Has the quality of the tours gone downhill? We had great experiences 10-15 years ago and then were not able to go again until this year. We just got back and the tour was quite subpar compared to our previous experiences. I'm wondering if it was just bad luck, a side effect of the covid shutdown, or has there been a general decline in quality?
Hi, Marshall. I guess it would be helpful to know what tours you went on in the past and what tour you went on recently. What did you feel were the biggest differences between the two experiences? Was it the quality of the itinerary? The hotels? The guides? The meals? What made you feel "let down" on the tour you just had?
I went in 2018 and 2019 and was pleased. My 2022 tours aren't until September.
I'm sorry you weren't as pleased with your recent tour. I just got back 2 months ago from the Best of Adriatic tour and found it to be just as enjoyable as the tours I took in 2018 and 2019. While there were some challenges due to covid (masking, some restaurant closures, testing, etc), I felt the guide did an amazing job not only imparting his knowledge and making sure everyone had a great tour but also ensuring that everything went as smoothly as possible. I have found during my travels in the latter half of last year and my 2 trips this year that it's important to keep in mind that everything is only slowly returning to a bit of normalcy after 2 years of covid and there are closures, staffing issues at hotels and restaurants, residual effects of covid shutdowns, etc. In a number of places we were welcomed with open arms as the first Rick Steves tour group to come through in 2 1/2 years. I do think that any kind of international traveling right now is more stressful and has more challenges than pre-covid - hopefully this will improve as we get even further into 2022 and into 2023.
I think it is always hard to compare present day to something we did 15 years ago. We find our memory improves with age as the good things get more embellished and the marginal stuff fades away. Our first trip to Europe was an unplanned event that went from deciding to go on a Wednesday evening in '72 and stepping off a plane in London on a Sunday morning around 5am. One of our fondest, greatest memory of a trip until we were reviewing some old photos a couple of years ago from that trip that reminded us that a number of things didn't go well. Just forgot about them. We still think it was a great trip - but -- most trips since then were better planned and went smoother. However, airplane comfort is much worse today than 50 years ago. You could actually recline your seat and sleep in coach.
Unfortunately I don't see how to reply to specific posts by others. Anyway, I didn't want to give a full review but I guess I should give some examples of how I felt the experience suffered:
1) Fewer local guides, something I always felt were one of RS strengths. We didn't have a single one in Paris, for example.
2) A much less helpful tour guide. They offered no help for the "free time" for example, while previously the guides would give a lot of assistance with ideas and planning.
3) Planning snafus, like one of the promised events not happening because the company doesn't even exist anymore.
I do agree that as time goes on, our memory of a trip can diverge pretty greatly from reality. However, in this case many of the issues are pretty concrete, like not having a local guide in Paris whereas previously we did.
I really believe it is the tour guide that makes all the difference in whether the tour is a success. I just got back from the 14 day tour to Greece and it was FABULOUS! Our tour guide was wonderful. I have gone on six tours and all were great except for one. It was the tour guide. She was so dull and lacked energy. She seemed burned out and not involved. My whole family felt it.
I am so sorry your tour was a disappointment.
We recently finished the BOE 14 days tour. A woman on our tour stated that she had previously taken the BOE 14 days years ago. Although we had local tour guides in Paris and Rome, we were told to use the RS app in The Louvre and St. Peter's Basilica (which were not good). The tour mate said that these places previously had a live guide facilitating the visit which was much better than self-guiding with the app. We were told to use the apps because of covid and no large groups were to congregate in the sites. However, we saw other groups our size with a guide in both the Louvre and St. Peter's. Our tour mate also thought the hotels were a little better in some cases. I also can see where the group tour guide could really make or break your overall experience. Fortunately, ours was really high energy and enthusiastic and seemed always to be "on". It's a tough job and she excelled at it.
I’ve been going on Rick Steves tours for 20 years. This spring was number 15. If anything, I think the tours have gotten better over the years. The first few I was on we actually did share bathrooms and slept with damp towels near by because there was no air conditioning in some hotels. The tour guides have always been great, with a very few exceptions, and local guides have always been good. In the beginning, I ran into tour guides who wanted everyone to walk up hill as far as possible and carry their luggage many blocks! I think those few have retired.
Now hotels are much nicer and tour guides are more sensitive to the groups needs. Covid has changed things but we had an excellent local guide in Paris in April. Everything went smoothly and as planned, but I think our guide was a little surprised by changes in some restaurants he chose for group dinners.
Over all, I would say the quality of the tours has improved.
I recently returned from my 7th RS tour. While I think there were a few things that didn't go as smoothly as previous tours, I can't think of anything in my "normal" life that hasn't been affected by the last few years.
We have taken 8 tours, beginning in 2013, so we were not at the 15-year-ago tours. But I totally agree with others that the quality of the tour guide makes a huge difference and this year, yes, Covid did impact the tour in having to split up the groups with different local tour guides, places closed, etc. Hopefully next year there will be fewer Covid changes, but perhaps not. I think Covid plans to stick around a while.
I'm with MarieM in that the guide really makes or breaks a tour. I haven't been on a RS tour post Covid, but I feel that at this point a high quality guide would be able to overcome the challenges. The first RS guide we had set the bar for our expectations very high. So with that in mind we looked for forward to our next adventure with RS and were disappointed when our guide in our estimation, did not measure up. A local guide that we had on that trip was even more of a disappointment. So we attributed the difference to a cultural difference. But on our next RS tour we were again dazzled. We recently returned from a river cruise that we very much enjoyed where the staff pampered us. But when we disembarked in Amsterdam planning to spend a couple of days we checked into a hotel that we had researched using the RS guidelines and that quirky little place just felt right. The itineraries are well thought out on the RS tours, and the hotels are in great locations. So from my experience the difference is the guide.
We recently finished the BOE 14 days tour. A woman on our tour stated that she had previously taken the BOE 14 days years ago. Although we had local tour guides in Paris and Rome, we were told to use the RS app in The Louvre and St. Peter's Basilica (which were not good). The tour mate said that these places previously had a live guide facilitating the visit which was much better than self-guiding with the app. We were told to use the apps because of covid and no large groups were to congregate in the sites.
I took the BOE 14 day in 2019 (and loved it). Although we had local city guides in Paris and Rome, we were on our own in both the Louvre and St Peters Basilica. So it isn’t necessarily a Covid thing not to have a guide in those places. For what it’s worth, I liked using The RS audio app-we used it in both those places and in other spots when we were out on our own. I found them easy to use and informative:)
We took tours in 2014, 2018 and just got back from BOEE yesterday. All fabulous!
Be specific and send your review to the RS offices. It is important they hear your concerns especially if the guide was the major problem.
I've never been on a RS tour, but I'm curious about the idea that the guide can make or break the tour.
I know Rick carefully vets all his guides, but a weaker guide could certainly get past the vetting process. What mechanism is in place to make sure weaker guides are filtered out? Is there a tour evaluation process? Does anyone know of specific instances where a guide was fired or taken out of rotation?
I have taken 7 Rick Steves' tours and signed up for my 8th next year. All the guides have been excellent.
I have only been on one RS tour, BOE 21 this spring. But it is hard for me to imagine a tour that was better thought out, better executed, or better led. Our guide and driver were both exceptional. The activities were perfectly thought out and the hotels were even better than advertised. It was truly a remarkable value.
I’ve traveled on 19 tours with Rick Steve’s company since 2008. My last two trips were cancelled due to current world events. Each tour has been quite different but all (except one) were completely fulfilling. It’s important to note that I made sure that I did not compare the tours, the groups, the schedules, the accommodations, meals, guides, etc. Rather I allowed each to stand on its own. This allowed me to enjoy myself and experience everything anew. Many factors impact the overall experience. Hotels have been much nicer (in locations that I’ve returned to). Group meals have been excellent. In many cases a meal has been designed to offer authenticity. Group dynamics impact the quality of the tour. Guides have been very attentive. There are many guides that I would enjoy leading another tour that I’m on. Even the country and culture dictate differences. I only wish that there could be an expansion on the countries that RS offers for tours. I thoroughly his tours.
For comparison - I’ve taken about twelve tours with other companies.
I’ve gone on a big bus tour once - not for me.
Taken a Caribbean cruise - it was excellent but not the way I prefer to experience a country.
Toured with three other travel companies - one company’s tour was terribly disorganized, the second was just okay, and the third that has a max of 16 tour members is excellent and offers tours worldwide.
None compare to the quality and attention of the RS tours.
I agree with the others that the guide can make or break a tour. I have taken 2 tours, one guide was great, the other ok. This is second post about subpar tour ( the other one titled Touring Is Not For Me). So I think maybe there are some struggles. I, for one switched which tour I was going to sign up for in 2023. We were going to do VFR, but when I read the group meals were not good ( in Italy)!! I switched to Berlin, Prague, Vienna.
Hi Marshall. I agree we need to know the tour and why you feel this way. I have taken two tours already this year, The Rome tour in February and the best of South England tour this month. I still have two more scheduled for the year. I took the Rome tour three years ago so this was a repeat. I can compare the two and they were both so delightful I may do a third next Spring. I personally have seen no change in the tours and continue to enjoy them. Sorry you had one that did not turn out to your satisfaction but it is very difficult to assess a blanket statement without some further information/facts to support it. Thanks
"but a weaker guide could certainly get past the vetting process. What mechanism is in place to make sure weaker guides are filtered out? Is there a tour evaluation process?"
@Lane, Yes there is a tour eval process. There are complaints that there is not enough room to write full explanations (limit I think is 500 words?) but that can be solved with an email to the tour department detailing the issues. If I had a major problem with a guide, I'd call the tour office and talk to them. I believe they take valid complaints seriously.
I also agree that a guide can make or break the tour. I've had 2 guides out of 11 Rick tours I did not click with but really did not impact my enjoyment of the tour.
Marshall, I am so very sorry this tour did not live up to your expectations. Whichever tour it was, that is a lot of time and money to not be satisfied with the tour for whatever reason.
So far we have done 5 RS tours (Turkey, Adriatic, Eastern France, Sicily and Southern Italy) since 2013 and are scheduled for two more in August (Scotland and Ireland). I have no complaints about any of our guides. I loved all of them. We also had local guides some of whom were a bit long winded especially when our time at a venue was limited. One standout local guide was Francesca in Rome. She hit all the right notes. I have no complaints about the hotels. The group meals were excellent. Our guides gave us some quick suggestions for when we were on our own but we had done our homework as well and knew in advance what we wanted to see on our free time. The tour itinerary also gives you some suggestions. I will say that I have liked some tour groups better than others and this can color your judgment. I wish you would share with us what tour you were on.
Just one minor point. I think the "helping with planning free time" is something that guides get tired of doing. I recall most times our groups would be breaking up for free time, the guides would be surrounded by people asking for all sorts suggestions on what to do. Often there were people who would ask the guide what she was going to do, and then try to tag along. On our first tour, I remember the exasperated guide saying "how many of you brought your guidebooks? (very few did) You're supposed to reading them in advance to figure out what you want to do in your free time."
So I chalk that help to be nice if they're willing, but not to be expected.
Having dealt with (non-travel) groups in other situations, sometimes there is good energy among strangers, and sometimes there isn't.
The first local guide we had on our Switzerland tour really offended me with her off-color jokes and somewhat racist comments in 2019. I remember thinking, “Have I just made a huge mistake?” I wrote to RS Europe about my specific concerns. Fortunately, that was the exception rather than the rule and I went on to have a great time on the tour with no further issues at all.
The guide(s) can make a huge difference on any tour.
It is good to hear that others have had better experiences. We spent the better part of a decade anxiously awaiting our next RS trip, and at the end of this one we basically swore off ever doing one again if they were going to be similar.
It also looks like there's a reasonable consensus about a good guide making/breaking a tour, which I can definitely understand. Given that though, I'm not sure how we could trust RS in the future. We did the family tour and there is simply no way I can possibly conceive that anyone with reasonable judgment thought our guide was a good choice for a family tour. He was a self-aggrandizing alcoholic who did absolutely nothing to explain history in a way teenagers could understand. Instead he was dismissive and acted like the "big sites" were beneath him. For example, we stood right next to Notre Dame and listened to him ramble for 15 minutes about the hospital and he never said a word about the church. Once we lost our (wonderful) assistant, the daily schedule was constantly wrong without any notice of changes to it. If RS let that guy work for them for years then I don't see how I could spend that much money again on a roll of the dice. Loved our other tour guides previously though, even when one wasn't really a personality type we mesh with. It is also possible that RS did not vet their existing guides post-covid and he changed significantly in that time.
There were some structural issues on RS part too though. There was nothing kids-focused in London or Paris at all. A family tour needs a great guide to make a lot of the history relevant to a middle/high schooler. I would expect more local guides on a family tour, not fewer. You can't lean on the RS audio guides in places like the Louvre because they are woefully out of date. As another example, we never had the petanque lesson because when the guide called them, they were out of business. How could RS not check that out before offering it on tours? In fact, I bet it is still on the itinerary.
Maybe RS knows how to do adult tours but fails at family ones? We have zero complaints about the lodging/food/transportation.
@stan Yes I can understand that. Previously we had guides that volunteered information, we never really had to ask. This time nothing was volunteered, and the little information we did ask for was just regurgitated from a google search or flat out wrong. Some of that may be able to chalked up to covid, since the guides haven't had "boots on the ground" info in years. Most of what we asked was less "what should we do" and more "hey since you dropped us here, where's a good place to eat?"
Marshall, I am so sorry to hear these things. How extremely painful to have paid thousands of dollars to bring youth along on what you thought was a specially designed family tour and then find it didn't live up to the advertised expectations. As a former high school teacher, I completely understand what you are saying about the importance of being able to make the connections and present information in a targeted manner when it comes to teenagers.
I think that you should contact RS tours directly and share some of this feedback with them. I am pretty sure that what you describe is not the experience that they seek to provide. They won't be able to "fix" this unless you give them specific feedback about what went wrong.
I've been on 6 RS tours and enjoyed all but haven't been on any since 2018. All the tour guides were good, very informative, and professional, although of course I liked some more than others. All the local guides were good except one in Paris (Montmartre area) and one in Barcelona, who seemed to be good until they injected their personal politicized version of the local history, including some outright factual lies (I know because I love history and read up quite a bit before going on the tours, and then double-checked sources after the local guides' talks. Also, I had been on a tour in Barcelona years previously with different tour and local guides and their information matched with my research. Our tour guide in Paris made a few facial expressions off to the side which indicated she may be displeased with the local guide's comments. Our second tour guide in Barcelona was so concerned he actually printed out comments and articles to present "a different point of view" than the local guide, which he handed out to all the tour members after we left Barcelona. His statements confirmed my research and added new insight.) When I'm on vacation I want to get away from divisive political rants and enjoy my visit. I also don't want to be lied to by someone I'm paying.
Regarding "They offered no help for the "free time" for example, while previously the guides would give a lot of assistance with ideas and planning". Although all my tour guides helped people with suggestions for free time, remember that our free time is not necessarily free time for them: they have to write reports, call the next hotel and restaurants to confirm reservations, replay to emails from RS offices, and deal with unexpected problems. God bless the good guides! They work hard.
I also include a list of possibilities for my free time when I plan my trip, so I'm not at a loss when I'm there, and don't have to waste time I could be using to enjoy the locale.
They offered no help for the "free time" for example, while previously the guides would give a lot of assistance with ideas and planning.
I'm not sure what they did for you previously but in our experience the guides give general info on the bus. Also during the orientation tour on arrival at a new place where they point out (in smaller towns) restaurant suggestions, museums, shopping areas, etc. In a larger city such as Paris this wouldn't be practical but they've sent you a guide book ahead of time. In some rural places such as Switzerland the guides have offered optional walks . But I don't think one-on-one consulting as opposed to overviews and answering a quick question or two is going to happen as a regular practice; if there are a dozen groups among the 24-28 travelers and the guide spends 10 minutes with each that's 2 hours of time (nor would you want to be the last group cooling its heels waiting for the guide).
I'm not sure how we could trust RS in the future.
For your family that's probably the right choice. We've had nothing but good experiences with RS but there are other companies out there or you could plan your own trip. Given the money involved it sounds like you shouldn't roll the dice with RS again. If you're charitably-minded then feedback to RS about your experiences might help future travelers.
I’m sorry you’ve had such a negative experience. We did a RS family tour back in 2008, and our guide (Daniela) was fantastic both in terms of interacting with the children and teens and suggesting free time options. I do think it’s important that the guides on the family tours are able to calibrate commentary to the audience. Daniela was very skilled at providing information the tweens/teens found interesting while also giving additional content to those who were interested. I definitely encourage you to share your experience with the RS office.
AMEN about guides making the tour a great experience – or not - our 1st RS tour was Paris Oct 2017 & our guide was fabulous! Our 2nd RS trip was Oct 2019 Venice, Florence & Rome & our guide was not fabulous by a long shot – just about everyone on the tour talked about this – he was like a professor with tenure who doesn’t care about the review - praying that never happens again. Signed up for this Oct. to Munich, Salzburg, Vienna & hope our guide is wonderful. Also signed up for Oct. 2023 Athens & the heart of Greece & hope the guide is really great. I hope RS / his people read / care about these reviews & take care of us.
We've done 5 tours (also the London- Florence RS family tour in 2019) and just completed the Paris HOF tour with my family of 5 (sadly the Amsterdam - Venice family tour is no more). We had Reid Coen as our family tour guide and he was excellent. Our three boys were 11, 11, and 13 at that time and they had a good time. Almost 1/2 of the tour members were under 18 and the kids really had a fun time together. I'm sorry that your experience was different. I agree with everyone that providing feedback to RS is important. In all 5 tours, the guides were excellent. Personally, I have no worries about booking another RS tour (and we will).
Although all my tour guides helped people with suggestions for free time, remember that our free time is not necessarily free time for them: they have to write reports, call the next hotel and restaurants to confirm reservations, replay to emails from RS offices, and deal with unexpected problems. God bless the good guides! They work hard.
This......your "guide" is working. They are not taking the tour for fun. They have more than likely been to wherever you are more than once. While it's imperative that a tour director help you with plans for your free time, it is not their job to make those plans for you nor to entertain you during your free time. It's not free time for the tour director. .
If you were not happy with your guide, or anything on the tour,you need to let the tour company know. I can't speak for RS tours, but every company I was associated with took the tour evaluations very seriously. Be as specific as possible. Don't just say you didn't like something. Tell them why you didn't like something.