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Advise and Opinion of Sicily Tour

Can anyone share their opinion on the Rick Steves' Sicily Tours? What time of year is best to avoid tourist traps. I am planning a trip to Sicily in the future and want to really enjoy Sicily and to trace some of my roots, but do not want to go on a tour that does not allow me time to myself and enjoy locals and local eateries etc. I have taken other tours ( not with Rick Steves') and we've had terrible experiences. We do not want to jump from bus to hotel & hotel to bus in the early hours and have most of our trip traveling, etc. Also what kind of hotels are you put up in? I am VERY Leary to do a tour again. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

Posted by
8664 posts

jr,13160 our RS Sicily tour was now 5 years ago. It was a bit too cold in February, and my guess would be that early April would be the sweet spot to avoid heat. Palermo is a busy place by its very nature, but we never felt crowded. The nice thing about Sicily is that the distances are short, so the time on coach rides is also short. The hotels on our tour were the best of the 4 RS tours we've taken. A couple were very modern, The tour itinerary shows how much free time you have in each stop. We never felt rushed and of course, you can opt out of any scheduled activity if you want more free time. There's just so much to see and do, it's good to schedule extra days on either end to explore, especially if you have roots there.

Posted by
3212 posts

I took the last of the season Sicilian tour in late November - early December and the weather and lack of tourists were wonderful. I had also visited a few years ago just before Christmas and the only negatives on that trip were post-season closings for maintenance or pre holiday shortened hours. Weather, again, was beautiful.

Realize that on a Rick Steves tour you are not obligated to take part in every activity though some are conditioned by bus pick-up. I found that there was easily enough time to wander on my own, visit sites not covered by the tour and discover small, wonderful, local restaurants. Rick’s tours are definitely not “hop on, hop off” bus tours. I thought the collection of hotels used on the Best of Sicily tour were great. Locations, quality and size of accommodations all met or are exceeded my expectations.

One thing I would do, if you do take this tour, is to arrive a day or two before the start date since Palermo has a lot of worthwhile sites to visit that are not on the tour.

Posted by
256 posts

My wife and I took RS Sicily tour in April, 2023. It was our 9th RS tour so we are obviously comfortable with the pace and free time of RS tours. As stated in prior post, you can opt out of some planned activities if you want more free time. Most days have some free time and one day in Taormina is almost entirely free as mentioned in the itinerary. Weather in April was nice. I don’t think “tourist traps” are seasonal but they are easy to avoid. We always either arrive a few days early or stay a few days after tour ends for independent travel and relaxation. You should definitely do so to explore your Sicilian heritage. Sounds like your prior tour experience was bad. I am confident that you will have a much better time on RS Sicily.

Posted by
795 posts

I would add that if you had a choice, I would add some dates onto the end as well. If you were trying to go trace some family to a particular place, you would probably feel more comfortable after doing the tour going farther afield on your own. Come in a few days early to do the starting city (I'm guessing its Palermo from the previous posts), then have your general plans for the search at the end set. You can spend those last days doing that and relaxing from all of the wonderful adventures you had on the tour!

Posted by
7468 posts

It’s nice that there is so much information about the RS tours on their specific tour pages. For the Sicily tour, it is 19 hours of bus time, plus an hour on a boat during the 10 days of being together (not counted last day of just breakfast).

And an example on Day 3: ”This afternoon we'll enjoy a tasty lunch that includes the region's specialties — sun-dried tomatoes, Castelvetrano olives, and Marsala wine — before making our way to today's final destination: seaside Trapani, where we'll take an orientation walk and set you free for the evening.”

So you can see upfront how often you will have free time and know whether it’s a half-day or evening, etc.

Posted by
131 posts

Hi jr13160,

It's hard for me to address your concerns because I'm not sure what you disliked on your prior tours. Did you dislike early start times? Early is relative: for me, if the bus leaves at 9 am, that's late. For others, it's early. One or two days your bus might actually leave at 7:30 am, but in my experience (4 tours so far, including Sicily) a departure that early is not common. Usually departure time from a hotel is 8:30 or 9 am or so (If I remember correctly.)

Most RS tours have you stay 2 nights in each location, so you aren't necessarily traveling every day, though you might have a (shorter) bus ride on an in-between day to visit a local site.

The hotels on RS tours are generally not "fancy". They are interesting, usually located in central locations, and often a family-run hotel. There may not be an elevator and you have to carry your own bags up to your room (and back down to the bus when departing).

The specific hotels in Sicily were all fine; the hotel in Taormina was nice, as was the hotel in Trapani. The other hotels were fine but not special. (Not bad in any way!)

I hope that helps, but perhaps if you clarify what it is you didn't like about your prior tours people could address those concerns.

Posted by
1178 posts

We do not want to jump from bus to hotel & hotel to bus in the early hours and have most of our trip traveling, etc

You'll probably get better advice if you describe what you consider to be "early hours" and how many bus hours per day you mean by "have most of our trip traveling"

Posted by
5 posts

You all have answered my concerns and have given us plenty of information to ponder. We had the worst past experience on a tour (IT WAS NOT RS). We were instructed to have our cases out the door by 6am and leave at 7:30am almost every day on our 15 day bus tour. We were always on a bus continually (for hours on some days) with a brief bathroom break. I understand the terrain to cover will be different in Sicily from where we were, but it was grueling for us. We only stayed for 2 nights in one place just twice on our entire 15 day trip. There were no nights to dine on our own at all and no free time during the day whatsoever. Our tour guide was a different person everywhere we stopped and we were literally moved around like cattle with a 30 minute to a MAX 1 hour tour, most of time driving from morning throughout the day to our hotel destination, then we were given 1 hour to get ready for dinner. Then to bed and up again. We do not want to carry luggage up hotel stairs or back and forth to bus either. Although RS goes in some areas of Sicily we would like we are scared to do a bus given our last experience. We do plan on arriving early and rest pre and post. Thank you all for answering my concerns. If anyone can recommend a private driver to hire from city to city that may be better for us…..Lots to Ponder

Posted by
206 posts

Out of the 8 RSTs I've enjoyed, this is my favorite and we chose a mid April date which had fantastic weather. For my time and money, a structured small group tour is a major plus maximizing my brief visit as an outsider. The superiority of RS guides and the local guides coupled with the focus on unique experiences that inform and enrich understanding of a locale, results in a highly satisfactory tour. Having time for your own personal discoveries does exist within the framework of the schedule but you're still on the tour every day of the itinerary. Booking additional nights either before or after the tour is best for making personal experiences which strictly satisfy your own agenda. A tour is not everyone's cup of tea and having a daily schedule with events not of your own choosing may not be your idea of heaven. Needing to willingly socialize with other members, move as a group and follow a timetable does mean you're definitely not running your own show. The hotels have been varied but always clean and extremely well located. Start times on some days on rare occasions have been 'early' (that's before 08:00) and a bus trip can be hours in length but you'll always have a comfort stop at least every 2 to 2 and half hours. And the bus experience is also active tour guidance time making it quite enjoyable. From the questions you ask and information you've provided, I wonder if you might be pushing in the direction of taking a tour but not truly feeling it's a good fit. Consider the itinerary closely and read the reviews to get a better sense of whether RST is going to meet with your approval and fit as a good value for your personal comfort level and to your wallet.

Posted by
2925 posts

If you are tracing your roots, you may want to add a few days either before or after your tour to visit the villages they immigrated from. You may need to rent a car for a day if it’s an isolated village. Unless the tour goes to that village or it’s very near by, I don’t see how you will have enough time unless you extend free time.

On my last tour Berlin, Prague & Vienna, a tour member was tracing her dad’s experiences. But those were in the cities we visited. Fascinating story but it’s hers to share.

After the South of Italy tour, my sister-in-law and I rented a car at Naples, drove to a tiny village in Calabria her grandparents were from. Spent two 1/2 days; it was the highlight of our trip. Remember that driving will take way more time than Google maps says. Our drive was four hours each way, not counting time we were lost.

Posted by
394 posts

We do not want to carry luggage up hotel stairs or back and forth to bus either.

On a RS tour this is expected. If you go the tour route you might be happier with a company like Tauck

Posted by
2 posts

I am on an Italy tour right now. We have had cold weather. You need to mostly handle your own luggage. One hotel carried the luggage up stairs for us.

We have had a few issues with covid. I am having allergy issues. I did one covid test that was negative. I am getting pressure from other guests even though the allergies were present on the first day of the tour.

The tour has been mostly great. My brother disliked the hotel in Cinque Terre, Italy. I thought the so called Italian RIveria was a tourist trap. The days could be spent elsewhere unless you are hiking.

Very little choice is allowed for provided meals. I am pre diabetic and very sensitive to carbs. IN had to get mad to get any affective accommodation. Tonight, there was a simple tomato and pasta dish on the menu. At first the guide, told me nothing could be done. Thy ended up cooking some mixed vegetables.

The time on the bus can be irritating. The tour guide goes into long winded discussions about he personal life in Italy. She may be trying to convey things about culture. I like to have quiet too. I feel trapped so I put my ear buds on. She can be manipulative. Early in the tour, she had some naming exercise to help people remember each other names. To get cooperation, she mentioned that in the hold days, they used a lot more intrusive naming game.

I am at this point questioning going on another Rick Steves tour. My brother wants to, but some of the hotels have been so so, Cinque Terre was a good chance to relax, but the villages and the trains were crowded.

The tour guide is too much of a mother hen. I appreciate her concern about my sniffling this evening. The weather is cold. We had been walking out in the rain. I have been having allergies for the last two weeks. I may go out in the afternoon and get a covid test kit. I feel fine now. I think that the sniffling is clearing up.

I could ask the tour guide about Sicily. On the busses, people are kind of trapped to the guides talking.

Posted by
308 posts

We just completed the RS Sicily tour about two weeks ago. We thoroughly enjoyed it, though I do not know whether it will satisfy all the needs you may have. (BTW, we are still in southern Italy).

To answer your Qs, first, our RS guide (David Tordi) was extraordinary IMHO, though both he and the experienced RS travellers on the tour said that he was not extraordinary and that all are excellent. I don’t know, as this was only our second guided tour ever and it was quite different than our 2018 guided bike tour in Croatia.

Second, we had specialty guides for a few hours in each of about five locations, some of whom especially enriched our experience. My personal favorite was Boris Behncke, a volcanologist from the university in Catania who met us Taormina hours after we had been to Mt Etna on one of the days when it was blowing “smoke rings,” a relatively unusual event.

Third, bus time was modest. 1 to 3 hours a day and often with one to three stops for sights (including a “baking class” here, a farm there and a winery elsewhere) along the way. Other than one night stands in Agrigento in the middle and Catania at the end, all hotel stays were for two nights.

Fourth, we had multiple hours on our own to explore Palermo, Trapani, Siracusa/Ortigia, Taormina and Catania.

Finally, we added a day on our own at the start in Palermo and a day at the end in Catania; others added more. That might allow you to explore your roots more, perhaps even to rent a car for a few days and go where RS does not take you.

Posted by
3 posts

We went in early April 2024 and weather was spectacular! Our first RS tour so a bit apprehensive. It was so good we just booked Adriatic with 2 couples we met on the Tour. Tommasso was guide: Sicilian just excellent! Hotels were 4 star, included meals top notch. They will take you to sights you would never see on your own. Great bus driver Angelo. Everything was first class. Seasoned travelers on our tour rated it A+. Bus travel was minimal and efficient. Don't hesitate, book it!

Posted by
3250 posts

There is also Sarah Murdoch, who started as an RS Tour guide but now has her own tour company:
https://adventureswithsarah.net/

She is passionate about Sicily.
There are many YouTube videos of her tours and travels, and she leads even smaller groups than the RS tours.

We went to Sicily last April and the weather was just perfect then.
Not too hot, but sandals and t-shirt days.

Posted by
298 posts

So, why not plan a self-guided tour? It worked wonderfully for us. Driving is easy, and you can go wherever and whenever you like.

Posted by
5 posts

Thank you everyone for all responses. We are going with Sicily-Tour and I can post my experience afterwards. We are only 6-8 people max! it is perfect since we will not be on a large bus with large group etc… They only have 5 star reviews on TripAdvisor and they have been extremely helpful in planning this and responsive to my emails /WhatsApp.
I have taken all the advice and planned from there. We are tracing my roots and have booked a separate stay in Castellamarre Del Golfo and it is planned by the tour company who has been extremely helpful and reasonable in price. Again, thank you for your input ! Grazie a tutti e alla prossima volta !