Debunking Common Myths about Guided Vacations

By Lisa Sands, Director of Marketing, CIE Tours

As it relates to fast-paced journeys through Europe, you’ve likely heard the phrase “if it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium!”.  A 1969 movie by that name exaggerated the experiences people had in the early days of motorcoach touring; and although the comedy reinforced Americans’ false perceptions of this style of travel in Europe, the movie’s popularity may have been responsible for creating broad awareness that ultimately contributed to the tour industry’s growth.

However, escorted touring is no longer your grandfather’s European vacation experience. Today’s guided vacations can include upscale accommodations such as overnighting in a castle, keeping in touch while on the road onboard a luxury coach, VIP access to exclusive venues, and farm-to-table food experiences. So, what are the elements of traveling by motorcoach that may still be misunderstood? Let’s review the key myths and realities about traveling on a guided vacation.

Myth: I can get the airfare, hotels, transportation and sightseeing cheaper if I do the work myself. 

Fact: Tour operators have longstanding relationships in the destinations they serve, and each company bring dozens, if not hundreds, of people to the same hotels and attractions each week. They use their buying power to get bulk rates that are passed on to travelers in the form of a lower package price. Many tour operators take that even further by including extras in the up-front price such as baggage handling, meals, and most importantly, the services of a tour guide. Which brings us to our next myth….

CIE Tours Family Vacations – Cultural and Food Experiences
Photo Courtesy of Tourism Ireland

Myth: I want to immerse myself in a destination’s history and culture, and there won’t be time for that on a motorcoach tour.

Fact: As the name implies, guided vacations include the services of a professional tour director who is an expert in their destination. Throughout your journey, your guide will share the history, culture and local lore that independent travelers would never discover on their own. A knowledgeable guide will add dimension to your vacation by bringing a local’s perspective on the destination and introducing you to the people that call it home. As an added bonus, you’ll bypass waiting lines at attractions and get to experience places that you wouldn’t even know about if you went on your own.  And, that’s where the next myth gets debunked!

CIE Tours – Foodie Tour of Ireland
Photo Courtesy of Tourism Ireland

Myth: I won’t be able to go off on my own and do anything that the locals might do.

Fact: Guided vacations offer many authentic experiences that would otherwise be missed by independent travelers. These experiences include genuine, immersive opportunities to allow you to truly get to know a place and its people. Together with your group, you might try things like visiting a local home and learning to make scones from a generations-old recipe, visiting the world’s oldest pub and raising a pint with locals, a sheepdog demonstration on a farm, or a private viewing of historic residences and castles.  And, there will be many opportunities for independent exploration; your expert guide can point you to a local pub where you can listen to traditional music or a corner café where you can watch people go about their daily routines. Even on the most all-inclusive tours, you’ll have time for discovering new restaurants for lunch or dinner on your own…that is, if you choose to leave behind your new-found friends. More on that….

Cabra Castle, Country Cavan, Ireland
Photo Courtesy of Tracy Biggins

Myth: I’ll be stuck on a bus with people that I don’t know.

Fact: While you may begin your vacation as strangers, motorcoach touring has the unique advantage of bringing together a small group of people with similar interests (generally no more than 48 people on a coach). With your tour director as the host, you will quickly get to know one another, and for many people, meeting like-minded travelers can be one of the most rewarding aspects of guided vacationing.  You can also make your vacation a friends-and-family affair: why not bring your own group along to let them share in the fun? Oh, and by the way, you won’t be traveling on just any “bus”: the luxury motorcoaches in use today are well-equipped with wi-fi, oversized windows, reclining seats and even video screens, in some cases; all you need to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. Which brings us to our final myth.

Myth: The pace will be too fast and I won’t be able to relax.

Fact: Guided vacations mean carefree touring. You and your travel companions can leave the driving to  a local professional, you can trust that the hotels on your itinerary will be safe and of good quality, itineraries are mapped out and time-proven to ensure you see all the important sights, and there’s no worrying about logistics like where to park, where to eat or what time the museum opens (or if it’s even open at all on the day you’ll be in town). Your professional driver and expert guide will handle every detail, so all you need to do is enjoy your vacation. While the pace won’t be too fast, it won’t be slow – after all, vacation time is precious and you want to maximize every minute. Expect an active vacation, where good walking shoes are a must for traversing cobblestone streets and paths less traveled.

Guided vacations offer the perfect way to learn, experience and connect with others who share your interest; while maximizing your time and getting the most value – both for your dollar, and for the priceless memories that you’ll make. Your trusted travel advisor can help you find the guided vacation that’s right for your interests and budget.

About the Author:

Lisa Sands, a veteran of the travel industry, has led the strategic marketing and content strategies for some of the country’s leading tour operators, leisure travel agencies and corporate travel management firms throughout her 25 year career. Currently the Director of Marketing for CIE Tours, Lisa’s editorial endeavors have been recognized by the North American Travel Journalists Association and she has received awards from the Walt Disney Company, Universal Orlando, and Royal Caribbean for marketing innovation. Lisa’s favorite travel experiences include immersion in the cuisine and cultures of the world’s most intriguing destinations, with a particular fondness for Ireland and Scotland.

About CIE Tours

Since 1932, CIE Tours has been the premier tour operator for Ireland and Britain vacations, earning a reputation for excellence rooted in its signature Irish hospitality.  The 2022 travel season marked 90 years of operation for the Morristown, New Jersey-based company, during which it has taken more than three million travelers on the vacation of their dreams. Expertly crafted vacations to Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Iceland, and Italy suit every travel style and taste – from the camaraderie of coach tours and custom group travel to a variety of independent adventures, small group tours and personalized private driver experiences.

CIE Tours takes care of every detail and provides exclusive access, authentic experiences, and in-depth knowledge of each destination. Only CIE Tours offers the “All-In Inclusive Advantage” which guarantees that every experience and most meals are included, so there are never any hidden expenses.  Above all, the genuine warmth and expertise of its guides and hosts shines through, with guest satisfaction ratings of 95%. For more information, visit

Windstar Celebrates 35th Anniversary of Polynesian Cruises

By: Carolyn Spencer Brown

Christopher Prelog has been to French Polynesia many times and one thing stays true for him on every visit. “There is a state of mind about Polynesia that blends natural beauty, a sense of grace and peace and, importantly, the energy of the people.” There’s something else, too: “It’s preserved its authenticity. There are no huge piers and no big shopping malls. And people are just as friendly, warm and welcoming as they were on my first visit 25 years ago.”

Prelog, president of Windstar Cruises, returned to French Polynesia earlier this month to celebrate the cruise company’s 35th anniversary of sailings there. Windstar currently bases Wind Spirit, one of its three sailing vessels, in Tahiti year-round. It was joined by Star Breeze, a yachting-style ship, that is homeporting in Tahiti all through October.

So much of what makes this region, with its 121 islands and atolls, so vast that it represents 75 percent of Australia’s land mass, is its commitment to staying real.  He also appreciates the measured changes over the years. The first-ever cruise ship terminal in Papeete is being designed and built. Expected modern conveniences, such as fast Wi-Fi and a sleek international airport, all support travelers, and residents, too. What you won’t find is just as important.

Indeed, the concept of measured change is a critically important to French Polynesia’s President Edouard Fritch. “We are convinced that our ancestors left us with a beautiful legacy, with a mission to enjoy it, grow it, and refrain from damaging it.”

I’d add one more thing. Sharing the special culture with innovative new programs is a huge part of the cruise commitment here on both sides.

It’s More than Marketing Polynesia as Paradise

The key to understanding the world of cruise is to try it. On our 35th anniversary sailing, President Fritch, his family, and key staffers, came aboard for a seven night voyage that called at Bora Bora, Moorea, Raiatea, and Taha’a. He reciprocated the hospitality by hosting all Star Breeze’s passengers at a festive reception at his presidential palace in Papeete. What he experienced, pleased him.

“When we adopted Windstar,” he told us at a press reception, “it was an economic relationship. Over its 35 years in Polynesia, it has developed much further than that.”

Certainly, basing a ship here year-round for 35 years, with Windstar’s Tahiti-based cruising doubling in 2024, when the 312-passenger Star Breeze replaces 148-passenger Wind Spirit, is part of supporting Polynesia’s economy. In addition to spending by travelers, including flights, pre- and post-cruise resort stays, shore excursions and restaurant dining, Fritsch told us, “ships based here also provision locally,” stocking up on everything from fuel to mangos. “That’s why celebrating this 35th anniversary is a big deal because traditionally cruising had been seen as just passing through, just short visits.”

An even bigger deal is sharing the connection of Polynesian people and their cultures with travelers.

Throughout our week, travelers on Wind Spirit and Star Breeze engaged in a great variety of cultural activities, onboard and onshore. At Windstar’s signature Destination Discovery Event, there was an evening beach barbecue, offering moon fish and other local delicacies. The fire dancers were a particular highlight (speaking of authenticity, this can be a risky form of artistry and you couldn’t help but notice that some of the dancers bore scars from their trade).

An all-day beach barbecue on a private Motu Mahaea meant more music, snorkeling and watersports, and freshly grilled burgers and fish. There was also the chance to browse — and buy — local handcrafts, from pearls to honey, from a small market.

Regional music is a huge part of the local culture. Everywhere we went, on a boat taking us snorkeling to a beach day at private motu and even onboard Star Breeze, there was music. We learned how not just to decorate the distinctive pareo — a square piece of hand-died fabric — but also some of the hundreds of ways you can wear it.

Cultural immersion continued. We loved being entertained by a troupe of kids, who came onboard with their parents, too.  In Raiatea, Tihoti, a Polynesian elder from a village in Taha’a, escorted guests on a tour of the Faaroa river via an outrigger canoe and then returned to Star Breeze to host an hour of conversation with guests about his life here.

And perhaps the ultimate insiders’ event was the gracious reception at Fritch’s presidential palace, where a bountiful buffet of local cuisine and a pearl-focused fashion show (models, male and female, wore gorgeous black outfits to show off the jewelry, one of Polynesia’s proudest exports), plus tours of the gracious, flower-filled grounds, felt novel.

What will the future look like for French Polynesia’s cruise tourism?

President Fritch gave us a look at what the strategy is for the future, and it’s no surprise to learn that his administration will continue to promote authenticity. “We want to develop quality tourism, not just ‘high end’ tourism,” he told us. “People of the Pacific are aware of the richness of our legacy and heritage.”

One relatively new approach, he says, is to ensure that “the tourism of Polynesia is by Polynesians” by teaching students at both high school and college levels the skills the hospitality skills they need to learn for their own tourism careers here. “Tourism is our first industry. Almost half of all working people here work in tourism, including agriculture, handicraft and culture.”

Indeed, on Star Breeze it was a pleasure to meet Hawaiki, a young woman who’s the first Polynesian to work onboard for Windstar. Previously working in social media on Tahiti, her home island, she’s now a crew member in the guest relations office. She took us up to her favorite place onboard, deck 7’s outside deck, because she loves to the see ever-changing view of her islands. She filled us in on her experiences.

What’s really motivated her to embrace a maritime career, in this way, is the chance to broaden her own horizons. “French Polynesia is small, she told us, “and you see the same things every day. The ethnicity of the crew is a huge surprise. It’s cool to live on a ship where people come from all over the world — Indonesia, Philippines, Caribbean, and beyond.”

She laughs when she describes the other big “first” she experienced as a result of working aboard Star Breeze: “I’d never been to Taha’a before, and it’s lovely.”

About Windstar Cruises

Windstar Cruises operates a fleet of six boutique all-suite and sailing yachts carrying 148-342 guests. Small ship cruises sail throughout Europe, the Caribbean, Costa Rica and the Panama Canal, Asia, Alaska and British Columbia, Canada and New England, Tahiti and the South Pacific, Mexico and U.S. Coastal and Australia. Windstar launched the $250 Million Star Plus Initiative to transform the three all-suite Star Plus Class yachts with new suites, restaurants, and a world-class spa and fitness center. The award-winning line is known for immersive experiences, destination authenticity, port-intensive itineraries, exceptional service, and an innovative culinary program. Windstar Cruises is part of the Xanterra Travel Collection, a group of global hospitality and travel companies, one of which traces its history back over a hundred years of operating our country’s iconic national parks, including Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Glacier, Death Valley, and many others. Xanterra Travel Collection is owned by The Anschutz Corporation, the ultimate owner of the Broadmoor, Sea Island, and entertainment giant AEG, Anschutz Entertainment Group.

About the Author

Carolyn Spencer Brown, chief content officer for Cruise Media, LLC, is an award-winning cruise and travel journalist, and editor. She specializes in content strategy, development and execution for cruise lines and travel companies. Prior to joining Cruise Media, Spencer Brown was as editor in chief for Cruise Critic for 14 years, leading a team that won three Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers. She launched the global site’s U.K. and Australia versions. Later, she moved on to become chief content strategist for the iconic website, partnering with cruise lines and travel companies to create customized content. Before, during and after her 17 year tenure at Cruise Critic, she also contributed to Conde Nast Traveler, The Washington Post, Town & Country, and the UK’s Sunday Times, among other publications.

Regenerating The Red Sea

Located on the west coast of Saudi Arabia, the Red Sea is evolving as a year-round destination with a key focus on regeneration through sustainable practices that include 100% commitment to renewable energy, modern technology to provide personalized digital services, and immersive experiences for a “true Arabian” adventure.  

The Red Sea will start welcoming guests in 2023 with 16 world-class resorts opening in the first phase of development. These include 11 resorts on hub island Shura, two resorts on the Ummahat islands, one resort on Sheybarah Island, and two inland resorts at Desert Rock and Southern Dunes.  

The second phase of development will conclude in 2030 with 50 resort openings and 1,000+ residential properties across 22 islands and six inland sites. Each resort has its own unique attributes whether it be its architectural design or activities and attractions around the property.  

Each island is located just a short distance from the mainland and the Red Sea International Airport by airplane or boat ride.  

Keep reading for a sneak peek of what Saudi Arabia has in store for regenerating the Red Sea…

Sustainable Practices 

The Red Sea is home to one of the last thriving coral reef ecosystems on the planet. With an unwavering commitment to protecting and enhancing the natural, cultural, and historical environments, the Red Sea will be the first tourism project of its size to be powered solely by renewable energy.  The Red Sea embraces the “Neo-Saudi Explorer,” someone who is respectful of ancient culture, discovering new territories in a safe, secure and crafted manner. 

The Red Sea Development environmental initiatives include:  

  • Less than 1% of the entire area of the destination will be developed  
  • 75% of the islands will remain untouched  
  • Nine islands designated as special conservation zones  
  • Development of a sustainable food supply  
  • Visitors capped at 1 million people per year  
  • Single-use plastics banned once fully operational  
  • On-site landscape nursery will provide more than 25 million plants  
  • 100% renewable energy (24 hours a day via solar power)  
  • Smart sensors to detect environmental impact  
  • Zero waste to landfill Zero carbon footprint 
  • Alignment with all 17 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 

Saudi Arabia’s long-term goal is to achieve a 30 percent net conservation benefit by 2040 by enhancing biologically diverse habitats including mangroves, seagrass, corals, and land vegetation. With many of these initiatives already in place for 2023, this long-term goal is well on track to be achieved.  

Immersive Experiences 

With desert rock mountains, sweeping sand dunes, and overwater villas with hues of blue and green, The Red Sea offers spectacular views and activities for travelers of all interests.  

Marvel under the night sky while camping under the Milky Way. Look up and learn the traditional importance of astronomy to Islamic practices and the way life has been guided for centuries in Saudi. 

Hike through canyons, sweeping dunes and rugged mountains, or bike through ancient volcanic lava fields, with their cinder cones and craters.   

Take an aquatic adventure by night diving, reef diving, or heritage diving among some of the world’s most thriving corals. There is also plenty to see while snorkeling or kayaking in crystal blue seas over carefully protected coral reefs. 

Smart Systems  

The Red Sea is implementing an extensive smart digital system to allow visitors to have the most seamless and modern travel experience throughout their stay. Highly personalized digital systems include: 

  • Virtual concierge services complemented by the highest level of personal attention  
  • Luggage sent from The Red Sea’s iconic airport straight to guest’s hotels, dispensing with the need for immigration and customs queues 

With all these developments in the works, The Red Sea will rapidly become a highly sought-after destination starting next year. What would you explore while visiting? The opportunities are endless.  

For more information about The Red Sea visit