betheltours.org

Theocratic & Cultural Travel

45 years experience in
organising and guiding

Frequently Asked Questions

How safe is it in London?

We believe that these trips are the very safest way to travel. You are supervised at all times, and in company with many other trustworthy people. The coach is attended or locked at all times and is parked well out of the city overnight. There is a reminder on each Personal Itinerary to be vigilant about unattended baggage at any venue, and a procedure if danger seen. The coach drivers are all highly professional with their own assigned coach, and experienced in London driving.

How should we dress for the trip?

Generally, we suggest that for the bulk of the trip (including the museum) you dress 'smart casual' with no large visible slogans on the clothes. We think this means no jeans, t-shirts, leather jackets or trainers, but we want you to feel comfortable, warm and respectable. London is always relatively warm (compared with the north!), and you do not have to be out in the weather for more than a few minutes.

At the Bethel you should dress particularly smartly; your dress should be 'as for a meeting' which means brothers should wear a collar and tie, and sisters should avoid trousers. See this link to the tract prepared by the Society (approx 2mb PDF file).

Will our Sunday meeting attendance figures be affected?

It is normal practice for the congregation to add the WT Summary attendance (this meeting is held on the coach on the Sunday, usually) to your normal attendance figures. (Watchtower study does not have to be in the Kingdom Hall; you can have extra ones). Also, the passengers will have had several 'public' talks, in the museum and on the coach with the days texts. If your brothers decide to go with a different congregation's trip, it could be that the figures for that congregation would benefit from your visitors!

Can I meet brothers I know at Bethel?

Yes. Often they can be asked to meet you at the reception desk at Bethel. Also, at the initial planning stage of your trip, it may be possible to include the cost of some Bethel guests at dinner at the hotel. Also, depending on the number of available seats, it may be possible for some Bethelites to join us for the Sunday in a tour of London.

Can someone in a wheelchair manage the trip?

Yes. At most venues we can borrow without charge several wheelchairs (Bethel, and the 4 main museums where you can pre-book them too; also they have portable canvas stools). If required, we can hire a specialist wheelchair-lift coach although this adds very significantly to the cost. Note that wheelchairs are NOT available to borrow at Covent Garden, Harrods, the boat, Greenwich, or the hotel. All venues are wheelchair-friendly (ramps) though. Best to bring your own wheelchair or e-scooter.

If you need an extra-width coach seat, you can pay extra for using 2 seats, usually £45. If you are not very mobile, its probably best to sit at the front of the coach or near the middle exit door (please advise us at time of booking).

Who has to wear seat belts?

The coach company has to announce that seat belts are provided and tell you to wear them, if over 14 yrs of age. There is no enforcement for those aged under 14 years.

The following is based on text from Government website:

Seated passengers aged 14 years and above must use seat belts where they are fitted in all coaches. Children up to 13 years should use the belt provided.

An official announcement by the vehicle operator must be made when the passenger joins the bus or within a reasonable time of his doing so.

An "official announcement" means one by the driver, by a conductor or courier or by a group leader of any passengers on the vehicle.

There is nothing in law to prevent additional child seats/restraints being used if they fit in a bus or coach. However, these vehicles may only have lap belts and most child seats/restraints need lap and diagonal belts in order to be secured. In addition, the seats in these vehicles may be the wrong proportions for child seats/restraints.

Do [child] seat belts and child restraints have to be worn?

It is important that the seat belts or child restraints which have been fitted are worn. Children should wear a seat belt not only for their own safety, but the safety of others in the vehicle. Parents should actively encourage their children to wear a seat belt. When supervising a trip, parents, teachers and supervisors, should try and ensure that the restraints are worn. A single seat belt must not be used by more than one child, nor should a belt be placed around a child who is on an adults lap.

In the rear seats of coaches and larger minibuses there is no statutory requirement for children to wear a seat belt or child restraint, but they should always be actively encouraged to wear them, when they are available.

What are the penalties for non-compliance?

A £30 fixed penalty notice. If a case goes to court, the maximum fine is £500. Penalty points are not applicable. In 2004, there were some 200,000 fixed penalties issued by the police and about 5000 cases went to court.

Is the hotel Single Supplement for both nights?

Yes; the quoted cost is for the featured number of nights. Usually this is now £70 as a total for the 2 nights. This charge is made because hotel prices are based on 2 people sharing the space and facilities of a room.

Is there much walking?

On our standard London trips, the coach takes you as close as possible to each venue (see below) and you can always opt to stay for a while either in the coach or on a nearby sunny (?) seat, or in the hotel (usually a 'spa' hotel). Bring your own wheelchair in case you need it everywhere.

British Museum; free wheelchairs and portable canvas stools are available at the entrance.
Buckingham Palace/St James Gardens: to avoid our optional 30-minute walk through the gardens, you can (a) take a much shorter walking route in the garden, (b) bring a wheelchair and we can sit you in a glorious spot to watch the squirrels play.
Covent Garden: no wheelchairs available here, but you can bring one (ground is a bit bumpy); you can sit in the central coffee & doughnut area and listen to brilliant live classical music nearby.
Boat trip: short walk from coach to boat (about 100 metres, downhill). Wheelchair friendly.
Knightsbridge (museums & Harrods): we park outside the door of V&A; you can sit there in the excellent café, indoors or outdoors. Otherwise best use a wheelchair if walking poor.
Bethel: wheelchairs available to borrow, free.

Are family rooms (2+3 or more) available?

It depends on which hotel, and what they have available. These requests are best made at the earliest possible time, and I can see what is available. Most hotels include a bed settee to be added to a twin room for a family of 4; or sometimes we can arrange for interconnecting rooms; or adjacent rooms; a limited number of 'family' rooms is sometimes available, which can take up to 5 usually. A cot is also available free of charge on request, in any room, in any hotel. Click here to see photos of the Family and Triple Rooms which are available on request, subject to availability. Note that there MUST be at least one person in each room aged 18 or over.

Supposing I'm a Single Parent?

Strictly speaking the hotel rates are all based on 2 adults sharing the room; however, we have no problem with using the lower-cost option of classing you as a Single (which means one Adult Rate PLUS one Single Supplement) and adding the children at child rate (usually a maximum of 3 of them). Often we can subsidise the Supplement by paying it for you, if there are good numbers on the trip.

What ages are classed as 'children'?

This can vary; see what is written at the foot of your local Itinerary. We usually now work with 3 levels of age; up to 2yrs old is totally free but gets no seat on the coach; age 2 -12 is usually at around £43 for up to TWO children sharing a room with 2 adults*; age 12-15 is usually around £63 for our London trips where sharing a room with 2 adult passengers, and be supervised at all times. Some component parts of the tour may use a different age limit, but this has usually been allowed for in the total deal. *a third child in same room may require two interconnecting or adjacent rooms and may cost more; best to contact us via your local coordinator and we can discuss each situation separately, the earlier the better while more options are available. Cots; hotels generally have these available free of charge, and dont charge for that age. Note that there MUST be at least one person in each room aged 18 or over.

Can minors go without their parents?

Any minor would need to be constantly and reliably supervised by an adult nominated to us as responsible for looking after them. Note that there MUST be at least one person in each room aged 18 or over.

Can I fix a child seat into the coach?

Yes; the parents must provide it and set it in place, assuming that a seat-space has been paid for (generally £30 minimum, or the lowest child rate); the coach has EU 3-point connections; there's no legal obligation to use a child seat or belt for the under 2s; if age 2+ they can use the ordinary seat belt which is already fitted. A baby (age 2 or less) sitting on a lap has no charge, and is not counted.

What if I have special food needs?

The hotel dinners can be varied by your arranging directly with the chef upon arrival.

How often do we stop on the journey?

Usually twice. The driver's hours are a factor, also the comfort of the passengers. Normally we will not drive any longer than 2.5 hours, and usually about 2 hours between stops.

Is there a WC on the coach?

Yes, usually (ask us). Best to think of this as 'emergency only' though. We also know where almost all of the WCs are in London (iPhone app), and some are listed or mapped on your personal Itinerary issued on the trip.

Is there a DVD (or games) on the coach?

Yes, all coaches now have DVD player. You can bring a suitable (quieter type) DVD if you wish. Also we have some quiz sheets available on advance request.

Can we take food on the coach?

We strongly advise against this, and it depends on the coach company we use. Hot drinks are generally banned. Please do not put any potentially greasy bags or food or drinks on the seats. Please also immediately dispose of your own rubbish as the trip goes... check all around your seat. The driver reserves the right to prohibit any food or drink.

When do I pay a deposit; is it refundable?

The deposit should be paid immediately upon booking, to secure your place on the trip. If you don't, then the trip is usually offered to other nearby congregations to fill the unbooked places, usually after 6 weeks of local exclusive availability. The deposit may be refunded in full if the place is re-booked, but we reserve the right to retain all or part of it to cover any costs. This is usually worked out the day after returning from the trip. You can also offer your place to someone else if you are unable to go, in which case they can use your deposit.

Supposing I paid more than the usual deposit, and then cancelled?

We advise that all refunds of DEPOSITS should be left until the day after the trip, when we know what happened altogether, to be fair to everybody involved... UNLESS the cancelling passenger (you) can get someone to take their place in which case of course the new person would adopt your deposit for themselves (i.e. they refund it to you). If you paid more than the stipulated deposit then provided you cancelled prior to the advertised deadline (usually 5 weeks prior to the trip) then the excess amount will be given back to you immediately.

If I travel by car, can I use the coach whilst in London?

You would need to pay the normal fare (usually £35 for up to 3 days), as all seats are part of the total sharing of the total cost. Otherwise you can follow the coach and park where you can, but still use the discount rates for all the other aspects of the trip.

Who can go on your trips? Can a non-Witness come?

Any person associated with the truth, from any area, and their non-Witness friends, as long as they do not smoke on the trip and are approved locally for the purposes of the trip by those responsible for the congregation's trip... bearing in mind that non-Witnesses are allowed (and even encouraged) to visit Bethel, and to come to any assemblies, and to benefit from our relief work, and can come on any of the Bible Lands tours operated by many groups of brothers around the world. Really, these trips are rather like a very friendly extended Bible study. Several non-Witnesses have come into the truth and got baptised as a result of coming on our Bethel trips. We shouldn't treat them as though disfellowshipped. All the brothers that operate Bible tours have this same policy, including the Bethel's own tours.

What can we say if someone known to be disruptive enquires about coming?

We have non-witnesses on virtually every trip, with outstandingly good results, but they do need to be behaved! If there is a person who is likely to be disruptive, it may be better to say that all who come on the trip need to be 'approved' by the congregation, as your reputation is involved... and you'd need to be sure that there was no undue noise or disruption... its better to be privately honest with someone, for their own good, rather than have all non-witnesses banned from such a good positive opportunity. The trips are like extended meetings really (text & prayer each morning, a long public talk in the museum, and half a day at Bethel!) Good association in the coach and at the hotel gives super opportunities for witnessing and positive speech to all. These ones are not disfellowshipped, are they, so don't be overly critical or rigid. The Bethel welcomes EVERYONE to visit and tour Bethel, no matter who they are (except known disfellowshipped ones of course). Our guides are all elders, pioneers, Bethelites or even relief Circuit Overseers... they will be able to assist with private counsel anyone who is not behaving, if it happens (extremely rare).

What meals are included?

Normally (for a 3-day standard trip) two dinners at the hotel are included. This may vary however, by agreement with the local coordinator at the start of the planning of your trip.

If included, the lunches are usually packed lunches (prepared by London professionals) comprising [usually] a long thin baguette with double filling, a fruit yoghurt, spoon & serviette, banana and a wrapped chocolate biscuit; special requests can be accommodated. One of the lunches or dinners may be a 3-course sit-down Medieval Lunch by the Tower of London, which includes water on the table but no other included drink (extra items can be purchased from the waitress). Or one of the lunches may be a sit-down 3-course meal in a good restaurant close to one of the venues.

Our 'Typical No.2' Tours include an evening cold buffet in the classic south bank pub Doggetts Coat & Badge, which usually comprises a starter, then a top quality main buffet course with salmon, pork & apple pie, etc, and finally the cheese board with one free drink from a special selection. We will always have checked out the quality of the supply in advance. No special orders are included in our provision but may be available by advance request, or arranged directly with the chef on the day, in some venues.

Is there free Wifi?

All of our current hotels have wifi; the password is usually on your Final Itinerary. At the Mercure hotel, best to log onto a webpage first and then use password 'rjwifi'. Holiday Inns & other IHG hotels best pre-ordered online or get FREE with registration with IHG.COM.

How many trips have you done before?

We started doing London Bethel trips in the 1970s, and have increasingly been asked by other congregations to organise similar trips ever since.

Are you backed by the Watchtower Society?

No, we are not directly associated with the Watchtower Society. However, the London Bethel are very positive about what we do, especially as it saves a lot of stress for local coordinators who may otherwise try and organise and guide a one-off trip themselves.

Are you linked with Meander Travel?

No, but we have known and respected Meander Travel since their origin.

What IS NOT Included?

This can vary. Among the things not generally included are the lunch on the journey to London, any lunch on the second day, and tips for any staff or driver.

Who, how and when should I tip?

It is normal practice to tip anyone who provides a personal service. Often the staff in tourism-related jobs depend on tips for a reasonable living income, as their basic wage is often extremely low. This is true of the hotel catering and housekeeping staff and coach drivers, and the museum guides. The procedure we suggest is to leave the hotel cash (with a note) on your room sideboard, and on the table after each meal. You can give the driver his tip on the return journey. (We also give him a thankyou card with everyone's comments written on, during the final day).

Which hotel do you use?

Currently we use these hotels (all are subject to checking availability for your dates):

3-star Mercure at Watford: Close to Bethel; good rooms; in-house Sebastian Coe swimming pool and gymnasium; excellent dining; several lounge areas near the bar). Click here to see photos of the bed options which are available on request, subject to availability.

4-star Crowne Plaza Hotel at Heathrow: close to airport; excellent swimming and gymnasium facility; top class rooms; £21 pppn extra cost. Click here for detail.

4-star Holiday Inn at Elstree: very high quality of rooms, food and service; quite good all round; small pool & jacuzzi. Click here for more.

4-star DeVere on M25: brand new hotel; very classy; no included leisure facilities, but excellent grounds & dining & rooms. Click here for photos.

B&B only, in the city:no included leisure facilities.

What if I'm sensitive to perfumes, on the coach?

Best to sit near the front of the coach. The airflow comes in fresh at the front, and leaves at the back. We can also ask all passengers to minimise the use of sprays etc.

Is the price flexible?

Your trip coordinator can agree with us a level of price, quality and content which should suit most people. Most items in the trip represent between 30% and 50% discount compared with doing the same thing individually, and we try to keep the price as low as possible whilst not compromising your enjoyment and quality. Individually, if you need credit this can be arranged either through a credit card in the Paypal link, or a written agreement for you to pay within 6 months.

Can we come again next year?

Most tour groups now book for next year, on the return journey. There are now over 50 different options you can choose to make your return journeys totally different to your previous ones.

Can we use the train to get to London, instead of the coach?

Individually, you can do that, but it would be your own extra cost.
Normally the group would expect to use a coach while in London, for 4 main reasons;
1. Getting to each site (literally from door to door, with luggage) is far easier and effective by coach.
2. We can use an edge-of-town hotel which is always far better value and usually has better lounge, bar and swimming pool facilities.
3. The group stays together most of the time with this mode, with less (risky) free time to do their own thing.
4. Its less expensive, as the train is usually an extra expense. You need a coach for all 3 days, ideally.

However, we do have the occasional city-centre weekend break where we use a rail Travelcard instead of a coach; this will not have inclusive dinners, and is more expensive for the equivalent content. But there is no minimum-number requirement from any starting place.

One alternative (if you are in Scotland) is to get the train partway on the first day; e.g. to Carlisle, Preston or Newcastle. Usually costs about £10. The coach would still take you home all the way, and this is dearer than a standard England-only trip (probably about £20 per adult); this is because the train & coach timing would be too unpredictable. To get the coach to do the entire journey from Scotland to London and back, is approx £40 dearer than the standard England-only trip.

Congregations who have used the coach all the way, for long journeys through the night (many will sleep on the coach, bringing a pillow with them), have always thoroughly enjoyed the trip.

So the options from Glasgow/Edinburgh are (as at March 2014):
a: Coach all the way, 3 days for £205 adult (children £45 [2-11] and £85 [12-16])... pick up at 1am and sleep on coach; proper breakfast at 7.30am (not included).
b: Train to Carlisle or Preston early morning (6.30am?), coach all the rest of the way including going home; cost £190 plus train cost. (children £45 [2-11] and £85 [12-16]).
c: Train both ways to London, with coach all time in London, using our normal hotels for Dinner Bed & Breakfast: £172 adult, (children £43 [2-11] and £63 [12-16]), plus train cost (approx £75 adult)
d: Train both ways to London, with no coach at all, using our city (in 'tube' area; includes off-peak day Travelcards for tube) hotel for Bed & Breakfast: £236* adult, plus dinners costs (*allowing £77 for train cost)