This past spring, my junior reporter and I had quite an adventure while following a spitfire redhead through Scotland. The journey with this most gracious of hosts had us wandering through ruined castles on the edge of the sea, listening to chilling tales of the Loch Ness monster as we sailed on that most enigmatic of lakes with a cool breeze on our backs, trying out some weaving in a 100-year-old tapestry studio in Edinburgh, horseback riding in the Highland wilds, and oh so much more. It wasn’t just an ordinary “local” who took us on this adventure, it was Merida, who with her rambunctious red hair and fiery spirit, fired up the movie screens in the Disney-Pixar film “Brave,” and that same spirit is front and center in Adventures by Disney’s Scotland: A Brave Adventure trip.
The tour, which launched this year, is the first of the Adventures by Disney (ABD) itineraries to truly encompass a Disney character as its inspiration. In fact, according to Bruce Austin, regional manager, trip operations, Adventures by Disney, “Scotland is unique among our product mix in that we consciously put the program together around the theme of the movie, ‘Brave.’ We wanted to feature some of the places that are referenced in the movie, and wanted to bring in some of the story elements from the movie.” Austin adds that many people have the misconception that because ABD is part of the Walt Disney company, “somehow Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck are going to be part of the experience when we take them to Italy, Germany, Peru or Australia. In fact, we don’t really have very much at all of the theme park experience built into our travel product.”
And although this Scotland itinerary does weave in “Brave” elements, and your clients will feel Merida’s spirit alive and well throughout the trip, it never becomes “goofy” (pun intended). That said, Austin stresses that there are certain Walt Disney brand elements that are very much present on this and all ABD trips, but not in the way you might assume. For example, ABD stresses safety. “Not only will the guests be connected to the destination’s culture and experience some iconic elements to really create a memorable experience, but they will do it in a way that is completely safe,” he says. “We have a lot of resources behind the scene that assure the integrity and safety of the group is paramount.”
Another factor that differentiates ABD trips from other family-focused tour operator offerings, says Kim Goldstein, manager/travel consultant, specializing in Disney Destinations, Journeys Inc., based in Richmond, VA, is that “ABD truly anticipates the needs of the guests in advance, such as purchasing postcards and stamps to be mailed directly from the Vatican, having coins for the Trevi Fountain, and having private gondola rides into Venice, while your luggage is being transported by someone else.” Goldstein, incidentally, is referencing ABD’s Italy trip that travels through Rome, Florence, Tuscany and Venice.
One thing that is just as important as safety, service and authenticity is the culinary offerings, and when it comes to providing finicky kids with meals they’ll actually want to eat, ABD delivers. At every meal, not only are kids able to order from typical U.S. kids’ menus, but if they want to have something from the adult offerings (don’t expect high-brow cuisine, though), they could just as well order from there.
The point of the trips, Austin points out, is to deliver an authentic experience: family-focused, quality of service, and wholesomeness.
off we go
As Austin mentioned, the Scotland itinerary—which on average includes 40 passengers, plus two guides (kids will love them!)—does pick up themes from the movie “Brave,” and the inspiration for the itinerary is quite interesting. According to the tales that were weaved to us by the Disney staff during our tour of Scotland, Mark Andrews, the director of “Brave,” went to Scotland for his honeymoon. They had not created a pre-planned itinerary so when he and his wife arrived at the destination, they jumped into a taxi, asked the driver for places not to miss while visiting Scotland, and the taxi driver got a map out, circled all the places Mark and his wife had to see, and voila, an itinerary that you would eventually be able to sell to clients clamoring for a true taste of Scotland was born.
Making a great first impression is paramount, and on this tour, ABD hits it out of the ballpark. The gateway to what we will call, without hesitation, an incredible trip (journalism objectiveness can get thrown out the window) is one of Edinburgh’s most beautiful hotels, The Balmoral—this is the first stop on the 9-day adventure that visits not only the capital, but the Isle of Skye, Inverness and Isle of Lewis (full disclosure: our media trip was on a shortened version of the full itinerary, so we did not make it to Isle of Skye and Isle of Lewis). But going back to the hotel for a minute, it’s truly exquisite—from the spacious rooms and the service to the Old World ambiance and its central location in the capital city. It’s the perfect setting for the first evening’s welcome reception and dinner, in fact, with its banquet rooms that have floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto Edinburgh Castle (there’s also a magical evening in the castle itself, but we’ll get to that a little later). “There are three or four hotels,” says Austin, “that would’ve fit the ticket in terms of meeting the expectations of our brand, but there is something unique about The Balmoral—its historic presence in the middle of the city; the fact that it was built in the late-19th century as a hotel to service the brand-new train that brought people from London to Edinburgh for the first time, and the fact that it’s really the nicest hotel to walk into of all the hotels we visited as we were going through the process to make our selection.”
Clients spend the next day exploring Edinburgh (the last day of the tour is also spent in Edinburgh), including visiting the renowned 100-year-old Dovecot tapestry studio. A tapestry studio for kids? Really? Indeed. First off, this tapestry studio had never welcomed tourists, so this is a unique experience for ABD clients. And if you’re familiar with “Brave” you’ll know that there’s a tapestry the mother is weaving that’s a focal point of the movie. Inside this remarkable studio, where the artistic tapestries and blazingly colorful yarns are a feast for the eyes, the ABD guests get to try their hand at weaving a tapestry that’s a replica of the one from the movie. With each ABD tour that passes through the doors of this studio, a little bit more of the tapestry gets done, and it’s all created by the tour participants—talk about a unique experience.
Best part? These unique experiences don’t end there. Here are some of the one-of-a-kind delights your clients can expect on this itinerary that we enjoyed on our journey:
✖ Having lunch in a castle. Now how many people can say they’ve had lunch in the same castle that the Queen Mum grew up in? And then throw in some archery to complete the package. Well, archery is one thing, but on castle grounds, no less. Here at picturesque Glamis Castle, your clients will also have the opportunity to tour with a guide and hear intriguing tales that include ghosts and bridal contraptions. In fact, the castle’s grim history was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”
✖ Wandering through Dunnottar Castle, once the defender of the Scottish crown jewels and fortress against the armies of Oliver Cromwell. It’s perched on cliffs rising high above the sea, and just climbing the stairs to get to the ruins of the castle is an adventure in itself. The scenery here is spectacular and truly breathtaking. One can’t believe that they are walking through what were once the fortress’ barracks, lodgings, stables and storehouses and the less-ruinous chapel and drawing room.
✖ Driving from Edinburgh to Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, and taking in the stunning landscape that is dominated by mountain ranges (all blanketed in snow when we drove through). In Inverness, incidentally, accommodations are at the Kingsclub Hotel & Spa, which is not very close to the city-center, but offers great contemporary accommodations, and from some guestrooms, gorgeous views of a golf course (very Scottish indeed).
✖ Canoeing or trying one’s hand at driving a motor launch on Loch Ness, that most famous of Scottish lakes. Looking out at the vast dark-colored lake in search of that legendary creature that is said to live in these waters—all the kids in our group swore they saw those famous humps—is mind-blowing, and the landscape, with its forested shores, is extraordinary. We recommend clients opt for the canoeing because, as Austin notes, “ABD was given unique access to stage our canoeing experience from the shores of the lake right at the foot of the castle, so it provides an amazingly dramatic setting.”
Here, there’s also the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition, which charts the history of the monster, Nessie, by exploring the country’s geological past, its folklore and the various research projects carried out on the loch. After exploring both the loch and the museum, guests get to sit down for lunch while listening to naturalist Adrian Shine, who knows a thing or two about Loch Ness.
✖ Stomping through the famous Urquhart Castle, overlooking Loch Ness, will leave any client in awe, and viewing the lake from the castle is just as inspiring. This has got to be one of the most magical moments of the trip—Loch Ness in the background and standing amidst the ruins of this castle with its long, long history is truly incomparable. The castle, which was built on the remains of an ancient burial cairn, was captured numerous times over the centuries by warring forces contending for the throne of Scotland. Here, the history books come alive, and what better classroom than something like this for the kids.
✖ Going horseback riding on Highland ponies and mountain biking in Rothiemurchus in the Scottish Highlands—clients will have to pinch themselves when they see this scenery and take in all the outdoor activities. The Highland ponies are just the right height for the little ones (and those of us who aren’t too confident around horses), and if clients aren’t ready to ride through the forest on a mountain bike, the ABD tour guides go out of their way to figure out another activity that might interest your clients. My junior reporter wasn’t too confident on the bikes, so we went over to the Tree Zone Aerial Adventure Course, which leads kids, or adults, on an adventure through the tree canopy via balance beams, Tarzan swings, and zip wires. After that it was time for some hot chocolate at the Rothiemurchus Estate Farm Shop, and a picnic on the estate farm that included sandwiches made with locally grown meats and produce.
✖ Whisky tasting. All adults and kids need some time for themselves, right? So on this itinerary, ABD has an evening set aside for an adults-only dinner and some whisky tasting (they’ll get the nitty-gritty on which Scotch whisky to take back home), while the kids are off on their junior adventure dinner and enjoying a Disney movie night.
✖ Dinner in Edinburgh Castle. This is the last hurrah, so to speak, of the trip. It takes place the last night of the journey, and the best part is that it’s just the group and the castle ghosts coming for dinner—the ABD hosts set up a magnificent feast in one of the dining halls with a long table and moody candelabras (everyone dresses up—it’s a castle, after all!).
more fun for your group
As we mentioned before, we traveled on a shorter version of the trip, so on the full itinerary your clients will be able to explore Edinburgh more in-depth: There’s a fabulous Museum of Childhood on Royal Mile they won’t want to miss and tell them to take a stroll down Heriot Row, where Robert Louis Stevenson’s childhood home is located. Also, right across the street from The Balmoral there’s a restaurant with pizza on its menu, Martone, which my junior reporter and I thoroughly enjoyed and ideal for when your clients have dinner on their own.
In addition to the aforementioned highlights, your clients will visit the Isle of Skye, where they’ll follow the historic trail of the MacDonald Clan, and visit the unique rock formations known as the Old Man of Storr and Kilt Rock. Here, there’s also a walk along scenic Staffin Beach, and an evening spent making scones and dancing with local musicians. They’ll also fly out to the Isle of Lewis and take a few steps back in time as they walk through a village of traditional thatch and stone “black houses.” They’ll also visit the world-famous Callanish Standing Stones, which were erected around 3,000 B.C. and which inspired the ring of stones featured in “Brave.”
“The Isle of Skye,” notes Austin, “is a pretty remote place out in the Western Isles and there you are immediately introduced to a very different culture…it’s like stepping back to the 19th century in some regard, not only because of the architecture of the houses, but the fact that many people there still make a living farming the land, raising sheep, and pursuing traditional craftsman activities. We also do some hiking, with its stunning scenery. Additionally, we charter a flight to the Isle of Lewis, another one of the Western Isles. This island is so far removed from the hustle and bustle of the 21 century…people have much more traditional customs there.”
Rates for the Scotland: A Brave Adventure itinerary, which runs from May to September 2014, range from $5,799 to $6,909 per adult and $5,509 to $6,569 per child, depending on departure date. Note that the Aug. 31, 2014 and Sept. 14, 2014 dates are adults-only departures.
Q&A with kim goldstein, manager/travel consultant, specializing in disney destinations, journeys Inc.
PVR: How does Adventures by Disney’s tour offerings differentiate it from other tour operators offering family vacations?
KG: Adventures by Disney (ABD) offers a product that appeals to many different ages and interests by creating hassle-free itineraries for families. The guided family tours have the perfect balance of scheduled time vs. free time.
The two adventure guides allow for the children (or the young at heart) to do alternative activities, while the adults are getting a more in-depth overview of the sites. The children are still receiving information regarding the sites, but in a more condensed version. There is one guide from the U.S. and one from the local country. It’s like having your own personal concierge!!
PVR: Who is the target clientele for the Scotland trip?
KG: The target clientele for the Scotland itinerary is a family with a pre-teen girl who wants to follow in the steps of Merida from “Brave”; although, I believe this tour will interest those of all ages!
PVR: Why do you book ABD?
KG: Many of my clients are seeking high-end guided family tours that will accommodate many different interests and ages. They want a tour that is efficient, safe, informative and fun for everyone. ABD offers hassle-free guided tours with active family experiences. Many families with children don’t want to walk around and just look at the sites, they want to become part of the culture by partaking in local activities. ABD includes activities such as riding bikes at Versailles, baking pizzas in Naples and white-water rafting in Costa Rica.
PVR: What do you say to a client who might be worried about the price?
KG: I advise my clients of what makes an ABD tour unique compared to the other high-end tour products, by describing my observations of our family’s experience of the Viva Italia tour. While we were on our ABD to Italy, almost everything was included in the price of the tour. It was very clear in advance of what was not included, so it made the budgeting process much easier.
I think the Disney differences really justify any difference in costs that you may find in similar tour packages. The two guides, instead of one, make a huge impact on the trip. They have a lot to coordinate when doing a tour, not to mention if someone gets hurt and can’t continue at the pace of the group. One guide was constantly disappearing into a dark alley only to end up two steps ahead of the group to pay for a restroom, take a surprise photo, or have coins ready for us to throw in Trevi Fountain! Having two guides makes the tour so much more efficient and meaningful!
To read the entire Q&A, visit recommend.com and search “Q&A with Kim Goldstein.”
“A lot of Americans have ancestral roots in Scotland and we are learning as feedback from the guests who have already gone on this trip, that a lot of families do come because they are exploring that ancestry. From that perspective, I think the grandparents are very proud because they are closest to the original immigrants who came over and they are fascinated to see the Old Country. We’ve had some grandparents come on the trip; some of them sit out some of the more challenging outdoor activities, but we’ve got some alternative things they can do.”
— Bruce Austin, Regional Manager, Trip Operations, Adventures by Disney