12 chaperones. 130 students. 3 cities all done with Education First. As a chaperone, my expenses were paid for, and this year’s group of 8th graders were really good. Yet, I walked away from this chaperoning trip with mixed feelings.
Breakdown of our itinerary:
Day 1 – Depart SFO on overnight flight. Arrive early the next morning. Stop for breakfast before heading to several Smithsonians and the Holocaust museum. Late afternoon walking tour of the Lincoln, Vietnam, and Korean war memorials.
Day 2 – Mt. Vernon visit, walking tour of Arlington and the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, White House photo stop, National Archives, and a Washington Nationals baseball game.
Day 3 – Tidal Basin memorials including Jefferson, FDR, and MLK Jr. Then a tour of the Capitol Building, the Newseum, and bus ride to Gettysburg.
Day 4 – Gettysburg battlefields and memorials bus tour, Amish country bus tour (BEST PRETZELS EVER), Amish dinner and bus ride to Philadelphia. (Don’t mind the edge of my finger in the frame of Gettysburg below…)
Day 5 – The Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art steps, Liberty Bell, and Independence Hall. Flight home.
- Buses had it’s own port-a-potty. A/C was well appreciated, especially in DC.
- Each bus came with a tour director who spoke to use on the mic about the things we were to see while walking around
- Kids were really good overall
- The docents at each site were good, especially the Gettysburg park ranger.
- Newseum was a winner.
- It was HOT. And we spent the hottest days, and the hottest part of the day, outside walking around looking at stuff.
- Buses were not equipped with coolers of ice and bottled water, like they said we would have.
- That red-eye flight destroyed the student’s energy. Which made them drag their feet, and everything took that much longer. I was afraid I would be herding cats, but it was more like herding turtles.
- Departure flight to DC was changed 6 times. Students had to be broken up into smaller groups and flown on different flights. All these changes were done by the teacher chaperones, forced on us by United Airlines, and not helped at all by EF.
- The tour director on my bus basically read off of wikipedia on her phone the whole time.
- The tour director also refused to give the bus driver the full list of places we would visit beforehand. She just directed the bus driver as we went. On top of that, she couldn’t properly use Google Maps (didn’t click the start button, only dropped a pin on the location and routed it) which meant a lot of time wasted turning around and around in circles
- The first hotel we stayed at didn’t have our rooms cleaned by the time we arrived. The second hotel we stayed at was on the shabby side and had holes in all the linens and towels. The third hotel we stayed at was the only decent one.
- There was a lot of miscommunication between each bus’ tour director and the DC head tour coordinator.
- We crammed so much in during the first half that the last half was rather anti-climactic
- Not very educational overall. I didn’t learn that much from the tour directors, and there wasn’t a time for reflecting on the things I did learn.
- Tour directors left us hanging at the airport for our departure flight home, after American Airlines originally refused to print out a group set of boarding passes for the 142 of us. In their words, “Our responsibility ends at getting you to the airport. Bye!”
EF did handle a lot of parent communication, but I can totally see my school doing the entire tour ourselves – booking the transportation, getting tickets and museum entrance times, getting the educational part of it all done properly.
Have you toured with Education First? What are your thoughts? Are there better companies out there?