Please hear me out... people need to make decisions about their personal travel styles and preferences. My daughter and I have used Rick's books and travel tips for 20+ years planning our fully independent travels in Europe. This year, well, actually in 2020, I decided to try a tour. It was COVID cancelled so I rebooked and just completed the VFR in 10 days tour a couple of weeks ago. It was a good experience because now I know that a group tour isn't for me, no matter how great the itinerary, director, or the group members were.
What I learned: For all the emphasis on "small group travel" having 29 people trying to navigate congested streets and traffic in Florence or Rome was an exercise in herding cats. We walked so slow it was nearly backwards and the wait to ensure the group all made it across a street was painful. Our group was too large to make it into some sites under COVID protocols so we had to do them on our own. Even an included site, like the Pantheon, did not have an actual "tour" (just an admission ticket) as I assumed so I wasn't prepared with Rick's audio tour. That was a heartbreaking omission.
When it comes to meals I am always going to look or act like a tourist. Eating multi course meals that end after 10:00 at night is not for me. I don't really care if only tourists eat at 7:00. I need time to digest before going to bed (chronic GERD) which I tend to do by 10:00. I am way more an early to bed, early to rise person. Speaking of meals... included breakfasts ran the gamut from adequate to really good, and were typical for Europe. Only one included dinner hit the mark (Florence). Our final going away dinner was horrible (huge and super salty) and another meal that just. wouldn't. end.
Rick's walks through cities and sites would have served me as well as many of the tours and given me the opportunity to stop and focus on my interests rather than be constantly on the move. There was plenty of free time to fill in with my interests but some of the group excursions left me in the wrong place at the wrong time to continue with my plans.
The quality of the guides, both the local guides and the RS tour director were outstanding. The bus was large, clean and comfortable. The early access/skip the lines at sites was seamless. I just think I could have planned it all myself and not spent so much time feeling frustrated by the size of the group and the inherent challenges posed by a large group. I am a compulsive planner by nature. I may, for hoots and giggles, recreate the itinerary filling in with private or small group guides at some sites to see if the the cost would come out in the same neighborhood.
As I said, there wasn't anything "wrong" with this RS tour, I have just determined that group touring isn't for me. Now I know!