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Are Rick Steve's Tours the most bang for your buck?

I'm planning a trip to Europe and have been price comparing with other tour companies. Rick Steve's tends to be a little pricier but if I'm understanding correctly, some of the other companies (GLOBUS, Trifalgar CostSaver, etc.) don't have everything included in the price.

  1. Is everything included in a Rick Steve's Tour or will I be stuck with additional excursion costs, etc.?
  2. Are the hotels located in a central location or way on the outskirts of town?

Thanks in advance for your responses!

Posted by
873 posts

On each tour page there is a section: what is included.

Included: transportation from first hotel to last hotel, all breakfasts, half the dinners (sometimes it is a lunch instead of a dinner), admission to all of the sightseeing that is listed for the tour, tips for your tour guide, local guides and bus driver.

Not included: Transportation to your first hotel and from the last hotel to the airport. Transportation during free time. Free time activities and admissions. Most lunches and half your dinners. Souvenirs. There may be one or two optional tours or activities that are extra (gondola ride), but these are 1 or 2 per trip.

I have been on one tour. The hotels were clean and comfortable. They were centrally located. The guides were excellent. The food was well prepared and tasty. I received a great value for my money. If I was on a tight budget I could have done the trip cheaper on my own but it would have cost a lot in time, effort and aggravation and it would not have included the education I received from the guides.

Posted by
919 posts

When you compare RS tours to other tour companies, there are several considerations in addition to cost. With RS you will have smaller groups, and tour guides who are paid a fair wage, freeing them from the need to take you to shopping opportunities that give them kickbacks, which is the major means by which the guides are paid. RS guides are forbidden from accepting tips or kickbacks, and this frees them to spend their time teaching you about the language, customs, history, etc. of the areas being toured. Also, because there are fewer people on the trip you will get personal attention from your guide. Many times you will have a local guide in addition to your RS guide, giving additional info about the city you are touring. I have taken five RS tours, and, if I am not doing an independent trip, it is my choice every time. Did one Globus tour years ago and was unimpressed. If you explore the RS site, there is a post with a comparison of RS tours vs. other tour companies.

Posted by
3551 posts

I have taken 2 RS tours. All excursions were included and u will know ahead which meals are on your own to pay for. Tour and driver Gratuities are included. Be aware some days are unguided.
The hotels are a range of 2 star, quirky, to mid range usually central.
The cost to me per day is on the higher side when compared to other group travel. Yes, the group size is smaller. A comp could be made with OAT tours, also smaller group travel.

Posted by
2265 posts

Travel Lover, aren’t we all! I have found that RS tours diligently include all the visits and stops mentioned in the itinerary, plus often one or two extra stops dependent on the guide, the weather, etc. Everything mentioned by the others is true — no tipping of guides or drivers, no shopping stops where guides are working for commissions, etc. A bus for 50 with about 25 people makes bus trips comfortable and relaxing. A truly outstanding feature is the real excellence of RS guides, as well as local guides often utilized. A site or neighborhood can be brought alive by a really good guide, more than exploring on your own or with a poor or boring guide. Hotels range from adequate to wonderful, usually very central, but sometimes more rural and then usually special and excellent! Now, extra expense comes during your free time. If you wander a neighborhood, or take a hike, with a meal of a sandwich, a water and a gelato, you can spend very little. On the other hand, if your free time includes the opera by taxi and a fancy dinner with cocktails and fine wine, or an extra museum or site with a high admission charge, you can spend considerably. Shopping is on your own time and budget. I have taken 9 RS Tours and think they are terrific and a good value, as long as you want to be in Europe and like the itinerary. Many people, including me, will supplement the tour with a few, or many, additional days before and/or after, on their own.

Posted by
18906 posts

I think it was during a PBS-station pledge-drive interview that Rick said something that struck me: He feels his tours cover something like 30% (I think that was the number) more than a tourist could do on his own in the same time. I haven't taken an RS tour, but that sounds reasonable, since the tour has a professional driver and guide plus dedicated inter-city transportation. I think a reasonable comparison would not be to what the independent tourist would pay for X days of independent travel, but rather what he would pay for the longer independent trip that would be necessary to see the same sights. And it's hard to put a monetary value on having quality guides, etc.

Posted by
1955 posts

Travel Lover,
I think your question leaves out an important consideration and that is the value of your time. And the importance of being with congenial people and excellent guides whose goal and purpose is to educate you and help facilitate the best experience possible for you. RS packs more activities and sights on a tour than I could manage on my own, that is, if I knew about them. We are also paying for his knowledge and logistics. The tours give you ample free time and structured activities so that you can have the best of both worlds. I find that being on a RS tour in a locale and possibly a language that I'm unfamiliar with, gives me confidence to learn to navigate in new places and see for myself if I would like to return on my own. RS tours endeavor to help make you an independent traveler.
While I have been an independent traveler and will be again, I love the RS philosophy and have been on 5 tours so far. I am signed up in 2018 for the Best of Turkey. I also have a trip scheduled for Paris and Amsterdam in April 2018 - on my own with a friend.

So, to answer your question, I say "yes" for me to the RS tour philosophy.

Posted by
1173 posts

I’ve taken over 10 tours and the hotels are always well located. Hotels on average were fine. A few were very nice and a few I wouldn’t stay at again

The guides provide options for free time activities. These are not excursions like a cruise line would sell. Just options. If there is sufficient interest the guide may form a mini group to share transportation costs or get a discounted admission charge.

The closest thing to a shopping stop was the ceramics demo on the village Italy trip. It was fascinating watching the process. While there were many things to purchase it was all low key. Absolutely no pressure to buy. The shop even gave each of us a little ceramic votive candle holder as a gift. Oh and there was the rug making demo on the Turkey tour. Once again no pressure to buy.

Just make sure you read all the info to know what to expect. Carry your own bags, no grumps, possibly no elevators, no smoking with the group, etc.

What tour are you thinking of?

Posted by
3 posts

I'm thinking of the Heart of Ireland in 8 Days Tour with my mom. She's 70 so I'm hoping it's okay for her. I'm looking for flights and they're so expensive out of Minneapolis. Any advice on a good airline to use that isn't going to cost $1100-1300/ticket?

Posted by
6718 posts

What month is the tour? Try Aer Lingus and Iceland Air.

Posted by
489 posts

Look at your budget and look at the itinerary and decide.

We took 1 RS tour and I was very impressed with the itinerary of stops... What I liked was the amount of "free time" to explore on your own the stops. (Which allow us to pre book outside additional tours, like a bike tour for husband and a Game of thrones tour for me.. booked on our own ahead of time) I also liked the lack of all group meals and in my opinion RS tours could cut back even more. I like researching places to eat (very easy these days with the internet and RS guides). I like trying regional specialties ( many group meals with tours will be general regional dishes that would appeal to Americans.) What you will pay for is drinks at group dinners, although the first and last meals will have wine usually included.

We just completed a small group tour with Road Scholars and it was good for itinerary and very expert guides, but almost all if not all meals were included. You waste a lot of time with a group meal of 22... Time I would have liked to explore more on my own (yes, I skipped a couple of meals). And the free time was very compressed.

RS tours uses smaller hotels with some interesting rooms and some really marginal rooms. Luck of the draw to which you get. Be prepared to carry your luggage up flights of stairs and BE ON TIME. (however, on these last tours... no one was tardy!) Don't expect being right in the city center (in a high rent area). However, the guide will explain how to get from city to hotel.
RS tours has this "no grump" policy, but in my opinion they should say it doesn't start until everyone has their cup of coffee... I don't drink coffee, but I can say that there was considerable grumpiness at the coffee machines in each hotel at breakfast.
On our Road S. tours (Romania and Bulgaria) We had some very fantastic hotels with views.

We will be trying yet another tour to find the one that works for us, but I would take tours with either RS or Road Scholar again.

(aside... we had wanted to travel to Turkey with RS Tours, but they cancelled that tour and were very good about changing to another tour and a generous policy to help us change to the Best of the Adriatic)

My idea of a great bus tour is .... the company puts an outstanding itinerary together (this where you need to do some research of what you'd like to see), they have experienced tour guides, they get very experienced local guides, Never any tipping!!!, Good safe hotels that allow you to wander around after dark., A VERY FEW group meals, 30% free time at least of waking hours that is yours to explore. And hopefully, (not guaranteed) a good small group of people (less than 25). I basically want the tour to provide transportation, accommodations, language aid, expert guides (this means guides with more than general knowledge.. some true expertise... ) and a SUPER interesting itinerary!

Posted by
9802 posts

Have you looked at Odysses Unlimited? They also offer small groups (maximum of 24), have everything included, all tips except to the tour director) and stay in centrally located hotels. I ran into one of their groups while on an RS tour and compared notes. They seemed to stay in nicer hotels in general and get bell service included (Not a big deal when the coach parks in front of the hotel but is a big deal when you have to walk blocks uphill.) Odysses will also arrange your flights for you.

I signed up for two of their tours next year because I preferred their itineraries over Rick Steves and the hotels seemed nicer. Costs were pretty much the same. (I've taken three Rick Steves tours so RS groupies please don't flame me)

I took the Heart of Ireland tour last October and it was terrific. For that short a trip I would suggest that tour and a little time on your own.

Many, Many years ago, I was a tour director with one or more of the tour companies you mentioned. The initial tour price is low and much is optional. With RS, you pay upfront for everything so you don't have to pay as you go. I worked for one company that had a budget division. The tours were the same. The budget one had a lower initial cost but if you added all the optionals, it was more expensive than the regular tours that had a higher price but almost everything was included.

One last thing, tour directors do not make the majority of their income from shopping kickbacks. Yes, they do get some but stops are sanctioned by the tour companies. Most income is from passenger tips and salary.

Posted by
276 posts

I feel there are pros and cons with RS tours.

Pros: Small groups. It's nice to spread out on the bus. Easier to hear your guides. You will stay in some towns other tours visit just for the day which can be quite lovely. No tipping or extra charges which is great. Chances to explore local restaurants and try their specialties.

Cons: Some tours tend to be museum and history heavy so if that's not your thing you might get bored. You have to get to the tour starting point and to the airport for your flight home on your own at your own expense so you have to be able to navigate and add the extra cost to your vacation budget. And some locations can be complicated. There seems to be a lot of free time and what you choose to do is on your own and at your own expense so again an increase in your budget. Meals are pro and con: get a chance to explore but another added increase in your budget. The price seems high considering the airport logistics, free time and meals on your own.

For the right tour to the right place I think a RS tour is definitely worth the money other places maybe not so much. Read carefully, explore all your options and trust your choice. Happy travels!

Posted by
234 posts

Your Mom should have no problems with the Heart of Ireland tour at 70 as long as she is in good health. My husband and I did this trip when he was 84 and I was 76. It is a great tour. In fact, we had so much fun we went back this year for the 14 day Ireland trip.

Posted by
37 posts

Just completed our first RS Tour - 21 Day Best of Europe. In fact, it was our first land tour in Europe. It was wonderful! We learned so much from our tour guide and the local guides. There were a variety of activities and time to explore too. The hotels were small and charming, and in good locations. Group meals gave us a sampling of dishes from the region we were visiting, and many times included appetizers and wine. I really enjoyed traveling with a small group and the "no grumps" philosophy. We seemed to be on the same page, as the materials provided prior to the trip prepared us for what to expect. I plan day trips for our senior center back home, so I know how fast the cost of a trip adds up. Trust me, you are getting a lot of bang for your buck. Oh! Let's not forget the time spent when you are trying to find your way in an unfamiliar area or waiting in line to enter a popular site. Not an issue on a RS Tour. I'm hooked! Doing the RS Best of Spain in September.

Posted by
33 posts

We've taken two RS tours and the value to us is the itinerary is worry free, the guides are amazing and we have really enjoyed meeting new people on our tours. Can you travel in Europe for less money, of course. But if you want a great travel experience, practically worry free, RS tours can't be beat. All hotels on our tours were centrally located and many were experiences in themselves, but we happen to like that sort of thing.

On the airfare question, I have found that if you fly into a main European city (Paris, Amsterdam, London, Brussels, etc.) and take a intra Europe plane or train to your start location for your RS tour you can usually save money. For example, in April 2018, I was able to see round trip tickets to Dublin for around $650. Of course the Heart of Ireland tour starts in Ennis and ends in Dublin but you can catch a train or bus from Dublin to Ennis for $50 to $75. Yea it's possibly an extra 4 hours but you just saved $500-$700 on a round trip ticket to Shannon. Then again, sometimes the convenience is worth the extra cost.

I use google.com/flights to compare flights and days of flights and you can move your end destination around to suit your cost and/or touring desires. Also, to look up buses and trains in europe I use rome2rio.com. Hope this helps.

Posted by
1584 posts

We've done tours with both RS and Odyssey Unlimited and enjoyed both. At this point, unless we like the itinerary better, RS is our preference. While the hotels on the Odyssey tour were, on the whole, better, they weren't always centrally located. In Spain, where RS stays in Seville, we stayed in Carmona and had Seville as a day trip. We've come to enjoy those evening spent in towns and cities after the bulk of the tourists have departed. Another thing we ran into on the Odyssey tour was hotels were advertised as having pools, ...but they weren't open the middle of May. On the Odyssey tour there was a collection taken for the bus driver our last night, on RS that is part of your payment. Our Odyssey guide was very pleasant (and I'm not sure I can explain this adequately), but our RS guides have felt like hosts - as if we were guests in their home.

To answer original question 1): this is not like cruises where the good stuff costs more. I think on both RS and OL sometimes the guides will come up with something during free time for those that want to join.

2) - our hotels on RS have always been centrally located, which means you may give up something in caliber of hotel. Just depends on what you're looking for.

Posted by
908 posts

Regarding flights, if Sun Country has good fares to Boston, Chicago, or New York, for example, look at flying a hop to one of those cities then taking an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin or Shannon. See if that works out cheaper than whatever you priced.

Posted by
8248 posts

I think one thing to look at is not your Mom's age but how mobile she is. The Rick Steves' tours are pretty active. I'm 68 and try to get quite a bit of walking in before I travel. If she can walk 3 or 4 miles a few days a week she will be fine. She should add stairs as well.

I've done 8 of Rick's tours and 9 Road Scholar tours (5 in Europe, 4 in the US). In general my 1st choice are Rick's tours and I will default to Road Scholar if they offer an itinerary he doesn't have. Recent Road Scholar tours were Cornwall (6 nights) and Brittany and Normandy (14 nights).

To me they are great value for money as I like the learning aspect. I also feel both Rick Steves and Road Scholar are very precise in stating what do and do not cover. There are never any negative surprises but sometimes the guides will throw in a cool surprise!

I will also add that in my experience the Rick Steves guides are not forbidden from taking tips. I have tipped several guides because I am vegan and they have to do extra work to organize food for me for group meals. Several accepted but made sure to tell me I did not have to do that , they regard meals as part of their work. One tried to give it back and we decided he would give it to a charity of his choice (he picked a refugee agency). So, tips are included and completely NOT expected but most will accept a privately done tip. A time or 2 someone in a group has tried to do a collection for a tip and I don't participate, in fact actively discourage that behavior. I do not share with anyone that I tip as I feel that is complete a private thing between the guide and me.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you all for your responses. I'm amazed by all the feedback I got from people! Very helpful!

I checked flights using google flights and found that if we fly in and out of Dublin we'll save around $350 and then we can take a bus (thank you cheyfrost for the link) to Ennis for around $30ish. Very nice and it will give us time to see the countryside.

Couple questions:
1. Do you recommend getting bus passes ahead of time or can we wait until we get there?
2. Has anyone been to the Glentworth/Limerick Bus Station? Is it an easy place to get around in? There would be a transfer to continue on to Ennis and I'm wondering how much time we'd need to get from one bus to another.

Thanks in advance for all your help! :)

Posted by
14326 posts

Unlike Globus, Trafalgar, etc., RS tours do not nickle-and-dime you. Not only are all the guides and drivers much better paid, but the guides also tip the hotel and restaurant staffs on behalf of the entire group. And there are little treats along the way, a glass of wine, happy hour or bus snacks, local treats - even on a My Way tour with no "group" activities. The smaller group - maximum 28 people - means you spend less time waiting for everyone to get on/off the bus, in/out of sights, restaurants, etc. just because it's easier to herd 25-28 people than 45-48 people. You also get to spread out on the bus because they are full-size buses and you get to know your tour mates and become a group which translates into a much better overall experience . . . and a lot more laughs.

Hotels are always in very good locations.

Posted by
445 posts

Look at OAT, Overseas Adventure Travel. Maximum 16 per group, & much bang for your bucks. We've taken two RS tours, & 10 OAT.

Posted by
9802 posts

You could take the train from Dublin (Heuston Station) to Ennis:
Irish Rail

From Dublin Airport to Heuston Station you can take the Airlink bus Route 747.

The Ennis Bus Station and Rail Station are the same place--buses on one side of the small terminal and trains on the other. If you stay at the Old Ground Hotel it's only a five minute walk to the hotel from the station.

Posted by
2788 posts

I have taken 14 RS tours (soon to be 15 & 16) and have penciled out the costs of doing them on my own. I would never have been able to get all that is provided on a RS tour by doing them on my own especially all of the time I would have to spend making all of the arrangements/reservations. However, I have never compared prices on RS tours to other similar tours. I took my first RS tour in 2001 (BofE) and so enjoyed everything about it that I just keep signing up each year for another RS tour. I met RS maybe 25 years ago at a Seattle Travel Show and in talking with him over the years have discovered that he and I “are on the same page”. It is convenient to be only about a 30 minute drive from his headquarters in Edmonds, WA, so that I can drop in often.

Posted by
408 posts

Hi just checked OAT while it looked interesting it said for over 50 year olds. While I realize many people are older on all the RS tours we have really enjoyed the range of ages. We have had people from 10 to probably 80 on our tours. We like being around different age groups & have taken our kids on 3 of our 5 tours. We have been very impressed with our 5 guides & each one we would love to take a tour with again. We like history & museums & RS tours are heavy on that. We are not foodies and the food has been fine. We are not fussy on rooms. All have been clean. Be prepared for stairs no elevators in some hotels and many do not have air. Enjoy

Posted by
350 posts

I have traveled independently and on RS tours, often in the same country.

On my own I am always ‘impressed’ by how often I have to get my wallet out to pay for things. On an RS tour my wallet usually stays in my pocket except for a few meals and souvenir gifts.

So,

Yes, I could do it cheaper myself given time an effort on my part.
Yes, I regard RS tours as a good value.

I often combine a tour with independent travel. Best of both worlds, IMHO.

Posted by
85 posts

Some of the tours are better value than others. I would compare prices on a per day basis.

Posted by
266 posts

They are worth it because:

a) I don't have to plan anything (almost)
b) It saves me and my husband from divorce
c) like-minded travelers that make travel fun

The hotels of the tours I've taken are centrally located (a hallmark of the RS philosophy) and the only additional costs are the ones you want to take on in free time. We've opted out of "optional" activities during down time to relax and enjoy the surroundings. Expectations of travel hinge on so many variables. Try the RS tour and if you don't like it then use another company the next time. The best travel dollars spent are measured by time and experience, which are different for every person. I have friend that are appalled at how much the RS tours cost, but yet they'll go to Italy for 5 days and call it good. 5 days?! Who the heck can see Italy in that little amount of time. Then they'll brag at how little the trip cost them (true story). I'd rather spend a bit more and have a great trip.

Posted by
58 posts

I have taken 3 RS tours and signed up for a 4th. I loved all my tours but the best of Paris I felt was less valuable, I’m thinking it was because it was one hotel same city. Part of the value to me, is getting where you need to go efficiently, checking into a hotel by walking in and getting the key. Showing up at a museum and walking in with someone already have bought the passes. Maybe I will feel different when I retire and have more time. But for now the RS is a very good value for me. I don’t have time to pour over guidebooks, find hotels, contact and book them, arrange for transportation, have plan b when something is closed that wasn’t suppose to be. I appreciate greatly the locations of the hotels and how they are all in walking distance to other sites, the mixture of free time and group time. The size of the group and the comfort of the buses. I feel way less stress when someone else is dealing with logistics and that is very valuable to me.

Posted by
3580 posts

It's easy to use public transportation in Ireland. From personal experience I can recommend that you check with the coach driver before boarding any bus/coach. I've gotten on the wrong one a couple of times! The Irish speak English and are friendly/helpful. I wouldn't buy a bus pass in advance. When you arrive plans may have changed. Flying into Paris has been inexpensive recently. You might fly into Paris and take a short flight to Dublin. Ditto for flight to London, but I haven't checked prices for plane tickets there recently.

Posted by
373 posts

Hi - We've been on 4 RS tours (1 was a My Way). We thought all were a great value, especially if you do the math to see what you'd be paying if you did it on your own, plus all the time you'd dedicate to the planning and logistics. We really enjoyed the My Way since it was more affordable and you could control how much you spent on any activities. There's so many things that are so great about RS tours...but I'd say two of the top things are 1. the small group...not a herd of cattle; 2. the fabulous guides that REALLY want you to have a wonderful trip.

Posted by
42 posts

Front of the line privileges absolutely make tours worthwhile. After going to Amsterdam on my own and standing in line in the cold rain for half a day to get into the van Gogh museum, I've only gone on RS tours. I just booked my 2018 RS tour, my 5th since 2015.

Sometimes I add a post-tour day trip excursion like Rabbies or Paris City Vision to my RS tour.

Hotels are always centrally located and the website notes that the central location means you will be staying in locally managed properties, not expensive, upscale American branded hotels. Shops and hotels prize the RS recommendation as much as the Michelin stars so your hotel will be as clean and nice as you could hope for.

There's no extra costs or 'guided shopping'. You'll be shopping on your own time. A RS tour is about the culture, history, sites and food of Europe.

Posted by
2 posts

I have truly enjoyed reading this thread! I am a confirmed "independent" traveler! I plan my flights, airport transfers, accommodations, meals, activities and tours on my own. Reason: control, independence, substantial savings. Yes, it means doing a lot of research, but isn't that what makes travel interesting and exciting? I took one group travel and it will be the last time I do. It was only 12 people, who for the most part were pleasant, but people I probably wouldn't normally choose to travel with. There was too much drama (including but not limited to one woman's failed attempt at romance with one of the tour guides!), personal problems (including a fellow "traveler" who was incapable of physically keeping up with the group while walking and took off several times independently without telling anyone - resulting a frantic search for a 66 year old) differing opinions on every excursion (i.e. complaints), I realize that it was just one time - and if it did happen all the time (which I still think it does from time to time on most tours) there wouldn't be any tour companies in business. I spend approximately three to four weeks on every tour I've planned, six in the last seven years, each time to Italy. One might say that being alone I miss out on companionship (but I say I have a knack for making friends wherever), or informative guided tours (not so, as I utilize RS books on walks, places to visit, eat, etc. and also use his "Audio Europe App guide - as well as the multitude of similar audio tours available if one only searches for them). I actually listen to Rick Steves when he tell us of substantive issues and how to best travel in Europe as a Travel Ambassador, and being smart in making decisions. My biggest "beef" w/grps, however, is that I remember so much more when I do all the planning and execute my plans. On that one "fateful" group tour, I went ahead and spent two full weeks in Rome, then met my fellow travelers at Fiumicino airport to join them in the 10 day tour of the "Best of Tuscany". I remember every detail of my stay in Rome, yet the group travel was a blur. We had a driver so no concentrating on logistics to the tour sites, our accommodations, the airport, nothing. We stayed at an Agriturismo near Siena and did daily trips in all directions. Where we were I couldn't tell you, I know the names, locating them on a map, but couldn't tell you anything about the city outside of what we did as group (we went to museums, a winery, walked cities). Because it was essentially "follow the leader", it "dumbed you down" as to knowing where you were - you just followed people, unaware of the significance of your surroundings & not being able to put that into perspective spatially, historically, or politically. I am a history buff. I've actually read histories of the Medici's, Garibaldi, Cavour, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Mussolini, Caesar, so I understand Italian history, reasonably well. I like to linger at cafes, museums, and walk every part of every town/city/village I'm in, to understand the geography before exploring the city culturally and socially, . I like shopping too, even if I buy nothing. Before leaving for Italy, I had taken two years of Italian language can "get by" and make myself understood in most cases, yet it always seems that everyone I meet know English better than I know Italian! In my travels I have stayed only in one city, three cities, and twice a six city tour (Sicily - arriving in Palermo and leaving from Catania). I am convinced that packing and unpacking is not, definitely not, the way to go. I spent too much time traveling and getting settled into my new surroundings that could have been better spent relaxing having an aperitivo in a café! This year I've decide on four weeks in Tuscany and Umbria, but in places I've never been in (Todi, Grosseto) or only day-tripped (Orvieto, Siena). I travel mainly by train (what a wonderful system!) and occasionally by bus.

Posted by
4601 posts

cdemarco2, we love to travel independently as well as on RS tours. What sets our tour experiences apart from yours, is we still research all the places we visit, even on a guided tour. My chair now is surrounded by books on the Netherlands and Italy. There are maps, guidebooks, histories, art books, and the RS itinerary for our upcoming tour. And language books! I've vowed never to visit a country where I don't speak at least a little of the language. (That's my personal quirk, but it has served me well.)

We have had a number of our RS tour mates tell us that the next time they travel, they're going to prepare the way we did. And even with all our preparation, there are always surprises along the way, things that have changed, last minute changes to the itinerary, and of course, no matter how well prepared we are, we can't cover everything.

So we come down on a combo solution; it works for us.

Posted by
1727 posts

This has been an informative thread. We haven't taken a Rick Steves tour, but if we ever take another tour, it will be RS.

I firmly believe in the RS philosophy and I am more than willing to pay a little extra for smaller group size and being in the company of like minded travelers.

We normally travel on our own, but I can see us taking a Rick Steves tour to Eastern Europe or Greece. I'd love to go to Turkey, but that is now off the table for a while.

Our first trip to Europe was as high school students way back in 1966. We went to 8 countries in three weeks. Our chaperone was a high school teacher who held monthly meetings from the time we signed up until we left. There were 4 boys and 4 girls and we were assigned a section of the itinerary to report to the group. We met up with 56 more high school students and were by far the best prepared.

50 years later, the son of our chaperone who was also on the trip invited us to join him and his wife on a Rhine Viking River Cruise. It was wonderful to revisit with our dear friend some of the places we saw on the first trip. However, we found that tours in general and VRC in particular are not our cup of tea, to be polite and generous.

Posted by
350 posts

I like both the RS tours as well as doing it on my own.

Two years ago I booked a trip on my own in Italy, staying for over a week in one town. Some days I wandered about the town taking photos, on other days I hopped a train or bus to visit another city. On the way back I stopped in Amsterdam for three days. I love doing it on my own and just going with the flow for the day. Sometimes, I have a list of things to see, but often I just want to go with whatever strikes my fancy. It was great fun, but compared to an RS tour I did not 'see' as much.

OTOH...

If I have a week to ten days to spend in Italy and I want to see the big sites of Rome, Florence and Venice a tour would probably be better, especially if something goes wrong (like the strike at the Uffizi on the day we had reservations for it). Or the transit strike in Rome on a particularly busy tour day. Our guide earned his pay on those days. The RS guide worked it all our, shuffled our itinerary and we saw everything as advertised.

Value is in the eye of the beholder. Don't let a stuck up 'traveler' or 'sojourner' get in the way of doing what is right for you. Also, don't let an RS 'groupie' talk you into something you dont' want.

Posted by
9802 posts

Value is in the eye of the beholder. Don't let a stuck up 'traveler' or 'sojourner' get in the way of doing what is right for you. Also, don't let an RS 'groupie' talk you into something you dont' want.

Well put and so true.

Posted by
22 posts

I would carefully compare the prices of RS Tours with OAT tours, and then make your own decision. That's what I did, but I am NOT telling you which one I took...

Posted by
5634 posts

I travel solo and independently most often.

However both the 7 day Instanbul and Florence RS tours were ideal.

From my perspective being allowed into the Accademia before doors opened to the public to view David was worth every penny! And we weren’t rushed either. A good 20 minutes of gazing and listening to an art historian talk about Michelangelo’s masterpiece.

A travel memory not to be forgotten!!

Does this happen on every RS TOUR, I don’t know but it happened on ours and I’m forever grateful that it did!!!

Posted by
4601 posts

Claudia, we also loved the Florence tour (Pleeeeeaaaase RSE, bring back the Best of Florence tour! I promise we'll take it again! And I understand there used to be a Best of Venice, as well? Pleeeeeaaaaase.......)

But I digress. We also had a great session with the David, but I don't think it was before the museum opened. It was not very crowded, but I do remember other people there. David is one of those sights, like the Grand Canyon, that cannot be fully appreciated except in person.

Thanks for jogging my memory.

Posted by
377 posts

Also, don't let an RS 'groupie' talk you into something you dont' want.

You mean there is a RS 'groupie' at this site? Shocking!

Posted by
281 posts

For myself, if the tour covers ~75% or more what I want to do then it is cost effective for me to take the tour. Very close to the 30% Rick touts.

Posted by
1 posts

Travel Lover,
My wife and I took the Best Of London trip with guide Tom Hooper 16 months ago. It was for us, the trip of a lifetime and honestly, there was nothing we didn't enjoy. We LIKED staying in one hotel. We LIKED the behind the scenes look at things we could never have experienced on our own and we LOVED the experience so much that we are planning another trip in 2019.
It is expensive but I thought , as did my wife, that it was worth the money. Our hotel was the Washington Mayfair, a nice hotel in an upscale part of London. There will be extra costs if you want to do something during your free time...see a play, go to a soccer game etc...but you can survive on just the wonderful things you get to experience. Good luck, enjoy and keep on travelin'!

Posted by
5 posts

We've been on three RS tours and will be taking a fourth this summer. I think Rick mentioned in one of his talks that half the people who take his tours are repeaters. That's an awful lot of people who think his tours are a great value!

The big selling point for me is the small groups. We inevitably pass by large groups (50-plus people) on non-RS tours. It doesn't look like a fun way to tour. Our dinners together (usually in small restaurants) would not be possible with such a large group. We really become tight-knit during the tours and the meals together.

Rick Steves Tours is honest in spelling out what you do and don't get for your dollars. Everything is out in the open. Nothing is hidden.

Posted by
19 posts

Headed on my 3rd RS tour next month and I can't wait! I've been on tours before where they are cheap at the onset, but add up meals, "sudden" group excursions, and the dreaded collecting of tips after each place, and the cheap tour becomes a pain. Hotels aren't the Ritz, but you can't beat the locations. If only RS tours went outside Europe...

Posted by
440 posts

I havent taken a RS tour but by looking at what he offers compared with others I would say they are good value. Other tours are cheaper but that is because they only include hotel and coach, all sightseeing entries and tours are extra as are meals and tipping is expected. Also on other tours the agenda is to get you to spend cash not give you the European cultural experience you have come for. For me I would book an RS tour over any other.