Hi everyone, New here. I'm way overdue for my first visit to France. I have several options to pick from: I have very reasonable priced bus tour option (50 people approx.) Globus who will give me just two days in Paris, then buses us to Beaune, Avignon, Aix-En-Provence (short stops, overnights,town walking tours, not a lot inside things), then on to Nice, Eze and Monaco. All this in 7 days at an unbeatable price. I would be going first week in March. Second option would be a Rick Steve's tour to Paris only for 7 days. More expensive, more in depth, but O.K. if it provides a better experience. Would have to see South of France on another trip. The last option would be to go alone. I am intrigued by the idea, but as a single woman who has never traveled much (age 55) am a bit nervous, but also exited by the prospect of seeing if I could do it. But also wonder if i might be a bit lonely. ANY advice of which option will give me is deeply appreciated. I want the best Experience of Paris, as I am interested in art and history, but most of all want to FEEL Paris! I'm mostly worried about leaving my two precious doggies at home with a pet sitter for the first time!
I have not taken a Rick Steve's tour so I can't comment on the his tours. I took a tour with Cosmos (a branch of Globus) and you spend a lot of time in the bus. To make your schedule you'll need to be up between 6-7:am, breakfast, climb in the bus and then spend between, 3-6 hours on the bus. I found the pace to be exhausting and I was younger then :-)
Big bus tour - you will spend many, many hours on a bus with a seat mate and when off the bus, either herded around like cattle or on your own. Just think about how long it takes for 50 people to get their stuff together and get off the bus. Then get back on the bus. DO NOT DO THIS.
If you've been to a big city, you can manage Paris. English is widely spoken. The metro is easier to use than in the NYC subway or the Chicago el. With the money you save by not taking the RS tour, you can splurge on a private guide or two and take as many small group guided tours as you want.
The RS tours are a great experience where you are never alone unless you choose to be. You'll have lots of company, get to know your tourmates, and have great guides. No mess, no stress.
If you aren't used to traveling alone, the RS tour may be the best option, especially if you aren't naturally outgoing. If you choose the tour, I highly recommend flying to Paris a day earlier, staying at the tour hotel, and giving yourself a day to get over jetlag and catch up on sleep so you are fresh for the start of the tour.
The Globus tour sounds exhausting - as the other poster said, tons of time on a bus, it will go by in a blurr. I wouldn't do it. Although I haven't done a Rick Steves tour either, I would opt for that tour of Paris easily over the Globus tour. Paris is huge and there is a ton to see.
Perhaps you can add a few days at the end to do a day trip or two from Paris - get your feet wet doing things alone. There are some easy day trips by train you can do e.g. Rouen.
I did my first trip to Europe to London and Paris as a solo trip, many years ago, not before the internet but before smart phones. I enjoyed London very much, but I feel in love with Paris, even though it was a bit stressful the first few hours (I winged it and literally hadn't prepared at all - so naive on that first trip!). Today with a smart phone it's far easier to find your way around and get information plus of course book things. So doing it solo would be a lot easier than it was when I did it. I wouldn't completely rule it out. (You can still do walking tours as you desire in Paris too.) FYI, on my solo trips I often talk to other English-speaking tourists, and more than once I've wound up having dinner with them - and I'm not even the most outgoing person you'll meet.
As for the dogs: consider a short weekend trip or overnight with the dog sitter as a trial, both for you and for them. Then you can know what it's like to leave them with this person and shouldn't worry as much the next time.
See south of France in another trip , it's not going to be summery there yet in march so wandering around not as fun .
I would hate the globes tour , 50 way too many , you are rushing about , you will stay in large impersonal mostly chain hotels not centrally located ( my ex MIL took one of Italy ) .
I personally would suggest either the T tour or doing Paris in your own ( I have and it's great city for solo women )
One thing that may sway you to a RS tour is they actually teach you how to travel , so next time if you go back you'll have way more confidence . And the smaller group tour is the way to go as the RS groups tend to be more friendly and stick together by choice even in free time
Years ago we took a Globus tour(not of France) and the Tour Director was terrible. My husband refers to him as a Nazi. However I (not my husband-it turned him against bus tours) would take the tour again because we did see a lot for our $4000 each(counting airfare).
You should consider solo to save money and stay longer, then take a bus tour to the Loire Valley and maybe a guided tour in Paris. The first time I ever went to Europe I was able to navigate the French subway ok and I don't speak French.
We have toured Europe on our own and gone on 7 RS tours. The first RS tour we took was because friends had just taken one and raved about it. One of the RS tours we took was the Paris 7 day trip.
Even though I had been there twice and hubby once we decided to do the 7 day tour. We do like the size of his tours and the fact that you have many local guides along with the main RS guide. Also, you do have some free time to go off and do things not included, sometimes with other tour mates or on your own.
The RS guide with your group will also help you plan your free time with suggestions or answer your questions.
One other piece of advice is go in at LEAST one day early for any tour. We do 2 days early. On 2 of our RS tours there were people who arrived late and missed the first day because of airline rescheduling.
Then they were trying to catch up and get over jet lag.
The RS guides do a great job of teaching the tour mates how to travel, and a lot about local customs.
Even if you don't travel with the RS group get his French language book. It is small and easy to carry around and comes in handy. We always do this a few months before a trip and practice speaking the language during dinner at night. Do some extra research even if you take a tour of any kind so that you will know the kinds of things you would like to see and do in your free time.
Most importantly, Have Fun!
The tour experiences are like comparing apples to oranges. I’ve taken 14 RS tours and 1 Globus cattle drive. Globus serves a purpose but it’s more what you are not getting than what you are. The quality of Globus guides is a crap shoot. They spend more time keeping groups together than educating you and they always love to take you to local stores where they earn commissions. The Globus tour will let you see a lot but experience very little - except for bus rides.
I’ve found that Rick!s guides to be exceptional. They constantly teach you about the country, it’s people, it’s customs. By staying in Paris for an entire week, you’ll get a good feeling about what France is. You’ll see the highlights of one of the world’s great cities and have enough free time to explore either alone or with some tour mates. For me a nice benefit of the tours is meeting and becoming friends with others on my trip. I still correspond with folks I met on my first trip to Venice in 2002 and even travelled with one on other RS tours and independently.
With your investment in airfare and time, don’t let a few hundred dollars in tour cost jeopardize the enjoyment of your trip.
fermsus, consider taking the RS "Paris and the Heart of France" tour, and tack on a few extra days on your own in Paris at beginning and/or end. Its a great way to see more than just Paris, while giving you a good first look at Paris. They'l show you how to use the Metro for example, and make suggestions on what to see on your own.
Is it expensive? Well, there have been countless discussions here as to advantages and disadvantages of tours vs independent travel, and RS tours vs other companies. Take a look at the itinerary and see if it interests you. You can do it on your own for less money, but more stress, less efficient, and less "in depth".
I did the Rick Steves Paris 7-day tour a few years ago and it was excellent. Group size of about 24 people. In addition to the group tour guide, who knew quite a bit about Paris herself, we had great specialty guides for the Louvre, Monmartre, l'Orangerie, and Versailles. I had been to Paris twice on my own before that trip and the RS visit was the best one.
We wanted our first time to Europe to be somewhat easy as we had never traveled much except by car in the USA. We chose the RS Paris and the Heart of France and thought it was excellent. We have been on 5 RS tours since. It is a well rounded tour in that we saw a lot of France and got to spend the most time in Paris of all the France tours except the Paris city tour. It was long enough, but not excessive for first time European tourists and for us it was an easy direct flight in both directions. As mentioned, go at least a day early and with this tour if you want more time in Paris you can stay longer as you will end up back in Paris. The RS guides and the local guides were all tremendous.
Go back and read Chani's post again. She makes some excellent points. We've taken a number of RS' tours, have traveled independently, and lived in Europe. Since this is your first trip, doing it with a group will greatly decrease the stress and apprehension levels as opposed doing it independently. My suggestion is to do the RS week in Paris or his Paris and Heart of France tour if you have that much time. With a RS tour you will not be a bit lonely, and yet you'll have enough free time to explore and feel the places on your own. Traveling as much as we have, we've encountered many of the "small cost = big group bus" tours and I think you will be doing yourself a great disservice by doing one as your first experience. The is an old saying about getting what you pay for. If the price is cheap, there's a good chance the experience will be the same.
In order to "feel Paris" you need to allow yourself the time to do so. It has so many things to see and do that it's tempting to flit from place to place. Sometimes the best part is stopping and doing nothing. Just sitting in a park or cafe, or strolling around. You can't do that on a tight schedule, and you'll miss out.
It's certainly doable on your own. But if you need more companionship, or feel too intimidated, go on the RS tour. Definitely read the RS guidebook. If you feel confident after reading it, think about doing it yourself. My parents did and it worked out great.
(edit) Also, let us know what you decide, and come back later to report on it. Start reading this forum obsessively like the rest of us do.
Does the Globus tour give you a real two days in Paris or just part of two days? The only way to get two full days in Paris - a place well worth well over twice that for a decent first look - is to spend three nights. Always think in nights, not days. If you think in days like some tours do what you get is part of a day doing something then a whole lot of travel so your actual experience time is way smaller.
If I were in your shoes I'd avoid the Globus tour unless you prefer being cooped up, huge proportions of your time on buses with no room to spread out, and being herded everywhere or just seeing places out the bus window or out the bus window of the two people across the aisle on the bus. Understand the difference in meaning in tour brochures between visiting, visiting with a guide, viewing and seeing. They mean very different things.
I would then choose between the Rick Steves tour which will be very directed at what you are actually doing, with plenty of local guides and plenty of room to stretch out and time to do things on your own if you wish or with others if you wish to do that, and will answer your questions and generally help - or planning and doing it yourself, with the built in freedom (and lack of anybody to help that goes with it), possibly lower final price, but not able to cover as much or as in depth as you get with the tour.
It really is a difficult choice, but one you have to make. If you can eliminate one of the three choices then you only have to choose between the remaining two.
Whatever choice you make I hope you will enjoy the dickens out of it, and come back here and tell us all about it.
You may think you get free advice here from people who have travelled a whole lot, certainly a huge amount cumulatively - and you do - but the trick is to pay it back and become a contributor too.
I agree with all of the above points. You have laid out three very different options, and one can do well or poorly with each - a lot depends on you, what you expect, and how much "work" you want to do in advance. Remember that when you take a tour, a lot of what you're paying for is that someone else is doing a lot of the work - picking hotels, figuring out what you will see and when, getting you from place to place. When you do it yourself, you save money, but you have to do all of this work yourself. Most of us on this Forum love this aspect of traveling; the trade-off is that we see and do exactly what we want, when we want to. But others find this kind of planning exhausting, scary, or just too difficult.
I have a coworker who says that she and her husband hate traveling on their own, because their conversations at home are "Where should we go for dinner?" "I don't know, where do you want to go?" back and forth, over and over. On a trip, this kind of thing occurs with them every part of every day - so they do much better on a tour, where someone else is taking them around and telling them what to see and do. Of course, this kind of regimentation would drive me crazy - what if the tour says it's time to leave the Louvre, and I want to stay? Or, what if I want to leave the Louvre, and the tour still has one more hour there?
Just to throw a wrench into this, there are other tour options besides Globus and Rick Steves Paris. There are other Rick Steves tours of France, and I agree with the suggestion above that for a first visit to France you should pick one of these. It's easy to get back to Paris on a future trip, so you don't need to "see it all" on a first trip. And the point above, that Rick's tours teach you how to travel independently, is important. After an RS tour, you'll feel much more confident about traveling on your own.
Another option is a tour from another company that's more upscale than Globus. These are not quite so whirlwind, are more likely to use central hotels, and won't leave you needing a vacation from your vacation. You can look at Gate 1, Trafalgar, Maupintours, and Tauck (in ascending order of price and fancy-ness).
Chani's point about cities is very important. How comfortable or familiar are you with big cities where you need to take mass transit? If you can handle New York or Chicago on your own, you can tackle Paris on your own. Yes, the money is different and you have to deal with signs in a foreign language, but the "big city skills" are mostly the same. On the other hand, if the idea of seeing New York on your own is intimidating, you may do better with a tour for a first visit. If you're not used to subways, taxis, and LOTS of walking, there is definitely a learning curve (some posters here don't understand this, but living in New York, I understand that it's not a typical US experience not to drive everywhere).
If you do want to learn more about the RS tour experience, there are various threads about it, including some where people compare it to other tours. Here are a few:
Bonjour, I appreciate all your help! You all confirmed what I was suspecting about a big bus tour being too rushed. You've all been so kind. A few more questions, s'il vous plait? Would you all recommend March (this year) or Oct or November of next? I'm determined to go in 2018, but am also eager to avoid crowds as much as possible. As far as weather, I can't deal with heat and, odd as it sounds, would like to feel the weather with the most mystery? With a RS tour, crowds may not be as much of an issue, but could affect how it FEELS to be there. Also, does anyone know how his hotels are in terms of quality? A friend of mine recently traveled to Paris her daughters and insisted on 4, 5 star hotels. In contemplating a trip alone, a group called Tripmasters set me up with a tentative plan with a hotel (reviewed in pictures and reviews) that was absolutely lovely (small, "boutiquey", antiques, more B and B style, affordable). I guess I'm silly, but I was ready to go just to stay there! In other words, I'm wondering if the RS tour is more practical, hard-nose academic and historic, but not as "romantique"'? I hope all this doesn't sound too strange. I'm single, never married, and am educated (graduate degree) and studied French in college (quite rusty now, but could get a point across), but hope to see things, learn things, but the FEELing of la vie parisienne will be my best memory
I would advise against the Globus tour. I did one many years ago and the experience was much like that shared by other posters. Paris is very manageable for women traveling solo. I have done 2 solo trips to Paris at age 65+, though these were not my first visits so I didn't need to go to the major sights that are top on the list for most first-timers. However, for some good logistics, especially about getting around Paris, I would be happy to share my blogs. If you are interested, please PM me and I'll reply with the links.
A thought I have, too, is if you can swing it, how about some time in Paris on your own, then add on a Rick Steves tour of another area of France.
de rien. Well the Rick Steves tour will be a darn sight more romantique than a Big Bus tour, I promise. I think it gives a good balance.
Be aware that the number of stars in France has nothing to do with the quality - only the amenities as they match up to a particular list. I only stay at 5 and 4 star paces when somebody else is paying, or if they are having a fabulous sale (like often happens in Brussels for example).
If you want to FEEL the place you need to be nearer to the ground. 5 star places bring in the very rich and those on business, neither of which will be what you are looking for, I believe.
The sooner you make your trip the sooner you can start planning for the next one.
October can be a good time, but there will be more crowds than early Spring and hotels can be quite expensive if there are still shows going on. September tends to be the most expensive and busy because of all the trade shows and other shows (I don't mean theatre) that pack the Paris calendar in September. I'd pick March over November, but if I were choosing any time I'd go in May.
Harold is correct in saying "...Rick's tours teach you how to travel independently...after a RS tour you'll feel much more confident about traveling on your own". Based on what you've said about your background it seems to me one of the RS tours will be a very good match. Strongly suggest you give one serious consideration. I really think it will be a great introduction to many later travels.
I have several single women friends who did different RS tours and loved them. They each made friends with people they met on the tour and have stayed in touch. Some have even traveled with their new friends again.
Merci encore! INigel said May would be ideal; it sounds so. But will crowds impact me on a tour such as RS or is one less affected than as would be traveling solo. I absolutely don't enjoy crowds more than the average person and will accept less perfect weather to avoid them, but I'm not sure if a tour group is impacted much. I can pretty much go anytime of year, but don't like a lot of heat and sun, want to avoid crowds and a lower price on airfare etc is a plus>Thank you Andrew, I definitely will do a weekend test run with a pet sitter and hope for the best, as my little guys are difficult. One hates dogs and the other can bite people. Yikes!
I'll base my answer on your last response, not your initial post, plus the fact that I've done Paris multiple times both as solo female traveler (including my first ever trip there) and with friends. I've stayed on my own in Paris for longer periods of time than you are contemplating - it's an excellent city with lots to do and offers many options for day trips that are easy to get to via public transit.
I disagree you need to be naturally outgoing/extroverted to successfully travel on your own. I am more of an introvert, yet find when I travel solo, locals and other tourists inevitably strike up conversations with me because it's far easier to approach someone on their own than it is to approach friends or a group - especially if you are traveling in a pack - which is essentially what you'll be doing with 20 to 50 others if you go the tour bus route.
But if you feel strongly you can't possibly master taking public transit on your own, you have difficulty following GPS or map directions to walk or take a subway/bus from Point A to Point B, or don't want to be bothered doing some research on sightseeing, lodging or restaurants, then by all means go with the tour group - but IMO, it goes against the experience you say you are seeking.
You mentioned you had some company already create an initial itinerary for a solo visit and provide you with the names of some boutique hotels you might enjoy, and I'd venture to say whatever that service costs, it's probably still less than a tour. I'm sure for an additional fee, they'll handle all the details of booking everything for you, but I can tell you that if you are willing to invest a little time and effort online, and willing to crack open a few guidebooks, you can put something together on your own and spend that money you just saved elsewhere.
If you did it on your own, you can easily spend the whole time in Paris, but if you wanted to get a taste of some things outside of the city, maybe a day trip to Vaux-le-Vicomte instead of Versailles (which is perpetually crowded), or depending on your interests, Rouen, Chartres or Reims. Giverny won't be in bloom in March, but you'd be able to enjoy the house and see the ponds without the oppressive crowds you'll find in season.
First you really need to decide what it is you want. In your 1st post you talk about wanting the experience of Paris, but then you were also considering a tour that went all over France and vicinity. Keep in mind what RS says, "assume you'll be back". Whichever of these 2 sounds best at the moment, it doesn't mean you have to forswear the other forever.
If you want just to stay in Paris and perhaps some day trips out then I would not recommend the RS tour unless money is not an issue. The RS experience will be great, you'll have wonderful guides and they'll use your time efficiently, you will make travel buddies with the people on the trip. But for what the RS tour charges you could put together your own set of tours and even arrange for a day or two with a guide and still come out way less. It isn't that hard to get to one hotel in a major city and stay there on your vacation.
On the other hand I do feel that for multi-location tours such as the Paris and The Heart of France you can't do better on your own in terms of experience per dollar. Rather than getting lost in each of several locations that are new to you, your guide will take you to the museums and sights where you don't have to wait (tours can arrange group admission times). They "create" additional time over what you can do on your own because their bus picks you up at your hotel and drops you near the next one. Contrast this with getting to the train station across town in time for the train, then showing up in a new city and having to figure out how to work the local transit to get to your hotel. When you try to duplicate the locations and sights of a tour like this on your own in can't be done in the time the RS tour can do it in, and by the time you add in the extra days you need plus the cost of guides (inexpensive public tours are much less common in smaller towns compared to a large city like Rome or Paris) you've spent as much or more.
edit: one deciding factor may be solo vs group travel. The topic comes up regularly on the forum. The search tool isn't that good but here is one discussion: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/venice-florence-rome-1st-time-advise Or maybe you want to start a new discussion on the topic to see what people say.
Regarding solo travel. I have no doubt that you can do this successfully. The real question is, "What types of travel experiences do you enjoy the most?" Do you like to do your own thing and meet people as you go? Do you like to be able share some of what you are experiencing with others?
I am completely capable to traveling places by myself and I am not "worried" about doing so. What I have noticed, however, is that sharing the experience with others is part of how I enjoy traveling. It is just the way I am made. Sometimes I do that sharing by texts and pictures to my children and sometimes I do that sharing by traveling with someone else.
A solo traveler never has to match anyone else's schedule or preferences. If you have strong likes and dislikes, going solo makes that a little bit easier. Really not interested in that museum? Just skip it and do something that interests you. On the other hand, I have some terrific experiences that I would never have sought out on my own but only went because a travel companion was interested.
There are pros and cons for each style of travel. You simply need to determine which will meet your individual style, needs, and budget best. Have a wonderful trip!
I've only glanced over the previous replies, so sorry if I'm repeating anything that's already been mentioned. A few thoughts based on the information you've posted......
I would most definitely avoid the Globus tour. If they're covering all that in seven days, you're going to be spending most of your time on the bus and minimal time actually seeing anything. Based on the typical way the big bus tours operate, the "unbeatable" price will likely be offset by a lot of "extras" which will be offered during the tour. There will also be the gratuities for the guide and driver, and all that will make the "reasonable priced bus tour" more expensive than might appear at first glance.
Your wording suggests some degree of "apprehension" about doing this trip on your own, and with that in mind I would absolutely suggest one of the RS tours. The groups are small (no more than 28) and above all you'll learn some valuable travel skills that you can apply to future trips. The RS tour will provide a fantastic introduction to France and will be more rewarding and enjoyable experience. You'll learn at lot about the history, the culture and most importantly the foods in the different areas you'll be visiting.
There are lots of RS France tours available and if the tour you choose doesn't include Paris, you could always arrive a few days early and with the RS France guidebook you'll be able to cover the main sites in Paris on your own. If your time and budget will allow, the tour I'd recommend is the Loire to the South of France (13 days). If money is a concern, you could also take the My Way France 13 day tour, which covers a similar route ending in the south of France. With that tour your hotels and transportation would be arranged, but you'd be on your own for sightseeing, meals, etc. (unless you decided to join some of the other tour members). For your first trip to France, my suggestion would be the fully guided tour. The tours run from about May to the end of October.
If this is your first trip to Europe, I'd also highly recommend reading Europe Through The Back Door, as that provides a lot of good information on how to travel well in Europe. Whichever tour you choose, the group here can help you work out all the fine details with suggestions on favourite things to see in Paris, getting around, etc. (it would be a good idea to pack the guidebook along on the trip, as it will be a good source of reference).
Regardless of which trip you decide on, the dogs will be spending time with the pet sitter regardless. I've dealt with that too, so know how that works. If you have a reliable and caring pet sitter, I'm sure the dogs will be fine.
Good luck with your planning!
I'm a veteran of 8 RS tours so that's what I recommend. Love the itinerary, guides, and education. I'm signed up to do Paris in 7 Days for the second time this year with a girlfriend (first time was 10 years ago solo). With your background and interests, it's pretty much guaranteed that you will have a wonderful time on this tour. By the end of the week you'll feel like you really know Paris, and can navigate with a map and a metro pass. The well-planned itinerary and excellent guide will ensure that you make the most of your time; you'll get to the sites before the crowds, and be able to skip many of the lines with your included Paris Museum Pass.
As others suggested, plan to arrive a full day early so you can begin to get over the jet-lag. Make a reservation at the tour hotel and take a walk around the neighborhood to get your bearings. When traveling alone I pay the single supplement, to me it's worth it to have my own room at the end of the day. Others have had luck sharing with a room mate. Your call. The hotels are small, some family owned, not chain hotels.
The tour groups are small (24-28), comprised of people from all over the US and Canada. They are on vacation, eager to learn about the country and to have fun. In my experience, the "city" tours attract more single people or those traveling alone. Rick Steves tours are an efficient and effective way to see the city. I usually travel during April, May, Sep, and Oct. Put Paris on your list as soon as possible!
As to the romantic weather, I hope someone who lives in or has spent a lot of time in Paris will speak up here. In the meantime you can use this link to see what it might be like in Paris and other places month by month.
I looked at the RS France tours and they may not be in sync with when you want to go. But if I were you, I'd adjust my schedule and plan around one of them. Adding extra time before and/or after the tour is the best of both worlds.
I've planned trips for the past 40 years, for me on my own as well as for my husband and I. Now that he's no longer enthusiastic about traveling outside the US, I'm back to traveling on my own.
After doing 6 self-planned weeks solo in the UK in 2016, I decided to try doing the RS Village Italy tour in 2017 with a total of about 16 nights before and after the tour divided among Rome, Ravenna, Venice and Milan. That was the perfect formula for me. Like all RS tours, there was plenty of free time and I could opt out of some activities.
When I'm gone, I keep in frequent communication with my husband who spends most of his summers racing in the Pacific NW, so I really don't miss him.
Cisco, our dog, is a different matter. I miss him a lot. He stays in Tucson. Over the years, the best solution for him has been to board him. He's been there so often that he totally ignores us in favor of the staff when we arrive.
Finally, I can relate to the concept of feeling a place. Renting an apartment can enhance the ability to do that. I've tended toward apartments since 2011 when I first learned that short term apartment rentals were possible.
There aren't any big savings on any kind of lodging when you travel solo and I understand there are some issues around renting apartments in Paris these days, but depending on how you decide to do this trip, it might be worth considering.
You won't be lonely. Everyone is there to enjoy a good time.
I took the Paris and Heart of France tour 4 years ago and the 7 Days in Paris tour a few months ago. For me, the Paris and Heart of France tour was the best experience of Paris. I found that Paris in 7 Days was too insular an experience. Every second of the Paris & Heart of France tour was electric for me. Paris, Loire Valley, Mont St Michel, Giverny ... it is like 4 versions of heaven.
For me, there is nothing like the Louvre, the Orsay, Sainte-Chapelle or any spot from where one can see the Eiffel Tower. I think Brittany, Normandy and the Loire Valley are perfect. Normandy and Brittany might be more suited to Anglo-American ways, possibly because of their history of getting English visitors. The north of France is consistently clean.
Travel can be a bit of a scam. A secret you might learn from a RS tour guide is that many places became important tourist spots simply because 150 years ago the railroads saw a marketing opportunity to sell travelers tickets to towns that 'discovered' their ancient, healing springs. Before the railroads it was what? It was pilgrimages to shrines and religious artifacts. And in the last few decades it is UNESCO World Heritage sites. Some UNESCO World Heritage sites I've visited seemed pretty lame. So that covers southern France.
For your second RS tour, take a tour that includes Lauterbrunnen.
Just saw your 2nd question. October would beat March.
My trips to Paris and northern France have both been on April 1 and they were near perfect for seeing the trees bud and bloom. The landscapers don't put out the flowers until after mid-April. The flowers will add a lot of enjoyment to your trip.
Please don't go when there's no flowers.
If you follow Rick Steves you might already know this but I'll repeat it. If you have a registered tour guide in Europe, you'll get to skip the line and enter the venue (museum or castle, etc) immediately. Even though I already had my ticket for the Van Gogh Museum I had to stand in the cold rain for hours before getting in. If you're going to the beach or the mountains or an uncrowded venue then you won't need a guided tour. In Paris, if you want to see the popular attractions, you'll get to see twice as much in half the time with a guide.
I guess RS excludes the Eiffel Tower from his Paris tours because he can't get front of the line privileges there.
Spring comes at a little different time each year so my experience may not be typical. in 2015 I spent the second half of April in Paris, there were flowers everywhere - flower beds along boulevards and parks - many trees were in bloom - huge splotches of pink and yellow, and fragrant lilacs too. The weather was pleasant, little rain (guess I lucked out), some days I needed a jacket, a few days were a little too warm for an accent scarf. I suspect early March will look more dreary than romantic in Paris - bare trees, gray days. I've also been to Paris in Sept-Oct and it was beautiful with fall colours beginning to appear.
Paris is a big city, there are always crowds. They are mostly people who live and work there. It's also one of the top 2-3 tourist destinations (maybe the top), so there are always lots of tourists. RS tour guides are adept at avoiding crowded times and places, and groups almost always get preference for sight entry, so no long waiting lines. On your own, there are tips for avoiding crowding and lines at major sights - others aren't an issue.
One of the RS goals is to give you an experience and that usually includes meeting locals, going places that are off the beaten path, and getting insights you may be hard put to do on your own. Most people who take RS tours are actively seeking this type of tour, so you are more than likely to be with like-minded people you can share your thoughts and feelings with as you learn together. There's always free time when you can go choose to go off on your own join some of your tourmates. It's also not unheard of to skip one or more of the tour activities to do something on your own.
If you think you can handle the logistics of a big modern city on your own, read on. Otherwise stop here and sign up for a tour. If you are still reading . . . how comfortable are you within yourself? If you go to dinner at a restaurant, do you look wistfully at all the lively conversation around you or do you relax and enjoy a fine meal quietly? When you see a stunning view, do you soak it in and feel joy, or is it a little of a downer that you have no one to share it with. If you think you'll enjoy exploring on your own, many of us "soloists" can give you tips so you won't feel all alone all the time. Lastly, it occurs to me that if you will be worried over your pets, being with on a tour is better, less time on your own to think about it and people around you to comfort you.
I travel solo. It's easier than with a group because you can go when you want, stop when you want, eat when you want, sleep when you want, see what you want, etc. I also think it's easier to meet locals for casual conversation when you are by yourself. When you travel with a group you tend to talk among yourselves exclusively.
I took one bus tour in 2000. I'll never take another. First thing to know about bus tours is they are built around a tight schedule so there's very little doing what you want (at least until they are done touring for the day). The brochures are painfully literal. If the brochure says "see Paris", it doesn't mean you are going to stop, relax and enjoy Paris. It means you will drive by and the guide will say, "If you look to your left, you can see Paris." Unless it says "visit" or "tour", expect you won't do either. The stops are decided, as often as not, by which places have big bus parking; so you will see the big tourist draws and nothing else.
When I plan, I decide where to start. For France, I decided it would take four trips to do a decent visit. Each trip, for me, is about 18 nights. I broke it up into four loops, NE, NW, SE and SW. I then decided which I wanted to do first. So far I've done the first three.
Traveling in March, I'd go south. I went to Bordeau in early May and it was still too cold to enjoy. I'd wait until at least later May to plan a visit. Paris is fine any time because there is always so much to see and do, but it will be cold in March. Even south can be cold, but less so.
If I were only going 7 days, and it was my first trip, I'd stay in Paris the entire time with maybe a daytrip to Versailles (also cold in March). You will find plenty to do. One thing you might really enjoy is booking a tour with Paris Greeters. They are local volunteers and will show you any number of things based on your expressed interest. I took an architecture tour with a retired architect. He asked if I wanted to see the classics downtown or something out of the normal tourist zone. I chose the latter. His English was great and his knowledge and passion for the subject really showed. I only scheduled one but it might be worth scheduling a couple on completely different subjects.
Regarding October. I've been in Paris early the last two Octobers. The weather was really nice, maybe a jacket and some rain, occasionally, but not enough to stay away from. Mostly comfortably warm days with cool nights and mornings. The first weekend in October is an all night ephemeral art exhibition all over the city ("White Night"?) The great thing about Paris is there is always some fete going on any time of year.
Just some suggestions for other tour companies:
Some of my girlfriends have taken their tours several times. The advantage of OAT is that there is no single supplemental charge.
Totally a different bit of advice - I am a teacher and have been doing petsitting on the side for over 20 years. I always recommend contacting your vet to see if they have a list of people that they recommend as petsitters. Clients very often ask, so many vets develop a list. Often, their vet techs do petsitting (so people trained with working with animals and already know your dogs). Also ask friends for recommendations of petsitters. Once you found someone you like the sound of, ask them to come over, meet you, and meet the pets. I usually have a 3 page info sheet that I complete during this introduction session. Seeing how they interact with the dogs can help you pick the right people. Also, try to find a petsitter that will come stay at your place with the dogs and not just drop in. It keeps things more normal for the pets. So, I hope you are able to find someone great to take care of your dogs so you can relax and enjoy France. I'm heading there myself this summer.
Any spring before Easter week will have smaller crowds. The touring season begins with a bang Easter week and on. March is rainy and misty, if that's what you mean by romantic weather. September and October are what we call the silver touring season. All the retirees are out in force.
Yes, even on a RS tour you'll be subjected to crowds. No guide can make the crowds go away if you are seeing major sites. As others have stated, the advantage of the RS tour is that it teaches you how to travel on your own. It seems to have a nice mix of guided visits and down time to do things on your own.
I've never taken one of his tours but I have lived in and visited France on and off for over forty years.
I've said in here that group tours are forced marches, and the Globus certainly looks like that in spades.
RS tours might not be, but others have spoken to that.
As for solo, the only time I like group tours is for people who have never traveled to Europe (or anywhere) before.
So at your age (which is mine too) and with some apprehensions, I'd do a smaller group tour. 24 people sounds good, but even a little smaller would be better (but then the cost would probably go up).
Solo travel can be lonely, no doubt about it.
Also, stick with Paris for your first time, since it sounds like you have 7 to 10 days only? Art and history out the wazoo.
If you're flexible, try April/May if you can. I don't think you'd see much in bloom in March, but who would get a little as late as October.
Not sure how to feel Paris, but you'll eventually smell it, good and bad.