Ready to Wing It? Deciding if Air Travel is Right for Your Group

As the wife of a former student tour operator, I spent many restless nights worrying. Baseball groups heading to spring training in South Carolina or bands making the long drive to Orlando were often the culprits. While it was cost effective, motor coach travel wasnt always the most convenient option for groups traveling long distances. Fortunately, we found The Air Travel Group and a much simpler way of getting from here to there!

Drama / Theater Trips by Kaleidoscope Adventures

The Air Travel Group books airfare for groups of 10 or more traveling together (think bands, student groups, mission trips, family reunion groups, etc.). They provide custom travel solutions for organizations looking to coordinate flights. The Air Travel Group will get your group a free quote and help with the overwhelming task of booking. Best of all, their top account status means access to private fares and better contract terms for your group.
If you havent considered group air travel before, The Air Travel Group offers some outstanding benefits:

Flexible contract terms
Delayed ticketing
Deposit to hold space
Free name changes
Free add/drop

They truly make booking airfare hassle-free and provide tons of support both pre-departure and during travel when those pesky delays or cancellations pop up.

When planning group travel, air transportation is often not considered because its perceived as cumbersome, expensive and fraught with opportunities to make mistakes. The Air Travel Group virtually eliminates these stressors in a click! The service is completely free and worth checking out. Based on destination, size of group and cost, you may find you prefer to wing it!

Oh, What A Knight!

The term medieval conjures up some pretty powerful images. Princesses, castles, plague (lets skip that one) and, of course, blade-wielding, powerful and chivalrous knights. Its enough to make a frequent reader of historical romances like myself swoon! Imagine the pageantry, the clashing of swords, damsels in distress and wondrous feats of horsemanship. Wouldnt it be wonderful to travel through the ages to such a gothic era?

Fortunately, we dont have to time travel- simply visit the nearest Medieval Times for a dining and entertainment experience like no other. Medieval Times is a spectacular evening of food and showmanship that will have you leaping to your feet and cheering on your favorite knight!

The Medieval Times experience begins the instant you enter the castle doors. The atmosphere is charged with excitement, and royal decrees are shouted from balconies as it is determined which gallant knight will be representing you in the tournament. The energy continues as you are seated for an exquisite, four-course meal fit for royalty. Service is exceptional and incredibly efficient. Once the guests appetites are satisfied, the main event begins!

Knights dressed in varying colors and their stalwart mounts enter the ring, preparing for the tournament. Steel clashes with steel and sparks fly as the tournament gets underway. Viewers hold their collective breath as they watch in wonder as noble knights and their equestrian counterparts parry and thrust with unrivaled skill. Its a thrilling display of brawn and grace, while spectators are drawn into the action by the honorable and gallant knights. As the evening rolls out, the knights and their steeds join forces for the ultimate good of the kingdom, bringing the crowd surging to their feet and thundering applause.

Medieval Times is an experience that touches all the senses and inspires the audience with dazzling displays of might and metal. It is an especially outstanding venue for groups of all sizes, including student groups, scout groups, homeschool groups, family reunion groups, and more. An 11th century castle is an outstanding platform for both entertainment and education. Grab your shield and join in the revelry!


Let Your Inner Star Shine in Nashville

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Nashville, Tennessee. My husband was attending a conference that highlighted Nashville as a great student destination and we stayed at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. Not only did we stay at the Gaylord, we stayed in the presidential suite at the Gaylord. Wow. It was bigger than my house and certainly more impressive!

Truly, that was my overall impression of Nashville wow! Everything is larger than life and so very impressive. Energy seems to pump out of each little honkey tonk and the people are wonderful, warm and welcoming. If youre looking for a unique student, performance or homeschool trip, Nashville should be at the top of your list!

History, science and, of course, music are at the heart of this lively capital city. For a glimpse of southern living at its historical best, visit the Belmont Mansion, the largest house museum in Tennessee. Step into the Hermitage, a jewel of the antebellum south and home of President Andrew Jackson. Backtrack just a bit further in time to The Parthenon, a full-sized replica of the Greek original built in 1897 for Tennessees Centennial Exposition.

For a more educational slant, be sure to stop at the Adventure Science Center, with interactive exhibits and award-winning programs guaranteed to inspire any budding scientist. Explore the exquisite Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum for beautiful gardens and galleries. Take in the Nashville Zoo, a 200-acre zoo and historic plantation farmhouse just outside of Nashville. So much fun and so much to learn!

At its core, however, Nashville IS the Music City! The sights and sounds of country music are the essence and soul of this town. The Ryman Auditorium, known as the Mother Church of Country Music, is a must-see. Take in a show or tour and youll feel the history of the place. Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum for a nitty gritty exploration of the roots of country music. Sidestep over to the Wildhorse Saloon for outstanding grub AND line dancing lessons! Of course, you cant visit Nashville without a backstage pass to the famed Grand Ole Opry– you never know who youll run into!

Perhaps best of all, you and your students can be stars for a day on the Historic RCA Studio B tour! Walk the iconic halls of the recording studio of Elvis Presley and other music industry giants and spend time in the studio at the legendary microphone with a professional sound engineer. Very cool!

All of these incredible attractions are student friendly, easily accessible and just scratch the surface of what is available. As a destination, Nashville is as on fleek as they come (hmm I will have to ask my ten-year old if I used that term correctly). If you are looking for an exceptional travel opportunity for student, performance or homeschool groups, consider Nashville as an outstanding option. Much like the Gaylord, it is larger than life and very impressive!

Find out more about planning a student trip to Nashville by contacting the experts at Kaleidoscope Adventures, specializing in student and performance trips for more than 20 years! Call 800-774-7337 or email Kaleidoscope Adventures will handle all the details of your trip with precision and personal attention.


5 Awesome Things to Do in the Smoky Mountains

Full disclosure much to my regret and dismay, I have never visited the Smoky Mountains. My husband has been there (many times), my family has been there and my travel industry colleagues have been there. My kids friends have been there and several high school traveling groups I know have been there. I guess the take away from this intro is that everyone I know has visited and fallen in love with the Smoky Mountains. I seem to be the only one who has yet to experience the splendor of this magnificent spot tucked away in Tennessee. I plan to rectify that very soon so that I can write with first-hand knowledge and experience!

Based on discussions with these many and varied groups, it is abundantly clear that Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevierville are outstanding destinations for families, students, sports groups, performance groups and faith-based travelers. There really is something for everyone in this delightfully appealing region of the country!

Go “Glamping”
Nestled in the heart of the beautiful Smokies is Aunt Bugs Cabin Rentals, a leader in luxury cabins in Pigeon Forge. Cabins range from one to eight bedrooms, and are surrounded by shopping, shows and stunning vistas. Amenities can include jacuzzis, private indoor pools, game rooms, theater rooms or even rock climbing walls- theres a cabin for every budget or group size! I love the outdoors but appreciate creature comforts when planning my lodging- Aunt Bugs definitely unites the two in spectacular fashion!

Dolly Partons Dixie Stampede
If youre looking for a break from the usual vacation dining experience, look no further than Dolly Partons Dixie Stampede. It really is a dining experience! Horses, pageantry, trick riding and a good ole rivalry between the North and South, the Dixie Stampede will keep you cheering while enjoying a fabulous, southern-style meal. Bring a group and salute the red, white and blue!

Defy Gravity
There are two really cool opportunities to defy gravity while in the Smokies- Flyaway Indoor Skydiving and Outdoor Gravity Park. Flyaway Indoor Skydiving lets you experience the freedom of skydiving in the safety of an indoor wind tunnel. There is nothing more exhilarating than the moment you realize you are soaring through the air with nothing more than a flight suit (well, and an instructor, goggles helmet, gloves and earplugs!)

Roll down a 1000 ft. hill in a spaceship-like OGO (wet or dry- depending on the season). Outdoor Gravity Park is the only place in America where you can experience three, unique zorb experiences. Individuals or groups of 3 can roll along zig-zagging tracks or speed down the hill in a ventilated and sometimes wet giant plastic ball. This is extreme adventure like no other!

Take to the Water (or the Trees!)
Whitewater Rafting with Smoky Mountain Outdoors is a great option for groups or individuals looking to raft the scenic Pigeon River. Class III-IV whitewater for ages 8 and up or milder Class I-II river floats for ages 3 and up are available with a professional guide leading you all the way. Experience the splendor of the Smoky Mountains from an entirely new perspective. I will be choosing the float option ????

Start the day Rafting in the Smokies with Class I-IV rapids, or take to the tree tops with a zip line course. You can hike, complete a ropes challenge course, or cross a 150 ft. suspension bridge to a 10-acre Adventure Island and playground. This is family friendly fun at its best!

Titanic Adventures Awaits
The ill-fated voyage of the Titanic holds a unique place in American history. It continues to intrigue and beckons us to explore the stories of its passengers. Now visitors can learn more about Titanic at the immense, ship-shaped permanent attraction in Pigeon Forge. Completely interactive and filled with artifacts, groups can investigate all the museum has to offer, even participate in the Titanics First-Class Dining Experience.

If this agenda doesnt wear me out when I visit the Smokies, the next five awesome attractions will definitely test my travel mettle- read more in my next post about the dazzling and fun-filled Smoky Mountains!


Group Travel Planning- Finding Stuff to Do!

As I have previously stated, my family has a deep and abounding love for venturing into the unknown! Our 10 year old daughter begins with the globe (even though most our travel is in the continental U.S. sigh) and works her way through maps, atlases and the weather channel to plan her wardrobe. Our son (14) begins to Google search everything within the destination and my husband appears with the dreaded ITINERARY. Yes, our family travel plan includes a detailed itinerary with highlights and schedules. Theres no fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants vacation for us!

I used to resent the I word and long for a wildly impromptu three day weekend, until I remembered the vacations of my childhood. My parents were novice travelers (at best!), and planning our adventures ahead of time wasnt even a consideration. As a result, you could find us driving all hours of the night in our station wagon searching for a place to sleep- usually a suspicious-looking roadside motel that my mother attacked vigorously with a can of Lysol! If we made it to our vacation spot, we wandered aimlessly, unsure of what to do once we were there! I vividly remember going to Cocoa Beach on a day that was raining and in the low 60s because we didnt know what else to do! I suppose these memories have made me more accepting of the I word, and frankly, we squeeze a lot of fun out of our excursions thanks to my husbands planning and forethought!

Finding Stuff To Do!

The same fundamental principles apply to your group travel planning. Its all in the research! When you plan on your own, you dont have the benefit of a tour operator to do the work for you. You do, however, have access to an abundance of information at the click of a button! CVBs (convention and visitors bureaus) can be found in most destinations and are a great resource for finding group-friendly attractions, accommodations, dining and more. DMOs (destination marketing organizations) serve a similar purpose and can be very helpful when planning a visit to a location unknown to you. These organizations exist to give you a better understanding of all the destination has to offer your group.

Another exceptional resource is Group Travel Odyssey– a website designed specifically for those planning group travel directly online. Group Travel Odyssey has the best group-friendly entertainment, hotels, restaurants, transportation and shopping IN ONE PLACE! Theyve done the work for you! Its super-simple to use:
Click on the destination you want to visit
Pack the activities, accommodations, dining options, shopping and transportation in which you are interested in your virtual suitcase
Go! Your group quote requests are now on their way! The suppliers you want will then reply directly to you with availability and best group pricing within 48 hours- just like the pros!

Group Travel Odyssey is truly a unique and convenient tool for those who plan their own group travel.
GTO helps streamline and simplify the process, without a lot of clicking around.

Kaleidoscope Adventures: Educating Students Through Travel

If you prefer to let someone else handle the planning for you, let the experts at Kaleidoscope Adventures take care of the details. As a leader in the student group travel industry for more than 20 years, Kaleidoscope Adventures will find the best destinations and attractions for your group – at a great price!

There really something to be said for putting together a well-planned itinerary Dont you just hate it when your husband is right?



Group Travel Planning- Set Your Travel Timeline

I have the good fortune to be married to a man who LOVES to travel. He has given me two children who LOVE to travel. It seems we are in a perpetual state of planning travel! We learned long ago that the key to a successful trip is planning on a timeline. The same applies to planning your group travel. The fundamental success of your adventure lies in laying it out ahead of time (kind of like packing your suitcase!)

Planning Your Travel Timeline
If you are a seasoned group tour planner or striking out on your own for the first time, youll have lots of questions to answer, lots of details to check off your list, and lots of deadlines to meet. Below are some GENERAL guidelines to follow as you prepare for your departure date. Depending on the unique needs of your group, not all of these checkpoints will apply. For example, some music or band festivals must be booked more than two years in advance or certain museums require reservations more than a year out. Again, think in terms of benchmarks, not specifics!

18 Months Prior to Departure
? Create your attendance list
? Determine the approximate length and dates of the trip
? Begin researching your chosen destination to find out what attractions, museums, theme parks, outdoor adventures, water parks, etc. you would like to attend and the costs associated with each.
? Begin researching transportation, hotels, vacation homes, dining and shopping (if applicable) and the costs associated with each.
? If this is a school trip, request approval from your administration

10 to 12 Months Prior to Departure
? Set firm dates
? If you plan to fly, final pricing may not be available until 10 months prior to departure. Also, arrange transportation to and from the airport once you have secured your flights
? Motorcoach/minibus companies also work 10 months in advance. If traveling by motorcoach or minibus, you should begin requesting pricing (called quotes) and book your transportation company
? Begin searching for hotel/vacation homes and request prices. Once you find a price you like, book it!
? If you decide to include meals in your trip, youll want to remember to choose a group-friendly restaurant or dinner show. Ask for their best group pricing and then book it before the space is gone
? If shopping is on your itinerary, this is a good time to request a meet and greet with the shopping center or store and secure discounts for your group
? If you are traveling with students, determine who will help chaperone the trip. Parents, teachers, sponsors, etc. need time to plan as well!
? Finalize your itinerary.
? Project the estimated/approximate cost per person.
? Begin promoting your trip (including the cost per person) via email, flyers, posters, website, social media, newsletters, etc.
? Set up a deposit and payment schedule for each member in your group as they sign up
? If participating in a music/dance/theatre festival, fill out all paperwork and submit
? If you will offer travel protection (its strongly encouraged), now is the time to research, fill out paperwork and submit

6 to 9 Months Prior to Departure
? Continue spreading the word about your trip via newsletters, social media, emails, meetings, etc., keeping interest alive with those who have signed up and possibly attracting a few more to participants
? If you are a school group, scouting troop, youth group etc., now is the time to fundraise
? If your trip is educational, research and create the curriculum to support your goals
? Distribute a copy of the itinerary to all members of your group (meetings, association, youth group, scouting, religious, reunion, etc.)
? Participants should be signed up and deposits paid
? Confirm all reservations including hotel/vacation homes, transportation, attractions, dining, shopping and travel insurance

4 Months Prior to Departure
? Continue promoting the trip and contact anyone who has shown an interest but still has not committed
? Continue fundraising if needed
? Collect payments per your payment schedule

3 Months Prior to Departure
? Final payments should be paid
? Finalize lists of all participants and choose roommates for hotels (if applicable), seating arrangements on the motorcoach (if applicable), and/or seating arrangements on your flight if flying
? Purchase all theme park, attraction, water park and dinner show tickets and begin making final payments to your chosen hotel/vacation homes, restaurants, transportation companies, etc.

1 Month Prior to Departure
? Schedule a final meeting to confirm the details of your trip including packing lists, travel tips and any last-minute information
? Gather emergency contact, medical and allergy information from each traveler
? Be sure you have all completed permission forms, travel insurance forms, etc.
While this timeline may seem a bit cumbersome, its a great tool for organizing your thoughts and details of the trip. Just as we always manage to get our bags packed and out the door on time, a little pre-planning will help guide you smoothly to your departure date as well!

Next in the Series Finding Stuff To Do!