Each museum has a different policy for guided tours. You should call ahead to find out what to expect before your visit. The following are some options you may encounter, with some of the benefits and drawbacks of each:
Mandatory Guided Tour
All guests MUST go on a guided tour with a member of the museum staff or trained volunteer. When you arrive you will find out when the next tour is leaving. You will likely tour with other families or individuals if you are not attending with a large group of your own. Many historic house museums use this strategy for guided tours.
Benefits: Guides can provide additional information about the exhibits that may not be present in the written material. They can draw your attention to specific artifacts that you might have missed on your own. The guide is available to answer any questions you might have along the way.
Drawbacks: You may not be able to explore any of the galleries on your own. There may not be enough time for you to revisit items that interest you. The guide may speak about things you are not interested in.
Optional Guided Tour
You will be asked if you would like to go on a tour with a guide. Tours may be at a scheduled time or may be flexible. You may also encounter guides stationed throughout the museum rather than following a single tour guide through the entire building. Some museums offer guided tours by reservation only. They usually require a minimum number of participants to book a tour.
Benefits: Optional tours offer the best of both worlds. They allow you to decide what you’d like to do. If guides are stationed throughout the museum, you can choose to engage them or not. They are available for questions or to explain parts of the exhibits, but they will not be with you for your entire museum experience, allowing you to learn at your own pace. There may be a focus tour of a specific exhibit or theme that you can choose to attend without having a guided tour of the entire museum.
Drawbacks: Sometimes an overzealous tour guide will continue to follow you even after you have thanked them and tried to move into another gallery on your own. If the museum has a minimum number of visitors in order to offer a guided tour, you may not have enough people to get one.
No guides will be part of your museum experience. You will move through the galleries at your own pace, with your family or friends.
Benefits: You can choose to spend more time in areas that interest you and skip the parts that don’t. You can move at your own speed without being herded from one gallery to another.
Drawbacks: There will not be a staff member or volunteer readily available to answer any questions you may have. However, you can leave your question(s) and contact information at the admissions desk, or contact the museum by phone or email after you return home.