I’m back from my 7th Adventures by Disney (AbD) vacation, a family trip to Peru over Christmas. As with all our AbD trips, we had a blast. Here are some tips and things to consider if you’re considering taking this particular trip.
What was the itinerary like?
Like all Adventures by Disney trips, this one had a mix of physical activity, cultural events, animal interaction, culinary experiences, shopping, and relaxation.
Some of the highlights were a visit to a llama and alpaca farm, a trip to some “salt pans” where they harvest salt, a lesson on how to make the perfect Pisco Sour, a traditional weaving demonstration, white water rafting, and lots and lots of hiking. The hiking venues included the ancient steps at Ollantaytambo, the ruins at Moray, the stones of Sacsayhuaman. And of course we spent the better part of day hiking at Machu Picchu.
The trip sounds pretty active. Was that an issue for anyone?
All the AbD trips are action-packed, but I did feel that this one was more physically strenuous than most. During the trips I’ve been on in Europe, there was plenty of walking, but generally on flat surfaces. The walking/hiking on this trip was primarily on uneven stone surfaces, up steep inclines, and at high altitude. There were also a few times where we had somewhat strenuous activities both in the morning and afternoon. For example, on day three of the trip, we spent the morning rafting (on what turned out to be class four rapids) and then in the afternoon we hiked at Ollantaytambo. We slept well that night.
There was a senior citizen couple on the trip, there with other family members. While not prohibited from any of the activities, they did choose to sit out a few of the planned events and to modify a few others. For example, at Machu Picchu they chose to only to hike to one of the lower viewing areas during the free time hour, while other guests chose longer and steeper paths for different vantage points.
The youngest guests on the trip were two five-year-olds from different families. They didn’t seem to have any problem with the activity level – it was mostly the grown-ups (like me) who were huffing and puffing during various climbs.
How were the hotels?
I’m always impressed with the hotels AbD choses.
Four nights of this trip were spent at the Sol & Luna resort in Urubamba in the Sacred Valley. This resort is a collection of private bungalows nestled in a lushly landscaped pocket at the base of the mountains. Families with small children were placed in one bunglow. Families with teens were given two bungalows. My husband and I shared our own cabin and our older teen daughters were about 20 feet away in their own building. We all enjoyed this bit of private luxury.
Sol & Luna had no televisions in the rooms and somewhat limited WiFi. While these might seem to be negatives, they actually ended up to be great positives, forcing the teens in the group to unplug a bit and find more old fashioned ways to entertain themselves. Card games were the order of the day!
Two nights of the trip were spent at the Libertador Palacio del Inka Hotel, a five-star resort in the heart of Cusco. The Palacio del Inka had all the amenities you would expect from a luxury resort, including many international TV stations, stunning decor, and a very attentive staff. Pro tip: this hotel is part of the Starwood family of hotels. If you’re a member of any Starwood affinity programs, you may be entitled to perks here on top of your AbD program. For example, my family’s Starwood American Express card allowed us free WiFi which was otherwise available for a fee.
The first and last nights of the trip were spent at the Casa Andina Lima – Miraflores. The Casa Andina was in a terrific location and was a perfectly serviceable place to stay, but it had neither the charm of Sol & Luna nor the luxury of Palacio del Inka.
Any issues with the food?
Not for me. I felt like the food on this trip was generally more healthful than on some of the other AbD trips I’ve experienced. For example, my Germany trip was all about the breaded pork and spaetzle. In Peru we were served a wide variety of fresh fish, fruits, and veggies, as well as grains such as quinoa and wheat berries. Most meals were served buffet-style and in some cases dishes could be modified for tender palates. Chicken fingers and plain pasta were available at many of the venues for fussy kids (or adults). Some of the MANY types of Peruvian potatoes were served at nearly every meal, the variations were far more complex and wide ranging that you’ll find in nearly any US market.
I tasted two completely new foods during the trip. The first was alpaca, which appeared on many of the menus in stews, grilled, or as carpaccio. To me, the taste was virtually indistinguishable from beef, not at all gamey like some venison or elk is. My second new food was guinea pig, which we learned is a common treat in Peru. This did not particularly appeal to my tastebuds, and the fact that I tried it at all horrified my 15-year-old daughter, but I’m glad I gave it a shot.
What about beverages?
Bottled water was included and readily supplied. A few guests on the trip did have brief bouts of “Pizzaro’s Revenge,” perhaps from using non-bottled water for tooth brushing, or perhaps from general travel upheaval. As with any vacation, it makes sense to pack a few doses of Immodium, just in case.
Coke, Coke Zero, and Orange Fanta were served or available for purchase everywhere. There was no Diet Coke and no Pepsi products anywhere. The soft drink Inca Cola was ubiquitous, even more prevalent than Coca Cola. If you want to try this bubble gum sweet libation, head over to the Cool Spot next time you’re at Epcot. Inca Cola is one of the samples available from the free dispensers. We were also offered Chicha Morada, a drink made from purple corn and spices, at several meals. One of the teens on the trip said that it reminded her of drinking a candle, to which I’ll add, “but in a good way.”
The most common adult beverage we encountered was the Pisco Sour, a cocktail made from Pisco (a grape based brandy), lime juice, simple syrup, egg whites, and a dash of bitters. To me, the taste was quite close to a margarita, and also quite yummy. We were also offered Peruvian and Argentinian wines and beers at several locations.
Were there any language issues?
Not really. Both of our AbD guides spoke fluent Spanish, the local tongue. Many of the staff at the hotels and the larger site visits (like Machu Picchu) spoke English. Also, several of the guests on the trip, including one of my teen daughters, had at least a moderate proficiency with Spanish. Given all that, it was quite easy to get by. This is not the case with all AbD trips. During my trips in Germany and China, we were fine when we were with our guides, but had much less confidence with the language when we were on our own.
How did you get along with other the families on the trip?
Great. In addition to my three teen girls, there were six other teens on the trip, which meant that they had lots of companionship. They’re all Facebook and Instagram buddies now and the adults have shared emails and swapped trip photos.
I’ve said it before, the group travel concept was my biggest fear prior to my first AbD trip, and now I consider it to be one of the greatest benefits, and I say this as a pretty hard-core introvert. We’ve met some terrific people and have stayed in touch with many over the years.
I will say that it took perhaps a day longer for this group to bond than it did on some of my other trips. Some idiosyncrasies of this particular itinerary meant that we didn’t have the official welcome and getting-to-know-you meal until about 36 hours into the trip – later than most. But once we got fully acquainted, it all clicked. Bear this in mind if you’re new to AbD and this is your first Adventure.
Were you impacted by jet lag?
Not at all. The entire trip took place in the same time zone as my home in New York. The no time-zone change was actually one of key reasons why we chose this trip.
During summer 2013, we went on the AbD trip to China, which is a 12 hour time difference from home. It took me nearly two full weeks to get back to something approximating a normal sleep schedule after that Adventure. This was not a huge problem, because the kids had time over the summer to recover before having to be a regular school schedule. With a trip over the much shorter December break, they wouldn’t have the luxury of a long recovery time. Keeping to our regular hours made the trip less physically taxing in some respects.
Were you impacted by the altitude?
Yes, several of the guests on the trip did experience moderate altitude issues, particularly during the two days near the end in Cusco, which is at about 11.200 feet. If you’re planning to go on this trip, you may want to speak to your physician about getting a prescription medication which helps with altitude issues. The activity schedule is Cusco is fairly light, which is helpful, but even so several of the guests on the trip, including two of my daughters, needed to have a bit of oxygen supplementation.
Much like a hotel in rainy London would keep a supply of umbrellas behind the desk for guest use, we learned that most of the hotels at the higher elevations in Peru keep oxygen tanks behind their desks to assist guests with their unique environment. It became a somewhat regular sight to cross the ornate formal lobby of the Palacio del Inka and see tourists resting with oxygen masks on.
There seemed to be no particular pattern of who adjusted to the altitude more quickly, some of those affected were healthy, athletic teens. Again, speak with your own medical professionals at home about their recommendations for preparation for high altitude travel.
How were the medical issues handled?
Both the AbD guides and the hotel staff took the altitude issues seriously. They were quick to administer oxygen to those who needed it. Everyone who took oxygen and rested did recover their strength within a few hours, but they were monitored in case more drastic intervention became necessary.
In a completely unrelated incident, one of the dads on the trip cut his foot quite badly when disembarking a train. The guides had basic first aid supplies immediately ready: antiseptic, bandages, over-the-counter pain reliever, etc. When it was determined that a greater level of care was needed (stitches), the guides took him to a clinic immediately adjacent to one of our next tour spots. At the clinic, he received the same level of care he would in the US including antiseptic, antibiotics, stitches, and pain relief, all for the price of 30 Peruvian soles – about $10. He missed just one event, got terrific care, and paid a tiny fraction of what he might have had he been injured in the US. You never want to need medical attention on vacation, but overall the outcome was as positive as possible.
What were the prices like?
There’s always a chance that exchange rates could change and that you might experience something different, but we found the prices in Peru to be very reasonable, with none of the “sticker shock” that I have sometimes had in Europe. In most shops, a standard 12oz bottle of Coke was the equivalent of about $1-2. Churros were available from stands on the street for about $.50. My husband purchased a beautiful alpaca sweater at the alpaca farm for about $125, less than what he felt he would pay in a US department store. Some of the smaller stalls and markets were open to bargaining, while brick and mortar shops generally had fixed prices.
What was it like being on an Adventures by Disney trip for Christmas?
Not like home, but not bad. We had traveled before during the holidays, so my kids were used to encountering the unfamiliar during Christmas. They enjoyed learning about the traditions of another culture, seemed grateful for the bits of our tradition I brought from home, and appreciated the holiday touches arranged by the AbD guides.
In the “learning about new traditions” column, we experienced the pop-up Christmas Eve market next to the Cathedral in Cusco. This mass of humanity included hundreds of stalls selling everything from alpaca scarves to Roman candle fireworks, mid-street building of model mangers, beggars in Native garb asking tourists to pose for photos of them with baby llamas, cotton candy vendors, and a couple of costumed Santas. During Christmas morning, we watched several small parades of carolers pass by our hotel window. Although we are not Catholic, we almost went to midnight mass at the Cathedral, but ended up deciding to stay in and rest after feeling some of the effects of the altitude.
As for “traditions from home,” my girls decorated tiny wooden trees I brought from home. These folded and only took up luggage space equivalent to a hardcover novel. We read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” together on Christmas Eve. And we happily wore our brand new holiday PJs into the hotel courtyard for a photo, which made the staff giggle, but added to our collection of goofy Christmas morning PJ snapshots.
The AbD guides planned a somewhat light itinerary for Christmas Day, with only one main daytime excursion. We were allowed to sleep in, which was one of the best presents my teens could have gotten. In the afternoon, the entire group participated in a “white llama” (aka white elephant) gift exchange. The previous day they had given each guest a 10 sol note (about $3.00) and an hour purchase a gift to be shared in a sort of grab bag exchange and trade game. This ended up being a real hoot with a set of finger puppets and a mask being among the more coveted items. The menu for Christmas dinner had nods to both American and Peruvian cuisine with options including turkey with stuffing or alpaca carpaccio. Dessert was individual Buche de Noel.
I’ve heard that some other holiday AbD trips and guides practice variations on this theme, or they may have entirely different methods of celebrating. Overall, I was very pleased with the way our holiday unfolded.
Would you consider and AbD holiday trip? Where does Peru fall on your list of possible destinations? What questions do you have? Let us know in the comments below.