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Rick Steves vs. OAT

My husband and I usually are independent travelers, but are planning to take a trip in the spring of 2018 with RS tours. Weve used his tour books wherever we go in Europe, and have always found them to be extremely helpful in our planning. People on this forum seem to give very high ratings to the RS tours, which is why I feel comfortable trying one out . However, during a recent get together with some friends, someone suggested we check out a company called OAT tours? I don’t know much about them; except that their tour groups have a maximum of 14/16 people, and they may be similar to an RS tour? We are trying to get our tour plans confirmed by New Years, so if anyone has any information about OAT tour group, I’d be most grateful!
Thanks in advance!

Posted by
1068 posts

OAT has smaller groups and, usually, a bit rougher accommodation (although it is fine.) They have a limited number of single supplements, but it helps to book early if you want to nail one of those. Also, a new policy, if you get a single supplement, no additional tour discounts (except their OAT club, I think.) You are expected to tip guides, drivers etc., and that can add up. My last OAT tour they figured $7-10 per day for the guide (plus tips for day guides [if you thought they were good]). OAT also has tours within the tour which are extra.... so you can have free time, or pay more to do a day tour. On my last OAT tour, no one opted for any down time and all of us took the 2 "optional" tours for extra cash. Finally, OAT offers some pre and post trip packages, although not all pre or post trips are offered on all instances of a specific tour (e.g., some tours offer pre and post, others just the pre and others just the post.) You seem to know quite a bit about RS already. There are similarities. Both groups want you to experience local culture and both attempt to challenge how you think about yourself, other countries, your country etc. I enjoy both tour groups quite a bit. I generally take RS in Europe and OAT outside of Europe unless they don't have a tour with an itinerary I like (for example, am not using OAT for China this year....but am using them for Cambodia and Thailand.)

Posted by
20718 posts

Who the ........ is OAT. Never heard of them. Give a web site reference. I think there are a number of tour organizations that specialize in limited numbers. They tend to be more expensive. We done tours with Odysseys Unlimited out of MA that offer tours with less than 20. They are excellent but expensive tours. Our last trip with them averaged $600/day/person. Those kinds of tours have a certain ambience that can not be achieved with large groups and you can go places where larger groups cannot go.

Posted by
6 posts

I have taken more than 10 RS tours. In 2014 I went to India with OAT. While similar, there are significant differences. Here are some that come to mind. 1. OAT devotes 1 night of each tour to a home visit. The group is divided into groups of 3 or 4 and taken to dinner at the home of a local. While this sounds appealing, the hosts basically look upon this event as a business opportunity (which is not surprising) and the dinner can be quite awkward. 2. OAT has several tour stops which are shopping stops. 3. The tour guide expects a tip,although the tour covers tips to others. 4. The hotels generally are better quality than RS, although RS has stepped up its game in this regard. 5. OAT tends to cancel trips if their minimum is not met. If you book your airfare independently, this cause obvious problems.
All that being said, the guide was great as were the experiences and I would travel with OAT again.

Posted by
2244 posts

From a friend who took an OAT tour, I seem to recall that they transport and carry your luggage, unlike RS, as I understand it. Is that correct?

Posted by
1068 posts

OAT, so far, didn't carry my bags. Interesting, I thought the hotels were slightly worse than RS. Didn't get the big push to buy stuff (about the same) for either RS or OAT (although with both you do go places [on the tours I have taken] where you can buy things...but no pressure.) Frankly, to date, I have been underwhelmed with home dinners/school visits with both RS and OAT, but that's my reading. Still think both are good companies.

Posted by
91 posts

My wife and I have done 8 trips with RS and 2 trips with OAT over the past several years. Like Ray, we have used RS for Europe ( and will continue to do so when we choose a group tour) and consider OAT for group tours elsewhere in the world. Have also used Imprint Tours 4 times with satisfaction.

OAT groups are smaller (16 max) and the main guide is a native of the country. Our 2 guides were very passionate about their homeland and wanted us to learn as much about it as we desired. OAT schedules either a school visit and/or a home visit during the tour to try and directly connect with locals. OAT will then ask for a voluntary tax deductible donation to their foundation which is used to help support that school. It is part of their mission to give back to the country they are touring. I did not find the school visit to be particularly enlightening, but you have to accept that is an emphasis for the OAT organization. They do arrange for bags to be brought in from the bus (which is not full size like all the RS tours we have taken which allows group members to spread out) and picked up from rooms on the day of departure ( no carrying your own up the stairs.) Tips are covered for all but the main guide, so you decide how much extra you want to give the guide at the end. There was no " heavy pressure" on either trip about the amount.

RS trips have had more free 1/2 days, usually in the bigger cities on the tour, to allow each person to choose their own interests. OAT had 2 extra excursions on each trip ( for an extra cost) on what would otherwise be free 1/2 days. Overpriced, in my opinion, like a cruise ship excursion, but hey, you splurge on vacations sometimes, right? RS group meals usually had 2 or 3 choice options for the main and dessert, while OAT group meals were set for everyone unless there was a dietary restriction or need. Both tried to sample a variety of the country's dishes. OAT is definitely a better choice financially for a single as there is no up front extra supplement (unlike RS and Imprint Tours.) OAT will arrange air transportation round trip with airport pickup, but not necessarily on your preferred airline, or on a convenient schedule since they are using what I suspect are prearranged discounted fares. Hotels were slightly better quality with OAT than RS, but not significant enough to matter.

Main guides for both organizations have been very good to exceptional on all our trips and definitely added value for the cost. RS has used more local guides at various stops ( which have always been exceptional) while OAT seems to depend on the main guide to do most of the work at tour stops.

Personally I prefer the RS style of group tours better, but I want to see more of the world than just Europe and have found OAT and Imprint to more than adequately provide what we desire when we group travel. Did not realize I got so lengthy, but hope that helps runningklein.

Posted by
5910 posts

We have never traveled with either but many family and friends have with both. One friend stopped using OAT after 20 trips as their perks and charges had changed. She also said their hotels were less than average quality.I called once to join these friends on a trip and my questions were not answered and I was treated rudely. I obviously did not book with them.
Everyone I know who has traveled with Rick Steve's raves about their trips!

Posted by
406 posts

Hello saw one poster mention on RS & OAT there were home / school visits. I have never read of any RS tours offering this. On the five tours I have gone on this was never an option.
It seems like OAT does do this. Hard to keep that type of thing "real" with tour groups. Interested to hear if RS tours have actually done this?

As for the OP please come back & let us know what you pick. You mentioned you have used RS books in your travels which to me is pretty much how the tours go. Enjoy

Posted by
7762 posts

LA, on the RS Village Italy I took in 2014 we had a visit to a farm to accompany a truffle-hunting dog (and the farmer, lol) on a search/harvest. After that we had dinner cooked by the farmer's wife (and her sister and another lady who I think was her son's Mother-in-law). It was fun and there was lots of their own wine. This was in their kitchen/living room. They spoke no to very little English, most of us spoke none to very limited Italian so it's not like there was actual conversation.

On a Best of Paris tour the guide hosted the farewell dinner at her flat where we met and chatted with her husband (also a RS guide).

I can't recall any other visits to private homes on my other RS tours. A home visit for a meal is not something I would seek. I am a picky eater (vegan) and would hate to either be in a situation where I was presented with food that I couldn't eat or a situation where someone felt they needed to go out of their way to offer a suitable meal.

I agree it's hard to keep this a real or authentic situation for tour group after tour group.

Posted by
1326 posts

I just got back from my first OAT tour. This was to South America. I've never been on a RS tour, so I can't offer a comparison, only an assessment of OAT.

I am 61, and I was the youngest person on the tour. The oldest was maybe mid 70s. But the pace did not seem slow to me. I was impressed with how well people kept up. There were a few activities (hikes and such) that some people opted out of.

OAT did handle luggage for us except at airports. Meaning when we arrived at the hotel, our bags were delivered to our rooms. And when checking out, we had to have bags outside the door of our room at a certain time. They were picked up and loaded onto buses for us.

I don't know if RS offers this sort of thing, but we had a number of "controversial topics." We met with representatives of indigenous groups to learn their history and hear their stories. We met with a representative of the Abuelas of Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. We met with someone who has done extensive research on Nazis who came to Argentina after WWII. And we had local guides who talked extensively about local politics and local history, economics, health care, education, environmental issues, and the like.

We spent "a day in the life" in a small community in Chile. We visited two schools and met with teachers and with children. We visited a family on their farm and helped them prepare a traditional Chilean barbecue and ate with them.

We also visited several other homes in various communities and had a chance to ask questions and share stories. And we visited an indigenous community in northeastern Argentina.

There were 15 of us on the tour, and I was one of two who had never been on an OAT tour before. Several of the other participants have been on 6 or more OAT tours.

The tour leader and the local guides were uniformly excellent.

I would have liked more free time in some instances.

The hotels varied from basic to very nice. All that weren't ground-floor accommodations had elevators. For the most part they lacked character and charm.

Except for short local rides in vans where we were tightly packed, we were on buses that allowed loads of room to spread out.

I had to call customer service a few times with questions and for some personalization (I stayed on at the end of the tour for a few days). A few times I was on hold for a long time or hung up before I got through. Other times I got through quickly. And I always had fantastic experiences talking to their customer service staff, who were friendly and very helpful.

I think that should cover it. I hope that helps you decide what to do. Have a great trip whatever you decide!

Posted by
3436 posts

The single supplement is not mandatory for RS tours. However, if you don't pay it you will be stuck with another single tour member if there happens to be one or even in some cases the assistant tour guide (happened to me). Does OAT guarantee no roommate if you are a single on their tours for no extra cost?

The RS Bulgaria tour includes a school and home visit (also a chat with a "high ranking" politician). And one night at an active monastery where you sleep like the monks do.

The heart of France tour includes one lunch at a farm where everything served is supposed to be products of that farm.

Hotels are improving on the RS tours. No more hay barns like they used to use on the GAS tour while in Switzerland. All of the ones on my more recent tours have been air conditioned. Many have elevators even it is one that can barely hold a single person with their suitcase. Much different than when I started taking RS tours, but still with "charm".

Most RS tours I have been on (10 total so far) have had around 23 -24 tour members. We always have had a full size bus that would seat 48 - 50.

Tour guides have all been excellent. Many are natives of the area the tour covers. All have excellent unaccented American English (or nicely accented British English) so no communication issues. The guides who are not natives have lived/worked in that area for many years and are fluent in all the languages encountered.

I have heard good and bad things about the OAT tours from friends and coworkers who took their tours. I think the biggest difference they noticed is that the main tour guide is a contractor where the RS main tour guides are employees. They have liked the RS tour guides better.

Posted by
1068 posts

The RS tour of Eastern Europe (at least when I took it) included a school visit. There was a group lunch in a private home during the Best of Turkey Tour. Not sure this is a "private home" but the Sicily tour included lunch in an old cow/dairy structure....I am sure other events took place there but it was definitely not a restaurant. Also, there was a stop near the Ypres battlefield on the Belgium/Holland tour in a home that was owned by a farmer (with an amazing collection of WWI objects he found on his farm.) As I recall, we took the entire room but it may well be that other events took place there as well.

Posted by
26 posts

Thanks for this helpful review of OAT tours. I've met a number of people who like their tours, and was wondering if they would fit my personal preferences. I think, like others, I will stick with Rick Steves when visiting Europe. One thing I really like about the RS tours is the inclusion of all tips, so I don't even have to think about that. I also like having some free time to explore on my own and the opportunity to try some restaurants of my choice for lunch or dinner (or, in Italy, just having gelato for lunch, which I often did when in Sicily). I did travel as a single on the RS Munich-Salzburg-Vienna trip last December, and was lucky in my roommate assignment. We became good friends and have traveled together since.

Another tour company you might check out is Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel), which has tours all over the world. They do handle your luggage (though I don't find that an issue with RS if you follow the pack-light guidance) and they also include all gratuities. They indicate whether a trip is "small group", and some also charge no single supplement. My experience with them has been generally good, though not as consistent as the Rick Steves tours. Here's a link to Road Scholar's site: https://www.roadscholar.org/find-an-adventure.

Posted by
31 posts

WOW!! I am grateful to get so many helpful answers to my inquiry! All in all, it seems RS continues to come out as the favorite choice for most of you. I’m not thrilled about the light packing, and carrying bags up and down flights of stairs, but I have done both in the past. If the end result is a tour that doesn’t nickel and dime the guests, has all tipping/ tour prices included, and friendly, compassionate tour guides that are willing to give suggestions for free time, then I’m in! I realize the cost of a group tour is more than independent travel, but I love the idea of someone else doing the planning, not getting lost as often as we do on our own, and not having to figure out meals every evening!
Thanks again for all the information and Happy Holidays to all!!! 🎁

Posted by
7762 posts

Most tour hotels I’ve stayed in have had elevators. They are usually small but sometimes a group will send a person up with a bunch of bags while tour members hoof it up the stairs. Sometimes there is a long line for the elevator and if it’s only a flight or two I’ll head up with my bag.

Altho the guidelines say a carryon size bag it’s really what you are willing to handle. The buses are full sized so there is plenty of cargo space. The toughest part might be handling your bag getting to/from the hotels. Sometimes the bus can get to the front door, sometimes it has to park a distance away. Some tours, like Italy, mean wrangling it on and off a vaporetto or a train. Or Switzerland on/off a gondola to go up a mountain!

If you are ready to pick a tour people can share their experience with tour hotels including elevators and getting to and fro.

If you haven’t done a lot of light packing we can also give opinions on your packing list if you are ready to open up to that!

Posted by
8715 posts

I was wondering if you have gone to any other travel boards to ask about tours?

Did you really think you were going to get a bunch of negative reviews on RS tours on his own website?

Try these:

Fodors

Trip Advisor Forums

And why not check out tours with Odysses Unlimited and compare what you want in a tour with what you will have to give up on a RS tour. You've already mentioned some.

Posted by
31 posts

Hello Frank,

Thanks for your suggestions. Actually, I have already been on these other websites numerous times, and we have taken an Odyssey tour in the past. I liked Odyssey, and yes, it was nice to be pampered with all the creature comforts such as having our bags delivered to hotel rooms, being in big hotels with elevators, fitness centers, restaurants, large rooms with American sized bathrooms and hopping on the big bus to get to our destinations each day. However, I feel that the smaller, sometimes quirky, family hotels, being able to go places via public transportation instead of a bus all the time would be a nice change. Judging from the people who post on this forum, it seems that RS tours attract adventurous, “get out and explore after the half day tour is over” tour mates. This is also very attractive to my husband and I. It’s a tough decision between each of these companies, since each does seem to offer a good package/ itinerary. Guess it’s time to flip a coin?!

Posted by
125 posts

I have traveled with all these companies. I make my final decision based on the itinerary. Since Rick only does Europe, I find we must include other companies in our travels. There are so many places that are wonderful to visit that are not in Europe.

Posted by
125 posts

I have traveled with all these companies. I make my final decision based on the itinerary. Since Rick only does Europe, I find we must include other companies in our travels. There are so many places that are wonderful to visit that are not in Europe.

Posted by
19 posts

I'm going on my 3rd RS tour this April, now that Turkey visas are available.
I'm a single female, have always done a single supplement, and never have thought with RS, "drats, this is the wrong tour/group for me." Don't know about OAT, so I can only rave about RS. Perhaps best of all, there are no hidden costs, no "extra tips" or the such. Previous to RS, I took a tour with a substantial scholarship. I was annoyed by having to pay of of those little extra tips throughout and then again, at the end. I'd rather have the tips included with the price, rather than literally be asked to hand over currency.
I did the Best of E Europe (16 days) and we had lunch at a school. With the Best of Bulgaria, we had home lunches with a Roma family and another with a Muslim family. We took school tours 2x, including one in a Muslim village - which was one of the best days on this tour (local lunch, visit with local official, and frank discussions with the local school leader). Both RS tours include those little extras - samplings of local beverages and foods, up close and real discussions with the locals, and honestly, the best co-travelers possible. Never underestimate the importance of group travelers who are like-minded.
Finally, RS has a DVD (or at least used to) describing and showing how RS tours operate. Once I saw that DVD, it was a no-brainer. I was a solo backpacker for years, but a few decades later, it's nice to have someone else plan and take me from place to place.