American Tours and Travel Just Named Top Producer for Festival Disney, Again!

At last week’s Disney Symposium in California, American Tours & Travel was named the Top Producer for Festival Disney for the 2011-2012 school year.

This distinction is given to the agency that brings the most student groups to the festival in a given year. American Tours & Travel also received Top Producer recognition for the 2009-2010 school year. As long-time partners of the Walt Disney World Resort, we are honored to be involved with Festival Disney and excited and proud that we have been recognized for our efforts.

Festival Disney is an annual musical performance festival open to concert bands, marching and parade bands, orchestras, jazz bands, vocal ensembles, show choirs, and auxiliary performers, such as Color Guard and Majorettes. This festival typically runs for multiple weekends in the Spring and is one of Orlando’s premier performance destinations for the musically or instrumentally inclined. Students can also enter the park and enjoy a day of fun with their group at Walt Disney World.

For more information on Festival Disney, contact American Tours & Travel to book your group at the next festival.

Student Group Travel Tip #5: Pick The Right Destination

When planning a trip for 100 or more rambunctious, instrument-toting students, it’s easy to overlook small details. Of these seemingly minor details, one that warrants some attention is picking the right destination. Finding a destination that works for your group, meets your expectations, and makes sense financially and logistically is not always as easy as it sounds.

So, what do we mean by by the right destination? Well, you can make sure that your destination is the ‘right‘ one by considering a few factors:

1. Easy To Get To

We recommend selecting a destination that has multiple incoming flights per day. This ensures that if your whole student group, or even just a handful of students, misses the scheduled flight you won’t get stuck sleeping in the airport or trying to come up with last minute accommodations. Although changing plans last minute is never ideal, the option to board another flight is a nice one to have.

2. Easy To Navigate

Once you arrive at your destination, how easy will it be to get around? Will you spend a lot of time waiting in traffic, trying to get from Point A to Point B? You must consider the proximity of your hotel to transportation, attractions, dining and your performance venue. Then, you have to consider how easy your destination city will be to navigate on foot. In tourist-dense areas, it may be challenging to walk through throngs of people with 75 choir students in robes. Add to these considerations a lack of local knowledge and the responsibility on your shoulders becomes overwhelming.

3. Easy to Enjoy

You’ve reached your destination, you’ve figured out how to get where you’re going–now what? Another consideration when planning a large student group trip is picking a destination with plenty to do and see. Although a remote town in Iowa may be hosting an inexpensive student band competition, if there is nothing exciting to occupy your students in their downtime, that trip probably won’t go down in the record books as a class favorite. Selecting destinations like Orlando, New York City, and Chicago guarantees that your group will never be short on entertainment. Class trips as well as student band and choir trips don’t happen everyday, and should be both memorable and rewarding for students and Directors.

Considering all of the elements detailed above while simultaneously coordinating performance rehearsals, selecting chaperons, and planning fundraising opportunities will guarantee that you won’t be able to think straight by the time your competition date rolls around! Save yourself the headache, focus on your students, and let American Tours & Travel do what we do best–planning student group travel.

Click here to start planning your next student group adventure today!

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Student Group Travel Tip #4: Bigger Isn’t Always Better

While erring on the side of caution is generally a good idea, it can be costly in matters of student group travel. Estimate your group size and their needs appropriately. If you are traveling with 50 students, it’s not necessarily a good idea to reserve attraction tickets or seats at a restaurant or theater for 75.

Preparing for and juggling all the aspects of a trip can be hectic and stressful enough, without the added pressure of remembering to call at least 15 days ahead to cancel those extra 25 seats! Many venues will not refund the cost of those tickets or meals, despite their not being used. Extra expenditures add up and avoiding them could mean an extra day at the parks or getting to travel by plane instead of bus.

At American Tours & Travel, we utilize our nearly 40 years of industry experience to reserve an adequate amount of tickets, hotel rooms and meal vouchers on behalf of your group. We are experts at making conservative allowances in the number of travelers without stretching your budget or tying up money in wasteful waysYour trip should be memorable for all the right reasons, and we can help you get there.

Contact us today and start planning the trip of a lifetime for you and  your students!

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Student Group Travel Tip #3: Travel On “Off Days”

By now, most people know that traveling on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays is not exactly budget-friendly and will usually result in paying additional fees or premiums for traveling on these “peak” days. Opting to travel on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday will give you the greatest chance of finding group travel discounts. These particular days of the week are less common travel days and will also ensure that airports, train terminals and ground transportation are less crowded than other days of the week.

Trying to navigate a crowded airport, and its requisite security checkpoints, with 100 students–luggage and instruments in tow–is not only challenging, but can be downright impossible. Keep stress and struggles to a minimum by traveling on an “off” day. Since Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are notoriously slow, many airline and bus carriers will give travelers willing to book on these days discounts, incentives and other perks to ensure that they can still meet their travel quotas.

The money your group saves could mean an extra day at Disney or Sea World!

The less stressful your trip, the more fun you and your students will have. Following our simple group travel tips and allowing American Tours & Travel to coordinate all of your student group trips will make all the difference.

We have been planning student group trips for nearly 40 years and are well-versed in finding the best prices for students, directors and chaperons.

Contact us today to get started!

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Student Group Travel Tip #2: Be Flexible

The less rigid your group travel plans, the easier the planning and coordination process will be. Instead of having a definitive weekend in mind, decide that you want to travel in May and adjust travel dates accordingly. Many band and choral directors come to American Tours and Travel knowing that they want to take their group on a performance trip in the Spring of 2012, but leave the destination and exact dates open for recommendations. There are numerous benefits associated with a flexible travel schedule, including:

Potential for Lower Rates

Maintaining a flexible itinerary and arrival and departure schedule ensures that you will be able to secure the lowest rates available. Traveling on Memorial Day weekend is much more costly than flying the weekend before or after. Being open to these changes will increase the affordability of your trip, allowing more room in the budget for the fun stuff, like meals and attractions.

Reduced Stress

Even the best laid plans can require a little finessing to make things work. Knowing that things aren’t set in stone and that you may have to ‘go with the flow’ to keep your travelers happy will reduce the stress involved in planning and executing a major student travel trip. Be prepared but open to the natural evolution that is often a necessary component in getting large groups of people to work together toward a common goal.

Happier Travelers

At the end of the day, it won’t matter to your students if a plane takes off at 7am or 11pm. They are just happy to be competing, performing, enjoying time with friends and maybe getting a day or two away out of class! A flexible schedule can often mean the difference between running through Disney World in less than 3 hours because you’ve got a bus to catch and spending a leisurely day at Universal Studios–riding the Hulk 3 or 4 times and capping off the day with chilled Butterbeers from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Which one do you think your students would prefer?

Now is the time to start planning all of your trips for the upcoming 2012-2013 school year! Contact us today to begin making arrangements!

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Travel With The Pros

By Larry Liner

I had to chuckle over the disastrous travel experiences David Hanson related in the January issue of The Instrumentalist, and I am glad he can chuckle about these mishaps. Any performance or competition is stressful for directors, even without the complexities of transporting hordes of students and equipment to another city. The night before departing on such an enterprise, most directors have flashes of doubt and probably wonder how they got into this.

In 37 years of organizing group trips I have seen or heard just about every sort of snafu there is, from sick students and unexpected expenses to stolen deposit money. I’ve known directors to show up at Walt Disney World to buy tickets for 200 expectant students only to discover that the park wouldn’t take their check. One director thought he got a great deal on a trip because he was able to cut out bus transfers from the hotel to the theme park by using the hotel’s free shuttle. On arriving there the director wished he had spent the extra two dollars when it turned out that the hotel had only two shuttle vans that ran every 30 minutes and carried only eight passengers. His band ran a little late for their performance that day.

Although school buses are not the most reliable way to travel, sometimes a group can’t afford another choice for a trip. However, I have heard stories about travel disasters that were easily avoidable regardless of the budget.

Just as a student can learn to play the piano without a teacher, the reality is that he will probably learn more with guidance from an experienced professional. The same is true with travel. The time spent competing and traveling will be more rewarding with expert help.

Before planning a trip, think through each aspect. It is difficult for a director to be a travel planner as well as an educator, mentor, coach, and cheerleader. Few directors would attempt to perform brain surgery on themselves, but many of them feel an inner sense of confidence at the prospect of planning a trip for 70 active students.

If this is the year for a band or orchestra to travel and students want to participate in Disney Magic Music Days, it may seem that fundraising is the only big hurdle. A director might conclude that planning a trip to Orlando can’t be that hard because he has been to Orlando before. Reserve the buses, buy all the tickets for the attractions, and lead the students to victory in the competition. If these thoughts cross your mind my advice is take a deep breath, smack yourself across the face, and try to snap out of it. It is possible for a director to travel with a group of students without a hitch and emerge victorious at a competition, but the odds are against it.

My advice is to contact several travel companies that are experienced in moving groups of student musicians. These companies have the best transportation value and know what hidden charges might pop up. Some bands have been denied air transportation at the last minute because they could not pay unexpected fuel surcharges or transport bulky instruments.

I believe directors should pick only licensed, bonded, and insured companies to contract for transportation and hotel rooms. This also reduces a director’s liability if something goes wrong. Find out how much insurance a company carries before making a commitment, but understand that insurance will not cover the risk of a travel company going out of business before the trip takes place. I suggest reducing this risk by dealing only with companies certified by the American Society of Travel Agents or the National Tour Association, which insure travel deposits up to $100,000 at no extra charge.

It is a fact of life that accidents happen, students get sick, and luggage gets lost. Such unplanned occurrences are less likely if an experienced travel company arranges the trip. These companies have been through the same problems many times and have learned how best to avoid or solve them. Take a little of the pressure off yourself and go with a pro.

Larry Liner is the owner of American Tours & Travel, Inc. and has been in the group travel business for over 40 years. He started the All American Music Festival for student musicians in 1985 and hosts thousands of students in Orlando each year. Liner is a strong supporter of the VH1 Save The Music Foundation and has donated thousands of dollars to the cause.