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Difference between Rick Steves and Road Scholar tours

Hi all,
I have gone twice on Road Scholar tours (Piedmont Italy and Ireland) and have felt that the price was right because: 1) all gratuities are included, 2) they provide transportation to the hotel from airport and 3) they transfer your luggage for you. The disadvantage was the time spent on the bus going from place to place and very little free time available. How does the Rick Steves experience compare with this? We will be taking the Venice, Florence, Rome tour in April. We are in our 60's and previously travelled to Europe on our own in the 90's using Rick's guidebook.

Posted by
7400 posts

Getting from the airport is a DIY process, but you get detailed advice on your options.

YOU move your luggage, thus the 'travel light/smart' advice.

Most days you will have a half day of organized/group activity, and the rest is free to do as you choose. The guide will help with offering suggestions for the various alternatives at the location.

Posted by
2733 posts

Personally I cannot speak to Road Scholar tours but have taken 4 RS Tours, other tours and self guided tours. That said, I have a friend who has taken many Road Scholar tours. She appreciates that gratuities are included as well as transportation to the hotel & luggage transfer. She has mentioned one con: Some tour participants had difficulty keeping up on active tours. RS also includes gratuities, and provides plenty of downtime. We've had no issues with time spent going from place to place. We look at it as time to relax, view the scenery, read, & listen to our guide speak about the history of our next stop. We pack light, so transferring luggage is easy. Another pro for us is the quality of RS tour guides. Outstanding!!

Posted by
993 posts

I'll be taking my first RoadScholar trip next year, and have taken 5 Rick Steves tours. I'll just add that the itinerary included on the tour page is pretty acurate, and lists bus time and free time.

Posted by
1010 posts

On the RS tours, roughly half of the dinners are included. Thus, you get a chance to explore and find restaurants on your own.

The bus time on the Venice, Florence Rome tour will not be excessive.

Posted by
247 posts

We've been on 2 Rick Steves Tour and one Road Scholar Tour, to Barcelona and Madrid. I can't "generalize" because I think a large part/tone of each tour is determined by the guide.
Right from the start, the Rick tour "uses time more efficiently" by instilling the buddy system. Takes less than a minute to see if everyone is present before an outing. Road"s guide kept counting heads and counting heads and counting.....
Hotels: Road's hotels are nicer; might be part of a chain. Easy to feel spoiled. Rick's are closer to city center, and unique and quirkier.
Meals: Both have breakfast included, but Road had at least one other meal each day, lunch or dinner. Rick only has ½ of dinners.
Free time: Rick-because some dinners are independent, our free time could last the rest of the day. Road-we hardly had any free time to explore Barcelona on our own. Just one afternoon from 2:00 p.m. on.
Gratuities: Rick really emphasizes "gratuities are included" ...and the tour guide often tipped local guides. Road-many participants tipped local guides AND even tour guide.
Luggage: both states that we would be responsible transporting our own luggage, but Road provided help on the train to Madrid.
Education: Road had lectures with excellent speakers as well as local guides; Rick's information came from Tour guide and local guides.
Bus: Road's bus is scaled to the size of group. Rick's is larger...lots of extra seats.
We are going on both a Rick Steves and a Road Scholar trip next summer mainly because of the itinerary.

Posted by
1142 posts

I have taken 6 Rick and 3 Road tours. In my opinion, Rick has a higher quality of guides, a higher quality of bus and driver and in many cases a higher quality of hotel. Doing my own transfers to and from the airport has never been a problem due to explicit option directions in your pre tour packet and help of the guide at the end of the tour. Often they help organize groups of people going to the airport at similar times. Because of the pack light philosophy luggage transfer has not been a problem either. Often, if it is a long, up hill hike to the hotel the guides arrange for a van to help with luggage. Most hotels do in fact have lifts, even if small, but if there are stairs to climb I have found other tour members happy to help anyone who seems to require it. Rick tours are sometimes more active, but you usually have the chance to opt out of any activity. BTW, I am in my early 70's. I love the combination of group and free time and have found Rick tours to be more helpful in making sure as a vegetarian I have delicious meals like everyone else. I was once told on a Road tour that cheese food slices and salad were my only option for dinner.

Posted by
8203 posts

I've done 10 Rick tours and 10 Road Scholar programs (5 international).

Group: In my experience, many of the Rick travelers are a bit more independent than the Road Scholar tour members. I think having to get yourself to the starting point and having to manage your own bags weeds some needier travelers out. There is an expectation with Rick's tours that you'll need to be flexible since you have to sign the "No Grumps" policy. I think that makes a huge difference. Last year on a tour in Cornwall (!!!) we had a free night for dinner on our own. I had scoped out the restaurants for vegan options and knew where I wanted to go. I invited any of the solo travelers to join me. One of the other women was worried about walking around town (Falmouth) on our own and decided she would eat at the hotel (where we had eaten for all the nights) and tried to talk me in to joining her. I'd enjoyed the hotel food but really was ready for a change. She finally decided to come with me and another group member and seemed to enjoy herself. I find the Rick tour members tend to do more research on what they want to see in free time as well.

Food: I like not having all meals included on Rick's tours. Sometimes I just want gelato for dinner, hahaha! Some of the Road Scholar tours are now excluding some meals which I really like. Since I am vegan I've always gotten a vegan option on all of my Road Scholar tours. Never had Laurie Beth's experience but I am sure it will happen one of these days. I do touch base with the guide after the first meeting (both Rick and Road Scholar) to say I'm vegan and ask if they will let me know if there is a group meal that can't accommodate as I can forage on my own. So far, so good but I always have Clif bars or food in the room. I'll just add that I've had pretty good luck on the Rick tours getting vegan group meals as well.

Guides: I've been very happy with all of my Road Scholar guides except one for London back in 2013. I think everyone complained about him (very nice and knowledgeable but so incredibly dull - really torture to listen to him even on interesting subjects). Most of the guides I've had equalled my Rick guides. The guide I had for Brittany ranks at the top of my favorite guide list along with a couple of Rick's guides.

Itinerary: It's come down to me cheating on Rick with Road Scholar based solely on itinerary. Road Scholar runs a lot more programs but WAY fewer dates. They are also often more specific whereas Rick's are more generalist tours. For instance, next spring I'm doing Rick's Belgium and Holland tour as I particularly want to see the WWI battlefield and also Keukenhof. Next Fall, I'm doing the Road Scholar Art History of Belgium and Holland which is very focused on....uh....Art History (lol) of the Low Countries.

Gratuities: I've not had the experience of noticing people tipping the guides/drivers/local guides on Road Scholar tours. That would drive me nuts. There have been times that I have tipped the guides privately and discreetly if I know they've had to work to get me vegan options but I don't let anyone know I am doing that.

If you are doing Venice, Florence and Rome, you'll really only have 2 bus days as you transit from city to city. The longest bus days I've encountered were on Rick's 21 Best of Europe tour and frankly, I was glad to have a rest day. The guide also gave us language, culture and history lessons during bus time. Luggage transfer will only be a PIA in Venice. You'll be on a vaporetto with the group for the transfer from the hotel to the mainland and the bus. Everyone else will be doing it so you'll have company. You want to make sure you have your luggage packed as light as possible and that you only have 2 pieces - your suitcase and perhaps a day bag. Getting from the airport to the hotel is not really that hard. You'll know the stop to get off at and you can look at a googlemap ahead of time.

Posted by
8203 posts

Ugh...talked too much and maxxed out my length.

Bottom line? I can't imagine you'd not enjoy the Rick Steves tours if you enjoyed the Road Scholar tours!

Posted by
200 posts

I used Road Scholar several years ago for their Cuba tour. I have been on 4 RS tours, and more lately have been travelling solo ( I like the RS museum and city orientation walking tours in the books). I am a very active person, and at the time of the Cuba trip was 58. Definitely the youngest, by far! The Cuba tour was probably unique in that we had a government guide with us at all times, while the Road Scholar guide, though very knowledgable, was more for logistics.
Two things that struck me compared to Rick's were the inefficiency of getting on and off the bus and the general group dynamic. That they never used some sort of buddy system for counting us rendered me quite agitated. I ended up leaping off the bus the second we docked for at least a few minutes of photos while the rest of the group gathered their whatevers. In fairness, some were well into their 90s and how I admire these travelers! Getting on the bus, or in the hotel lobby waiting for the entire group to slowly gather, was really frustrating. Counting and more counting...
There were more group meals than with Rick and as a speedy vegan I am often content to skip dinner when travelling, so these were another negative for me. Way less free time, and, at least in our group, when someone wanted to skip a dinner to just relax at the hotel many were very put out and said she was rude. Again, this may have just been this particular group.
This Road Scholar tour was rated moderately active. I have never SAT so much in a week! I was very satisfied with the Cuba tour, but not sure I would go with them again until or unless I have mobility issues...

Posted by
679 posts

I have not taken any RS tours but completed my first Road Scholar to Greece. I am an independent traveler but my sister is not. She picked the Greece Road Scholar due to the itinerary. (It went to Crete and used the ferry system for island hopping). I enjoyed it but got tired of all meals together-basically the same 3 course meals for 2 weeks, many hours on those meals and our tour guide was it. We did our own on and off the ferry for luggage. I agree Roads was much more inefficient and less flexible. I left several times when we were in a town/city and explored on my own. I did tell the tour guide. I will probably not use a guided tour again, but do not regret that adventure. I was wordy but I think if you have enjoyed RS if you enjoyed the Road Scholar ones.

Posted by
853 posts

We have taken 7 RS tours and none on Road Scholar. I have friends who have done Road Scholar tours and after getting detailed descriptions from them decided to decline.

One of the unadvertised benefits about RS tours is that the guides and local guides teach you how to travel on your own in each location. This helps tremendously on your free time, especially if you have not been to that location or country before. The RS guide, Etelka, was a Great help on the Eastern Europe tour. We were changing countries and currency. Traditions were different and we learned a Lot!

On the RS tours we have been on, no one has considered it rude if you opt out of an activity. We opted out of going to the Vatican on one trip because we had been there before. We met up with the group at a certain time later that day. Guide had told us when and where to meet. This way we got to see a museum that wasn't on the tour and that we had wanted to see.

The RS tours do stay at some "quirky" hotels as described by another poster. But they are all centrally located in the historic districts which means a lot to me. We have always been comfortable in the RS tour hotels.

I predict that you will have a great time on the VFR tour. And by the way, it works out well for most people to do their own transfers to the hotels. Because many if not most of us go into the country a few days early and stay a few days later.

Have a Great Trip!

Posted by
50 posts

Two Road Scholar (Rome and Cornwall) and nine Rick Steves. I like the free time on the Rick ones. I found the Rome meals to be par with tourist menus and the Cornwall ones while very very nice were basically all taken in the hotel. On the Rick ones the group meals have generally been very good with overwhelming portions and all of them in more neighborhood venues. While the Rome tour got me to the hotel from the airport (since I booked airfare thru them), I've had no trouble following the directions to find the first hotel on my Rick tours. I've enjoyed the bus time on the Rick tours and found the Cornwall bus times (to and from Cornwall) to be long and tedious and uncomfortable since the guide was giving out no information. On my longest bus times (Eastern Europe) the Rick guide described what we'd be seeing next and provided an insight to his childhood in Budapest (before THE wall came down). On the Heart of France tour the guide gave history lessons that built up to WWII before we visited the D Day beaches. I also liked the differences in all the hotels by Rick whereas the Road Scholar ones matched what you'd expect in an American hotel. I found the groups on Rick tours to bond (I've kept up with many).

Oh and as someone else mentioned - the Rick Steves buddy system means quickly knowing that all the group was there while the Road Scholar guide was counting and recounting and ....
I've booked two Rick tours for 2019 but am looking at Road tours for other than Europe since they have tours everywhere.

Posted by
8203 posts

Waving hello to EMoore as we were on the Cornwall tour together!

I agree with the long bus journey to/from Cornwall. In my experience with Road Scholar, they have a group leader and an instructor who is responsible for educational content. On this one the guide was local to Falmouth so the only one on the bus was the group leader who doesn't do any educational components - they are mostly responsible for administrative things.

While we had a regular size coach for the trip from London out to Falmouth, our day trips were done in a smaller bus. It was slightly cramped BUT we could get so many more places in that small rig as opposed to the full-sized coach. One of the places we visited was Chysauster Ancient Village. I'm not sure a larger bus could have gotten down that lane to the parking lot for this venue.

All other Road Scholar tours I've done have had full-sized buses the entire time.

Posted by
1213 posts

On a RS tour one place we went to the big bus could not fit. We were transferred to vans.

Posted by
9631 posts

How about a compromise between the two?

Odysses Unlimited

Small groups, nicer hotels than RS, plenty of free time, they can arrange air and hotel transfers or you can do that yourself (the prices they quote online includes airfare. Call them for land only prices), they provide porter service at all hotels, all hotels have a/c and elevators. Hotels are all centrally located. Full size coach.

I've taken three RS tours and one OU. I've just booked another OU tour for next year.

Posted by
1114 posts

We love Odysseys Unlimited, too. But if you book your own airfare, OU will not pick you up at the airport and transfer you to your first hotel unless there are other tour members arriving at the airport at the same time. They have bent this rule for us a couple of times and we really appreciated it but don’t expect it. OU is very customer service oriented and really cares about its product. They are a great company. For our Scandinavia tour next year, we are arriving early and staying longer and OU is booking extra hotel nights for us at the tour hotels at the beginning and end of the trip. I highly recommend them.

Posted by
1142 posts

I just thought of another difference. On Road Scholar tours most of our meals were in the hotel, not at local restaurants which I really prefer.

Posted by
65 posts

I would also recommend Overseas Adventure Travel OAT. I just took a trip with them to Sicily and loved the small group of 16 tour members. The guide with OAT was as good as the Rick Steves tour guides (I've taken six RS tours). They handle your luggage and the hotels were nicer than on RS. We booked our own airfare but if you book your air flights through OAT they provide service to and from the airport (or you can buy this service if you want to if you arrange your own airfare). I also took a tour to Peru with OAT, they also had a good guide and small group size.

Posted by
444 posts

We second dougbagel2's OAT recommendation. Taken two RS trips & over ten OAT.

Posted by
408 posts

Thanks always nice to see the differences. I like the idea of being in charge of our own bags and really don’t want to stay in a cookie cutter hotel. Would not want meals in our hotel most nights or be crowded on a small bus. I also like the idea of planning when we arrive before a tour & traveling a little bit more like a local or non tour traveler. Thanks for posting. Wonder if the other sites have a forum too?

Posted by
65 posts

On our OAT tour we had 16 tour members on a full size bus - the same size bus that RS uses. We arranged our own flights (booked the tour without airfare for a cheaper price) arriving five nights early staying in Cefalu for four nights and one night in Palermo before the tour started (used a car service recommended on Trip Adviser although they do have train service from Palermo). After the tour we stopped in London for three nights before returning back to the States.
We only ate at a hotel restaurant one night out of 13 nights on the tour. I would agree that the hotels at the beginning and end of the tour (Palermo and Catatonia where we flew in and out of) could be described as cookie cutter (of course they had cappuccino and cannoli at the free breakfast buffet so cookie cutter for Italy but I enjoyed the modern convenience. Of the five hotels, three were modern Italian hotels, one was more of a resort type hotel away from town and one was more rustic. We stayed at the rustic hotel one night (it was near a must see site - Valley of the Temples) and we stayed three nights each at all of the other hotels. Ten of the dinners were included on this tour, I really liked that - lots of local dishes, the three dinners on our own were in the bigger cities of Palermo and Catatonia.