Discover 8 great reasons to travel with Collette Tours on any trip, and take a closer look at Collette America’s Music Cities Holiday tour. Collette Tours started with a single trip in 1918—Jack Collette leading a road trip on dirt roads from Boston to Florida. Over 100 years later, Collette Travel Services is one of the most trusted names in the travel industry and they now operate guided excursions to all seven continents—sign me up for that Antarctica tour.
This article has two parts. First, we share 8 great reasons to consider Collette Tours for any trip. Second, we share highlights of the Collette America’s Music Cities Holiday tour I recently took.
Collette Tours hosted our America’s Music Cities Holiday Tour and several meals. As always, all opinions, text, and photos are our own and are carefully crafted so you can make informed decisions and Travel Happy on future trips.
8 Great Reasons to Travel With Collette Tours
1. Planned Itinerary
A compelling reason to book any guided tour is to leave the trip planning and transport details to someone else. For Collette guests, lodging, transport between destinations, and some planned activities and meals at each stop are included in the price. Expert guidance by qualified and enthusiastic Collette tour managers makes their excursions memorable and valuable.
2. Flexible Itinerary
But Collette tour itineraries allow plenty of time to explore on your own along with optional activities to join or skip. Plus most scheduled activities are not mandatory. If you want to meet a friend for dinner at a special restaurant, then go for it. As an example, the “Choice on Tour” options to kick off my recent America’s Music Cities Holiday tour were exploring New Orleans on a coach bus or a guided walking tour of the French Quarter—but I chose to explore on my own.
3. Insider Knowledge
Our professional Collette Tour Manager (Erin) provided dozens of destination and attraction tips throughout the trip but one particular tidbit stuck with me. I hung around the Elvis car at the County Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville for several minutes and watched guests look at the car. Erin mentioned that the car had actual gold records on the ceiling but not one person looked at the ceiling of the car until I got down on the floor to take this picture. Then a few people did look up out of curiosity and I even heard one woman tell her husband, “Wow, look, there are gold records in the car. I never saw them before.”
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Who likes #Elvis? Read on for a precious Presley hidden gem. . Loving my current #hosted tour with @gocollette with our stellar tour guide @erinjeanee. . Earlier today, Erin mentioned that Elvis’ car at @officialcmhof has plenty of gold components including gold records on the ceiling. I noticed most visitors look at the car, admiring various things, but no one noticed the gold records. . Only when I got down low and dirty for my photo did people wonder why. I told a few about the gold records. One couple said they had been there many times and did not know about the records. Thank you, Erin, for that insight. And for the other 100 insights from this past week on our American Music Cities tour ????. That is one of the values of a guided group #GoCollette tour, the knowledge of the tour guides, the hidden gems, secrets, unique aspects, of destinations and attractions. . #travel #traveltheworld #traveltour #collette #collettetours #collettetravel #travelfun #mccooltravel #funness #travelhappy #happytravel #wanderfreude #visitmusiccity #nashville #nashvilletn #elvispresley
4. Customer Service
Being a family-owned company allows Collette to offer personalized and customizable opportunities along with attentive customer service. Jack Collette sold his travel business to his brother-in-law Dan Sullivan in 1962 and the Sullivan family still owns and operates Collette. Unlike larger corporate-owned travel companies, guests feel like family when they travel on Collette Tours.
Collette travel counselors do a wonderful job of booking convenient flights and transfers at the start and end of trips. You can further customize your vacation by arriving prior to your Collette tour or staying additional days afterward.
Collette also has a focus on sustainability and social responsibility. For their 100th anniversary, Collette employees raised 1 million meals during that year’s Collette Cares initiative. I would love to see Collette and other travel companies further reduce paper and plastic waste and one thing I appreciate is their smartphone app.
5. Convenient Collette Compass Mobile App
Communication from the Collette office is clear and helpful but I found the Collette Compass mobile app really helpful. It listed my flight information, provided notifications (such as flight check-in notification and airport gate info), and highlighted daily information and destination tips during the tour.
Erin would mention meeting times on several occasions (on the bus, getting off the bus, during dinner) but still, I would wake up and not remember if she said to meet in the lobby at 8:30 or 9:00. The app provided that information.
6. Collette Tours Have Variety
I must admit that prior to my tour I thought Collette only operated coach bus tours and river cruises—and only in the USA and Europe. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Collette also leads safaris, cultural immersions, and countless types of journeys. These varied itineraries can include rail, in-trip flights, and all kinds of transport options. Even staying in a single hotel for a week and absorbing a destination (like Paris); check out Collette Spotlight Tours for that option.
While my recent tour group had 40 persons, Collette also offers smaller group tours for deeper exploration. Want to travel by yourself? Collette embraces and fosters solo travel in a group setting and there were a few solo travelers on my recent tour.
7. Themed Collette Tours Make Travel Fun
On top of the variety of tour types (only some are mentioned above), Collette tours can focus on themes—including holidays, city stays and getaways, classic attractions, and inspirational journeys. My recent tour focused on USA’s great music cities of New Orleans (jazz), Memphis (Elvis/BB King/Johnny Cash), and Nashville (country).
Want to create your own themed tour? Collette will even host dedicated groups, family reunions, friends, any situation where you want to ensure you travel only with a defined set of people. Because, yes, we have all been there, when there is “that person” on a group tour. Thankfully, there was no “that person” on my latest tour. Wait a sec, perhaps I was “that person.” Yikes.
8. Popular Events
Collette operates many tours that include admission to popular events around the world. It is appealing to let someone else plan your visit to New Orleans Jazz Fest, Nice France Carnival, Holi Festival, or the Keukenhof Tulip Festival—and save time and aggravation, and perhaps even money, too.
McCool Travel tip: to determine if any travel company—whether a tour company like Collette, a cruise line, etc.—is “right for you” simply visit their website and look at their brochures to see if the pictures and information resonate with you. The way people are dressed, their demographics, and the scenarios either will appeal to you or not. It is a very accurate test of whether the company is the right fit for you.
Highlights of Collette America’s Music Cities Holiday Tour
I was a hosted guest on the December 8-15 2019 Collette America’s Music Cities Holiday tour. We visited three cities with deep musical roots. During the tour, we spent three nights in New Orleans, one night in Memphis, and three nights in Nashville. Collette offers this tour at other times of the year and that version spends two days each in Memphis and Nashville. The holiday tour spends an additional night in Nashville because of the special activities there (see below).
Our hotels for the Collette America’s Music Cities Holiday tour were Sheraton New Orleans, The Guest House at Graceland, and Gaylord Opryland.
New Orleans Highlights with Collette Tours
Staying three nights at Sheraton New Orleans on Canal Street was a sweet kick-off to the Collette bus tour. The location is convenient and phenomenal, a quick five-minute walk to Bourbon Street, French Quarter, the waterfront, and much more. The tour itinerary allowed for plenty of independent time to explore, and I did. In addition to the organized and optional activities already mentioned, we attended a live jazz set at Maison Bourbon, went on a swamp tour, and met for our first group dinner across the street at Palace Cafe.
One tip I heard from locals and past residents was that the larger New Orleans hotels have lavish Christmas decorations and I made sure to visit them. Do you have a favorite hotel for Christmas decorations?
Mardi Gras World
One itinerary item I really looked forward to was a guided visit to Mardi Gras World. At Mardi Gras World, we learned Mardi Gras history, facts, and misconceptions, and toured the warehouse to see parade floats and sculptures in various stages (from concept to complete).
Of the hundreds of floats and sculptures we saw at Mardi Gras World, perhaps these were most appropriate since we were on a music theme tour. Other music superstars immortalized in Mardi Gras sculptures included KISS and Elvis Presley.
Memphis Highlights with Collette Tours
The bus ride between New Orleans and Memphis was split into three 1.5 hour chunks—with two 30 minute rest stops and a lunch stop at a cafeteria. We arrived at The Guest House at Graceland around 4:30 and were greeted with a table of peanut butter cupcakes.
The next day, a lively 90-minute tour of Memphis gave us a great overview of important places to visit in Memphis. We saw St Jude Hospital, Sun Records studio, Levitt Shell at Overton Park, the site of the first rock & roll performance, and the Loraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. The motel is now the National Civil Rights Museum.
Collette uses Backbeat Tours for the Memphis city tour and they are fantastic. Our expert tour guide highlighted places where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Machine Gun Kelly, and BB King lived and worked.
Elvis Presley’s Graceland Mansion
The highlight in Nashville was a self-guided tour of Elvis Presley’s Graceland Mansion. Graceland is one of the most famous houses and attractions in the United States. Visitors begin their experience at the visitor center, ride a shuttle across the street to the mansion, and then tour Graceland at their own pace. This was my first visit and I loved seeing the rooms decorated for Christmas.
All Collette Tours incorporate lodging that reflects the tour theme. At The Guest House at Graceland, we learned that the grand staircase is a twin of the one at the Graceland mansion. The chandelier is original and was bought by Elvis Presley and then brought out of storage when the hotel was being built. I was told by the Guest House manager that Elvis loved buying lavish things and there remains an impressive inventory in various storage locations.
McCool Travel tips: All guests seem to know about the Elvis-inspired 10 pm Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich bar. However, most guests miss the onsite theater which runs Elvis movies or documentaries at 7 pm every night (and matinees on special weekends). For a splurge worthy of The King, book one or both of the two-bedroom suites for a fun group getaway.
Nashville Highlights with Collette Tours
The highlight of the bus ride between Memphis and Nashville was undoubtedly Music BINGO. Full-length songs from the 50s and 60s played over the speakers and tour guests sang along while marking their BINGO cards. I sat with four squares marked for at least five songs, then had two other chances to win, but my winning song(s) just did not come up. Dadgumit, Sue won before I could get my five in a row.
Our final stop with Collette Tours was the Gaylord Opryland, the largest USA hotel without a casino. It is massive. I tried to find my way around without a map and got lost (more than twice). During one of our free periods of time, I chose to visit ICE!, which is a Gaylord Hotels phenomena. I experienced ICE! at Gaylord National (near Washington DC) two weeks earlier (and the past four years) and ICE! at Gaylord Palms two years ago.
The theme of ICE! at Gaylord Opryland in 2019 is A Christmas Story and it is a magnificent event.
McCool Travel tip: arrive early for the breakfast buffet at Cascades American Cafe. At 8 am, there is a 15+ minute wait. Before 7:30 am, there is no wait.
While in Nashville, our Collette group toured Ryman Auditorium (the Mother Church of Country Music), then returned to Ryman that evening for Grand Ole Opry (with Luke Combs, Kelsea Ballerini, Ricky Skaggs, Charlie Worsham, Old Crow Medicine Show, and more). During my free time exploring downtown Nashville, I loved the street art, honky-tonk bars, and hot chicken lunch. On our second night, we watched The Gift of Christmas with Trace Adkins and Friends at Gaylord Opryland.
The final concert was a perfect ending to our week exploring America’s Music Cities Holiday with Collette Tours. We enjoyed the planned but flexible itinerary, excellent tour guides, and friendly people, and are looking forward to our next trip. Have you traveled with Collette tours? Please share your tips in the comments below.