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What Do Like Best and Least in a Rick Steves Tour?

Back in 2015, I posted this question and received lots of interesting responses. Since then, there has been some new tours, changes to tours, and lots of people that have taken their first tour. I thought it would be interested to see if the readers still share the same likes and dislikes or if there has been some improvements in the tours. Unfortunately, the reviews posted on the tour website don't really give the reviewer an opportunity to expand on their likes or dislikes like this Forum does.

Here is a link to the 2015 posting

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/what-do-you-like-best-and-least-in-a-rick-steves-tour

Posted by
8203 posts

Hahaha...I answered first last time! (This possibly means I don't have a life??)

"Best:

Exceptional tour guides and (mostly) wonderful local guides
The other tour members
The itineraries

Least:

Generally I am not wild about craft type demos (mask making and glass blowing in Venice (21 day BOE), pottery in Deruta (Village Italy), alabaster carving (Heart of Italy) )
The one and only time I had a shared bath (Stechelberg Switzerland, 21 day BOE). I will admit that the hotel location was awesome!
There is really no way around this except for bringing a sack lunch, but lunch/touring stops combined. (Ireland) In future I will be more active about finding out ahead if the lunch stop is a tour stop so I can have a sack lunch planned and not have to waste time eating.

What about you?"

Same reasons now! I've done 8 RS tours at this point.

I do a lot more research now for any free time. I also try to arrive at least two nights before the tour starts because the start locations are usually pretty interesting.

Posted by
1928 posts

HA! Not wanting to risk repetition, I cannot improve upon nor add to what Pam said she liked best. Adding the one thing I dislike.......the short amount of time often spent at an overnight stop. I have found over the many, many tours I have taken, my most preferred tour is a week long stay in a location but 3 nights is good, 2 nights doable but 1 night stands?...Not my favorite! That said, the likes far outweigh the dislikes so if I'm not traveling on my own, I'm good with Rick's itineraries.

Posted by
3551 posts

I think they are quite costly as there are too many free days and some hotels are not up to par for the cost of the tour. Also carrying my own luggage with many hotels with stairs.

Posted by
1047 posts

What I would like to see changed is adding an extra day in some of the cities that have more to see or arriving earlier in the day. In other words, more three day stops instead of two days especially in cities like Venice, Rome, and Paris. Also, I think it can be challenging for some travelers to get to the start of a tour location or to get to a departing city from where the tour ends. I have traveled to Europe on my own for 5 trips before going on a RS Tour so I have no problems getting around, but I know a lot of people get stressed out because they have to get to a location to begin a tour and they have never traveled out of the country before taking a tour. A lot of other tour companies start the tour in a city that you can fly into. Some even hold your hand by meeting you at the airport. That may be too extreme for me, but I do think there is some merit to starting the tour in a city that you would be flying into rather than adding to the stress by making an inexperienced traveler get to some out of the way city on their first trip to Europe to begin their tour.

Posted by
560 posts

I have only taken one tour to date -- the Alpine My Way tour -- and it was fabulous. We liked the independence we had to hike in each site, but having a tour manager available to offer guidance. This tour allowed us to get to places we would never have tried to get to on our own, particularly Castlerotto, Italy. The hotels were quaint, offered excellent breakfasts, and in Hallstatt the hotel was definitely 5 star. What did I like least? I can't think of anything. I think RS sets its expectations well before you ever start, such as walking to the hotel with your luggage or walking up stairs. All this just added to the adventure.

Posted by
8203 posts

Yosemite, I think this is what helps weed out grumps. I have also done 8 Road Scholar tours. They are the meet-you-at-the-airport type tours if you arrange transport thru them. I do find on many of those tours that the group members are needier and - have some grumps on them. I also find that the Rick Steves office does give good instructions on how to get to the start of the tours altho truth be told, I did put off the GAS tour until last year because I was worried about navigating to the start in Trier as a solo traveler. I should not have worried. It was not that hard.

I forgot to say I love the Rick Steves emphasis on teaching you travel skills.

Posted by
223 posts

I'm going to be general here, but on the two tours I've taken the worst things were:

  1. Certain local guides
  2. The food

With respect to No. 1, in general the main guides are fine, and most of the local guides are as well. But I've come across a couple of stinkers, too.

On one tour, a local guide spoke in eye-rolling clichés about a significant historical event to the extent that it truly degraded the overall experience of the visit. I would have preferred to have had no guide at all than to have been forced to listen to another minute of that pablum.

Another local guide on the second tour droned on and on with such repetition about obvious things over and over and over and... well, you get the idea, that I ended up wandering away from the group and looked over the site on my own just to get away from the never-ending sound of that guide's voice. Even my very, very tolerant spouse agreed the repetition was both boring and insulting; as if the members of the group were t-o-o s-l-o-w to grasp the (rather obvious) concept the first two or three times it was presented. Similar to the first, the local guide on the second tour detracted from, rather than enhanced, the tour.

As for No. 2, again, the food is overall fine. It's palatable. It's certainly not lacking in quantity. But it is repetitious -- the selected restaurants are geared toward tourists and therefore each one of them tends to serve the few dishes characteristic of the locale. After several days, the last thing one would like was yet another meal with the very narrow range of dishes characteristic of that locale. Mix it up a bit. The locals certainly don't eat like that -- why should tourists?

Posted by
377 posts

We have taken 4 RS tours. Rookies compared to some folks on this forum. 😊
Best:
Tour leaders and local guides who are natives of the area you are visiting. This provides a depth and personal perspective to your experience you just can't replicate on your own no matter how many guide books you consult or how much research you do. Most (3/4) of our tour leaders were superb teachers with comprehensive knowledge of history, geology, botany, cultures, traditions etc. They encouraged thoughtful questions and circulated among all the tour members to discover unique areas of interest that they might be able to expand on.

Worst:
The quality of the food and hotels is not a great value. The tours are fairly expensive, and it is clear that you could often find better food and accommodations for much less money on your own. We understand how difficult it is to feed a larg group. It is also understandable that contractual commitments with hotels means they are basically " stuck" with certain hotels for an entire season.
Perfect World:
I love to research hotels and restaurants. My husband loves to research transportation and side trips. For us the perfect thing would be a Rick Steve's Travel School. You would arrange your own hotels and meals, but have the advantage of a leader and local guides. You could meet up at a specific location each morning and head out by bus or on foot. There would stil be free time with suggestions by the leader of how to spend it. There would still be camaraderie with tour members and the chance to eat or sightsee together. I realize this would work better for a city tour, but could be adapted for a bus trip as well.

Posted by
651 posts

Likes:
Quality, engaged guides. Most are truly extraordinary people.
Some local guides who really bring a place to life.
Centrally located hotels.
Some excellent restaurants.
Surprise stops not listed in itinerary.
Large buses with great drivers and on board refreshments.
Ample free time.
"Weeding" out process that minimizes the likelihood of tour group whiners.
Annual January reunion in Edmonds, WA.

Could be better

Some really small single rooms.(solo traveler)
Some very average restaurants.
Some local guides that talk longer than the subject matter warrants.
Short stays - would like to have more three night stays in order to have time to perhaps discover my own "back doors".
It would be helpful if tour hotel lists could include which ones (if any) offer laundry options.

Posted by
750 posts

Best:
1) excellent tour guides
2) good local cuisine
3) educational, l felt like I was on a college summer course

Worse:
1) Europeans cannot build a shower that's decent
2) wish there were more young people in the tour groups

Posted by
11261 posts

"Europeans cannot build a shower that's decent"

I've never taken a Rick Steves tour, but this cracked me up - because of its truth. Sure, many showers in Europe are fine, but others are just...not. I never appreciated US showers until I went to Europe. People worry about the toilets when they travel, but the showers are definitely more problematic.

Alas, going on your own rather than on an RS tour will not fix this problem, and I've found it in nicer hotels, not just in cheapies, so there's no good answer.

Posted by
3467 posts

Things we like the most include (with a few exceptions) great tour mates and guides. The one thing we dislike the most is "the name game". We've both lived in Europe and have traveled independently there so not starting the tour in a good "fly in" city and ending it in a good "fly out" city is not a big problem for us. It is, however, a real problem for some and perhaps some thought can be given to changing that.

Posted by
8203 posts

*"Europeans cannot build a shower that's decent"

I've never taken a Rick Steves tour, but this cracked me up - because of its truth. Sure, many showers in Europe are fine, but others are just...not. I never appreciated US showers until I went to Europe. People worry about the toilets when they travel, but the showers are definitely more problematic.*

Oh, agree with Harold, that is so funny! Yes, and I have learned the hard way to figure out the shower door opening and how to turn on the shower BEFORE I disrobe.

Posted by
3458 posts

Yes, the shower situation ...

I am not a small person, but also not as large as some I have seen while traveling. But the showers in many European hotels are so small I fit like a cork in a bottle when I manage to close the doors completely and the water does not flow past my waist and into the drain without considerable wiggling around by me. Or the shower is in a bath tub with that strange small piece of glass that doesn't seem to stop even a single drop of water from splashing out onto the bathroom floor.

Posted by
11613 posts

Showers - always an adventure! Some doors are so narrow (and with folding panels, no less), you should lather up before trying to enter!

Posted by
906 posts

DH will get in, get wet, open the doors and lather up, shut the doors and try to rinse. Usually good for a laugh unless we're really tired and sweaty and then it can get to you.

We've only taken two My Way tours and the only real dislike is the expense. It is nice not to have to worry about planning the lodging and transportation, particularly if you're a rookie or traveling with a group who may all have varying opinions, but you can most definitely save (I figure about half) by doing it on your own. The downside is you lose the camaraderie of the group, but even that is hit or miss.

Posted by
3 posts

I just returned from my first RS tour. I had a great time.

My likes:
- fabulous tour guide who provided insights and just enough commentary
- high quality breakfasts

My dislikes:
- being herded around like cattle with headsets (I felt very touristy and conspicuous and not at all going through the back door)
- one night stays anywhere
- at 49, being the youngest in the tour group (my group might have been very geriatric, but I was the youngest in my group by at least 15 years)
- bus seat claimers

Posted by
73 posts

Everyone's wants and needs are different, but for me I prefer being able to make a plan that meets our individual interests and being able to set a schedule and make decisions around our wishes. For us that means choosing hotels that we will be happy with in amenities and location, eating where and when we want, choosing some sites specifically around our own interests and skipping other "major sites" that aren't of interest and going to some sites or locations that aren't big draws but are perfect for us.

I've never taken an RS tour for that reason. I also love RS guidebooks and use them as the backbone of my trip planning for that reason. To each his own!

Posted by
2788 posts

I have taken 14 RS tours but no 7 day ones. I read with humor some of the dislikes already posted. I wonder if some of those least liked items would have been eliminated if folks had read all of the fine print and the reviews from previous tour members. I, too, prefer the 2 night stops and do not look forward to the one night stop. I have penciled out the costs of what is included on each RS tour that I have taken and I could not have done it any cheaper. Yes, I could have taken a cheaper trip but not have gotten all of the things that RS provides for his costs. I am about to register for my 15th RS tour. I guess I am a "Ricknik"

Posted by
1 posts

We just returned from our first tour.

Loved: our tour guide was amazing, very knowledgeable and helpful in every way. The local guides were, for the most part, amazing (only one was not all that). We saw everything we intended to see on this trip, plus more. For nearly everyone in our group, this was the first trip to Europe and our guide was great at choosing how to introduce us to these historic places/pieces of art, etc.
Our bus driver was great. I was a bit doubtful that the whole bus thing was going to be all that, but it turned out to be better than I expected. It was also very convenient at times. Though I do wonder if an overnight train ride to certain places wouldn't be a better way to spend some of our time.

Hotels were mostly good and food was OK. Not great, but not terrible. The one exception was the amazing meal we had together in Venice. The only thing about the hotel rooms was the lack of air conditioning which was easily fixed by opening the windows in most places, but a couple were so noisy we couldn't get to sleep anyway.

As others mentioned, the showers were an interesting experience. I definitely enjoyed mine more when I got home.

I'm glad we had the headsets for some of the tours but I wish we had earbuds that could have been used in the left ear just to give one a break.

It was an investment but I loved not having to plan it myself and just being able to enjoy the trip without worrying about anything.

We had a number of families in our group which was nice though I realize now from other comments that it is unusual. (Ours was not a family tour but a regular one).

Posted by
10 posts

Positives
1. His trips teach you to travel in Europe if you want to venture on your own later. If you have never been before, and a little nervous, this is great.
2. We are not herded like cattle, the groups are small, and the guides are fantastic. I happen to love headsets because you can hear And not have to stay in lip reading distance.
3. We stay in local hotels, which adds to the ambience of traveling thru the back roads. Example -in Paris we stayed in a neighborhood with the quintessential shops one needs to live in Paris. The boulangerie, the cuturerie, the fruits, wine, etc shops. Near a metro stop that we became comfortable using after our lesson.

4. Time off- adding to #3. We bought our lunch, got on the metro, transferred to the train and spend a day at Versailles, and got back. We met other travelers, local and like us, who were doing the same thing and chatted up people who were like minded.

5. The surprise stops add so much value to our experiences. Seriously we could have had non stops from A to B, but would have missed out on so much culture. Wish I remembered the town's name, but en route to mont st. Michel, we stopped and had real non touristy time off and had the best most traditional gal letters, then had a moment to walk and stretch. The town was where copper pots have been made for centuries. And later, watching Julie and Julia, I found that the shop where Julia bought her famous copper, was the exact shop I bought my omelet pan and rounded bottom bowl.
6. Luggage limit. And yes, my pan and bowl was snugly fit in amongst my smalls... we have travelled with other small groups without the luggage limit, but now I am reminded that I wasn't inconvenienced a bit. Which is a nice reminder since we are traveling to Eastern Europe 8/31, and I was leery of the limit. Now not so much.
7. Casualness of the groups. I hate dressing up and comfort is key to my enjoyment. We are not slobs though. So I love the people we have travelled with. Most are into the immersion, the adventure, and getting the most out of every minute, even if it is people watching, soaking it all in, and participating in new experiences.

Negatives. I love quirky and seeing how showers are fit into a centuries old place is cool. We got a hysterical lesson in bidets from our guide on another RS trip. Still laughing. We now have a bidet in our house. Our grandsons love our butt washer.

To people who are on the fence, you won't get better value than a RS tour. Seriously.

Posted by
697 posts

We've only done 2 RS tours and are scheduled for our third this fall.....
Best:

  1. Transportation Learning the transportation system in each city. Our first tour we were quite apprehensive regarding travel on our own. By our second tour we were scheduling and pre-purchasing our train tickets for pre and post tour travel and feeling quite adequate!
  2. Pre-tour planning We spent more time researching and planning our free time. We sort of did this on our first tour too but were more vigilant by our second tour. You definitely don't want to wait to schedule some things....for example, Eiffel tower ticket. It's best if you can plan your adventure for that day otherwise you may be waiting in very long lines.
  3. Speaking of long lines......to me one of the best benefits of taking a RS tour is having your museum entrances pre-purchased. After seeing the long lines at the Vatican, Anne Frank Haus, etc....you really learn to appreciate the fact that your tour guide will have arranged for local guides for these events. Very limited waiting!

Not the best:

  1. I must agree with some of aforementioned responses regarding days spent in some of the cities...however, I don't know how to get around this. RS offers many tours that are 2 weeks or longer but he also offers tours that are less than 2 weeks. We are not retired so taking vacations of more than 2 weeks is not possible. Our first trip of 3.5 weeks prompted a new policy at our work disallowing vacations of more than 2 weeks at a time!
  2. I cannot agree with some of the mention of problematic local guides. We must have been severely blessed with some fantastic local guides!
Posted by
350 posts

Like

  1. The food. Overall great. Most memorable is the salad in France that included meat from the throats of a goose. Basque Country meals were just marvelous.

  2. Guides. Overall great

  3. RS fellow travelers - great people overall though a few grumps sneak in now and then.

  4. Alumni discount.

Least Liked

  1. People who complain on the tour that they could have done it cheaper themselves. And people who thought the guide should change the itinerary to meet some new found need of theirs to visit someplace not on the schedule or stay longer at a place they liked. People who thought the admonition about being able to walk certain distances, and carry their own luggage was there just for the heck of it.

  2. Not using my Alumni Discount last year. I wish they were cumulative. Hey, we can wish, Right? :-)

Posted by
3458 posts

Have you asked the office about retroactively applying the discount? They may be willing to work with you especially if you are already a repeat customer and have something booked again. No guarantees, but worth the asking.

Posted by
860 posts

Just back from RST #1 as a solo

Liked: 1. Guide and half of local guides were great. Tour guide wore many hats very well.
2. I appreciated all of the information available about the details of the trip found here and the website.
3. I LOVE the no grumps policy and policies about central hotels, stairs, a/c etc.
4. The rest stop locations and bus time lectures
5. The tour details all done very well : transportation, hotels, itinerary, meals, rest stops, site and city passes
6. I liked all of my rooms except one, and I liked all of the meals except one. Neither disappointment left me tired or hungry.

Notsomuch: These complaints aren't because it is Rick Steves, just general problems with a tour
1. For the Scandinavia tour I would have liked to have 3 more days added. One day extra in each capital city that was all free time. I know it isn't feasible, due to American vacation times but it would have made my trip significantly better. Several tour mates wanted less free time but I wanted more.
2. I don't feel that I was properly warned about the walking. This tour was rated low on the physical activity scale 2-6 miles daily. I guess I don't really know how much my tour mates walked but I averaged 6 miles per day (fitbit). Looking back, I probably walked even more during free time than not, so it might be my own issue. Next trip (Italy) I am going to train harder. For this trip I walked 5 miles 3 times per week. I am now looking for an elliptical machine so I can "walk" all winter.
3. I can't think of anything else that was a problem.

Posted by
3458 posts

What I like:

You learn how to find your way around in places where they don't necessarily speak your language.
You learn that there are more ways to do things than the way everyone does it at home.
You get to meet so many different types of people, both those on the tour with you and the locals.
You get a real feeling for history and finding out how old the world is fills you with awe.
You get to try different foods where they were created and not in a watered down Americanized style.
You don't have to worry about traffic, arriving late, lost reservations, missed connections.
You have someone you can ask for assistance if you need it.
You have well trained knowledgeable guides who really know their stuff.
The affordability compared to other tour companies when you factor in such things as not having to pay tips or paying extra for any included activity.
Not having to drive which gives me the ability to watch the scenery as it goes by or catch up on note taking.
.

What I dislike:

Getting the smallest room at every hotel even after paying the single supplement.
Some of the group meals - lack of options. I will eat most anything, but carrot soup and roasted veg sandwiches on every included lunch on the Ireland tour was a bit much. (Most tours have had much better food options since then.)
Seems to be fewer included group evening meals than when I started taking these tours.
The shorter tours seem too rushed sometimes.

.

A lot of people complain that the RS tours cost too much for what you get. I disagree. Over the past 10+ years, I have seen the cutbacks made such as limiting the guide books to one per reserved group instead of one per person, the downgrade of the money belts from silk to a rough synthetic, and so on, but the quality of the hotels overall and sometimes the meals included have improved. Sure, I could plan out the tour on my own picking hotels and all the included things by myself and probably spend less, but it would add a degree of stress worrying about what to do if I miss a train or arrive too late at a B&B, or my reservations get cancelled, losing the expedited group entry at many of the stops meaning I would waste time standing in line, and so many more little things that just add up.

Posted by
113 posts

Wow what a lot of great information on what people like and feel could be improved. I was part of a group of six, four first timers, two with one trip under their belt. We did the VIT (Villages of Italy) tour and had such a fantastic time I am working on our trip for next year. It looks like we will do the Scandinavian tour mid summer next.

My Likes:
1. The guides. Tina and Kathleen were fantastic.
2. The size of the group. Was just perfect.
3. The Hotels. All were very good. I totally get the shower issue, we had a few of those so small you can't pick up the dropped soap, but I feel that's part of learning about other cultures and how they live. We stayed in a Villa I plan to return to in the future. Wanted to spend the rest of my life looking out at that Tuscan view.
4. I found all our meals to be good, some out of this world and others nice.
5. The bus. We had a fantastic driver, great bus, USB charging station on board. Was the perfect way to get around and cover the area we needed to cover.

What I would like to see changed:

  1. No one night stays. True there is never enough time but ending on a one night stay did make for bit of a stressful ending.
  2. A listing of each night you will be on your own for dinner either at the beginning of the trip or in your packet prior to departure. We arrived in one city and were told all our meals were on our own for that stay. If I had know that I could have planned ahead to find some more out of the way places to eat than what we ended up eating. My impression was every other night was on our own.
Posted by
5896 posts

The relative cost of RS tours is the issue that many people seem to raise when I talk about the tours. I don't remember if its part of the post-tour evaluation, but I think it would be interesting if they asked all participants the specific question of whether they thought it was worth it or not. The quality versus quantity balance must be a tough one to address, and it seems like the tendency is to creep upwards in quality to meet the expectations of experienced travelers.

Posted by
11261 posts

I too had questions about the value for money of Rick's tours. But the fact that so many take repeat tours, and that many of the repeaters also travel independently at other times (so they could do so again if they felt a tour was bad value) means to me that many do feel they are "worth the extra cost."

Posted by
3458 posts

Mark G,

On the group dinners: The tour info states "half your dinners" are with the group and included with the tour, not every other dinner. So on a 14 day tour, I would expect 7 dinners to be covered. On a 7 day tour, 3 or 4. And so on.

Most of the time that includes the first night so we can get to know each other and final night so we can all say our sad goodbyes, but when I took the long Best of Italy tour, it wasn't until our 3rd night that we had a group meal, which was very surprising. Then we had a string of nights toward the middle of the tour where we ate as a group every night mainly because where we were staying there was no other option. For the 17 day tour, we had 7 dinners included.

The pre tour packet (now email) used to include a more detailed itinerary listing which nights were group meal nights. But I noticed recently that level of detail is not there. If you count the meals that are actually listed in the published itinerary, it can fall way short of "half".

Posted by
2263 posts

About meals on RS Tours, checking now I see that web site descriptions of "what's included" in tours say: "all the breakfasts and half the dinners". I believe they mean, and should say, "all the breakfasts and half the other meals". On my 9 RS tours, we often had group meals at lunchtime, sometimes including at farms and wineries. I do think that the tours have provided just about half the lunches/dinners.

Posted by
3467 posts

Years ago (don't want to date myself) they included half the lunches and half the dinners. Alas, those days are long gone. But, if memory serves correctly (again not to date myself), the last few tours we've taken, all the breakfasts and half the dinners were included -- the lunches and / or picnics were just extra.

Posted by
3458 posts

Lunches/picnics that are provided usually are to help speed us along on the longer bus days where we don't necessarily end up at a location where there are options that could provide lunch in a reasonable time for the entire group. Some have been at roadside rest areas that have no food services at all. The tour guides have been very creative in putting together picnics featuring all local foods, for example, that have been very enjoyable, tasty, and filling. Some lunches have been at the sites we visited and for me anyway have not been so successful (example: multiple days of carrot soup on the Ireland tour as I mentioned previously). They do NOT count into the dinners included.

Posted by
47 posts

I have been to Europe 7 years in a row and 2 of those trip were RS Trips.

My thoughts:

Likes: Rick picks by far the best hotels of any of the three tour companies that I have traveled with. This year I used Rick's models for the 4 hotels that I paid for myself
The price is fair. Period. Anyone that thinks otherwise is just kidding themselves. Yea you can stay far out of town for cheaper. Did that with both Cosmos and Globus tours. Pay the difference and stay in Rick's hotels. Trust me on this.
Guides are hit and miss. One year I had Reid Coen for a 14 day Best of Europe, and while he was all business, he was great. My Way Alpine Tour, not so great. I missed the passion and the ability to get people together with that Tour.
The bus was great as were the drivers. Excellent.

DisLikes: Starting to get some older folks, I am 60 but can hike like a mule. I miss the youthful energy of most of the other members of the tours. Also got some grumps on both tours. You will get younger people on the Cosmos tour in my experience.
Hate to say it but Ricks tours are getting too successful, and the word is out! Like when a restaurant or a band gets to popular, you start to get some poseurs. I know that sounds rude, but it was the "Back Door Travel Style" that made me a fan of Rick's tours. That is starting to go away.......

I am already planning a 8th trip and will for sure check out Rick's tours for 2018.

Posted by
373 posts

Likes:
The amount of free time vs. guided time. It's a great balance.
The unique local experience - seeing pesto made by an Italian lady, alabaster carving/history, etc.
The little happy hours/mini social gatherings in the hotel lobbies

Dislikes:
Would like to see more 3-day stopovers. 2 days can be quite rushed.

Posted by
654 posts

I think it would be interesting if they asked all participants the specific question of whether they thought it was worth it or not.

Not trying to resurrect an old thread, but until a few years ago they had a post-tour questionaire (all of which replies were posted on the RS website) that asked about value and whether time was used effectively.

Posted by
308 posts

I really enjoy running into other tour members while out and about during free time.

Posted by
769 posts

I am about to venture on my own 4th tour (i know - still a newbie!) but my first was around 2007. I had used RS books the year before and with the TV shows really felt confident and prepared to go my own on the first EU trip solo (part with a 1 week tour and part with another). I am usually also the youngest (early 40s!) unless there was a teenage kid joining the family once. I cant get any or my friends to join since i was 30 even since they all thought it was too expensive. But I can say as others have - the way I try to travel (ala RS style) as about even. Im not hostling, but also not 5-staring much. I will eat a proper dinner and bottle of wine (50-75-100$ splurge in between is fine).. then stopping for a pastry or bakery snack-lunch between castle runs to make the difference!

Likes - I love the planned up front. When I did multiple guided Alpine hikes for one week, i always combined an extra week on my own. Its a lot of work to plan 1 week well. Transport is expensive even with a Eural Pass.
I like the camaraderie and sharing stories at meals when out on your own or as a group. In general RS marketing makes it clear setting expectations for active tours. If millennials are priced out - thats fine - they can backpack. If others want lodging and some local concierge help but no guide - they can do UnTours (fits the bill of a few comments here = semi-guided and more locations). I have made many friends of all ages on the tours I have been on - and the experience of older active travelers usually makes my trip even better! I hope to be able to join active RS style tours in my 70-80s. Plus - someone has to out-drink the youngsters.

I like how the tours follow some/most of the Shows on TV - gets my adventure bug going wishing/hoping I can go there too.
The guides are cool - and personable. Its a lot of work to be with a new family (let alone Americans hehe) for two weeks and not have a break. I appreciate the occasional meal or beer or wine tagging along with the guides on their "time off". They need a break too and we can all appreciate how much work it is even if its the 15th run for that guide!

Dislikes - not many - but as some have stated: the single supplement for a shoe-box room in EU. In US - you get two king/queen beds which is also ridiculous but paying a penalty (vs a discount) for the broom closet in many places is not fair. Now almost every tour does this to some degree. Sometimes we solo guys get lucky and get a cool unique room (Denmark Aero a whole cottage and coolest loft room in seaside Portugal). But for me as a light sleeper it ruins the trip if I sleep with snoring bear-with-a-chain-saw-riding-a-harley room mate! SO pay I up or shut up I guess! :) It would be nice to get a future tour credit after the tour if you end up being the only solo and had paid a single-sup anyways. Its more money coming back to the tour anyways and incentive to do another!
Re: Showers for a tall guy (even if slim) is a different experience but just as adventurous - esp the tub "showers". Im just happy to have one tho usually.

Good Ideas for RS staff to consider: I like the ideas others above mentioned of listing which days will "likely" be on our own so we can do research ahead for dinner/gelato. Nothing like serendipity but if the best gelato shop in Italy is in your town (and not pointed out by your non-resident guide) or best mom-and-pop cafe in a small town... Id hate to miss an opportunity. I travel for the food/wine/castle and history/culture of the places!

looking forward to RS-Greece later this year!

Posted by
119 posts

As to meals we have been on 10 RS tours and we always had at least half the dinners served to the group. Sometimes
they substituted lunches which generally turned out to be as big or bigger than a dinner. For instance if a wine tasting or olive oil tasting took place around lunch time the meal that went with it was a large one. Other times we had picnics that were not included the count. They were a treat provided by the guide.

Posted by
12 posts

Being another TC, I would have to agree with TC who posted on June 26, 2017. I have NEVER liked the name game and usually start the tour with dread, waiting for the tour guide to announce that we are going to play it. My husband and I have been on seven Rick Steves tours and we have always made it a point to learn the names of all of our tour mates early in the tour. I do not like to be put on the spot to name everyone in a group of 24-28 people. I know many others who have been on our tours that would agree with me- get rid of that practice!

Posted by
1047 posts

I agree with TC. I have no problem standing up and introducing myself to our fellow tour members. I think it puts pressure on tour members who are uncomfortable having to recall names or make up a story about a fellow tour member that they just met. I remember going to a Las Vegas show where Don Rickels was picking on people near the front of the stage. I was so glad I was sitting near the back. It was one show where you didn't tip the usher to sit closer to the stage.
I hope RS listens to comments that people are uncomfortable doing this and just let them introduce themselves and tell a little of their background and maybe what they hope to get from the tour.

Posted by
9628 posts

I have been told that RS loves the name game and stresses thaf it should be done.

I've taken two tours this year. On the first, instead of the regular name game, the guide had us tell our own name and how we got the name. It made for some interesting stories. On the second tour, it was never brought up. I took 9ne tour last yezr and the game was played. I introduced myself, the guide and then said "and everybody else."

I agree it is silly, embarrasing to people who are shy, and embarrassing to people who may not have learned everyone's name. I don't bother with it.

I've noticed that some people at orientation take detailed notes on everyone because they are so worried about the name game and not knowing everyone's name. I'm on vacation to relieve stress not 0add more worrying about whether I have learned everyone's name.

Posted by
308 posts

What happens if someone on the tour is painfully shy and will not speak before 20-some people? It's not listed as a requirement before booking a tour! I'm rather talkative and have no problem taking over the game myself but my spouse is not comfortable with this game idea at all. I guess I can take turns for the both of us.

Posted by
177 posts

We have taken 4 RS tours and will be going on our 5th in 3 weeks. We have enjoyed every one of them and feel like it is a good value for us. On our last tour we did not play the name game in the traditional way. At one of the group dinners (I believe it was the second one) everyone at the table would introduce themselves and then we figured out who was who at the other tables. It was so much more relaxed and no one felt "pressured" to join. For the questions on what do people do that are shy, on one tour we had about 3 people who did not want to do the game and just stepped away from the group. It will be interesting to see how this next tour does this game.

I do not have many dislikes except for the one night stays that could feel very rushed. You get into town in late afternoon, quick walk around town, maybe a group dinner, then some time on your own and ready to go the next morning.

Posted by
3458 posts

The name game. Yes, I hate it. It doesn't help me remember names because my mind doesn't work that way.

Luckily, of the 10 RS tours I took, we have only done it on 2 of them. Both those tours were newer guides still in fear of what Rick would do to them. ;-)

Posted by
654 posts

I like the ideas others above mentioned of listing which days will "likely" be on our own so we can do research ahead for dinner/gelato.

All the RS tours I see online say "dinner together" for shared nites on the "Itinerary" tab once you expand it.

Luckily, of the 10 RS tours I took, we have only done it on 2 of them.

Sshh, they'll find out!! Our guide said if ever asked we were to say we did the game ;-)

Posted by
489 posts

I think RS tours do the itinerary very well. I was extremely impressed with our tour itinerary of Best of Adriatic.
My thorns on the trip were the tour members...we were over booked and it was difficult.. RS please keep the tours under 28.....
I did think most of the group meals were NOT very good.
I loved the free time, again good itinerary, but our rooms were horrible as, for some unknowned reason we got the crappy rooms...
guides were all over the place. I was unhappy as all the best reviews for the best guides on the forum were not for our guides for this tour..

. is there an "A" guide tour group and and "B" tour group?
NOT sure if I'll take another RS tour.... probably, since I like to give a second chance to anyone.

Posted by
20 posts

I didn't mind the name game and it did help me to learn everyone's name, but I think that my group did it a little differently than it's "supposed" to be done. We all did it together, so everyone in the group said each name together, adding the new one each time. I can see how it would be stressful if you did it solo, were at the end of the group and had to remember 25 names instead of just the 2 or 3 that people earlier in the group had to say. Plus, saying everyone's names several times really drilled them into my head - it didn't work as well for my husband, as he had to keep asking me who different people were for a few days.

We did have someone who just couldn't make themselves get up in front of the group to introduce their buddy and he just had someone else who he was traveling with do it for him. Again, I can see how it would have been nice for him if he didn't have to stress about the thought of doing it before opting out.

Generally, the only thing that I didn't really care for was the single night stops - I'd much rather stay in places for 2-3 nights, but I can see how that would either mean that the trip became too long to fit into people's available vacation time OR that places had to be cut.

Posted by
408 posts

Wait I have a question for the person that mentioned an overbooked tour? I have never heard of this. How many more people? Did they offer you a discount? I honestly have never seen this mentioned before and just wondering.

The tour you went on is one I hope to take in the future. Sorry you did not get good guides. We have always had amazing ones on our 5 tours.

Posted by
524 posts

On my last tour, Sicily, the guide took a group photo the first day. Then, using the app "Skitch" the guide had us enter our names onto the photo. After which, the guide emailed each tour member a copy. This was a great use of technology and helped the entire group to learn everyone's name.

Posted by
308 posts

Our tour guide did the same thing as Debra's.....snapped group shots, overlaid our names and distributed them to us. That was the best way to learn each other names.....we could look at the photo later to remind us.

Posted by
489 posts

LA: We had 29 on our tour (which I guess is actually acceptable for RS) but it was very tight on some city and special stops. And one couple was placed in another hotel on a number of occasions. Others have said how roomy the bus is and that you can usually have 2 seats, but not with 29 plus tour guide. I also did not like how after a few times on the bus, everyone sat in the same seats or when you get to a group restaurant how many make bee line to the best table. I think a "my way" trip may be what I try next. I'd like to have observed a social study of how grown adults can be highly rude on bus trips and when dining together. There may be a no "grump" policy, but I would also like to see a No Rude policy. And at the final hotel and putting up with such rude people.... I was a grump, and I really did not care!
ah, and no discount.

Posted by
525 posts

Most liked - The guides, the tours, the education and knowledge they had. Getting into museums, the Vatican, etc easily.

Did NOT like - pre-set menus. We did the Venice, Florence Rome tour and in Italy, you should never be disappointed in the food, but we were NOT happy with any of the group dinners because of the pre-set menu - at least give a choice of 2 options . . . or offer some sort of pasta as an option if you don't like what they offered. We stayed another 2 weeks after the tour ended and had amazing meals . . . but our RS tour meals were a big disappointment - so much so, that we most likely will only do the MY WAY tours from now on.

Posted by
3 posts

10 tours and counting.
Number one dislike - the "name game."
No help remembering names.
One guide took photos of each person or couple and printed copies for everyone with their names underneath.
This was very helpful.

Number two - trouble hearing guides during tours.
This may have been solved if everyone is now given "amplifiers" on all guided tours.

Number three - No WiFi or poor WiFi in hotel rooms when they claim to have WiFi !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Number four - Too many Tapas in Spain :-)

Number one like:
Special moments such as dinner with a local family in Italy, visiting U.S. WW2 cemetery, man jumping (not suicide) off bridge in Mostar, celebrating July 4 in Norway by drinking honey wine and singing the national anthem.

Number two like: WOW moments - too many to mention.

Despite any dislikes - we love the tours and have more scheduled.

Posted by
902 posts

Just read the comment about the meals in Venice, Florence, Rome. When I did the London and Paris tours, it seems like we had a choice of three options each time (one fish, one meat or fowl, one veg). The day we went to the Counting House in London, our guide rattled off a list of 10 pies from which we could pick.

Sorry to hear the food options were not as hoped for VFR. I just bring this up because not every tour seems exactly the same--whether it's guides, food, or activities.

Posted by
525 posts

Rachel = that is good to know. We did Venice, Florence, Rome Oct 2015 and every one of our group dinners had no choice at all. It was one preset menu. Even our very 1st meal in Venice as a group and our final meal in Rome was not good for me or my husband. Meals 'on our own' were amazing, as they should be in Italy. I'm encouraged to know some tours give an option. We kept saying to each other, "How hard would it have been to offer Pasta as an option at each place?!?!?"

Posted by
308 posts

We were offered 3 choices at each group dinner during the best of Paris tour. Now I am rethinking our plan to sign up for the V-F-R tour if the dinners offer no choice. My spouse is not as adventurous with food as I am and would probably be disappointed.

Posted by
654 posts

^^^ I suggest calling the RS office to confirm if this is standard practice for this tour. On the 4 I have taken (not this one, though) there was always a choice for meals and at the start of the tour the guide asked if anyone had any special dietary requirements which I assume they would have tried to accomodate.

Posted by
903 posts

As context we took the Greece tour in 2014 and are signed up for GAS May 2018.

Likes:
All our guides were fabulous!
The meals were amazing! Always had a choice and the food was soooo good. Lots of both lunches and dinners included. Most of the time though you ate so much at either the included lunch or dinner because it was so good you didn't really need the other meal.
Hotels were wonderful with good breakfasts and helpful staff.
Experiences that weren't mentioned on the tour itinerary but were wonderful to have!
Being taught about travel and the culture you are in.
The no grumps policy! They are very upfront about the walking, baggage carrying, stairs, and single rooms.

Dislikes: I don't really have any. I've done other tour companies that were 50 people pajama tours in my teens and those were awful compared. I've also done a lot of independent travel and the tours are absolutely worth every penny. You don't have to take the time to plan the details, just your free time.

Posted by
408 posts

To reply to TAgreen thanks for the update. 29 is only one more person than the norm. I am sorry it did not work out as a fun trip for you. Not sure what you mean by the best table? I wouldn't even know what would be the best table at our group dinners. I do agree people do seem to sit near the same seats most days. As for spreading out on our last tour there were empty rows since some people usually sat together. For instance I always sat with my teen daughter.

Sounds like a My way tour might be more to your liking but you would still have the bus issue. Thanks for posting

Posted by
12 posts

In reply to several comments about the name game and overbooked tours- my family of four took the Best of Germany Austria and Switzerland tour in 2008. There were 31 people on our tour. A France tour had to be cancelled and three tour members were put into our tour which made our group three over the limit. Unfortunately, our tour guide had us stand in a circle for 45 minutes in Baden Baden to play the name game and our two daughters were the last two to have to name all 30 members. Needless to say, they were not very happy about it. That is the day i decided I did NOT like to play this "game". I would have preferred using the 45 minutes to see more of the town.

Posted by
9628 posts

Yet some people take the name game very seriously. Some take notes during introduction. On my last tour, one member went to every person, took their photo and asked them write their name down on the photo so she could learn them.

On that tour, we didn't play the name game.

Posted by
1047 posts

I wonder if people in Rick Steves' organization are reading the comments in this posting regarding the "name game"? In the posting done two years ago, the "name game" came up over and over as one of the dislikes of his tours. I believe if it makes anyone uncomfortable, they should not do it. Since it is very awkward to ask people and put them on the spot on whether they want to play it or not, I think it should be discontinued. I think most everyone would be comfortable standing up and saying their name and a couple of facts about themselves.

Posted by
5896 posts

I am not a socializer, but the name game worked for me, more than simple introductions would have. Preferable to name tags.

Posted by
516 posts

I found this exercise most informative and enjoyable to read. It also touched on some of the reasons I have thought about, but never taken a RS tour. I'm still thinking about it but for some reason can't pull the trigger.

I have taken my wife and her mother independently on three two-week trips to Europe in the past 7 years, the first to Italy motivated my MILs sadness not to ever see Tuscany while watching a RS video of Italy. The second was to Scotland and England and the third to Normandy and Provence. I rented cars, bought rail passes and booked our lodging and everything went fine. All of our trips were planned using Rick's DVDs, guidebooks and excellent info from the forum. Since neither of my travel partners want to travel there for a variety of reasons (MIL now 93), I have wanted to go back solo to do things I didn't get to do traveling with them. I thought a RS tour would be ideal for that since I'd have to plan nothing except free time. Every time I search for a tour I see or hear things like those mentioned above under "dislikes", "would prefer not", etc. and decide to go on my own, but I have not. The one night stands, especially in the Cinque Terre, don't work for me. Why isn't the Last Supper in Milan on one of the tours? A friend who paid for the extremely high single supplement ended up in a small room in every hotel, one with the toilet and shower down the hall, and a twin bed in most. Said he felt like the ugly stepson on the tour. I'm 6'1 and 220 and can tolerate a double bed, but not a twin. Since I snore (so my wife tells me) I don't want to share a room. I would appreciate it if someone on here would tell me I'm wrong and that I would actually enjoy a tour. A private message would be helpful since I may not find my way back to this message again. Thanks.

Posted by
5 posts

Have taken 8 RS trips and planning the 9th:

Like the best:
- Tour guides!
- City guides!
- Mix of free time and group time
- Staying in the heart of cities so we can walk around in the evening and see how people live, eat, play.
- Amazing experiences like flying hawks in Ireland, being on Mont St Michel at night, Vindolanda, Kuckenhoff Gardens, and too many others to list
- Not having to pay tips to everyone (like other tour groups we've traveled with)
- Not focused on shopping
- Value. We've never managed to put together our own trip for the price of an RS tour.
- Some truly unique hotels like the TripAdvisor award winning B&B in Dingle Ireland or the 15th century manor house in Wales.

Downside - but clearly not enough to keep us from the tours:
- Once in awhile a hotel or BB is awful, but that happens when I plan my own trips too. Make sure you fill out the end of trip survey
- On our early tours the guides made sure that if you had a not-okay room or small room in one place, you got a better room next time. This isn't happening anymore - they let the hotels assign the rooms. So you can end up with views of brick walls or construction sites or noisy rooms each time. Learn to speak up if this happens to you.
- Some days you have to chose between lunch and seeing sites on your own. Learn to pack a lunch or grab a sandwich for later
- We are vegetarians and French food is awful at the group dinners (3 tours of experience now). The French think vegetarians only eat very overcooked vegetables. We join the group dinners for the camaraderie but always, always make sure we have a large lunch that day and fill up on bread if we couldn't find a good lunch. On our own we look for Middle Eastern and Indian restaurants as they have a variety of vegetarian foods to chose from. One tour, we stopped at an Autogrill for the group lunch and there was literally nothing we could eat - not one restaurant or deli counter had anything for us - not even a cheese sandwich.

Posted by
137 posts

I've taken 10 RS trips, my first in 2003. I've had a five year hiatus where I've traveled to my high school reunion in Germany and toured around Bavaria and Austria, organizing the trip for four; gone to Rwanda and Tanzania and Galapagos with other groups; and did one USA trip through another tour company. I've also gone on a European river boat cruise. In 2018, I'm back with RS.

What I like:

  • Amazing quality of tour guides - being able to find out quirky things you wouldn't find out on your own
  • Fascinating local guides - learning history and what our guide was doing on some historic occasion or how they viewed it; learning about school systems, etiquette, local culture
  • Incredible bus drivers - who are amazing in their ability to maneuver those huge buses around the tiniest corners, in pouring rain, and so on, who keep the bus clean, and, on occasion, share their lives with you
  • Smaller family run hotels - In fact, in organizing my own travel, I will look first to hotels recommended by RS
  • Not having to drive, check reservations, double check train schedules, or stay awake while traveling to the next stop
  • Amazing fellow travelers - for the most part - with whom I have made long lasting friendships and great memories and traveled again with them on other RS trips. I like people -- traveling alone, sometimes you don't have company to share meals, etc. When I first started traveling, RS was the only group that did not have a single supplement - you were paired up with other solo travelers. For the most part, my experiences were really good - I only had 2 room mates that were horrible (they didn't read the materials, smoked in the room and on the trip, did not bathe or bathed in thick, toxic perfume, expected others to wait on them, had mean things to say about the guides, rooms, food, other travelers, activity levels, etc.) but the rest were great. And now you do have the option of a single supplement.
  • The food - unless the quality of the restaurants has diminished during my hiatus, the meals were a high point - no, not Michelin star high points, but really good quality and quantity, and made with local ingredients - Greece, Sicily, Eastern France, Eastern Europe, Ireland really stuck out in my mind as great -- a foodies dream. Turkey was not so great, but their sweets were divine. My worst meal - that will always stick out - was a plate of lima beans in France since I am allergic to the scallops they were serving - just lima beans -and I'm not a fan of lima beans. I was thankful I had some snacks in my room.

My Dislikes:

  • Ditto the complaints on crappy rooms for singles! My car trunk is bigger than many of the rooms I was put in. And when sharing with another solo traveler, we never, ever, ever got a "good" room - the room in the nicer hotel, or with a view or balcony - those were reserved for married couples! Once traveled as a triple and we got squeezed into a teeny tiny chain hotel room with two twins and a cot (fortunately one of us was short), and had to announce "I need to go to the bathroom-feet up" or "suck in your gut, I need to cough". Meanwhile, a married couple got put up in a B&B across the street complete with three bedrooms! On my travel w/another group, I paid the supplement but got the lovely rooms just like the couples.
  • Travelers who don't read or adhere to the No Grumps policy - and are rude - like taking your tip from the restaurant table "for change." Who don't treat other travelers as family, who insist that you give your chair at the table to their spouse, who trip over you to get luggage off/on the bus/line up for "their seat", who are intolerant of differences. That being said, and seeing the comments on the Name Game, the rudest group was the group where there were no introductions until the trip was five days in. Whether it's the Name Game or some other way to introduce and get to know your fellow tour members, it needs to be done quickly to establish rapport.
Posted by
1918 posts

Diane,
A plate of Lima beans! Seems like punishment for being allergic to scallops. I agree with you about the "name game". I hear a lot of gripes about it on the forum but, in my book, it helps me as a solo (usually) traveler, connect with others in the group. Maybe the married couples don't like it because they have a built-in companion already and they don't have quite the motivation to connect with their tour mates as I do.

I'm curious: which RS tour are you taking in 2018? I signed up for Turkey.

Posted by
21 posts

RS tours are an excellent value. It's not just a question of whether an individual could find equivalent lodging and food for less money.

  1. Experiences per dollar. Even if you could bring down the cost per day, the gain would be wiped out by inefficiency. You can do more things per day with RS. There is no time wasted getting lost or hassling public transit on your way to your destination, waiting in line, and so on. The RS guides know where they are going and how long it will take. They have made advance arrangements for when they get there. (This includes not having to check into hotels after a long day.) Consequently they can plan more activities per day than you might consider prudent on your own, and you can do them all without feeling rushed.

  2. Stress reduction. As Tom pointed out above, a week of DIY arrangements takes a long time to put together and a lot of focus to execute. I usually pair an RS tour with some DIY time. During DIY time I'm constantly navigating and calculating. What a relief to show up at the RS meeting place and let the guide handle everything else for the duration!

  3. Disaster recovery. This one is hard to quantify but can be very big. When all goes well, travel seems simple. But when something goes wrong, the RS guides really earn their pay. Actual example: 30 minutes before we pull into Naples, our guide gets a call to say that our destination museum is unexpectedly closed for the day because the employees have decided to take the day off. She makes several frantic calls to postpone our visit a day and instead visit the museum that had been planned for the following day. Simple! No time lost. Another example: our bus breaks down en route to Vienna on a Saturday morning. Our guide scrambles around to get us taxis to a train station so we can take the train into Vienna while the bus is repaired. Little time lost. Other scenarios include highway closures, foul weather, and strikes. On these occasions, I am happy to let the RS guides come up with Plan B so that I don't have to. We individual travelers simply don't have the resources that the RS organization does.

Posted by
654 posts

coming down with a bit of a cold I'm reminded of a dislike, although perhaps this would be common to any tour company.

There doesn't seem to be a policy, or at least an enforced policy, about sick people coming on the trip. On one RS tour a guy showed up just hacking and coughing, kleenex constantly in use. Within a few days most people on the bus had a serious cold.