret-- do your oyo "musts" outside of the tour as much as possible, and just go with the flow for the tour's oyo time. OYO time during a tour is so tricky. Yes, it would be nice if they told you how much time you were going to have, but having just traveled with Tauck who gave you a daily itinerary with specific times for on your own, I found that having that information doesn't actually make anything better. You still have the stress of needing to get back on time which isn't always possible.
    This is the reason why ABD doesn't give you any estimated on your own times: because they know that that is going to be dependent on traffic and various other factors which they cannot control. They thus like to not tell people because they don't want people to be dependent on something and then end up being a 1/2 hour late for that, where the traveler says that ABD gave him the wrong time and they missed their plans. It's damned if you do, damned if you don't.

    Re: The "didn't get a lesson on kayaking" complaint- this is you simply wanting personal attention a package tour can't provide. This is a group excursion being given with limited time. You were never gonna receive an in depth lesson. This was not a situation for it. You want in depth lessons, a go at your own pace experience suited to your particular needs? Go elsewhere, cause there's no time for that in large group trip with a packed Itinerary.

    Ultimately, ABD and group travel don't seem suited to your family. Honestly, you seem to be very demanding of attention and want things to revolve around you and your family's needs, which is not bad at all. You should have that if you want it. But it's just not possible with any package group tour.

    I agreed with the poster who said you bought the ABD product thinking it was something else.
     
  • mtmueller

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Nov 3, 2014
    OP, I'm going to venture that you and your family have never used a package tour before...

    Re: food- There's always a mediocre meal or two...

    Re: OYO time- this gets frustrating, yes, so let me tell you my secret-- do your oyo "musts" outside of the tour as much as possible, and just go with the flow for the tour's oyo time...

    Re: The "didn't get a lesson on kayaking" complaint- this is you simply wanting personal attention a package tour can't provide...

    Ultimately, ABD and group travel don't seem suited to your family...

    I agreed with the poster who said you bought the ABD product thinking it was something else.

    We did do some research before we selected this trip, but obviously not enough. I did read several of the glowing and not so glowing reviews on a few sites and blogs but obviously didn't dig deep enough - my bad.

    As most of you probably realize, ANY Fanboy site will be absolutely loaded with confirmation and selection bias. My post was merely intended to provide an opposing viewpoint for another family that may be in a similar situation.

    Don't get me wrong, I LOVE you guys. Keep buying ABD trips! That boosts my dividend yield and capital gains on DIS!

    My narrative may not have been sufficiently clear, but we did find the good with the bad and tried to make the best of it during our trip. I don't think we 'copped an attitude', nor were we the only ones that expressed some disappointment. A 5-time ABD'er also expressed some disappointment and commented to us she thought the trip was not as good as the others she had taken in defense of ABD.

    The principal beef that I cannot get past is that for the ~$2000/night for our family (inclusive of our OYO costs during the trip plus ABD guide gratuities), we've had oh so much better. We probably further complicated things by having two absolutely incredible OYO "adventures" prior to the start of the ABD itinerary, which may have made for an unfair comparison.

    The food issue was more than "one or two" meals. It really was a bad joke.

    At $2000/nt, if someone's not getting what they think they paid for, yes I would demand some attention. That's the differentiator in customer service experiences. We compared notes with one of our Alaskan friends that used to work for Princess (yes, a different league from ABD), and they were aghast at the lack of action on some of the issues presented.

    In comparison, my daughter's favorite recent trip was a weeklong trek through Morrocco with a private guide/driver including a journey along the "road of a thousand casbahs" to the Sahara desert, a camel trek to a Berber desert "glamping" site (with flush toilets), ending in Marrakesh at the 5-star Es Saadi and falconry lessons. That came in at around $1000/nt all-in ground package by comparison. Or my wife's favorite, a small group (<12) from Aqaba to Petra and back on a 4x4 trip through Wadi Rum (where they filmed "The Martian" and "Lawrence of Arabia") which came in around the same ~$1000/nt. Not to mention the bareboat regattas we took in the Med, both the Greek Islands and the Dalmatian Coast out of Dubrovnik, Croatia with less than 10 yachts per flotilla at well under $2000/nt. At $2000/nt, I'm at the Four Seasons in Vail all-in for skiing.

    So yes, I just didn't see the value paying the very high premium for this trip. I can totally see how ABD would be amazing for multi-generational travel. That seems to be a real selling point for ABD.

    As has been implied by several in this thread and I will freely admit, we bought the ABD product thinking it was something else and representative of what Disney corporate has been known for, namely customer service. We really didn't see that on this trip. I hope we have helped another, similar family in their decision-making.
     

    Grifdog22

    Barking Mad!
    Joined
    Oct 16, 2008
    Thanks for sharing your experience and point of view. There is another thread on this ABD board called "Other options" where posters outline exactly that - other options that they have explored and their experiences with these touring products. A careful review of many postings on this board will also disclose many repeat ABDers lamenting changes in the ABD products, with a continuing complaint of ever increasing numbers of people on the tours, less attention to detail, and increasing costs.
    An additional point seems to be that longer running trips get "stripped" of some of the things that made the original trip as envisioned by the planners so special. Yours is a longer running trip.

    Also, specific "adventures" may have problems that may dramatically damage the experience. We have taken 6 ABD trips. Trip 4 was my most anticipated and it was awful. It's primary saving grace was our pre and post trip activities, although we really did love certain parts of it - the Wort Hotel, the dog sled mushing, and what little of Yellowstone we saw (Previous version of Winter Wonderland). Our, guides were not in tune, the highlight of the scheduled trip (for us) was an afternoon in Lamar Valley which was cancelled with no explanation or replacement the day of. I was one unhappy pumba. Another poster on these boards took the trip starting as ours was ending (with different guides) and had a totally different, very positive experience. We have also had less than satisfactory travels with other vendors as well.

    Our other ABD trips have been good, two of which were simply spectacular (The original LONG 2 week South Africa tour which included days driving up the wine lands and the first out of the gate re-imagined Australia tour two years ago, which the next year they promptly removed our favorite part because some people found it "hard."). So some of the other responses to your posting may be spot on for who the ABD market is aimed at - cross gen or less active people.

    In our view, we go into these trips with eyes wide open, and attempt to plan accordingly. ABD has done some things and gotten us into places we would not have been able to do on our own, or would not have been fun outside of a group setting. (Italy, banquet dinner in a 15th Century castle banquet hall with live interactive entertainment, for example). Years ago, before the great recession, ABD offered two versions of many of their trips - the standard trip and a "Signature" version which had a cap on the group to a much smaller number, which also reportedly provided additional activities, better food, and better hotels. These were out of our price range at that time so I have no personal knowledge of them and they disappeared following the economic crash. We are not wealthy people, the costs are an important factor for us. However, on trips like our Australia tour, the logistics of ABD allowed us so much more time to do more than we could have possibly done on our own. (I'm thinking especially of Byron Bay, which was cut - where they squeezed a good two days into one and we had "complete" experiences that were not rushed but were exactly the right amount. For example, ordering from a restaurant menu for lunch in advance so that they called in the orders while we were enroute from sea kayaking to the restaurant and just as we were getting seated the food (really really good food BTW) arrives at the table. When you finish eating, you are OYO for the tours of the town.)

    We've seen some pretty amazing experiences on ABD trips that have kept us in the fold, although we venture out on our own during the trips as well as non ABD visits. Two experiences come to mind...one in South Africa where they upgraded us to first class in a mid-trip flight and suggested we see several things in the airport rather than sitting at the gate. Five minutes before departure one of the group approached the guide just as we were getting on the plane and told him, "I've lost my boarding pass." The guide was on the phone to the airport manager, the plane was delayed for a few minutes, and a new boarding pass was delivered to the gate. I don't think we could do that on our own. On another trip in Costa Rica there was domestic violence in the country with riots. We were already into the trip and we were oblivious to it. The itinerary was changed around and at a road blockade by villagers, Disney "negotiated" with them and they moved the boulders and rocks blocking the road and our bus was the only vehicle that passed through. There were some very serious security issues that arose on that trip and Disney kept us safe. That is the only reason I am going to Egypt - I trust that the Disney brand will keep us safe on a trip I otherwise am too chicken and uncomfortable to take.

    We find tremendous value in these boards. Unlike the Disney sponsored boards, there are a lot of open honest opinions posted, including yours. We get ideas for trips on our own from postings, and evaluate if and when we travel with ABD for plans that excite us. Not all trips, travelers, groups or tours are the same.

    We paused our ABD visits for awhile following our "bad" experience, but we moved on and don't dwell on it. We continued to study and monitor what they offered, and have taken two trips since then, one of which is our all time favorite trip in or out of Disney. I recommend you read more about various experiences but do not rule out a trip that rings your bells. "There is adventure out there." Enjoy!
     

    TXTransplant

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jun 28, 2012
    We did do some research before we selected this trip, but obviously not enough. I did read several of the glowing and not so glowing reviews on a few sites and blogs but obviously didn't dig deep enough - my bad.

    As most of you probably realize, ANY Fanboy site will be absolutely loaded with confirmation and selection bias. My post was merely intended to provide an opposing viewpoint for another family that may be in a similar situation.

    Don't get me wrong, I LOVE you guys. Keep buying ABD trips! That boosts my dividend yield and capital gains on DIS!

    My narrative may not have been sufficiently clear, but we did find the good with the bad and tried to make the best of it during our trip. I don't think we 'copped an attitude', nor were we the only ones that expressed some disappointment. A 5-time ABD'er also expressed some disappointment and commented to us she thought the trip was not as good as the others she had taken in defense of ABD.

    The principal beef that I cannot get past is that for the ~$2000/night for our family (inclusive of our OYO costs during the trip plus ABD guide gratuities), we've had oh so much better. We probably further complicated things by having two absolutely incredible OYO "adventures" prior to the start of the ABD itinerary, which may have made for an unfair comparison.

    The food issue was more than "one or two" meals. It really was a bad joke.

    At $2000/nt, if someone's not getting what they think they paid for, yes I would demand some attention. That's the differentiator in customer service experiences. We compared notes with one of our Alaskan friends that used to work for Princess (yes, a different league from ABD), and they were aghast at the lack of action on some of the issues presented.

    In comparison, my daughter's favorite recent trip was a weeklong trek through Morrocco with a private guide/driver including a journey along the "road of a thousand casbahs" to the Sahara desert, a camel trek to a Berber desert "glamping" site (with flush toilets), ending in Marrakesh at the 5-star Es Saadi and falconry lessons. That came in at around $1000/nt all-in ground package by comparison. Or my wife's favorite, a small group (<12) from Aqaba to Petra and back on a 4x4 trip through Wadi Rum (where they filmed "The Martian" and "Lawrence of Arabia") which came in around the same ~$1000/nt. Not to mention the bareboat regattas we took in the Med, both the Greek Islands and the Dalmatian Coast out of Dubrovnik, Croatia with less than 10 yachts per flotilla at well under $2000/nt. At $2000/nt, I'm at the Four Seasons in Vail all-in for skiing.

    So yes, I just didn't see the value paying the very high premium for this trip. I can totally see how ABD would be amazing for multi-generational travel. That seems to be a real selling point for ABD.

    As has been implied by several in this thread and I will freely admit, we bought the ABD product thinking it was something else and representative of what Disney corporate has been known for, namely customer service. We really didn't see that on this trip. I hope we have helped another, similar family in their decision-making.
    Not to pile on, but I think comparing the price of trips to Morocco, Jordan, and Greece to Alaska isn't really apples to apples.

    I priced out an Alaska land trip for 2020 with a bunch of different companies, and they are ALL expensive. I'll be paying about $1750/night for two people for our Nat Geo trip (and that doesn't include airfare or the pre-days in Anchorage that I'm planning). Cruises (at least with the big companies like Princess) seem to be much less expensive, but I have yet to find a cruise that offers a visit to Denali, unless you do an add-on (and all of the add-ons I priced were also VERY expensive). Alaska just seems to be one of the more expensive destinations out there, especially if you want to do a small-group and/or land-based trip.

    Comparatively, just looking at the "premium" trips to Greece, both ABD and Nat Geo have options for well under $1000/night per person. Even the Nat Geo "private" expedition is only $630/night per person. ABD doesn't offer anything to Morocco or Jordan, but again, looking at Nat Geo, those destinations are MUCH less expensive than trips to Alaska. Tauck's prices are comparable, too.

    This is the reason I didn't book our trip to the Canadian Rockies with a tour company - I just couldn't justify the cost when it was a pretty easy trip to plan myself (aside from just the time that it takes to book everything).

    The other factor about group travel is that it's NEVER going to be a good deal for families of 2-3 travelers because you are paying the SAME price for each person. When you book on your own, the cost of the hotel is the same, whether there are 1, 2, or 3 (or even 4) people in the room. So, the cost of that $500/night hotel room (which is probably about the average cost of the hotels ABD and the other companies use) is divided up among each person staying in the room.

    When you do a group trip with ABD, Nat Geo, Tauck, or the like, you don't get that "discount". Whatever hotel cost is embedded in the per person cost of the trip you essentially pay for twice, if there are two travelers (three times, if there are three in your group, etc.).

    Personally, I think these companies should be offering a discount/pro-rated price for each additional person in the same room. I also think the child discount should be more significant. However, that's just not how the industry works. I've accepted that, and in SOME cases have decided that group travel is the way to go, despite the extra cost.

    With that said, I have my own complaints about our ABD trips and some of ABD's practices. For example, when we went to Neuschwanstein in Germany, we were on a VERY large tour with OTHER people (not with our tour group). Our guides said this was the castle's policy - they wouldn't let ABD have a "private" tour. Well, ABD, how about you just buy up ALL of the tickets designated for a specific tour time? That way no tickets can be sold to anyone else for that tour date/time. For the prices they charge, I don't think that's an unreasonable request. But, ABD doesn't do that and blames it all on the castle.

    I also get irritated with ABD for offering pre- and post-stays at extremely inflated prices. I considered extending our Germany trip for a couple of days in Munich. IIRC, ABD quoted me a hotel price of over $500 a night, but I could book that SAME hotel through my VISA credit card perks (with free breakfast included!) for something like $300/night.

    The flip side was our trip to the Amalfi Coast. Anyone who's been there knows how logistically difficult it is to travel to the different cities there - via cars, buses, ferries, AND trains. I would have NEVER rented a car and made that drive myself. To have ABD handle ALL of the transportation logistics from Naples to Sorrento (private driver), Sorrento to Positano (big bus and mini-bus), Positano to Amalfi (ferry), Sorrento to Capri (ferry), Sorrento to Pompeii (bus), Naples to Florence (train) was totally worth the price (and that was actually one of ABD's more "affordable" trips when we took it in 2016). Not to mention the PRIVATE cruise around the Amalfi Coast and the local guide who walked us through Pompeii and Florence. That trip was a fantastic experience and really felt like "concierge" type travel.

    The thing I've learned about group and/or "all-inclusive" travel is, if you try to break it down into "What did I get for my $X per night cost?", you're almost always going to be disappointed. I doubt there is any group trip out there - offered by ANY tour provider - that costs the same or less than booking everything on your own. And as several of us have pointed out YMMV based on the exact location you are traveling to and the exact nature of the tour itself.

    But, once I pay that non-refundable deposit, I stop the "what-ifs". Lucky for us, we have not had any ABD trip, DCL cruise, or other "all-inclusive" trip (I recently did a trip to an all-inclusive spa that has some of the same issues with pricing and value) that was disappointing and made me question spending the money. I'll keep my fingers crossed that never happens, but if it does, I'm not sure that would keep me from using a specific tour company for another destination, simply because the logistics and costs vary so much from destination to destination.
     
    Last edited:

    Rapunzellover

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Sep 3, 2014
    OP, on the "had better for less" argument, that's a valid quibble. Is ABD worth the money? That's debatable. Can you get more, or at least equivalent, for less cash? Possibly. That's a valid concern and complaint.

    I'm not an ABD diehard. I actually haven't been to a Disney park in 21 years. I travel with the company that has the Itinerary I want at the time I want, and ABD has met that a majority of the time. So I'm not trying to defend ABD as some rabid stan. So please keep that in mind when I say, if value for your money was so important to you, then you have nobody to blame but yourself for not doing the proper research to make sure you got that value.
     

    laceltris3

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Oct 23, 2013
    Everyone has different preferences.

    We do have group travel experience and do generally quite enjoy it, but were slightly underwhelmed with our recent first ABD. I agree with you on some not great group meals, and lack of things that are included with tour providers of comparable quality for less cost. I have just come to the conclusion that I am more of a Tauck Bridges person for the money (you generally get to have less set menus and buffets, and more included meals), but since they have fewer family itineraries, particularly outside the US, I will either have to make my peace with the perceived shortcomings of ABD or try someone else. They all have drawbacks (for me ABD's itinerary release process and booking, and stripping the trips of meals and activities for OYO time are huge negatives, but for Thomson, it is their refusal to take credit cards, etc.) Having a second guide is not indispensable for us, as we don't generally need a lot of attention.
     

    Donalyn

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jun 2, 2008
    All group tours to Alaska are very expensive. I've also looked at all of them. And I think that the point is that, while you think you paid a lot of money, you actually didn't by comparison for Alaska for similar group travel experiences. Alaska is expensive! No way about it.

    I loved our Italy ABD (so many unique experiences that other just can't replicate, even if it seems like they can). But I can't see the value generally of US based ABDs, particularly if you are good at planning your own trips. (A good part of the value I see in group travel is someone to negotiate the language barrier and other things in foreign locals, where it would be more challenging to deal with that or the bumps that come up during a trip.) Again, in the US, I'm more than capable of doing that. Exception is Back Stage Magic.

    We are DIY'ing Alaska next summer. I'm not fully done planning, but I think that I can get it to come in at about half of the ABD price for our family of 4. Of course, if I was traveling with ABD, we'd have two rooms, instead of just one, and have to do the navigating, but I can live with that to save $10,000+. And it will not be the exact same trip - we are prioritizing different things. But will be staying at the same hotel in Girdwood.

    I also agree that the kid discount is a joke and the fact that kids become adults for prices at age 10 (or is it 11?). That is a crock. And if Disney only has to pay for 1 hotel room for a family of 4 - then there should be a discount. (However, given non-US hotel room sizes, that would be absolutely awful to all be in the same room IMO.) And there are other things about their policies I also don't like. We aren't all rah-rah Disney around here. Most of us have a very balanced view, taking the good and acknowledging the bad.
     

    disneyphx

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jan 4, 2010
    I am sorry to hear that you felt your vacation dollars were not well spent. We have done 9 ABDs, independent travel and travelled with similar companies. There are pros and cons to each, and depending on itinerary (primarily), dates and prices we make different choices.
    With Disney and Tauck Bridges, we know we sacrifice OYO time. With TB, food is better, we enjoy guides less. By ourselves we control it all, but the planning can take time we are sometimes lacking and being in control of it all can be stressful.
    One thing that is most interesting to me is the comparison to DCL. Of all our cruises, DCL ranks low....and it was ‘free’ (ABD promotion in 2010). We went in assuming it would be our go to cruise line from that point, but we did not care for the food, DD disliked their kids club and whenever we have looked, feel the price is too high.
    Great reminder that we all value different things!
     

    emilymad

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Sep 17, 2003
    Thank you to to OP and everyone else for posting this information. We aren't sure if ABD is "for us" and a this information is invaluable. Other than this board it is really hard to find honest opinions.
     

    CaliforniaGirl09

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Dec 4, 2009
    Thanks for sharing your experience and point of view. There is another thread on this ABD board called "Other options" where posters outline exactly that - other options that they have explored and their experiences with these touring products. A careful review of many postings on this board will also disclose many repeat ABDers lamenting changes in the ABD products, with a continuing complaint of ever increasing numbers of people on the tours, less attention to detail, and increasing costs.
    An additional point seems to be that longer running trips get "stripped" of some of the things that made the original trip as envisioned by the planners so special. Yours is a longer running trip.

    Also, specific "adventures" may have problems that may dramatically damage the experience. We have taken 6 ABD trips. Trip 4 was my most anticipated and it was awful. It's primary saving grace was our pre and post trip activities, although we really did love certain parts of it - the Wort Hotel, the dog sled mushing, and what little of Yellowstone we saw (Previous version of Winter Wonderland). Our, guides were not in tune, the highlight of the scheduled trip (for us) was an afternoon in Lamar Valley which was cancelled with no explanation or replacement the day of. I was one unhappy pumba. Another poster on these boards took the trip starting as ours was ending (with different guides) and had a totally different, very positive experience. We have also had less than satisfactory travels with other vendors as well.

    Our other ABD trips have been good, two of which were simply spectacular (The original LONG 2 week South Africa tour which included days driving up the wine lands and the first out of the gate re-imagined Australia tour two years ago, which the next year they promptly removed our favorite part because some people found it "hard."). So some of the other responses to your posting may be spot on for who the ABD market is aimed at - cross gen or less active people.

    In our view, we go into these trips with eyes wide open, and attempt to plan accordingly. ABD has done some things and gotten us into places we would not have been able to do on our own, or would not have been fun outside of a group setting. (Italy, banquet dinner in a 15th Century castle banquet hall with live interactive entertainment, for example). Years ago, before the great recession, ABD offered two versions of many of their trips - the standard trip and a "Signature" version which had a cap on the group to a much smaller number, which also reportedly provided additional activities, better food, and better hotels. These were out of our price range at that time so I have no personal knowledge of them and they disappeared following the economic crash. We are not wealthy people, the costs are an important factor for us. However, on trips like our Australia tour, the logistics of ABD allowed us so much more time to do more than we could have possibly done on our own. (I'm thinking especially of Byron Bay, which was cut - where they squeezed a good two days into one and we had "complete" experiences that were not rushed but were exactly the right amount. For example, ordering from a restaurant menu for lunch in advance so that they called in the orders while we were enroute from sea kayaking to the restaurant and just as we were getting seated the food (really really good food BTW) arrives at the table. When you finish eating, you are OYO for the tours of the town.)

    We've seen some pretty amazing experiences on ABD trips that have kept us in the fold, although we venture out on our own during the trips as well as non ABD visits. Two experiences come to mind...one in South Africa where they upgraded us to first class in a mid-trip flight and suggested we see several things in the airport rather than sitting at the gate. Five minutes before departure one of the group approached the guide just as we were getting on the plane and told him, "I've lost my boarding pass." The guide was on the phone to the airport manager, the plane was delayed for a few minutes, and a new boarding pass was delivered to the gate. I don't think we could do that on our own. On another trip in Costa Rica there was domestic violence in the country with riots. We were already into the trip and we were oblivious to it. The itinerary was changed around and at a road blockade by villagers, Disney "negotiated" with them and they moved the boulders and rocks blocking the road and our bus was the only vehicle that passed through. There were some very serious security issues that arose on that trip and Disney kept us safe. That is the only reason I am going to Egypt - I trust that the Disney brand will keep us safe on a trip I otherwise am too chicken and uncomfortable to take.

    We find tremendous value in these boards. Unlike the Disney sponsored boards, there are a lot of open honest opinions posted, including yours. We get ideas for trips on our own from postings, and evaluate if and when we travel with ABD for plans that excite us. Not all trips, travelers, groups or tours are the same.

    We paused our ABD visits for awhile following our "bad" experience, but we moved on and don't dwell on it. We continued to study and monitor what they offered, and have taken two trips since then, one of which is our all time favorite trip in or out of Disney. I recommend you read more about various experiences but do not rule out a trip that rings your bells. "There is adventure out there." Enjoy!
    Thank you to Griffdog for this wonderful post. You saved me from writing a long one myself. I pretty much ditto everything you said!!!

    To OP, I'm really sorry you didn't enjoy your ABD and felt the cost was out of whack for the product. I think that is an important view to have on these boards, and I'm glad you took the time to post. I'm currently on the Japan trip and loving it (the food has been excellent, BTW, but I must admit I am missing alcohol at meals that I've grown accustomed to with other operators), but I am having a few issues that make me wonder whether the ABD products is for my family anymore. This is #7 for our family, and we've had mostly excellent trips with one that was very disappointing, and I thought, not worth the amount paid (ABD Baltics add-on I'm looking at you!). I do think the shift toward multigenerational trips, large groups, and less active "adventures," is making it less a fit for my family. We have a group of 39 on the Japan trip, and it's just too many people.

    ABD has branded itself as a VIP/concierge type of product in the past--so I get the expectation--but a few surprise ice-cream cones isn't my idea of VIP either, and I think they are moving away from this. I think with ABD it is very important to study the itinerary carefully and see what they are doing that would be hard to do yourself. I think where they really shine, and where the value seems best, is the more far flung itineraries where the language barrier and culture can be difficult to do OYO. China, Japan, SEA all come to mind and have been consistently well reviewed on these boards.

    It doesn't sound as if you'll be back to ABD, but definitely check out the other options thread that PPs have mentioned. There are some great reviews in there of other operators.
     


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