Pre-booking tickets- what's going on here?

Over the past few months, I've noticed more and more posters are asking about buying prebooked tickets to various attractions. I'm trying to understand what's driving this change. I don't think most of Europe's ticketed attractions have suddenly become so inundated with visitors that it's become necessary to reserve a ticket. I've been away from the US for three years, so has there been some change there (because most of the inquiries about pre-purchasing seem to come from the US) that I'm not following?

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9131 posts

Ah, cruises, that must be it. Now that Mr. Steves has given his fans permission to take cruises, that would explain the reservation creep.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4766 posts

What cruise craze? First time I have heard of this.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

I would think that a fairly small percentage of people on the Helpline are part of a cruise.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7683 posts

I have wondered the same thing. I just put it down to the seeming need to obsessively pre-plan every moment of a trip. The venue I most see mentioned is the Eiffel Tower, but that one baffles me a little, too. Why book ahead for an outdoor venue when you have no idea what the weather will be like? I would hate to buy expensive tickets, then lose my money to a lashing rain or fog so thick you can't see anything.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

I personally wouldn't pre-book the Eiffel Tower, but I can understand why some do. If you only have a very short time in Paris and the ET is a must do thing, people probably don't want to stand in a long line losing precious touring time. It is a weather gamble, although I doubt many people think about that. In all my trips to Europe I have only pre-booked 2 things, a Buckingham Palace tour (long story but it was cancelled) and a timed entry to the Anne Frank House on a one day trip to Amsterdam. Most things can wait until you get there.

Posted by Claudia
Land of La
2014 posts

Simply the mind set of "I want it and I want it now." A Twitter world mentality. Immediate response, no inconvenience. Can I blame the Kardashians?!?

Posted by Rose
NYC
922 posts

The RS guidebooks are rife with suggestions to pre-book to avoid having to wait in line. He also mentions it in his PBS videos, and it's always mentioned in the travel classes he and his staff teach in Edmonds. Not sure if Rudy Maxa is still doing PBS travelogues, but he used to mention it in his videos as well. Other U.S. travel magazines and newspaper Travel sections also mention it. I suppose when people hear such suggestions for ultra-crowded places like Versailles, the Colosseum, the big museums, etc. they think, 'If I'm doing it for those sites, I might as well do it for everything, whenever possible.'

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3582 posts

Some are going overboard with it when it's not really necessary (but they don't know that until they're told otherwise). All they know is they're read in the guidebooks/been told to 'reserve in advance'. They're just trying to use their time wisely, I believe. But for some venues, it potentially saves you hours of (e€pensive) waiting in line in the midday sun/pouring rain - the Uffizi or Academia, for example. Then there are the new 'tour-access-only' tickets (previously off-limit parts of the Colosseum, 'Pristine Sistine') and the oldies (Scavi Tours, Scrovegni Chapel, esp. the extended-length visits). And like hotel reservations - now that everyone is using the Internet to reserve rooms advance, now you have to, too - if you don't want to stand in line behind the others who booked in advance (Eiffel Tower), you kinda have to book in advance, too. OK - the Eiffel Tower probably isn't the best example, because I don't know if the total number of visitors has increased due to advance ticket sales, but I haven't had my second cup of coffee yet, so it'll have to do. I've waited my 3 hours at the Uffizi in the full July sun, so now that there's a legitimately-better way to visit that museum (legitimate, meaning not 'working the system' in an unintended-but-successful way), you bet I'm buying an advance-purchase ticket/pass! (cont.)

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3582 posts

(cont.) Same thing with advance purchase rail tickets. I could buy my Rome-Venice tkt there at 89€ (or whatever) and there was a time I was perfectly happy doing so, but now that I know about internet sales and advance-purchase savings...9€ sounds a whole lot better, and I want to learn how to do that ;-D Of course, you don't have to book hotel tickets online, but I don't want to wander around town looking for a vacancy...that was booked weeks ago. If I want to stay at 'X', I'd better reserve it now. There's been an increase in the number of online offers, too - Firenze Card, this metro pass or that museum pass, etc. I think people are just trying to get the most from their $$/€€ and limited time at any one place. I don't think the USA has a monopoly on this trend, but of course this is a USA-based website created & supported by an American, and the vast majority of the posters are Americans.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

Eileen's post reminded me that I did reserve ahead for the Uffizzi and the Borghese Gallery. There are times when booking ahead is a good idea.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9131 posts

I realize that it can get a little crazy at some of those museums in Italy, but it seems that the impulse of "reservation creep" has moved way beyond what is necessary. In the past few months, I've seen posts where it seems like people seem to think they won't be able to experience: Neuschwanstein, Mont St. Michel, Zugspitze, Jungfraujoch, the Cabinet War Rooms, Arc du Triomphe, Notre Dame or even get a picnic table in the Englischergarten without a reservation. I'm not questioning the wisdom of sometimes obtaining a prior reservation, but I'm wondering what changed recently that now made these requests so much more common.

Posted by Rose
NYC
922 posts

Possibly the cruise craze has also contributed to it. When people have only a few hours in a place, spending any of it waiting in line would be undesirable.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7828 posts

I wonder same thing, people act like its the end of the world if they have to wait in a line ( oh horrors) , this is partly due I think to people planning on seeing many sites and needing to cram it all into short visits.. If a person visits a city like Paris for 2 or 3 days theres a ton to see, perhaps to them waiting 30 minutes or more will make a big difference in their itineraries being realistic( " I plan on Louvre in morning, then Notre Dame, then walk up Champs to the Arc, visit it, then see the Orsay in the evening,,,is that too much?") lol If you have a week or two in Paris, then waiting occasionally in a line is not end of world,, keeping in mind that MANY sites have no lines or short lines only..

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3582 posts

There have been more cruise Qs here lately, but the ones I've noticed seem to be interested in the perennial favorite Q of how to get from the boat to __, and/or how to see __ in 3 hours. Guess it's just that time of year... I usually travel with just my easy-to-travel-with, go-with-the-flow husband; if I had 3 generations that included 3 under the age of 10, I would probably be more interested in nailing down more things in the way of time- and money-savers. (My in-laws cannot stand in line for anything; they'd have to sit somewhere and wait for one of us to get them when it was nearly our time to enter a museum, etc.) Of course, the corollary to a disparate group of that size might be to be prepared to slow things down a bit...more moving parts = more potential for those parts to break down (get sick, injured, throw a tantrum, etc.). That could mean wasted $$/€€ in advance-purchase tickets :-( As they say, you buys yer ticket, you takes yer chances...

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10884 posts

In the old days (25 years ago?) prior to the internet it was difficult to prebook tickets, hotels, or anything else. All railroad tickets was same price regardless of purchase date. So you had no choice but to go with limited reservations and work with the local TI once you arrived. But now with the web and, particular the web sites, it is fairly easy to prebook everything. Then it becomes a question of convenience. Given a choice of walking straight in or waiting even in a short line it is going to be walk in. We have not adjusted to the complete reservation route but may have to in defense if there are things we absolutely want to see or do. I know on trains weare now spend more money by not taking advantage of the discount fares. This Oct we need to get from Amsterdam to Rotterdam at a set time so I am about to buy the train ticket on line because it is much cheaper than the walk up price. Never have done that before. And then I think there is an element that absolutely demands that everything be planned and reserved and for them, the internet is the tool of choice. However, when we were in Florence last month, the line for David was as long as ever. So not everyone is getting the word.

Posted by Rose
NYC
922 posts

I think there are far more people reading these boards than posting on them. And probably many are people who river or ocean cruise but rely on Rick's books for when they hit land. He does give good advice for how to maximize one's site-seeing time. As far as the cruise 'craze', everyone I know who used to do land touring in Europe is now opting to do either river cruises, Greek Isle cruises, Mediterranean cruises, barge cruises, etc. Perhaps it's symptomatic of aging and the convenience they think they gain from only having to unpack once, maybe not wanting to do so much of the hard work of planning. Whatever it is, cruising is hot with aging Boomers, including those who now wish to travel with their children and grandchildren, as well as with younger couples and families.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

It cuts both ways. On the one hand, we feel it's silly to ask about prebooking attractions that don't require it. But on a recent thread, someone was mocked for not having known that Eurostar tickets do indeed get much more expensive and scarce closer to travel. It's also true that things have changed. When I went to see the Accademia and Ufizzi in Florence in 1989, and the Eiffel Tower in 1988, no advance reservations were necessary or possible, and while all had crowds, I managed fine. And with no Internet, booking hotels was different (as pointed out above). So, as more things switch to "airline pricing," and more things become pre-bookable that previously were not, and more things get more crowded and justify pre-booking, it gets out "in the ether" that this is required or desirable for everything. And unless you ask, it's hard to know. For instance, if someone is on their first trip to Paris, how are they supposed to know that prebooking Versailles tickets saves a lot of time, but prebooking transit on the RER to Versailles is not possible or necessary? Particularly if they've read that "French trains have extreme discounts if you book ahead" and don't understand that this is a different kind of train from those. By the way, all of the above applies domestically too. If you're going to San Francisco and want to see Alcatraz, you'd better book before you leave home. We went on a Thursday, and the sign at the ticket window said the next available tours were for the following Tuesday. We talked with Australian tourists, who had booked ahead and got tickets, but still felt it was "unfair" that they would have been shut out if they hadn't been tipped off before their trip.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9131 posts

OK, so it seems this is the way the world is moving. Ugg! Anyone else but me who likes to travel a bit more spontaneously find that kind of depressing?

Posted by Dina
Fontainebleau, France
893 posts

I think Harold nailed it. It's one of those catch-22 things: As more people pre-book an attraction, the wait for the attraction gets longer for those who didn't pre-book, which starts to necessitate pre-booking.

Posted by Rose
NYC
922 posts

I would love to be able to travel spontaneously, but travel has become so increasingly competitive - to get the lowest fares, to book the better accommodations, to avoid lost time in long lines, to be sure of getting restaurant seating when I want it - it just eliminates the stress when I make the effort to plan ahead as much as possible. I remember years ago, when I was less experienced and more spontaneous, sauntering into a train station on a last-minute decision and being completely shocked by the astronomical (at the time) price for what seemed to me to be a relatively short return ticket. I stood speechless in front of the ticket counter trying to decide whether to abort my plan. I simply didn't realize I had stumbled into peak, but could have saved a lot if I had planned to leave about an hour earlier. I went ahead and bought the ticket, but it hurt. And here was I earlier thinking how lucky I had been to wake up to a beautiful day for a day-trip out of the city on a whim. Afterthought: The stubborn unwillingness to give up at least some spontaneity is having an impact in my choice of travel destinations. I find myself thinking, 'Can I be just as happy skipping Rome (or London or Paris) entirely and spending my entire holiday in small villages that aren't mentioned in any guidebook and could turn out to be either priceless gems or boring dead zones?' The answer is 'Yes' - largely because it takes an awful lot to bore me and I value the little, simple things a lot. There's always a way to make lemonade out of a lemon.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
2522 posts

Harold has it. I also used to travel more spontaneously, flying standby, using hotel booking services at train stations. What started my pre-booking trend was the mandatory reservation needed for the Scrovegni Chapel and Galleria Borghese, so I started pre-booking almost everything. Booking.com only added to this vice. Then came the reduced train fares, and I was hooked. Since I can turn into a lazy slug on vacation, it actually helps me to know that I need to be somewhere at a certain time. My spontaneous desires turn into scheduled "next time" events. Now, if there were a "skip the line" pass for public bathrooms...

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2608 posts

@Tom... I will still travel spontaneously about 90% of the time. The last thing I want to do on vacation is have a stop watch that I have to live by because I had a reservation for something... I figure if I am in Paris, London, Rome etc. and if I miss a 'must see sight', I am sure something else far more wonderful will appear to take its place:) I just cannot think about travel and bring in the words 'organized, efficient, losing time, preplanning' :)))

Posted by Angela
Eau Claire, WI, United States
51 posts

I am a relative "newbie" to these boards (~6 months) as we plan our first trip to Europe in a few weeks. While I haven't posted the questions about booking ahead, I have read the posts and appreciated them. I would say I have wondered this because of the suggestion in Rick's shows and guidebooks (as well as other types of books I have read) that this is the "smart" thing to do in many cases. We did pre-book train travel across Germany to save money. We also just pre-booked our tickets to Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein at a suggestion in Rick's books. But, we are leaving other days/times open for fun that might just pop up. In general, we are pre-booking the things that we would be sad to leave Europe having missed entirely because the tickets aren't available on the day/days we are there or things that can get cost prohibitive by booking at the last minute. (My husband is an accountant and always wants the best "value" - hence the pre-booked trains and mini-flights around Europe on our trip.) I could start a new post (and will if you think that is best...) But, that leads me to a question for you very experienced travelers of Europe...what attractions/items should one book in advance due to possibly selling out or getting very costly? We are going to Germany (Berlin, Romantic Road, Munich, and Freiburg) and Venice. And, then, yes, we are off to a 6 day cruise from Venice before returning to Berlin.

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

Tom, I think the travel industry has "trained" folks to put money down early by offering them carrots in terms of psychological relief and discounts - the internet has made this possible and easy. I personally hate to pay for any service or product many months before receiving it unless there's a heavy discount. Also I think people are highly motivated by what they see peers doing - so, if there are more and more posts about pre-booking, people assume it's standard operating procedure (or that there's some scarce resource out there and they need to get in on it fast)

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8758 posts

I'll weigh in here now. Angela's question has piqued my interest. I've never pre-purchased any travel items except hotels and transportation. In Germany, especially, I often make the hotel reservations the day or two before at small family run hotels in small towns and find that that suits us fine. That's how I discovered a really nice small hotel in Idstein, a lovely fachwerk town near Frankfurt am Main. I was wandering around the town with Jo, a regular here, and came across it. Made the reservation at the desk and returned the next day. Trains are easy in Germany and many can be popped onto with the right ticket. I've never pre-booked attractions - except those which really require it such as Borghese in Rome, Uffici in Florence, Last Supper in Milan, Scrovegni Chapel in Padova. (see a pattern - Italy?) Never in Germany. I don't book dinners either unless we are half board, like at the Hotel Eden in Seefeld in Tirol in Austria. I like to flow with how the day goes. Walked right into the Vatican Museums without a reservation and without a queue, too. How I hear the multitudes shout with a single voice? Used the techniques described by that expert on everything Roman - Ron in Rome. Tuesday afternoon at 1400 there wasn't a soul in the queue. There were still a few million inside but that's another story.

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2900 posts

I pre-book when I have to in order to see a site or when it benefits me. I pre-book the stuff that most people do ... hotels, air, long-distance train when advance purchase gets me a lower fare. I pre-book when I want to guarantee that I get to see something. On my last trip, I pre-booked four shows in London ( The Audience with Helen Mirren, Peter and Alice with Judi Dench, The Book of Mormon, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night). I expected all of these shows to sell out and I really wanted to see them all. I also pre-booked the "Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum" exhibit at the British Museum and the "Chagall between War and Peace" exhibit at the Luxembourg Museum. Both of these exhibitions required tickets for timed slots and I wanted to see both. I pre-book when it benefits me. I pre-booked a ticket to Monet's Garden in Giverny. It was good any day, I knew that I would be visiting Giverny, and buying in advance let me skip the ticket queue. I wanted to pre-book the "David Bowie Is" exhibit at the V&A, but unfortunately all advance tickets were sold out. So I went to get day tickets and got in the queue at 9:45. I got to the front of the queue at 11am and got a ticket for the next slot available at 11:45. This is a prime example of why people pre-book. When you have limited vacation time and you have something you absolutely want to see, who wants to spend that time waiting in a long queue when there is an option that gets you in right away and doesn't cost you anything more. There are some things that you absolutely need to pre-book (like a tour of the Reichstag) and other things where pre-booking is necessary to avoid an exceptionally long queue. When people ask about pre-booking, most are just trying to discern these things so they make the best use of their limited vacation time.

Posted by Angela
Eau Claire, WI, United States
51 posts

And, thanks to this thread, I have now learned I need to pre-book for the Reichstag...I don't think I have read that anywhere else yet. Done. Thanks!

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6840 posts

When you have limited vacation time and you have something you absolutely want to see, who wants to spend that time waiting in a long queue when there is an option that gets you in right away and doesn't cost you anything more. Amen! It's easier for folks who already live in Europe to be spontaneous. For the rest of who travel across oceans, time is money.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9131 posts

Epilogue... I visited Munich today. No need to reserve tickets at the Residenz. No need to reserve a lunchtime table at the Paulaner Biergarten by the Kleinhesseloher See. Not possible to reserve a spot along the Eisbach as it flows through the Englischer Garten (it was Italy-hot today, and dear God did it feel good to dip my feet in that cold water!). Ah, but dinner at the Augustiener Biergarten? If you wanted table service, all the spots were reserved, but I could still eat in the self-service area. So, it begins... PS- When I said "spontaneous travel", I didn't mean not arranging lodging and transit in advanced. I meant not having a set agenda once you find yourself in a given city or region. Leaves room for discovery and allows you to linger longer at one site if you find it more interesting.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8758 posts

For the rest of who travel across oceans, time is money. For people on this side of the pond it is too. I've just not ever felt the need, other than those noted above.

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3207 posts

"In the old days (25 years ago?) prior to the internet it was difficult to prebook tickets, hotels, or anything else." This is totally off topic, but you reminded me, Frank, of the days when we had to write to a hotel for a reservation then wait 3 or more weeks to hear back from them. Totally forgot about that. Some things change for the better...

Posted by Debi
Sherman Oaks, CA, USA
257 posts

I plan a trip and have an idea what I would like to do. A lot depends on the weather, rainy days are for inside activities and sunny days are for outside
activities. Europe is not Hawaii, where I totally relax, but I try not to fill every waking hour with something. I do like to sit and people watch as much as I can. I realize that some people have limited time in a city and need to book in advance and plan everyday, but that is not my idea of a vacation. Happy Travels!