If you’re like many travel enthusiasts, you may be guilty of taking for granted the travel treasures in your own backyard. For Americans, this means that we too often look to overseas destinations for adventures and forget about the wealth of experiences here in North America.
From the Canadian Rockies to the national parks of the American West and the rain forests of Costa Rica, North America boasts a vast array of spectacular landscapes and rich cultural heritages. Taking your travelers to some of these places will rival the excitement of destinations on other continents.
To help inspire you, we spoke to three tour operators, each with his or her own areas of expertise in North American travel, and asked them to share some of their best ideas and tips for travel around the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Islands in the Sun: Russ Rosenberry, Owner
Mayflower Tours: Nish Patel, Chief Operations Officer
Trafalgar Tours USA: Paul Wiseman, President
What are some of your top-selling itineraries in North America?
Rosenberry: What we’re selling the most of in this part of the world is the Panama Canal cruise. It gives you the history of the canal, and you see places like Aruba and Columbia. We have quite a few doing that this winter. Most of those groups are doing a partial, 10-day trip through the canal.
That could change with Cuba coming into vogue. If Cuba continues to open up, it’s going to be a really big help to our business.
Patel: National parks are huge, especially with next year being the centennial of the National Park Service. We’re doing some very special things for that, and our advance bookings and commitments for next year are doing very well.
Yellowstone and Zion are the most popular national parks for us. There’s a national park in every state, but those are the ones that have the most touristic appeal.
We also have a Charleston and Savannah program that does very well. We’ve started some things in New Orleans that have been popular. And fall foliage in New England — you can’t beat that.
Wiseman: In the U.S., the two biggest-selling destinations by far are the national parks and Hawaii. The parks work so well because there are multiple national parks that can be visited on one itinerary. In Hawaii, we find that people want to experience the different islands, not just drop in and go to the beach. They want to experience the history and culture of Hawaii, and get perspective of the different islands and get away from the high-rise hotels.
For groups, the combination of Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans is very popular. We call that the Taste and Sounds of the South. Those three places do deliver a fantastic experience for travelers, and there’s a huge amount of American history there.
Canada has a rock-star itinerary in the Canadian Rockies. I’ve been to over 90 countries, and I would struggle to find a part of the world that is more beautiful than Alberta, Canada. And Costa Rica is by far our biggest-selling destination south of the U.S. border, because it’s a beautiful combination of nature, geography and culture.
What are the ideal times of year to travel to these different North American destinations?
Rosenberry: It’s typically when it’s cold in the North — January, February and March. Much past that and you get a lot of heat in Central America. If you try to do the Panama Canal in May or June, you’re going to have high temperatures and high humidity. In January, February and March, you don’t have to worry about hurricanes, and it’s a good escape from the cold weather.
Patel: It really depends on the destination. New England does really well in the fall foliage time. The national parks do really well in the summer, spring and early fall.
Hawaii is best in the spring and early fall, because there are fewer people there then. And Canada is a summer destination for us. We don’t have any skiers, so most of our people go there or Alaska in June, July or August.
Wiseman: Canada is a year-round destination, except for people who already have too much snow in their lives. People from California, New Mexico and Texas like to go there in the winter to see the snow and glaciers. For the rest of us, it’s a summer destination, and the best scenery is April through September.
In Costa Rica, there’s a cycle: It heats up, it gets very humid, it rains, and then there is a magic period before it gets hot again. At the end of the first week in November, it’s like God flips a switch and the sun comes out, and stays through December, January and February.
What are some great North American destinations for more experienced travelers?
Rosenberry: Nicaragua has been kind of depressed economically, and it’s sad to see that. But the natural beauty there is quite impressive with the volcanoes and beaches, so it’s a popular destination.
Not long ago, we did a cruise from Los Angeles to Costa Rica along the coast of Mexico and Central America on the Azamara Journey. We felt very safe. We went to some neat Mexican ports, as well as Guatemala and Nicaragua, and were quite impressed. We used to do a lot of Mexican business, but then a lot of negative stuff came up about travel to Mexico. We’re hoping that Mexico comes back. A lot of it depends on the media. On our trip, we felt very safe.
Patel: Special events are very stimulating; they happen during times when many people don’t want to travel. The Rose Parade happens right after Christmas, when a lot of people don’t want to get out; but it’s a nice once-in-a-lifetime event. During the International Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque is perfect. And in Canada, they have the Calgary Stampede, where they do all kinds of cowboy stuff. You don’t get to see that at other times of the year.
Wiseman: Very high on my list would be Newfoundland and Labrador. In the northeast of Canada, it’s a very different world, like nothing I’ve every seen before.
Panama has a lot of very high customer satisfaction and good experiences. We opened up our Panama trip last year. It’s a relatively compact area with lots of very interesting cultural things to see and do.