C's evaluation of our just-completed RS Portugal tour using the "old" evaluation format:
1) most impt factors in choosing tour - This was our eighth RS tour. We like RS b/c there's a lot of opportunity for interaction with locals, no pressure to buy extras, "buddies" are usually like-minded, responsible and considerate, and guides and drivers are great.
2) favorite "wow" moment
C - toss-up between cork farm and winery - we especially learned a lot about running a small business in Portugal
D - Fatima, b/c it’s amazing to see what a huge operation the modern pilgrimage business is
3) hotels/meals/experiences - any especially good/bad
Hotels - all good in their own way. Many did not have hot water for coffee/tea in the room and lighting was poor in most (C always brings a headlamp and we both bring decent flashlights). Many had a system for turning off lights with your hotel key card (which could not always be defeated by sticking an old credit card in the slot) which means that one partner cannot go to sleep and still have electricity on while the other is out of the room. All had kleenex in the room this year. The hotel in Obidos had a fiddly way of operating the door (from both the inside and out) that should have had video instructions! Lighting on the stairs of the hotel in Lisbon was poor enough to make them a bit treacherous for folks with even mild vision problems; the hotel offers complimentary passes to a handful of museums but the only one that we might have been interested in has been closed for remodeling for some time (and the staff did not mention that).
Food - OK to v. good, nothing to knock your socks off, although that may just be the nature of Portuguese cuisine b/c off-tour food from restaurants recommended by the food tour guide in Porto and native Portuguese on tripadvisor.pt was better, but not amazingly better. Many buddies felt deprived of leafy green veggies. Our favorite on-tour group meals were at the Lisbon fado, the cork farm and the winery. OTOH, our guide kept us well-supplied with local treats and firewater - some of which, such as queijadas, were terrific. (BTW, the Pastéis de Belém (de nata) obtained by the guide were far superior to those obtained by the "best" from Manteigaria recommended by the RS book). And the tour included a highly-educational, excellent food and history tour of the Porto run by Taste Porto. Hotel breakfasts were generally your standard hotel-anywhere-in-the-world breakfasts, although the Lisbon hotel also had good sardines.
Experiences - D. liked Fatima for the reasons in (2) above. C. liked all of the opportunities (including an optional visit to a ceramics factory) to learn about running a small business in Portugal. Portugal is also famous for its ceramic tiles and C noted with envy that one of our buddies, sporting a really good camera, seemed to be in heaven capturing tiles and textures.
4) pace? any way to make use of your time more efficient?
Compared to our other RS tours, the pace was gentle - b/c bus distances are short, generally no more than 2-ish hours apart, which made for very civilized start times and well-timed bathroom breaks.