Photo by Eric Lindberg, courtesy New Zealand Tourism
No matter where in the world groups want to go, Travel Alliance Partners tour operators can take them there. TAP’s 32 partners provide international and exotic tours that allow travelers to explore a king’s castle in England, get close to lions on a Kenyan safari or zipline over coffee plantations on the slopes of a Nicaraguan volcano.
Downton Abbey and English Castles
It may just be the hottest ticket of the year: tours of Highclere Castle, also known as the Crawley estate from the wildly popular Public Broadcasting Service show “Downton Abbey.”
“It is extremely difficult to get tickets,” said Sandi Pufahl, president of Fancy-Free Holidays and current president of Travel Alliance Partners. “You order your tickets; then, whatever they give you, you plan your trip around that.”
Fancy-Free Holidays was fortunate enough to secure 40 tickets for September 2014, Pufahl said, and is offering a guaranteed departure that includes the Downton Abbey tour as well as several other English castles, estates and historic sites.
The trip, of course, includes a tour of Highclere Castle and its grounds. Although people have lived on-site since the 1300s, and it is recorded that a mansion was there in the late 1600s, the castle was largely rebuilt and extensively remodeled in the 1800s. Today, the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon still live in Highclere Castle during the winter and open it to the public only in the summer — part of the reason tickets are so difficult to come by.
During the eight-day trip, the group will also visit Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and Big Ben, as well as Windsor Castle and King George III’s Kew Palace and gardens.
Guests get another taste of Downton Abbey when they travel to the village of Bampton, where many of the series’ outdoor village scenes were filmed, and to Waddesdon Manor, which acted as the fictional Haxby Park that Sir Richard Carlisle intended to buy in the show’s second season.
“We wanted to give them other locations they would recognize from the show,” Pufahl said. “The only thing we don’t have is Shirley MacLaine.”
Australia and New Zealand
Anderson Vacations has two 2014 departures for its 15-day Australia and New Zealand Panorama tour, which includes “the highlights and all the must-sees of Australia and New Zealand,” said company CEO Corey Marshall.
The company offers its Anderson Exclusives packages, which are designed for the group travel market and include round-trip airfare from Los Angeles on Air New Zealand.
Groups fly into New Zealand, where they will get to experience Maori culture in Rotorua and Queenstown, he said, as well as see scenery from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which was filmed in New Zealand.
Travelers then fly to Melbourne, Australia, where they’ll travel along the Great Ocean Road on the southeast coast, visit Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef, and stay in Sydney, with a visit to the Sydney Opera House.
“You see all of iconic Australia,” Marshall said. “It’s designed for people who don’t have a ton of time but who want to see all the icons of Australia and New Zealand on one holiday.”
Another highlight is a trip to the Waitomo Caves, a natural glowworm amphitheater where “you see live glowworms light up the cave walls,” Marshall said.
Invariably, travelers on the 15-day Panorama tour say they want more time in New Zealand, so many will take Anderson’s 18-day Highlights of New Zealand Tour, another Anderson Exclusives package, Marshall said.
“In New Zealand, people are always blown away by how much the Maori culture is through everything as a population that Kiwis do, and they’ll get to experience that more on the [Highlights of New Zealand Tour],” he said.