Why Choose Orthodox Tours?
1. Why should we go with you?
Orthodox Tours combine the Christian pilgrimage with elements of a historical tour in one comprehensive itinerary. We also strive to provide personalized care not usually found on commercial tours.
2. What makes your tours different?
In terms of content our itineraries are more like a course of study than a sight-seeing excursion. At each of our chosen sites, we provide the opportunity to meet local experts and professionals in various fields who expand the experience and appreciation for the places we visit. On the other hand, Orthodox Tours create a family like atmosphere and many of our participants become repeat clients and long-lasting friends.
3. Are there a lot of similar offers on the market?
This would be difficult for us to determine, as many agencies advertise destinations that correspond with our tours and similarities often exist in name only. Our paring of sites with carefully outlined themes is quite unique, however. We can say with certainty that our research is so in depth that local experts report that there is no comparison with other tours with respect to the thoroughness of our itinerary. No matter how out of the way some of our stops may be from the general path followed by commercial tourism, these points of interest are included for their overall importance to understanding a particular locale.
4. Your tours are very expensive?
This is a matter of perspective. Considering what our tours offer, it would be nearly impossible to find a commercial tour that can match our accommodation plan, comprehensiveness of our itinerary and expertise of our guides for a similar price. Unfortunately, travel costs are on the rise everywhere and the quality arrangements of Orthodox Tours come with unavoidable costs that may be more than some are able or willing to pay. For that we cannot apologize.
5. Your tours are suspiciously inexpensive for what you offer?
We do not have any hidden fees. What is included in the price and what is not included is clearly stated in our tour announcements. While not exactly offering “budget tours”, we do minimize the frills and we do not typically offer VIP services. The main reason why we are able to keep our prices low is because Orthodox Tours is a ministry and our cost to profit margin is extremely narrow. Proceeds primarily serve to cover operational and administrative expenses, as well as donations to various religious communities and institutions.
6. How big are your groups?
Our groups are usually 20 to 30 people. Making arrangements for groups any smaller than this is very expensive. With groups larger than this, we are unable to provide the kind of intimacy of the travel our participants have come to expect and enjoy.
About Our Company
1. Can you please tell us about your company?
Orthodox Tours was established by a Russian Orthodox priest in 2001. Our purpose is to provide a travel opportunity for those who desire to expand their understanding and knowledge of the Orthodox Church, Church History and Christian Sacred Art.
2. Are you a travel agency?
Orthodox Tours is incorporated as an LLC according to the laws of the New York State, but it is not a travel agency in the typical sense. Rather, it is an educational ministry which plans and manages tours without intermediaries. Tour sites are selected for their historical and spiritual significance to the Orthodox Church, as well as their importance to the whole heritage of Christianity.
3. How large is your company?
Orthodox Tours is a home based, privately operated Orthodox Christian ministry.
4. How many years have you been in business?
Orthodox Tours has been conducting pilgrimages since 2001. Prior to that our director, Fr. Ilya Gotlinsky, led pilgrimages and tours for St. Petersburg Theological Seminary, St. Petersburg, Russia. As of 2008, we have a solid 15 years experience in conducting religious travel.
5. As a religious entity do you have permission/blessing for your activities?
Yes, Orthodox Tours’ activities are conducted with the consent and blessing of the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church in America.
6. You seem to have quite a variety of tours offered, aren’t you focusing on something particular geographically or historically?
The focus of Orthodox Tours is always church related and based on extensive research. Each site is chosen for its overall ecclesiastical significance and relevance to one of the general themes of our tours. Themes such as the “Monastic Pilgrimage”, “Sacred Art” and “Ancient and Holy” take us to a wide variety of locations. To fully cover one of these themes, our route encompasses the major historical aspects of a targeted geographical area, but reaches beyond the expected to explore the often-ignored evidence of Orthodox Christian roots planted in distant historical periods. Because we thoroughly map our pilgrimages to include places not typically visited on popular commercial tours, our guides and drivers are sometimes stunned by breadth of our itinerary.
7. Do you sell air tickets?
We do not “sell” airfare tickets; we work with several airline companies directly and purchase group tickets for ten or more people departing from and returning to the same destination. When we purchase a group package such as this, airfare is included in our tour price. Though we do not currently arrange airfare or purchase tickets for people traveling individually, we can recommend travel agents who will arrange flights.
8. Can you prepare individual travel-tour?
We prefer to work with groups on tours that we prepare, but we are able to design and lead suggested tours that conform to our ministry and fit our general themes. We are always willing to advise and provide referrals where this is not applicable.
9. Can you advise on our private travel?
Yes, our years of experience as pilgrimage guides have given us a broad knowledge of international travel. However, we cannot guarantee the same level of services for individual travelers as we provide through our group plans.
10. Can you make tailored/customized itinerary based on our particular request?
Yes, we can customize an itinerary if it is within the area of our ministry and expertise.
11. Do you always go on your tours?
Fr. Ilya tries to lead every pilgrimage, but in some cases this is not possible due to other obligations. Even on the rare occurrence that Fr. Ilya is unable to lead a particular pilgrimage, Orthodox Tours has developed a network of host parties at every destination to provide the same degree of attention that all our tours offer.
12. Can I have references from the people who went with you on that pilgrimage before?
References and testimonials are available upon request. We encourage your research and interest in this regard, as word of mouth from our veteran group members is the best advertisement for our ministry. Click HERE to read some of those testimonials!
Who Can Go?
1. Who can go on your tour-pilgrimage?
Anyone who has a desire to learn and is genuinely interested in the themes we offer is welcome to travel with us. The only requirements for traveling with us are a willingness to cooperate and the ability to treat others with respect, whether fellow participants or the local citizens of the host countries we visit. Good intentions on the part of all who participate are always critical to a successful travel experience.
2. I am not Orthodox can I go?
Orthodox Tours does not require that our participants be Orthodox Christians. Anyone with a desire to learn and a spirit of cooperation is welcome to join us. Questions and discussion are always encouraged as long as they remain friendly and no hostile attempts are made to criticize or confront something you may not understand or agree with. Our presentation is un-apologetically based on the ancient Eastern Christian Tradition. Beyond this, we have no other agendas, demands or expectations.
3. Will we, as Non-Orthodox feel comfortable on your tour?
How you feel on one of our tours, of course, depends a great deal upon you. We strive to ensure that everyone who travels with us feels comfortable. You will never encounter any exclusivity on our part. All we ask is that you approach the subject matter we present with a spirit of respect. There are many non-Orthodox people who take our tours each year, and we have never had a complaint that someone felt miserable or left out for not being an Orthodox Christian. Because there is so much to see and experience on our tours, we nurture openness in sharing this ancient Christian tradition, which is not well understood by most Westerners. You always have the freedom not to participant in something on our itinerary that makes you ill-at-easy, such as an Orthodox Liturgy or the veneration of relics and icons.
4. I’m not a Christian, can I go?
Yes; as stated above, all that we require is a genuine interest in one of our themes, an attitude of respect for the subject matter we will be presenting and a commitment to behave peaceably and kindly with others on the tour and with the people we encounter on our journey through the various host countries.
5. I’m not an Iconographer can I go on one of your Icon tours?
Yes, of course, you are encouraged to join us no matter what your level of familiarity with iconography. Sacred art has always and everywhere been considered highly aesthetical, historical and cultural. Modern Western culture ultimately has its roots in the religious art of the Christian Faith. You will learn a great deal about the doctrinal origins supporting icon painting, the history of the Eastern Church and the societies that produced iconic masterpieces.
6. How intense are your tours?
Our tours are defiantly very intense in terms of the amount and depth of opportunity offered for your learning experience. The tours are not physically as stressful as hiking or sports tours, but there is quite a bit of walking and standing. Our itinerary days are filled to capacity with numerous points of interest each day and our days are usually long. Ample time for meals is allowed, but sometimes we must take our evening refreshment at a later time than you may be used to at home.
7. I have special needs; can I still go on your tour?
It depends on what your “special” needs are. If you are vegetarian, or have an allergic reaction to some foods, there are easy ways to accommodate you. However, if you have serious health issues, you should consult us directly and seek advice from your physician before considering travel. In some places the medical facilities are limited and standards of healthcare can be different from your home country. It is also not fair for the rest of the group to be delayed due to an individual’s pre-existing medical condition or “special needs.”
8. I have some trouble walking, do you think that I still can go?
There are different degrees to having “trouble walking” to consider. You need not worry if you cannot hike up a mountain at with some speed – most of us can’t. But if you have problems walking from the car to the garage or you cannot keep pace with normal walkers for any length of time, you should not go on one of our tours. We do not schedule extreme hikes, but days are long and often tiring for some people.
9. I’m disabled, can I go?
Everything depends on your condition. If you have a formal disability, probably you should not go, as our pilgrimages can be physically, emotionally and mentally demanding.
10. Can I go on one of your pilgrimages with my kids?
The same rules apply to children as to adults and we cannot make exceptions that will hinder the general flow of the tour. If children are under 10 years, we do not recommend bringing them, as they will find little entertainment other than our tour subject matter and they may tire easily. However, if you have teenagers or even a very learning-engaged pre-teen, we welcome his or her participation. The youngest child to take part in one of our tours was an eight-year-old boy who was ever attentive and involved with every aspect of our itinerary for entire the duration of the pilgrimage. Please consult us directly before considering bringing your children and use discernment. We want everyone to benefit from the pilgrimage experience and none to be upset or limited due to a bored or unruly child.
11. Can I send my children with you on a pilgrimage?
Orthodox Tours cannot assume responsibility for the care and supervision of children. In order for young people to take part in one of our pilgrimages, you would need to send someone to provide supervision for the duration of the pilgrimage. Even with this provision for child supervision, we must insist that the young person(s) is capable of acting in a mature and coherent way. A guardian or responsible party who is formally appointed and entrusted with the care of your children must accompany any young person under 16 years of age.
12. Do you have age limit for your participants?
Health and physical conditioning are a major concern when planning a pilgrimage with us, or for that matter any tour group. We do not discriminate on the bases of age, however, as in the case of children, we cannot assume responsibility for participants who cannot keep pace with the rigors of the touring day. If you are concerned that your age may be prohibitive due to flagging endurance and strength, please contact us directly to discuss the details so we can make the right decision together.
1. What do I need to do to participate in your tour?
You need to contact us and indicate which pilgrimage you want to take and how many people are in your party. You will need to make the appropriate deposit in a form of a check, money order or PayPal electronic transfer to Palomnik, LLC at 53 Baxter Street, Binghamton, NY 13905.
2. Can you please explain non-refundable deposit?
Deposits are non-refundable unless the pilgrimage is cancelled by Palomnik, LLC. If Palomnik has to cancel the tour, you will receive a full refund, including the deposit, which will be issued to you in the form of a bank check or bank money order. To avoid any financial losses, please purchase trip insurance. We are happy to direct you to an appropriate agency that sells trip insurance.
3. Do your tours ever get cancelled?
There have been cases when we had to cancel a tour due to the insufficient number of participants registered, but this is very rare. Unfortunately, our cancellations have usually occurred because people have waited too long to commit and we have had to release the opportunity to lead a tour at our affordable advertised price. Keep in mind that if you commit to a tour this encourages others to participate and ensures that we have sufficient numbers to carry out our plans together. If we have to cancel a tour, you lose nothing because Palomnik will issue you a full refund. Please help make a pilgrimage possible by making an early commitment!
4. When do you know if your tour is a “go”?
We can guarantee departure as soon as we have the minimally acceptable number of participants. Early commitments are essential because if we do not have enough participants 90 days prior to departure we must postpone our journey or cancel the group arrangement.
5. Can I still go if I don’t have a roommate?
Our prices are based per person but determined by double occupation, i.e. with a roommate. However, if you do not have a roommate you can still go under one of two options. 1. You can pay a single supplement; 2. You may be able to avoid paying single supplement if we can you a roommate – someone who also wants to go, but does not have a find roommate. Although we cannot guarantee you a roommate, you can send your deposit with a stipulation that you will participate on the condition that a roommate becomes available. We usually will not be able to confirm a roommate for you until near the deadline date. If no roommate is found by that time, your deposit will be refunded, but your initial commitment helps us to find a roommate for you.
6. Single supplement seems a bit hefty; do I have to pay it?
If you do not have or do not want to have a roommate, there is no way to avoid single supplement surcharges. Admittedly, the single supplement is expensive, but tour arrangements are not like booking a hotel room based solely on the number of occupants. You are paying a supplemental surcharge for occupying a place by yourself that is normally provided as a two-person space in the tour package.
7. How intense are your journeys?
Our tours and pilgrimages are very intense. Please see above where this issue is fully addressed.
8. Do you take care of air tickets?
If there are more than 10 people traveling together we can reserve air tickets. In other situations we can refer you to an agency where you can purchase tickets for individual travel. Please note that with group rates your bonus miles or any other benefits are not applicable. At times, you may be able to find airfare that is more reasonably priced than a group rate. We do not mind if you travel separately to our destination, but we prefer that our tour group travels together for many reasons: it ensures we meet at appointed gathering places at the same time, promotes camaraderie and provides group support for travel to exotic destinations.
9. Your tours originate in the US, but I am from Europe. Can I join you at the country of your destination?
Over the years we had many people join us from various countries and continents. It is perfectly acceptable to travel from any place of origin as long as you meet us at our point of destination at the same time that the rest of the group gathers.
1. Do I need insurance on your tour?
Health and emergency insurance is mandatory, as we cannot be responsible to provide you with financial support for medical treatment or emergency exit from our tour schedule. In many countries initial emergency care for foreign visitors is free of charge. However, anything major, or associated expenses and medication can cost a fortune. Please remember that your private emergencies are your financial responsibility. For that reason it is extremely necessary for you to have extra protection. Special travel insurance of this kind is very reasonable and guarantees you worry-free travel.
2. Is insurance mandatory?
Health/emergency insurance for the tour or pilgrimage is mandatory. Cancellation insurance is optional, but strongly recommended as a way to avoid any financial loses due to unforeseen circumstances.
3. Do you sell insurance?
Although we are currently negotiating insurance proposals and will hopefully be able to provide you with insurance in the future, at this time we can only refer you to an agent who can fully serve your insurance needs. You can also search the Internet to find the best travel protection plan.
While On The Tour
1. I don’t speak any foreign languages, should that be a concern for me?
This is not something to be concerned about. Most of our guides speak very good English, and where English-speaking guides/presenters are not available we always provide an English translation.
2. Can I arrive earlier and join you?
Yes, you can. All extra arrangements will be your responsibility unless we have a prior personal agreement.
3. Can I stay longer, after the tour is over?
If you would like to stay longer and explore additional sites we did not cover or revisit sites we covered during our tour, you certainly can do that. We can even help you with accommodations, transportation and a guide, if you would like.
4. Do I have to stay with the group all the time?
In “Entry Visa” restricted countries we must ask that you stay with the group. At the very least you must keep with the overnight hotel registration arrangements we have made for you. We do not object to some short deviation during the daytime. Please note that if you make a conscious decision to forego something on our itinerary there will be no reimbursements and all optional or additional tours and associated expenses are your personal responsibility.
5. Can I see my friends during the tour?
If you have friends, colleagues or acquaintances in the country of our destination you are welcome to visit with them. We appreciate the courtesy of letting us know about such meetings, especially if you plan to stay with friends overnight or will miss part of the day.
6. Do I need foreign money?
Monetary exchange places are available upon your arrival in our destination country and the local exchange rate is usually significantly better in the place of destination vs. your home bank. We consider it a wasted effort and unnecessary trouble to try to acquire foreign currency prior to departure.
7. Can I use credit card on the tour?
Usually you can use credit cards during the tour because more and more places worldwide accept this form of tender. VISA is the most popular credit card with MasterCard following closely. American Express is also being accepted, but not quite as widely as VISA or MC. Prior to departure, please inform your financial institution that you will be traveling abroad. In many cases, an unusual pattern of financial activity such as purchases abroad may lead to the suspension of your account.
8. Can I use ATM or debit card?
The ATM cards that are associated with your checking accounts are ideal for acquiring local currency. The advantages of such use of your ATM card are:
1. You do not have to carry a lot of cash with you.
2. You can exchange only as much money as you need.
3. You always have the current exchange rate of the day.
9. Is there enough time for shopping?
Different people have different shopping habits. We do allow some time for souvenir /memorabilia shopping, but our tours are not general tourist or shopping tours.
10. Are meals provided during your tours?
Most meals are provided during our tours. They are full meals at hotels or local restaurants with a fixed price that can be high. Whenever we can we try to save funds by using a local café or deli store where you can get something filling, but inexpensively. When we have free time in the evening you have the opportunity to dine at a good local restaurant and try specialty cuisines. In cases when we need to save time or if nothing is easily accessible we take care of the meals ahead of time.
11. Can you arrange for a special meal?
If you are allergic to some type of food or a vegetarian, we try to arrange for a special meal for you whenever it is possible. Please note that low fat meals or sugar/milk/meat/gluten substitutes may not be available. If you need any dietary supplements that you use at home, please make sure to have them with you on the trip.
12. What are the hotels like that you use?
We use the equivalent of three star hotels or the best accommodations available. At times we use religious houses or retreat complexes that are ranked as three star equivalents. But please note that in different countries the system of rating hotels can vary greatly. We make sure that at a minimum all accommodations are clean, safe and rooms have modern, private amenities.
13. How do you get from place to place on your tour?
We hire a comfortable air-conditioned private motor coach for our travels within cities and from one city or region to another. We use overnight sleeper trains for longer transfers. On occasion and at the request of the group, we will use public transportation such as famous subways in some Russian cities. This is done to add to our experience of public culture. We must note, however, that these subways are notorious as tourist traps.
14. What the weather will be like?
That depends greatly on the time of the year and geography of the regions where we will be traveling. You can easily find a several day weather forecast on the Internet for any region in the world. We also try to update you by email on weather conditions prior to group departure.
15. What type of clothes and shoes should I bring with me?
Modest, comfortable clothes are all that you need. Good walking shoes are a must. Because we visit many religious places, we ask that you avoid sleeveless outfits and shorts. Women are encouraged to bring some type of head covering for visiting churches and monasteries where women are expected to cover their heads with a scarf or some kind of a hat. We suggest that you leave all your precious possessions and jewelry at home. You really do not need them on the tour and you want to avoid attracting the attention of those who prey upon tourists. This is true even in cities across the USA.
16. Do I have to attend all the services?
No, you do not have to attend religious services, even though we encourage you to do so as a means of understanding the places we visit and as an enhancement of your pilgrimage experience. If you are not a Christian, not an Orthodox Christian or just do not feel like attending a service, you do not have to attend. Some lesser prayer services are built into the main itinerary at special shrines and religious sites, but we do not believe these services will offend or compromise anyone’s beliefs.
17. As a non-Orthodox person, do I really have to cover my head in church?
Head covering in the church, like many other religious practices, represents pious traditions that were developed over centuries. Your attempt to follow such traditions is an expression of your respect for this heritage and it need not be seen as a religious affiliation or agreement with the practice. Where head coverings are expected, we ask you to cover your head. If you have a strong objection to doing so, you can remain outside while the group explores the monument or monastic complex.
17. Is it true that you can suspend one’s participation in the tour and send them back home?
Though this is highly unlikely and has never occurred on one of our tours, we do reserve the right to interrupt one’s participation in the tour if the behavior of an individual is inconsistent with our mission and the sanctity of the places we visit; or if an individual disrupts the group in general or endangers anyone’s safety. We are very watchful for issues that could prove disruptive and we will not tolerate episodes that disturb the peace of the group or that of the local citizens in the countries where we are guests.
18. Can you recommend some educational material about the theme of the pilgrimage or tour before we go?
We provide every participant with the list of reading material as well as links to related literature and articles posted on the Internet. We always appreciate it when participants prepare themselves by reading about the places we are going and the themes we will be covering. Even a little bit of research on your part greatly enriches your experience. What you bring to the tour in terms of pre-knowledge also helps us because it is hard to always offer 101-type introductory lecture on every aspect of the trip during a specialized journey. No one will feel uncomfortable for not having studied much before hand, but your experience will be much deeper and varied if you are at least minimally prepared.
Payment and Cancellation
1. What is included in the cost of the tour?
There are different arrangements for different tours. Please see applicable information for each individual tour. All technical information is provided at the end of each itinerary plan. As a rule, we make our tours as all-inclusive as possible, so that transportation, accommodations, unique day journeys, entry tickets and most meals are provided for under terms of one stated fee.
2. How can I pay you?
You may pay by check, money order, bank transfer, or PayPal. The latter form of electronic transaction is especially beneficial to those who prefer to pay for the tour by the credit card. At the present time, we cannot accept personal credit card payments, but PayPal transactions provide a reliable and convenient alternative.
3. Do you take credit cards?
We do accept credit card payment via PayPal Internet Banking service. No direct personal credit card payments are possible at the present time.
4. Can I pay by check and credit card?
Yes, you can pay us partly by check and partly by credit card (via PayPal).
5. Can I pay in installments?
Yes, you can pay the fee in installments as long as you pay the fee in full by the deadline. In certain cases we can provide payment extension beyond 90 days cut out line, but you have to pay in full before the beginning of the tour or pilgrimage.
6. How can I cancel if I need to?
To cancel your tour with us, all you need to do is inform us of your inability to participate. There are certain penalties for cancellation (please see below), so we highly recommend that you purchase cancellation insurance in advance.
7. Do you change your prices?
We strive to minimize costs and calculate all expenses carefully. An adjustment in the price can occur if a group is smaller than expected and participants still desire to go even when increasing the price is necessary. In the course of the past two years, the fluctuation of the exchange rate has become a factor, but we try to anticipate these fluctuations so as not to present a major concern for our participants. At times there may be some newly introduced fees or “mandatory” donations for special side trips, but as a rule these are quite marginal. We do not have any hidden fees and you will never be taken by surprise with surcharges or extra payments, unless it is something unforeseeable over which we have no any control.
8. Are there any hidden or extra fees?
We do not have any hidden fees and you will never be taken by surprise with surcharges or extra payments. We never ask for anything additional, unless it is something unforeseeable over which we have no any control.
9. Do you have any discounts?
We operate on a very limited budget and we have very little flexibility within that budget since we already make our trips as affordable as possible. However, if you are able to assemble a good size group we can divide your expenses among the members of your group, so that you as a leader will pay significantly less or nothing at all. We do try to reward those who help us to make our pilgrimage projects a reality. Some small clergy/religious discount is available to groups large enough to support our basic costs.
1. We would like to collaborate with you in some way. Is it possible?
Certainly! We always look for friendly collaboration. We welcome tour agents, clergy, various communities and individuals to contact us directly with questions or suggestions.
2. Can we place a reference for your website on our webpage?
Please do so! We are very appreciative of those who express interest in our activities and help us disseminate our message to any interested parties. You do not have to notify us that you wish to reference our website or any of our promotional materials. Also, please let us know if you would like us to place references to your site!
3. Can we use pictures from your website?
You are welcome to use our pictures for non-commercial purposes, but we would appreciate it if you would notify us first because all the information presented on our web site is protected by copyright.
4. Can we use your itinerary for our travel?
You can use our itineraries as a guideline for personal travel, but we object to the use of our itineraries for any commercial or promotional purposes, even though we have very limited means of enforcing any kind of control over the use of our itineraries. We ask you to consider the incredible amount of work that goes into planning our tours and the fact that using our research for monetary gain amounts to theft. It is always more beneficial to cooperate with us since our tours and pilgrimages are not only about the collection of sites, but about human contact, relations, connections and individuals.