My wife and I are planing to do a tour to Scandinavia ( Sweden, Norway, Denmark). July/August 2019. We've been looking at these four tour companies. RS and Insight are about the same basic cost. The other two are lower with Member Choice being lowest. Each cover the same basic territory, But some different routes and slightly different sights. But pretty close. Does anyone have an experience with these groups going to Scandinavia? We've used RS books for many years on our independent travel in Europe. We do like the RS style of things to see and the hotels that are reviewed and suggested. But we' d like to do a tour this time. Any comments or suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks.
I haven’t done an RS tour yet, first one is booked for next year, but I think there are many fans of RS on this forum. I hope others chime in as I have not done any of those tour companies.
We did however, go to Norway for 10 nights this past summer and loved it.
The RS "Best of Scandinavia" tour is among the most expensive offered. At nearly $400/day/person (not including air travel), I would carefully examine the itinerary to determine if it is exactly to your wishes.
I have visited the three Scandinavian countries included without benefit of being on a tour, and I assure you that a well designed plan, with focus on specific locations of interest to you can easily be accomplished. Booking hotel accommodations is easy, finding worthwhile restaurants is a breeze and local guides are always available, offering customized tours specific to your liking.
Your savings would permit a trip to Iceland as an inclusion of your trip. One word of caution - do not rent a car. Public transportation is far preferable - except in Iceland, where it is a near necessity.
In fairness, I am aware of a few RS "Best of Scandinavia" tour alums, and they loved the tour.
This tour is on our list for 2020. Have friends from another tour who went on this tour and loved it and others on the forum seem to like this tour. I have not done any other tour companies you listed except RS. Have done 5 and 6 & 7 will be next May.
And it is an expensive tour of his plus a few others. But they are great tours
Sorry can’t help too much
I took the RS Scandinavia tour. I have no experience with the others.
This RS tour was fantastic. It covered a lot of territory and a variety of sites. The food was some of the best ever on a RS tour. The hotels were of a higher star quality than any I had stayed in before on an RS tour (I've done 10 total so far). The tour guide was excellent. The only bad thing was it ended. :-)
True it is one of the most expensive tours RS offers, but in countries where a McDonald's Happy Meal costs the equivalent of US$25, I think they managed to find the right bargains. I doubt I could have booked the same trip in the same hotels for much less than they charged.
I've done 5 RS tours, and 1 Trafalgar.
The Trafalgar tour wasn't remotely close in quality to the RS tours, and I won't do another with them. A full tour bus, expected tipping of the guide and driver, shopping at places where the guide was clearly getting kickbacks, and a fair amount of fellow tour members who didn't really seem interested in learning anything. I was not impressed. 😀
I think you are going to have to create a matrix and do the comparisons along with any input you get here. I'll tell you I've done 10 RS tours and 10 Road Scholar tours. I've not done Insight, Trafalgar or AAA. Here are the categories I compare when looking at tour companies:
Liz's 3 suggestions:
Tipping ($3-$5 day per person for driver (lower end) and guide (higher end)
Shopping stops (Rick and Road Scholar don't do "shopping stops" where the guide gets a kickback from the store for bringing you there)
Hotel location (city center lets you get out on your own easier in free time)
Meals included (I get tired of group meals so I prefer to have some meals on my own.)
Entry fees included for important museums, historical sights, etc
Look for language such as "view" (see from the outside) and "see" or "tour" (go inside)
Optional tours offered (some lower priced companies look good but sometimes to see the good things you have to take an optional tour or do it on your own)
Transport to starting point (Rick gives directions on how to get from the airport to the first hotel. Road Scholar and other tour companies pick you up at the airport. My experience is that in general people are more independent on RS tours because one of the things he wants us to learn is how to navigate by ourselves in Europe. You've got experience so this will be a no-brainer for you. I find it weeds out some of the travelers who are less inclined to independence.
Others may come up with more ways to compare!
One critical component, the tour guide, is difficult to compare. This can make or break a trip in my opinion. To me, Rick and Road Scholar tours are comparable as far as level of excellence/competence/skill. As indicated, I have no experience with the other tour companies on your list so no idea about their guides.
Rick's tour information is pretty well lined-out as to what you'll see and do and they stick to that unless something untoward happens (such as an unexpected museum closure or weather intervention). Road Scholar (I know you didn't mention this company) is also very upfront about what they offer and cover. Both are focused on an educational component. Rick's tours often have a learning local transportation component whereas Road Scholar does not. However, I don't know if this is pertinent to any of the Scandinavian points on the itinerary.
We are doing a tour of Scandinavia next year with Odysseys Unlimited which is a small group tour company. This will be our fifth tour with them. They are an excellent company and really stand by their product. The price includes your airfare. You can also ask them for the land only price if you want to book your own airfare. There is a tip expected for the tour guide. Odysseys books really nice hotels. Take a look at their itinerary and compare it to RS to see which one looks better to you.
My husband and I are usually independent travelers but we have taken three RS tours, including RS Scandinavia in 2016. We really thought it was time and money well spent. We had an amazing Swedish guide and enjoyed the great hotel locations. The group meals were very good (I'm thinking of the tasty Swedish meatballs in Stockholm right now). My favorite part of the trip was Aero Island in Denmark, and going on a bike ride during free time. We arrived a week early and visited Helsinki and Tallinn first so it was really nice to start a tour after a week of our own.
There is some truth to the saying, “you get what you pay for.” You may pay less for the trafalgar /AAA tours but there is a strong possibility that you will also receive less value for your money.
Tour size makes a difference! Extra space on the bus, fewer people looking for restrooms at the same time, fewer people moving through an area when walking. You get to know your fellow tour members.
Itinerary: Know where the tour goes. Do you waste time on shopping stops when you really wanted to see the castle described in the brochure? That won’t happen on a Rick Steves tour. Sure, you can shop during the free time portions, but the whole group won’t be subjected to this. Tips are included in the price as are all the breakfasts and 1/2 the dinners.
I have taken 3 guided tours. My first was with CIE in Ireland, my second and third were Scandinavia and best of Italy with RSE. I will share my experience. I loved all three tours. I prefer RSE's style over CIE. I was solo on all 3 tours. I am 53 years old and am completely capable of traveling on my own without a tour. I choose not to. I chose RSE for Scandinavia because I studied the websites of multiple tour companies and felt that RSE matched me the best. Since I am very satisfied I will continue to choose RSE until I want to do an itinerary that he doesn't provide. Then, back to studying websites. You mentioned that you have traveled independently and now you want to try a tour. I completely respect that. Since you know what independent travel is like, there is no need for anyone to try to talk you out of a tour.
I am not looking at the absolute price of the tour. I am looking for the value. I value some things more/less than others. I believe that the money difference between solo travel and taking a RSE tour pays for itself. I am fortunate that it still fits in my budget.
It is kind of nice that the first 2 tours I took are 2 of the most expensive, so now the other tours seem like more of a bargain.
I am glad to know that so many others enjoyed the Scandinavia tour as much as I did. I have a personal connection to Sweden, so it is hard to know how that will translate to others. Scandinavia has a rich history but it doesn't have the volume of offerings that Florence and Rome have. But, I will go back to Stockholm and I don't have any plans to return to Rome or Florence.
To each her own.
Have a great trip.