Odysseys Unlimited

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We have been traveling as a couple for a number of years on escorted tours, and much of that has been with OAT. However, we have noticed as of recent years, that OAT not been providing the value for our money that it once did and as a result we are now looking for other companies. We have recently received this catalog and the prices and itineraries as compared to other companies is attractive, so we would request feedback from others who have traveled with them, with respect to a few questions: First, what is the average group size based on your experience? they advertise between 12-24. Second, what is your opinion of the trip leaders and the step-on guides? Third, what if any shortcomings do you feel others should know about? Also, if anyone has traveled with both companies( OAT and Odysses ) any comparison you could provide would be helpful? Also, if anyone knows of another company we should look into, that information would be welcome. We have looked at other companies, but this one is one that we know little about, so some guidance would be welcome.

As 14 time travelers with OAT, we concur with your observations about OAT and also are seeking other options. We also noted that they recently posted, but buried, my recent, less than favorable review of their Patagonia Wilderness Abroad trip on their site. As for other companies, years ago we opted to travel to China and Tibet with Alexander+Roberts. They advertise 'never more than 16 guests' and have comprehensive itineraries rather than just quick overviews. www.alexanderRoberts.com 800-221-2216. When sleuthing a trip, I build a spreadsheet comparing itineraries, group size, and inclusions to determine who to travel with. Of course, the upgrades and discounts we receive from OAT are nice.

I have taken one tour with OAT, 3 with Grand Circle, and 4 with Odysseys Unlimited (OU). The tours I took with OU were between 2006 and 2013 and were Exploring Iceland; Legendary Turkey; Southern Italy & Sicily; and Scotland Highlands and Islands. Each of these tours had the maximum of 24 people so as far as I'm concerned it was a large group.
The advantages of the company were that on each tour the participants were very nice, the tour directors were well-experienced and professional in terms of both knowledge of their country and their people skills, and they had a sense of humor. In other words, the quality of the tour director was not an issue. I don't recall whether there were local guides, but I think in most cases the tour director was also the tour guide. The hotels are of a better quality than what OAT uses -- they were all excellent and in a central location. OU is not shy about using 5-star hotels. I also like that all tips are included in the cost of the tour (with the exception of the tour manager) and all sightseeing is included (there are no optional tours). What you might have to book separately as a optional tour with OAT is included in the cost of an OU tour.
What I don't like about OU is that the single supplement for non-cruise tours is high and seems to be the same across the board regardless of the cost of living in each destination. Many of their tours have a $995 (low season) and $1,195 (high season) single supplement which is so consistent that it seems to be deliberate on OU's part as opposed to taking anything else into consideration.
As you probably noticed by looking at their catalogue, OU doesn't have the wide range of destinations that OAT does. Nor do they go to any overly "exotic" or "off the beaten path" locations such as the Five Stans, the Caucasus, remote Pacific Islands, Ethiopia, Mongolia, etc. They stick with the "safe" and "sound" (if there is any such thing these days). However, they have been offering most of their tours for many years (some since their inception), so they have the routine and logistics down pat and what they do, they do well.
The reason that I haven't taken them since 2013 and would be reluctant to take them in the future is that many of their tours try to cover too much ground in a short period of time. For instance, their South American Tapestry goes to Chile, Argentina and Brazil all within a 2-1/2 week period (including travel days). Their Southern Africa Odyssey goes to South Africa, Botswana (consisting of just one day at Chobe and none anywhere else in that wonderful country), Victoria Falls, and Namibia all in one 2-1/2 week tour (including travel days). South Africa, Botswana and Namibia deserve at least 2 weeks each per country. OU's tour seems like it is designed for people who plan on taking only one tour to Southern Africa in their lifetime so they try to cram in as many countries as possible in that one tour.
Many of OU's single-country tour itineraries are superficial. They go to selected highlights and it is not a comprehensive overview of the country. For instance, Eldertreks offers a better, longer, more expansive tour of Colombia than what OU offers.
For the experienced traveller like you who have been to many (most?) of the more remote locations in this world and perhaps may now be looking for something more ordinary (such as Western Europe), you might want to give OU a try. To sum them up in a nutshell, their tours are pleasant and relatively easy and stay in upscale accommodations. However, OU specifically states in its catalog that it is not an "adventure" tour.
Before you sign up for them though, I give you one more word of advice and that is to check out Gate 1 Discovery Tours, which offers more destinations than OU and also limits its group size to no more than 24. I took two tours to Africa with Gate 1 Discovery Tours last year. The one to Eastern Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) had only 12 people and the one to Southern Africa (Victoria Falls, Botswana and Capetown) had only 13, both smaller sizes than usually found with OU. Be aware though that only those tours specifically listed as Gate 1 Discovery Tours limit the group size to 24; the regular Gate 1 tours can be large groups of up to 40 or more. Unfortunately my Gate 1 Discovery Tour to Namibia from April 7-19, 2018 was cancelled due to low enrollment. Next year I plan on going to Namibia (with Spiekermann) and back to Botswana (this time with Road Scholar) for 2 weeks in each country -- more comprehensive than what OU, OAT, or Gate 1 Discovery Tours offers.

I would like to thank Wanda and travel fish, travel fish in particular for his/her very detailed comment. I would hope that others would add their thoughts to this as well. We've traveled with other companies, but mostly for specialized trips, such as taking the trans-siberian railroad across Russia and seeing the polar bears in Churchill. We expect to take other specialized trips to see the Northern Lights, but we're looking for a tour company for the 'exotics,' such as what we formerly got with OAT. So, if others have something to add, we'd appreciate it. We don't intend to be married to any tour company in particular; we made that mistake once with OAT and we don't intend to make it again.

Thank you, Skunkman, for your appreciation of my comments.
One of the things I failed to mention about Odysseys Unlimited is that it is an icon -- as you probably noticed in its catalog, it is the recipient of six annual Travel and Leisure awards for Best Tour Operator. But ironically, that in itself makes another important point -- that the type of tours that Odysseys offers appeals to readers of the glossy travel magazines as opposed to ITN subscribers.
For the "exotics" you might want to check out the British tour companies Undiscovered Destinations and Native Eye Travel (two separate companies). Although I haven't travelled with them yet, several of their tours are on my "bucket list" because they go to places that no one else goes or else I like their itinerary better than that offered by other companies. For instance, I like Native Eye's tour to the North Caucasus better than that offered by either MIR or Spiekermann. They may also be cheaper in cost.

We are 20X OAT travelers, and will soon depart on trip #21. Needless to say, we've been happy with OAT for a long time. That said, we have also traveled many times with Eldertreks, out of Toronto Canada. Their tours are similar to OAT in that the maximum group size is 16. But the differences are enormous. First, they don't include air, although they are willing to be your travel agent for air, for a small surcharge. We've always done our own air. They will give you arrival and departure transfers, no matter what flights you choose or when you arrive or depart. All meals and all tours are included, as are all tips except for housekeeping and the TL. They tend to go to more out of the way destinations where the infrastructure isn't as good, so we don't count on the most upscale hotels. Also they don't do repetitive trips, so they don't have the economy of scale that OAT has. We've traveled with them to Laos, to Burma, to the "Voodoo countries" of Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Niger, to Papua New Guinea, to southern Greece, to the Kingdoms of southern Africa, and to Ethiopia. We're planning on signing up for their Yunnan trip for 2019. The guides have been exceptional on all of the trips. Every year, in December, Eldertreks puts almost all of their upcoming trips on sale. The sale prices are good retroactively, so we never wait until December. They also offer a discount once you've taken a certain number of trips (loyalty discount), and that discount grows as you travel with them more and more. And lastly, when you call, a real person answers the phone! It is a much smaller company than OAT, and the customer service is excellent.