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Rick Steves tours vs. Road Scholars tours

A few weeks ago a friend mentioned Road Scholars tours. I am interested in either the RS `17-day tour of Italy (this spring) or else the RoSch Rome-Florence-Venice 15-day tour. I am having a really hard time deciding which to go with. Has anyone done both? What was your impression and opinion of them (both have the same initials "RS")? Is their an age range difference?

Posted by
306 posts

Well, at least in their 40s through 60s and even 70s. Not too much tilted towards the 70s. I hadn't really thought about it very "precisely."

Posted by
306 posts

I was actually more interested in how the two programs differ in terms of travel arrangements, content, etc. I understand that there would be more focus on one place (Venice/Rome/Florence) in the Road Scholars, while the Rick Steves would have more variety in terms of the geographical range, being able to see Siena, Verona, the Dolomites, Cinqueterre, etc.

Posted by
31271 posts

chiuz,

I've only taken Rick Steves tours, so can only offer that perspective. However, I have looked at Road Scholar tours and these seem to be in approximately the same price range, but focused more on "education". Road Scholar refers to their tour leaders as "Instructors" rather than guides, which is interesting.

In terms of the ages of tour members on Rick Steves tours, I've encountered people from about 17 to over 70, so quite a range. The majority seem to be in the 50-70 age group, mostly retired, and the type of people that sign up all seem to be able to get along well (in keeping with Rick's "no grumps" policy).

The Rick Steves tours are excellent, and they cover not only the history and culture of places visited, but also the foods (the group meals are usually spectacular). I'd certainly recommend trying one.

Posted by
5634 posts

Side note: earlier name for Road Scholars was Elderhostel. So probably not a lot of 17-year-olds on their trips.

Posted by
1068 posts

I have taken tours by both companies although not tours of Italy. A few differences that come to mind: a bit more "free time" on the Rick Steves tours, a few organized lectures (often with a guest lecturer, some of whom were excellent) on Road Scholar, a slightly older population on Road Scholar with a bit less activity (although I must say a camel ride in India just about did me in), the quality of the tour guides was similar.... generally they were natives of the country who were very knowledgeable about the country/region, pleasant and attentive to tour members. I will also say, although I've been to over 20 countries, I was the least traveled person on my last Road Scholars tour. I will be touring with both companies again in 2015. My suggestion would be to pick the tour which sounds best to you. In many ways they have similar philosophies..... not a big "commercial tour", learn about the history and culture of the country, be exposed to the population as well as see the major sites etc.

Posted by
127 posts

I'm going on my 4th RS tour in 2015. My parents just booked their 23rd RoSch tour.

Both offer excellent edu-tourism opportunities. I think what you will find is that RoSch tends to be an older group with a little less time to explore on your own. More importantly, look at the policies for rescheduling or cancelling a tour and beyond that- ask yourself what you want to get out of the experience!

Posted by
52 posts

Hi,
My husband and I are signed up for our 4th Rick Steves tour in the spring of 2015. This spring to took the Road Scholar tour to Australia. We enjoyed our trip down under, but we both agreed that for Europe - Rick Steves, the rest of the world Road Scholar.

We stayed, for the most part, at generic, chain hotels. In fact, the breakfast set-up and food options we nearly identical each place we stayed. We were bused back to the hotel for lunch on occasion and a few dinners were at the hotel as well. Food was definitely not a high point. We did eat at an Aboriginal restaurant in the Outback. Less free time with Road Scholar.

The local guides were very good (except for one who read word for word a handout she gave us). A few were college professors and our "lectures" were held in a breakout room in the hotel. While the information was very informative, didn't like sitting in a classroom environment when we would have enjoyed exploring the cities.

On the Road Scholar tour, there were some early retiree folks like us, but it tilted more to 60-early 80's. The tour itself was not very active.

Did we enjoy the Road Scholar trip to Australia? Absolutely, but we prefer Rick Steves' tours style.

Good luck, also read the reviews on Road Scholar's website.
Simone

Posted by
672 posts

We've taken 21 Rick Steves tours and 5 with Road Scholar, although neither of the tours you're asking about. Rick Steves tours tend to have more free time and fewer included meals. I think Rd. Sch. is now offering some tours with fewer included meals, but we haven't been on one of them. In our experience (in Europe), Rd. Sch. stays in better hotels, especially compared to our recent R. Steves tours. Our Rd. Sch. guides have all been native to the country we're visiting. R. Steves uses Americans for some of the tours. Rd. Sch. can have bigger groups (I think up to 35)- I watch for small group tours. They will run tours with fewer people, though. We were on one with only six people that could have included 35. It was a pretty amazing tour. R. Steves says they cap theirs at 28, but we've been on a tour that had 29 people. They do offer some tours with only 24 people. Rd. Sch. offers tours with different activity levels. They're both good companies.

Posted by
306 posts

Thanks everyone for sharing their experiences with both companies. I'm still very divided about going with one or the other. It seems like they both have pluses and minuses. I'm less interested in staying at nice hotels than in getting a real feel for the places. On the other hand, I am less interested in "having a good time" (nothing against it at all) than in learning things about the culture and places. But it doesn't all have to be book-ish things.

Posted by
8203 posts

I have done 5 Rick Steves tours and 3 Road Scholar tours (one US, 2 in UK). I agree with the others who have traveled with Road Scholar that there is less free time and somewhat less active. I found on both my Road Scholar tours that there were group members who grossly underestimated the activity level of the tour and grossly overestimated their physical abilities. I am however doing a Road Scholar birding tour in AZ next month, so it will be interesting to see how the activity level is on this one. I did do a hiking tour a number of years ago and people on that were very fit, assessed their levels well and the hiking activity level was just as advertised. On the London and Wales tours I did, a number of people had difficulty getting up and down the steps on the bus. Not just a small problem, but one person had to BACK down the stairs so she could hold on and expected the leader and the instructor to be available to try an catch her if she fell.

On 2 Rick tours and on all the Road Scholar tours I traveled solo. I found by and large that the Rick Steves group, altho it had more couples, was more open and interested in mixing with others on the tour and enjoying the group experience. I also felt that the Rick Steves tour members were more independent even if it was their first trip to Europe. They get themselves from the arriving airport to the starting hotel independently whereas on the 2 Road Scholar tours airport transfers were arranged if you booked airfare thru them. I didn't need that as I was arriving early so it didn't make any difference to me. I also opted to do my own airfare as I fly out of a small airport and figured I had a better handle on the limited service available and how I wanted my schedule to work. BTW, just so you know Road Scholar does not have a "No Grumps" policy and that makes a difference!

I also did not like having to wear a name tag on the Road Scholar tour! Silly I know, but there you have it.

For Europe I will stick to Rick Steves.

(However, the guide on the Road Scholar Wales tour is wonderful. Really Rick Steves quality of guide!)

Posted by
306 posts

Thanks, Pam for your detailed account of your trips with the RS's.

I'm getting a much better picture of how the two RS's differ, over and beyond the particulars of specific trips, i.e. the Rick Steves 17-day Best of Italy versus the Road Scholars 15-day Venice/Florence/Rome.

I'm leaning towards Rick Steves at this point, although I see the positives of staying longer in three astonishing cities, i.e., a more in-depth experience with less running around the country, but more sedentary, from what it sounds like.

Posted by
222 posts

Pam, I agree with you. I don't want to wear a name tag. My husband and I took our first RS Tour to Berlin, Prague and Vienna in September and we used the "Buddy System". I don't know if all RS tours use this but I thought it was quite practical and creative. Each person picks (or is assigned) a person - not a spouse or someone who they are likely to hang out with - and that is your "buddy". Whenever the group reassembles, everyone is to make eye contact with their buddy. That way it is unlikely that anyone will get left behind. Works well and I'd say rather brilliant.
Barb

Posted by
8203 posts

Oh yes Barb, I love the Buddy system Rick uses. I think it promotes group spirit and certainly helps you get to know each other. A couple of times on the Road Scholar tours I wanted to scream...we need buddies!! ....as the leader counted and recounted to see if everyone was there. Really a time-waster. With buddies after a few days everyone is checking for their buddy as they board the bus or are at a gathering point.

Posted by
21160 posts

At one time my department hosted the Elderhostal program on our campus. At that time it had a min age restriction. I don't know if that has continued under the Road Scholar program. Since retirement I have look at some of their offerings in Europe but concluded their programs were directed to an older and slower crowd.

Posted by
8203 posts

When it was ElderHostel there used to be a lower age limit of 55 but that changed when they changed the name to something weird for a couple of months, then to Road Scholar. They also offer programs called Intergenerational which are for grandparents and grandkids as well. In my experience there has rarely been anyone under mid-50's on the tours.

I was talking with the leader of the program I attended in London and interestingly she indicated that in the distant past they also required people to attend the daily itineraries. Apparently when they were largely housed in university dormitories instead of hotels like they are now, people signed up because it was as cheap way to see an area. They weren't interested in the program, just the cheap housing so would go off on their own. Now as they are in hotels there is not a requirement to go with the tour group for the day's activities.

Posted by
306 posts

This is all very useful, as I am still pretty nimble (except for my knees and possibly feet). I've been looking at their site a lot, and they certainly seem to have good recommendations. It might be that in 10 years' time, I could do one with them. Still, I'm sitting on the fence, for the while, at least.

Posted by
306 posts

Yes, I have. Thanks for asking.
It's still hard to choose, as they both have their advantages.
And drawbacks.
Just looking at slideshows, I think, is nice but hearing about people's individual experiences and reactions is as useful if not more.

Posted by
350 posts

I am so glad that the RS tours do not require us to wear name tags. Ugh!

And I am very, very, very glad that the RS tour guides do not walk around carrying a little 'flag' on a stick that we are supposed to follow.

Posted by
1068 posts

I wore my name tag on a Road Scholar tour exactly once..... for the intro meeting. Several of us stopped after that and most within a few days. Several people seemed to like them and wear them throughout the tour, but on my last tour of India I would say about 4 people out of 20 kept wearing them.

Posted by
672 posts

In our experience, most people on the Road Scholar tours only wear their name tags for the early introductory sessions. We've never worn them after that. And, Road Scholar tours don't play the obnoxious "name game." It's nice to be treated like adults who can learn names and faces on their own.

Posted by
8203 posts

Oh gosh, I was the only one on my 2 last Road Scholar tours who did NOT wear the name tag after the intro session. Everyone else had them on and some people actually stuck their passports in the plastic envelope. Even though it was not my place to do so I suggested to a couple of the older ladies who were on their first International trip that that was not a good place for their passports as we were out and around in London. They thought you were supposed to keep it there because there was a pocket. Neither the instructor or the leader seemed to notice this. A couple of times when we were doing a group entry someone looked for my name tag and I just pulled it out of my purse.

I actually do not mind the name game but when I know we are circling up for it I stand on the guide's left.

Posted by
56 posts

I have done 2 Rick city tours (Rome and Paris) and 2 Road Scholar trips (Italy & Utah).

In comparing the Italy only tours:
The Pluses on Rick tour are: younger friendly group (average 55 (17-70)), more free time, learning how to use public transportation, see more “back door” sites, more walking, centrally located hotel, friendly folks, no name tags—use of buddy system, tipping and museum passes included, use of local guides, felt more like a local and not a tourist
The pluses for Rd Sch- they handle your luggage with no size requirement, nicer hotels—all with elevators, friendly folks but older (average 75 (61-80), tipping and museum passes included, more meals included, more days per city, use of local guides, less expensive/day than Rick tours. Fabulous food but this was a food & wine tour.
It really boils down to what you want to see and do and if you’d prefer less moving around from city to city with a concentration on each area or if you want to see as much as you can in 1 trip.

Posted by
306 posts

Despite similarities, then, the two do seem to tilt somewhat differently in the aspects discussed above. It would be nice if the hotels were not all so centrally located (for Rick Steves) because of the noise and congestion. But I'm not at all into four-star hotels, I'd prefer an "inn" (bed-and-breakfast) with a local feeling. That said, I tilt, in terms of my actual age, more towards 55 then 75. I like the idea of concentrating on a few places, for the sake of "depth," but on the other hand it would be nice to see as much of Italy as possible, as I think this might be my one and only time to go there. But, then, on the other hand, it does sound like Road Scholars is a "better deal" in terms of dollar spent, with more meals covered, for instance.