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Tour Company Comparison

We’ve taken just one tour - with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), to Africa. We’d signed up for a tour that included Petra and more of Jordan, plus some of Egypt. They canceled the tour after attacks started happening on the Red Sea, but I really want to see Petra, and there is so much else in that part of the world. There’s also Turkey, for starters.

Has anyone taken a fairly recent tour anywhere with OAT, and also with Road Scholar? And/or with Rick Steves Tours? Where? How do the companies compare? Price, activity agenda, pace, fellow companion traveler compatibility might vary with different companies or destinations, and I wonder with what company you’d go on another tour? I am most interested in a comparison of OAT and Road Scholar for non-European international travel. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Posted by
533 posts

Cyn - I have done nine Rick Steves tours as well as three OAT tours, and enjoyed all of them a lot. However, Rick Steves tours are limited to European destinations.

A friend took a tour of Jordan with Gate 1 and had a wonderful experience. Be sure to take their “Discovery” tour which is more comparable to OAT (groups limited to 22, more inclusive of activities, better hotels). (I took a Gate 1 Discovery tour in southern India and it was excellent.) have also heard good things about Odysseys Unlimited and Road Scholar, but don’t have personal experience with them.

Posted by
15726 posts

You may want to look into Odysseys Unlimited. They seem to take the best of Rick Steves and added more. They have numerous tours to Africa.

Small groups, large coaches, nice hotels, bellman service.

I have travelled on both RS and Odysseys tours. Both were good but I preferred Odyssys.

Posted by
16938 posts

We generally only do “adventure travel” tours, guided hiking with very small grounds (12 people or fewer). Never done a RS tour, or OAT. But last year we joined a Road Scholar tour of Puglia because we did not want to rent a car.

The group of 24 was larger than we are used to, but it was OK. I was impressed with the quality of the accommodations, sites chosen to visit, and especially the guide Emmanuela, who is wonderful. We met a number of very compatible travelers with whom we stay in touch. There were a number of people who were repeat travelers with Road Scholar—-some had done 20+ tours with them. Several were somewhat mobility-impaired and the guide (and other guests) looked out for them. Although the tour in general was less active than we like, we would consider them again if they offered a destination we wanted to visit on a tour.

I will recommend a company we like a lot that does offer a Jordan tour. HF holidays is a UK-based member-owned cooperative. Within the UK they offer walking and special interest holidays at their country houses all around England, Scotland, and Wales. But they also offer guided tours all over the world.

You do not to be a member to go on their holidays. Non-members pay a small supplemental fee, but the total cost is still considerably lower than what commercial tour companies offer.

This is their Jordan tour:

https://www.hfholidays.co.uk/holidays-and-tours/jordan?format=pdf&vid=3680

And speaking of British tour companies, this is the one we were considering for Turkey:

https://www.petersommer.com/turkey/tours

As listed on their home page, they have won many travel industry awards for their expert-led cultural and archeology-focused tours. A friend who went on one highly recommended them to us.

https://www.petersommer.com/

Posted by
14293 posts

I have done 12 Rick Steves tours and 13 Road Scholar tours. I have not visited Petra or Jordan with Road Scholar.

I find the companies fairly comparable in terms of being upfront about what is covered, what will be seen and not having and add on costs.

Road Scholar tour members are often not quite as independent as Rick's tour members. They can be met at the airport and often (not always) the luggage is portered. There have been instances where several people on a tour use canes or walking sticks routinely. I've never had someone who used a walker. Generally the activity level shown on the Road Scholar tours is pretty accurate.

I do find tour members from both groups to be inquisitive, attentive and interesting to travel with.

I've not traveled with OAT but probably would not at this point. I watched closely during the pandemic as to who was refunding money from tours they cancelled and who was wimping out and only offering travel vouchers. OAT fell into the voucher category which struck them off my list. This does not bother others. Rick and Road Scholar both offered complete refunds as they cancelled tours. Rick did the best by far on keeping customers updated with how they were handling refunds.

I would go on Rick's tours or Road Scholar tours...after I am aged out of doing tours with Seymour Travels who does tours of Britain and France, lol. Mark's tours are at a slightly higher activity level than either other company and he has some places I am very interested in so I'll exhaust myself with his tours and then go back to RS and RS, lol.

Posted by
7660 posts

Thank you, everyone for the responses so far. So “RS” works for both Rick Steves and Road Scholar - that hadn’t occurred to me before! I know that Road Scholar used to be called Elder Hostel, which maybe indicates their original customer focus. There are clearly a variety of tour companies out there, with different approaches and appeal.

Any other insight about these, or other tour companies, especially those that have Jordan or Turkey itineraries, will also be very much appreciated.

Posted by
742 posts

I have taken two Odysseys Unlimited tours (actually Smithsonian, which is a rebadged Odysseys tour), one to Turkey and one to southern Italy. Both tours were excellent. The group of travelers on the Turkey tour was probably the best group I have ever traveled with --- smart, inquisitive, energetic, and positive. Our tour guide was amazing. The itinerary and pacing, honed over many years, were perfect. The accommodations were higher end than I am accustomed to, but that was okay. I would travel with them again without hesitation.

I believe that the Odysseys' tour to Egypt offers a post-tour extension to Petra.

Posted by
16938 posts

I will note that Odysseys Unlimited runs tours for a number of university alumni associations as well as for the Smithsonian. This speaks well of them, in my opinion.

Posted by
1048 posts

We are currently on a Road Scholar tour of Bulgaria. Four days in and the hotels (two so far) have been pretty terrible. We're not sure if that just what hotels are like in Bulgaria or whether Road Scholar use bad hotels. Things like barely having hot water and wifi not working have been annoying.

Food overall has been very generous servings of not great food.

Our fellow travellers range from loud, entitled and overbearing to lovely. We are in a group of 23 people.

Pace has been slower than we normally travel and we find the lunch breaks (two hours) too long.

I have been quite shocked at the level of disrespect for local requirements as multiple people have just ignored the no photographs signs in several churches and museums.

We haven't been on any other group tours so don't really have a basis for comparison.

Posted by
1600 posts

OAT has resumed trips to Egypt and Petra. I am scheduled on a trip there with OAT this Sept - Oct including a back to back trip to Ethiopia. These will be my 4th and 5th trips with OAT. I like their limit of 16 on tour group size and the availability of no cost single supplements.

Posted by
913 posts

Cyn,
We have been on a few tours, but only in locations we would have trouble getting around on our own or with major language difficulty:
China (2005) I don't remember the name, but it was not one of the big names. Good tour, about 20-24 people, all congenial. Different guide in each of three locations (Beijing, Xian and Shanghai), with intercity flights. Great hotels and comprehensive experiences (historical and archeological sights, musical entertainments/shows, special traditional meals). Helpful, knowledgable guides, who were excellent in setting us out on our own for free time. Obvious constraint on guides' parts when asked about the Tienanmen Square events. No one in our group put them on the spot as we realized they were not free to discuss them. Overall, a well-run tour, but no spark lit. I am glad we did it but, for me, I don't feel the need to return to China. We were taken to some factories/workshops where we might purchase some Chinese products (silk items, pearl jewelry, cloisonne vases), but we didn't mind because the tours there were really interesting and educational, and there was no hard sell. Good price and value but not outstanding.

Kenya (2009 or 2010?) Lion Tours, a Canadian company who used a Kenyan company on the ground. Outstanding! Just the five of our party. Three safari locations, all top-notch lodges with great food and some entertainment. Same guide for whole tour, Simon, really, really knowledgable on Kenyan history, topography, and especially wildlife. I wish I could remember the name of the on the ground tour company. It was a truly memorable trip. 8 days/ 7 nights on the ground. Great price and value.

Turkey (2015?) Insight Vacations. Not their higher-priced tour, and I think they no longer do the one we took. Two weeks, same guide (terrific!) about 2 dozen people on the tour, mostly Australians, Canadians and Brits. We were the only US tourists. Covered all the major places/museums/sights, stayed in really good hotels and had wonderful lectures from the guide while on the bus, about everything we saw. It was like a mini history and culture class. Once again, congenial co-travelers. We, of course, didn't go to eastern Turkey, so no Mt. Ararat. Not safe there, but we felt safe and comfortable wherever we were. DH and I arrived a day early, so did some sightseeing in Istanbul on our own and walked a lot without any fears. Another good price for the two weeks.
(Do you see a pattern here? We look for bargains, but are too old for a backpacking type trip. Tauck tours and Viking cruises are more then we want to spend.)

Egypt (2019) My #1 bucket list completed for my 75th birthday. Trafalgar Tours, 12 days including a 7 night Nile cruise and day trip, by plane, from Aswan to Abu Simbal. 39 people, and only one couple who were clinkers in the group (Hogging the front of the group for taking pictures of various things/places. Probably clueless about other people...it was all about them). The rest of us had lots of fun, esp. on the cruise...dancing, entertainment, sitting on the open top deck with a cocktail and relishing the sights along the Nile. Our guide was a college teacher who made the whole trip great and educational. It never felt like we were in a horde of tourists. Our fellow travelers were pleasant, laid-back, and fun. We were different age groups, not all couples (e.g. some siblings etc.) and enjoyed each other's company. We got to visit all the major sites, and in depth. Again, top-notch hotels and our boat was not huge, with room for probably and 100 passengers. There were only our group and one other of 8 tourists on board, so no crowding on board. We loved the cruise! Arranged through AAA and again, moderately priced.

We have never used OAT or Odyssey or Viking or Road Scholar, as they are all usually pricier than we want. But we have been happy with our choices and don't feel we were shortchanged in any way.

Posted by
386 posts

We have done 3 OAT tours - 2 small ship cruises (French & Italian Rivieras, and Gems of the Dalmatian Coast), and one land tour (Peru) - and have another (Ultimate Africa) coming up in the fall. We have liked all of them. Small groups (16 for the land tours, ships have max capacity of 50 and you are split into 2 groups for touring). The guides have been consistently excellent, the itinerary well thought out, the pace very active (with options for less activity), plenty of free time. We have had them book airfare, the pricing is competitive and then you get a transfer to the hotel included even if you go a bit early. Demographic is American retirees, but most of the ages on our tours are mid-50s and up. You asked about non-European tours - the Peru trip was fabulous, and the Africa trip (safari) has consistently high ratings and reviews.

That said, OAT's home office can indeed be a mess if something goes wrong. They mishandled pandemic cancellations badly, for sure (we had booked a trip that was cancelled, they decided to change their refund policy after the fact, and many of us had to file dispute with BBB, credit cards and the state attorney office before finally getting a refund). We still will book with them, their tours have been excellent, but we do so with caution and with an expectation that any refund would be a future credit, etc.

We have done 1 1/3 Rick Steves tours (second tour cut short by COVID). So we don't have enough experience to compare, although OAT is much more hands-on with travel arrangements, etc.

We have friends who have done Road Scholar tours and love them, but they sound a bit more like going to class ;)

Posted by
11 posts

I went to Jordan in 2023 with National Geographic Tours. The tour was with GAdventure tours and was excellent. I had rebooked the tour 4 times due to Covid. The 3 rd time GAdventure was going but National Geographic allowed us to reschedule.
I wanted to just go to Jordan and this tour was perfect

I have to Egypt twice with Road Scholars and Turkey with Rick Steves. All excellent tours.

Posted by
7660 posts

Continued thanks to everyone for their responses and detailed information. There are certainly lots of options, and it’s very helpful hearing about individual experiences.