As requested. Would love for the RS Tour community to give feedback similar to the old trip reviews.
Thanks hopefully this can help others.
As requested. Would love for the RS Tour community to give feedback similar to the old trip reviews.
Thanks hopefully this can help others.
RS 21 day Oct 2015
1) Small group was only 23 including the guide.
2) All hotels were adequate/good and only one I found to be sub par. I wouldn't stay there again but it wasn't so bad as to even make a complaint.
3) The tour guide and tour mates - interesting, knowledgeable, flexible, and ON TIME for everything. I don't know if everyone being on time is standard or we just lucked out, but it certainly made traveling more pleasant.
4) Special guides at museums really gave insight into what we were seeing and explained themes to look for that carried over in multiple pictures. I'm pretty sure that without the guides we would have wandered around aimlessly looking at things and thinking, "I remember that from art history, or that's pretty". Without the special guides (who a few times were our own guide) the museums would not have been nearly so interesting.
5) Group meals half the time gave us time to socialize and most were average/good, two I thought great, but one was pretty bad and that surprised me.
1) One night stays in an interesting location or two night stays when there isn't much to do outside of the organized part of the tour. I loved Rothenburg and would have loved to spend an extra day there exploring. We did not care too much for Bacharach itself. We had a great walking tour in Bacharach and went to Rheinfels Castle which was fun even though rainy but there really wasn't anything else to do there.
I would agree with all of Nance's "liked best" but I have to say my "least" would be that once in a while (not always by a long shot!), the city walking tour sometimes takes up just a little too much time. That said, do you intend this to be a topic for specific tours? I ask that as I, too, would love to see a more comprehensive feedback format for tour reviews.
I like the size of the tour: maximum of 28 people. I also like the "no grump policy" and just the right amount of free time. The thing I liked the least was having consecutive group dinners with only one choice of food and no access to any other food.
Yosemite, I would not have liked that at all. Except for one of the excellent meals and the horrible meal, we always had 2-4 choices of meals. What tour were you on where they were no choices at group meals?
This thread on the same subject was posted 11 months ago, got lots of responses and has some good information: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/what-do-you-like-best-and-least-in-a-rick-steves-tour
We have done 3 RS tours. I like the small groups, no grump policy (which doesn't mean I liked everybody on the tour but we all got along), the camaraderie of the group, not having to get from point a to b on our own, great guides. That being said when we travel on our own we have time to linger at places longer than a group might and go to places that a tour won't necessarily be going. We get to choose the hotels. We do our own research in advance when traveling independently because we know we won't have a guide to feed us the info. We also get to eat what we like rather than what has been chosen for us by the tour. So it's always a tough choice as to whether or not to do a tour or travel independently. My husband is leaning towards tours now as he is getting older. This year we are doing one tour (Tanzania/Zanzibar) and one independent trip (Iceland).
I was on the 17 Day Best of Italy Tour. We were at an agriturismo farm that was located away from any town. One night we had lamb and the next night we had steak. I do not like lamb and there was no other choice and no place to buy anything. On all other group dinners there at least two choices for the main dish and if you didn't like either, you could walk into town. The good thing about Italian dinners, you usually won't leave the table hungry if you don't like one of the courses. I just had a hard time thinking of something I didn't like on our tour. I thought our tour was the best vacation that I have been on.
Four tours. On each one, we found the tour leaders to be very professional, smart, knowledgable and determined to make sure everyone learned something besides souvenir shopping. The bus drivers were good too - careful and skilled drivers.
I've tried to think of a negative, but couldn't.
The tour descriptions warn that the tours are active, you have lots of walking, you carry your own luggage, you might be in hotels with no elevators or air conditioning. There is no pick up or drop off at the airport, so you have to make your own transport arrangements on the first and last days. All of that helps shape the clientele. On both of our RS tours, we found our fellow tour members to be laid back, easy-going, adventurous, and self-sufficient people. The one time we traveled with a different tour company, we had some group members who were "high maintenance." They expected to be pampered and they whined when things weren't up to their expectations. It's disappointing to be on vacation, enjoying ourselves, and have to listen to other people complain. We haven't found that on our RS tours. Trying to think of what we like "least" about a RS tour and I haven't come up with anything.
Hi thanks for the replies. I posted this because the old one is closed to new replies. If you can list what tour you went on it would be great.
Maybe the official RS folks will someday bring back the old reviews!
We took one My Way tour where I had a problem. Our "escort" knew little about our destinations. I like the independence of RS travelers but I could have used more help from the escort. It was the GAS tour and I don't think it is offered now. The regular RS guides are usually wonderful. Sometimes the accommodations are a little uncomfortable, Iike extremely small bathrooms.
My Way Alpine Tour mid-June 2015.
Best - 1 RS staff, Cynthia was our indefatigable, incredibly knowledgeable, always smiling mentor, guide, adviser, and good friend. Josje was the most beautiful bus driver in Europe, always perfectly manicured and styled in her elegant driving clothes and high heels [!] as she loaded/unloaded our luggage , and just as friendly and funny as Cynthia. What a pair.  the few sunny hours in the Alpi di Siusi before the hours- long downpour.  The camaraderie in spite of the extremely diverse group.
Worst - the weather. Hardly saw the alps for the clouds. Never saw a Swiss alp.
The hotels were fine, good locations, not much schlepping, with good restaurants only a few minutes' walk away.
I think I have the same answer for "best" and "least" liked: Being on an inaugural tour.
Best: it was fun getting to try out new things, watch our great guides Roy and Debi Jo make decisions on the fly, seeing Adrian trying to back the coach out of an impossibly narrow lane as Roy strrreeeetttcccchhhed his not-tall self as much as possible to pull the tree limbs out of the coach's way, walking along the downs on a magnificent day as the guinea pigs for a hike Rick wanted added to the tour (thumbs up!), experimenting with climbing a tor in Dartmoor - could we make it??? [Answer - yes, some of the group did. I myself didn't go quite to the top. I figured I could get up it, but I knew there's no way I could climb down. I'd have to start life anew in Dorset, perhaps as a shepherd. Or cautionary example to future tour groups.]
Least: The guides were experimenting with timing and scheduling, again, making decisions on the fly. On several days, way too much was squeezed into a day, leaving us tired, muddled with too much new information, and lacking the free time that makes RS tours the best.
But my overall assessment: what a great tour.
Least: The "name game" in all forms. Some people have a problem remembering the names of eight or ten new people much less twenty four or five. Then too, some folks are just reserved and/or shy and prefer not to divulge much information about themselves. Some people are also put off by feeling obligated to know a lot about their "bus buddies" and/or others. Left to their own devices, the members of most groups will gel naturally and names will be learned naturally. Knowing a person's name and a whole bunch of stuff about them are two entirely different things.
Chani! Tell me she didn't drive the bus in those heels! My word. I just burst out laughing. What great fun.
I agree, the name game is the worst. I've been on 7 RS tours and loved all of them, but I always dread the name game. Am anxious for days just thinking about it.
So been on 4 RS tours mostly city tours and lucky have never had to play the name game. Now I am dreading that number 5 coming up soon we will play it. I am terrible with names. Can you ever say no thank you to these things?
Absolutely you can say no to the Name Game! You know it will be coming so I would speak to your guide after your first meet up and ask if they do the Name Game. Tell them it's not in your comfort level and you will be bowing out of that. Then ask when they usually do it so you can make yourself scarce for a few minutes. On my Ireland tour a couple of people headed for the bus when it was clear that was what we were going to do. That was only my 2nd tour so I was not wise to it yet as we had not done it on tour #1.
Many don't...my Best of England guide said he would never do it again after one tour member burst in to tears during it. He immediately started calling people by name, giving nicknames to people who had the same names as others (Fred the Greater - the older Fred and Fred the Dapper - the Fred who wore a hat). Yep, we had all the names down by about Day 2 with no pain.
There's a difference between the Name Game and Buddy Introduction. The Name Game is just standing in a circle, repeating all the names in turn. It seems silly, and can be stressful, but it works, and there's no personal information shared. Buddy Introduction is different; in that one you do ask your tour buddy about his/her bio, and then present it to the group. Some people make up stuff: CIA agent, left-handed trapeze artist, POTUS, etc. Have fun with it, or opt out.
Its just an icebreaker. No penalty or prize.
Re: "Have fun with it, or opt out." Why should one be put in the position of having to opt out in the first place? Introducing oneself at the start of the trip is ok -- one can say as much or little about her/him self as desired. There isn't any pressure on anyone to memorize names, be more open than one likes, or to run the risk of being too inquisitive. The "name game" in it's several versions is the only reason I've ever considered for not taking a RS tour.
Oh yes, the buddy introduction. Much worse than the name game. You stand up and give a speech about your buddy to 27 people. It would be very uncomfortable telling your buddy that you didn't want to talk about him.
Fortunately I've only done Buddy intro 1 out of 7 times and now that I count it up, Name Game 3 out of 7.
TC, I've been on 10 RS tours. One one of them we did buddy introductions, and on two we've done the name game. The name game takes about 15 minutes. 15 minutes out of a 7 to 21 day tour packed with wonders isn't too bad, IMHO. Please reconsider eschewing RS tours just because there's a slight chance you might be asked to repeat everyone's name one time, in public.
I've been on 2 RS tours. On the first, I missed the introductory session, we never played names or buddies. On the second, at the introductory session, we introduced ourselves to the group - name, residence, why we chose the tour, anything else we wanted to add. A day or two later we did a pleasant variation of the name game, with everyone repeating all the names in a chorus, twice around the circle. That helped people learn the names without putting anyone on the spot. And it took about 2 minutes.
And, yes, Josje drove in those shoes - expertly through the Alps. She did wear other shoes when she went hiking though.
I have taken 2 RS tours and had a fantastic time!
On 1 trip, we did the name game all chiming in so no one had to do it alone. Our group had fun with it. I think the tour guide and how they frame it to the group, helps take the pressure off any one individual.
And, on that trip, we did the buddy intro, and you could do as much or as little as you like.
On the other trip, we did the name game but not the buddy intro.
I am going on my 3rd tour in October- the Best of Italy in 17 days.
1 - Paris & the Heart of France in 2014
2 - Berlin, Prague & Vienna in 2015
Best - ditto to what most of you have posted. No grumps policy- who wants to be around complaining, high maintenance people?
Worst - occasional meal that I don't like without an opportunity to order something else, or because we are on the run to travel to the next destination, that there is no time to pick up a snack. IMO, a minor thing. Even when I am traveling independently, this can happen. Even RS is not perfect but what is? Especially, when I am going solo or with a friend, we make mistakes which end up as funny stories.
You could call me a Ricknik but I don't mind....
Hi LA, I've done 6 RS tours and am signed up for #7. Rick's casual travel style works for me. I don't have a problem finding my own way to Europe and carrying my own luggage.
In the past few years there have been more grumps, people who didn't read the "rules" and made things unpleasant for others with their complaining.
The other thing that changed has been the food. On the first 4 tours we had a few selections for the group dinners (sometimes our own special menu listing 3 apps, 3 entrees, and 3 desserts to choose from). On the last 2 tours everyone was served the same thing for the group dinners. They ranged about 50/50 from very nice meals to "not so much". I'd really prefer to have a choice.
Bottom line, I love RS tours. I wouldn't consider traveling to Europe with any other company.
Thanks I find it interesting about the food. I hope tour alums are letting the RS people know they are not happy with the lack of choices for food. We have been on 4 tours. Each we always had a choice of food. I hope we get lucky and on our upcoming BOE14 we will still have some choices i have one very fussy teen with me
Thanks for the posting!
Donna, maybe it depends on the tour? Or the guide? We just returned recently from the Village South England tour, and I don't remember any group meal where we weren't given a choice. Usually there were two or three mains listed, and sometimes a choice of first courses and desserts as well. In fact, I can't remember any tour we've been on (out of 10), where only one choice was given. Oh, wait: on our Best of Rome tour we went to a cooking demonstration at a lovely little Sicilian restaurant, and there was only one choice. There may have been a couple of others - there probably were - but it certainly hasn't been common.
My best guess is, it's the venue that limits what's available. Just a guess, though.
Been on a number of tours and can only remember one meal (an agratourismo) where we did not have a choice. Perhaps not the greatest choice, but a choice nevertheless.
I have taken 5 RS Tours in 3 countries. My favorite features have been (1) uniformly excellent guides, very personable, well organized, highly informed about the local history, lifestyle, art, etc. Guides have always been available to provide individualized guidance related to good use of free time, post-tour travel, etc. Generally excellent local guides as well. (2) experiences beyond the normal tourist sites, such as cooking demonstrations, small town or farm visits, informal musical evenings, etc. These are often things that are difficult to know about or do on your own. (3) excellent bus drivers and spacious, comfortable buses. (4) I have found that hotels have ranged from adequate to really excellent; several times I have been pleasantly surprised by superb hotels, more luxurious than I expected, given the reasonable prices of the tours. (5) I have found group meals to range from very good to superb, I do not remember any poor meals or disappointments. But then, I love most all foods except radishes, which I can take or leave. (6) fellow tour members have always been friendly and easy-going, I do not remember any problems at all. The only problem I have is not really a problem, but a reality of the itineraries: the tours include so many places, often with very full days, that after several days it is often difficult to remember just where you saw or experienced what. Thank goodness that with digital photography you can take many photos which are then maintained in chronological order. I try to take photos of signs which will remind me which castle, church, market, small town, etc. is which. Also, while I highly respect that RS has maintained his speciality and focus on Europe, I would love to see similar tours offered in Asia, Latin America, Africa, etc. Sometimes I have found those, usually through individual or small speciality operators, not large companies.
If you arrange to bring in 25-30 guests at the same time for dinner in a US restaurant, they are likely to limit the choices as well. Otherwise you'll be there all night. On our tours, we were often given a choice ahead of arrival (i.e., on the bus before getting there) so that the restaurant could be ready. I don't believe these details are entirely at the tour leaders' discretion, but dictated by the itinerary, timing, and size of the restaurant. RS promotes small family-run restaurants, so finding ones willing to accommodate that large a group must be a challenge.
A like not mentioned by anybody:
RS Tours are not shopping-oriented.
Regarding menu choice or lack thereof at group meals, I have been on the Venice/Florence/Rome tour twice recently; once we had menu options at every group meal, and the other time we never had menu options. So I'm more inclined to think it's up to the guide, rather than dictated by the restaurants. Like others, I very much prefer having a choice of 2 or 3 mains.
Like best: extra room on the bus, and the inclusion of stops in smaller towns. Also, in general, the attitudes of fellow travelers have been great, but last summer, for the first time in seven tours, there was behavior by several tour members directed toward local people, that made me cringe to be associated with the group and which reflected very badly on Americans in general (not the tour guide's fault, at all).
People who have been on other companies' tours, or are used to cruiseship tipping, have a difficult time believing that RS tours do not expect or encourage tipping of the tour leader, local tour guides, or the bus driver. In fact I think they would get in trouble if they accepted a tip. That's a very welcome experience.
Best - awesome guide, wonderful local guides, such fabulous food, right amount of free time, fellow travelers.
Not sure if I can think of something I didn't like.
I concur with the positives above. Guides are great, you do way more in a day on tour than you could on your own. And this includes the local knowledge of the guide. On my last tour the guide made a few unscheduled detours to nearby sites. At some point, on your own, you just can't plan everything; it would be very time-consuming to scour a map of your route if driving on your own and find all the interesting places within 10-20 miles that might merit a 30-minute stop.
As for negatives, one I feel I should bring up is the room sharing if you travel solo. On the one hand I am truly grateful that a solo traveler has the option to take the tour for the same per-person price as a couple. Some tour companies have a mandatory surcharge. I've always accepted the assigned roomate and on 2 of the 3 trips it was great. On the 3rd the guy was fine, no problems there, but he didn't just snore he must have had sleep apnea. So he would go silent for a bit and then the most god-awful snoring and breathing would wake me up. I was exhausted in the morning, and, as the tour went on, for the whole day. It really detracted from the trip and if I go again solo I'll pony up the money for a non-shared room. I wish there was an option to have a non-shared room for less; many hotels in Europe have a small twin-bed room and I wouldn't mind a small room since I only use the room to shower and sleep.
@ Bill G
In some hotels, even if you pay the single supplement for your own room, you will get the teeny tiny single room. At least this happened to some of the singles on the two tours I have been on. There were a few complaints about the practice, especially since they were My Way tours and such a large percentage of the price of the tour goes toward hotel costs. Of course, in some hotels even a double room is ludicrously small by American standards. We could barely walk around our bed in Nice, and the shower was so tiny I couldn't appropriately lather up without accidentally turning off the shower! Thankfully that was the exception and not the rule. We were very pleasantly surprised by most of our accommodations on the My Way France tour.
We've been on 9 or 10 RS Tours, loved them all; his is the formula that works for us. We just "show up and have fun!" Here is what we like best:
- The tour guides, Exceptional. From history buffs to scholars, they provide the best combination of art history, local knowledge/language and are very interesting people. When they say they are there to help us in any way, they truly mean it, and have demonstrated this time and again.
- The balance of free time and group time together. Just right for our taste.
- The bus drivers. We always feel safe, they are very experienced.
- The pace. We started with city tours, which include the most walking, while we are still young.
- The de-emphasis on shopping (we aren't shoppers)
- The food, wine and restaurants, they never disappoint
- The hotels-- we like being right in the middle of the city center, and we like the individualism of family-owned hotels versus American-like business hotels. We do value the a/c and hotels safes, too.
What could be improved--
- The name game. A better option: Our last tour guide took photos of each of us on her iPad at the initial orientation, and the next morning she handed a b/w copy with all the pix/names on one sheet of paper so we could refer to it. We all felt like adults, not children, and within a couple of days we all knew each others' names. Brilliant.
- The initial group orientation is important, but honestly a few tour guides talk and talk and talk and talk. Two hours is way too long; it can be done easily in 45 minutes (hour max). Not a great way to start a fabulous tour.
- The podcasts-- offer more of them. We've used these for some of the museums where the local guides are difficult to understand or hear among the large crowds. It's easy to follow along and much more information is available with the scripts and the maps. They are much better than the 'Whisper" systems that are used now. It's nice to have both. We've also used the walking guides from the RS Europe app available, those are great when we are on our own. We'd love to see more of them.
To summarize, each time we go on a RS tour we find ourselves planning our next one before we finish the end of the tour. That's how we know his formula works for us.