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favorite guides

What do you think are the characteristics of the very best RS guides? For those of you lucky enough to have been on multiple RS tours, without naming names what was it about the guide you liked best that made that person really stand out?

Also, for anyone who's been on any RS tour, who was your favorite local guide, and why?

I personally thought all of the local guides were absolutely amazing, but probably my favorites were Herr Jung in Bacharach -- because he is just such an inspirational person, and because he really made me re-visit assumptions and realize that history is never just black and white; Ilaria (sp?) in Rome who brought the past to life so vividly and made me so appreciate the amazing artists and craftsmen who built the Pantheon who were also slaves; and Maria at the Vatican who made me want to know more! more! more! about Michelangelo.

Posted by
44 posts

I think all guides go through training but at very least: are able to re-route/ have plan B, and are able to think on their feet when the original itinerary goes awry.
e.g. "the [metro/landmark] has closed, there's a strike, there's a security threat, and here's what we'll do"

However, behaviours of RS guides that stood out from the pack that impressed me:

  1. Attention to tour group members' comfort level -Is the group tired from walking? Are people falling behind? Am I walking too fast? Is there a place for them to sit? -Is it time for a bathroom break?

And then level of consideration took it to the next level: Tour member is sick. Guide asked if he could bring back dinner since she missed it, or if she needed anything (he was willing to go to the pharmacy on her behalf). Another tour member had sore throat and won't come down to breakfast; he arranged to have hot tea taken up to her.

  1. Attention to details -Tissues for each person for runny noses or those restrooms without TP -spare batteries for headsets on hand

Took it to the next level: the guide 'dress-rehearsaled' the night before, went out and walked the route and metro connections to survey for surprise closures, obstacles (stairs, chance of huge crowds, possible route that would lose tour members moving through the area), and made adjustments and noted contingency routes (alternate alley paths).

It's also nice if the tour guide has connections to locals. (e.g. we're going to this restaurant and since I know the owners we're getting a dessert cart where you can pick anything you want, if you want tickets to this concert I know the organizer and can get discounts...)

I'm usually not one who is dying for a break but I noticed on some of the tours I've been on that this was a factor in how happy the other members were by the end of the tour.

Posted by
13251 posts

I've been on several tours, and I think what stands out for me is their comprehensive knowledge of their tour area/s and the ability to put history, culture and geography in context. I love how the ones I have had are so very capable in group management without seeming to manage the group.

I think they have all been really energetic, engaging and able to be flexible. In my mind they have all had different strengths, one for story-telling, one for history, two for history/context/location.

You may also find different opinions on local guides.

I (and am perhaps the only one) did not care for Herr Jung. I thought he was kind of mean and inappropriate at times by singling out tour members and treating them like school children. For instance our group had a couple of people with dicey knees so when we climbed up thru the vineyard in the rocky area between rows of vines, (not on the path) they asked whether the tour was going to continue straight ahead thru the tower or would we be backtracking. They did not want to climb extra stairs, but would if the tour was not going to return the same way. Herr Jung stated yes, we will go straight ahead, we will not come back this way. Then after the time in the tower he sent us down the way we had come and he just looked at the people who had asked him the question and laughed. I also thought he was inappropriately labile during his tour. Yes, war memories and memories of deceased spouses are often wrenching to talk about, but there were times he sobbed thru parts of his presentation that were not sad in the least. I know this is a highlight for many people and I was surprised at my reaction to him as I was so looking forward to his walking tour.

Local guides who were standouts have been: Vincent at the Louvre, Barry in Kinsale (also a RS tour guide), Sarah in Carrara, Roberto (I think??) in the cathedral in Assisi, Roberto (I think, again??) in Lucca, Robert (?? this is ridiculous, lol) as a guide in the Rijksmuseum, Annie in Volterra, really too many to name. I also, without question, have enjoyed the local folks who have led me thru truffle hunts, wine tastings, honey tastings, olive oil tasting, etc. All, without question. have been passionate about their subjects and eager to teach.

Posted by
8204 posts

Been on two, and planning a third - the quality of the guides is a main reason why. Both times we found the guides genuinely (you can tell) interested in the group having a good time and learning something too. An essential skill is getting people organized without getting testy, which they did very well.

I don't remember local guides names, but only a couple we didn't care for - usually because they would go off on personal tangents or social commentary.

Posted by
2251 posts

Wish I could remember the names of the local guides we had for the latter part of our tour of the Adriatic. They made the history live for us as we stood in the cemetery in Mostar and near the schoolhouse with the local teacher in the tiny town in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They were incredible, as was our (main) tour guide, who was a teenager when the war broke out. Her own stories were also moving and what an engaging story teller she is. As for the Rick Steves guides, I can only repeat what the previous posters have said. They are simply amazing! I have been on many tours and one of the highlights of attending the tour reunions is reconnecting with guides from my previous tours. One of my favorite attributes of these outstanding guides is often he or she will say "Tonight is your free time but I am going (here) . If anybody would like to come along, meet in the lobby at ( this time)". Whatever it is, it always turns out to be a wonderful, unplanned and unexpected adventure. I'll repeat what someone else said, the guides are the reason I choose Rick Steves tours.

Posted by
2788 posts

I have been on 12 RS tours (#13 coming in June) and I have had 11 5-Star guides and 1 4-Star guide with a 5-Star assistant. They all have had so many wonderful things in common that I would have to believe that they all went thru Guide School at the RS Headquarters at the same time. Local guides: some great some OK - none bad. I did enjoy Herr Jung, the retired school teacher, in Bacharach. I would invite almost all of them to come stay with me whenever they are visiting the US. Nice to see some of them again at the RS Reunion Weekend at RS Headquarters.

Posted by
980 posts

I (and am perhaps the only one) did not care for Herr Jung

Funny, I thought I was the only one! The way people talk about him on the site, and RS talks about him on the video, seemed completely at odds with my impression of him when we met him on our tour. I remember him making some sarcastic remark about Jews and then he quickly caught himself and added "Of course that's what they say, its not true". There were a few other incongruous moments. My gut sense at the time was that he had somehow stumbled into a good gig and decided to keep it going, while laughing inside at the marks that lapped it up.

Posted by
337 posts

On the first day of our RS tour, I asked the guide if we'd be passing through either of the villages where my grandparents had been born. He said no, but that we'd get within a few miles on Day 4. I told him that would be very cool.

On Day 4, while we were on the bus, he told me that somehow the driver had taken a wrong turn, and we'd soon be driving right through the village where my grandmother was born. He swore he had no idea how that happened, and that we couldn't stop, but he told me to come up front and get my camera ready.

It was the thrill of a lifetime, and I would never even hope for anything similar ever again, but I will always be grateful to that directionally challenged RS tour guide.

Posted by
894 posts

I agree with Stan. I've been on nine tours and have only had one guide I didn't care for. And I think the reason is that it was clear she wasn't really interested in us. The best guides not only have their act together, but are also just as excited to show us Europe as we are to be there; they concern themselves constantly with giving us the best experience we could possibly have. I once asked my guide on the BOE tour if he ever got tired of seeing the David every few weeks, and he replied that although it didn't have quite the same zing as it used to for him, his real pleasure was watching the faces of his tour members. (The Germans must have a word for taking joy in others' happiness.)

As for local guides, my favorites have been Francesca in Rome, Kathleen in Munich, the lovely lady in Salzburg whose name I can't recall but who gave us the useful term "technical stop," Martin in Derry, and Herr Jung.

Posted by
8293 posts

I think it is a bit unfair to actually name the guides you didn't like.

Posted by
8 posts

I’ve read with interest some of the comments about Herr Jung. I was on the BOE 21 day trip last August/September. There was something unsettling about Herr Jung’s Bacharach tour that’s stuck with me to this day. Like many Rick Steves’ tour members, it was my first trip to Europe and my first time on German soil. Herr Jung described his teenage years in WW II and he did experience personal loss during the war. However, why was he expecting me to be sympathetic with him while I’m thinking of all the American, Canadian and allied lives that were lost due to Germany aggression and atrocities? I’m thinking an apology would have been more in order. While I could appreciate Herr Jung’s personal loss during the war, the entire Bacharach tour seemed so incongruous to me.

Posted by
32110 posts

Speaking only of the lead guides I've had on my eight RS tours, they each have to follow the "RS format" but seem to have a slightly different approach, and each one of them has been outstanding! They have all had great personalities and "people skills", have been able to deal with the various "quirks" of group members but still maintain firm control and keep things moving on schedule, have all had a good educational background (many with university degrees) and finally excellent language skills (as I recall, one of the guides could speak seven languages fluently). I haven't taken any other tours, but can't imagine that any guides work harder than Rick's guides.

Posted by
11503 posts

I have only been on one RS tour.. a Family Tour. We had a good guide, he was smart and funny.. but I think this was a temporary gig for him.. and I haven't seen him on staff since. but we did have an excellent assistant guide.. think his name was John.. he was not going to be a guide primarily but staff at RS headoffice and this was sort of a way for him to get acquainted with the "product" so to speak.. he was however great with the kids and very kind and helpful. One of the kids fell and had to get stitches in Rome.. he was the one that accompanied the parents and child to the emergency care center .. and the little girl was his devoted fan after that.. lol

We had a GREAT guide for the Louvre.. her name was Iris and I still remember her.

The guide we had for the Coliseum and Forum was not a good fit for a "Family Tour" he was very knowledgable.. but frankly very long winded and a bit boring.. the kids did not pay any attention to him at the coliseum.. and many of the adults started to stare into to space. He had knowledge.. but no excitement.. he was thankfully the exception to all the other guides we had.