Are the buses used during a RS tour nice? How many seats across? Do you recommend bringing a blanket/pillow? Snacks? How far in between stops? (Going on Heart of France next year.) Thanks!
The buses are quite nice. 50 seat bus for 20-some people means you can really spread out. Beverages are available on board. 4 seats across. Storage overhead.
By law, drivers must take a break every two hours, so even if the travel day is long, it does get broken up. Your bus time on the Heart of France tour are pretty short compared to some other tours. The bus time passes quickly if you are prepared.
On the one RS tour I have taken the bus was quite comfortable. Snacks were absolutely brought on. It was not uncommon for somebody to bring snacks on board to share - pass around.
Check out these comfy buses in the video at https://www.ricksteves.com/tours/tour-experience. A separate pillow and blanket are unnecessary weight in your carry-on sized luggage; a sweater, jacket, or shawl is something you might use throughout the day. Pretty much every tour member manages a bus nap at some point after lunch, without needing a pillow. In most seasons, we're ready for the driver to turn on the air conditioning when we get into the bus. You don't need to bring snacks from home; they will be available at rest stops and your guide will warn you if there's a late lunch break on any particular day.
On my last RS tour someone brought a travel pillow to use as a lumbar rest. I thought that was such a good idea I brought one along for the tour I'm on now. Tomorrow is the first bus day so I'll see it is helpful or a waste of space. I used it on the plane over then have had it in a compression bag so it doesnt take up much space.
I always bring snacks onto the bus. I enjoy taking a walk thru the local grocery stores to see what looks interesting.
I have been on 5 tours and the buses are very nice. There is always room to stretch out and I enjoy relaxing and looking at the countryside. There are two seats across and very comfortable.
I have taken 12 RS tours over the last 13 years. All of the busses I have been on in all of those tours were in excellent condition and some were even brand new. Seating is 2 and 2 across with enough seats for each group member to have two seats if they want. I have never seen that happen tho. Overhead storage if available for carry-on day bags and small purchases since it is not very big.
All of the guides have given a "bus speech" the first morning we are on the bus explaining not to use the bathroom that has the drivers' stuff stored in it and the fact that we will be stopping every 2 + hours for bathroom breaks, and not to bring any snacks onto the bus that are "sticky, drippy, or crumbling". I have never brought along a blanket/pillow for the bus but I have seen some tour members bring those inflatable type ones that they have used on their plane flights. Most seats recline but courtesy should be shown as to not recline into someones face. Most of the tours I have been on tour members alternate their seating so that no one is sitting directly behind another allowing for unoffensive reclining. Lots of sleeping after lunch on long drives. On all of the tours that I have taken, the bus drivers are very friendly and occasionally join us at the group meals.
We were on the Heart of France tour in May 2013. There was no mention about holding off using the bus toilet, and several members did have to use it during the trip. It was immaculately clean by the way. The husband and wife team were great drivers and very friendly and helpful, joining us for meals. As a common courtesy, you should clean up after yourself on the bus and avoid any food that will mess up the seats. We tended to hang out in the back of the bus, since much more room and fewer people. There was never an issue with anyone complaining about not getting a "back of the bus" seat. Have fun, it was a great tour.
EDIT (10/25/2014): I should say a word about RS drivers, as we just returned from our third RS tour (Greece, this time) - all the RS drivers have been top-notch, friendly, professional and very skilled. We appreciated being able to take pictures through the windows despite having recently come through rain b/c the drivers cleaned the windows during our breaks and coming back to a bus that was cool when the weather was hot (driver found a rare shady spot and had the air conditioner on when we returned from break). But we really appreciated the ability of our drivers to negotiate hairpin turns on narrow mountain roads overlooking steep cliffs and city traffic that included "stupidly-parked cars" (one of our guides' descriptions) and taxi drivers with bad cases of road rage.
I have taken 9 RS tours, the buses have always been nice. The drivers really are proud of their coaches and clean them daily, sometimes even during rest stops. You will be requested not to bring on ice cream and smelly foods, as well as crumbly items. You are expected to keep your area neat and plastic bags are hooked to aisle seats for that purpose. Occasionally, tour members will share snacks with everyone. The guides sometime pass around cookies or other snacks. Our Irish guide provided a basket of apples at the beginning of our tour. The driver's always provide drinks; water, soda, beer, and sometimes wine for a small fee and always cheaper than purchasing at a store. On my Belgium/Netherlands tour there was the correct glass to use with the selected beer. The "purchase" of these drinks are done on the honor system. Each occasion you take a drink, you place a tally beside your name on a roster. This is usually kept by the bus refrigerator. Before the tour ends, usually the last bus day, the guide will walk along the bus aisle collecting from tour members. On each trip there has always been the announcement about trying not to use the on board toilet. This is out of courtesy to others because it can begin to smell. That said, you may utilize in case of emergency. Sometimes it might not be possible to wait for a rest stop break, which are every few hours.
"The guides sometime pass around cookies or other snakes. "
Oh my...I think I would avoid that tour!!
I have only taken on RS tour.. the bus was lovely. The drivers drinks offered ( we had water, soda and beer) were one euro each( cheap), and as said on the honor system so no searching for coins.
We were encouraged to wait to use washrooms at stops but it was clear that if you had to go.. you had to go! As noted the stops are so frequent that only young kids and those with perhaps an upset tummy or weak bladder needed to use the washrooms. They were VERY clean and nice though.
Everyone bought junk or snack food at rest stops to munch on bus.. ice cream was the only no no.
On Heart of Italy and Greece, the bus stopped every 1.5-2 hrs. The stops were places that had impressively good to delicious food.
There were some pretty windy roads in Greece, so the ones with motion sickness sat up front. No one had a problem with that.
The Buses used in RS tours are all full sized Coaches and are very comfortable. As there is always no more than 28 in the groups, everyone can have their own seats (if desired). The seats have always been two on either side, and are somewhat of an "airline style" and can be reclined. As others have mentioned, the drivers are also excellent and they take pride in keeping the Coaches clean.
I really don't think you'll need a blanket and pillow, but your choice. Each segment of the bus rides is only about two hours, as the drivers are monitored by a "black box" and they MUST stop at defined times for a rest. You won't need snacks as the stops usually happen at road side cafes or whatever, so you can get a coffee and a croissant (or whatever). The driver has a cooler at the front with water and other beverages, which can be purchased for €1 each (the guide will collect at the end of the tour).
In my experience, RS tours use several coach firms in Europe, but the most common seems to be Heidebloem. Click on the pictures to get an idea of what the coaches look like. There is a WC on board, but since the stops are so frequent, I've never seen anyone use it.
Hi Kathy, the itinerary for your tour will tell you how long you'll spend on the bus each day. The busses are very comfortable. I've taken 5 RS tours and never noticed anyone with a pillow or blanket but you're free to bring them if you want to carry them. You can pick up snacks at the rest stops. Hope you have a great trip!
Kathy I loved the bus time.. its a time to relax and just look out the window and daydream. I usually sat alone as my daughter preferred sitting at back of bus with other kids her age. Fine by me.. loved the extra room .
I do have one good tip.. at rest stops hit the bathrooms first ,as if other buses arrive at same time.. there can be lines.. more then once a few brave women and myself would storm the mens washrooms( they never have lines!!!!) . Then pick up snacks to eat on bus.