My wife and I are planning on a vacation to Japan next year. We've decided that it would suit us best to go on an organized tour. However, we'd prefer not to go with a 50-person tour where you stay in hotels well outside of town with only quick stops at the sights and shopping with kick-backs for the guides. I welcome any suggestions for tour operators in Japan that operate at the level of a RS tour. We did check Intrepid Travel, which I've used in the past for India and the Trans-Siberian, and had a great experience with them, but am open to others. Thanks!
Take a look at the group tours offered for Japan thru Tauck (www.tauck.com). Since you prefer smaller groups, you will want to check out dates/times for just their small groups (there is an option to show just that for small groups vs. the normal bus size). Of course, the small group option is priced higher.
Tauck is an excellent tour company; and like with Rick Steves, they have many loyal repeat customers. Generally Tauck stays in high-end hotels, and all luggage handling etc. is included and usually more meals (several that you can choose to enjoy by yourselves as a couple or with others that you might meet on your tour). Tauck also provides pick up at the airport and delivery to the airport for your return, even if you fly in a day early or stay an extra day on the end.
I checked it out and you weren't kidding, very nice/high end, with many included meals and nice hotels. Also, very pricey. I'll keep this on the radar as I shop. Thanks!
You might also check out Odesseys Unlimted. I've not personally traveled with them, but a dear friend has. She LOVES them and has gone on several trips. They tend to do a lot of alumni group travel for universities and colleges, but individuals can also sign up for trips directly.
What makes them an even better value, is that airfare is included in their price, and they also offer an option to upgrade to business, if you require that. Hotels are not as high-end as Tauck, but my friend tells me they are still very, very nice hotels and that the guides are fabulous. She's not been to Japan, but she'd done China, Butan, Peru, Amazon, Australia and New Zealand with them. And, she's planning future trips, too.
That might be just the style/price trip you are looking for.
Yep, Tauck's Japan trip (especially the small group option) is a beyond my travel budget (sorry I had not looked at the price before posting above), but some of their other destinations offer really good value for what one gets. We did a Rick Steves' Heart of Italy tour (loved it), and then did the Rome, Amalfi, Capri trip w/ Tauck and we were blown away by how special it was (private after-hours in the Vatican/Sistene, etc. and a visit to a professor's private villa overlooking the sea......things that are hard to do on one's own).
But, check out Odesseys....I think you'll like what you see.
We enjoyed our trip earlier this year with Inside Japan Tours. It's a British company, though they have an office in the US and we paid in dollars.
If you're looking for value and quality, check out SuperValueTours.com, they are a direct operator so their prices are much more reasonable but the hotels are still really high end (Imperial Tokyo, Kyoto Okura, etc): http://www.supervaluetours.com/pagetour_queryTempTour.do?tourid=541&fr=supusa
They also include almost every meal, transportation, entrance fees and airport pick up and drop off when you arrive on the arrival and departure days. Check them out.
Although I haven't taken their Japan tour, I have taken twelve trips to Asia, Africa and South America with Journeys International, https://www.journeysinternational.com/destinations/asia/Japan, and highly recommend them.
Have you looked at Road Scholar? They have several tours in Japan. We have done other Road Scholar tours and loved them. There is more emphasis on education than going to tourist traps. Depending on the tour, they hire out local guides/experts for each site or an expert tour guide will accompany you on the entire trip. Hotels are about medium range, not luxury, but acceptable. Most meals are included. There will be a group leader to arrange for the buses, hotel keys, bag lunches, etc. They have a no tip policy; it's already included. So, no extra hidden charges except for the days when lunch/dinner is on your own.
Take a look at samuraitours.com they seem to be the closest to the Rick Steve's approach than any other tour company out there. I have not used them before, but am seriously considering a tour with them for next summer.
Thanks everyone for the great suggestions. So far Samuraitours is looking pretty good, in terms of the combinations they offer. Once I swallow the fact that Japan is EXPENSIVE, the rest will be easy :D
I think with looking for a tour operator for Japan, it's all the same requirements: no "kick-back" shopping, well-paid driver/guide/staff so no need for tips, no 50-person big-bus style tours, etc. Samurai seems to foot that will being somewhat agreeable with my budget.
Hi! I am posting here because I am in a very similar situation. I am planning a tour in Japan this summer to add on to a business trip. This would include myself and my wife, but possibly also my 2 adult daughters. We have followed the Rick Steves travel philosophy on many trips through Europe. Have you made any final decisions, KC?
No final decision yet. Still deliberating over budget and timing. But the suggestions offered up so far are all quite nice. Of course, Japan needn't be overly expensive if you go on one of those 50 people tour groups, but that's a pill I'm not yet willing to swallow.
$3200-$3400 for the Samauri Economy tour does not look bad at all to me. It appears to be a good company. I have been to Japan before ( independent travel) and we are thinking of going back in a couple of years. I may take a good look at their "independent" tour where they do the bookings and provide information, but you travel on your own without a guide. That way it is $2800pp.