After reading comments comparing Rick Steves to Road Scholar, I thought it would be nice to learn of comparisons of Rick Steves to Odysseys Unlimited. If you have toured with both companies, please share your experiences both pro and con. I have taken 9 Rick Steves tours and am taking my first Odysseys tour next year so I would like to know how they compare so I know what to expect.
We have done a couple of Odysseys -- all south America -- via my undergraduate university's alumni travel program. All excellent and all five star all the way. But have not done a Rick Steves so have no ability to compare. I am guessing the Odysseys's tours are a notch or two up the scale. We never handled our luggage and rarely checked into hotels. Just handed us a key. At the end of the tour we did tip the guide. But he also was extremely good. Not a lot of mingling with the local folks.
We've taken both. As I mentioned in another post, the downside to RS is that they go to Europe only. We've used OU for both in and out of Europe. We've found the land-only prices to be competitive. (The OU marketing collateral prices include economy air arranged by OU. We arrange our own air using miles and we arrive 2-3 days earlier to get over jet lag. We have heard so many horror stories about OU-arranged air, so if you do use them, arrange your own air.) The quality of the guides is comparable (both high). RS tours are (in my view) more physical - more opportunities for hikes etc. - and there is that opportunity mid-tour to do laundry (for a reasonable amount). OU seems to cater to a crowd that's willing to spend more and the demographics skew older. My gen-X daughter would go on RS tours and not feel out of place but does not go on OU tours (too old) even if we offer to pay her way. As my husband and I get older, we appreciate OU for not having us schlep our bags ourselves, and being able to bring 24-26 inchers instead of roll-aboards. At the end of the day, it's the itinerary that drives the choice of tour company (if we decide not to travel independently) and we are finding that RS choices are quite limited.
I am currently on my 3rd OU tour, and have taken 9 RS tours.
I agree with all of Amelia's comments, and will continue to use both depending on itinerary, and lean RS because they are more active and I enjoy the more generous free time.
We’ve done 1 OU and 8 RS tours. While we enjoyed our OU tour, we’re saving them for when we can’t handle our luggage anymore. I would agree with the other poster assessments. We did the OU Spain Paradores and Pousadas tour. I didn’t feel the rooms were that much better than we’ve had on our RS tours, but I don’t remember ever having to climb stairs with our luggage. What we didn’t care for was the fact that the OU hotels were not always centrally located. We stayed in Carmona and had day trips to Seville and Cordoba, which cut down our time in each place. Our included dinners were at the hotels .
I've taken three tours with each.
On the OU tours, most of the hotels were four star and centrally located . Most meals were in restaurants, drinks were included at included meals.
All the tour directors--what RS calls "guides"-- were licensed and native to the country or area they were in.
Group size on OU was smaller than RS.
I agree it's better to arrange your own flights.
Thanks for the comparisons between the two tour companies. I have been curious about OU for some time but leery about switching from traveling with Rick Steves. I have very much enjoyed RS and would travel with them in the future. One of the things I like is that his company policies are transparent and favorable in some ways. However, some positives about OU are tempting, namely higher class hotels (I've enjoyed many RS hotels but some were less than desirable to me) and more meals included. I am able to handle my own bags, but having them handled for me would be nice. I would think the ages of the tour members would be comparable. On my RS tours there were some younger people but on average most were older. The discussion on RS No Grumps policy is interesting. Even though we sign an agreement to adhere to no grumping that does not guarantee that someone won't. I guess just having that expectation spelled out in writing or perhaps the type of personalities RS attracts contributes to the more agreeable traveler maybe.
Thanks for the responses, keep them coming. All very helpful. As to the “no grumps” policy, I don’t think it is achieved through the written agreement all RS travelers sign. Instead, I think it is self imposed because people who can book their own air travel, get themselves to the first tour hotel and are willing to carry their own luggage and maybe even climb some stairs are by nature not complaining grumps. I hope these are the people I meet on my first Odyssey’s tour.
The Odysseys groups I was with got along great. On one tour we had a guy who complained because the tour director wouldn't change the itinetary just for him. Ages were probably 50+.
Odysseys customer service is also great. They go above and beyond to do things right. On one tour, a hotel, at the last minute, told OU they had overbooked and couldn't accomodate the group. Our itinerary was slightly changed. To make up for it, Odysseys added extra sightseeing and another included dinner even though it wasn't their fault. The group enjoyed the changes and were actually glad it happened.
My wife and I are about to book an Odyssey tour for fall 2024, to Macchu Picchu and the Galapagos--has anyone on this forum done that tour, and if so, how did you like it?
Second question: I see that people are recommending that we handle our own air; on the tour I mentioned, there are 5 flights:
to Lima Peru
to Quito, Ecuador
to Baltras, Galagos Islands
from Quito back home
If I handle flights, does Odyssey handle the 3 internal flights, or would I have to arrange all of that? I'm hoping to speak to the rep tomorrow, so I suppose that's a question for them, unless someone already knows the answer.
I just took my first Odysseys tour. I liked it and would travel with them again. I did the Romania and Bulgaria tour. There were 16 of us and it was a very nice size. The other travelers were EXTREMELY well-traveled. They were a very hearty bunch - and there were numerous people in their 80s but you would never believe it unless they showed you their IDs.
Hotels were good, itinerary was fun, and the guides were good. We had two - one for Bulgaria, who was fantastic, and one for Romania who was solid and completely professional but a little less "fun".
To answer you question about flights - book your own. And even if you do, internal flights are covered and booked by Odysseys.
Numerous people who had Odysseys-booked flights had bad connections and missed flights. I don't let anyone book my flights - I always want the control of safe, logical connecting cities and times.
You need to call in to get land-only prices from Odysseys, which is kind of a pain, but workable.
Valerie, thanks for that info; I think that's what we'll do--book our own flights, and confirm with Odyssey that they'll be taking care of the internal flights (3 of them).
We've done RS tours, have another booked in Scotland next year; we like it, but want to see Macchu Picchu, and especially the Galapogos.
Thanks to the OP's post about Odyssey, we've booked yet another trip! Next year we're taking 3 trips with 3 different tour companies--13 days in Scotland, which will dovetail into a 15-day Viking cruise around the British Isles. Then in October, we've now booked the 16-day Odyssey tour that goes to Machu Picchu and the Galápagos Islands. Really excited; the rep on the phone this morning confirmed that we can book our own inbound and outbound flights, and they'll take care of the internal flights that get us from Lima to Quito, then out to the Galapagos and back.
From looking on the Internet for reviews, it seems that the only negative about Odyssey has been their air department; for that reason, we booked the trip and will take care of our own flight arrangements.
I just took a trip with Odysseys-unlimited "Treasures of Peru". It was amazing and the tour guides very knowledgeable. Hotels were 1st class, itinerary amazing, never had to carry a bag. I really enjoyed the trip. We were on the go constantly and were exhausted when we got home. The only problem was with the airlines going to Peru. Our flight was canceled and I had to sit in airport for 11 hours. OU staff didn't help very much. Didn't get me earlier flight, hotel or food voucher when waiting. Then when I completed survey and told them of my concerns they refused to take any accountability and told me maybe I should find another travel company. My responses was "why ask people to compete a survey if they aren't interested in honest feedback." I would recommend traveling with them the trip was exceptional and very well organized. Peru is an amazing country with humble people, delicious food and amazing history. I agree with others in post, in future I will get my own flights going and coming home. Flights inside the country are covered and went well.
@drlorrie - First welcome to the forum! This statement "Then when I completed survey and told them of my concerns they refused to take any accountability and told me maybe I should find another travel company." is just so silly on the part of OU! My word...I totally agree with why they would ask for an eval if they can't learn from errors. Do they have any FB pages that are monitored by OU staffers? That might also be a place to post. I'm on 2 private groups for Road Scholar and have made no bones about my issues with my last trip. However, my eval DID get their attention at the time although they continue to have the person in question "organizing" tours.
I"m surprised with OU's response.
I do know, from talking to fellow tour travelers, that the flights they sometimes include are not the best.
On my Japan trip, those that had included flights had to fly from Japan to South Korea then to the US and then to their home cities. Anyone capable of making a plane reservation should do so on their own.
Also on that trip, some of the participants didn't like the tour director. I thought she was fine. But apperently, the reviews were not great and everyone on the tour was offered a $100 voucher towards another tour.
OU's customer service used to be excellent but I have to wonder if the pandemic may have had an effect on them. I took their first Greek tour after the pandemic and it had issues. The response from OU was non-existant. Things may have changed.
On a personal note, I realized that multi-day tours are not for me. I prefer to have control over what I do and where I stay. YMMV.
We have done six OU tours (Peru, Tanzania, South Africa+, Alaska, Scandinavia and Costa Rica) and seven RS tours (Turkey, Eastern France, Adriatic, Scotland, Ireland, Sicily and Southern Italy). We liked both tour companies. Both are very customer service oriented. OU is definitely more upscale. On the occasions when tour participants encountered a snafu on either tour, the guides handled it very well. We arranged our own flights on four of the OU tours. We let them book our flights to Peru and Tanzania. If you book your own flights, you are responsible for getting yourself from the arrival airport to the first tour hotel although OU did transfer us from the Costa Rica airport and the Joburg, South Africa airport. For the Tanzania safari, I would recommend letting OU handle the flights if their policy is still that you need to get yourself through immigration and to the tour hotel. We arrived in the tiny airport in Arusha late at night. It was absolute chaos with people trying to get their visas, go through customs and immigration, etc. OU was there to handle things and get us through the crazy process. Plus it was a long ride from the airport to the tour hotel. I would not have felt comfortable in Arusha arranging our own transport from the airport in the middle of nowhere at night. We did not have any problems with our OU arranged flights. OU only books economy flights or business class flights. There is no premium economy option. You could have problems with your flights no matter whether you book them yourselves or OU books them. We have zero complaints about OU or RS. The OU tours are very well done and you stay in better hotels than on a RS tour. I find the tour members on the OU tours need a bit more hand holding than on RS tours. For the most part, the OU tour participants are congenial with a couple of exceptions. I hope this helps.
drlorrie, did you ask the airline directly for hotel and food voucher?
Jessica, my OU tour of New Zealand starts in 3 months. I am hoping for great guides and fun fellow travelers like I have experienced on 9 RS tours. Odysseys Unlimited recently revised its health protocols for 2024 tours. There is no vaccination requirement, no Covid testing requirement and no masking except for those exhibiting cold or flu symptoms who are asked to mask on the bus and sit at separate tables for group dinners. Anyone testing positive for Covid will be required to adhere to local governmental regulations, if any. No one will be removed from the OU tour or required to isolate unless required by government regulations. I am hopeful that RS will adopt similar protocols for 2024 as I am booked on an Italy tour in June. I emailed the RS tour department to point out the new OU protocols and was told that RS is reviewing its policies for 2024 and will have an update in December or January. I urge you and others to also contact RS and express your concerns.
Well, I'm happy your guide was proactive about masking on your South Italy tour. I just returned from a non-RS tour where there were sick people on the bus that our tour guide ignored, and, lo and behold, we got Covid. Silly me for not masking on my own. I will happily be on a RS tour where the guide is concerned about our welfare.
We just got back from an odyssey tour of northern Italy. Excellent guide and itinerary. A brief word of warning on the hotels. They looked great on paper, but somehow we were always assigned to the lowest room category. Some of the worst rooms in nice hotels we’ve ever stayed in. Hotels were full in September and even offering to pay to upgrade got us nowhere.
one tour member tested positive on the morning of the first day of the tour. He had only been exposed to the rest of the group at the introductory dinner.
So this person sat in the intro meeting room for at least one hour, then shoulders-to-shoulders and across the table with fellow travellers at dinner for another hour or more. Sure sounds like close contact, doesn't it? If he was infectious as people can be for up to two days before they show symptoms it is possible he could have infected someone else, who in turn might not show symptoms for two or more days. Looks to me like you had a wonderful guide who understood the health issues and took appropriate steps to prevent the rest of the bus from getting sick in case someone else was infected.
Hey folks, let's get this thread back on topic. Experiences on an RS tour vs Odysseys Unlimited.
Covid policies are obviously one thing to compare, but they are what they are. We don't need yet another thread in this forum devolving into a covid debate as it tends to box out the intended discussion and lead to guideline violations. Further side commentary on this subject risks the removal of this thread.
We welcome more reports about what it's like on OU vs RSE.
Like many have suggested, we booked our own air travel rather than let OU select our flights. We also plan to arrive a few days early and stay a few days after the tour like we do on RS tours. I have always believed that the reason there are no grumps on RS tours is that people who can book their own travel, get to the tour hotel and carry their own luggage are unlikely to need hand holding or to complain. My first OU tour will test my theory.