Tour companies usually reserve hotel rooms several years in advance of a solar eclipse. This means, especially in more remote regions, the availability of hotel rooms prior to eclipse day will be either extremely limited or non-existent, even if you try to book a year in advance. Participating in a tour guarantees you a comfortable hotel room and one that is likely within, or very close to, the path of totality.
While you might spend more on an eclipse tour than you would doing the trip yourself, remember that the tour company has done all the pre-trip legwork. They’ve taken scouting trips into the region and locked in prices for hotels, transportation, and meals. Regrettably, local establishments have been known to dramatically hike prices for everything from hotel rooms to meals, car rentals, and even camp sites once it is realized that being in (or even near) the path of totality will result in a sudden influx of eclipse chasers. Being part of an eclipse tour means you’re protected from price gouging.
To see totality, you need clear skies. Tour operators can’t part the clouds, and sometimes success involves just plain luck. But they are likely in touch with an experienced meteorologist who can help determine the weather prospects for a particular site on eclipse day. Sure, satellite imagery and cloud-cover predictions are easily available via the Web. But if you’re the one looking at weather maps, charts, and forecasts, can you correctly interpret all the data and find a clear-sky viewing site?
Speaking of which, eclipse-tour companies seek out and select potential sites years in advance. Often they’ll identify a prime and a backup eclipse-viewing location based on weather prospects, regional topography, ease of access, and available amenities. As an independent eclipse chaser, you should have at least a rough idea as to where you want to be. More than likely, the first time you’ll see your viewing spot is a day or two before, or even the day of, the eclipse. Only then will you know if it’s suitable, and if it’s not, you’ll have to embark on a last-minute site search.
Sometimes a ship is the only way to get into the path of totality. Occasionally it’s possible to join an eclipse cruise on a large ship and not be part of an organized tour. You’ll see the eclipse (weather permitting) but won’t be able to partake in any of the onboard lectures or eclipse-related activities. If you join a charter offered by an eclipse-tour company, you’ll enjoy a unique cruise itinerary complete with talks and activities. Totality at sea will be an amazing highlight.
If it has been a while since you last experienced totality (they happen, on average, only once every 18 months), or if you’ve never seen a total solar eclipse, then traveling with an eclipse expert is a significant benefit to joining an eclipse tour. The Internet is full of eclipse-viewing information, but not all of it is accurate or correct. Particularly when it comes to eye safety and the eclipse, nothing beats the ability to have a one-on-one conversation with an expert and learn from an informative pre-eclipse presentation.
In addition to an eclipse expert, most tours hire knowledgeable local guides who have fascinating tales to tell about the region you’re journeying through and the people who live there. Guide books are dry and can tell you only so much. It’s the personal touch and knowledge of the local guide that makes the experience really come alive – a bonus you miss when you go it alone.
Participating in an eclipse tour brings you in contact with like-minded folks with whom you have at least one thing in common – solar eclipses. By the end of an excursion, many new friendships have often been formed. These friendships endure even though the new friends may live far apart. Indeed, they might not see each other again until they join an eclipse tour to once more stand in the shadow of the Moon.
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