There’s a secret sauce behind experiencing that wow effect many of us have come across once or twice during a guided tour or cruise. It is hard to put a finger on the ingredients because there is a subjective element to being wow’d: but we’ve got good news: the recipe does exist. 

We tried to understand the pattern behind travelers’ wow moments by asking 30+ fellow explorers to share their most memorable experiences on guided tours and cruises. We then broke down their answers and identified the wow factors behind them. Next, we asked a group of 6 fantastic Originals Guide Champions about their tips and tricks on incorporating wow factors into guided tours and cruises.

Curious to know what they are? Here are the top 5 wow factors and tips on how to bring them to life during traveling experiences:


Wow factor #1: Create a special atmosphere using 1 of the 5 senses

No need to start counting away on the tips of your fingers, we’re talking about sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing.
Creating a special setting in which 1 or 2 senses are particularly called upon, creates a heightened emotional connection that leaves a lasting impression. Kathrin Hakenbeck, a Tours & Operations Manager in Berlin, put it best when talking about her most memorable experience:

“I was on a Maori guided tour of the Waipoua Rainforest after sunset in New Zealand to visit the oldest Kauri trees of the country – they are several thousands of years old. Once we were close to the so-called Lord of the Forest (the oldest and tallest tree), we were asked to look down on the floor. The guide started to chant in Maori and led us to a spot where we closed our eyes. When the song ended, we were asked to look up and open our eyes. There in the darkness of the rainforest, stood the beautiful giant, glowing with its white bark in the dark. It was one of the most emotional moments I ever had on a guided tour. We remained silent for several minutes, just admiring the gigantic ancient tree and listening to the sounds of the rainforest.”

Joana, Originals Guide Champion in Portugal, can particularly relate: “When guiding my group inside the Benagil caves, I ask everyone to be silent to listen to the sound of the waves, and admire the different colors of the rocks. I even demonstrates how the colors look very different in real life versus through the lens of a camera.”

Wow factor #2: Tell a touching story in a passionate way and allow the group to participate

Crafting an engaging, emotional narrative is no easy task. But if you’re able to get your group to have an active role in the story you’re telling you’ll create a strong connection with your audience.

In the words of a wowed traveler: “It was a “dark” Barcelona night tour, and the guide was incredible. He was an actor by day, and his stories and storytelling abilities were so captivating! He also used me and others act things out on the tour to bring his stories to life.”

Mike, our Champion who guides the Berlin Third Reich and Cold War Originals, agrees: “It is important for a guide to bring their personal experience into the stories they tell. During the tour, I make sure to go to places that are connected with important moments in history. I point things out for the group to help them understand things best and often show photographs of how locations looked like in the past.”

Wow factor #3: Reveal a surprise discovery off the beaten path

Who doesn’t love to feel like they’ve discovered a hidden gem? It’s so exciting to be taken to a lesser-known spot, away from the crowds, and realize you would have never ended up there if it wasn’t for your local guide. 

Konstantinos Papagiannopoulos, Destination Manager for Greece recalls experiencing this exact feeling while on an Acropolis walking tour. “The guide led us through the woods to a spot which was hard to find on your own,” he says. “From there, we had a spectacular view of the sea and could understand how close to the sea the Acropolis actually is. It provided a memorable wow effect to the excellent guided tour!”

Echoing Konstantinos’ sentiment, Guide Champion Daphne explains how she takes travelers to a hidden spot on the Volendam, Edam, & Zaanse Schans Originals – “I take customers to the bridge in Edam where – at certain times in the year – the bridge opener will be working. First, he opens a modern bridge with an electric switch, and then he hops onto his bicycle and speeds over to an old bridge, where he has to hang on a chain to open it using his own body weight.” It’s quite a ritual to be present for and not something you would likely pay attention to if it were not for your expert local guide.

Wow factor #4: Share interesting facts and stories

Who doesn’t love a good fun fact? Or 2 or 3? Memorable tours are often those where you learn about something interesting: a local legend or habit that your guide lets you in on. The kind of thing you write home about and sticks with you whenever you think back on that city or country. 

Maria, our Champion who guides the Pena Palace, Sintra, Cabo de Roca & Cascais Originals, recommends deconstructing history and making it interesting. When she speaks about King Carlos I of Portugal, for example, she tells stories about him that you won’t find online, and refers to him as the ‘Fluffy King’ – a loving way to say he was short and chubby.

And the result? Travelers are left feeling inspired and intrigued. As one of Maria’s customer’s remarks: “[this tour] became the hallmark of my whole trip! Maria was very knowledgeable with a huge amount of interesting facts about the sites we went to. It made me feel like I was on a trip with an amazing friend instead of a tour guide. I can definitely say she is the best tour guide I have ever met.”

Guide Champion David also adopts this technique. He doesn’t simply show you the majestic rooms of the Madrid Royal Palace Originals. He lets you in on a local legend that says Napoleon guided his brother into the Palace and said, “Brother, I managed to get you a bigger palace than the one you have in Paris.”


Wow factor #5: Win over hearts with food (…and drinks!)

A local snack, a tasting of a traditional sweet, or a sip of a regional liquor are all ways that make the heart grow fonder. Instead of simply handing out a yummy giveaway, make a moment out of it.

To put it in Elise Butterworth’s words, a Tours & Operations Manager in Paris:

“One of my favorite memories of a tour was when we went to a local market with the guide and he bought some local foods for us to try as a group. He bought some of his choices but also asked what we liked and was flexible. He then took us to a café and sat with us above an amazing view and we had a drink and chatted away as we nibbled on the delicious fruits, nuts, olives, etc. It was so relaxed, natural and it felt special that he had shared his country’s specialties with us.”

Do you have any other wow moments to share with us? We’d love to hear from you.