non-tour types considering RS tour

My husband and I have never done a tour for all the usual reasons. However, we are considering the 7 days in Paris tour with RS as it is our first time in France and we do not speak French (tho we will learn conversational French before going in any event) and we want to see a lot with a minimum of hassle. Comments by others who are like us who have taken RS tours would be welcome! Our biggest concerns are the "herd" experience and "that one person" who just won't behave. ;.)

Posted by Laurie Beth
Was MN, now TX
638 posts

I have taken 5 RS tours and when I started was NOT a 'tour' person. But when I couldn't find folks to travel with me I found this a great alternative. I can't say I've ever met anyone who was really obnoxious (unlike the river cruise I took this spring.) The groups are not large, the guide tries to ensure everyone gets acquainted, hotels are good (if you like small RS family hotels)and meals are great. People on RS tours have much in common. My tours consisted mainly of over age 50, retired and still working professional folks who watch public television and like the RS travel philosophy. You have plenty of free time and as long as the guide knows you are not going to be joining the group you don't have to stay with the 'herd.' For instance, in Florence I had already been to the Uffizi and knew what I wanted to concentrate on, so I just told the guide and went off on my own after we entered. And, in Paris, I went with the tour because the guide was so good, but when the group left I stayed, had lunch and explored more on my own. BTW, the conversational French will really help and remember to always greet people when you enter stores, etc. The French are reserved and believe in good manners and appreciate you trying to learn a few words (which they will probably help you pronounce....heehee).

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17791 posts

Kara, I tend to prefer solo travel, but I've been combining this with a RS tour for the last several years and have found that's been a fantastic combination. I've now taken six RS tours, and plan to take more. I can't imagine travelling with any other tour company. As others have mentioned, RS tour members tend to share a similar travel philosophy, and all of the groups I've toured with have been great. After all, Rick doesn't allow any "grumps"! You may find it helpful to order the free Tour DVD, as that will provide some idea on what the tours are like. With the city tours, you won't be using a Bus so the experience will be a bit different than the longer tours. I've found that the "pace" of the tours has been good, although there are occasionally some very "busy" days. The Guides are very flexible, and if there's a particular activity you want to skip, just let them know. One suggestion since this is your first trip to France. Have you also considered a slightly longer tour, perhaps the Paris & Heart of France 11-day tour? This would provide a glimpse of the beautiful scenery, culture and foods in a wider part of the country. You'd also see some really interesting sites, including the D-Day beaches and Monet's Gardens. It's definitely a good idea to learn some of the polite words in the local language, as the French seem to appreciate that. I haven't had too many language problems there. You'll problem find that anyone in tourist-related businesses will be able to function to some extent in English. Be sure to avoid slang and contractions, and try to speak slowly and clearly. Happy travels!

Posted by Rosalyn
Berkeley
1010 posts

As a non-tour person who did a tour (not RS) a couple of years ago, I thought I'd offer you my opinions, for what they're worth. We are very experienced independent travelers, but decided on a tour for Turkey for reasons of language and general lack of cultural familiarity. We had a fabulous guide, who certainly enhanced our experience; and we saw some great things we probably would have omitted, had we been on our own. We were transported efficiently between sites, so wasted no time getting around. The one obnoxious person was annoying, but nothing we couldn't all handle. The downside was that we were not in charge of our time. Not only did we have to get up and get going by someone else's schedule, but we couldn't linger where we wanted to spend more time. We also spent quite a bit of time at a couple of places that didn't interest us at all. In retrospect, those considerations are very important to us. My conclusion is that while I might do another tour someday (we're considering a Dalmatian Coast cruise), I'll mostly avoid tours. I think these pluses and minuses would apply to any tours; however, being in just one city would make it possible for you to leave and rejoin the group at will. On the other hand, Paris is very easy to do on your own, and it's the place in France where you're most likely to find people who speak English. On our first couple of trips to France, we spoke no French, and I don't recall that we had any serious problems.

Posted by Lesley
Sidney, BC, Canada
335 posts

As a single I have found the RS tours great. I did Rome this year and it was perfect for me. The mornings were organized and we then we were let loose on our for lunch and the afternoon and sometimes the evening. Yes there were some things I would like to have lingered over, but then that is my excuse for going back to Rome! I liked the fact that we used public transportation all the time; I now feel confident about taking the bus and metro in Rome by myself. And on the 3 RS tours I have done there were no Grumps!

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7683 posts

An experienced, independent, international traveler, I have also been on two tours (Costa Rica and China, neither RS). I, too, had qualms about the "herd" experience, but both experiences were wonderful. We had no one in the group who was a pain (at least for more than a day, and everyone has bad days). I agree with the previous poster who said that places that they didn't think they got enough time in became a reason to go back again. Having your housing, transportation, meals (at least some), and entertainment taken care of without ever getting lost, or being late, or worrying about parking, was very freeing. And you can see a lot with a minimum of hassle, as you hope to do.

Posted by Charlie
Honolulu/Seattle, HI/WA, USA
1841 posts

I just returned from Europe where I took my 10th RS Tour. My wife has gone on all of they with me after first declining due to the fact that she had gone to Europe twice before me but decided to tag along even tho she was not thrilled about "touring". She says RS tours are really "un-tours" compared to the tours most folks have taken or heard about. When "penciling out" the costs of what you get on all RS tours, they seem like a bargain to us. If you can swing the extra 4 or 5 days, I would also recommend taking the tour that another poster has mentioned. We took it and enjoyed it.

Posted by Kara
Albuquerque, NM, USA
25 posts

Thanks to everyone for their time, thoughts, and suggestions. This is such a wonderful message board! I think we've decided to try the 7 day RS tour in Paris and then spend a week or more on our own in southern France.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7828 posts

Kara, I am a fairly experienced independant international traveller( not based overseas on business or service),, and I have only taken one RS tour, but my experience was that it was great. Anyone is free to participate in a days touring or not , I opted out twice and did stuff on my own, just met the bus later or met back at hotel for dinner. The usual set up ran like this for the tour I did, first day in a city , orientation tour , a few highlights, then some free time, then next day was often a free day, but guide usually offered a few suggestions for those who didn't already have some idea of what they wanted to do.. many of us did though since RS travellers tend to be the type that do a bit of homework.. not waiting for our luggage to be delivered to the room and spoon fed every second. The philosophy of a RS tour is they are teaching you how to travel, they show you how to use the public transport system, they explain some local customs and the local cultures and manners expected, and then off you go . Sometimes a few people would decide to get together and share some time seeing a sight, sometimes not.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7828 posts

I never felt herded. Yes, you can't be late for the bus, you are expected to be respectful of the others on the tour , and you are not entitled to be a "grump". I suggest you order the free tour dvd , its rather outdated , but the spirit of the tour experience is pretty accurate.

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
2858 posts

Our tour was held up about 30 min when a couple of our group members got lost trying to find the parking lot after visiting Pisa. The one woman got lost another time or two on her own time. One of our RS guides "forgot" her luggage when we left a hotel and we were held up at least an hour while she got on the phone and contacted the hotel about forwarding her bag. No names need to be mentioned. I think the guide had expected her fellow-guide to bring her luggage to the bus, but we never got a full explanation. Stuff happens. I got sick a couple of days into one RS tour and remained ill, missing large parts of the tour. On my first tour in 2000, a man on the tour collapsed on the bus the first day. We got to see how the French medical system works. Our assistant guide accompanied the man to the nearest ER where thorough medical studies were done. The man and guide joined us later and all was fine. The ER docs had done a battery of tests on the man and said he was fit to travel. There was no charge for any of his tests and treatment. When I'm on a tour I go around on my own time and meet people the way I would if traveling alone. It is possible to have the best of both forms of travel if you put some effort into it. Many tour members just want to be carried around, do no research, and still have a good time. Some tour members get really creative in the use of their free time, including going to a bull fight or catching a train/bus to another town for the day.

Posted by Jean
Mill Creek, WA, USA
84 posts

Hi Kara, my husband & I were in France for 2 weeks this summer (5 days in Paris), traveling by ourselves. We did go on two RS tours several years ago - enjoyed both of them. I would definitely recommend for a Paris week that you tour on your own. Pick up the RS Paris book and look at the recommended historical walks, etc. and you're good to go. Language - We were very courteous and found that Parisians were cordial in return - never experienced problems with our very, very basic attempts to speak French. Be sure to reserve your ticket on-line to the Eiffel Tower; it will save you a lot of time. We used the Metro exclusively, buying two carnet of tickets (have coins available for purchase) and loved the ability to hop on and walk all over. We bought the 4-day museum pass, so we had the flexibility to not cram museums into two days - good decision. Enjoy - it's a beautiful city! ....and the croissiants are fantastic!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17791 posts

@pat, I believe there's now a brand new Tour DVD that was just released in the last month or two. As I recall, there are some "clips" in the tours section of this website, as well as the full length version. Cheers!

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
2858 posts

I've been on 7 RS tours. Two were city tours. I had visited those cities before and found that the tours there were probably not worth the extra expense and not that fun. "Herding" is not so much the problem, but if you aren't using a tour largely for the socializing experience, don't go. It is true that you can omit some activities, but shared meals and introducing each other will create social events that are not appreciated by all. Also, if you go as a "single" and don't pay the single supplement, you may have a roommate you would rather not share space with. Been there, done that. Having said all that, I would take another RS tour if it is to a new area for me, and if I pay a single supplement. I've had my eye on the Basque tour for a couple of years. I liked most of the people on tours and found that there was nobody "who just won't behave." Some behavior not to my liking? Yes. Intolerable? No. I've always found fellow tourists I liked.
I went my own way during free time usually. The hotels and meals are a couple of notches higher than what I would experience while traveling on my own. I can appreciate a little luxury.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

an hour behind schedule due to Joe and Gladys forgetting where to meet the bus Was that on a Rick Steves' tour? None of my tour guide friends have mentioned a story like that... Maybe on a big bus tour?

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2702 posts

From the positve comments here I see that a tour does include a certain amount of flexibility, and it's interesting to read the informative experiences of those having participated in tours. As pointed out certain advantages do come with a tour. Still, the only places I can see myself as part of a tour in Europe is one going to Russia and the Ukraine. That is obvious.

Posted by Kara
Albuquerque, NM, USA
25 posts

James, Many thanks for the time you took to run the numbers. Wow! I can think of a lot of other uses for that money. We've traveled all over Italy with very basic language skills. Why not Paris??? This has been a really informative string, and now I think my husband and I will have to give some real thought to how important it is to have someone else think/make decisions for us! Thanks to all.

Posted by Linda
Santa Rosa, CA, USA
283 posts

I have never been on a RS tour (or any other organized tour). So I can't share an opinion. But this is just a personal observation. In Paris restaurants, tables are so close together that on many occasions I have ended up in coversation with the people sitting next to me, often locals. They have been such pleasant experiences for me. I just wonder if you don't miss out on that kind of experience when you are traveling and dining as a group...

Posted by Gail
Downingtown, USA
1562 posts

You need to see for yourself what is important to you. Have never been on a tour and am too frugal (cheap) to do it and too independent. That said, have made many trips to Paris and all over France and still can't speak more than basic hello, thank you and have never had a problem with the language. Have encountered people who don't speak English and they were more than willing to help when we were lost, they simply found someone who was able to translate for us. Don't let language barrier stop you. I would get Rick's books on ETBD and specifically one on just Paris if he has one and that may help. Enjoy whatever your decide.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17791 posts

Kara, While the numbers provided by James are one aspect of the question, another point to consider is what "intangible" benefits would be provided by a tour. I find that I learn far more about the history and culture while on a tour, and that provides a much more rewarding and interesting travel experience. That's one reason I continue to take tours and my latest trip to Sicily was no exception. Given the sites that we visited (with excellent local Guides), I felt that the trip was good value. One reason I mentioned considering one of the longer tours, is that would not only provide a good overview of Paris but also provide a glimpse of a different part of France. If you arrived a few days prior to the tour, you'd be able to visit sites in Paris that aren't included. You may find it interesting to read the Tour Reviews of the tour you're considering, to see what others have said about it. Click the "Tours" tab at the top of the page. Cheers!

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3209 posts

I've always been curious... how does RS keep "grumps" from joining a tour?

Posted by VS
Palo Alto, CA, United States
556 posts

We have never taken a Rick Steves tour, but if we were going to take a tour it would probably be one of his. I went with another company to Spain in 2005 and would not repeat. We always travel with Rick's books in Europe since 2003, probably about eight or nine trips over by now. All of the above said, I don't think the value added is there for a city tour in a city as easy as Paris. It's truly one of the easiest big cities in Europe to visit. The trade-offs would not make it worth it for my wife and me, though of course you have to decide based upon your preferences. I can see doing a RS tour for Turkey though, assuming we wanted to go beyond Istanbul. I would also consider a tour in some locations where independent travel would be more of a challenge (for example, China), although Rick does not go there. For us the trade-offs of a lot of structure, possible lack of ability to linger, and the extra expense steer us away from tours. A tour would be great when you are covering a lot of ground going to hard-to-reach places. But the metro and buses in Paris are so easy. We did cross paths with a Rick Steves tour group in Ruette, Austria in 2006 and they seemed to be having a great time. Also, it was a really nice group of people and we chatted at some length with the tour guide who was very personable. If you do take a tour, a Rick tour is a very good bet.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7828 posts

Susan , good question, but they seem to, basically the tour information is so clear on expectations. You don't take a RS tour if you want alot of luxury or service, you will carry your own bag , you will walk ..and they frankly just say "no grumps allowed",, that may scare off some prima donna types.

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3209 posts

Thanks Pat :) I do hope someday to take a RS tour. Reading the Scrapbooks convinced me.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
2529 posts

I met some members of a group of RS tour travelers when I was in Assisi and I've never seen a happier group of people. They were on their own for the day and had all the RS maps/guides and a plan. Grumps who are self-aware don't sign up for these tours, I guess. There might also be some peer pressure to relax and have a good time - sounds like a great tour idea to me.

Posted by John
Van Nuys, CA, USA
155 posts

Having been on 2 RS tours and loving them, my advice is flip your planning around and do the week in Paris on your own, take one of the RS tours thru the countryside. The math given earlier seems plausible. To address the flip side of the coin, "what do you get" question is easier to answer for tours covering multiple cities. On your own its easy to underestimate the time it takes to get from city to city; you need to check out, go to the car lot, drive (and not get lost!), find the new hotel, check in, etc. By public transit you still need to get to the station, and now their schedule is your schedule. On our own it takes at least 1/2 day to move just an hour drive away when all is said and done. On a tour you walk into the hotel, they hand you your room key, done. The bus is waiting when the group departs and take you right to the new hotel, and the driver worries about parking it. Furthermore its a task to learn your way around several cities, but with a guide you go quickly and easily between points of interest. Overall I'd say it takes 2.5 to 3 days to do on your own what you do in 2 days on a tour. Factored that way, the cost becomes much more reasonable on multi-city tours. on a single-city tour I don't think it is the same; after a day or so you'll learn to get around Paris pretty well. I'd add that the guides are something else I think adds real value. You can easily do this on your own in Paris (Paris Walks is wonderful!) but this can be hard to do in smaller cities that may not have public tours you can join and where you'd have to hire an expensive private guide. Lastly, RS uses the same "tour" math everyone else uses; his 7-day trip is really 5.5 at best since you meet at 3pm the 1st day and the tour ends at breakfast on the 7th. So the price in a sense is even higher than the breakdown given earlier.

Posted by John
Van Nuys, CA, USA
155 posts

To address your original herd question, you get plenty of free time. We only did multi-city tours, but on those the protocol was generally a half-day with the group and a half-day on your own on days we stayed in the same city, or a 1/2 day or so on the bus and a few hours with the group on transport days. I would disagree with the post(s) saying people show up prepared. Ours of course is a limited sample, but I got the strong impression virtually nobody had opened the book before the trip. Nothing stops you from reading and planning ahead, from getting RS and other videos from the library to watch before your trip, and I'd strongly recommend doing so if you go on a RS tour so you can plan in advance what you'd like to do and see on your own, some restaurants you'd like to visit that got great reviews, etc. In that vein, there is a company called the "Teaching Company" that makes (expensive) CDs and DVDs although they regularly go on sale and your local library may stock some. Before going to Paris I watched one about the Louvre in which an art expert explained what to look for in a sampling of the works. I thought I had much more appreciation for them when I finally saw them. They also have a series about Art Appreciation, about Cathedrals, about Impressionism, etc.

Posted by Elaine
Columbia, SC
749 posts

I would not consider an RS tour ( or any other) in most parts of Europe simply because I don't see them as a good value for my travel dollars. They are rather pricey - the 7 day Paris is about $800/day per couple. (Day 1 starts at 3 pm and Day 7 ends at breakfast - so by my math it's not even a full 5.5 days.) I can do a lot more and have many more days of travel if I travel independently, and make my own plans and arrangements. That said, there are parts of Europe where I do not want to be on my own, forgive my pre-conceptions, like Turkey or Russia. For those destinations, I become a tour-person.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7828 posts

One other thing about the RS tours as opposed to most other tours,, they have a no tipping policy for guide.. which is different then most tours( but not all I assume) Tips can add up , and the no tipping thing does make a difference. Of course you can't apply that math to travelling independently, but just saying, RS tours do not nickel and dime you like some cheaper tours.

Posted by LaRae
spokane
472 posts

Just finished my first RS tour and thought it was great. Been to Europe many times without a tour also. For a tour in Paris I would just do it on my own.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

It's funny, after coming off what was for me a fairly adventurous independent, multi-country trip on my own, I was discussing the concept of tours, and specifically the RS tours with my husband earlier tonight. It's clearly there are benefits and drawbacks, and most people who have taken RS tours seem to love them, but it's also a self-ing group. I am not someone who likes the idea of a tour because I hate the idea of being on a schedule, forced socialization, and being herded on a bus when there's something else I'd rather see/do. Sounds like my nightmare, so I'm biased. But independent travel can be stressful and planning it to avoid stress/mistakes is really time-consuming, so I do see the positives, plus the best value is having a really knowledgeable guide with all the history and cultural knowledge right there to share it with you. All that said, I agree with James that for a city tour, especially in Paris, it doesn't make financial sense. Paris is a huge tourist destination, getting around without language skills is SO not a problem. I went to Paris on my own within a month of arriving in Europe for the first time and had a blast. For a multi-country trip, a tour might make more sense, but it's hard to justify the excessive cost (and no matter what RS says in his promotion videos or what people say here, there is no way you are getting a good deal for an RS city tour). For the knowledge, take a walking tour or several in Paris - there are even great "free" ones available through the Paris host program (url escapes me at the moment). Paris is easy to navigate and has so many different things to do, I'd suggest researching the trip and find what interests YOU and doing that as opposed to a tour honestly.

Posted by June
Edmonton, Alberta
250 posts

Kara, I took the Paris tour on my own and would recommend it. Public transportation is used with the exception of a bus tour the first evening (on my tour). The guide provided a good orientation to the metro so if you chose to opt out of a group activity or wander about on your own on the free time, you had knowledge to get around. Since there would be the option to (for instance) leave the museum guided tour if you were museumed out, or to stay longer at a site that you enjoyed, the city tour may work for you. Read the detailed itinerary to get a better idea of what exactly is included and how much free time you have, it may help with your decision. I have been on 4 RS tours and they work for me. There frequently has been more included by the guide, ie wine tasting in the hotel. The guides are very helpful for free time planning, Arranging the taxi or shuttle for your trip home, etc. Local guides were used for specific museums, so there was variety. Paris is my favourite place to travel to. Have a great trip.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Looking closer at the itinerary of the Paris tour, and the cost breakdown provided by James (and I did my own), I'm actually kind of angry that this tour even exists. It's a terrible value. It's not as if this is great for seniors who need help getting around - you're taking the metro and RER and walking everywhere. Where is this supposed added value? Don't tell me tour guides, you could hire a private tour guide for 5.5 days and still not make up the cost differential of doing this trip independently versus this particular tour. It seriously makes me mad! There's no time-saving value, either. It just makes no sense. Paris is not a cheap city, but with the budget for a couple of the RS Paris tour, you could do a serious, hardcore, expensive foodie trip to Paris, with $300 dinners every night at Michelin starred restaurants, and STILL come out ahead. I'm really surprised so many people on this thread are suggesting she take this tour like it makes sense, given how many of you have gone to Paris as individuals. I'm not a conspiracy theorist but ... really folks? I know a lot of you know Paris very well and have to know this is a bad value, so it comes off as shilling in a way that seems suspicious to me, even if I know my fevered imaginings are probably unfounded. I just can't think of any other sensible reason for experienced travelers to push this specific tour, at all. Sorry.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6840 posts

"Angry" "Mad" :) Sure it's cheaper to do it on your own, but the tour does have a convenience factor. There doing all the work for you. No sorting through hundreds of hotels on Trip Advisor. No need to figure out which museum pass works best. You're getting a knowledgeable guide who will lead you everywhere (even if it via public transport), no need to figure out which metro lines to take, no need to decipher city maps. Most evening meals are per-arranged. A lot of folks also like being in groups, and are willing to pay a premium for it. For some folks planning out a vacation is akin to root canal. Even though you won't find me on any tour like this, it's not a crime against humanity to sell a city tour or spend your money on it.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Sure it's cheaper to do it on your own, but the tour does have a convenience factor. There doing all the work for you. No sorting through hundreds of hotels on Trip Advisor. No need to figure out which museum pass works best. You're getting a knowledgeable guide who will lead you everywhere (even if it via public transport), no need to figure out which metro lines to take, no need to decipher city maps. Maybe I'm biased because I just did a trip that took a LOT of planning, but planning 7 days (or really 5.5 days) in one city in one hotel is pretty much the easiest thing in international travel. I'm not faulting the OP for looking into the tour - I can understand the apprehension of visiting a large city when you don't speak the language and it all seems overwhelming. But this tour offers no value whatsoever unless you just want travel companions. And you're really paying several thousand dollars to have them. It's not a "crime against humanity" to inquire about a tour, what I do find obnoxious and offensive is the idea that RS co. peddles a travel philosophy totally at odds with these kinds of tours, while attempting to sell the same people both at the same time. I spent a few hours browsing the Tours part of this website and listening to the hard sell in the videos and like I said, I agree that in some situations a tour makes sense, but really, a city tour in Paris is not one of them, and I feel like obviously tours are where EDTB makes its money and that's why they sell them so hard, and apparently a lot of "independent, experienced" travelers here have drunk the Kool-Aid to the point where they are recommending newbies spend twice what they need to for little to no extra value. It seems like fleecing and it really makes me think less of the RS brand, to be quite honest.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
2529 posts

Let's all read the part of Kara's post about "others who are like us who have taken RS tours".

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7683 posts

I agree, Sarah. I can understand the apprehension of first timers in a city where they don't speak the language, I really can. I have been them. But the cost on this particular tour just doesn't make sense. With multi-city tours, having the organizational details - accomodation, transportation, etc. - taken care of adds a lot of value to what you receive for the price. Even so, from what I have read of RS tours, you get a lot less for your money than on similarly sized tours from other companies that I have traveled with (at a lower cost). For not much more than the single price of the Paris tour, I took a 13-day trip to China a few years ago which included my airfare from Chicago, three flights within China, all meals, all transportation and accomodation, all entrance fees to the places we visited. My luggage was picked up, transported, and delivered without my dragging them up multiple flights of stairs in some quaint hotel (we were in 5-star hotels). We didn't take public transportation, or do a lot of walking (we had bus transportation from the door of our hotel and back), and we only had 15 people on our tour. To me, the RS philosophy empowers people to believe that they can do this themselves. To then turn around and try to sell them an overly expensive tour seems completely opposite of what I thought they stood for.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6840 posts

...a lot of "independent, experienced" travelers here have drunk the Kool-Aid to the point where they are recommending newbies spend twice what they need to for little to no extra value. It seems like fleecing and it really makes me think less of the RS brand, to be quite honest... ETBD isn't fleecing anybody. Nowhere does Rick advertise that taking any of his tours is cheaper than independent travel. Selling a guided tour (regardless of the price) to one of the world's most popular destinations is not unethical, immoral or anything else in between. Value is in the eye of the beholder. If one is to drink the independent travel Kool-Aid, I guess we should never eat at a restaurant, go out to the movies, or attend a sporting event, and only shop at Aldis; after all it's infinitely cheaper to do it at home.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17791 posts

Sarah, As I was one that replied to this Thread, I strongly disagree with your reference to those of us that promote the tours as "Shills". That's absolutely not the case! I tried to provide the OP with the best information and opinion based on my experiences both travelling solo and on six RS tours. I've found that travel with a group is not so much "forced socializaton", but rather a different (and more pleasant) type of travel experience. Most of the people that take RS tours have a similar travel philosophy, so usually get along well. I could have easily visited all the places I've seen on RS tours, but it wouldn't have been as memorable or as much fun as it was with the group. I believe those who have travelled on RS tours will share that sentiment. Reading the Tour Reviews and looking at the Tour Scrapbooks will provide an idea on how much people enjoy the tours. I haven't taken a city tour, but I suspect they'd provide a similar experience as the longer tours. I have no doubt that I'd learn more, have more fun and probably eat better while on a tour (that was certainly the case on the Sicily tour that I took in September). RS tours have been using much nicer Hotels in the last few years. I just checked one of the Hotels they've used in Paris, and the rate for a standard double for six nights is ~€1300, which doesn't include breakfast (add ~€10 PP per day for breakfast). Given all that's included with the tour, including hotels, services of the lead Guide & local Guides, admissions, group meals and extras, I stand by my position that the price and value are reasonable. Cheers!

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7828 posts

Why do some people not get that although a tour may not be for them, that tours can be fun , and worth it , if not monetarily but in other ways. Fine, its not for you , but if you haven't taken a RS tour I really find it a bit obnoxious to have a very strong opinion of the RS tour experience. There is not "forced socailization" and we are not "herded" . I have travelled for a few more decades then some very vocal posters on this thread, and I have only taken only one RS tour , but it was fun, it didn't seem like a forced march, and I enjoyed being able to relax and not worry about any details.. ( details I normally would spend months organizing and researching) I do agree that PAris is a great city to do on ones own, and that langauge is a non issue, but if I had never been out of the states, and was a bit nervous, or just wanted the companionship of some like minded travellers, and the tips and knowledge from a good guide, then I see nothing wrong with someone choosing to do a city tour.

Posted by Sandy
Palm Desert
93 posts

I went to school in France in 1968-69 and then travelled Europe of $5 per day.
We spent 5 days on our own in the 2eme arrondeisement apartment. Then we moved across town to the RS 7 days tour. I was trying to show the the value of the guides and the interaction among the people (no grumps). We really had two different experiences. Ths RS week tour of Paris made him want to do Amsterdam and London with the RS book. Later we booked the RS 14- day tour of Ireland and then returned to Amsterdam. The trip in Ireland flew by despite the bad weather. Great felllow travels. Even had a guide dog This summer we are going as a group of 3 to stay in Paris and do it the RS way. Later my husband and I join the GAS tour in 2013. Can't wait until our next tour - looking towards Eastern Europe/Adriatic in 2014. You don't get the herd experience with just 28 or less people. It is not necessary to speak French on this tour. The restaurants are pretty good at recognizing the blue book. When I didn't know enough French to order what I wanted, I looked around to see who had it. They always graciously told me what to do or actually ordered it for me.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2702 posts

Whether you choose to take part in a city tour is your own business with its pros and cons. I've taken day tours of cities, never a multi-day a la Paris, 7 days. Some of them were: East Berlin (back in the commie days when the buildings, Schlösser, etc. were all black), Prague (in the commie days), Dresden, Potsdam (commie days, when it looked like history had stopped in 1945, and since then). Some tours were better than others, depends. There was no feeling of "forced socialisation." If you want to keep to yourself, you have that chance and vice versa. Pace was acceptable. True, the convenience factor is part of it and you do cover a lot more ground in a overview. You determine whether the cost is worth the time span and the tour's itinerary sights, plus transportation.

Posted by April
Portland, OR
246 posts

I took the RS Villages and Vineyards of Eastern France tour in 2009. I was single then and wanted to visit France but didn't know the language and didn't want to travel alone. It was an incredible experience. Everything is planned for you so that you don't even have to think. I skipped some of the site seeing excursions and opted instead to spend a morning or afternoon alone shopping, or taking an extra nap. There is plenty of free time built into the schedule as well. I would say that overall it was a perfect blend of activities and meals with the group. I made friends with some people on the tour that I still see. They will be freinds forever. There was on obnoxious person and one complainer. The guides were great about buffering that for other tour members so it wasn't really a bother. It certainly didn't outweigh the pluses of the tour! It was truly incredible!
We just planned a tour for the Adriatic in 14 days for June. We will have a week before and a few days after the tour on our own. I think that is the perfect blend of time and socializing. Cheers!

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Actually, in his "ten commitments" promo video on the tour part of this site, RS DOES claim that the tours are better values than independent travel. "Best value and experience around" and "Money that an independent traveler would save can be quickly lost to time-consuming hotel and transportation hassles and inevitable mistakes. My goal for you is to end up more relaxed while enjoying a good 30% more in rewarding experiences per day." So he IS claiming, that his tours are a better "value" - not necessarily in hard dollars, but in terms of time, "experiences" (how the hell does he quantify that percentage number? lol) and the "inevitable mistakes" (not very supportive of his independent travel philosophy!) that will cost money. This isn't about being a tour person or not, it's about whether the Paris tour is a good value for the OP, or for ANYONE. I haven't seen one logical argument that begins to justify the cost of this tour for the value, except that people want to socialize with others while traveling (there are many ways to do so far cheaper - couchsurfing, paris greeters, expat events, etc). Some tours make sense, this one doesn't, and I don't know why people are comparing completely different RS tours to this specific tour, which everyone responding to me knows can be done independently quite easily by beginning travelers who are able to invest a modest amount of research time at home for half the cost. So when people continue to push something that doesn't make sense, it looks bad and is disappointing and bad advice, imo.

Posted by Barry
San Diego, CA
588 posts

but if I had never been out of the states @Pat, you are out of the States, you're in a Province! And a beautiful one at that!!! LOL :)

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2155 posts

I think Ken sums it up nicely. It's not just a matter of cost for some folks...value can be measured in lots of different ways...it's sort of a highly personal thing. And I don't believe there's some inherent conflict in offering/selling travelers information on how to travel independently and selling guided tours. After all, selling tours is ETBD's primary business, right? And there is value in his tours...why get offended and upset by all of this? I'm not a tour type of person, so it wouldn't make sense for me personally. I also know that I can (and did) tour Paris on my own for much less than the cost of a RS city tour. Saving money is extremely important to me, so, again, it wouldn't make sense for me personally. It may make complete sense, however, for others on a variety of different levels.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6840 posts

Rick runs 25 Paris City tours per year, that's about 500 people per year who disagree with you Sarah. Also before expenses, around a million dollars in revenue for ETBD. There is a demand in the marketplace, he like any good businessman, has determined what folks are willing to pay, and is providing a service. Hardly the scandal you're trying to create.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7683 posts

"Rick runs 25 Paris City tours per year, that's about 500 people per year who disagree with you Sarah." There may be 500 people a year who go on the tour, but how do you know they disagree with Sarah? For all you know, they could all have thought it was a terrible value in the end. Just because they bought it doesn't tell you anything about whether they liked it (or thought it was worth the money).

Posted by Leslie
Colville, WA
252 posts

My advice to Kara and anyone else considering taking a RS tour would be to read through the Trip Reviews. There are approximately 150 on the Paris trip alone from this year. Those are written by people who actually took the tour.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6840 posts

All 500 may have very well hated the tour. But the fact remains that they had the choice: tour or independent travel. Rick didn't hire armed thugs to force anyone to write a check for $2000. I assume most carefully weighed the options, expense, and other variables and came to a rational decision. ETBD ain't the only company selling guided tours of Paris; it's a big business. In fact a lot of the tours I see in Paris are other Europeans. Surely they know how easy and cheap it is to travel through Europe solo. Yet they value the convenience of someone else doing the hard work. It's their money, why stress out how how others want to spend it?

Posted by Debi
Sherman Oaks, CA, USA
257 posts

I have done tours, some very expensive and some not. I agree there is always someone who rocks the boat or gets lost on tours. Some cities maybe need a guide, easily done. I believe that Paris can easily be done on your own. Great transportation, can get anywhere on the metro or bus quickly. A lot of people in Paris speak english too. A bonjour can get you far. Some food for thought. Happy Travels!

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

Such kvetching!! How many people come on here who desperately want to skip lines, scared of transportation, worried about dealing with "locals", want to hire local guides, fearful of crowds at Versailles,nervous of getting lost, etc., etc. Some people here love planning and doing it there way. Some people don't want to open guidebooks and want somebody to do it all for them. Maybe they don't like "Getting by (barely)". There are different people in the world, and some of them would love that tour. Have you read the feedback? No need to condemn. Not everybody who plans their own trip has such a perfect trip either. Sometimes things can go wrong, such as on a Balkan trip, and not everybody wants to deal with the issues. I don't go on guided tours but I certainly can see why people would like to go on the Paris tour.

Posted by John
Van Nuys, CA, USA
155 posts

(Day 1 starts at 3 pm and Day 7 ends at breakfast - so by my math it's not even a full 5.5 days.) Minor point here, I know. The way I think of it is to consider the usable part of a day to run from roughly 8am to 10pm. In that view, a 3pm start at the front of the tour plus breakfast on the last day gives about 1/2 day.

Posted by Maggie
Boscombe, Dorset, UK
960 posts

Susan- on the RS tour I took, of Istanbul, you had to sign a waiver agreeing that you wouldn't be grumpy! And nobody was.

Posted by BG
Albany, CA, USA
1410 posts

YES, take this tour. I went on it for my first trip to Europe and learned about and grew to love Paris and have returned many times. It will take all the hassle out of seeing this great city for the first time. I traveled solo so it was a great option for me, though as a couple you have the support of another person but I've also seen plenty of confused or lost couples in Paris asking for directions! There is a little bit of the "herd" experience to be sure, (which kind of put me off also) but you just have to go with it. There are tour groups all over and groups of school children in all the museums, you will not be that unusual. ( and you have considerable free time to wander off and do what you want). As for someone not behaving, I have not experienced this on the 2 RS tours I have taken - most people seem to be pretty good sports, and I enjoyed being part of the group. Rick's tour guides are wonderful too! The tours are a bit pricey though still probably a good value. But if you follow his Paris guidebook religiously, and want to put in some effort, you can pretty much duplicate the tour.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

There are some good points, in that there are a lot of new people who are considering trips to Europe who freak out over what are relatively minor things for whom a tour provides a great peace of mind. I get that. I guess that's not coming out in what I'm writing, but I do truly get that. THAT SAID, once again, I know I am arguing primarily with a bunch of people who are extremely well-traveled people, most of whom know Paris well, and I am still really surprised people are continuing to suggest that Kara should take this tour or would find any value in it. And no one has really argued with me about the value of the tour - just that I "shouldn't judge" or whatever. I am judging - this tour is a bad value. I certainly don't judge the OP for asking about it, I'm just giving my opinion about it, the OP is a veteran European traveler who could have a fantastic time in Paris with a minimum of research time to the point where this tour is a bad value, in my opinion (obviously). What I'm getting from this thread, which has nothing to do with the OP, is that a lot of people have taken tours and are defensive about it. Which is silly, because everyone can agree that tours can be great but traveling independently can be great, you have to weigh your own needs and budget with what a tour may offer you. But again, I think this tour is a bad deal on all fronts monetarily. For this specific RS Paris in 7 days tour. I don't really see where the reviews factor into it. Most people who $4400 on something are going to review it favorably unless it completely sucked, it's basic psychology to justify a huge outlay of money in that way. What would be interesting is to quiz the satisfaction of people who took the tour versus people who did a similar trip independently in Paris for half the cost. Do you think they would not be effusive?

Posted by Becca
Provo, UT
163 posts

I agree with you, Sarah; it's a terrible value monetarily, and people who go on it are paying a high price for convenience. I've recently looked into a trip planning service (and I'm comparing the costs because I assume one the biggest values is not having to plan your trip) that notes they can plan custom trips to France starting at $250 a day per person excluding airfare and meals, a far cry from the daily rate someone posted earlier, and much more personalized. I totally get what you're saying.

Posted by Bob
Manchester, CT, USA
87 posts

We went on the RS Paris City Tour in May 2012. We had been on 3 do-it-yourself trips to Italy in the past 8 years, so its not like we were lacking confidence about our ability to handle a trip to Europe. As we both hit milestone birthdays this year, it seemed like a nice idea to treat ourselves to a Rick Steves tour. We were looking for a richer experience than could be accomplished on our own, given that we don't have a lot of vacation time. The RS tour was a great experience. The orientation and assistance provided by our tour guide was very helpful, in that helped us understand what it means to be French. For example, we were advised about the level of politeness expected by French people; as a result, we had great experiences with our personal interactions. We usually had a group experience every morning, so there were times when we were part of a "herd." However, the afternoons were generally unstructured. The tour also provided additional local expert guides at various times (Louvre, Montmartre, Versailles). Regarding the tour members, my belief is that in any random group you will find somebody you don't care to hang out with. It was nice to share experiences and tips, and fun to run into tour members in various parts of the city. Being part of this tour was something like going to adult "summer camp." Overall, I believe that the extra cost of the RS tours (over doing the trip on our own) was well worth it. It is hard to know if we will ever get back to Paris - the memories from this trip will have a wonderful glow for a very long time.

Posted by Frank II
USA
4377 posts

Kara specifically asked for people who have taken RS tours to share their experiences. Yet quite a few people, who have never taken a tour, let alone an RS one, have to chime in to say why tours are bad and they would never take one so no one should, it's bad value, you're not getting your money's worth, etc., etc., etc. Kara....it's your trip. Ask yourself what YOU would prefer. There are pros and cons to taking tours just as there are pros and cons to traveling independently. Only you can decide if a tour is right for you and if it's a good value. No one can decide for you what to do because no one really knows what you prefer. Luckily, there have been enough experienced RS Tour people who, I hope, have answered your questions. As for the others, just think of it as noise. (I'm thinking some posters should read the threads on "Travel Snobs" and "Kinder, Gentler Answers." Paris is a wonderful city and whichever way you choose to travel, I hope you have a great time.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

On the contrary, Kara, I have wondered how you would receive all the posts here and what your decision would be. Please write when you get home and let us know how it went. And, of course, we're still here for other questions. I'm glad you saw that all of us were trying to help. Keyboards aren't as forgiving as the telephone or face to face....

Posted by Kara
Albuquerque, NM, USA
25 posts

I know that no one is holding their breath for my decision. HaHaHa. But just wanted to let folks know that we've decided to rent an apartment, study our French, and do Paris and southern France on our own. We're leaving the tour option to a multi-city adventure in the future involving language(s) that are totally foreign to us. Thanks all for your generosity with information, and some good laughs along the way. And yes, some of the posts were a good reminder about how words on the screen that seem clever and knowing to the writer can carry an unnecessary sting. Cheers!

Posted by LaRae
spokane
472 posts

Really enjoyed my RS tour. Would absolutely go on another one. I would not use a RS tour for 7 days in Paris. Take a couple city tours, use the guide book, speaking French is not a problem.

Posted by Lori
Yelm, WA, USA
10 posts

Kara,
RS has just released a free DVD called "The Tour Experience". He had his cameraman film what it's like being on a typical Rick Steves tour. Call his travel center. I'm sure they'll mail you one.

Posted by Mark
Santa Barbara, CA, USA
144 posts

Lori, In fact the video is on YouTube in full high definition. There is even a link on the upper right side of this page (Watch Rick: YouTube | Hulu) to the video area.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7828 posts

Hey Mark, thanks, I just googled and found the new RS tour vidoe on youtube and watched the whole 45 minutes, really fun.. Then watched a few others.. what a great thing youtube is !

Posted by Mark
Santa Barbara, CA, USA
144 posts

Thanks Pat. That video is outstanding. I have never been on a RS tour but my wife and I discussed doing one after watching that video...

Posted by Terri
Quilcene, WA, USA
57 posts

We took the RS Best of Europe two week tour in 2006 (by the way, the price of that tour has ballooned from $2995 in 2006 to $4195 in 2013). I enjoyed the tour...unhurried pace, great group of people etc, but the primary reason I found value in the tour is because I learned SO much about the ins-and-outs of making my way through Europe. The lessons learned on that tour have allowed me to go back independently several times since then, and I much prefer the DIY experience to the tour experience. Then again, the planning is almost as much fun as the traveling to me...I love scouting out hotels and restaurants and things to do on my own.