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Are the tours worth the money?

Hello

After watching a lot of Rick Stevens videos on You tube i decided to look if there any tours that would be interesting for me as a german.
So I found the best of Sicilly but if i compare the prices its 700-1000€ more expensive than other Roundtrips i can book from here, My question is for People who did Trips with Rick and other companies: What makes them worth it?

Bonus question: How american are they? What i mean is, is there a big difference between guided tours for americans vs europeans?

Posted by
1942 posts

This is a very personal decision and I can say the RS tours are worth every cent for me as I’ve taken 7 tours and am booked for my 8th next May. I’m an American and very interested in European history, art and culture, and I find the tours are focused on teaching us these things and how to be independent travelers. If you like Rick’s videos, I think you can imagine him as your interesting tour guide because he hand picks all his guides to ensure they reflect his philosophy in running the tours. When you come home from a tour you receive a tour evaluation and the guide is on there for your opinion and experience. He reads each one very carefully. Remember his name on the door.
I think if you take a tour, your tourmates would be very interested in you as a European and as a German, too.

Take the plunge, you will enjoy it!

Posted by
762 posts

I have taken the Sicily tour and six other Rick Steves tours over the last 8 years and plan on going to Scandinavia with RS in 2022. Why do I take the tours instead of just doing the trips on my own? Good question, if you are a person who enjoys learning then the RS tours are for you, they have a saying that Rick wants you to feel like a “temporary local” and they work hard to accomplish that.

On the Sicily tour you will see all the favorite tourist sites, but you will also be invited into the home of a Countess and not only does she share her family story she sings to the group (she was a former opera star). You meet Maria, an elderly lady who is a legend in Sicily, who will teach you to make almond cookies and then will serve you the best lunch you will have on the entire trip. At every stop there is usually a local guide who makes the site come alive with there personal stories.

The group dynamics also add to the experience, in all seven tours I found that the sharing of the touring, eating the meals and just relaxing together made the entire experience more interesting and enjoyable.

My wife and I still take trips to Europe with just the two of us, in fact we are leaving in 3 weeks, we will see the sites and enjoy each other’s company, but we will also miss the “energy and shared happiness” that we get from the RS tours.

Posted by
9778 posts

First, let's start with your bonus question:

The answer is simple. Tours for Americans are conducted in English. Tours for Europeans are usually conducted in the language of whatever country the tour company operates in. (A Germany based tour company is going to conduct the tour in German, not English.)

I don't understand what you mean by "other roundtrips?" Rick Steve tours don't offer airfare. Just the tour itself. Airfare is extra.

Why do people take tours? There are many reasons. Some want someone else to make all the arrangements. Some like having a "built in guide" to take care of everything and tell you about the areas you are visiting. Some like havimng people to travel with, eat with, spend time with. Some like all of the above.

A tour will cost more, in many cases, than traveling solo because you are paying for someone else to do all the work.

I have both worked in the tour industry. (I led them and helped plan them). I have also taken them. The basics are the same with just about all tour companies. It's the details that make the difference.

Posted by
4740 posts

Presumably Americans paying in dollars maybe paying more as RS will have to allow for currency fluctuations.

I have been on specialist bird watching holidays in the past. I no longer book through a U.K. company, who will be taking a profit margin, I always seek out the ground operator and book direct with them.

Posted by
646 posts

You could spend another few hours reading trip reviews to see if the vibe suits your expectations. What makes RS a good value for me is the small size and most things are carefully pre-arranged, with flexibility and plenty of time on your own. That's exactly what I am after in a tour. RS is an American-based company that sells products precisely tailored and marketed at Americans with a philosophy meant to expand one's world view. The experiences are definitely NOT mediocre and can be eye-opening but you you could be disappointed if you like larger and more diverse groups with a bit less planning.

Posted by
5966 posts

soenke, we've done four RS tours including Sicily, and hoping to do another next year. We like them partly because they're not designed to make Americans feel comfortable and familiar. They take you to local restaurants, so you are exposed to the local specialties. They stay in smaller hotels, close to the center of sights, not big American-style business class hotels. They teach you some local history and language, and encourage you to mix with local people. Its not a hand-holding isolated experience.

Europe is a lot more foreign to most American travelers than it would be to you. The guiding is in English, and most of the people are Americans, and sometimes the cultural differences might be off-putting. Maybe louder than you'd like, or more direct and familiar than you are expecting. Or, you might find yourself more interested in your fellow-travelers than the sights. The people that are on RS tours, are often very well-traveled and active, so its not a bunch of uncultured people. I know we would have loved having Europeans with us on our tours.

Please give us some more information on the cost differences you're seeing. It is hard to quantify the value if you just compare the cost. We tell people that the difference with RS tours over cheaper US-based tours, is the quality of the guides, the local guides, the time efficiency of having things arranged for you. And there is a lot of free time, which, because you are in the center of town, gives you a lot of opportunity to see things on your own or with new friends. Maybe there are equivalent tours available from European providers.

Posted by
1857 posts

My sample size is small as I've only been on one RS tour, but it was excellent value due to its small groups filling only half a tour bus and hotels in the heart of the historic centre's of town.

As for how American was it? Very. Our tour was 25 Americans and my wife and I (Canadian). The guide was French but her focus was always to explain French culture to us and compare the differences to what Americans are used to.

Posted by
4697 posts

I've done two RS tours, signed up for a third next spring, and hope to do more. I think they're a very good value for Americans, less expensive than others which use fancier hotels and restaurants. Participants are almost all American, and if you go on one you'll be asked a lot of questions about living and traveling in Germany and Europe, and your fellow guests will probably tell you more about themselves and their home towns than you might want to know. But that can be part of the experience for you if you want it. When they go home they'll tell their friends about Sicily and about this German who was on the tour. ;-)

I don't know what European tour companies charge, and there may be equally good Sicily tours from such companies at a lower price. But RS tours don't include airfare, which of course would be higher from the US than from Germany. I agree with others about the quality of the guides in general, though my personal experience is limited. If you like the RS videos, and his general approach to travel, I'd suggest you sign up for this tour if the price isn't too high. And if you're OK with interacting with all those Americans.

Posted by
41 posts

I believe, based on the RS mission statement, it would be unrealistic to think that it wouldn't be very American.

" Our Mission at Rick Steves’ Europe
Our mission is to inspire, inform, and equip Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. We value travel as a powerful way to better understand and contribute to the world in which we live. We strive to keep our own travel style, our world outlook, and our business practices consistent with these values."

From my perspective, I find his tour rates reasonable based on other companies that I have researched.

Posted by
1 posts

The article on choosing a tour company poses useful questions.

Posted by
2785 posts

Although I am an avid owner of Rick's guidebooks, we would not consider taking one of his tours. We can do it less expensively on our own and hire local guides ourselves. Also, we prefer air-conditioned hotels with elevators, which is not Rick's style. And my husband does not like taking group tours, i.e. someone else telling him what to do and possibly non-stop talking by tour director on a long bus day. Personally, I like Gate 1 Tours-great hotels and prices, but many on this forum would not like the large groups. The bottom line is to know what you like and make your own decision.

Posted by
17976 posts

Judy B:

"I can say the RS tours are worth every cent for me as I’ve taken 7 tours and am booked for my 8th next May ... and I find the tours are focused on teaching us how to be ... independent travelers."

If, after 7 tours you still haven't learned to be an independent traveler, how has he done at that?

Don't get me wrong, I do believe that for someone who wants to take tours, an RS tour is a good value. Not too many people crowded onto a bus and doesn't offer you an unrealistically low price, then make it up by selling add-ons.

But as for me, I want to be an independent traveler, I really enjoy the planning process, and I can travel for no more than 1/3 of the cost of an RS tour (less than $100/nt single occupancy). I might miss out on a few things that I would have seen with a tour, but I can spend three times as much time there with the way I do it.

I would not take an organized tour, but if I did, it would be one of Rick's.

Posted by
237 posts

American tour companies tours are taken by Americans and some Canadians. We have taken small tours like RS and cheaper tours with about 40 participants. They are all very American but all had the head guide who was a resident of the country we toured. Some guides were great but all were competent in sharing their country. The style of European tour companies would probably be more comfortable and include Europeans. We take tours in places where travel is more difficult. Europe doesn’t fall into that category. English is widely spoken and our history interwoven but ...I like each country’s culture, food and history. Like an earlier person remarked, people on the tour would be asking about your life in Germany and travel opportunities there. Of course we ask about everyone else’s world travels, too. You would be welcomed in most any tour group.

Posted by
1942 posts

Lee,
I have learned how to travel independently from taking Rick’s tours and from the kind people on the forum. Also, I meet regularly with a group of friends in our Rick Steves Travel Group who either have lived in Europe or traveled extensively there. They have taught me. By the way, I posted notices on the forum of our meetings and that’s how I met these lovely friends.
The reasons I still go on Rick’s tours are that I’m usually a solo traveler, occasionally I have friends who want to go with me somewhere so a group of friendly tourmates adds to the enjoyment of a tour when I’m by myself or with my friends who are taking the tour with me.

I still work so planning a trip takes time I don’t have now.

Even so, I have planned a couple trips with a friend where I make the arrangements and itinerary with her approval and incorporating the things important to her on the trip. One time we spent 10 days in England, 4 nights in London, then train to Bath for 2 nights, train to Oxford and 2 nights. Back to London for 1 night then fly home. I made so many mistakes (I didn’t discover the forum until a couple years later) but we still laugh at the hilarious adventures we experienced.

The second trip I planned was 3 years ago in 2018 with the help of the forum and my RS Travel group. This trip to Paris and Amsterdam went off very well but it was in April during a heat wave in Paris and very cold in Amsterdam. This friend has trouble with the heat, so I felt badly for her but you can’t control the weather. We had a great time nonetheless. 10 days again.

I plan to continue traveling with a mixture of RS tours and independent travel because, after all I’m a female solo traveler and while I travel on my own for a few days before and after a RS tour I don’t relish the idea of being alone for 10 days. And, after I retire, I likely will travel more independently because I like the planning process as I gain more confidence and understand the resources available for planning.

My point here is also for the OP: RS does teach you about independent travel; his tours are not about holding your hand like other tour companies my friends tell me about. An example, your guide will show you how to use public transport and how to order in restaurants and certain polite phrases to use in speaking to the locals in that specific country.

I hope you take the Sicily tour and enjoy!

Posted by
9 posts

Thank you to all for your replys.

After some more digging and comparing different kind of offers I have booked the tour with RSE. Its all your fault now!

Some insight in my thought process: While it is possible to book a Scilly tour for 1700€ incl. flight from Frankfurt its the kind of tour where they don't mention how many people will be on the bus. As soon as I choose anything that is similar in approach to the journeys here the price becomes also similar. In addition the time of that specific tour (Tuesday till Friday at the end of November) is more convenient than other tours. Also a nice way to brushing up my spoken english.

Posted by
917 posts

Hi. About 10 years ago, I took a short tour to the West of Ireland with Backroads Touring Company, UK. I enjoyed myself because I wanted to be in that area at that time and everything meshed. The tour consisted of me, the sole American, and 4 Australians. I enjoyed the group. However, while these are small groups, at the time, the tour guide drove the mini-bus, so not quite the same attention could be given. And, we ate our evening meals in the hotel. And, we were on the road all day from early to past the time when shops closed. This was difficult because I ran out of reading material and was desperate to get somewhere to buy a book (pre-Kindle days for me). If I look at the prices posted on their website today, they seem comparable to Rick's prices, if not higher. Maybe their infrastructure has changed in the last 10 years, but I would have been turned off if the tour had been any longer.

I suppose I am reflecting that the Rick Steves tours offer convenience (travel and lodging, which I value as I am still working and often travel solo); knowledgeable guides; and plenty of time to have to yourself as well whether for exploration, relaxation, or having to take care of essentials - like buying a book (or getting one from the hotel book rack). It would be good to read your trip report if you do join a RS tour.

Posted by
350 posts

First, remember that the RS tour is the complete price.

I found the tours worth the money partly because of what you don't get. You don't get to pay for pre-planned extras. You don't get requests to tip this city guide, the bus driver, the tour guide, the lady who did the cooking demonstration and so on. You also don't get dropped off at Señor Ripoffio's souvenir store where you get to spend 45 minutes shopping for cheap souvenirs made in China. You also don't get to share your seat on the bus with another person (unless you want to do so).

What do you get? You do get two seats for yourself on the bus. That's very nice. You also get a very nice group of people to travel with. You don't get Grumps!. You get great guides. You get time on your own to explore on your won. Did I mention you also get great dinner meals, often ones made by local cooks and served in their own premises (Turkey, Basque Country, Portugal, Italy come to mind for some of these fabulous meals put together by individual or clubs as a way of sharing their culture and making a few euros to help them survive. The men's cooking club in Basque country come to mind as one of the best meals I have ever had in Europe or anywhere. Sorry ladies, you are not allowed in the kitchen, but you can eat the meal. )

Oh, you get your money back, all of it if RS cancels a tour. Check out 2020 tour company complaints about no refunds for cancelled tours. I signed up for two tours, and got every penny back, no delays, no need to argue, no voucher nonsense.

So, yes, I think they are worth the money. If I want to save money, I book my own tour events and travel independently. I've done that and had a good time, just as I have taken RS tours and had a good time.

Posted by
656 posts

If I want to save money, I book my own tour events and travel independently.

On one tour the RS guide said they aim to offer a comparable cost for the experiences as what you could do on your own. For most people I think this is true. Not everyone; Lee speaks German and has traveled there extensively so no tour can touch what he can do on his own, but I think a relatively small number fall into this category.

Sure, I can book a 12 day trip to Europe and spend less than the tour but I won't see everything they do. To replicate what a tour does may take most people 25-50% more days. Transportation is by bus that leaves when its convenient for the tour and not the transit company, saving an hour or two each day. Tours have the benefit of reserved entrance times at museums and other sites. You get a guide in the museum and around town, including many smaller towns where there simply aren't public tours available. Of course not everyone values this or wants it all the time; there's plenty of hillltowns or cities we've wandered around sans guide and had a great time. And tours like RS often arrange experiences (lunch at an estate, a talk by a olive oil producer, etc) that would be hard to duplicate on your own.

Posted by
197 posts

Best of Sicily? $2100
Someone else telling my husband he has to be dressed and downstairs at 9 am? Priceless

Seriously though we could be in Portland or Porto and my husband and I will waste time. Either I will put together a convoluted plan that takes us back and forth across the city in the most time consuming fashion trying to fit in too many things or he’ll want to sleep in until 11.

What we like about RS tours is we really feel like we get to know a place because of local guides, you do have time to yourself to walk around a city (or town or village) but we have some structure to our day.

We really can be trusted on our own (but I trust Rick more to make the most of our time)

Posted by
288 posts

Travel isn’t going from point A to point B. Travel isn’t looking at the highlights of point A and point B. Travel is an experience of history, architecture, culture, food, art and a delight of all the senses. You need a special guide to help you experience the human interest stories that are the cherry on top of the sundae.

I just returned from my 5th trip to Alaska. The first time I went, I visited all the sights, I took my pictures, but I didn’t really see Alaska. The last 2 times I experienced Alaska. I stayed in small family owned hotels, I took small tours and activities that let me see the heart of Alaska.

That’s what I have experienced on Rick Steves tours. I feel like I have found the heart of the countries I’ve seen. I’ve listened to the stories of the Irish people by visiting the pubs and experiencing the fiddles and songs. I was invited to the home of winemakers in Provence where I experienced a family picnic with homegrown produce and dishes made with loving hands. I visited an agriturismo that showed me the love of the land and the passion this Italian family had for producing beef, wine and olive oil. I also understood what took place in the Roman coliseum and how the Pantheon is still standing in all its’ glory. The guides that work for Rick Steves opened my eyes to the glory of Europe. The friends I have made over the last 8 years of taking his tours are still friends of mine. I have been to their houses and exchange Christmas cards with them. I think you will enjoy your Rick Steves tour. You’ll learn a lot, eat well and see some great sights. Report back after your tour.

Posted by
1001 posts

I agree wholeheartedly with a number of posts above.
My late husband and I traveled independently in Europe a number of times, often spending a bit of time with relatives, as I was born in Austria. Still, traveling with Rick Steves has given me a much better feel of the places the tours have visited. I wish we had done them together--Joe would have loved them.

Posted by
17976 posts

I have a pet peeve. This doesn't apply just to Rick's tours; everyone does it. It's the way days are counted on a tour.

Take Rick's "8" day tour of Munich, Salzburg, and Vienna, starting at $2795. That works out to about $350/day, right? Wrong! If you count the first day - meeting at 4 pm and dinner and breakfast the last day as a whole day (but it's really less than that), then it's a 7 day (actually 6¾) tour, or $399/day.

For me, the most expensive items in a trip are my overnight accommodations. An 8 day trip actually only has 7 nights. So when I say I spend $100 per day, it's $100 per night (or per 24 hr period).

And like I said, I'm not blaming Rick; everyone does it. I even once saw a tour company advertisement where they picked you up from home in a town car and took you to the airport so that they could add yet another day to the claimed trip length.

Posted by
4697 posts

Soenke, I hope you have a wonderful tour, as you can tell many of us have. I think Janet nailed it.

Another point I'd add is that you can opt out of particular tour activities if you want, as long as you don't mess up the schedule. In Florence I skipped a cooking class to visit the Bargello and some other sights. I made sure to tell the guide and my "buddy" (you'll find out what that means), and to rejoin the group on time at the next place we visited. I like this flexibility, in addition to the free time they always build into the plan.