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Tour Forum Ice Breaker

Welcome to our new Tour Forum! This is the place to talk about anything relating to Rick Steves Tours. Assuming that you are in our Tour Forum because you have interest in our tours, here's an ice breaker.

What tour are you most interested in and why? If you've been on our tours before, what was your favorite?

Posted by
1896 posts

Been on several RS tours and when asked this question, almost always reply "the last one I was on". So, I returned from the last one just a couple of weeks ago-the Adriatic. So, it's my favorite right now. This tour was very different from the 12 others in that the history is so recent and in your face, especially in Bosnia. Tina and all the local guides actually lived through the war and each has a personal story to tell. I loved Ljubljana and could see myself actually living there. The Julian Alps are breath-taking (and I live in Colorado!) and I have never seen anything quite like the Plitvice National Park-awesome. I had no idea how much this particular tour would affect me.

Posted by
556 posts

Hi Webmaster Andrew,

I've done 3 tours so far, with my 4th coming up in a few weeks. (Loire/South of France). I've done Village Italy, Scotland, and (city) Istanbul. Village Italy was my favorite for a variety of reasons: the "coziness" factor of Italy itself and, the locations were certainly less touristy than other parts of Italy! I love visiting smaller towns to get a feel for the "realness" of a place, and the cool experiences we had on the tour. I also loved Istanbul, because it was just amazing to see all the sights. I also got to see a friend whom I hadn't see in a while, so that was fun!

I think this forum is a great idea. I plan on putting my "tour reviews/comments" here after I return from my next tour since I miss the old online tour reviews. I hope you all do the same!

Posted by
672 posts

I've pleaded with the RS office for years to add something like this to the forum. I'm delighted to see it and I'm also hoping it will serve as a replacement for the tour reviews. In 2005, we received tickets to hear RS speak at our local university. Even though we knew we weren't "tour" people, we went to hear him. And, this is what that talk led to:
2005 - GAS tour. At 60 years old, this was my first time to Europe. I was thrilled and amazed to be there and we enjoyed every minute of this tour. Karoline Vass was our guide and she set the gold standard for guides for us. It was a great introduction to European travel. 2006 - Spain and Portugal. This was a great tour with a good mix of large cities and small towns. I recently had the pleasure of enjoying this tour again through the reports of a friend taking her first RS tour (Spain only now). 2006 - Village Italy. We took our four kids (all in their 20s) with us. We all loved this tour. 2007 - Paris and Provence. Kristin Kusnik, another amazing guide, gave us a great introduction to France. 2007 - Best of Scandinavia. My Grandmother was born in Denmark, so this trip had special meaning for me. The tour definitely didn't disappoint. Beautiful, beautiful scenery.
2008 - Adriatic. This tour offered a great deal of variety, from Ljubljana to Mostar to Plitvice National Park to Dubrovnik - something for everyone. We went in July, which was a mistake as the heat was oppressive. Definitely a great tour though. 2008 - Paris and the Heart of France We took our kids on this tour, too. Everyone loved it. I was interested in seeing Normandy, but had no idea how moved we all would be by our visit. As so often is the case on RS tours, our local guide in Normandy brought the story to life. 2009 - San Sebastian & Basque Countryside. At the time, we stayed in San Sebastian the entire time. I like the changes in the current tour, but we thoroughly enjoyed this tour. We loved those pintxos bars!

2010 - Villages & Vineyards of Eastern France. We love France and we love wine, so this sounded like a natural. Unfortunately, we had an uninterested guide (very unusual for RS). It was also a fairly new tour at the time and suffered from that. We followed this tour with a Road Scholar rail tour of Switzerland, which was incredible, so all was not lost on that trip. And, of course, we did still have France and the wine! 2010 - Southern Italy, followed by Sicily. This was an amazing trip, combining the two tours with a week and a half in between. Tommaso Pante and Alfio DiMauro were our guides and they each gave us the absolute best tours possible. The Southern Italy tour covers especially diverse destinations. This tour also introduced me to buffalo mozzarella, liquor crema melone (a melon "lemoncello"), and Neapolitan pizza, all of which I considered to be life changing. 2011 - London, England, and Scotland. It seemed like a fun idea to do all three tours in a row, but that was a bit much. We did enjoy all three tours, but definitely would have liked time off between them. 2012 - Village Turkey. This tour felt poorly thought out. One of our stays was in Izmir, one of Turkey's largest cities. To me, that would have been like staying in Naples on the Village Italy tour. We had a weak guide and the tour just didn't work. But, after that tour, we spent a week in the Old Town of Rhodes and then flew on to Athens for the Athens & the Heart of Greece tour. David Willett was our guide and this tour more than made up for our time in Turkey. It was everything we could have asked for in a tour and a guide. 2013 - Eastern Europe, followed by Bulgaria. E. Europe covered a lot of territory, but it was an amazing tour. Our guide, Peter Polczman, made this tour so special. Another excellent guide in Bulgaria (Stefan Bozadjiev), but this tour didn't feel well planned out. Good chances to meet locals, which I loved.

Posted by
556 posts

Wow Nancy! thanks for the rundown! I can tell you definitely had your favorites! Interesting to hear about the ones you didn't love as much as the others.

When I went to Turkey, I loved Istanbul as well as all the people and guide on my tour, but interestingly, I found I missed being on the bus, so as a "tour" I was mildly disappointed. I find I enjoy meeting other people on the tour as much as I do seeing other places and I missed the time on the bus to really connect with others. Everything was so packed in for the city tour (obviously there's LOTS to do in Istanbul) that there seemed to be less down time for chatting. This is not a reflection on Turkey or the way the RS Tour was set up, just my preference for more time together as a group. It could also be because it was only 7 days long too.

Thanks for sharing!
Edited for typos. :)

Posted by
260 posts

I have been on several tours, the last being the Adriatic, which I just returned from. I would love to hear more information about the Greek tour, and the Sicily tour. I'm interested in both. I loved the village French tour, and had a great guide. We had wonderful guides for three Italy trips: Jamie, his wife Nina and the "other" Nina (Bernardi). I think we actually liked the itinerary do the southern Italy trip the best, as we went to places we wouldn't have ordinarily gone on our own. I'm not very interested in taking trips to Ireland. Scotland, Wales or Anyone, since we've been there on our own, and I figure if I can speak the language, I can do okay on my own. I didn't care for the Belgium and Holland trip. We also didn't care much for that guide, who was disorganized. The Adriatic trip was very interesting, although I didn't bond all that much with other tour members, which was unusual. Many of them were from one geographic location, leaving this northerner to feel a bit left out. In fact, most of the Rick Steves trip are heavily centered on folks from the Northwest and California. Nothing against them, but a bit more diversity is always nice.

Posted by
104 posts

2013 Heart of France Tour - Loved it. Especially loved the French Countryside. I would LOVE to see a tour that has more than one day in Normandy. Our guide was excellent but one day was not enough. I would like to have stayed in more of the little towns and toured the many museums. My favorite town on this tour was Bourges. We had an excellent local guide. The Cathedral was better then Notre Dame in Paris for many reasons. Beautiful architecture, windows, the Bishop's garden. Quiet and stunning, not a crowd circus like Paris.

I vote for a Normandy and North of France tour!!!

Posted by
104 posts

Packing - I purchased a Rick Steves roller and stuck to the one suitcase. I was really glad I did. Rolling and hauling luggage can be a pain. We spent 3 weeks taking trains all over Germany. The packing light really paid off.. Laundromat in France was a little confusing!! Figured it out.

Posted by
360 posts

We are RS Alumni from Best of Italy 2007. We absolutely looooooved this tour, our guide Mary Carlson and driver Bruno. This was our first trip to Continental Europe and we were very nervous. We trained to Varenna one day before the tour and had an extra day to explore, thus 3 nights instead of two. Since 2007 we again travelled to Italy in 2012 (we were hooked)with another couple and spent a minimum of 3 nights to 7 nights in each location which included Venice, Rome, 7 days in Umbria, including Assisi, Spoleto, Orvieto, Bevagna etc; a week in Puglia, where we visited Aberobello, Matera, Ostuni etc. a week in Tropea, Calabria (vacation from our vacation) and 10 days in Sicily, a total of 40 days. We would love to take another RS tour, specifically Village Italy or Sicily (14 days minimum) but would like to have a minimum of 3 nights in each location. Now that we've experienced Italy twice, we don't want to run from city to town so quickly. When we travelled on our own we were very comfortable using trains, metro and driving due to our "training" on RS tour but know that we missed a lot not being on the tour, with the local guides presenting the highlights of the areas that we were visiting. As we Boomers retire, I hope that longer trips will be supported and developed. Just one couples opinion. Happy Travels!

Posted by
1270 posts

Sherry mentioned staying three days in a location. The Paris and Provence tour isn't offered anymore but that was one thing I liked about that tour. We stayed three nights in Paris, Vaison la Romaine, Arles, and Villefranche sur Mer. We did day trips from each but didn't have to move around as much. I've also done the Barcelona/Madrid tour which stayed three nights in one city and four in the other. I'd like to see more tours with at least three nights in one location.

Posted by
672 posts

Laura, we loved the RS tour of Greece. It definitely was one of our favorites for many reasons. We enjoyed seeing Athens, but the rest of the tour is what made it so special. We enjoyed each of the towns we stayed in so much that I can hardly come up with any favorites. When we went in 2012, there were only two guides leading this tour and they had planned and organized it with great care and attention. It truly felt like one of the best planned tours we've been on - everything just seemed to fit together well. David Willett was our guide and he was extraordinarily generous with his time. He very frequently said that he was planning to have dinner at such and such restaurant and invited any of us to join him. Because of that, we ate far better (and cheaper) than we normally would. He truly was actively there for us 24/7.

About bonding with the group - We had one tour where there was an extended family group that didn't mix much with the group and that definitely affected the dynamics. But, for the most part, families mix right in and we've enjoyed them all. I think you just hit an odd group and that's pretty unusual for RS tours.

Posted by
2786 posts

We just completed our 12th RS tour (Greece) in the last 13 years, one every year. We are often asked which one was our favorite to which we respond that all of them had their strong points and few had weak points. We usually ask the inquirer what they are most interested in, what time of year they are planning on going, and if there is anything that they would rather not visit (lots of ruins or museums, etc). We hope to be taking the Bulgaria tour next year since we have not taken that one yet and they apparently are only offering it every other year.

Posted by
260 posts

Charlie: do they still offer that tour? Sounded interesting to me in the past

Posted by
2403 posts

We have been on the following tours: Village Italy, Adriatic, Greece, Loire Valley. Enjoyed them all, but, unlike others, I would not rank Adriatic near the top. We did not bond with the guide, and there were two large groups traveling together, which limited our abbility to socialize. Not RS tours fault, but the way it was. The Loire Valley was a great tour, marred only by nearly continuous rain for the first week. We finished the tour in Nice, rented a car and stayed a week in the lovely village of Lourmarin ( a flat rented through VRBO) and did day trips to small villages. That was a great way to unwind from the structure of the tour (no bus at 8, packing, unpacking, etc.). Village Italy was a real treat all around, with the most to do on free days that we have found. But, hands down, our favorite was Greece. We had Colin who was our best guide. Greece, once outside of Athens is beautiful, the people were warm, and the food...well, you could live on the tomatoes! There is so much of Europe we want to see, but I'd love to return to Greece. I'm hoping RS will add a tour that covers the north area. For next year we are choosing between Spain, or returning to France for the eastern tour.

Posted by
8009 posts

I started reading this thread when I was on the RS Ireland tour last month and planned to post when I got back. So far I have done Heart of Italy in May 2013 and Ireland June 2014.

Tour of Ireland: I thought the Ireland tour was fine or as a friend of my parents' used to characterize things...good but not wonderful. Ireland was not my first destination choice but my SIL and her sister/husb wanted to go to Ireland so we had a family group of 5 including my brother and me. The guide, Stephen McPhilemy who was an awesome story-teller (yes, laughed to the point of tears) and well-versed in history and culture was quite enjoyable. There was really much I didn't like, but there were no real Wow! moments either. We were totally fogged in the days we did both Cliffs of Moher (really, you could not even see the edge of the Cliffs!) and Giant's Causeway. Weather can't be changed and altho the itinerary on the Giant's Causeway day could be switched a bit we still encountered fog thru the whole day. I did not enjoy Belfast or Derry particularly in a big Irish bus driving thru neighborhoods that are tense. It did help me understand some of the history but it was not enjoyable. I hated seeing the big piles of wood being built for the bonfires for tomorrow. I am vegan and found many Irish restaurants were familiar with vegetarian (lots of cheese/cream) eating but not familiar with vegan eating (no cheese/cream). Some were helpful in assisting me to figure out choices, some were not. The tour group itself was a lot of fun. Interestingly, in relation to the comment upthread about groups being made up of Northwesterners, our tour had a number of related/loosely related folks from Ohio. I think 11 out of 28 were in this sub-group plus another random 2 from Ohio. There were 6 from the NW, the 5 in my family group and another solo from the Seattle area. I am glad I went to Ireland, but don't feel a pull to go back.

Heart of Italy, May 2013: This trip was amazing. It was my first international trip since back in the 80's and my first trip to Italy. There were WOW! moments every day. I loved Italy! I loved the countryside, the culture, the food, the history, the people. This trip I went with my brother, SIL and their 2 20-something sons. We had a marvelous bonding time but also enjoyed the whole tour group. Everyone mixed really well and enjoyed each other's company. The food was wonderful and finding vegan selections at every meal was so easy I was surprised. The guide, Trina Kudlacek went above and beyond. The younger nephew expressed an interest in the Medicis. When we were with a local guide I would look around and see Trina pulling the nephew off to view something else directly related to the Medicis. She really made it special for him and in turn special for us. I am going back to Italy!

I've got some more RS tours in the pipeline. I'm doing 21 day Best of Europe in August, which is odd because I am not sure I will enjoy the fast pace here. However, the first time I picked up a RS Tour Brochure I wanted to take this one, so I am doing it. I am also meeting my brother and SIL for Village Italy which looks like a wonderful itinerary.

2015?? Well, Scotland for sure. Maybe. Or how about GAS? Southern Italy? Sicily? Too many to choose from! My goal is to get enough $50 rebates from previous travel to take care of my single supplement, lol!

In the meantime, last Fall I also sandwiched in a couple of Road Scholar tours, one good, one not-so-good. I decided I like the Rick Steves tours better as they move at a faster pace and the tour members are a more able group. I love the no-grumps policy altho one slipped thru the filter on the Ireland trip (didn't really affect any of us). Road Scholar doesn't have that in place and it made a difference and they should!

Posted by
688 posts

I have never been on a RS tour....heck, neither my husband nor I have ever been to Europe! We hope to remedy this next spring (April 2015) and plan to book the 21 day Europe tour as soon as it is available next month!

I have read all the reviews from previous years and have really learned a lot. We are early 50 year olds and figure we need to take this tour while our bodies are still cooperative ;)

I am trying to read as much as I can and have several RS books. The only question I have is regarding the before and after tour days. Since neither one of us are retired yet, days off work will be pretty limited. I figured we could hopefully leave 2 days prior to the tour start (which really puts us in Amsterdam 1 day early) and possibly stay the night the tour ends and head back to mid America the next day. I wish we could stay another day in Paris after the tour but that is nearly impossible. My question is, is it smart to stay in the same hotel as the tour group for both the before and after tour stays? We aren't familiar with transportation systems in either city. How do you arrange transportation to/from airports? Does anyone have any recommendations/suggestions?

Posted by
260 posts

The Rick Steves office should be able to assist you with information on the hotels. I think if you book I'm not in advance, staying at the hotels hopefully will not be a problem. Of course, mention you are with the Rick Steves groups when you book. The Rick Steves guidebooks give you excellent information on transportation to and from hotels, or just how to have to get into town from the airport or train station. You can also try Google maps or MapQuest, to get step-by-step directions from train station to hotel etc.

Posted by
260 posts

Thanks for all the input on Greece. I will also be curious to see if the Bulgaria trip, if it is offered in 2015, has changed from the trip described as not very well organized. Both sound interesting to me.

Posted by
8009 posts

Kathy, in my experience it is much easier to stay in the tour hotel the night before the tour. You are notified several months ahead on your tour as to which hotels are your first and last. I did not book quickly enough when we did Heart of Italy and the tour hotel was full so we stayed down the street. That meant moving luggage the day the tour started which bit some in to the sightseeing day. The hotels are usually wonderful in that they will hang on to your luggage during the day while you tour. For Ireland, I booked the hotel as soon as we were notified of the 1st hotel so we got in and it worked really well. In the reservation I told them I would be starting on the RS tour and they had me stay in the same room.

I've got my night before the tour booked for Haarlem in August. I didn't book right away because I was uncertain as to what I was going to do ahead of time and when that finally came together I tried to book. The direct hotel website showed no vacancy, but there was availability on booking.com. I wound up emailing the hotel asking about a reservation and they made one for me that way. They were awesome!

Staying in the same hotel also is good in case you check luggage and it gets separated from you. Gives the airline one more day of you being at the same place to have it catch up with you!

Having said this though, in your instance, I might stay in Amsterdam the night/s before so you don't have to travel back and forth if you plan to do some sightseeing in Amsterdam ahead of time. Altho if you go in April perhaps you will want to do the Keukenhof Gardens which may be able to be done from Haarlem. (Someone here will know!!)

I would definitely book the Paris hotel for the night after the tour ends if you want to stay another day or so.

Posted by
5487 posts

Kathy, when I did the Berlin, Prague and Vienna tour, I was able to stay in the "tour hotel" for two night prior to the start of the tour. It was great. I was able to visit some spots not on our tour and beat the jet lag. :)

Pam

Posted by
524 posts

Kathy, you also inquired about transportation from airport to hotel. When you get the information about the first and last hotels included will be detailed instructions included on how to get to the first one Usually, there will be several different suggested methods to get reach it, whether it be by taxis, bus, or metro, from the most expensive to the least. I would highly recommend staying in the tour hotels. I have always contacted the hotels directly when booking a room. If you decide to book tour hotels be sure to inform them you are with the RS Tour beginning on your particular tour date. I hope you enjoy your tour.

Posted by
11 posts

The first tour I took was the Heart of Italy in 2009. Arrived a day before the tour in Florence and did some sightseeing on our own. I am not much of a shopper overseas, but the leather coats were amazing and affordable and I picked one up before we met the tour group. Our group was great; this might be my favorite group of personalities of any tour group, really nice. The guide was amazing, and guided us through Rome on May Day (I try to avoid May 1 at all costs now). The extra day we booked in Rome, she made reservations for five of us to visit the Borghese Gallery. Really went the extra mile for us. I loved this tour, and picked it because it visited the Cinque Terre. It rained the day we arrived, but that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for this leg of the trip. Our amazing guide arranged an impromptu happy hour with local wine.

In 2010, I visited Prague and Budapest with RS. A nice group of people, but a large chunk were a family travelling together, and didn’t really get to know them until the last night. The tour guide was excellent, and has been featured on the RS video of Prague. It was interesting going to the baths in Budapest, and cruising down the Danube. The old town of Prague is beautiful, and our hotel was right in the thick of things. I still got lost in the old city however. Before the tour started, I spent a few days in Vienna, which turned out to be my favorite city of the three. The only negative is that each country had its own currency!

In 2012 I took the Paris and the Heart of France tour. Arrived a day early to visit the Eiffel Tower and the cemetery, Arc de Triomphe, and Sacré Cœur. I was surprised how much I liked Paris, and being in the tour was great for seeing all the popular churches and museums, no waiting in line. I want to go back to Paris. The tour also covered Loire valley- stunning chateaus, Mont St Michel, Normandy and D-Day beaches, and back to Paris. It was a jammed packed and probably more strenuous than the other tours, and they are all active. (Try schlepping your luggage, even if it is only 1 small bag, to the top of Mt St Michel) I loved the variety of this tour-art, churches, castles, history all in one. The only downside to this particular group- the average age of this group was considerable higher than the previous tours, and there were certain issues that had to be dealt with, which I did mention in my evaluation. I felt it was worth commenting on because I didn’t think it was fair to the tour guide (who was also great) nor to the other tour participants. I stayed an extra night in Paris on the back end to visit Versailles which had the most tourists in one place after the Vatican.

In May, I did Barcelona and Madrid. I have wanted to return to Spain since my visit to Costa del Sol when I was in high school, which was the first European country I visited. This vacation was the perfect antidote to the most awful Midwestern winter on record. Sunshine every day! I smile just thinking about it. A great group of people, and two great cities, I fell in love with both, but I think Barcelona has more fans. The tour guide was quite the story teller and was a wonderful ambassador for his country. One of the best ever! There was a day trip to Toledo, and I added extra nights on the end to Cordoba and Sevilla- which are easily reached by high speed trains. A few other people from the tour were in Sevilla, and we all met up for a really fun lunch after visiting the Alcazar. Viva Espana!

Posted by
852 posts

We have done 5 RS tours. The first was Village Italy and the last was Easter France, at the time it was called Villages and Vineyards of Eastern France. Those two have been our favorites. We are looking at another France tour and the Greece tour, maybe a back to back. Eastern Europe was also a great tour and we had a phenomenal tour guide there! But we'll definitely keep doing the RS tours.

Posted by
40 posts

I love Italy!! I have taken the Venice, Florence and Rome tour, Southern Italy, Village Italy and now I am going to Sicily. I have taken the Paris and Berlin, Prague and Vienna tour and enjoyed them but any place in Italy is my favorite. I am trying to decide on a tour which would include Northern Italy for 2015. I want to see Lake Como and the mountains in that area.

Posted by
524 posts

We have been on 9 tours. My very favorite was Village Italy and my least favorite was Belgium/The Netherlands. The VI was just so much fun, with so much to do! We enjoy nature, the small villages, and the social activities that were a part of the tour. We enjoy the people, the food, the wine, we dubbed it the "I Need to Join Over-eaters Anonymous Tour". The B/N tour had opportunities to explore, we rode bikes, but just disappointed us. Now, I am undecided which tour to take 2015, the Sicily Tour or Southern Italy Tour, can't do both due to pet boarding concerns-don't want to leave them for so long. I need a nudge from anyone who has taken either tour. Please help! (I know Sicily has new itinerary, but give input anyway.)