We recently had the chance to try out the San Francisco Long Weekend itinerary offered by Adventures by Disney. In this post, we’ll offer some thoughts on the experience. Additionally, we’ll focus on the pros and cons of Adventures by Disney based on our experience, and some itineraries we’d rather do.
Adventures by Disney has been on our Disney bucket list for several years. My interest was first piqued by Erin Foster’s strong endorsement for Adventures by Disney on the TouringPlans Blog (and subsequent posts–she seems to be about the only one regularly writing about AbD.) I had written it off prior to then, but she’s a credible voice, so her praising it made me re-evaluate my position. Still, I was skeptical.
At that point, I hoped they’d bring back the Egypt tour, which was “temporary” cancelled due to political unrest. (The reason I wanted a tour rather than doing it myself in the first place!) Now, there are a number of itineraries that look appealing, including some in Europe, Africa, and Cambodia, among other places. For this trip, we should note that we were invited guests of Disney. Before you groan that this is thus a biased review, I think I should also note that I would not recommend the San Francisco Long Weekend…
It’s not that the San Francisco Long Weekend experience was not enjoyable–it was. Even though we visited during a rainy weekend (as such, most of the photos in this post are ‘stock’ photos I’ve shot on previous trips to San Francisco), we still had a good time.
We dined at some new-to-us restaurants, enjoyed a few experiences we had not had, and went on an exceptional private guided tour of the Walt Disney Family Museum. My only substantive knock on the San Francisco Long Weekend was that the visit to LucasFilm was totally pointless; you only go in the lobby, meaning it’s solely “I was here” photos.
My issue with this Adventures by Disney itinerary primarily was that nothing about the experience felt exclusive or was arranged in a way we could not have done ourselves. In fact, I feel we could have done a comparable itinerary better ourselves, but that’s at least in part because we’ve been to San Francisco numerous times, and have a pretty good feel for the city.
Presumably, most people doing this Adventures by Disney trip won’t be familiar with San Francisco. Still, it’s a walkable city that is very tourist-friendly. Between your feet and Uber, it’s really easy to accomplish almost everything in the itinerary over the course of a weekend at your own pace. The Muir Woods and the vineyard are exceptions to this, but doing a 1-day car rental would be easy enough. (Don’t rent a car for the duration of your stay in San Francisco–hotel parking costs are outrageous.)
This is the problem I have with many of the Adventures by Disney itineraries in the United States: you’re paying a significant premium for the guides and convenience in a situation where neither are really all that necessary. Even if you’re not a seasoned traveler, many of these U.S. locations are approachable for casual tourists.
The one notable exception to this is the Disneyland and Southern California Tour. In large part, this is because of the VIP Jim Henson Company Studio Tour, Walt Disney Studio Tour, Walt Disney Imagineering Tour, and Behind the Scenes Disneyland Tour (including Walt Disney’s Apartment).
None of these experiences are available to the general public, and everyone I know who has done this Adventures by Disney itinerary has loved it. (It’d still be tough for us to justify as locals, but it does seem like a noteworthy exception for fans of the Disney parks.)
Additionally, and this is probably at least in part a personal thing, but I’d prefer to be setting my own schedule. I’m a control freak, and often meticulously plan some dimensions of our trip. Part of this is for photography purposes (for example, we scheduled our visit around Mont Saint Michel in France to coincide with ideal photography conditions), so it’s not entirely applicable to others.
However, I also find myself spending more or less time in certain places than a group would. I also want to customize my itinerary to the things I think will most interest me. I doubt this is unique to me. Many group trips are more efficient than an individual’s experience would be, so relinquishing a bit of control for the sake of convenience would be a fair tradeoff, but this is not true in San Francisco.
Then there’s the issue of price. The San Francisco Long Weekend is one of the least expensive Adventures by Disney itineraries, and it’s still over double the price we’d pay for a comparable experience. Realistically, we’d do it for far less money than that since we’d go for a cheaper hotel and dine at San Francisco’s many, exceptional low-budget restaurants.
For us, price is the biggest stumbling block with Adventures by Disney. We are frugal travelers who leverage hacks and other strategies to cut costs. Adventures by Disney is a premium product aimed at a luxury experience. It’s clearly not aimed at travelers like us.
When you price out the value of each component of an Adventures by Disney trip, there’s arguably not much of a surcharge for the “Disney” name over what other tour providers might charge, but it’s still considerably more expensive than what we’d pay on a ‘do it ourselves’ trip. That may not be an apples to apples comparison, but we feel it’s important to comparison-shop based on what you’d spend out of pocket, not the line-item cost of the itinerary. This is a big deal for us, and I suspect the same is true for many others.
These were all general concerns I had before we tried out the Adventures by Disney San Francisco Long Weekend, and I can’t say the experience really did anything to address any of them. The good news is that I can now see significant upsides to Adventures by Disney that I had previously overlooked. We’ll cover the ‘pros’ of our Adventures by Disney experience on page 2.