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Escorted Tours of Australia Comparable To Rick Steves ?

In the past few years, my husband and I have taken 6 tours with Rick Steves. We enjoy the stress free structure of a "small group" escorted tour. Now looking to travel to Australia for New Years 2017 into January 2018. Hoping to see Sydney's magnificent firework display while basking in the warm temps!
Would love feedback on escorted tours of Australia and New Zealand. We also plan to extend our stay following the tour so information on apartment rental would be greatly appreciated.
Happy New Year
Tess

Posted by
265 posts

I just took a two week bus tour of both Islands of New Zealand that started Oct 25th 2016. I took it being an 8 time Rick Steves tour veteran. I took this tour figuring it would be somewhat different.

I came back move appreciative of how Rick runs his tours. I even missed the name game. (I don't even believe I said that.). My tour was an APT tour. It WAS a great highlights tour of both the North and South Island. There is a lot to see in New Zealand and we kept on the move. There were a couple of two night stays and the rest were one night stays. So we did move a lot but to see the highlights we needed to keep moving and that is what I signed up for. About half way through I way ready for a day of vacation from my vacation like Rick offers on his two week tours.
The guide, who was quite good, said they were not allowed to give us a list of names of the people on the tour even after we were on the tour...privacy concerns. Rick does not give out address of guests but at least we had a list of names. Which for me was a great cheat sheet to try and remember tour member names. On this NZ tour we were given small name badges to wear. That was not a problem for me. (And I have thought first name tags on the first couple of days on a RS tour might be nice.)
We stayed in larger hotels that catered to the many bus tours that travel that time of the year. Several stops were in big cities. Most were larger hotels in resort communities by lakes or in the mountains again catering to the tour bus groups.
In general the meals were pretty good. Not a surprise in NZ with 22 million sheep there was a lot of lamb served. And when in Rome you do as the locals do.....so I ate a lot of lamb and really enjoyed it.

At three locations, each tour member had a choice of selecting a local tour that was of most interest to them. (included in the tour price.) The same was true at three location to select from several choices of restaurants. Again included in the tour price.
They did porter our bags to and from the rooms so we had a "bag outside the door time". (So this is different but I have neutral feeling about how I feel about this.)
The BONUS highlight of the tour was being awakened at 12:02 AM by the 8.5 magnitude earthquake that hit north of Christchurch. We were in Christchurch. The bed shook for 3 minutes. The severe damage was in locations we had been 10 hours earlier.

The one thing I was worried about before the trip was the 15 hour plane ride from LAX. However it was not bad at all. . . I was tired of sitting down but really not terrible. Neither was the return flight.

So as expected my New Zealand tour was different than a Rick Steves Tour but did have similar inclusions in the price. I was a solo traveler and paid about $1000 for the single room. But like Rick's I could have taken pot luck and perhaps ended up with a roommate.

There was no selling of optional tours by the guide. Tips were not required as stated in the brochure. However I did give small tips to the guide and driver.

There were about 43 people on the tour bus so that is more than a RS tour but it was not packed full. They did have a seat rotation but their system moved you around the bus from side to side and front to back. This too was different but turned out to be okay as it ended up that you met different people each bus day.

There is nothing like a Rick Steves Tour so I knew this tour would be different and have noted the differences and similarities. .

I spent a couple of days before and after my tour in Sydney. But I stayed in a hotel so can not help you with apartment rentals.

Posted by
1050 posts

Tessstu,
I was in the same situation as you. I loved the small group tours that RS offers and the fact that there is no tipping and all of the sightseeing was included. When I started doing my research, I was very disappointed in the tours that I had found. If I did find a small group tour, it was either too expensive or it did not go to where I wanted to go. As I mentioned in another posting, most of the tour companies do not include the price of the airplane flights. It is not unusual to have to pay for the round trip airfare, but they now make you book your airfare for all the in between flights. Those flights used to be included in the price of the tour, but now have to be booked separately by you. If you cancel the tour, you are still responsible for the air fares.
I did come across a tour company that checked off most of the boxes for me. All airfare is included in the price along with all of the sightseeing. They only require a $200 deposit which is totally refundable up to 76 days before departure. I decided to book the tour and if I find one I like better, I will just cancel the tour. The name of the company is Holiday Vacations. They have been in business for 44 years and are insured. They are an American company run out of Minnesota. One thing to note is that their price includes the airfare from over 100 cities in the US. They fly you to Los Angeles and put you up in a hotel in Los Angeles upon your return. Since I live near Los Angeles, they discounted the price of the tour by $300 for the airfare and a $100 for the room in Los Angeles. The tour director actually accompanies you on the flight from LAX.
I have not found any reviews from anyone except on their website which gives me some concern. I will say that they have answered every question when I have talked to them on the phone on two occasions.
Here is a link to the tour that I booked. My tour starts in 2018 so it is $100 more than the 2017 tours.
http://www.holidayvacations.com/index.php?mact=HvDisplay,cntnt01,showDetail,0&cntnt01season=2017&cntnt01tourID=137&cntnt01Itinerary_ID=25592890&cntnt01destinationCode=AU&cntnt01TourCode=AH&cntnt01returnid=15

Posted by
12372 posts

Yosemite1, I suggest you look carefully at that tour. Of the 20 days they claim, you only have 12 with "feet on the ground"---meaning actual activities. Four days are given to flying to and from the South Pacific, and another four lost to travel days. Day 9 they label "the Southern Alps" but you don't actually get there. In driving from Queenstown to Christchurch in a day, you go "toward" Aoraki/Mt. Cook national par, but apparently you don't actually go there. You stop at Lake Tekapo, "nestled among snowy peaks"---hardly. The lake is beautiful, but is in a dry plain surrounded by some lesser mountains/hills. They stop there for you to see a statue of a dog and the Church of the Good Shepherd. Nice but hardly a South Island highlight.

So 12 days to see North Island, South Island, and Australia? We spent 17 days on the South Island and covered some highlights, but there is so much more.

The Odysseys trip I suggested on your thread is the same price (around $8200 double occupancy) for a 23-day trip that includes most of the same destinations but more time at the main ones. They include all air travel in the price, and count 3 days (not 4) toward the travel to and from the South Pacific. They actually go into Mt. Cook national park and spend a night and some time there. They swap Alice Springs and Uluru in Australia for Melbourne on your chosen tour, but I think that is a good thing---we enjoyed Melbourne (a lovely city) but Alice Springs is an iconic Australian outback town, and Uluru a natural wonder. Their travel days are shorter increments, so you still have half a day one place or the other---not losing a whole day to travel. From Oz to Christchurch they travel in the evening, so you have most of the day in Sydney first. So time with "feet on the ground" is much more than the other trip.

Also there is a big difference in the number of dinners included in the trips---3 for the Holidays versus 9 for the Odysseys (not including flight meals) if that matters.

All of these trips are expensive if you choose a guided trip. We did self-guided (with more time in New Zealand) for much less than half the price, but that means some driving on the left, which some prefer not to do.

For Tess---seeing New Years Eve in Sydney is a worthy goal, but the tours that line up with that cost extra, and the hotels in Sydney during that time are expensive. Still worth it if you can make that work---it will take some advance planning. We arrived in Sydney on New Years Day, after a flight on which we missed New Years Eve---which is why we were able to score tickets in First Class with our miles. It was fun to see all the remnants of the party the night before. But we are not big "New Years people"---which is why I am on the computer right now. Going to a quiet party that does not start for an hour.

If you will be more specific as to what you want in a tour, or would consider independent---please let us know. And as for an apartment, where do you see yourself? City like Sydney? Or beach town?

Posted by
703 posts

for what its worth, if you happen to enjoy yachting, consider being in Sydney on Boxing day to see the start of the Sydney to Hobart race, the harbour comes alive with activity.
Sydney is a reasonably easy city to navigate, so consider spending a few days there to look around. there is so much to see and can be done without a tour.