Disney's group tours grow more popular with adults

Adventures by Disney offers tours to destinations such as Santorini, Greece.
Adventures by Disney offers tours to destinations such as Santorini, Greece.Adventures by Disney / Today

Barbara Liscum has been racking up some incredible travel experiences. She has strolled along the Great Wall of China, cruised the Mediterranean, explored the ruins of Stonehenge and stood in the shadow of the Acropolis. Special memories include taking a private backstage tour in London’s West End and learning how to make cheese from a village shepherd on Crete.

In just four years, the 55-year-old nurse from New Orleans has visited all of these destinations with Adventures by Disney, a tour operator run by a company synonymous with families and children — which may seem like an unusual choice for an adult traveling without kids in tow.

“I’ve had to explain myself quite a few times to my friends,” says Liscum. “But then they see the website and just how unbelievable these trips are. When you travel with Disney, you do things you wouldn’t get to do on other tours.”

Seven years ago, Adventures by Disney introduced upscale, guided, land-based group tours to far-flung destinations such as Italy, Africa and Australia as well as North American must-sees like Yellowstone National Park, Gettysburg and Alaska. The idea was to offer enriching family vacations to spectacular destinations, with Disney taking care of all the planning and logistics so parents can relax and their kids can enjoy special activities tied to these iconic places.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum, the Pyramids and the Great Wall. While Disney’s group tours have proven extremely popular with conventional and multi-generational family groups, another substantial part of the business also emerged.

“Right away, we saw that a lot of adults were coming without kids, in the form of couples, friends or even as individuals,” said Josh D’Amaro, Vice President of Adventures by Disney. “It was something that surprised us to a degree, but it probably shouldn’t have. When you think of some of the destinations we go — Egypt, China, Peru, Costa Rica — these can be places that are intimidating for some people.”

Some people, it would seem, includes a fair number of American adults. According to the U.S. State Department, just over a third of Americans hold passports — and the percentage was much smaller before 2007, when passports became required for travel to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

“If you’re going to go out of your comfort zone, you want to do it with a brand that’s proven itself to be very adept and skillful and top of class,” said D’Amaro. “When you can’t speak the language, when it might be difficult to get around, when you want to really understand the story of a destination a little bit better, there isn’t a better company that can bring all of that to life for you.”

Liscum was indeed swayed by the company’s reputation for smoothing out the rough spots of travel. “After my first trip to China, I was hooked. As a single female traveler, I felt perfectly safe at all times,” she said, noting that Disney’s reconnaissance in China even extended to sussing out the best bathrooms so guests could avoid using squat toilets. On a subsequent trip to Paris, Liscum’s group was given a “fast pass” to bypass the long line of tourists waiting to climb the 397 tower steps of the Notre Dame cathedral.

“It’s definitely a VIP experience,” said Liscum. “You stay in five-star hotels. Someone meets you at the airport and brings you to your hotel, and you never have to move your luggage again. The guides are just fantastic and take great care of everyone. Disney finds the very best places to eat, so meals are astronomical. And then there are so many wonderful experiences and little extras thrown in.”

It’s a seamless travel experience that comes at a premium price tag. Disney by Adventure’s eight-day itinerary to Alaska’s Denali and Kenai Fjords National Parks starts at $3,999 per adult, before airfare; a nine-day trip to Peru’s Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu starts at $3,319 per adult, before airfare.

For Liscum, this is good value. “It’s expensive but it’s such a nice way to travel. I still have my privacy and my own free time to do what I like. Plus, I’ve made friends whom I’ve traveled with on other trips.” She has already booked two more Adventures by Disney trips, a five-day winter trip to Wyoming and a nine-day trip to Scotland.

The number of adult travelers traveling with Adventures by Disney is increasing, said D’Amaro, noting that adult-only departures are available for every itinerary. “If you prefer not to travel with children, you can go out with us on an adult-only trip,” he said. “We’re adding more and more of these every year.”

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