New York City with Adventures by Disney and Small World Vacations
BY SARAH STONE
In October 2016, Small World Vacations agents went on an Adventures by Disney (ABD) group tour, the New York City Long Weekend, as part of their annual agent education program. They had an open spot and they were kind enough to offer it to me so that I could experience an Adventures by Disney trip.
Adventures by Disney tours are limited to 40 participants, led by two Disney-trained Adventure Guides. You can expect impeccable service as well as a few surprises along the way. Travel, activities and meals during your adventure are pre-planned. The accommodations and food are first-class. Many of the tours and experiences are not available to the general public, such as after-hours museum visits or special exclusive tours to areas that are usually off-limits. Local experts provide authenticity and character by sharing knowledge and stories. All of Adventures by Disney’s itineraries are designed around family fun. Adventures by Disney has itineraries all over the world as well as in the US.
Unlike most group tour companies, ABD assigns two guides to each group tour. With two guides, if a problem comes up it doesn’t have to bring the whole tour to a halt. One guide can focus on resolving the issue, while the other can continue to get the group to their next destination.
Much like a cruise, almost all your meals and activities on Adventures by Disney are included in one price. During your trip you are able to relax and focus on the sightseeing and experiences. Because these kinds of group tours are a premium family tour experience there aren’t a lot of discounts available. However, you can save up to $1,000 on your Adventures by Disney vacation when you book with Small World Vacations.
For 2017, the Adventures by Disney New York City Long Weekend will cost $2,399 per person (based on double occupancy). What’s not included? Getting yourself to the airport at your destination, certain meals and activities as noted in the itinerary (basically anything you do during your free time), gratuities for the ABD tour guides and certain fees. Just about everything else on your 3-night trip is included in the cost.
Two to three weeks before my trip I received an Adventures by Disney package with an ABD backpack, documents holder, luggage strap and a drawstring bag (good for dirty clothes) along with an ABD handbook that had luggage tags, my itinerary and other helpful info about preparing and packing for my upcoming trip. You can view the typical NYC Long Weekend itinerary here.
Our itinerary was slightly different due to a few special activities set up for the agents. Because there are so many different ABD trips and itineraries I won’t go into great detail about what we did, but rather focus on the general experience of a group tour as conducted by Disney.
The basics of an ADB group tour
Our first breakfast was at the hotel. I met our 2 ABD guides and rest of the people on our group tour. (In this case, most of the Small World Vacations agents already knew each other.)
Our guides checked in with everyone individually to say hello and find out about any food allergies or other issues that they should be aware of. Everywhere we ate, our guides made sure that anyone who couldn’t eat from the menu options had a chance to consult with a server and make sure that the alternate meal offered would be okay. We didn’t have anyone in our group with mobility issues, but if we had, that would be another area they would monitor.
We each received a lanyard with a name tag (first name only) and on the back was our guides’ cell phone number in case we needed to contact them at any point during the trip. And, lest you worry about that empty lanyard – each day of your trip you get a special pin that reflects the theme of the day’s activities.
The main job of your guides is to get your from place to place smoothly. Once you are at an activity or attraction, a local expert joins the group to take you around. For example, in Harlem we had an effusive and energetic guide who was born and raised in Harlem. Our tour of the Apollo Theater was led by the inspirational Billy Mitchell (also known as Mr. Apollo), who began working there as an errand boy in 1965, moved his way up the ladder, and now serves as tour guide and historian. Each of these local guides not only shared their expert knowledge, but also their personal connection to these neighborhoods and institutions.
While we were soaking up the information and the sights, our ABD guides were right there, making sure the group everything ran smoothly and taking pictures of our experiences – group shots, scenic shots, individual shots – with their cameras or ours. At the end of the trip their photos are posted to a private page and you can download any, or all of them, at no extra cost.
An ABD is full of special experiences, big and small. One of those moments was at the New Amsterdam Theater, currently home to Disney’s Aladdin on Broadway. We got to visit the Prop Room, which has props and costumes from each of the Disney shows that have been on Broadway. Not only do you get to look at these items up close, you get to try them on and take pictures! There was Mary Poppins’ bag and hat, caps and newspapers from Newsies, all kind of Little Mermaid hats, and several masks/hats from Lion King. What a treat for a fan of Disney or Broadway!
Our visit to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum was probably my favorite experience on this trip. This is a unique museum; it can only be seen by making a reservation for guided tour. These are a number of tours that anyone from the general public can book. Each tour covers a different theme, time period or immigrant family. With ABD we were able to experience the “Live! at the Tenement” Tour, where you interact with actors portraying members of the 3 different tenement families, followed by a discussion and special ABD version of their “Foods of the Lower East Side Tour”, which was a private tasting dinner held at the museum, rather than the normal walking tour. The museum employees did a great job leading our discussion and helping us interact with the “tenants”, it was an incredibly moving experience to hear their stories.
Adventures by Disney is definitely a premium experience. And because it is a complete package, you can’t pick a less expensive hotel or skip an experience to try lower your costs. And while you do get some downtime to do your own thing, for some people, part of the fun of a trip is the research and planning. So a group tour might not fit your style or your budget.
I was a bit surprised that the suggested age for the New York City Long Weekend was 6+. Some of the activities and the pace (quite a bit of sitting or standing and listening) would seem a challenge to kids under 12 years old. However, as with any trip, everyone is different. So while you could use Disney’s recommendation, I would suggest taking a close look at the daily itinerary for any ABD you might be interested in and decide if it’s a good fit for your child’s interests and activity level. Each ABD itinerary is quite different; some have a Disney movie night or a special activity just for kids while adults do something else.
All that said, there are advantages to taking a group tour: you do a minimum of planning, you spent almost no time waiting to be seated at restaurant, waiting in line to buy tickets at museums or figuring out how to get from one place to another. My ABD experience was like having a FastPass for New York City! And because someone else was handling all of those logistics, we really packed a lot into each day and I could just enjoy the experiences as they happened.
On top of that, I got to see and experience things I couldn’t do as a member of the general public, no matter what I might be willing to pay. As someone who grew up on Long Island and has been to NYC quite a bit, I was pleasantly surprised by the unique activities on our itinerary. Of all the items on our itinerary, the only thing I had done before was a tour of Central Park. Everything else was new to me. It was exciting to see places in NYC that I had never been to or wasn’t aware of. And, of course, some of these experiences are unique to ABD or can only happen when you are part of a group tour.
A group tour can be an excellent way to experience a part of the country, or world, that you are unfamiliar with or would be daunting because of language, culture or logistics, to tackle on your own. For some, New York City would definitely fall into that category. An Adventures by Disney trip could be a great way to see a part of the world you haven’t explored yet, knowing that you will be with experienced guides going to places and activities that have been vetted by Disney.