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General RS Bus Tours Questions (luggage, hotel rooms, etc.)

We'll be taking our very first RS bus tour next Spring - specifically the 11-day tour in Sicily. While we are both in excellent shape our average age will be 66 at the time of our tour. That said, we have a few general questions concerning Rick's Italy (or more desirably Sicily if you've been) guided bus tours:

  1. We notice the it is stated that there are no elevators in the hotels. Is this an absolute/true, or would there possibly be a few with elevators on an 11-day tour?

  2. If there are no elevators, what floors typically would the group be assigned to?

  3. Is it the RS tour policy that they not touch our luggage whatsoever (i.e., are we obligated to move our own luggage every place ourselves) and if so, what is the usual distance to the hotel from where a tour bus might drop us off (i.e., in front of the hotel or 4 blocks away, etc.)?

  4. For two platonic friends traveling together, would we normally be placed in a room with two beds? and

  5. What time would you typically eat breakfast and board the bus?

Posted by
858 posts

I was on the Sicily tour this past March.
There were elevators in all the hotels except one on our tour, and that hotel was only 2-story. A couple of the hotels had a few steps to the level where the elevator started.

You WILL have to handle your own luggage. The bus was not allowed in Ortigia and parked in a parking lot off the Island, so we walked with our luggage from there to the hotel. At other hotels it was often just outside or maybe a block.

I'm sure you can request separate beds. There are always friends traveling together and sharing a room.

Breakfast time varied with the plan for the day, and you don't get on the bus every day. I think most days we met in the lobby to leave at 9, sometimes a bit earlier. Breakfast was usually available from about 7.

Happy to answer any other questions.

Posted by
3144 posts

mbresso, before you paid for the tour, was it specified in writing that there would be no elevators in the hotels on this tour? Or was this only told to you after you paid for the tour?

Posted by
6439 posts

Physical Demands

Our tours are physically active! It's an essential part of the Rick Steves tour experience. On our Best of Sicily in 11 Days tour — among other things — you'll need to happily…

Carry/roll your luggage over uneven pavement (possibly several blocks) and up stairways to reach your hotel, then up several flights of stairs to reach your room.
Be on your feet, walking and standing, for up to three hours, indoors and outdoors, in all weather conditions.
Sleep with street noise and no (or weak) air conditioning.
After orientation and transportation lessons, be able to navigate towns and cities on your own.
Scramble around ancient sites with rocky paths and slippery stairs.

This is what is on the website as part of the Tour description.

No 'bait and switch' as insinuated by a previous post

Posted by
24 posts

Liz -- Thank you, that is wonderful information (especially re the probability of most hotels having elevators).

Continental: I haven't booked the tour yet which is why I'm inquiring about some of the fine details here. As shown in the post from Edmund directly above, RS's own website more or less states we'd be expected to carry our luggage, and I accept that going in. However, I'm very encouraged by Liz's information re her own experience on her Sicily tour a few months back!

Posted by
31 posts

Hi -
When we signed up we specified if we wanted double or twin beds. If you log into your tour page, you should see next to your name the sleeping arrangement you signed up for. For instance, mine says "double (full)" next to my name. If you don't see a reference to twin beds then I would call Rick Steves office to clarify.

When you are logged into your account click on "Tour Conditions" on the right hand side of the page. Scroll down until about 1/3 of the way from the bottom and look at "Tour Member Expectations". Mine says up to 15 minute walk from bus with luggage and up to five flights of stairs to walk up with luggage. Try to pack light!

Have a great trip. The tour sounds wonderful!

Posted by
3144 posts

This is what is on the website as part of the Tour description.

No 'bait and switch' as insinuated by a previous post

Sorry to burst your bubble, Joe, but mine was a basic question. I don't own another tour company, for example, thereby trying to plant an accusation of bait-and-switch techniques! LOL

Continental: I haven't booked the tour yet which is why I'm inquiring
about some of the fine details here. As shown in the post from Edmund
directly above, RS's own website more or less states we'd be expected
to carry our luggage, and I accept that going in. However, I'm very
encouraged by Liz's information re her own experience on her Sicily
tour a few months back!

Ahhhhh, if you haven't booked, why not also call or email the tour office diredtly to find out the specifics. That might be the easiest way to know the hotel situation. I hope you have a wonderful time!

Posted by
4090 posts

Mbresso, I've taken this tour twice, and it's a great tour. I don't remember ever being told there are no elevators; however many European hotels either don't have them, or if they do, the elevators may be very small. Think, one or two people small.

I honestly don't remember if the hotels had elevators (we seldom use them, and we're older than you are,) except the one you'll probably be staying at in Palermo. I think it had one, but it doesn't go all the way up to the terrace level, which is where breakfast is served. So you'll have to be able to handle at least one flight of stairs at that hotel.

The phrase "they not touch our luggage whatsoever" is strange. The bus driver will load your bags onto the bus, but you will carry them out to the curb. And when you stop for the night, the driver will unload the baggage compartment; at that point you pick up your bag and cheerfully carry it to the hotel, which in most cases is not more than a block or two away. There are exceptions, as someone posted upthread.

Hence the importance of packing light. You'll find plenty of tips on this forum to help you whittle your bags down to a manageable weight, size, and number.

Two singles sharing a room are given twin beds. Married (or otherwise) couples usually have two twin beds shoved together. It says somewhere in the tour materials that if two singles are sharing a room, even if the two beds are shoved together, they will always be made up separately - separate sheets and blankets.

Breakfast and bus time depend on your guide, and on the scheduled activities for the day. One the last tour I was on, the guide liked to get an early start, so bus time was almost always 8:00(!) with breakfast available about 7:00 or so. Sometimes earlier, never later (except on our free days, of course.) I think you can assume you'll load the bus about 8:30 or so most days.

There will be lots of walking and hill climbing, so you might meditate on the reasons you're concerned about the lack of elevators.

When you do get ready for the tour, pack your bags and go for a walk. Be sure to include hills and stairs. Don't just walk around the living room and say "Oh, I can handle this!" Hills, stairs, and some distance. Then go home and repack. Repeat as necessary.

It's a good tour, but you're wise to ask these questions ahead of time.

Posted by
858 posts

mbresso,
This was my 4th RS tour, and I thought it was great!

It is rated as one of the most active, and I think that's correct. I brought my trekking poles on the trip, and was glad I did--there are places with uneven terrain and I'm a klutz. Nobody else really had a problem, so this is only a suggestion if it applies to you. A number of people did tell me they were going to get some for future travel.

Posted by
5164 posts

Somewhere in the registration process, you will be asked if you are a couple (one bed) or traveling companions (two beds). I don't recall the exact language that is used. They need to know so that they can work out the plan with the hotels.

Posted by
3112 posts

I took the Sicily tour in February 2017 and my experience was very similar to Liz's. A few additional thoughts about luggage: when the bus couldn't stop very near the hotel, the walk was on level streets; on the one occasion where walking with luggage to the hotel would have been difficult (Ragusa - sadly no longer on the tour), the hotel staff transported it between the bus and hotel lobby; our bus was able to stop very near the tour hotel in Ortigia (Siracusa); the driver loads and unloads luggage under the bus. Tour hotels can vary from one tour date to another, meaning luggage experiences can vary a bit too.

Posted by
24 posts

Thanks folks. I think I'm up to speed now!

Mike (the OP)

Posted by
3436 posts
  1. The wording says to not expect elevators. Not that there are no elevators. Different meaning. Many of the elevators are late updates to the older hotels and are barely large enough for 1 person with their bag at a time. For the Sicily tour, the activity level of the tour itself means a few stairs at the hotels shouldn't be any problem if you can make the daily hikes!

  2. Tour members are assigned to any and every floor. On the Scandinavian tour, the first hotel had 5 floors and no elevator. I was assigned a rooftop room right next door to the tour guide.

  3. Your luggage == you carry it. The bus driver puts it on and takes it off the bus into the luggage area underneath. Any other movement of your luggage is up to you. The hotels used don't provide bellmen. The longest hike with the bags was in Austria. It was over half a mile. Most drop you right at the hotel door.

  4. Best bet is to call the office and let them know your sleeping arrangements. These days unless you tell them they might think it doesn't matter.

  5. Breakfast starts around 6:30 on many tours. It is not a group activity in most hotels, i.e. you show up and eat when you want after the posted starting time. Boarding the bus depends on how early your first activity of the day is scheduled. On most of the tours I took, the bus left either at 08:00 or 08:30. Sometimes if it is an especially long ride, there will be a specific breakfast time and slightly earlier bus time. Your tour guide will explain the difference.

Posted by
24 posts

Thank you similarly Mark for your very thorough and informative response (and to the rest of you as well). Where a few hours ago I was ignorant, I am now educated! I appreciate the help everybody. :-)

Posted by
1101 posts

Jane's language about bedding is crucial. I've done a couple of European tours with other carriers w my mother.
Occasionally the rooms are so tiny the beds are almost touching. Occasionally the hotel looses track of which rooms are to be made up as 2 twins, but would be happy to swap out bedding if needed.

Posted by
8715 posts

Since you haven't booked the tour yet, take a look at this one:

Odysses Unlimited Sicily in Depth

Same basic itinerary as RS, better hotels all centrally located with elevators, luggage service included so you don't have to carry your bags anywhere and can take any size you want, smaller group, no shopping stops, professionaly trained and licensed tour directors and local guides, many meals included. The price you see quoted includes airfare but you can call for the land only price and make your own flight arrangements if you wish.

On all the tours I've taken, my fellow passengers were very nice. Odysses pampered a little more and while the people may have taken many other tours with the company they were less "independent" and more touristy. It's hard to explain.

I've traveled with both companies. I prefer Odysses. They also operate the National Geographic tours and many University Alumni trips.

This should get me flamed.

Posted by
24 posts

Thank you Frank. Believe it or not, I've separately discovered that "Sicily in Depth" tour with Odysseys Unlimited ("OU"), and today, even spoke to them on the phone. I was quite impressed with their itinerary, and overall quality; similarly, their representative was informative, cheerful and professional. This all went a long way with me.

OU is slightly more expensive than the RS tour but I believe it to be a better value. Both trips last 10 nights; and while Rick's puts you up in six hotels (for stays of 2, 2, 1, 2, 2 and 1 days, respectively), OU puts you up in four hotels (for stays of 3, 2, 3, 2). I'm liking their longer base-of-operations setup which would be less burdensome than Rick's arrangement. Also, OU does move and handle your luggage into your rooms and back, and all their hotels have elevators as well as upper-class amenities. Now don't get my wrong, I've traveled reasonably extensively in Europe and always stayed at Rick Steves'-recommended rustic and homey accommodations. However, since I'll be traveling with my long-time female companion who expects me to move her bags around as well as mine, and considering my personal health considerations, it's wiser for me to reward us with the extra comforts the OU tour offers (and truthful as always, Rick actually even recommends OU on his website).

My only nits about OU is while there ARE, and I HAVE read, a number of independent reviews of OU tours -- and almost all universally exemplary -- they are only maybe 1/10th of those RS has. Also, their tours seem to often include folks 10-15 years older than us (where RS's folks may in fact be more vibrant). I'm still considering a number of factors, but ultimately I know I won't go wrong with either (OU or RS) tour.

I wouldn't be worried about being flamed so long as others respect that Rick has taught us to be adventurous, make our own decisions that are right for us, and above all, and has forever encouraged us to interact with and learn from the locals, and have a good time doing so, no matter how or with whom we select to travel.

Posted by
996 posts

We took this tour last November. I remember at least two hotels without elevator service, but I know they have changed up the tour just a bit since then.

Room assignments seem to vary wildly, so I couldn't say which floor RS guests are located on. In our experience, our group was spread out over several floors. In one case, we were spread out over multiple buildings.

At the end of the day, I'd make my choice based on a couple of factors - cost, yes, but also what do you see on a specific tour? Find the tour group that sounds like it does the best job of your must see events and has a cost that best fits your travel budget.

Hope you enjoy Sicily as much as we did!

Posted by
24 posts

Just in the form of an update should anybody care: I found I now have a few concerns about the OU tour and may in fact again opt for the RS tour. Primarily, their named hotels (excepting Palermo), while very good, seem to be in out of the way and even depressing areas. Significantly, in Syracusa, the hotel is about 6 miles out of town where Rick's are right there in the old town of Ortigia. RS's itinerary also mentions thorough visiting of the Cathedral of Syracuse/Duomo/Piazza (and I LOVED the film "Malena") whereas OA's tour mentions a simple walk through, then back on the bus. Also, the OU tour only stops in Catania to get to the airport, whereas RS's tour stops and visits several highly desirable stops (esp. the WWII museum) I'd like to see. And lastly and perhaps most importantly, I'm beginning to wonder, were OU indicates their guests are generally 50-80, that this might make pervasive an older and slower tour and atmosphere, set against a RS group which I'd have to believe even if at 55-65 will have a better and more adventurous vibrancy (I'll be 62 myself during the tour). Yes the OU tour might have more comfort features, but I'd bet dollars to donuts that the RS tour would simply be more fun. Besides learning, I think that's the most important component.

Posted by
996 posts

whereas RS's tour stops and visits several highly desirable stops (esp. the WWII museum) I'd like to see.

Ohhhh, I really enjoyed the WWII museum more than I expected I would. We were probably lucky to see it at all. While it was open that day, the employees were on strike in solidarity with some other employees who were having contract issues. But it was still a very good museum, and I highly recommend it if you are interested in history.

Posted by
858 posts

mbresso,
I'm 62 myself, and I had the same thoughts about your description of the other tour--not as much fun, often waiting for slow people. Maybe in a decade or so.

I went on one non-RS tour, and there were a number of things that didn't suit me about Trafalgar. Having them take care of luggage was one of them. I didn't like having to put my luggage outside my door before breakfast, and I hated having to wait in my room until they brought it to me. I actually prefer handling it myself!

Oh, and the hotel location would be a dealbreaker--I want to be in the middle of things.

Posted by
7756 posts

Mike (and FrankII), I doubt anyone will flame you for discussing another tour company. I’ve never made it a secret that I sometimes cheat on Rick with Road Scholar. I’ve even done Trip Reports on some of those tours. I do usually prefer Rick to Road Scholar but I don’t mind handling my bag and I enjoy the guides, the other tour members and the itineraries.

I was actually thinking of you and this thread this morning as I was getting my bag down to the bus on my current tour. Sometimes there is more than 1 flight of stairs between floors if the ceilings are high. The last hotel had about a stairway and a half between the ground floor and the 1st floor and another 1.5 run between 1 and 2. In the old buildings in Rome I do recall our guide mentioning the ceilings were so high there were 2 runs of stairs between floors. I’ve not been to Sicily so can’t comment with particulars.

Posted by
1859 posts

WOW! You have obviously done in depth comparisons of the two tour companies. Good for you! I have taken the RS Sicily tour twice so I am obviously biased, but I loved it that much. The Museum in Catania you refer to is absolutely not to be missed-quite an amazing experience. I feel you are correct in saying something about "...a lot more fun", too. I have always had a heck of a lot of fun on all my many tours with the Rick Steves company. Honestly, I am neither an employee nor a shill, just a happy supporter of traveling with ETBD. That said, of course you will choose the company and itinerary that suits you best and have a wonderful time in this most awesome part of Italy (although some local residents will claim they are a country unto themselves)!

Posted by
24 posts

Thanks everybody for your later insights. By the way, I'm actually 6'2" and 215 (OK, 220) and am quite able bodied enough to handle the bags myself. Ha - perhaps it's more that I'm lazy. But I DO see the merit in doing it myself on several counts and have to be realistic enough to understand that it would just be a small component of the trip. If I were aged or infirm, that's a different story, so I'll just thank my lucky stars I'm in reasonably good health and we (or me/I) can quit whining here about carrying my bags a few yards here and there.

It's nice to have these choices however, and as I mentioned on top, I've never taken a RS tour (or really any organized tour for more than an excursion) before, and have ALWAYS wanted to take a Rick Steves tour; so maybe first things first with Rick so I can, how does he say, "....party with the nuns and soldiers in second class!" :-)

Posted by
4090 posts

Mike, the Museo dello Sbarco is amazing, a real eye-opener. When you realize that we are the ones bombing Sicily, it is a jolt.

And, at the risk of being a bit tactless.... Ummm, will your longtime female companion still expect you to carry her bags when she sees she's the only one not schlepping?

Posted by
858 posts

HA!
Jane, I wondered about that, too. There might be some subtle eye-rolling.

Posted by
406 posts

Hi have you watched the video about the tours? Might give you an idea what to expect in terms of luggage etc. Have not been on this tour but two years ago on the BOE14 I would say at least 1/3 of the hotels did not have elevators. I had a way too big bag and sometimes wondered if I would make it. My fault! I should know better. I did even up a winding staircase. I am about a decade younger than you. Our tour had people from 14 my daughter to probably about 68? Not sure all were young at heart. I like that no one carries our bags and that you are in charge of your destiny. Loved all the guides and group meals.

Posted by
1001 posts

mbresso,

With respect to Odysseys, their price includes the airfare and they stay in more upscale hotels than RS tours. You are expected to tip the guide, however. The average age on the Odysseys and RS tours that we have been on is ‘60s. I would choose a tour with Odysseys or RS based on the itinerary of the tour. We have taken 3 RS tours and 3 Odysseys tours. Both are good companies. We are considering the RS Family Tour next year for our trip to Europe with our granddaughter. Odysseys does not offer a similar tour.

Posted by
1859 posts

So this may be along the lines of "partying with the nuns and soldiers in second class" ? Mike, something I haven't seen mentioned here is the fact that often your RS guide will add on special and unexpected activities not listed on the tour's itinerary. I truly don't know if other tour companies provide these small and unexpected perks. I have experienced these on every RS tour I have taken. For example, on my second Sicily tour, our guide arranged for anyone who want to accompany her an underground tour (under the Siracusa Cathedral which, by the way, is amazingly built incorporating the original pillars of the 5th BC Temple of Minerva-imagine!) during our "free time". If we were interested, we were to meet at a designated time at a designated meeting place. From there, we proceeded down under the Cathedral. This unique area was used as an air raid shelter for the citizens on Siracusa during the war and now is a small museum of sorts. The tunnels, the exhibits, the information we were offered.....I don't know if these kinds of things happen with other tour companies but they do often with Rick Steves and I for one am most appreciative of these surprises. On the first tour, I got our guide's Nona's very authentic recipe for Limoncello-he is a native of Catania. Also, I know where the best gelato in Ortigia is to be found! So, besides the wonderful Museo Storico dello Sbarco in Catania, there are lots of other lesser known special places and things to do in Sicily to see. Oh my, this is making me want to return as soon as possible. Everything is a tradeoff and you will be thinking about the pros and cons of each company's expectations and what is provided as you make your decision. And I don't understand why you're carrying all the luggage if you, as you stated, "are both in excellent shape"! 😉

Posted by
146 posts

When we stayed in Orvieto on our Village Italy Tour, the people in the room next door were on an OU tour. The hotel had an elevator that went all the way to the fourth floor. This hotel was where we had the best room (great balcony) of the tour (on the fifth floor).

Posted by
14014 posts

My only real concern would be your question #4. I would call the RS offices and ask if they promise separate beds in all hotels on the tour.

Posted by
8715 posts

Let me address a couple of things....

A Trafalgar tour is a large group tour company and having worked for a company that is now owned by them would not recommend them as an alternative to RS tours. The concept and people taking the tours are completely different between the two.

On the OU tour I took, I had a carry on size bag. So, I handled my own bag. I brought it down to the coach as we were boarding and grabbed it when we arrived at a new hotel. All the hotels had elevators so no problem. The tour director had no problem with it and the driver knew mine was last on, first off.

All OU tour directors are licensed and from the area/country they are leading tours. This is not necessarily true of RS guides.

As for adding extras, Tour Guiding 101--try to give your passengers something unexpected. Sometimes it's off the cuff and sometimes it's pre-planned.

I found my fellow passengers on my RS tours to have done more research in general than OU passengers making them a little more aware of the culture and not fall into the tourist traps.