Escorted tours are structured group tours, with a group leader. The price usually includes everything from airfare to hotels, meals, tours, admission costs, and local transportation.
Abercrombie & Kent (tel. 800/554-7016; www.abercrombiekent.com) offers extremely upscale escorted tours that are loaded with luxury. They're the best in the business.
Other contenders in the upscale package-tour business include Maupintour (tel. 800/255-4266; www.maupintour.com) and Tauck World Discovery (tel. 800/788-7885; www.tauck.com).
But not all escorted tours are so pricey. Older British folks make up a large portion of the clientele of one of the United Kingdom's largest tour operators, Wallace Arnold Worldchoice (tel. 0845/365-6747; www.waworldchoice.com). Most of the company's tours last between 5 and 10 days, include lodgings (at solid but not particularly extravagant hotels) and most meals, and are reasonably priced.
U.S.-based Trafalgar Tours (tel. 866/544-4434; www.trafalgartours.com) offers more affordable packages with lodgings in unpretentious but comfortable hotels. It's one of Europe's largest tour operators. Their 8-day "Best of Scotland 2010" tour costs $1,535.
One of Trafalgar's leading competitors, known for roughly equivalent moderately priced tours through Britain, is Globus & Cosmos Tours (tel. 866/755-8581; www.globusandcosmos.com).
Despite the fact that escorted tours require big deposits and predetermine hotels, restaurants, and itineraries, many people derive security and peace of mind from the structure they offer. Escorted tours -- whether they're navigated by bus, motorcoach, train, or boat -- let travelers sit back and enjoy the trip without having to drive or worry about details. They take you to the maximum number of sights in the minimum amount of time with the least amount of hassle. They're particularly convenient for people with limited mobility, and they can be a great way to make new friends.
On the downside, you'll have little opportunity for serendipitous interactions with locals. The tours can be jam-packed with activities, leaving little room for individual sightseeing, whim, or adventure -- plus they often focus on the heavily touristed sites, so you miss out on many a lesser known gem.
For more information on escorted general-interest tours, including questions to ask before booking your trip, see www.frommers.com/planning.