CUSTOM TOUR!... SOUNDS GREAT!... BUT, HOW DOES IT WORK?
about us, the custom tour process and various policies and procedures
A custom tour is like ordering "a la carte" in a restaurant.
Our tailor-made, handcrafted programs allow you, the traveler, to choose the various
ingredients of your trip (schedule, itinerary, visits, excursions, pace of tour,
etc.). The components of a custom tour are assembled to fit your very own tastes,
interests and personal needs and requirements. The process is flexible and personalized.
All custom tours are unique. No two of them are alike.
custom tour is somewhere between a package bus tour (pre-scheduled and escorted)
and a self-guided program where you travel on your own without the help of guides
are details on who we are and how the process works.
is Circa Tours and how long have you been in business?
What is your area of expertise?
How do you go about selecting your partners
4) Why should I have
Circa Tours work on my trip?
CUSTOM TOUR PROCESS
What's the difference between a custom tour
and a scheduled group tour?
What do your custom packages
7) Can you describe the planning
process for a custom tour?
Do we need to have a phone
conversation to discuss the project?
Do you charge a planning fee?
you give me an idea of how much my trip will cost?
I get an itemized pricing for my package?
I have to take a guided tour every day?
you offer self-drive packages?
does the booking and payment process work?
Sounds expensive. Is there a
cheaper way to go?
Who are your typical customers?
How do you go about selecting hotels?
do you make money?
I buy my airline ticket from you?
Do I need to buy travel insurance?
Do you recommend guided walks?
22) My stamina and walking capabilities
are not the best. Will that be a problem?
you get bullfight tickets for us?
Why isn't my question answered
Who is Circa Tours and how long have you been in business? Circa Tours
is operated by a husband and wife team, Pierre and Carolyn Mainguené. Both
are seasoned world travelers (Pierre was born and raised in Brittany, France).
They believe in the art of traveling well and focusing on the discovery of the
local culture and heritage. The company has been in business since 2002.
For more information on who we are (our background, experience and dedication
to travel in France, Spain and Portugal), click
What is your area of expertise? We specialize in tours and river/canal
cruises in France, Spain and Portugal (we do not offer travel services in any
other country). We have traveled to those three countries dozens of times and
continue to do so every year, several times a year. Pierre is a Travel-Institute
certified France and Spain Specialist. And both Pierre and Carolyn are recognized
by the Tourist Office of Portugal as certified Portugal Specialists. [top]
How do you choose your partners overseas?
We find most of our service providers (tour operators, guides, transportation
companies, hotels, etc.) by attending various functions organized by the tourist
offices of the three countries we work in (familiarization trips, workshops, conferences,
trade shows, etc.) as well as our own personal travels and encounters. We continually
assess these suppliers based on feedback from our clients and recommendations
by other travel professionals. [top]
Why should I have Circa Tours work on my trip? There are many reasons
why you should have us work on your project. Please take a look at our About
Us page. It will give you details on who we are, our background, experience
in the business and dedication to travel in France, Spain and Portugal.
please consider the following...The Internet offers many options, including
working directly with a travel agent overseas. Although this may, at first glance,
look like a good idea, working with a U.S.-based travel company like ours offers
definite advantages: 1) We are available during normal hours, in the U.S.,
to discuss your project at your convenience - no need for phone calls half-way
around the world! 2) Like you, we are American travelers. As we land in
Paris, Madrid or Barcelona, we experience first-hand what you will run into when
you get there. As American travelers ourselves, we have a complete understanding
of your apprehensions and expectations. 3) And, we speak your language
and know all its nuances - which is not always the case with an overseas agent.
remember... By using our services, you will benefit from our country expertise
(many years of it), local contacts (lots of them) and help with the intricacies
of booking and scheduling your trip (a complicated job in most cases). [top]
CUSTOM TOUR PROCESS
What's the difference between a custom tour and a scheduled group tour?
Custom tours and scheduled tours appeal to different people for different
reasons. Both offer attractive ways to travel. If you prefer to be on your own
schedule, a custom tour may be the best option. If, for any reason, you need a
more structured environment, a scheduled escorted group tour is a great arrangement.
The following comparison will help you decide what's best for you.
for you only, nobody else
for people who want to travel with a group (usually a larger one)
anytime, go anywhere you want, for
any number of days and take as many
tours as you like. Total flexibility
for the planning of your trip.
on set dates on a set itinerary and schedule. No changes allowed. Not a lot of
flexibility (although a few options and time on your own are usually offered during
travel using public transportation
(train, plane, bus) or a rental car. No
an escort to accompany you every day
(although some of the activities
trips or walks either with a group or a private
by motor coach with an English-speaking escort throughout the entire program
guided day trips you can explore
on your own, at your own pace and have days
leisure" with non-scheduled activities
sightseeing activities are usually scheduled every day on a set schedule. Not
a lot of time on your own
join different groups on different day trips
or guided walks
group of travelers during the entire tour
be for economy or upscale budgets
for budget-minded travelers
have a choice of services to be included
in your program. All these services
rooms, transfers, train tickets and guided
tours) are prepaid and
booked in advance.
services are part of a standard package
that is prepaid. You do not get to
choose the services included (although additional optional excursions are sometimes
can choose the location and style of hotel
where you will be staying. If the
propose are not acceptable to you, we will
hotels are selected for you. You do not have a choice.
What do your custom packages include?
They normally include various combinations of the following four components:
tours (day/half-day trips either shared with a group OR escorted by
a private guide)
needed, we can also provide a rental car, but we do not sell airline tickets (either
domestic in the U.S., France, Spain and Portugal OR international, between the
U.S. and Europe). [top]
Can you describe the planning process for a custom tour?
Yes, it's easy. Here's a typical scenario:
1- Preliminary Consultation: You give us an outline of your project by filling
out the "Tour Wish List" on our website: http://www.circatours.com/Forms/Custom-Tour-Questionnaire.htm.
We discuss your goals and expectations by phone and review the various options.
2- Tentative Itinerary: We prepare a tentative itinerary based on the ideas
exchanged during the preliminary consultation and we give you an estimated price.
here for an example. Please note! specific hotel names are not provided at
3 - Formal Proposal: We prepare a formal quotation based on the budget, the
schedule of activities and the category of hotels specified. This proposal includes
a detailed itinerary and the names of the hotels for each destination. If you
do not like the properties we propose, we change them. Click
here for an example.
Do we need to discuss the project by phone? Yes, of course. To do a
professional job, we need to know much more than where and when you want to go,
and how many people will be traveling with you. We need to have a thorough understanding
of your goals, expectations, travel style, likes, dislikes, etc. Emails are great
but they are not a good enough tool for communicating this kind of in-depth information.
Putting it another way, if your only goal is to get a "free" quotation
(without ever talking to us), the likelyhood of such a scenario is virtually none.
Do you charge a planning fee?
Yes, payable after Phase 1, the initial free consultation - usually $50 per person,
refundable if you book your tour with us.
note! The scenario described in Queston 7 above assumes a typical project
of about 8 to 12 days, involving two people. For more complex assignments (longer
duration, greater number of destinations, more participants, special needs, etc.)
a higher planning fee may be required. [top]
Can you give me an idea of how much my trip will cost?
Every trip is different so, obviously, we cannot give an exact price without knowing
the specifics of your particular program: a) the destinations (Paris is more expensive
than Portugal for example), b) the number of days spent in those places, c) the
category of hotels, d) the quantity and type of tours (a private-chauffeured excursion
from Paris to Normandy is, of course, quite expensive), e) the exchange rate,
based on our 10 years of experience in the business, we can predict (please bear
in mind that this is a very, very rough rule-of-thumb estimate) that your program
will probably not cost less than $350 per person per day/night in the foreign
country (the word "program" meaning a combination of private airport
transfers, train tickets, guided tours and centrally-located minimum 4-star hotel
rooms with breakfast). [top]
Can I get an itemized pricing for my package?
No. Booking a custom tour is like buying a car (you do not pay separately for
brakes, doors, bumpers, etc.). Our programs are offered with an all-inclusive
price for the complete package. We do not provide a breakdown of that amount.
Do I have to take a guided tour every day? No, not at all. Although
we require that a few group or private guided tours be included in each program
(a minimum of 5 usually), virtually every project we create allows for time "at
leisure". This "free time" will give you plenty of leeway to explore
on your own. Please remember, planning flexibility is the goal of a custom tour.
Do you offer self-drive packages? Yes and no. We provide self-drive
packages/rental cars when they are part of a larger custom program that includes
hotel rooms, train tickets, airport transfers and guided day trips or walks. However,
we do not offer "stand-alone" self-drive packages. Your trip must include
a minimum of five guided day trips for us to include a rental car in your program.
note! Since, during a self-drive tour, your exact activities are, by definition,
unknown (and serendipity the primary reason for driving around the countryside
on your own), we do not produce a detailed itinerary for that portion of your
trip. The "Highlights" published on our website are an excellent reference
for this as are the many travel books available.
How does the booking and payment process work?
It's very simple. You pay us for the complete package. We
do all the bookings, make all the on-the-ground reservations and pay each individual
provider on your behalf. Since
we pre-pay all the suppliers (hotels, guides, day tours, etc.), your payment in
full will be due before your departure.
departure, we will send you the
travel documents (hotel reservations, train tickets, etc.)
which you will give to each service provider as you go through your itinerary.
These vouchers (receipts) give the name of the provider who will be taking care
of you, their phone number, etc. They also give your name and a description of
the service to be provided. Click
for an example.
Sounds expensive. Is there a cheaper way to go?
Expensive... not necessarily. Cheaper... maybe, maybe not. You can do the research
online if you have the time. And, doing the work yourself may give you the feeling
of saving a few dollars. But, that may only be an illusion. Please remember: If
you go that route you will not benefit from our country expertise, local contacts
and help with the intricacies of bookings and scheduling (all of which can also
save you money, by the way). It all depends on your personal priorities and how
much you value the contribution from travel professionals. [top]
Who are your typical customers?
We cater to travelers who value expert professional advice and are primarily
interested in activities related to the cultural heritage of France, Spain and
Portugal (including food and wine). In other words...
If all you want to do is lie on the beach or climb mountains, you don't really
need our help.
- If you plan to book the components of your trip yourself
(hotels, tours, etc.), you should do just that.
- If your goal is to get the
cheapest possible package tour, you can probably find better "deals"
- If you have to know the price of each item in your package, please
understand that we don't work that way.
- If, as the saying goes, you have
"more time than money," you should do the research and bookings yourself.
If, on the other hand, you value the help of specialized and knowledgeable professionals
and you're looking for unique experiences on a personalized, flexible itinerary,
then we are the right travel company for you. [top]
How do you go about selecting hotels? This is an important and difficult
subject. To choose hotels, we take four primary factors into account. Availability
is #1, of course. Then, we look at rankings, price, and location. We consider
online ratings important because they seem to provide the closest approximation
to a balanced and consistent system of performance measurement.
word of caution about traveler reviews: In addition to numerical ratings and
rankings, online reporting systems provide comments written by travelers. Unfortunately,
these postings raise very significant issues:
How do we know that the people who wrote the reviews (good and bad) ever stayed
at the hotel they are reporting on? We simply don't. Some (and perhaps many) of
these writings are pure fabrications. That's right... completely made up and bogus.
This is a well-known fact and a challenge for the online rating industry. But
there is no way to know how many of these reviews are fake and which ones they
For those reviews that happen to be genuine we must keep in mind that they are
all, by definition, personal and therefore biased and subjective opinions written
by anonimous travelers. It is also important to remember that since these reviewers
are individuals - not professionals - they are not subjected to any kind of industry
oversight or code of standards.
Online reviews come from complete strangers - people we don't know from Adam.
They are the furthest thing from the advice of a friend or someone you know well
and whose opinion you trust.
let's assume, for a moment, that all complaints posted online are true and genuine.
The reliability problem remains the same. We never get the answers to the following
questions: 1) Were the travelers' expectations reasonable and realistic?
(one person's music can be the next person's noise, after all). 2) Did
they behave properly? (many tourists are rude and they are not aware of it. Being
overly jovial and outgoing - as one is inclined to be when on a vacation - is
often considered unacceptable in places where people are naturally more formal
and reserved). 3) Was the problem described in the review an isolated incident?
4) How frivolous are the accusations? etc. etc.
addition, studies have shown that hotel guests with a bad experience are three
times more likely to write a review than those who had a pleasant or average stay
- thereby severely skewing the whole process (assuming, once again, that all reviews
line... traveler reviews raise many very serious doubts and suspicions. They
are by definition personal and therefore biased opinions and may be inaccurate
or fabricated. They are subjective at best and can be very misleading or even
malicious. To make matters worse, each and every genuine one is written by complete
strangers and self-designated "critics" who are unregulated non-professionals
- plus the process is by default skewed. As we see it, this is far from an good
situation. Therefore, giving much credence (if any) to such unreliable information
does not seem reasonable to us.
believe that the best way to use online reporting systems is to look beyond
the individual reviews and focus on the overall ratings. This is our standard
practice and this is the best we can do for you when selecting your hotel accommodations.
Since it is all but impossible to find properties with unanimous positive recognition,
all we can do is to offer those with the best ratings.
of the above being said, if before accepting our proposal, you don't - for any
reason - like the properties we offer, we will change them.
We do not impose our hotel selection.
recommend 4-star hotels (5-star if your budget allows it) because the quality
at that level is generally higher and more consistent than in lower categories.
There are well-rated 3-star hotels, of course, but they are harder to find. And,
most importantly, the rooms in these lower-category hotels are usually much smaller
(often "tiny" by American standards). And, you may encounter other unpleasant
surprises such as narrow antiquated two-person elevators, small beds, constricted
bathrooms, etc. [top]
How do you make money?
This is a very personal question! But let's try to answer it. As professionals
in the travel business, we normally receive preferential pricing from our suppliers
overseas (we don't always, though). When we do not get discounted prices we add
our own markup, of course. The arrangements we have with our suppliers are confidential.
We assemble the package of hotels, ground transportation and guided tours, and
price them as a complete entity. Our pricing method is also confidential. [top]
Can I buy my airline ticket from you?
We do not sell airfare to individuals (either domestic in the U.S., France, Spain
and Portugal OR international, between the U.S. and Europe). Many people use frequent
flier miles and it is very easy (and often cheaper) to buy airline tickets online
Do I need to buy travel insurance?
We highly recommend that you purchase travel insurance to protect your investment
in the case of unforeseen problems such as illness, death in the family, strikes
(frequent in Europe), volcano eruptions (as it happened in Iceland in 2010 and
created havoc with air traffic) and many more. Circa Tours offers travel insurance
but we do not require that you buy it from us.
information concerning the travel insurance we offer! To
be eligible for maximum benefits, you must purchase insurance within 21
days from the date of your initial trip deposit. The word "maximum"
means: Coverage for 1) pre-existing medical conditions, 2) bankruptcy or default
of a travel supplier and, 3) cancel-for-any-reason benefits. The "date of
initial deposit" is the earliest date that a payment of any kind was
made or applied to your trip - this includes airline tickets, the tax you pay
when you redeem frequent flyer miles, deposits, etc. This payment is not necessarily
just to Circa Tours. It could be to a cruise company (if a cruise is part of your
trip) or any other travel services provider.
additional information please click on the following links: Insurance
Form and TravelSafe
Insurance Details (certificates). [top]
Do you recommend guided walks? Absolutely! guided walks (either private
or with a small group) are wonderful! Here are 10 reasons:
Most important! For most American travelers, they are the only way to meet someone
They are a good way to find out about the local scene (restaurants, tapas bars,
3) In many cases, a private guide will save you time by avoiding
lines at monument entrances
They do not take up a lot of your sightseeing time (2-3 hours)
5) In many cases,
you can decide on the visits and the pace of the tour
6) They are a good way
to discover things you will surely miss on your own
7) The guide may take you
places you don't know about and that are not mentioned in guide books
cost is very reasonable, especially if shared among several people
9) The guides
are licensed professionals and speak your language
10) Most likely, your travel
experience will be enhanced in ways you might not have imagined. [top]
My stamina and walking capabilities are not the best. Will that be a problem?
Probably (although, not knowing the exact severity of your physical limitations,
it's a little hard to tell). Please bear in mind that the ancient cities of Europe
do not always offer the most comfortable surfaces to walk on (cobble stones, steep
slopes, irregular steps, etc.). So, to be on the safe side, the answer to your
question is: Yes, it will most likely be a problem. Let's look at it this way:
If you cannot hike up a mountain, but are otherwise fit and perfectly able to
get around, you need not worry, you'll probably be fine. But, if you find walking
around the grocery store and parking lot too strenuous, or you cannot keep up
with normal walkers for any length of time (2 or 3 hours), you probably should
not consider our services.
following is the exact wording on our Terms and Conditions (which we require every
client to sign): "I represent that I am in good physical condition and that
there are no health-related reasons or problems that preclude or restrict my participation
in the Program. I understand that I may not get enough sleep during the trip to
the Program starting point and I will have jet lag for a few days. In addition,
the Program may include substantial walking on flat, sloped, or uneven surfaces,
climbing of stairs with or without handrails, carrying and lifting of luggage
and/or other physical activities that require a person to be physically fit and
to have sufficient stamina." [top]
Can you get bullfight tickets for us? Well, getting tickets to a bullfight,
as an American tourist, is not as easy as one might think, for several reasons.
first and biggest challenge is the fact that performances are not scheduled on
a regular basis (except in Madrid) and are usually not announced much ahead of
time (even in Madrid). This makes it difficult for most American travelers who
usually plan their trips months in advance.
other difficulty is the fact that, in cases of "big-ticket" performances,
the names of the matadors are not made public until closer to the date of the
performance. With famous matadors, needless to say, prices go up significantly
and tickets can be very hard to get.
complicate matters, some of the bullfights are not fought the way we're used to
(by matadors on foot and on the ground, using the traditional cape). Instead,
in what is called "corrida de rejoneadores," the matadors are on horseback
and fight the bull from the horse - not a typical bullfight as one would normally
getting tickets to a bullfight under such circumstances can be a challenge.
there is a kind of bullfight where tickets are more readily available: the "novilladas."
These performances are with amateur matadors fighting young and smaller bulls.
The fees for these fights are lower and the bullring doesn't always fill up. Buying
tickets at the bullring on the day of the performance is a viable option in these
as a visitor to Spain, on a set and limited schedule, your best bet for a bullfight
is Madrid. At the Las Ventas bullring, they offer performances every Sunday, from
March to October. Seville is another good place for bullfights, but they hold
them in the spring and the fall only (summers are too hot), at the famous Maestranza.
Many other cities around the country also have bullfights but far more sporadically
- usually only during local festivals. Please note! Beginning in 2012, bullfights
will be banned in Catalonia and therefore in Barcelona.
For the above
reasons (and concerns about the inhumane treatment of animals) we have reservations
about getting involved with the purchase of bullfight tickets. We can, however,
offer the following links to bullring websites and online ticket-selling organizations
that post dates of performances as they are announced.
http://www.las-ventas.com/ (in Spanish)
https://www.lamaestranza.es/venta_carteles.asp (in Spanish)
- http://mundotoro.com/ (in Spanish)
note! Ticket prices vary depending on: 1) how high your seat is located in the
bullring (just like theaters) and 2) whether your seat is in the sun/sol or in
the shade/sombra (being in the shade is obviously a better location and therefore
more expensive). [top]
Why isn't my question answered here? Good question! What question?
If any of the above is unclear or you need to know more, please call us at +1-951-676-6117
or email us. [top]