Comparing Ordinary Spiritual “Tours” With Living Kraków Cultural Pilgrimages: Content and Value!

You’ve set money aside and your kids are finished college. It’s time to pursue that dream of yours, to make a Pilgrimage to a Holy Place, perhaps to honor a Saint or other dearly held devotion. You start doing your homework, but how to compare? This may be a one-time experience for you and you don’t care to be disappointed.

Living Krakow™ Cultural Pilgrimages is my ministry. We organize and operate Catholic Pilgrimages inspired by the life, travel and teachings of St. John Paul the Great. We offer several destinations now, but our roots are in Poland. We are entering our 14th year of travel, living in Poland, organizing and operating Pilgrimages here for American Pilgrims. Many think of us as “The Experts”.

There are differences among Pilgrimages and spiritual tours. You can’t always go just by price, or even the number of days, since there are differences in how facts are presented. Let’s compare our typical Cultural Pilgrimage in Poland with any one of three major companies, giving you an idea of what to look for, help you define what you want and how to measure it.

These examples are in Poland, but the basics apply in other venues, like Rome, or anywhere.

The Itinerary – spiritual “tours” typically include quick visits in several cities because they know this sells better to the first time pilgrim, but the disadvantages are: 1) the huge amount of unproductive time you spend on the bus just to get from place to place 2) the superficial experience you are able to have, the inability to immerse in the devotions and the culture because of a tightly structured travel schedule 3) the physical drain on you with long travel days, a different bed every other night or worse,  the late bland dinners you hardly have time or energy to taste, let alone to enjoy. 4) lack of flexibility; with our Unpack Once(TM) itinerary format, you’re able to opt out of certain group plans and arrange to meet Polish relatives, extend time in favored places, remain “home” at our Pilgrim House, perhaps sharing in Devotions with the Sisters. Keep in mind, with Unpack Once(TM), we always return home each night and we’ll help you arrange personal experiences.

The Difference: Most Living Krakow™ Cultural Pilgrimages exclusively feature Unpack Once™ itinerary. You are accommodated in the same “home base” for at least 7 days. Our new a/c Mercedes bus is used for day excursions of shorter duration. Unpack Once™ allows flexibility, time for relaxed outstanding dinners in best local restaurants cooked from scratch exclusively from fresh local ingredients delivered from the field the same day.

How to adjust for “bus time”? Each time you move from one city to another to a new hotel, assume 4-5 hours of road time that could have been used to experience the local culture. Even though you may stop at venues on the road, there is a tight schedule. Your driver is only permitted to be on the road for a limited number of hours per day, or there must be a 2nd paid backup driver on board.

The Accommodations – spiritual tours generally book hotels in a single chain or network, 4star, sometimes 3+ stars. Sometimes the location is quite good, but often it is not convenient for your personal time. If the location is convenient, sometimes there is a noise problem. Since the tour operator has obtained a special volume price including the harder to book rooms, you may not have a choice of specifying a room away from a noisy street, a very noisy tram line or partying pedestrians enjoying night life. Use your internet to research before you sign the agreement. Living Krakow™ accommodations are in Pilgrims’ Houses chosen for their location, cleanliness, comfort, peacefulness and ambience. They are equivalent to 3+ star hotels, but without the in room TV or wet bar Examples: in Krakow-Lagiewniki, Divine Mercy Pilgrims House, safe, quiet, convenient, 24/7 Adoration. In Rome, Residenza Madre Pie, 500m from St. Peter’s door, Chapel, private garden.

Your Group of Fellow Pilgrims – Each Living Krakow™ Pilgrimage is custom designed with the local Priest, for his and neighboring Parishes, so you travel with people you know, strengthen bonds, and share memories for years after you return. A main focus is offering you a shared experience that builds community and strengthens your Faith commitment. We offer Pilgrimages, not sightseeing with a religious theme. Some pilgrims also invite family or friends from other cities and most pilgrimages include “returning” pilgrims who have been with Living Krakow™ before. (Our “returning pilgrim” rate for Poland pilgrimages now exceeds 27% ~ testifying to the quality of the experience.) Most of our pilgrimages originate in Phoenix, but we arrange flights so your out-of-town family or friends and winter parishioners can depart from their home airport and meet up with us in-route.

The big tour companies often gather pilgrims from just anywhere because they do national, even worldwide, promotions. This is sometimes the case even when they supposedly organize a group from one Parish. Simple economics, they use a 56 passenger bus (major fixed cost), so they want to fill it. (Some even use TWO 56 passenger busses!)

Living Krakow™ strictly limits the size of our groups to 30, and sometimes even less, depending on the itinerary. This is our ministry, we’re not concerned about getting the max number of sales, but we are interested in the quality of your memories. How do we set the limit? There are numerous factors; here’s one that may surprise you. When we include Jasna Gora Monastery, home of Our Lady of Czestochowa, we arrange for Father to celebrate Mass at the Main Altar of Black Madonna. We Living Kraków Pilgrims are seated right next to the Altar, where the Choir would normally sit. There are only 30 seats! (With groups able to learn the refrain of Czarna Modona in Polish, 1000+ fellow worshipers join us in an explosion of voices, in perfect harmony.)

What’s included? Any tour or Pilgrimage provider offers basic things: Escort, Airport transfers in Poland, Breakfast, some or all dinners, local guides and admissions, luggage handling. Living Krakow™ also provides: 1) free laundry service for any Unpack Once™ itinerary of 7 days or more 2) Top Quality Pilgrims Jacket: weather resistant, hooded, seasonally appropriate, custom embroidered with your Pilgrimage logo 3) Polish-English phrase guide 4) Bilingual Mass Books if your itinerary includes con-celebration with a local Priest in Polish (most of our Pilgrimages are scheduled to include a locally popular Feast Day such as Corpus Christi when we participate in the Procession and the Holy Mass) 5) All dinners, and these are memorable deluxe dinners, displaying the culture, prepared by Master Chefs using only fresh, local ingredients. Many itineraries also include a pierogi dinner where you help the Chef and learn to make pierogi from scratch. 6) Special events, varies with your group, such as Jewish Heritage day capped with a Klezmer (music) dinner in historic Kazimierz. (Klezmer=think Fiddler on the Roof.)  7) Bonus Surprise Extras.

Daily Mass. Any Pilgrimage or spiritual tour should offer Daily Mass. The difference is, Living Krakow™ plans each day’s itinerary around the Mass, so we can celebrate in special locations that are themselves a source for your cherished memories. We can do this because we are not tied to a strict schedule of Bus on the Road, but are planning local day excursions.

Some typical Living Krakow™ Mass venues  1) as mentioned, at the MAIN ALTAR of Our Lady of Czestochowa 2) In Private Chapel of the Archbishop where Karol – future Saint John Paul II – was ordained priest. (If in town and available, often Kardynal Abp Stanislaw Dziwisz, JP2’s longtime assistant, will take time to greet us with a private audience 3) Magnificent chapel in Wieliczka Salt Mines 4) UNESCO registered wooden church in the Tatras mountains 4) St. Leonard’s tomb in Wawel Cathedral 5) Main Altar of Karol’s boyhood church in Wadowice.

Comparing Costs: 1) How long is the itinerary? Many spiritual tours count the number of days offered to include the day you depart and fly to Europe, a lost day due to time zones. Living Krakow™ never counts this way, we count only the days “in country”. Also, most return flights depart early in the morning, so that day is often just a plane ride, as well.

To determine “how long is the itinerary” use the NIGHTS you sleep in the country.  If your return flight departs at 2PM or later, add one night as adjustment.  

2) What is the adjusted base price? This is the “land only’ price not including airfare or optional insurance costs. If one plan includes all dinners, the other does not, calculate difference at $15 per meal. If booking a ‘single’ occupancy, add the respective single upgrade charge to each.

3) Watch for tricks! One “Tour” spends the last day driving you from Zakopane to Warsaw (because the bus and driver are based in Warsaw) a trip of 6-7+ hours, depending on seasonal traffic. Then you have your “Farewell Dinner” in your hotel, from the chain hotel’s commissary, and go to bed, next morning a quick breakfast and transfer to the airport for your return home. Would you count this bus ride as a “day”? We subtract it.

adjusted base price/adjusted number of nights=Daily Comparison Amount

Uwaga! Compare apples to apples, costs increase significantly during the “high season” from late May through mid September.

Szczęść Bóze! Mike Richard, Living Krakow™ Cultural Pilgrimages