Traveling as a group can be a fun, cost-effective way to explore the world with friends.

Bob Fortner knows how to have fun. For the past 20 years, he and his wife, Kathy, have not just taken a vacation, but done so with 30 to 35 of their closest friends.

Most recently, the Fortner group took a ten-night Canada and New England cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas cruise ship. The group travels every two years, and is always looking for new places to explore.

“Traveling with a group of friends is not about spending every minute together,” says Fortner. “We’ll usually do our own thing during the day. At night, we all get together and talk about our days over dinner or cocktails, and just have a great time.”

Why Book as a Group?
While more fun is a definite advantage of traveling with a large group, the price of a group trip can also be significantly lower. Many cruise lines, hotels and resorts offer discounts with the reservation and purchase of a group of cabins or rooms—usually a minimum of five to 10.

Booking group travel through a travel agency will also allow an agent with a reputation and relationship with a tour operator to place special requests and reap the benefits of the high volume they book each year. For example, some cruise lines offer an open bar car at an additional cost with the booking of a certain number of cabins; this amenity cannot be purchased without a group.

In addition, when several people are providing separate payments, an agent acts as a way to avoid writing checks among the group members or putting large sums on a single credit card, allowing them to make payments in a way that works for each individual or couple.

“Oh My, I Could Really Live Here!”
Another draw of group travel for the Fortner group is the diversity of experience. Because of the flexibility and varying excursions and tours offered on the Canada and New England tour, each couple could find activities at any level. In the Portland, Maine port, for example, Bob Fortner’s visit to Kennebunkport to see the home of President Bush was a particular highlight.

“It was a quaint, unique little town that I could definitely see myself living in,” says Fortner. “You think, ‘Oh my, I could really live here!’”

The opportunity to hear the history and see unique sites at each port of call has been a major draw for the group, which took a trip from Jersey City to see the Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 memorial site. Learning the backstories of each site is a common passion of the group, including one of Fortner’s favorite past trips to the Greek Isles and Baltic Sea. “You never even consider what you hear and read about until you’re there and it is surrounding you,” he says.

And history is not the only draw, as Fortner recalls the stop for lobsters in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in an interview about his experience. “I’ve got to admit that as much as I enjoy the tours—I do love all the food,” he says with a laugh.

But cocktails, history and lobsters are just one perk of traveling with his group. “The trips are wonderful, but the people are even better,” he says. “We’re all just happy to be with a group we feel comfortable with and can enjoy ourselves.” a&s

Teri Cook is owner of Cook Travel and Cruise in East Peoria. For more information, visit cooktravelandcruise.com.