I love Rick Steves and have been wanting to do one of his tours. However, I viewed CIE International Tours too, which seem a little more economical. RS wants a higher price and have us pay for 1/2 our dinners. CIE International has most dinners. Has anyone done both RS and CIE tours and can discuss the differences? Both have some tours I definitely want, and both have some tours that I can do without. We don't want to drive ourselves. Advice please?
I haven't been on either one, but it seems to me that if you're paying separately for half of the dinners, you'll have control over how expensive/cheap of a meal you choose to order. When dinner is included in the tour price, you'll probably have less choice of what to eat.
I haven't taken a tour with either company, but the first thing I'd check would be the maximum number of people in the tour group.
Just the 2 of us - my husband and I will be on a tour.
Oh, and CIE had about 45 people and RS stated about 25.
That's what I meant: A half-full tour bus is a lot more comfortable, plus it will take less time to unload and reload at each stop. That would be worth a fair amount to me.
And I'd actually prefer not to be tied to a lot of group meals, though they are necessary during the day when the group has a packed schedule.
Another question: Are tips included? I believe all are included on the Rick Steves tours. I don't know about CIE.
Tips are included with both. Any other tour companies I should be looking at?
I haven't done both, but I have done 2 Rick Steves Tours. The smaller group of travelers matters. The dinners with Rick Steves are generally quite good and allow you to explore some of the local foods/restaurants with your travel companions. Don't underestimate the value to the guides provided with the tour. It isn't just about money, it is also about value. I feel like I get good value for my travel experience when I am on a Rick Steves tour.
An example of a Rick Steves dinner on the Best of Switzerland tour (Lugano) was taking a chartered boat across the lake to a shoreline restaurant where we were split into groups and had a risotto making lesson and then sat in the brilliant sunshine and enjoyed our risotto and the rest of the meal which had been prepared by the restaurant. This would be very hard to replicate on your own.
I would pay attention to the itinerary for both tours and look for one that matches your interest.
I took a CIE tour in Ireland and have taken RS tours to Scandinavia, Italy, and Turkey. Here are my observations:
- There were only 28 on my particular CIE tour, but our guide doubled as our driver. I liked the guide very much and he did a nice job, but in retrospect, he was more like an activities director rather than the historians that RS uses. Without doubt, the RS guides are unmatched. I would have been miserable if there were 45 people on the tour.
- The hotels on the CIE tour were very nice 4 star business type affairs with full amenities. If you wanted, your suitcase would be taken to your room after check in and picked up from your room and taken to the bus. I usually took my case up to the room myself so that I could have it before dinner. A few times, however, the hotel was not in a central location. On RS, you handle your own bags, and the hotels are 3 star, generally family owned, and in a central location. We did stay in 2 business/resort hotels on the Turkey tour. There have been 2 hotels on my RS tours that I wouldn't want to experience again, but the locations were great. Over all, I prefer the sometimes quirky, centrally located, family owned hotels.
- There were some shopping stops on the CIE tour. No shopping stops with RS except for the Turkish rugs stop that you could opt out of.
- There were many more itinerary choices with CIE in Ireland, you can pick what sites you want to see. With RS in Ireland, you see what he thinks is best.
- On my CIE tour tips were NOT covered for the guide. We were given a recommendation about how much to give the guide and I think it was 10 Euros per person per day. RS does not allow guides to accept tips.
- The dinners with CIE were at the hotels. The food was of good quality and nutritious, but not the same as eating at a local restaurant. Some of the RS meals were of this nature as well, but some were better.
I absolutely loved my CIE tour. It was supposed to be my one and only overseas trip and instead, it turned out to be the first of many. After I returned home and knew that I wanted to go again, I started looking for a tour company that matched my style of travel better. That is when I ran across RS tours. If you want a nice tour of Ireland in comfort with more itineraries to choose from, you will have a great time with CIE. (Cross your fingers that you don't get 45 tour mates). If you want to focus on learning the history and are OK with more casual amenities, go with RS.
Feel free to ask me any specific questions.
I like vandabrud's comparison of the RS tour vs the CIE tour. You also asked if there were any other tour companies you should look at, so I'd suggest Road Scholar at www.roadscholar.org
I've done 11 Rick Steves tour and 11 Road Scholar tours - 6 international and 5 US based (activity focused - hiking, genealogy and birding). I've done Rick's Best of Ireland.
I'll use a similar breakdown to vandabrud:
Tour sizes - generally similar - 24-28. I've had a couple of Road Scholar tours that had smaller numbers. All the Rick tours and most of the Road Scholar tours had full sized buses for the small group so you have 2 seats to yourself. The exception was a Road Scholar tour of Cornwall where we did day tours from a base in Falmouth and had a small 20-person van. That worked well for some of the places we visited as a regular sized coach could not have gotten down some of those roads.
Hotels - similar - all in City Centers. The Road Scholar ones are usually more business class and generally have elevators. The only one that I've stayed in that did not have an elevator was last fall in Arles and it is also a hotel Rick uses for his tours. The location is so perfect that I can't imagine staying anywhere else. I've been fine with most of the accommodation on my Rick and Road Scholar tours. I usually get a single supplement so sometimes my room is pretty small but that's Europe. There was one hotel on the Ireland tour that I'd not return to but that tour also had the nicest room I might have ever stayed in, lol (Dingle!).
Shopping - no shopping stops on either Rick's or Road Scholar tours.
Itinerary choices - Road Scholar probably has more itinerary choices but fewer tour dates. I find the Road Scholar office very aggravating as they will NOT tell you how many are signed up for a tour where as Rick's office is very transparent and helpful. There have been some complaints on the very pathetic Road Scholar forums regarding program cancellations but that probably would not keep me from signing up for more with them. At this point in my travel "career" I choose either of these companies based on itinerary alone. I'll also say this about the Rick Steves office staff - I think most of his employees are (or were) allowed a free tour after they have worked for him for a certain period. The fact that the person you are talking to has often traveled on a RS tour or at least to Europe means they are miles ahead of other companies where the employees have not traveled. I have gotten very good advice from them even on matters that were not my initial question!
Tips - Covered by your tour cost for both Rick Steves and Road Scholar. BTW, Rick's guides are not forbidden from taking tips. They are forbidden to imply they should be tipped. I have on occasion given a gratuity privately to a guide as I am vegan and sometimes they have to work hard to get me vegan meals.
Meals - Road Scholar generally covers more meals but sometimes they are in hotels. The last tour I took was Provence and all the meals were in local restaurants like Rick's are. I don't think I've ever had a hotel meal with Rick's groups. TBH, I prefer meals on my own. With group meals you wind up eating later than I like and there is often more food than I want.
Groups - To me the Rick Steves tour members are a little more independent than the Road Scholar tour members. You have to get yourself to a meet up point whereas Road Scholar will often provide airport transportation if you book airfare with them. Rick's Guides do more teaching you how to travel independently than Road Scholar guides. Of course in Ireland that wasn't a big feature except in Dublin but it's important in any of the bigger cities. His tours have helped me develop into an independent traveler although I still love tours for the itineraries, guide content and group interaction. Travelers with both groups are generally interesting and interested in everything.
I've taken two tours with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) to Peru and Sicily. They both had small groups and good guides. Those are two factors I've appreciated on the six Rick Steves tours that I've taken. However on the RS tours there were 24 tour members compared to 16 with OAT.
Friends have recommended Odyssey Unlimited tours and I know they have small groups and nicer accommodations. Both OAT and Odyssey tours take care of all of your luggage transportation (from bus to hotel room and back) while RS makes you tote your own luggage to and from the bus.
The OAT Peru meals were rather bland but in Sicily they were great including a home hosted meal and a fun cooking lesson. Also, the hotels were nicer in Sicily.
I took a Collette tour of France which had great accommodations and food but the bus was full with 45 tour members and the guide was great with logistics but had no knowledge of the area, instead they relied solely on local guides which was much less desirable (usually guides give local historical and cultural information during the bus rides). The Collette guide flew over for the tour versus the RS and OAT tour guides living in or from the area of the tour.
I've done tours with both CIE (big tour with England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland & Northern Ireland) and RS (Sicily). I enjoyed them both. vandrabrud above gave a good breakdown of some of the differences. I can also say that on our CIE tour, we had far less than the possible maximum number. It was roughly the same number as on our RS tour. In fact, that was one of the friendliest, liveliest tour groups I've ever encountered.
My RS tour seemed to focus a lot on history. My CIE tour seemed to focus a lot on seeing the major sites. Our CIE tour guide/director was very good and knew his stuff. We always knew what we were seeing and why and how it fit into the overall culture of the country, but I don't think it was as in depth in the history part as the RS tour. Our RS tour guide made sure we tasted a few of the local favorites including what is still the best desert I've ever eaten in my life. Our CIE tour guide did not give us that personal touch.
The local guides on both tours were great. The CIE tour had an amazing gentleman in Edinburgh who happened to be available for our dates there who was one of my favorite local guides ever, but that was simply the luck of the calendar. CIE had a wide range of cities/experiences in their brochures, and I felt that I definitely got my money's worth out of their tour.
If your budget does extend to RS, then if it were me I'd make the call based on what I most wanted/needed to see on the tour. I'd read the descriptions carefully and see which tour came closest to meeting my needs. And then I'd make my decision based on that. If cost is your major factor, then CIE should work but be aware that there is always that possibility that you may wind up with mega group. Again, it all comes down to what matters most for your travel comfort.
I don't always see where people have posted in a thread, so if you have any specific questions, please feel free to message me here on the boards. I'll do my best to respond here, of course, but just in case I don't want you to think I'm ignoring the thread.