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Is RS "Best of Europe 14 Days" right for us?

Hello. It will be my family's very first time to visit Europe next year and we are trying to gather as much information as possible to make our trip valuable. While searching here and there, I've come to your site after hearing good recommendations by some people.

When I see the family trips dates do not work or each misses crucial cities (like London, Paris, Venice and Rome), I'm more interested in Best of Europe in 14 Days. Since it's for adults, is my then-12-year-old son okay with this tour?

If I want to add London as a pre-tour and Milan as a post-tour, what should I do?

Also, I've read that some of your hotels don't have private bathrooms. Is any hotel without private bathroom on this tour?

Finally, if any of you has used other companies like Globus, Trafalgar, Gate 1 and Insight, what are major differences between RS and those?

Again, please understand that I've never been to Europe and have no idea what to expect.

Thanks in advance,
Sam

Posted by
6236 posts

I've only used Globus tours in the past but from what I've read and heard from others, the others you mention are comparable to Globus. The main differences between them and RS tours are:

  1. Number of tour participants - RS are smaller groups (24-28) using a full sized bus so lots of room to spread out, easier (and quicker) getting the whole group through a sight. The other tour companies fill up the bus with 40-50 people so you are always sharing a seat with another member so can be a bit restrictive. Also, it can be a drag sometimes waiting for that many people to be herded through a tourist sight.

  2. Hotels - the hotels on the Globus tours I took were very nice but very rarely were they in (or convenient to) the city center and they were usually 'big-box' type chain hotels, which isn't necessarily bad. RS tours use more centrally located hotels with a bit more character, which is why some of the hotels may have shared bathrooms, although this is becoming more and more rare, rather than the norm.

  3. Tipping and shopping - on the Globus tours (and I'm sure on the others you mention) tipping is expected and an amount ($/day for guide and for driver) is recommended, although that's up to you. RS tours has a 'tips included' feature. The other tour companies tend to stress shopping on their tours and you visit several sights with opportunities for mucho shopping and guides push it because they usually get a kick-back from the shops/factories that they take you to. You can always choose NOT to buy anything - I did. I don't think shopping is high on the list for RS tours.

I'm sure there are other differences that other responders will address, but these two are the most of concern to me when choosing a tour.

Edit: added number 3 after reading another post.

Posted by
16815 posts

Hi, Sam.

For the Family Tours in 2015, the two new routes were designed not to overlap each other, so families could do one trip one year and the other in a following year, without duplication. I'm sure your 12-year old will fit our loose definition of "teen" and be welcome on any of the tours, as long as he shares a room with parent or guardian.

Hotel rooms without private bath are now rare on Rick Steves' Tours, and any routes that have that possibility will mention it under the "Activity Level" section of that tour page. The B of E in 14 days says that shared bathrooms are possible at one hotel on this tour; I believe that's for the two nights in the Lauterbrunnen Valley of Switzerland.

I don't have any experience of the other tour companies but you can get the best idea of our style with Rick's Value for Money summary and the video links on the right-hand side of Tour News.

London is pretty easy to add on before your tour, since our tour members arrange their own flight plans. If you fly into London and spend a few days, you can take the direct Eurostar train to Paris, 2.5 hours; the best prices for these train tickets go on sale 4-6 months in advance of your reserved travel date. A direct train from Rome to Milan takes about 3 hours and also offers discounted tickets starting 3 months in advance of the travel date. Milan is not the highest city on our must-see list, but you may have your own reasons for visiting. You would book your trans-Atlantic plane tickets on a "multi-city" itinerary, such as into London and home from Rome or Milan.

Posted by
1173 posts

I think that you will have a great time on the Best of Europe tour. I am leaving for that same tour in a few weeks. I have been on 11 RS tours and always had my own bathroom. As long as your son is on time in the morning to leave and he or someone in the family can carry his luggage to the bus, it will be fine. Every tour RS or other tour companies stress no lateness as it sets the day off. So you must be on time for the bus to leave or for whatever activities there are and the tour guide will tell you what time to be at a certain meeting place. You have plenty of free time together but with the group you will be walking a lot and standing in museums and listening to the guide or the guide they hire for the museums and churches. But if you do not want to do a certain activity you just tell the guide and do what you want to do. On my Paris week long tour, we had two brothers 11 and 14 and they had a great time and got along very well with the group! It will provide an excellent education into art, food, culture, churches, historical facts and he will learn a lot even if he doesn't realize it. I think it will be an excellent opportunity to see and experience new things. You do not tip the guides or the hotel as you do with some other tour companies and you do have wonderful meals included and breakfast is always included. I would definitely look at the RS scrapbooks on this web site and look at the free RS videos that are on this website and on YouTube and read up on the different cities the tour goes to, to see where you want to go in your free time. Have a great trip.

Posted by
78 posts

Hi Sam
Your son will be fine on the Best of Europe 14 day tour. We just came home from the 21 day version which is for adults. In the end we had 10 teenagers on our tour and they all got on well with each other and the adults. We've taken a Trafalgar tour and vowed never again. You can't begin to compare it with a Rick Steves tour. Trafalgar may look less expensive on paper but they try to sell you optional excursions for each day of the tour. These can add up to hundreds of dollars extra or even more. On our 14 day Trafalgar tour the couples who did all the optional extras spent more than $2000 over and above the base price. Rick Steves tours don't upsell or take you shopping where the guide gets kick backs on what you purchase. The RS tour food was so much better as were the guides. The bus is half full vs bursting and there's more free time to do what you want on your own.
As far as shared bathrooms the only place we shared a bathroom was in Switzerland in the Lauterbrunnen Valley. There was no issue at all as the floor had more than one bathroom. We never waited and the bathrooms were very clean.
I wish you and your son a fabulous time in Europe.
JoAnn
Vernon, Canada

Posted by
11230 posts

I've never taken a Rick Steves tour (or any other "escorted tour," which is the type you're looking at). But here's Rick's videos about the tour experience. If you click on the one on the upper left (labeled "45 minutes"), you get the whole thing; or, if you want, you can just watch the specific pieces.

http://www.ricksteves.com/tours/tour-experience

Posted by
34 posts

Thank you so much for your replies. They are very helpful.

More questions.
- Has anyone added pre-tour- or post-tours?
- How do we transfer between airports and hotels before and after trips?
- Do the tours include ascending Eiffel Tower?

Posted by
1066 posts

We have done two RS tours and arrived two days before and stayed a couple days after at the end of the tour. Some people on the tour added more time at the end of the tour to see other parts of Europe. You will be given instructions pretour as to how to get to the tour hotel. You are on your own on this. There are no prearranged transfers from the airport on the tour.

Posted by
556 posts

Hi Sam,

To further answer your questions, RS tours do things a little differently than companies like Trafalgar or Globus - they try to encourage independent travel. So, for example, they don't arrange transportation/airfare before or after their tours, they give you free time almost every day for you to plan and do things on your own, and they take time to show you how to read bus/train schedules, etc so you can learn to travel on your own so you can come back to Europe and keep on travelin'. This isn't necessarily better than Trafalgar or Globus, but just different (although having done some traveling with companies like them, I think the RS tours are better!).

Many people here on the forum who have taken a RS tour often add on days before or after the tour. I actually recommend adding at least one day before, simply to help get over jet lag as well as avoid airport delays/cancellations. You can certainly add on cities before and after but I suspect you may be intimidated by the planning aspect as you have never been to Europe before. Let me assure you that you can do this. Think of it adding London on ahead of time just as you would as planning a trip to New York City (they are both large city, subways, English-speaking) -I assume planning a trip to NYC sounds less intimidating than "England." This may help you feel more confident about the transportation and planning. Then you can take a train from London directly to Paris (through the English Channel tunnel "Chunnel"). If you sign up for a RS Tour they will send you explicit instructions about how to get to the first hotel (either by subway/train, taxi, and/or bus). If you do the Paris version of the Best of Europe/Family Europs tours, it appears you don't go up the tower as part of the tour itself. However, you will have free time in Paris so you can still do that on your own. :) having free time in most locations is typical for a RS tour. Often you have a planned activity in the morning (such as a walking tour of a city or a museum /church visit) and then you have the afternoons free to do what you and your family want. You can/should have a little idea of what you'd like to do in each location ahead of time - no problem though - there are lots of ideas in the provided guides. However, you don't have to plan if you don't want and still have a great time!

After the tour is over, you can stay and go elsewhere, such as Milan but you will have to make your own transportation (however, if you are flying there from your last tour hotel, there are probably other tour members also going to the airport around the time you do and you can share a taxi with them -the tour guide will help coordinate this). Don't forget hotel reservations too! As Laura mentioned above, many on this site don't find too much to do in Milan other than the Last Supper and the opera so you may not need tons of time there. Of course, you may have specific reasons for going there.

Continued on next post....

Posted by
556 posts

Continued...

If you have more questions, please keep asking. I am someone who has done tours with the other companies, but now I will only do RS Tours for many reasons stated above (I don't like the bigger groups, I don't like the upselling of "optional " excursions and I don't like spending extra on tipping, shopping, etc). However, on the other companies' tours there is a little more "coddling" in terms of arranging transportation, etc which you may feel more comfortable with since it is your first time traveling. One more thing to consider when checking through all the companies' itineraries is to read carefully. For example, it may say "view the XXXX church" instead of "visit the XXX church." Often, with companies' like Globus, etc, "view" means driving by, not going inside!

Regarding choosing the Best of Europe versus Family Europe: If you have flexibility with a few different tour dates, I would suggest calling the RS tour department in the wintertime (Jan/Feb at the latest - this will still give you time to arrange airfare, etc). You can ask them "who" is signed up for the tour. They can't tell you specifics, but they can tell you the general ages of people on tour. For example, one person in their 20s, several people in their 50s, etc. You could ask about 2 or 3 different tour dates - for example, maybe June 15 has two teenagers signed up, but the June 30 date has no teenagers. Then you could plan accordingly if you choose the Best of Europe - at least there would be a few other children on the June 15 one and that may help you make a decision.

I hope you are not intimidated by the prospect of a RS tour and will highly consider it! Please come back and let us know what you have decided. :).

Posted by
34 posts

Gretchen, thank you so much for your detailed and kind replies.

If I make a pre-tour in London before Best of Europe in 14 Days, how can I add it? Does RS help on this? How can I find a reasonably-priced hotel in a safe area? How much would it cost to do tours in London? It might be exciting as well as demanding to prepare for the trip myself.

If I choose Family Best of Europe (London to Florence), what are best options for a post-tour to Venice and Rome?

Also, do you have any experiences with Insight? If I don't choose RS, Insight would be the first choice over Globus.

Posted by
556 posts

Hi Sam,

You have a couple options for figuring out the London portion of your trip. First off, I would recommend picking up a copy of Rick's book: Europe Through the Back Door.. This book is focused on travel skills and tips (such as how to use the subways, money tips, safety tips, etc.). It also includes sections of many of the highlights of the major tourist locations in Europe (including sights, hotels and restaurants, etc). This would be a good read for you. I'm sure your library will have a copy.

Second, you can think of your stay in London as a "mini-vacation" before the tour starts. This means, you read guidebooks, check websites like this one and Trip Advisor, etc. and then you figure out hotels, restaurants, and sights in London you want to see. You can email/call the hotels directly to make your own reservations and plane rickets. Then you arrive at the airport and you're off! This would be the same as if you were planning a trip to NYC or Disney or Washington, D.C. (Or wherever in the US -I'm not sure where you're from and would go on a trip). This sounds intimidating, but you can do it if you want. Asking questions here and on other travel sites as well as reading guidebooks will help you pick safe neighborhoods, good hotels, etc. Obviously, costs will depend upon what you want to see - Tower of London, London Eye, etc.

If this sounds too intimidating you still have another option. RS offers "Tour Consultations" where they recommend hotels, etc but then you have to call and make the reservations with the hotels themselves. It costs money, but the nice thing about this is, if you go on one of their tours, it's 50% off if you arranging pre- and/or post- tour stays. Here's the link:

https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-help/plan-your-trip-with-our-expert-consultants

I haven't taken the London to Florence tour, but from Florence, you can again, plan on your own. You can just hop the train and head to each city (with some planning, etc). Several people on the Helpline/Forum are more experienced with the train schedules, so you can post those questions, under the "Transportation" section of the Forum. Same goes with questions regarding: hotels, neighborhoods, sights, etc.). Just click on 'Travel Forum' on the far left of your screen and then chose the appropriate board for each question.

Unfortunately I have not been on an Insight tour, so I can't help you with them.

Again, I realize this sounds rather intimidating if you are not an experienced traveler, but if the planning does sound like it might interest you, I would definitely recommend going for it! You can get lots of help here!

You can also watch the
Travel skills videos (3 parts) on this website for a basic introduction to using the trains, etc.

https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/video/tv-show. (On this page, scan to almost the bottom of the list of videos and choose 'Travel Skills'). It will open up to all three

I forgot to mention, if you decide to take a tour when you buy your plane tickets, you want to search for tickets using the "Multi-City' option. This will allow for you to buy a ticket from your hometown airport into London and out of Venice (or Florence or Rome). Often this is cheaper than a roundtrip into/out of one city.

:). Enjoy!,

Posted by
11450 posts

If you do spend some time in London either before or after tour in London,, keep this in mind, its an English speaking country, its no harder to stop someone in street to ask directions then it would be at home!! Desk clerks shop clerks , waiters, all can be helpful, so London is the easier place to figure out how to do things for an inexperienced traveler.

If you take the Eurostar to Paris it's easy to simply walk outside the station and grab a taxi from the taxi rank that will take you to your hotel,,write address on a piece of paper and hand to driver, easy peasy( cost depending on hotel location ) will run from 6-20 euros, metered. An extra charge of one euro per suitcase in the trunk.

Its easier then you think to handle all these details, remember none of us are rocket scientists !