Natasha Kasprzyk, an English teacher from Chaparral High School in Parker, CO, recently returned from a trip to France with her students. She shares her experience with ACIS in comparison to her trip to Italy in 2015 with a different educational travel company. Check Vol. 1 of her comparison study.
As an English teacher, I understand the value of a strong hook – a unique way of capturing the reader’s attention via an anecdote, definition, question, or quote. The intro to a piece of writing is not created for the writer, but for the audience.
As a writer, on most days, I stick to this same philosophy.
But not today.
Today, the hook – the line-of-all-lines – is all about me.
And here it is:
I LOVE IT WHEN I’M RIGHT.
-this is where you insert a visual of me, bowing dramatically to a standing ovation-
You may recall, ACIS blog devotee that you are, this piece that I wrote, which goes into why I switched from another tour company to ACIS. Some of you travel newbies may have thought, “BAH. That Barcelona trip she went on was too good to be true…the trip with kids won’t compare.”
And, in all fairness, I wouldn’t blame you if you felt that way, given that we live in a world chock full of too-good-to-be-true offers (complete with a free set of steak knives) and companies that don’t live up to their promises.
In this case, though, I’m happy to say that my student trip with ACIS was excellent!
With that, I’ll refer back to the major areas of dissatisfaction with my previous tour company by addressing what they were like on my first student trip with ACIS:
- Breakfast: The breakfast buffets were amazing, all of which included yogurt, fruit, meat, cheese, fresh-squeezed juice, coffee, tea, bread (OH, FRANCE — YOUR BREAD GAME IS STRONG), eggs, cereal, vegetables…shall I go on? One hotel buffet even included an omelet station! There was something for everyone, and plenty of it, too.
- Dinner: Three courses. Every meal. Yep. And not only were the portions sizeable, they were also delicious: salads topped with baked goat cheese, artichoke quiche, Beef Bourguignon, hand-carved turkey with stacked potato au gratin, apple tart, crème brulee…all delicious. On our last night, over dessert, the girls and I wrote down each meal in its entirety and picked our favorites; it was cool to see that each of us had a different favorite, which speaks to the variety and quality of what we were served.
- As promised, the hotels were centrally located (no 45-60 minute bus trips, twice a day, to the ‘burbs – whoo-hoo!), whether in an arrondissement of Paris, or right off the beaches of St. Malo. We could always walk out of our hotel and have easy access to restaurants, parks, and shops. The hotel rooms were comfortable and as unique as the different places we visited in France, and I may have done the Snoopy “suppertime” dance when my room happened to be outfitted with an espresso machine!
Manageable Touring-Bus Size
- As a former summer camp director, I know how difficult it can be to corral a large group of kids, get them on/off a bus, and manage chaos during the time in-between. As a teacher who travels with her students under the care of a Tour Director, I can tell you it was amazing to travel with a group of 25-30 rather than 50; I can’t even imagine trying to get 50 teachers and students on the Metro at the same time! Manageable group size = an easier experience for the Tour Director, and we LOVED our Tour Director! It’s a miracle my girls didn’t find a way to stuff Flora into one of their carry-on bags…
- In the midst of our cooking class, I was stuffing my face with chocolate fondue when I heard a distinctly American voice coming from the entrance of the shop. Jessica Ricci had just arrived from Boston to check on the different groups traveling in Paris. I was both embarrassed by and psyched about the fact she recognized me from my ACIS photobomb pics, but more than that, I was so thankful that she arrived just in time to help one of the other teachers bring her student, who was not feeling well, back to the hotel and help secure her medical care. I have no doubt that Flora would have handled that situation just as well, but I’m sure it was nice for her to have that extra set of hands available right when we needed it!
- We had just arrived in St. Malo when Flora came over to my seat on the bus to let me know about the attacks in Brussels. Once I had wifi, I saw that Jeannie had already contacted me via email to ask if my students had been in touch with their parents and to assure me that no student groups had been affected by the attacks. I messaged the parents when we got to the hotel, and the kids checked in with them as well. I truly believe that ACIS would have taken immediate action and put a plan in place to bring us home had they been concerned about our safety.
So, you may anticipate that at this exact moment, I will unleash a flurry of unicorns and rainbows across your screen…I mean, everything about the trip sounds perfect, right?
Nothing is perfect, and there were a few things that the girls and I felt dissatisfied with. That being said, none of those things needed to be urgently addressed with Jeannie while we were there – in other words, there was no need for a red card.
- One hotel didn’t compare to the others, in terms of the quality of the rooms and the food.
- We thought we would be learning how to cook a dish in our cooking class, but it turned out to be more like moving through prepared steps of prepared stations of food.
- Sometimes, we had more free time in a little town than we needed, and it would have been nicer to have that time built in to our visit at a museum.
I shared these concerns with Jeannie a few days after I got home, and she listened. She didn’t come up with excuses, or try to explain the concern away – she listened to me, and she shared the concerns with the company. I know this to be true because she explained how my feedback is making a difference in the way the cooking class is designed for future student travelers. That’s pretty amazing.
As I mentioned in my original post, most of my students’ families don’t have the ability to pay for these trips with ease. I’ll never forget when Sarah, one of my darling seniors on the France trip, texted me to tell me she gave her mom her last paycheck to pay off her trip. I was so proud of her then, but I was even more blown away when I found out that, aside from the initial deposit, Sarah paid for the entire trip herself.
Would she have had to turn over fewer paychecks to her mom for a less-expensive trip with the former tour company? Of course. Do I feel that every penny she earned came back to her tenfold on our trip with ACIS? Absolutely.
As of right now, I have seven students traveling with me to London/Dublin in 2017 with one more on the verge of registering, and I am planning a trip to Costa Rica in 2018.
What about you? Have you planned your first trip with ACIS? If not, what are you waiting for?
Make the choice to hook your reader with the first line of the next chapter of your travel adventure. It will be the story of a lifetime!
PS – I did not get a free set of steak knives in exchange for this honest review.