If you have made the choice to participate in a Catholic group tour, you now have some serious research to do. One of the biggest problems people have is unrealistic expectations of what they are going to get out of the tour. We do not recommend any specific company, but some of the areas that you need to consider are listed below. By taking the time to do a little research you will maximize your travel experience and avoid disappointments.
1. What is their reputation? There are many companies out there offering tours that cater to Catholic travelers. Some of these companies are large with hundreds of groups each year and some are "mom & pop" type companies with only a few scheduled each year. The size of the company is not as important as the reputation they have. Most companies are honest and try to offer the best possible service for the price you pay. Follow this link for some suggestions on how to check on their reputation.
2. What is included and what is extra? Usually they include two meals a day, ground transportation and a local guide to accompany the group. But be sure to read the fine print. Some companies offer optional excursions that can really drive up the cost. This is especially true on ocean cruises, where many shore excursions are optional.
3. What type of hotels are used? Most companies use "tourist class" hotels which are decent but not deluxe. The don't offer room service or any special amenities as a rule. In some cases, such as Medjugorje, they may stay in private homes with fairly basic rooms.
Note: If you are a bit of a "free spirit" and want to wander around in the evening, then check to see where the hotels are located. If, for example, you are staying in Rome and want to get out and about in the evening then check to see if it is near the city center or outside the city away from any attractions.
4. What is the itinerary? Is it slow or fast-paced? Does it include those special Catholic sites you want to visit? And will you have time there? If all you want to do is check a destination off your list and move on the next one, fine. But if not then you better choose wisely. Estimate the time it takes to get from one place to the next and see if the itinerary you are looking at really does allow for enough time spent at the site you are visiting. Click here for some suggestions on how to evaluate an itinerary.
5. Are you interested in a pilgrimage experience? If so be sure to find out if a priest will accompany the group and whether daily Mass will be offered. It might help to know the name of the priest and where he comes from. Give him a call and find out if he has traveled with this company before.
6. What is the cost? You can see we put this near the bottom of the list. Unfortunately, this is the first thing many people look at and as a result they can end up disappointed. How do you compare a trip to Italy that allows 4 days in Rome to one that allows only two days? How do you compare a trip where several dinners are in local restaurants rather than in the hotel? The old saying "you get what you pay for" is certainly true here.
Be aware that most tour companies pay the same price to the hotels and bus companies regardless of the size of the tour company. They do get a break depending upon how many people are in the tour. If you don't mind traveling in a large group of 80 or more people then the price for an equivalent itinerary could be less than a smaller group of 20 or so. Some companies will put in their literature (not always where you can readily spot it) that the price will increase if they do not have the minimum number of people required.
7. Do they take credit cards? Some people feel that using a credit card gives them a bit of an advantage in terms of satisfaction if things don't go well. And others like to get frequent flier miles or other perks by using credit cards. Not all companies take credit cards (it obviously adds to their cost) so if this is important to you then find out in advance. And just because they do not take credit cards does not mean that they don't have a good reputation. Some companies do not take them just because, as stated above, it adds to their cost.
8. What about deposits? Some companies charge larger deposits than others. Also, some deposits are refundable---all or in part---while in some cases deposits are non-refundable. Be sure to check if you think you may have to change your travel plans. The quality of the tour company is not necessarily reflected in their refund policy.