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

There has been a lot of interest in the reviews of Rick Steves' tours lately. I thought the following question might provide some information that is not currently in the reviews on the tour website.

What did you like best on the Rick Steves' tours that you were on and what did you like the least?

If your answer is in regard to a specific tour, please identify which tour that was.

Posted by
8203 posts

I've done 5 RS tours.

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. (Ireland)

What about you?

Posted by
902 posts

Likes:
Great guides and organization.
Zipping thru the entrance line at places like Vatican and Windsor Castle.
Friendly travelers.
Great central hotel locations.
Bargain of pitching in some cash upfront to share bottles of wine at meals (not available on all tours).
Transit pass inclusion on city tours.

Could live without:
The name game (not sure if they still do this).
Am on the fence about the cooking and craft demos.
Couples/neighbors/family who already know each other and don't seem interested in socializing with other tour members (only experienced this on one tour, thank goodness). C'mon, folks, it's not going to kill you to eat breakfast with someone you don't know one day out of your life. :)
Sometimes the "surprise" extra is something I was excited to do but on one trip it was something (opera) I was not in the mood for at all. You win some, you lose some.

Posted by
5890 posts

yosemite1
I've done three RS tours, one non-RS tour, and many independent trips. I will do more RS tours. What I like best, is that they encourage interaction with locals and not insulate and "Americanize" the experience. I did not just enjoy the food and the scenery, I learned a ton about art, history and politics. I also appreciate that the tours attract participants that are interested in more than a big bus tour of the highlights of Europe.

Posted by
8203 posts

Rachel, really good point about being on a tour with a group of people that are traveling together. On one of my tours there was a group of 11 out of maybe 25 that knew each other and it really changed the dynamic. I have been in a family group of 5 two different times and I hope we were welcoming and open with others.

Posted by
377 posts

We have been on one RS tour, and liked it enough to consider booking another one. The tour was Tallinn, Helsinki and St. Petersburg.
Best:
Our tour leader!
Small congenial group
Ability to see a lot in a shorter time than doing it on our own
Clean, centrally-located hotel choices

Worst:
Local guides were mediocre with one exception,and that gentleman was outstanding. In some cases local guides sent us into sites with no explanation of what we were going to see, etc.
It was very hard to hear the local guides, especially as they walk ahead of the group and talk "forward". Ear buds are really needed.

Painful realization of how expensive it is compared to doing it on our own. (and we got this tour on sale)
Breaking down the cost of our recent tour it was about $750 a day for the two of us. (That does not count the cost of the visa, airline etc. This is just the cost of actual tour. )
Had we done it on our own, staying in the same hotels, eating at the same places, and doing the same activities it would have cost us $200- 250 a day. $500+ a day is a premium price to pay for the support of a tour guide and the convenience of having someone organize your sightseeing.

I think that for certain destinations and with certain tour leaders we can justify the high cost of RS tours. For the majority of our travel, we will continue to do it on our own using the vast resources offered by RS. It is a worthy model.

Posted by
334 posts

We have been on two RS tours (Athens/Greece and Sicily).

Best:
Convenience of having everything planned and booked for you.
People with similar interests
The tour guides! It's not just their knowledge of the area, it's their logistical expertise. On both tours we ran into unforeseen problems (strikes; lost luggage; etc.) and each time, the guide adjusted flawlessly. If we had been traveling on our own, it could have ruined our vacation.

Worst:
The pace can be a bit grueling at times.
Some of the local guides were so-so.
You are at the mercy of the schedule to some extent.

I have to disagree with TravelingMom about cost. I think RS tours are very reasonable for what you get. In addition to hotels and meals, you need to factor in the cost of:
Transportation (trains/rental cars etc if you're on your own)
Tickets to museums, historic sites, demonstrations, tours, etc.
Local guide fees
Your tour guide's expertise and logistical prowess (see above)
Your time spent (or not spent) planning and booking everything on your own: many many many hours
Other stuff I'm probably forgetting right now

Posted by
3551 posts

Been on 2 RS tours, greece and Turkey.
Pro:
Excellent guides
Vg bus drivers
Spacious buses
Restaurants selected vg
Schedule for day vg
Friendly group
Con:
Per day cost pp is very expensive considering some days you are on your own and some hotels
Marginal in konya turkey.
Sunset cruise in turkish coastal city cancelled due to rough seas. I did not see sea with white caps or stormy and equivalent substitute was not offered. More dollars lost.
Carrying our own luggage to rooms and back for a pricey tour with lots of stairs and cobbles.
Some connections on contracted boats were rusty and diesel sickly boat rides
Too much shopping or demo time ie turkish rug session approx 2 hrs.
Pay for on bus bottle water.

Posted by
1917 posts

I have been on 2 RS tours and had an amazing time. I agree with all the positive comments that others have posted. I would add that you get the personal and subjective experiences of your guide which enriches the experience of being in Europe. On my recent Berlin Prague Vienna 6/21/2015 tour, our guide, Jana, shared several times what it was like living under the Communists and our local guide in Prague discussed the Velvet Revolution. This is why the RS philosophy is appealing to the traveler who wants to be part of the local culture to whatever extent possible, to be "embedded" in Europe, to learn about the art, culture, history and politics. I am an American but I want to try to see what it is like to be from somewhere else, also, to understand what we Americans owe to our European heritage.

There are very few negatives, for example, organizing lunch on the run is hit or miss. But that is the price we pay to see and do as much as possible.
A big positive is we will have our walking tours in the mornings and the afternoons will be free time. Our guides are very helpful in helping us plan things to do.
Judy B - Atlanta

Posted by
377 posts

Stacy, I did factor in all the things you mentioned. Actually, I priced out each and every component of our recent tour after we got back. My numbers stand, math doesn't lie. We paid $750 a day for two people for a RS tour. If we had done the exact same things (including a tour guide, admission tickets, transportation, hotels, meals etc) it would have cost us between $200-250 a day for two people. Maybe $300 a day on ferry or train days. We selected this tour because it was a destination we didn't want to attempt on our own, and went into it knowing we would pay a premium price for that. Our tour leader was so outstanding that it made the price more palatable, but these tours are expensive. The enjoyment in being around people you like and the support of outstanding tour leaders does indeed make one "feel" like it's a good deal. And it may be compared to other tour companies. But it is not economically a real value. Just like the RS business model of being very clear about expectations regarding luggage, hotels, etc it makes sense for one to go into these tours acknowledging the truth about the money you are paying. If we can stay in the same hotel, eat the same food and have the same 3-hour tour for $250 a day, paying $750 a day seems excessive.

Posted by
437 posts

Hi,

I have not been on a Rick Steves Tour yet. I can say that I kept a very detailed diary of what we spent on a 21 day trip through Italy (hotels, meals, tours, transportation, etc). We didn't follow RS itinerary exactly but very close. Had we not received the 4 tickets in Florence (traffic limitado) we would have only saved a few hundred dollars. With the tickets a few hundred over. I have to say since we were in Italy during the 2012 floods, it was extremely stressful as well. We spent a night trying to get back to our hotel in Sorino nel Cimino not knowing where we were going. The only person that communicated it effectively was a gas station owner that did not speak a word of English (we don't speak Italian).

We are going to Greece in Oct, we are trying the RS tour. I did compare about 5 tours to see the cost difference, with the tours included, RS was a bit more expensive but not by alot.

Mary

Posted by
916 posts

The best:
-Having the bus to drive you all over the place.
-great guides to educate you about what you are experiencing.
- being the "small tour group" and not being herded by an umbrella.

The worst:
This is really difficult because we have been on three RS tours and this years was a huge disappointment. The food was absolutely unacceptable (and I can say this because I took the exact same tour 6 years ago and the food was incredible) and some of the hotels were borderline sketchy.

Others have noted the group buy in for wine at the beginning of the meal....the worst is the person who refuses to by even a glass of wine and "only wants a taste" of wine from your bottle and ends up drinking half the bottle.

Posted by
3747 posts

I've been on 3 RS tours and also several trips where I've planned the itinerary.

Pros (for RS tour): opened our eyes to the joy of traveling - the history you learn from the guides, the friendliness of fellow tour mates, the ability to not waste any time in your day.

Cons (for RS tour): Time at each location; we enjoy being able to stay at a location for 3-5 days instead of going on a bus to the next location every other day. The morning rush: less chance to enjoy the European breakfasts & espresso because we need to meet the group tour or load onto the bus. An observation we've noted is that when we're not in a RS tour, we return feeling like we talked (or mimed) more with the locals because we didn't have a guide to take care of everything. To us, those experiences provide very fond memories.

Comment to price difference mentioned by others: I'll preface this by sharing that I have an engineering background and am very detailed oriented. During our trips in the last three years, I've kept track of all of our expenses, mainly so I could foresee how much we might want to set aside for travel when we retire within 5 years. When I account for the number of days, comparing trips at similar locations/country, account for meals, activities and all, we save 36-40% overall when we travel on our own. If I exclude the airplane tickets, we're saving 48-52%. We stay at slightly nicer or similar hotels in the center of towns (the exact same one in Siena!) But, in order to save this money, I am spending substantial time during the year to plan the next trip. To me, it's an exciting hobby, but "time is money" and should be considered before someone else thinks they can "easily" save that amount, also.

Posted by
3522 posts

We have been on only one RS tour, Istanbul the first week of October, 2014. I normally plan our trips with lots of help from this website and RS publications, but I felt totally inadequate for the job with Istanbul. The RS tour was the best option I found.

What I liked best:
1. Letting someone else do the planning for me. That alone was worth the cost of the tour for my husband and I.
2. We had a great guide for the whole week. He socialized with everyone, and he did his best to spread himself around so that different people could ask him questions. He was very knowledgeable and shared that knowledge well. For a tour like that, the most important thing to me is a good guide, so I was very glad he was one.
3. We saw every thing on the itinerary, even though we were there during a Muslim holiday and our guide had to make some adjustments to try to avoid the crowds.
4. The food was great with no fancy restaurants. We aren't fond of fancy places.
5. Learning about special places to eat, like Saray in the new town area. They had the best profiteroles I've ever had.
6. The pace was challenging, but realistic and we were able to keep up and do everything.
7. The group was compatible with no grumps.

What we liked least:
1. Getting up early and keeping to the schedule every day -- our problem, not the tour's. We've gotten very lazy in our retirement.
2. We would have liked more meals with the group at places similar to the ones that were provided. It seemed like people disappeared after the end of each day's activities and there was no way to get together later, at least that we knew about.

Posted by
14267 posts

What's the question? RS or a different tour company? RS or independent travel? Which RS tour to choose? My guess is that most people who read the forum or get to the Tours section of the website are leaning toward an RS tour and are more concerned about which tour to choose and what time of year to go.

Posted by
57 posts

"What's the question? RS or a different tour company? RS or independent travel? Which RS tour to choose? My guess is that most people who read the forum or get to the Tours section of the website are leaning toward an RS tour and are more concerned about which tour to choose and what time of year to go. "

No Chani, I believe the theme is how the RS Corporate hears the feedback.
I have followed Rick Steves since he was in graduate school with his first book.
I am not happy with the changes witnessed.

Posted by
672 posts

We've been on 22 RS tours, so we obviously like the format and consider them worth the cost.

What we like most:

-With only two exceptions, our guides have been wonderful. Many have been beyond wonderful. Having gone on one My Way tour with no guide, I can say the guides are a huge part of the tour experience.

-RS tours draw an extraordinary group of fellow travelers who greatly enhance our travel experience.

-I love staying at family-run central hotels.

-We see and do far more on a tour than we do on our own thanks to the guide and superb organization. I love having all of the logistics taken care of for us. And, I like the free time RS tours include.

-The group meals are a great chance to enjoy good local food. Some tours have included wine with many group meals and that's a big positive for us. RS used to include more meals on his tours, but we prefer having some time to eat on our own.

-I love the craft demonstrations, cooking classes and tastings. The only exception was a high pressure rug sales room where we were complete hostages for hours (Turkey).

-I especially enjoy visits with locals and meals in homes and visits to schools (Bulgaria, Eastern Europe).

-Spacious buses where we can each have our own seat. And, we've had some marvelous bus drivers who have added greatly to our experience.

What we liked least:

-Getting up early. (We, too, have gotten lazy in our retirement). But, I do know that we can't do everything on the schedule without getting going in the morning. And, the pace can be a little grueling for us, but we're very much at the upper end of the age scale. It's never been too much for us, but we're definitely weary travelers come evening.

-I hate the name game. My preference is to be treated like an adult who can get to know people on her own.

-I think the buddy system is wonderful, but, to me, the buddy introductions are boring and a big waste of time. One guide, who didn't do buddy introductions, told me he thought they were intrusive and I completely agree.

-Until the past two years, I felt that our rooms were great. On two out of our last four tours, we've had terrible rooms. The guides used to make sure that everyone got a mix of good and not-so-good rooms and that worked well. On our recent tours, guides have left the room choice to luck (and, they fully admit that) and our luck wasn't very good.

-I've never noticed tour participants taking bread, cheese, butter, and ham from the breakfast spread at hotels to make sandwiches, but I think that's something that RS himself used to recommend in his books.

Posted by
39 posts

Thank you to everyone who has commented, it has been helpful. I am new to RS tours, so I don't have any input, but I do have a question. A couple of people have mentioned the decline of hotel rooms--could you tell me which tour you had the issues and what made them unacceptable?

We are waiting for the BOE21 2016 dates to come out so we can book, BUT unacceptable hotel rooms would be one thing that could sway our decision. We are fine with local hotels that don't offer all of the amenities of larger chains, but unclean and/or unsafe would not be acceptable. The tours are too much money to have the rooms be subpar.

Thanks!

Posted by
672 posts

cbb,

We've never had a room that was unsafe or unclean. And, I don't know that the rooms in general are worse than they used to be. In our case, there was no balance between very good and very bad rooms. On both the Alpine tour (wonderful itinerary), and Loire to the South of France (a wonderful tour), we often had rooms that were far too small for two people - sometimes barely a foot around the bed and that was the whole room. No chairs, no table, no view. That's okay if the next room is good, but that's not what happened. Our name is at the end of the alphabet and the tours were full, so perhaps the good rooms go to the upper part of the list. Our next tour is with Road Scholar and we've always had good rooms with them.

Posted by
5890 posts

We've never had a bad hotel room. Some hotels have been surprisingly luxurious. Agree with comment that a cost comparison should take into account the time saved.

Posted by
1068 posts

Been on 5 RS tours, several other tours and toured on my own. Done some travel alone and some with friends. So IMHO:
What I like:
1) Good restaurants and food in general
2) Good guides (one was slightly mediocre the rest were fantastic)---it really adds to the tour with a good guide
3) Generally the places/museums etc that would NOT have been on my list turn out to be pretty interesting and I'm glad I went
4) Have liked the hotels (even those with small rooms)
5) Enjoyed the craft/food demos. This is not my thing but it interesting to see how these crafts were/are such as big piece of the local culture
6) See way more than I do when I go from place to place on my own.
7) Easy--I have (so far) done some touring on my own or with friends before and after every RS tour. It is nice to take a break and have someone else plan everything
8) Nice balance between seeing things and free time
9) Usually very nice people on the tours
(There are probably a few other things if I think about it)

What I dislike:
1) Obviously at times I wish I could spend more or less time in one place
2) Sometimes the guides talk a long time (like 30 minutes) then give you 10 minutes to go see the site. This is especially frustrating if you are a photographer.

3) The "name remembering" tasks

It is hard for me to compare cost. For example, in some places I can do a couple of days cheaper than on a tour. But as soon as you factor in things like checking out of the hotel, getting to a bus or train station, waiting for said transportation, arriving in a new city, finding your hotel, checking in and getting oriented you have taken up quite a bit of time. On a RS tour, you go to a bus, get dropped off at a hotel, get a room key and someone orients you to a new town. Also, I have rarely eaten better on my own than either eating a tour meal or going to a restaurant recommended by a guide. So what is that worth? And personally, I don't mind carrying my bags, I take a wheeled bag and pack it light enough that a few flights (5 last time I was in Paris) don't bother me. So it is hard for me to said it is "cheaper" to go on my own..... I also see less, have planned more, make more mistakes etc. etc. Just my 2 cents.

Posted by
5 posts

We are world travelers; doing most of our travels on an individual basis. This means months of planning and booking (only because one of us insists on a bed waiting). We agree with Jean about the costs difference in individual from tours. We have taken a couple of tours over the years but have to admit they don't compare to individual travelling because one can stay in places they like longer and one is not at the mercy of the tour. HOWEVER, before we go on our tours we make indepth study of Rick Steeves travel forum and make an effort to follow some of his suggested places to stay/eat and sitesee. We are never disappointed and manage to see something we may have missed had we not checked his sites. When we are further into life we do intend on taking Rick Steeves tour some day. On our own we do so much sometimes don't get to see the Big Cities at night - too tired. That will be a scheduled trip. Our costs are a good 40% less. We have travelled with other couples because they want to go on our type of tour but we found out the life of tour guides - That has changed. we now are travelling totally on our own with no responsibility other than to ourselves and it is marvelous. We have covered most if not all of Europe and into Asia and Middle East countries. This year we are hiking from Salsburg to Vienna over a month, taking our time and just enjoying. We have seen the area extensively by car and now plan the walk. We have been on a 100 day aroundtheworld trip which proved to be absolutely terrific and thank the Rick Steeves forums for some advice we got. People are People around the world one will find negatives and positives regardless of how they travel just expect it and make the best of your trip. Oh by the way, we seniors in our 70's just not ready for tours yet.

Posted by
1010 posts

We have been to Europe six times including two RS tours (Paris and Barcelona-Madrid). While we are capable of traveling to Europe on our own, we feel that RS tours offer a richness of experience that we could not duplicate. Our tour guides have been excellent - both natives of the areas covered on the tour. We came away with a better understanding of the culture, economics and politics of the countries visited. It is nice to be with a group of like-minded travelers, especially when you run into familiar faces when wandering through a European city. Our two RS tours were both city tours; I'm not sure we would enjoy a bus-type tour as much. We prefer not moving around a lot during a trip. We like the mixture of group and independent time on the tours.

I guess the only downside of RS tours is the cost, given that we could travel for less money on our own.

Posted by
3458 posts

To those who say a RS tour is over priced or not a good value,

I see a RS tour as one of the best values out there for group tours. Looking at offerings from other companies, what I am seeing costs twice what the similar RS tour does. Sure, most of them stay in fancier hotels (i.e. large chains) and have elevators and someone to drag your bags to your room for you. And they cram as many people as possible onto their buses. But I don't need that.

I guess it depends on where you are going, but I have not seen a way to save much money by doing it myself. I will be going on a RS tour in September and with the discounts I am getting it will cost me $300 a day for everything that is included (airfare, meals not included, and what I choose to spend in my free time of course is extra). Checking the prices of the hotels picked for the group I am seeing an average cost of 300 Euro per night just for the rooms with nothing else included! So there is no way I could save money doing this specific tour on my own if I want to parallel the tour as closely as possible. Adding in transportation, entry fees for the sites visited, meals that are included with the RS tour, and finding local guides means I could easily spend $500 a day for this specific tour.

Adding in the pleasant people that always seem to be on the tour, the knowledgeable tour guides, the lack of a need to tip constantly, and the lack of stress on my part if things need to be rearranged makes the value of a RS trip even better.

Posted by
524 posts

I have taken quite a few tours, yes I am one of "those people". I READ the itineraries and know what is expected. I understand the accommodations aren't 5 star luxury, I will carry my bag, walk on cobble stones, may have no elevator (rarely use them anyway), may have no AC or en suite bathroom, and spend hours traveling by bus(not on city tours). I know exactly what to expect. I sign an agreement stating this.

What I like:

  1. guides: only had one that I would not want again, he was ok, but he was a seasoned guide and he read from his notes and seemed unsure at times. I have been on tours where the guide was very helpful during emergencies: getting a gentleman admitted to hospital. Then helping the couple to meet back up with the group.

  2. local guides: I feel that I have learned much more I would ever have learned on my own.

  3. Itineraries: I like the schedule of group and alone time. I agree there have been sites I wasn't too eager to see, and then found them very interesting. Strangely, the reverse is also true, where I so eager to visit a site and it didn't live up to my expectations.
    I enjoy "the vacation from the vacation days".

  4. Hotels and meals: I have eaten very well, and have tried food I know I would never have ordered if dining on my own. As for hotels, geez, I sleep there. I really don't care as long as the bed is decent and the bath is clean. I am only there for a night or two and I can deal with it. So far, all the hotels have been safe and clean. The only change I have noticed is that some seem to be of nicer quality than our earlier tours.

  5. Group: I choose to be on a tour, so I try to be friendly with everyone. I, too, do not especially like when large groups ( family, tour friends, or friends) are together as they tend to only socialize among themselves.

  6. Demos and interactive activities: I enjoy learning how things are made. I really like it when the group gets to be involved hands on. I wish there were more hands on activities included.

What I don't care for:

  1. Departure times: Yes, they are early and yes I am on vacation, but I suck it up. Do I really want to lay around or sit in the breakfast room? I am in (fill in the blank) seize the day!! I can sleep in when I get home. (not really, my dogs insist on getting up by 6, holidays included :)

  2. Time allotted: Yes, there are occasions I wish for a longer visit, or shorter. I agree, the guide on a few occasions used most of the allotted time with a long discussion. But again, I chose a tour. If I want exactly my way, I travel on my own. Therefore, I usually add a few days at both the beginning and the end of a tour.

  3. Buddy intros: Don't care for them and so HAPPY when the guide doesn't do them. But will participate if they do.

Posted by
25555 posts

I am surprised that RS group hotels sell rooms at €300 a night doubles. Wow. I haven't paid anything like that for a hotel anywhere in Europe for probably 10 years, ever since I stayed in the Sofitel in Rome just off the Via Veneto on our first trip to Rome.

My budget, easily achieved, is €100 a night double including breakfast. That's all over Europe, London excepted. For really nice small hotels in the centres I let that drift up by up to €30 pn. My average is always under.

Mark,
Are you sure he averages €300? That's pretty fancy....

Posted by
468 posts

This is a great thread! We've only taken one tour (BOE21) but certainly hope to take another. Prior to the BOE we had always said we'd never take a tour (only travel on our own), so the fact that we're already thinking about the next RS tour tells you our pros outweighed the cons. Having said that..

Pros:
Efficiency!!!! -- We never would have been able to see and do as many things on our own. I really don't think you can talk about cost (which is clearly a lot lower per day on the BOE21), without factoring in time. In our solo trips to Europe, we spent a lot of time waiting for trains, buses, making train connections, standing in line to get seats on trains, getting to train stations early, walking to/fr train stations, etc. Plus it's Europe, and that means transit strikes, right? In the past we've had to completely alter plans because of this. Yes, sometimes it led to fun adventures, but sometimes it meant we never got to visit somewhere we'd really wanted to go. During our RS tour, there was a train strike in Italy while we were in the Cinque Terre. At dinner we overheard a couple at the next table telling a nightmare story about how long it had taken them to get to the CT, and how much vacation time they'd lost in the process. Our guide and driver had worked out all the details and we weren't impacted at all. Similarly, when we hit gridlock on the highway, our driver knew a back route and got us going again in no time. On our RS tour, we got everywhere with no effort at all. Priceless, really.
Local guides -- it sounds like this might not always be the case, but ours were all fantastic. We felt like saw/learned/enjoyed way, way more because of the guides than we ever could have on our own.
Instant access to everything (and the BOE21 takes you to a lot of big attractions).
Tour mates -- what fun to share an adventure like this with other like minded folks. We've made great friendships.
Zero stress (or at least pretty close to that). Isn't that part of why we're on vacation to begin with?

Cons:
I was a little disappointed in some of the group meals. A couple were great, but the rest were just okay. Based on reviews, I'd expected better.
I would have loved more time almost everywhere. But realistically, that would have required a BOE-60 or some such tour.
Guides -- because of something going on at RS-Central, we ended up with one guide for part of the tour, and another guide for the other part of the tour. I think that distracted from our overall experience, and I felt the company didn't put our group's interest at the forefront in deciding to handle our tour this way.

I didn't love all the hotels, and probably would have staying in slightly nicer places had we been traveling without a tour, but they were pretty much what I expected from the tour description, video, etc. I didn't feel like there was any bait and switch (although it is interesting to read people felt they were higher quality in the past). Locations were great, and they were all clean and safe.
I wonder whether a lot of people are feeling there has been a decline in value because the company is now serving so many more people than in the past...requiring more hotels, restaurants, etc. Which may mean they can't be as selective. It would be a shame if they're putting volume above quality, and hopefully this is something they'll take a closer look at??

Posted by
3458 posts

Best:
- Going to places on the tour that I would probably overlook if I was on my own.
- Experienced and knowledgeable tour guides.
- Pleasant tour members that all really want to be there.
- Professional coach drivers that are always there on time and can drive the huge coach through the tight streets. Also means I am not driving and missing the passing sights.
- Group meals at restaurants that I would not pick on my own due to high posted price.
- Picnic lunches included on select days of the tour to help get us on to our next stop efficiently (always very generous amounts of enjoyable local foods).
- No shopping as part of the scheduled daily activities.
- All tipping for local guides, hotels, coach drivers, etc. included.

Worst:
- Tour guides who wait until we arrive at the sites we will be visiting to give their speech about it instead of using time on the bus to do this. It significantly reduces the amount of time available to see the site! (Thankfully happens rarely.)
- "On your own" lunches at the various sites visited. Severely cuts into time available to actually see the site.
- Too many museums during the city tours. I can only look at so many paintings per day! ;-)
- Overlapping too many sites between tours. For example, the Best of Paris tour is practically identical to the Heart of France tour for the days spent in Paris.
- Leaving out some of the must see sites. Eiffel Tower is not included in any of the France tours. Stonehenge is not included in any of the England tours.
- Having to share a room with the tour guide on one trip. Didn't work well because the guide was up all hours planning the upcoming activities and filing paperwork. I wanted to sleep.

I will be taking my 10th RS tour in September. Over the years I have noticed that the average hotel chosen has improved greatly. Nearly every one now has A/C, WiFi, 24hr front desk staff. This might be just because the average hotel in Europe now has all that where it might not have when I started traveling. The food varies greatly from tour to tour in quality and quantity. Some tours the guide includes wine with every group meal at no extra cost. Some tours we have eaten at restaurants advertising 60 Euro per person meals. Others we had the 5 Euro dinner special for every group meal where I was left looking for more. It seems to depend a lot on what the guide likes to eat. On our Scandinavian tour, the guide confided in me that the funds budgeted for group meals ran out after the 3rd day and she had to request more to get us through the trip.

Posted by
3458 posts

Nigel:

Yes, I was surprised when I checked on the price of the rooms. Previous trips the average was more like 100 Euro.

My Paris hotel a couple years ago was 350 Euro night for the 2 extra days I stayed after the tour.

Our final 2 nights on this upcoming trip are at a hotel that is asking 400 Euro a night for the time we are there. I know RS doesn't pay anywhere near that, and the hotel doesn't look all that great from pictures, but it must be the location that makes it cost that much.

Posted by
672 posts

I'm quite surprised that any of the tour hotel rooms would be €300 or more. We always book the first hotel for a couple days ahead and often stay on for a day or two after the last one and we've never paid anything close to that. Our tour hotel in Tallin was €95/night last month. I always tell the hotel that I'll be joining the tour and sometimes they tell me I can have the tour rate for the extra days.

Posted by
3466 posts

Not against the bus buddy check system per se as that does serve a useful purpose. But can do without the bus buddy bio. introduction thing. Everything else on 6 tours has been great.

Posted by
909 posts

The time spent planning a trip is a cost? I, and I'm sure others, view this as part of the fun!

Posted by
902 posts

A pro I forgot to include:
On the non-family tours the age range is varied from 20s to 80somethings and even teens if tour falls during spring or fall breaks. Tour members come from every decade of life. Granted, the majority of travelers are within a certain range, but I look at some tour companies and am hesitant because I feel like everyone else will be older than me by at least 20-30 years. Also, I like that the photos used in the marketing materials are the real RS travelers not stock photos to make it look like a younger crowd. Some companies do this.

RE: hotel stays before/after a tour. In London I switched hotels two streets over after the tour, and I think it was almost $100 savings. So in the big cities some nicer hotels are being used.

Posted by
1047 posts

Thanks for all the input. I hope they do away with the "Buddy Introductions" prior to our "Best of Italy" tour in September. I have never been on a tour before and have always planned my own tours of Europe. Italy seems to have more challenges than other countries I have visited in the past. Some cities you don't want a car and other towns you need a car or have to rely on buses to get to the towns not served by trains. I was last in Italy in 1975 and did not require any reservations to get into any museum. Obviously, this is no longer the case unless you want to spend hours in line. The tour will make this part of the experience much better. I have to agree with those of you who were on tours where a lot of the tour members already knew people on the tour. That would sure cut down on the number of people to share dinners or free days with. Thanks again for your input!

Posted by
168 posts

I have only been on one RS tour, and that was back in 2006. The very best part of that tour was that it gave me the confidence to travel in Europe independently. We really learned a lot. The accommodations were fine and the tour guide, though inexperienced, did his best.

But it is hard for me to justify the prices of the RS tour. As others have mentioned, putting together a similar on-your-own trip is far less expensive. I happen to be one of those people for whom the journey planning is as much fun as the journey, so perhaps this point of view doesn't apply to everyone. Also, our 2006 tour was priced at $2600, and the same tour now costs $4400... a whopping 60% increase; while the cost of living has risen about 18% over the same period. I frankly can't see the justification in that.

I'm glad someone started this thread, as it in part addresses the many concerns about the loss of a valid tool to read RS trip reviews. Perhaps this section could serve as an ad hoc trip review section.

Posted by
43 posts

I have been on 6 RS tours, and will be on the 7th in August.

Best: Having all the planning done for me, great guides, good food, good traveling companions.

Worst: I absolutely HATE the buddy introductions. This will probably be my last tour if they continue this.

Posted by
6697 posts

Caveats: I've only been on one Turkey tour in 2011 and one other group tour. In general, I prefer independent trips and will continue to plan my own trips (one exception may be the Bulgaria tour). I'm probably younger and more active than the average RS tour demographic so I prefer relatively active tours (don't need much downtime and enjoy hiking and sightseeing all day long).

Pros:
* Small groups (this is probably the best aspect of these tours, especially if it's a not very well-attended tour)
* No grumps policy self-selects the types of folks I want to travel with (easy going enough that I'd risk rooming with anyone instead of paying a single supplement)
* I like the fact that there is an option to pair single folks with others to avoid the single supplement
* Guides really helped "make the trip" and they were incredibly organized, helpful, interesting, open, etc. It was wonderful to get a perspective on the country from someone who lives there. Guides were very proud and enthusiastic, and were great ambassadors of their country. They really brought history to life for me.
* Really nice, well-traveled and interesting group of people on the tour
* The more background research and books you read on your own before the trip (about the country's history, geopolitics, etc) really increases the value of the trip because you can engage with the guides and locals regarding your interests and understanding
* Tour covered a lot of area very efficiently
* I appreciated the early starts to get to the popular sites before other tour buses did
* Connecting with locals was great and made for a more engaging and authentic trip (on a related note, the best food on the tour was not from restaurants but was made fresh by locals in a very informal setting)
* Transparency about what is and is not included is very helpful (I like the fact that tips are already folded in)
* Transparency about how long you'll be sitting on a bus, walking and using other forms of transport in a given day (along with a rating of strenuousness)
* Tour gave me confidence to go back and tour the country on my own without much hesitation

Cons:
* You can get better value on hotels when dealing with larger tour companies because they can negotiate better deals and their niche is more the high 3-star and 4-star hotels. RS is very upfront in setting expectations in this regard (you will not be staying in business hotels or really high-end boutiques with lots of amenities). Hotels will vary in quality and some rooms will be underwhelming (depending on where you are) and some will be wonderful. Same with restaurants - the best food I had was the homemade food in a small village prepared by locals, which was delicious.
* As many folks have mentioned, the tours can definitely be more expensive than do-it-yourself trips and other tour companies that can spread the cost among more folks (and have the volume and scale to negotiate really nice hotels and still hold down the costs below what RS charges). I know this because my parents go on other tours, like Trafalgar, and their hotels are really nice and sometimes not at the expense of having a 40+ tour group. I don't care enough about business hotels, but I do look at whether the overall cost is competitive for a small group tour.
* I wish RS would reach out to diversify the demographic makeup of the tours to appeal to a wider age range, more balanced gender mix of single travelers (the single tour members seem to be overwhelmingly women), and broader racial/ethnic categories of travelers.

* I also wish RS tours would slowly branch out to lesser-visited countries - Romania, Ukraine, Bosnia (more than just Mostar), and more areas in Russia, Hungary, Serbia, Baltics, etc. The folks who don't need a lot of hand-holding in major European countries (me included), or who have already taken 5-10 RS tours, would probably welcome this.

Posted by
1572 posts

We started out traveling on our own, have done 2 RS (Heart of Italy, Greece), a river cruise and another small- group tour company. The cruise and the other small group tour were at the request of friends. We always build a few extra days on our own when we're doing a tour and we do our own transportation, too.

After seeing other options, RS tours are still our favorite for the following reasons ( although we'll go anywhere with compatible travel partners)

  • Quality of the guides both tour and locals; ours have been universally top quality. We arranged one on our own in Provence and the guide that showed up was Chinese, spoke a little English and no French. He took us to a village whose name we still have no clue. It makes for a great story, but not the original plan.

    • costs are upfront; no additional tipping. To me, it makes the tour cost slightly deceptive if you are tacking on an extra 150€ Per person.
    • food, both quality, quantity or lack of. I think we decided after our Greece tour, we don't need to eat if RS isn't feeding us! We were so full from most of our group meals that we could have skipped meals or just had a snack. We felt with the other tours that we were being fed way too much and not very locally.
  • Our RS guides both seemed to be the respect and authority by the home office to deal with individual tour issues. When someone on the RS tour got a cold, the guide was at the pharmacy the next free time, unlike another guide who left to the tour participant and half the bus ended up infected.

  • energy and exercise

  • we don't love being front and center by 8:30, but we like being at the museums ahead of the crowds.

Posted by
86 posts

Things I particularly like about RS tours:
Efficiency and ease of travel; not having to worry about missing train or bus connections, or standing in line to buy admissions.
Everything is paid for up front; no tipping or unexpected costs.
The guides are generally wonderful and the ones who live, or have lived, in the countries we visit give us a more personal view and great insights into the country. The one guide I wasn't crazy about had not actually lived in the country of the tour, and was markedly less good.

Definitely LIKE the fact that we often use hotels that are not luxury-type; and we have to carry our own suitcases. I think the fact that there's a certain amount of "roughing it" weeds out people who expect to be pampered. And it's not like any of the tour hotels are scruffy; often they are considerably nicer than ones I stay in when I travel on my own.

Often I travel with younger (20-something) relatives and I like the structure of the tour, because it gets them up and going early in the morning. The "tour schedule" gets to be responsible for early morning starts instead of me!!

Don't like:
The buddy intros! Fortunately some guides don't feel it necessary to include that.

Posted by
891 posts

Like:

  • Planning, etc., taken care of: while I relish traveling on my own, arriving at the tour location is when the true vacation/relaxation feeling usually kicks in.
  • Not too much structure: I must say the best group I can recall was on the MyWay Alpine. The group really jelled, maybe because we did not have the typical guided tour structures to adhere to.
  • Space on the bus: I love having lots of space on the bus.
  • Knowledgeable guides: I enjoy guides from the countries we are touring as well as American guides. Each brings a different story to tell.
  • If we are staying in a location more than one day, I have appreciated the opportunity, from time to time, to take a vacation from the vacation.

Not so much:

  • Amount of food consumed (or not) in group meals: generally, I find the casual meals with other tour members more enjoyable than those scheduled with the whole group. Some group meals seem like a showcase of every local dish - a conundrum since I can't eat that much but feel impolite not consuming the local faves. Alternatively, I am sure some of the group meals are from the tourist menu. Either way, most times, I would rather choose on my own.
  • Name game and buddy intros are not my favorite. Buddy system is very useful, though.
  • Occasionally, grumps persist.

Of course, there is NEVER enough time. I am very much looking forward to new tours and more MyWay options.

Debbie

Posted by
377 posts

Such good responses from everyone. I think it is so helpful to have differing perspectives, and especially appreciate the folks who were "tour specific" in their feedback. It really helps as we discern how to best spend our travel dollars.
I notice that hotel rooms are a common focus for both positives and negatives. I was thinking we could help each other by listing the hotels we used on RS tours. Other tour companies list the hotel names before you even book, and I am sure that RS books their hotels a year out so I don't really understand why it has to be such a mystery. Once I knew the hotels, I checked the hotels' individual websites for more information. I also checked Tripadvisor, and in my experience the traveler photos are VERY accurate. Forewarned is forearmed, and knowing exactly what to expect is probably a winning scenario.
I will start:
Tallinn, Helsinki, St Petersburg tour:
T- My City Hotel
H- Rivoli Jardin
SPB- Pushka Inn

Prague/Budapest tour:
P- Metamorphis Hotel
B- K and K Opera

All of these cost the general public about 100 Euro/night. Some a little less, some a little more.
Hope this helps someone. Looking forward to seeing what others will share.

Posted by
756 posts

I will disclose I have not yet been on an RS Tour. However, as to cost, we traveled to Europe last summer (high exchange rate) for 32 days and visited 8 countries. Average cost per day was $476.03 per day for 2 people. (I tracked every Euro). We stayed at very nice hotels (Marriott and similar) in all major cities and moderate hotels elsewhere. The true fact is that you can do it all cheaper than any company guided tour. However, guided tours make your life a little easier such as guides, skipping some lines, etc. If you are not a planner or good map reader or like to use public transit, stick to tours.

However, when you are on your own, you are flexible. You can skip things that turn out dull and do something else. You can eat when and where you please and sleep in or start your day early or late. You can change in the middle of your trip and visit unplanned places along your train routes.

Guided Tours=More Expensive+Structured
On Your Own=Flexibility and Cost Control

Posted by
1535 posts

I've done 4 RS tours (17 day Italy, Ireland, Spain, Eastern Europe). My two cents (and probably redundant):

Pros

  • Logistics are primarily covered, but you have room to do your own research. I love planning for trips, but I work 40+ hours a week, so much of my time is occupied with earning the money and vacation time. Yes, leaving the structure to someone else comes at a price, but the trade off to me is worth it. I know in advance what included activities I can expect and I have some liberty to choose my own adventure on my free time. I also don't have to worry about logistics and can just relax and enjoy myself. Side note: I took a tour in SE Asia last year and was flabbergasted by some of my tour mates who did not notice two full "free days" listed on the itinerary. They sat by the hotel pool all day while I took a motorbike tour one day and a cooking class another. They thought I was nuts. I had a blast.
  • I've had wonderful guides on every tour, and they kept getting better (notably Peter P. in Eastern Europe and Helen I. in Spain). The local guides do vary in quality, but that's true when you plan your own tours too. For those that had a bad experience in this regard, make sure to fill out your tour survey completely (and give names/locations where you were dissatisfied). My understanding is the Big Man Himself reads the reviews - if they don't hear about it, they can't change it.
  • Though not every group meal was out of the ballpark, the vast majority were lovely. Especially in Spain (wine was included - may not be the case any more).
  • With an exception here or there, my experience is the hotel quality is getting better. On my Eastern Europe tour, the hotel at Lake Bled had fluffy bathrobes and gigantic rooms, much more posh than I would have selected on my own.
  • I'm one of the few that LOVED the early morning start times....we early birds rarely have others join us on adventures.

Cons

  • Single folk random roomie rotation doesn't work for me any more (single supplements or a known travel-mate are in my future).
  • My own fault, but failure to plan free time (see "pro" above). My first tour to Italy I did not spend enough time thinking about the free time aspect and wandered aimlessly for a couple of stops before catching on. I also spent way too much time researching restaurants (you really don't have THAT much free time to eat). I'm still looking for the happy medium in this regard.
  • Any other cons were either unforeseen events (weather, strikes, volcanoes erupting) that can happen on any adventure or unexpected health issues (super bad jet lag on one tour, and also caught cold near the end of another). Hand sanitizer and sleeping pills accompany me on all trips now.

Just side note to the comments regarding tour mates stocking up at breakfast (for lunch) or not knowing when you will have "free lunch" time ahead of time. In my experience, a quiet side conversation with the guide can remedy both situations. The guide usually can give you some hints about what days you might want to pre-plan lunches. Peter, our E. Europe guide gave us a daily schedule on the first day - for every single tour day - so we knew exactly what to plan for. The guide can also make a general (tactful) announcement about food swiping to the group. The RS folks want to remain on good terms with the hoteliers too, and wiping out the breakfast buffet doesn't really help them in that regard.

Posted by
12402 posts

We haven't taken an RS tour so I can't speak to what we liked but I can tell you why we haven't booked one yet?

Everyone travels differently, and tours can be an excellent choice for some folks so I'd never to talk them down… and especially not on RS forums! HA! At the same time I'll lift this quote from Rick's own biography:

"...he encourages Americans to travel as "temporary locals." He helps American travelers connect much more intimately and authentically with Europe — and Europeans — for a fraction of what mainstream tourists pay."

Independent travel has provided some of that "temporary locals" piece for us, and a lot more flexibility. It also enables me to better provide insights for other travelers when I've, say, had to learn and use local transport and country train systems myself. For sure, it's a lot more work, but the payoff has been well worth it to be able to go and do exactly what we want to, when we want to, versus be tied to a schedule and agenda.

I'll have to very kindly dispute the "fraction of the price" claim above, unless it's being compared to similar tour offerings, as I know for a fact that we're able to do our trips for quite a bit less per day. We may end up totaling the same or more but we've been able to go for longer periods of time by trading the conveniences of provided meals, activities, transport and day tours for online research, like the RS forum + others, and a couple of good guidebooks.

We also may not fit as many attractions/activities/cities into a day/week either but we can spend more time in the cities/attractions which interest us, and none at all at those which don't and wouldn't want to pay for. We can also do it without being surrounded by a group most of the time - although we both enjoy the company of upbeat, interesting people very much.

There's no right or wrong at all about the choice depending on personal style? I'm not saying that we'll never take a tour - as there are parts of the world with language, transport and/or security challenges beyond our personal comfort level - but so far, so good. One benefit of an RS tour I'd never argue with? The ability to become just familiar enough with Europe that it would feel less daunting if wishing to make that next trip on your own: priceless!

Posted by
5890 posts

I've been a fan of RS since the early eighties, and it seems to me that the main focus of his travel guidance and guides has always been traveling independently "at a fraction of the price". The tours came later, as a compromise, for people that decided that they preferred having someone else do the planning, and were willing to pay for it. The early books were full of advice on eating off trays in college cafeterias, and sleeping on someone's sofa. Not many tours would get away with that. I did travel independently often when younger, and yes you can find cheaper on your own. But cheaper doesn't always mean a better value.

The hotels on the tours are more expensive than you might find on your own, but I think thats because it is hard to find "small, family run" hotels that have 15 rooms available all summer long, and willing to block them out. Hence, larger, more expensive hotels.

While some of the travelers we've met on RS tours were first timers, I'd say the majority were experienced travelers, and about half had done previous RS tours. So seems to me that they have done something right.

Posted by
12402 posts

LOL! We've never resorted to sleeping on someone else's sofa, thank heavens. Spend some time on Thorn Tree and you'll find more of the travelers who do it that way. But I think you're right about the tours coming later as a compromise to the budget DIY'ers Stan. And yes, obviously they're doing a great many things very well!

The splurge on the most recent trip was a few nights at a terrific hotel in Munich (abt. $150 per night with great breakfast) but everything else was under that, and all were perfectly fine. I'm a little picky about hotels so spend a lot of time finding good fits.

Posted by
26 posts

I have only done one RS tour-BOE 21 day. It has been my only trip to Europe so I was glad every thing was planned by someone other than me. One other person wrote that they thought the planning was half of the fun-argh-not for some of us. I'll gladly pay the extra $ for the efficiency and planning.
Best:
Tour guide and (mostly) wonderful local guides -not crazy about the Louvre tour guide we had
Some of the other tour members
The itinerary
Least:
Craft type demos in Venice and the wine tasting in Beaune- I would have rather explored more of the town
Some of the other tour members-those who created cliques and did not want any one else to join them

Posted by
304 posts

A lot of what I'd want to say has already been said, so what can I add? I'll try this...

Likes

  • flexibility. On my RS tour there were several times when the guide told us "we're just a few miles from X, its not on the planned itinerary, but lets take a detour and go see it." It would be much harder to do that on your own since you don't have the local knowledge of the guide & driver.
  • creating a smooth experience. I just saw in the forum that farmers are blocking the road to Mont St Michel and also some roads out of Caen. As a traveler I might not even be aware of it until I was trapped in the backup since the local news is in a language I don't speak. I'd probably end up losing a lot of that day of vacation, and since I want to stay in one of the hotels RS mentions near it on the mainland I probably can't even get to the hotel which means losing that deposit and the fun of driving around the area trying to find a place to sleep. I contrast that with a RS tour where we were on the way to the Cinque Terre and the guide said there was a planned rail strike and that if it happened they'd arrange for a boat to meet us in Levanto (where the bus was going to drop us off for the train) and take us to the CT. As it turns out the trains were running, but this is an example of how behind the scenes the RS office and guide can smooth things out in a way that is hard on your own.

Dislikes

  • wine at dinner. Someone mentioned this above too. For what we pay for the tour, why not just provide the wine too? I'm not talking La Tache, there are decent bottles of wine that don't cost a fortune. As a single traveller I don't want to drink a full bottle! And if a few bottles came to the table with dinner then it would be possible to sample a few different wines
  • lack of destination variety. The RS tours explore great destinations, but there is a lot they leave out entirely or don't explore that deeply. Having taken the Loire tour, I was interested in Normandy & Brittany but the Paris & Heart of France tour only spends 3 nites in the area. It seems a longer tour focusing on this area would be possible. Many of the France tours overlap in Paris; a wonderful city, but at tour prices I'd rather spend time in someplace new. There are other regions of France it would be interesting to visit, as well as Italy. Nothing RS offers goes to Bologna, the Best of Southern Italy only goes to the Adriatic coast for 2 days when I think you could have an entire tour going down that side of Italy from Ravenna to Lecce.
Posted by
260 posts

I already gave my two-cents when this topic first came up, and I must say, although I understand the reason for needing to change the evaluation format, the posted reviews are not nearly as helpful as before.

I've been on several RS Tours, and we're going on the Southern France tour in September. So I'm a veteran, so I generally do really enjoy the tours.

best thing: with only one exception (yes, I'll say it, the Belgium/Holland tour a few years ago) we liked the main tour guides very very much - and a few were amazing (both Ninas in Italy, Jamie, husband on one of the Ninas on another Italy particularly stand out). We also have generally found the day tour guides very fine as well. I don't think most of the tours have extremely early starts - but maybe I haven't been on any of those tours!

I agree about wine with dinner. Group dinners should just include this.

I found most of the group meals to be pretty good - generally not just in a hotel restaurant. I think maybe the individual tour guides get some input on where to go for these dinners - maybe I'm wrong here (RS monitor, please correct if I am).

I truly dislike the amount of money asked for the single supplement. I went on the Adriatic tour last year alone, and it was very expensive to have a single room. As the RS tours age, fewer of us are interested in roomies, and one of the competitors, Overseas Adventure Travels, offers (a limited) number of spots on their tours for no additional cost. I urge the RS org to reconsider the steep single price. Surely some of the tours must not be difficult to have this as an option. Also, perhaps offer a break on the single supplements on the price of the "sale" trips? Whatever.

I've only run up against the group of folks not wanting to mingle trwo times - once my last tour, actually - which is ironically my only single tour so far. It made it pretty lonely. I didn't even realize until the end of the tour that this was probably the reason for the lack of generosity on their part. But interestingly, these folks mostly didn't know anyone until they met on various other RS trips - so in a way, a real endorsement for RS tours! Anyway, I'm now very sensitive to including singles in our plans when my husband and I travel together. I know how it feels to feel a bit left out! The other tour the folks were part of a family group (older folks, not kids) who were also kind of grumpy in general (and this was the Belgium/Holland tour with a guide that didn't help things much).

Posted by
260 posts

oops; correction to last post. Paragraph read:

I've only run up against the group of folks not wanting to mingle trwo times - once my last tour, actually - which is ironically my only single tour so far. It made it pretty lonely. I didn't even realize until the end of the tour that this was probably the reason for the lack of generosity on their part. But interestingly, these folks mostly didn't know anyone until they met on various other RS trips - so in a way, a real endorsement for RS tours! Anyway, I'm now very sensitive to including singles in our plans when my husband and I travel together. I know how it feels to feel a bit left out! The other tour the folks were part of a family group (older folks, not kids) who were also kind of grumpy in general (and this was the Belgium/Holland tour with a guide that didn't help things much).

Should have read:

I've only run up against the group of folks not wanting to mingle trwo times - one on my last tour, actually - which is ironically my only single tour so far. It made it pretty lonely. But interestingly, these folks mostly didn't know anyone until they met on various other RS trips - so in a way, a real endorsement for RS tours! Anyway, I'm now very sensitive to including singles in our plans when my husband and I travel together. I know how it feels to feel a bit left out! The other tour the folks were part of a family group (older folks, not kids) who were also kind of grumpy in general (and this was the Belgium/Holland tour with a guide that didn't help things much).

Posted by
503 posts

I am considering taking my first RS tour (on one wait list for this year, if I don't get on, then next year), so this thread has been interesting helpful to read. One thing that stands out in the "cons" list, is the name game. It seems that most people dislike it very much so I wonder why RS continues doing it? Or, at least the guides should let the group vote as to whether or not they want to do it. For 26 years I worked for a company that constantly did this at all business meetings and everyone hated it. Never understood why an entity would continue with something that is so off-putting to people.

Posted by
865 posts

I don't really mind the name game. It's like 15 minutes out of 7 to 21 days, and it actually does help reinforce face-to-name associations (for me, at least). What I really dislike are the buddy introductions. For me, that's panic time. The buddy system, however, is a good thing.

What makes an RS tour a good one is the guide (and, to some extent, the local guides). My first RS tour was of Rome in 2004. I had a fabulous time, but a large part of the reason I booked another tour in 2006 (and eight more since) was because the guide on that first tour was amazing. Rome speaks for itself, but she made the tour just that much more memorable. I've only had two guides I didn't care for, and one of them was a fine guide: I'd have followed him anywhere. I just didn't particularly care for him as a person.

What I don't like, as a few have mentioned, are blocs of people traveling together; they can be exclusionary, even without meaning to be. (Not that RS is going to ban groups!) Also, a dud of a local guide can feel like a waste of a morning or afternoon but, fortunately, they are a rarity.

On the whole, I think RS tours are good value for money. In the 90s I traveled on my own, but I feel I get more out of an RS tour.

Posted by
14267 posts

I've enjoyed reading everyone's input on this thread. But what is the buddy introduction and why is it off-putting? I've been on 2 RS tours, on the first, I missed the meet-and-greet, and my bus buddy was the guide, so I didn't experience the introductions or the name game. On the second, we did a pleasanter version of the name game - we each stated our name, then 2 or 3 times, we went around the circle with everyone saying each name. No one was put on the spot.

I've been on tours with an Israeli company. They are similar to RS, small group, excellent guides, in-depth travel experience. They never do the name game - it's simply assumed that with a friendly group of 30 or less, over a couple of days everyone will get to know each other and no one will be insulted if someone doesn't remember their name.

Posted by
5890 posts

Chani, the Buddy Introduction is a common business technique to force you to interact with a stranger in a group setting. You select or assigned someone you did not come with, and spend a few minutes talking to each other. Then you are expected to introduce your buddy to the group, describing some interesting detail that you have learned about them in that short time. People don't like it because it forces you to ask a stranger personal questions, and also to share something interesting about yourself. I've experienced this in a number of work training events, and don't like it either, but have to admit that it does work in breaking the ice. The alternative is having everyone stand up and introduce themselves, which people don't seem to be comfortable doing either.

Posted by
524 posts

Buddy Intros work this way: You stand up, before the entire group, and give a little speech about your buddy. This is done several days into the tour and insures that you and your buddy get to know each other. The name game is: stand in a circle, first person says name, second person says first person's name and their own, the third person says 1st and 2nd person's names and their own, and so on. The last person must say every tour member's name.

Posted by
8186 posts

I've noticed that one common pet peeve is groups traveling together. I'm planning on traveling with a group next year, and I didn't consider that it could be off putting to those outside of the group. We will have to pay extra attention to not insulating ourselves from others and to be inclusive. Thanks to those who brought this up.

Posted by
902 posts

I think the buddy system is a smart idea in that it avoids any type of roll call and is a good way to check that no one is accidentally left behind. It's also a way to make a friendly connection with a tour member you don't know. I only recall buddy introductions being done on the one and only longer (more than 8 days) RS tour I've taken. Maybe they don't do it on the shorter/city trips?
Overall, though, I don't think it's necessary to have to introduce a stranger. Neither the name game or buddy intros were done on the London tour I took, and I don't think a soul missed it. We all just naturally got to know each other over the week.

Posted by
61 posts

Haven taken several RS tours, I have participated in the Name Game and Buddy Intros. Definitely not a fan of the Name Game! Part of the fun of group travel is getting to know your tour members in a natural/casual manner. So many of my other tour members have voiced the same opinion that I find it hard to understand why some guides still utilize this approach. One of the greatest RS guides we had on a past tour opened the tour meet and greet with the following statement " I do not play the Name Game". There was an immediate round of applause !

Posted by
1047 posts

The name game and buddy introductions sure seem to be unpopular. I wouldn't mind if the guide asked each of the tour members to say something about themselves. It would probably help break the ice and would facilitate meeting the other tour members.

Posted by
8293 posts

I have never been on a Rick Steves tour but I have been on others, several times with a group of friends, maybe 5 or 6. I must admit that it never occurred to me that our little coterie would be resented by others. Do I really have an obligation to be anything but pleasant and friendly? Must my group ask others to join us on free time outings? Our way of touring is just as valid as anyone's and it doesn't necessarily include making dear friends of others in the tour group. I am very aware of being in an unpopular minority here.

Posted by
1047 posts

You definitely are under no obligation to interact with others outside of your friends, but it would be great if you saw a single traveler eating by themselves and ask them to join your party for a meal or two. I wouldn't feel obligated as much for a couple as they have each other, but you could sure make a lone traveler's tour if they felt that they could share their experience with someone over dinner. On the flip side, I have befriended lone travelers before only to find out that they clung to me making it a suffocating experience. It is a tough call for sure.

Posted by
8293 posts

Yup. On a two week stay at a hotel in Malta one year with a group of friends, we befriended a Scottish lady who wintered every year in Malta. She turned out to be a boring drunk who sucked all the fun from our gatherings.

Posted by
8203 posts

"*On the flip side, I have befriended lone travelers before only to find out that they clung to me making it a suffocating experience. It is a tough call for sure. *"

As a solo traveler I have also befriended someone who turned out to be clingy and had to extricate myself from that but it was on a Road Scholar tour not a Rick Steves tour. It was certainly awkward.

Yes, I'm one that mentioned upthread about a group of travelers changing a tour dynamic. As a solo traveler I don't expect anyone to befriend me, invite me to have a meal with them or even talk with me as I am good on my own. But it is always annoying when there is a group traveling together and, say, the Tour group goes for a group meal. If you are seated at a big table then there is always commotion so the people traveling together can sit next to each other. For heaven's sake...just file in and sit next to someone else for a change. They might possibly be interesting. If you do insist on your group-within-a-group sitting next to each other then make sure you walk in together. Same goes when the larger group is on a walking tour, a museum tour or any other activity.

On the first Rick Steves' tour I went on, at the first meet up the guide did something really great. She suggested we make it a point to sit with different people for every meal and that couples should make a point to not sit with each other all the time. I was traveling with 4 others in a family group (brother, SIL and 2 20-something nephews) and we took her words to heart. The nephews, especially, had a wonderful time sitting with everyone and getting to know everyone. BTW, no name game or buddy intros on this one!

My impression of the Name Game is that it is a company policy and some guides feel they can't skip it. I don't mind that terribly but I do mind the buddy introductions. You introduce yourselves at the initial meeting (have done so at all 5 of my tours) and that is enough. I have been on some tours where people opted out of the Name Game.

Posted by
468 posts

I just wanted to chime in and say not all large groups are exclusionary. On our tour, there was an extended family of 7 (3 generations). Sometimes they were all together, but just as often one couple sat with some of the others on the tour at one table and another couple sat with a different group at a different table and the teens sat with the other teens in the group. We ran into them on our own the day after the tour and our family ended up joining their family for an absolutely wonderful last dinner in Paris together. They couldn't have been nicer or more welcoming.

Posted by
11450 posts

I have only taken one RS tour.. it was Family Europe in 14 days. I had travelled independently for at least 20 years before taking this tour. I had just taken my 13 yr old son to France and England two years before.. as my husband and I had decided to take each one of our three kids to Europe solo.. so it was me with oldest son,, next year was hubby with our second son( they did England, Germany and France) , and then me again with our 11 yr old youngest child ( daughter). Notice by volunteering to go first I got two trips out of it.. lol
Both of my sons have issues that made a tour not a good idea.. but my daughter was ( and is) a very social and "easy" child.. so I really wanted to do a lot more with her.. visit more countries etc.

I could have done it on my own.. and in fact I did add 12 extra days of independent time.. but I also felt that having someone else handle the logistics would be a great break for me.. And,, it was.

So.. huge pro is that the logistics are handled.. no running to catch trains( never sure till last minute which track to run to.. hauling luggage and a kid) no trying to find the hotel late at night with exhausted cranky kid etc..

My daughter loved the tour.. its so social.. the kids took over the back of the bus and had a ball. Parents had some time to relax and socialize( an evening in Venice had the kids choosing to hang out on the patio at our hotel, while myself and two other moms on their own , took the time to walk a block or two away and have a civilized drink on a square..

The rooms we had were all fine by me.. I do not stay in fancy or chain hotels anyways.. so certainly felt some of the hotels were even better then one is let to expect they may be ,,

The group meals.. well,, they were not a highlight food wise for us.. but were fine.. the fun part was the socializing we could do with the other tour members. One exception was the fondue in Switzerland was amazing. Also.. we had a traveller with Celiac and one child with severe food allergies.. the tour made sure these folks were accomadated to the best of their abilities.

The guide we had was good, and we had an assistant guide along who was great with the kids.. and when one little girl fell and cut herself, he was able to take the parents and child to get medical help while head guide continued on with our day. This was a huge relief and help to those parents.. not having to deal with where to go and language issues.

The bus driver was good.. felt very safe with him at the wheel..

Loved some of the special hotels.. and some of the surprise activities.

I liked bus time.. gave me a chance to nap and just daydream looking at amazing scenery..

The cons.. well , honestly there were so few.. I would think number one for me was the price.. I know I can and do spend less.. but then , I have to do my own homework and research.. so you are paying for the convenience.
Also .. of course.. one would often like more time in some places and less in others.. but its a great way to get a taste of many places.. and then you can decide to go back on your own one day.

We had one local guide ( Rome) who bored the kids to tears.. and this was an exception.. a private guided tour of the Louvre had even the most reluctant child enjoying art and exhibits!

I would take another tour.. but frankly.. not till I am quite a bit older and don't feel like doing any research. I also hope they expand their tour menus.. and I think they may.

Posted by
260 posts

I loved all these comments - especially the ones about the drunken singles - hope I wasn't that one on the trip I did w/o a spouse.

I've been on tours where they didn't do the silly name game. I agree it is dumb, and from now on I will definitely make up great stuff about myself (i.e. ex CIA-FBI-MI5-MI6 high ranking spy, etc.).

Buddy system of checking: is a good idea. Ensures everyone is present w/o awful guides with umbrellas, name tags, etc.

I'd add also as a no-no: don't talk politics. You are bound to violently disagree with someone you formerly thought was just great, and you won't like them as much after you discover their 1) extremely right-wing or 2) extremely left-wing views (depending on your own political point of view).

Posted by
11450 posts

I like the "make up crap" for buddy games idea.. I would totally try that next time I take a tour.. "renown astronaut and tight rope walker, when not being a super model and world class yodeler" ... lol

Posted by
865 posts

Definitely make stuff up! On one trip, my buddy introduced me to the group by telling an outrageous lie about me being arrested for art forgery and paying off my debt to my lawyers by working at their firm. The bus got really quiet, and I heard someone whisper to someone else, "Really?" I thought it was hilarious!

Posted by
902 posts

I was one of the group dynamic commenters. No, I don't think you're obligated to ask other people to dinner if you're traveling with your ready-made group unless you wish to, but as another poster mentioned, don't cause upheaval or frown just because one or two people from your group have to sit at a different table with Suzy and John from Tuscaloosa or Pat from Portland one night at a group dinner. Likewise don't act all surprised if Pat from Portland who is traveling solo, notices you have a spot open at your table and asks if it's available. That's all I'm talking about.

Posted by
43 posts

I completely agree with what David said about the buddy introductions: "it also puts folks on the spot and can make them uncomfortable....not what they are paying thousands of $$ for."

Posted by
4534 posts

I'm surprised that people are so worked up about the buddy introductions. I just have never found them intrusive. No one is under any obligation to reveal sensitive information about themselves. If being forced to converse with someone for 10 minutes and then introduce them to a group of 25 people is the worst experience of a RS trip for most people, it shows the trips are pretty well done.

Posted by
1917 posts

I would like to say that my Berlin, Prague, Vienna tour group this June enjoyed the buddy introductions. Many of us found it helped our group to bond and opened a topic of conversation when someone mentioned an interesting fact about themselves. For example, one lady likes to bake so it is a way for others to chat with her and learn about her world. I like the RS philosophy- a way for curious and sociable people to learn about the world.
A comment about solo travelers: no one is obligated to include a solo but it is nice to ask them occasionally to join you at a group dinner or an outing. I was alone on a trip last fall to Paris & the Heart of France and I was very conscious of not intruding on other couples' privacy. Most people did not notice I was alone for the first few days, then 3 - 5 couples started including me in things, not always of course. I did not want to be clingy. The tour turned out very nicely but I did feel quite lonely sometimes. Finding a good traveling companion is a challenge. I am not a loner so it would be hard for me to do it again but I would not rule it out. The 2 trips I have been on I made some friends that I might contact for future trips. There is hope! So my message is be kind to the solo traveler and you never know they might be very interesting and enhance the tour.

Judy B
Atlanta

Posted by
672 posts

Many of us found it helped our group to bond and opened a topic of conversation when someone mentioned an interesting fact about themselves.

I agree with this, but it can easily be accomplished by simply introducing ourselves. There is no need for a stranger to do it. Nor is there a need to waste time interviewing each other.

Posted by
3747 posts

Pndidy, you are going to be voted "The Best Entertainer" on your trip!

Posted by
4360 posts

pndldy, please keep Spring 2016 open and available!!! Let's talk ;-) I don't even know where to start with your post...Making up crap and drinking wine from the bottle (alone) are my faves...although the lonely puppy eyes definitely rate mentioning. And I always wait until the end of the breakfast service before stuffing my bra with 'lunch'. I'm a considerate little traveler. I'd like to share a lonely bottle of wine with you sometime - from separate tables (with diverted eyes, of course; no lonely puppy eyes allowed), and drinking from our own, bought-and-paid-for-by-ourselves wine bottles...before scurrying back to our respective solo places.

I, too, am planning on taking my first RST next spring with a group of 7+, and one of my first thoughts concerned not keeping to ourselves and 'circling the wagons' around our little party. I really don't see that happening with this particular group, so I'm not worried. We're all pretty outgoing and like to meet other travelers, so we'll be mixing with the others...if they'll have us...

I'm already making up crap for the tour...

Posted by
4360 posts

...and I forgot to add that this thread is waaaaay more informative and helpful than the official Tour Reviews have been for the last year or two...

Posted by
8203 posts

"*I agree with this, but it can easily be accomplished by simply introducing ourselves. There is no need for a stranger to do it. Nor is there a need to waste time interviewing each other. *"

Yes, totally agree with Nancy. As others have also said it mirrors some corporate workshop activities and I think that is why it I am turned off by it. I don't need an intervention to talk with someone. With most RS groups all you need is the aforementioned wine, lol!

However, in spite of my dislike of the buddy introduction process, I AM preparing my introduction of Eileen for her tour in 2016, ...starting with the events that led up to her being admitted to the Witness Protection Program and her unsuccessful bid to establish a National Park in her new name.

Posted by
4360 posts

LOL, Pam! Of course now you've blown my cover; I'll have to go back to being 'Mary', Texan in CA...

Wine and making up crap - two of my specialties. Sometimes planets align and It's Your Time. Carpe diem.

yosemite1, good topic!

Posted by
1047 posts

I am glad there isn't a 500 word restriction on this post. It is really hard to get anything meaningful in under 500 words that people will find useful.

Posted by
153 posts

Ok, I need to go somewhere with all of you! What a trip that would be!

Posted by
14267 posts

Cathy, you are with us. We're here trippin' every day, all year!

Posted by
260 posts

Hi Chani! I'll be tripping to Israel next Spring. One of the many tempting places RS doesn't go to! Can't wait

Posted by
110 posts

Jumping in here a little late in the game but here is my 2 cents worth:

I liked that I supported a local small business that also supports PBS. Also that the company did not have any extra fees or hidden costs and that what is included and not included was stated plainly.
The main guide and local guide were great and made the trip fun.
I had a good time but I still prefer independant travel over tours.

Edit to add:
I had a love/hate relationship with the wispher system the your guides used on my tour. I liked that my guide did not have to talk over or yell when giving info/lectures. But my ears did not like the earpeices/headphones, by the end of the tour I only used one ear at a time and only if I really had too.

Posted by
377 posts

Janet, I agree with all your comments except the "small local business". With 20,000 people taking tours last year that is $70+ million dollars...then there are the books, travel gear, speaking engagements. The company does support PBS and a lot of other great causes, but it is now a major travel corporation.

Posted by
4572 posts

Just a few comments... As someone above mentioned, the buddy system itself is great - an easy way to keep track of folks without roll call every stop. In fact, the only tour we took (Best of Paris) where the guide did not do regular buddy checks, we misplaced several people at Versailles, and nearly left on excursions without members at least twice.

We've only been on one tour (21 day BOE) where buddy introductions were done, and that was well into the trip. (And it was during a "happy hour," so was not as bad as it could have been.) The name game is not our favorite part, but it's over in 15 minutes. And most of the tours we have been on haven't done it.

The first RS tour we took, Best of Florence (RIP), we figured that given the quality of hotel and restaurants, we probably would have spent the same amount of money on our own. Of course, had we done it on our own, we would not have stayed in that hotel or eaten in those restaurants. In fact, we stayed on after the tour, and immediately moved from the Torre Guelfa to Katti House.

The hotels we have stayed at have all been great; some were luxurious, some were tiny, but all were clean and safe, with a good breakfast. In fact, we've been surprised at the high quality of the hotels. Yes, many of the rooms are small, but perfectly adequate. Clean and safe; you're only there to sleep, after all.

We're gearing up for RS tour number 10 in 2016. We haven't decided where we're going yet, but we know we'll have a wonderful time. Happy travels!

Posted by
110 posts

@travellingmom
I was stating my reasons for going on a Rick Steves tour and giving a company my money. From what I understand businesses are classified (by US gov) as small because of the amount of employees they have not necessarily by the amount of revenue.
PS
you do know RS uses outside venders/contractors to print his books and make his travel goods/luggage, right? So he has no direct control over workers who actually make his products/books.

Posted by
350 posts

FWIW, the SBA has this definition of a small business:

Services: Annual receipts may not exceed $2.5 to $21.5 million

So, RS is no longer a small business. Good for them! But, they are local, and the last time I checked RS is not threatening to move to Ireland to reduce his tax burden, or Thailand to get cheaper labour, or New York so he can hobnob in a penthouse with the super wealthy.

Most likely he is a mid sized business. Not mom and pop, and not MegaCorp. Success can be tough!

Posted by
350 posts

I like the no tipping policy (though I often have chipped in for a gift for the tour guide, which is a pleasure and far less expensive than the tips suggested below.)

I found this at another tour company's sight. " it’s customary to offer your Tour Director and driver a gratuity. We recommend tipping in your tour country’s currency, the equivalency of $3USD/CAD per person per day for your driver and $6USD/CAD to $9USD/CAD per person per day for your Tour Director. If applicable, we also recommend the equivalency of $2USD/CAD per local guide. "

On my last tour that would have added a good $120 per person to the cost at the lowest suggested tipping rate above.

Oh, I also like the discount for paying cash instead of using a credit card. It's a wash with me because I have a cash back card, but it shows a concern for the customer by refunding the savings on credit card fees. Its good to have that option.

Posted by
1210 posts

Actually he does have some control over his suppliers and I recall a blog post a year or so ago where the family company that prints his books (in Winnipeg) presented him with a quilt with the cover of the Italy book on it.

Posted by
195 posts

I've been on one tour (Hear of Italy) and just today I was up at the RD Travel Center taking a class on traveling in the UK.

Likes:
Guides - our tour had a first time RS guide (she had been a guide for over 20 year but this was her first time working for Rick Steves and a back up guide who was like employee number 7 and Ricks neighbor. Both were amazing -- one of our group had an accident and hurt her knew the guides took care of getting her set up with crutches, having a wheel chair waiting for her when we got to our next hotel.
Group dynamic - love that the group small and no grumps is self policing

Dislikes - none I even liked the name game but I like any opportunity to be the center of attention :)

Non tour related likes:
The company treats their customers very well, the zipper on my RS bag broke on out first day on Rome when I returned home I took it back to the travel center with the receipt ready to explain what happened the only question they asked (after apologizing profusely) is did I want the same color.

I had a chance to visit with our tour guide when she came to Seattle in January for an all company meeting she told me that she's never been treated as well as she has working for RS. They are allowed to pick their schedule, given some autonomy over what restaurants they want to use, they have complete support from the home office so if something goes wrong they can get it fixed without the guests on the tour suffering any down time.

As a "corporate citizen" RS gives a lot back to the community where he lives and where the business is located. He could easily have gone to the Travel Channel and probably make even more money but he stays on PBS and is always on the local station for HOURS during pledge week. And he is SO gracious, I was at a concert in Seattle where is was an attendee and people kept coming up to him to get a picture and tell him about their travel experiences. With each and every person he was really listening to them and asking them questions when he just trying to get back to his seat before the music starts.

Posted by
99 posts

Great thread. We just did our first (and last) RS tour: Tallin, Helsinki, St Petersburg. We've always travelled independently, but (like travelling mom) were reluctant to tackle Russia on our own.
Liked
Etelka, our RS guide
The hotels (always in a good location, smallish & comfortable)
Other group members

Disliked
The "Walking" tours entailed too little walking and too much time standing in one place. That is hard on my back and very tiring.
Most of the local guides. For the most part, they talked too much, were hard to hear or understand.
The Hermitage tour was too long. It was so crowded you had to spend time waiting to look at whatever the guide was going talk about. We left after 2.5 hours to go to another building and see the impressionists, then rode the Metro to a stop with no tourists, had a beer, and just watched people.
Being on a Schedule....We like to get out very early - starting at 9 seemed like wasting a couple of hours.
Feeling forced to learn names - it is artificial. I made it a point to at meals to try and sit with different people to get acquainted.
We didn't interact with locals the way we do when on our own

The best day of the tour was the last day. We flew to Copenhagen, took the Metro to our hotel, checked in and started walking in the Old Town. Discovered there was a jazz festival going on with amazing jazz bands playing on the street. We sat and listened as long as we wanted knowing there was no Schedule.... The feeling of utter freedom to do as we pleased was intoxicating.

Needless to say that, for us, the cost ($800 per day for 2 people) was not justified. I'm already planning our 2016 trip and it won't be part of a tour group. (RS or any other). We'll still do half or full day city tours, but we book those as we want. Knowing what I know now, I'd have opted to go to Russia independently.

Note that the tour reviews are limited to 500 characters (not 500 words). I could not write a thoroughly honest review within that limit.

Posted by
3 posts

I've been on three RS tours by myself and will go on my fourth this Sept, but it will be a "My Way" tour with a friend. I am interested in contrasting the two options.

Every trip has its ups and downs, so I don't sweat the things that have not gone as well as they might have. I've had more pleasant surprises than unpleasant ones. I add time before and after each trip to satisfy my need to do my own things in my own time. For my Sept trip, I am doing the same. I'm a big RS fan - his books are extremely helpful and I've loved my tours.

Posted by
654 posts

One thing that hasn't been mentioned -- the policy (or lack thereof) for people showing up to take the tour when they are sick. On a tour I took there was a guy who showed up just hacking and coughing and clearly not well. This was in late summer, BTW. Now on the one hand him and his wife paid a lot for the tour and I guess they figured there was no turning back. But everyone else paid a lot too. On a bus for a few hours each day the illness passed from person to person; over the 10 days or so I think just about everyone caught it. I know he wasn't the only person in the world at a time with a severe cold; one could get coughed on anywhere. But the confines of the bus just about guaranteed that everyone was going to come down with this and get the fever, runny nose, etc.

Posted by
1047 posts

I have read about that happening on one of the tour reviews. I don't know what can be done. We are paying over $12,000 for our tour and I would hate to lose that money because I had a cold. After reading about that, I had my doctor give me a prescription for an antibiotic that I had filled and will take with me just in case I get really sick. Some people said that they are taking hand sanitizers with them which might help. Hopefully they will instruct anyone who is sick to sit at the back of the bus.

Posted by
1609 posts

I've taken six RS tours, and hope to do several more. With one exception, the guides were great. Very organized, knowledgeable, kind, and caring people. I'm always amazed that they make it look easy, because we know it's not an easy job.

Love to soak up the culture, and to learn about the people and places we visit. Would like to have a bit more free time (maybe two full days during a 13 or 14 day tour).

I don't like the name game, but have no problem with the buddy system or buddy introductions.

The activity level is good. We're used to walking at home, but hills and cobblestones are an added dimension! Most days we took a walk in the evening to get in some steps, or to see something that wasn't on the itinerary.

Agree that groups present a problem... on a tour last year we had three couples traveling together and they refused to interact with the rest of the group. They sat together on the bus, ate together, and only socialized with each other. It really messed up the group dynamics. This year I called the RS office to see if any groups were signed up before my friend and I registered. Worked out much better.

Also, I think there continues to be a problem with some folks failing to read the "not so fine" print. In the beginning (my first RS tour was in 2007), nobody complained. Now there seems to be more grumps traveling!

I think the RS tours are a good value, and a great way to see Europe. Can't wait for the 2016 schedule to be announced!

Posted by
168 posts

Bumping this topic to the top so more folks will see it. Since the official means of reviewing RS tours is flawed, it's good to have this topic on the forum for more thorough reviews.

Posted by
206 posts

I normally travel alone. So, I enjoy the tours and am able to spend time with 20 plus other travelers and still have some time for myself or do things with the others. If you have a problem, there is a guide or many others along to help solve it. Just knowing your hotel and travel is taken care of means a lot. Even though it costs more, at least you know what to budget for. Have had great experience with the tours, and also on days where I am on my own.

Only had one grump to deal with and she was that way with everyone on the tour. Got to be a laughing matter with everyone. Her mate was a really great guy. Have wondered if they are still together after that tour. Don't think I ever saw her smile in the two weeks of the tour. Really wanted to establish a GRUMP SEAT & GRUMP HAT on the bus and at the dinners for her.
Name game. Hope they stop it but everyone laughs and it does not last long.
Enjoy very much being able to keep up on this site and know what others are talking about and needing info on. Without taking one of Rick's tours, it would be hard to give advice regarding the tours.

Posted by
1213 posts

In reply to several posts above about the tour costs. The high cost of a RS tour is one of the reasons I have not taken one yet. My wife and I spent 30 days in Italy last year. Our total cost (including air fare and limo to and from the airport) came out to be just shy of $200 per person per day. Subtract the airfare and limo the cost was about $170 per person per day. Yes, these costs included everything - room, food, train fare, admissions, car rental, tolls, gasoline, gelato, guided tours of some museums, etc. Our hotel/B&B cost came out at 100 Euro/day.

I did spend 5 months planning the trip but I enjoyed that effort very much and learned a great deal in doing the research. The greatest achievement was that, staying mostly in B&Bs, my wife did not have one complaint about our accommodations.

Posted by
32 posts

Coming in to this thread very late but I have really learned a lot and enjoyed the responses so decided to add my 2 cents. My family of 5 took the RS Family Tour last year as our first experience outside of North America, however we did add 2 days prior to the tour and 8 days post tour of travel on our own. That gave us a taste of "independent" European travel. We have traveled with our 3 children independently on 5 extended (18-28 day) trips inside the US and North America (Canada and Mexico).

Pros:
- The transportation and lodging logistics - no worries
-confidence it gave us to tackle more "far away" travel destinations
-the metro and transportation overview/tickets/orientations
- we loved having traveling companions who were somewhat like minded - it was also a nice distraction for our children to have other kids close to their ages (see related con below)
-Our guides were amazing - outstanding - great... can't say enough
- Orientations to each city and the guides commentaries while we were traveling between destinations were outstanding

Cons:
- We did not seem as "intact" as a family as on our other trips - especially the children tended to exclude their siblings some since they had new peers
-We felt that some local guides were not great and we spent too much time on obscure things in some locations with the guides going on and on and not enough time on our own to explore. This was especially true in Rome - at the Colosseum where we spent 40+ minutes listening to the guide outside in the sun while waiting to get in -- we understood and appreciated this history....but THEN we spent the entire time (minus 15 minutes of on our own time) inside listening as she went on and on and on and on while inside the little museum area. We were so disappointed to have such a short time to actually explore and look around it. This continued for the rest of the morning while exploring the rest of the ruins -- too much talking- and we are history buffs who actually listen and enjoy the guides insights - it was just too much to even take in and the kids were exhausted just listening so when we were on our own later in the afternoon they were wiped out - they all commented that the guided tour was too long/ too much listening and not enough exploring/walking. We felt the same way about out guide of the Louvre - so much time on a few pieces of more obscure art and sculptures that were HIS favorites and rushed through or missed the biggies - We were really not given any type of orientation to the layout of the museum (or maps) we were just whisked from here to there - and we were so turned around and confused that when we returned on our own we couldn't even remember being there 4 days earlier.
- Our group meals were for the most part only average - this surprised us
- We really enjoyed the hotels but we felt some were not great choices (Large corporate hotel in Bercy while in Paris - seemed very unlike RS - while it was on the metro line and it was easy to get downtown was not what we were expecting - although lovely, new and large was not as RS tours advertise as being in the heart of it all - there were better choices in the Latin Quarter that offered "family rooms" so I imagine that RS could have done better. The hotel in Wengen was historical and lovely but we found the location rather isolated with extra train trips up and would have found one in the valley or even on the other side in Murren more accessible - it just seemed out of the way.) The other hotels were outstanding.

Overall we did spend a TON of money but feel we did receive a fair value and would take another RS tour. We did not travel to as many different locales while on our own so we did not need the logistics of the tour as much (although we did change countries and had to secure lodging, train tickets, local transportation ect) but the cost was MUCH less per day and our lodging and meals were much better during our independent time.

Posted by
10 posts

Veteran of 4 tours (Venice, Florence, Rome, Ireland, Southern Italy, Best of Europe - 21 days).

Loved everyone tour -- excellent guides including all local guides.
I do not mind the name game -- helps me remember names and creates a good "community" among the group. I like the buddy introductions and the buddy system -- quicker / more efficient than a "roll call".

Our groups always felt like a big family - we always looked out for each other.
The buses are great -- large -- plenty of room for everyone. The drivers are part of the family.
Our third tour included about 10 people who were not fit enough to be on a Rick Steves tour. They were slow walkers (generally not able to walk more than a couple miles per day) -- so we were always behind schedule. I worried the demographic for Rick Steves tours was changing. It gave me pause when we signed up for our fourth tour -- but no worries -- our fourth tour was awesome with great people who could handle the strenuousness of the tour.
I do think the itineraries can be a bit ambitious -- some days it felt we rushed through some sites. Maybe Rick Steves feels pressure to ensure people get the most bang for the buck.

Overall -- love the tours and will continue to sign up -- in fact just signed up for our 5th tour in 2016.

Posted by
350 posts

" Do I really have an obligation to be anything but pleasant and friendly? Must my group ask others to join us on free time outings? "

No. Just don't do what one group did to me many years ago. As I was sitting down at a table to eat my breakfast, the others at the table rudely told me that the seat was being saved for Ms. XYZ. I was then told 'don't leave angry, just leave'. They would grab the hot-pot with coffee take it to their table, and leave it there. Sitting on the bus near them was awful, just complaints and grousing. This is the worst group of people I have ever met on an RS tour and had I not previously taken an RS tour full of great people I might have never done one again. I have never again had any fellow tour members behave nearly as rude as these people did. They also complained at the hotels about everything imaginable. Why in the world they took a tour, anybody's tour, was beyond me.

On the subject of costs, of course, you can do it cheaper yourself. Most of us can change our car's oil cheaper than taking it to the quicky lube, but often we don't' want to spend the time or deal with the mess. The best value is not always the lowest price. Otherwise we would all rent rooms in the seediest, nasty hotels under the flight paths of the airline's night landing runway.

Posted by
12402 posts

The best value is not always the lowest price. Otherwise we would all
rent rooms in the seediest, nasty hotels under the flight paths of the
airline's night landing runway.

I don't think the fans of the DIY trip are necessarily ending up in these sorts of places? We certainly haven't, and have been very pleased with well-researched selections of accommodations. I'm also not discrediting the value of having the details taken care of. People have all sorts of different preferences, and in the end it's whatever works for you. It's all good!

It's more work but conquering sightseeing and transport solo has also felt like a fun accomplishment!

Posted by
6320 posts

"The best value is not always the lowest price. Otherwise we would all rent rooms in the seediest, nasty hotels under the flight paths of the airline's night landing runway."

I know a lot of people who travel independently and none of them stay in the seediest nasty hotels in bad or unsafe or inconvenient locations.

While a RS tour may, in many cases, be the best value for someone else it's not for me. For me the best value in Europe travel is the trip I can afford to take. I would love to take a small group tour and leave the details to them, however for some of us that's not possible. For a 21 day RS tour w/single supplement it would cost me at least $5000 + airfare (about $6300), I don't have that much to spend so I couldn't go. On my own I can do a 21 day trip for about $3000 + airfare (about $4300) and that estimate is for staying in nice 2-3 star hotels/b&b's/small family run inns, centrally located and convenient to public transport, and using $1300 for airfare (my normal summer airfare). That $2000 difference can be the difference between my going to Europe and staying home. Last summer I took a 5 week trip (6 countries) and my total expenses (other than airfare) averaged $140/day, which was less than a RS 21 day tour, for me that's a better value. What I give up to be able to travel to Europe is the convenience of a tour and having a guide for the whole tour and a dedicated bus driver for transportation.

Posted by
12402 posts

Without hijacking this thread (which has been a great discussion!) some of you might be amused by this old entry on Rick's blog, if you've never read it? Evidently, he used to purposely book the very sorts of beds for his clients that some of you are afraid value-minded travelers are stuck with!

http://blog.ricksteves.com/blog/inflicting-the-fear-of-a-little-homelessness-on-a-paying-customer/

Please take it with the dose of humor in which it was intended!

Posted by
4572 posts

Barnstormer, we had a similar experience on our 21 day BOE tour. There were two family groups on the tour, one of which was friendly, open, and spent time with the rest of us. The other closed ranks at every opportunity. There were, I think, six of them, and they stuck to themselves. On the river cruise in Germany, the only seats left were with this group, so DH and I joined them, smiling but not pushy. You could almost see the gate slam shut. They actually turned away from us, facing the other way! I'm glad to say we've never encountered that kind of group since. We've done 9 RS tours, including several that included family or friend groups, and they've all been delightful.

Posted by
503 posts

Kathy, just read your post and opened the old blog about what Rick use to do to "re-educate" his customers! I appreciate that he can look back now and see he was wrong in his approach, but very much more appreciate the fact that I never went (or paid to be abused) on one of those earlier tours! Thanks for posting it, had never read it before.

Posted by
1047 posts

I am hoping some of you that have recently returned from your tour will post a review of your tour here. The reviews on the website limit (500 words) what can be said. I am particularly interested in the 17 Day Best of Italy Tour but other reviews will help in providing insight on the tours.

Posted by
21 posts

Nancy, actually a 21 day boe with single supplement is well over 6k,plus air.And I bet you wouldn't choose hotels with no a/c or fan in 105F weather.Also,if changing my own oil was 3k cheaper I would definitely do it myself.

Posted by
6320 posts

Wow, you're right Vicham. I missed adding in the single supplement. Well, there you go, $3000 difference = another independent trip to Europe. Two for the price of one.

Traveling independently is not everyone's cup of tea but sometimes, for some of us, the pocketbook rules and that's the affordable option.

Posted by
168 posts

Just returned from a two week trip to Ireland, staying in top hotels and B&B's. The total cost for two of us including airfare, meals, admissions and car rental was about $4500. So...there you go. RS price for same basic two-week itinerary for two people would be $8000 +airfare, or close to $10,000. Particularly for English-speaking countries, there is just no contest...

Posted by
350 posts

@Nancy - Sounds like you are doing all the right things for you. Great!

You have made my point. Value depends on the individual person. Thank you.

Posted by
14267 posts

I'm also a solo traveler with a limited budget and an unlimited appetite for travel. I like to go at my own pace, especially i museums. I don't enjoy being herded from bit to bit at a sight, vying for a place to see the displayed piece, trying to absorb what the guide is saying while my attention is constantly being diverted to other bits within eyesight . . . What I lose in efficiency by having to find my own way, I gain in flexibility. Even getting lost has led to rewarding experiences and surprising discoveries every now and then.

I have chosen to take tours to places I didn't think I could visit independently, like:
- Georgia and Armenia - wonderful 2-week tour. The language barrier and logistics would have been impossible to overcome on my own
- Turkey with RS - excellent tour. (I saw Istanbul on my own). In hindsight, I probably could have managed a lot of what the tour covered on my own but it would have been challenging and I would have missed a great many experiences, plus the companionship to share them, and I wouldn't have a beautiful Turkish carpet in my living room that I enjoy every day :-)
- Ireland (not with RS) - too difficult without a car, too difficult to drive a car!
- RS My Way Alpine tour - this was perfect for me. I got to see the Alps and more, with door-to-door transportation. A friend and her husband spend a couple weeks every summer in the Alps. Just this week, she was telling me that they end up in Switzerland every year, though they'd prefer the Dolomites but it's just too hard to get there, they'd need three connections.

I haven't done the math, but I'm pretty sure I spend significantly less than a tour would cost, even adding in rental cars and guided walking tours and now and then a private guide for something special.

Posted by
41 posts

We have toured with "Venice-Florence-Rome," "Best of Paris" and "Best of Sicily"and head out for Athens and the Peloponnesian tour in September.

Best features so far have been: the key museums and sites are usually covered by noon or midday, so you have plenty of time for roaming around on your own;
group dinners and lunches have been fantastic;
tour guide instruction for getting around on mass transit and the subtleties of various type of restaurants has been great;.
the overall cost per day is a bargain.

The few negatives:

some long days on the bus with a single overnight stay for recovery;
some guides actually discourage members using the bus lavatory- NOT a good idea. It's very easy to cut back on fluids so your restroom needs are minimized. Walking around sun-baked ruins while dehydrated is not a good combination. The guides should be pushing fluids, not lavatory avoidance;
the "local craftsie-cooking-wine tasting" type venues were underwhelming.

A big negative: Rick Steves' post-tour review postings are only the glowingly thrilled, four-star reviews! He used to post the occasional negative comment - not any more. You must search for this kind of community q&a for unvarnished feedback.

Posted by
9618 posts

There is a reason why coach lavatory use is discouraged. Whatever comes out of you is put into a holding tank. It is not possible for the driver to empty the holding tank every day. In some areas it could be many days. So, rather than promote its use, we usually try to ask it be used for emergency purposes only.

On very hot days, it is important to drink fluids. But you would probably burn up those liquids by perspiring. A good tour director will also remind people to use the "loo" prior to getting on the coach and then plan to stop about every two hours.

Posted by
168 posts

Tom commented: "A big negative: Rick Steves' post-tour review postings are only the glowingly thrilled, four-star reviews! He used to post the occasional negative comment - not any more. You must search for this kind of community q&a for unvarnished feedback."

Well, I don't even know how to find the reviews! Where are they on the website? Though I agree that they're pretty useless if negative comments are not allowed.

Posted by
936 posts

Terri - you have to click on Our Tours and then click on the individual tour that you want to read about. It is down in a list with itinerary, weather, and such. They are pretty much useless blurbs. I don't know why they even bother posting those. When you read one, you've pretty much read them all for that tour. The only true reviews I have found are the reviews written here on the forum. Now those are usually excellent, telling one what she wants/needs to know! How else would I know that my tour days in Amsterdam and Rome are going to be tough with long walks/stairs without Pam from Troy's excellent BOE21 review? That got me back into my walking program so that a ten mile day is not exhausting and I can do more if needed. The reviews written on the forum are what make me want to tour.

We will take our first RS tour in October and are very excited about the trip. We're no grumps, like meeting new people, and generally get along well with most people unless they are constantly negative. We pay for our own wine, change our underwear every day, and would be horrified at seeing a tour mate eating alone unless that was his/her wish. I plan to journal the old fashioned way while touring, will probably update via fb instead of doing a blog, and will definitely be writing a tour review on this forum when I get home.

One very important thing that was mentioned here by one or two was planning for free time and not focus so much on the food side of planning. I've looked at things to do but sorta left it open, thinking the guide would have suggestions. I still have a month before our tour so I'm going back and try to make more definite plans so we're not floundering around at those times. I have read all of the current entries with great interest and appreciate the candor of all participants!

And yeah - I'm on the countdown! Woot!

Posted by
8203 posts

Regarding the official reviews for the tours...there are some negative comments. On one of my tours a person left a negative comment but it was about how hot the weather was, which is really nothing RS or his guides can do anything about.

Thank you Nance for your nice comment about my Trip Report. One of the tour members posted this week acknowledging that it was the 1st anniversary of our tour start...and everyone joined in. Such nice people. Really, I think about this trip every single day!

Posted by
41 posts

Regarding tour bus lavatories and Frank II's comments on "use for emergency purposes only", I would offer a few observations from my prior three RS tours (and 26 years as an RN and 7 years in hemodialysis.)

My experience is most RS tour members are over age 60 (the "young folks" on the bus being our guide and driver); we're likely taking blood pressure meds; and some diuretics are probably among the prescription mix.

And as a clinical note: for someone of average weight, the kidneys produce 3 ounces or so of urine per hour. When a volume of 7 to 10 ounces is reached, the bladder sends a message: "How many rows back is that bus lavatory!?!" Ignore it: "urgency" is not an "emergency."

Most tour members do make a point of using the "loo" right after breakfast and prior to boarding the bus. And true - there is "a plan to stop about every two hours."

But most women learn - from personal experience - what their "rest stop" toilet experience might be: multiple competing buses and cars in the parking lot; dozens of other women waiting in line, too few toilet-stalls, in who-knows-what states of cleanliness. This experience is NOT a "guy thing."

Perhaps RS Tours could reevaluate their contracted buses, the holding tank capacities, and locations of waste disposal points enroute. Their drivers may not be thrilled at the prospect of wrestling with that drain hose but sometimes it has to be done.

Side note: On our last Rome to New York flight, our captain diverted us to Gander, Newfoundland to empty the lavatories: the Rome ground crews neglected to fully drain the tanks. He said it was the first such divert in his 30 years of flying but he really couldn't ask us to just "hold it in for awhile." A lot of connecting flights were missed.

Posted by
5546 posts

Wow, my Berlin, Prague and Vienna tour was a real mix of ages. We ranged from 16 to over 80 and, yes, everything in between. We had single professionals, couples, parents with teenage child and one with a 20 something son. It was a real mix of ages and while there were a lot from the the Northwest we were from all over the US and Canada as well.

Posted by
41 posts

Pamela, regarding your tour group and variations in age mix, I think it may have to do with time within the academic year. We have only embarked on late April/mid-May and mid-September tours. Most school calendars - high school and college- are in effect during those months. Few younger tourists are at liberty to cut the last few weeks (or first weeks) of classes and head off to Europe.

The rare twentyish-year-old member in our last group was on a "birthday gift" from an accompanying relative. Otherwise, (from our limited experience) during height-of-the-school-year travel, the older demographic has been in the majority.

Posted by
4572 posts

Most of our tours have been in May; we have had tour members ranging from 13 to well into their 70s. In fact, I think we've only taken one tour where everyone "looked like us." I much prefer a mix. Most of the tours have had 20 and 30 somethings; our London tour in February had a family with one teen and one tween. Great group!

Posted by
41 posts

Jane, feedback from you and Pamela give me renewed hope that young blood will infuse our future trips with RS. I guess the mix of a group is just serendipitous luck. In any case, on all prior tours, our fellow travelers have been great company and a lot of laughs. We had taken two non-RS "packaged tours" years ago - two weeks through Morocco and three weeks in China. The contrast between those two groups and our RS travel companions was sadly incredible. They involved multiple pullman-size hardshell suitcases, a "shop-'til-you-drop" ethos and an inability to lift anything heavier than a wine glass and cutlery. Rick Steves' mode of experiencing another country was a happy revelation.

Posted by
4572 posts

Tom, after I posted yesterday, I got to thinking about some of the members of our Best of Rome tour some years ago. There were, if I recall correctly, at least 5 people in their 20s! One young married couple, a 21 yr old woman on a pre-marriage jaunt with a friend, and a young man who worked as a sacker in a grocery store. What I wondered about most was how those folks could afford the trip. The grocery employee told us he lived very frugally, never went out, and saved his money until he had enough for a tour. Then after the tour he would go home and start the same process all over again.

And there are still plenty of us who have drunk the kool-ade and love the RS style of travel. Keep the faith!

Posted by
1068 posts

My last RS tour: Portugal, had 3 people aged 20-26, several in the 40s, several in the 50s and the oldest couple in 80s. There was a pretty good mix. I have also read negatives on the RS tour reports portion of this site. Many, it seems to me have little to do with RS tours while others are a matter of taste (I didn't like the food at X). Some I find are useful comments.

Posted by
113 posts

One tour = BOE 14 days
Best: All arrangements made so no hassles; hotels, transportation, museum passes, gratuities, breakfasts, etc.
Worst: 30 people in a group is actually a lot bigger than it sounds. 28 group members with host tour guide and bus driver or local tour guide.
Only Travelex at airports, which did not accept my debit card, so no Euros until I could find a bank owned ATM
Embarrassing "stupid Americans!" situations.
I don't drink alcohol or coffee so the freebies like wine with group meals, Limoncello, beer keg, gave me no value. I didn't appreciate being told repeatedly that I could drink water or simply buy something.
I paid the premium to have single accommodations. There was only one other single woman with our group so she got single accommodations, and at times stellar accommodations, for free. Although understood, it still made for an uncomfortable dynamic.

Posted by
1917 posts

The other single lady on your trip took a chance on getting a roommate whereas you decided it was worth the price to pay for a single supplement to guarantee you did not have a roommate. You were not forced to pay the supplement as you knew beforehand how this works. It is a shame there was tension given that both of you knew the policy, too bad!

Posted by
8293 posts

Looks like the "no grumps" policy doesn't always work.

Posted by
39 posts

I'm not sure how the airports only having Travelex would be a Rick Steve's tour issue. The same goes with you not drinking alcohol or coffee. How is that a downfall of the tour? Unless you are unhappy they didn't make concessions for you.

I'm also curious, what "stupid American" situations did the tour place you in? I thought RS tried not to travel like a "tourist."

Posted by
377 posts

Every opinion is valuable here, and helps others who might share similar situations. Rather than dissect the "cons" of someone else, offer opinions about why it worked for you. I realize that many people on this forum do not want to hear "other realities" about RS tours.
For example, it is clear that the RS single supplement policy is not as good as other tour companies. OAT is very similar to RS. Small groups of 10-16, gratuities included, many meals included and most excursions included. They also have NO single supplement. I think that the RS policy is somewhat discriminatory toward single travelers, and I have never been a solo traveler.
With the exception of one vodka shot we had NO free drinks other than water on our recent tour. However, I can understand being upset if free alcohol was offered to the exclusion of other complimentary beverages. If one tour member gets any drink free, all tour members should be offered the same courtesy.
I value each and every opinion offered on this thread, and am so grateful that yosemite1 initiated it. We are the luckiest people on earth to be able to travel for leisure.

Posted by
168 posts

Traveling Mom -- agree completely. And Norma, your comment was not kind. Everyone here is entitled to an opinion without being labeled as a "grump". RS Tours are not perfect (no tour is) and this forum offers a conduit for suggestions as to how they could be improved.

Posted by
39 posts

As someone who isn't loyal to RS--I haven't been on a tour yet, but am currently planning one, the cons are sometimes the most helpful. I also try to look at them to see what is a genuine con.

I also don're drink a lot and know that the countries we are visiting are known for beer and wine. I am curious to know why the complimentary drinks were enough of an issue that someone believed it was a negative to the tour. Is it because alternate offerings weren't made?

The same would go for being placed in situations that made one feel like a stupid American. What is the tour doing that made them feel that way? Could be a very isolated event, but it's hard to tell.

Sometimes what seems like dissecting is trying to find out if the complaint is the norm for a tour or just a fluke. Especially for someone who had never been on a tour of any type. Unfortunately, intent doesn't always come across in written form. Sorry about that:)

Posted by
9618 posts

Everything is subjective. What one person sees as a "con" another might see as "pro."

It's all about personal preference.

Posted by
5890 posts

Re: complimentary drinks. That's happened at least once on each tour we've been on, and each time it was clear that it was the restaurant or the hotel offering the free drink, not RS tours. Once the tour offered free drinks including sodas or juice, due to a minor inconvenience to the group.

Posted by
3458 posts

Complimentary drinks:

They happen sometimes with the group meals (not sure if the tour guide paid extra for them or the restaurant included with the meal deal). They are also offered at the tour meet and greet the first afternoon of the tour. In the 10 trips I have taken with RS ALL of them included soft drinks besides water for those not drinking alcohol. It may have been pointed out that the wine or beer was the primary offering, but all one had to do was ask and just about anything (non alcoholic) you wanted to drink was made available.

I am open to hearing about any opinion offered about the RS tours. Sure, I like the RS travel philosophy and am disappointed when others feel they don't. But of all the tour companies I have looked into (nd I continuously do look at others), RS still continues to offer ME the best combination of price and ease of travel along with completeness of the travel package.

Posted by
11450 posts

I am curious about the "looking like stupid americans" comment.. what does that mean? What does it mean to those on the tour who are not American.. on our tour there were 9 of us who were not American..

Also.. not sure how the tour had anything to do with travelex in airports.. that's super confusing.

Posted by
21 posts

I really like how the guides teach you to be independent and live like a local. I love the free time, there is a balance here. I've been on tours where they don't even let you buy souvenirs, you had to steel time to do this. Everything was so controlled. RS tours are not like that.

Posted by
57 posts

My wife and I took the Venice, Florence, and Rome RS in June 2015. The primary reason is that we've never travelled overseas for vacations. (We both had been to Europe on small work trips, where other employees made all the arrangements, etc.)

The RS tour was great in teaching you how the locals operate, the customs of the different regions and the best practices in doing things on our own. Everything was on a "local" level...from the hotels, to the customary meals at each city where the regions specialties were served.

Another nice part is the tour offered up great local tour guides for various parts. The tour guide for the Uffzi Gallery in Florence was top notch and this also taught me that ever how much pre-planning you do, the local guide will make a huge difference in your experience.

We also had a diverse group of folks on the tour. I'm 41 and I can usually make decent conversation with a 16 year old all the way to an 85 year old! :) The folks were interesting...something that's helpful in a 2 week trip.

The cons....not really a lot on our tour. I did find the open time was actually a bit more than I would had liked. There were major holes in the tour parts in the cities that could had been filled.

My take away: This RS Tour gave me the courage to do my own arrangements in future travel in Europe. At the front end and back end of this trip, we did our own small excursions and traveled a day or so in Switzerland and Pompeii....and we were very comfortable.

In future travel, I'll definitely...always...always...find good local guides to walk me through the major sites. I love using local hotels and eating off the beaten path meals with locals. The RS tour let me feel that I can do that on my own.

Posted by
4572 posts

Kevin has a good point about the local guides. DH and I always "over prepare." We start reading and reviewing history, geography, art, language and current events about our destination months ahead of time, and are still always amazed at how much more we learn from the local guides. That's one of the things we really like about RS tours; only once (Venice on our 21 Day BOE) were we disappointed by the local guide provided.

Posted by
350 posts

I am not sure why anybody would complain about complimentary drinks that are alcoholic.

It's not like they are taking the non alcoholic drink from some people so as to give free alcohol to others. On the tours where there was an occasional free wine or beer (never hard liquor) it was always in addition to the normal beverages, not replacing them. I have no idea who paid for them, and I don't worry much about it.

Posted by
350 posts

"I am curious about the "looking like stupid americans" comment.. what does that mean? What does it mean to those on the tour who are not American.. on our tour there were 9 of us who were not American.. "

I have noticed Canadians, Australians and even a few British folks on the RS tours. But, they are overwhelmingly populated by Americans, which makes sense that that is where the company is located, and currently, the American dollar makes it more expensive for non-Americans to buy anything priced in those dollars.

FWIW, Americans have been bombarded for years with warnings not be loud, arrogant, expect things to be done as they were done back home, and flash to much money around. So, we are extra sensitive to many things that are just normal issues for travelers from other countries.

These days, however, other nationalities seem to have replaced Americans as the 'rude, arrogant tourists' visiting Europe. I think Americans can rest more easily these days thanks to that.

Posted by
12402 posts

These days, however, other nationalities seem to have replaced Americans as the 'rude, arrogant tourists' visiting Europe. I think Americans can rest more easily these days thanks to that.

I would agree. On our travels abroad (or even domestically), it's not usually American tourists whom we observe behaving badly.

Posted by
516 posts

Hubby and I have been traveling to Europe for about 15 years now. I've been on two Rick Steve's tours. Picked places hubby wasn't interested in and went alone.

For those of you women who want to travel and can't get the hubby to go. This is your answer. The first trip: Paris and the Heart of France. I called and asked which tour had the most single women. Found a tour with 4 other single women and had the time of my life. Had such a great time two years later did Best of England in 14 without hubby. Spent 4 days at the beginning of the tour shopping, shopping, shopping in London without anybody getting restless. Loved it. I didn't call and ask about single women before I went on this one. You travel as a group and never feel alone. Totally loved both of these two trips.

Hubby and I are going on a Rick Steve's tour together this spring. Sicily in the off season for 11 days. I'm sure it will be another great vacation.

I like the format of the tours. Lots to see and do with free time too.

Time spent watching glass blowing, carpet selling, and stops that are like this to fill time is not fun. More free time would be much more fun than filler stops.

Guides have all been very good and fun. Love the bus drivers.

Happy Travels

Posted by
41 posts

I agree with LaRue. I have taken 6 RS alone and had a great time. RS tours have made it possible to go to wonderful countries and fulfill my bucket list. My problem is I want to take all the tours and have trouble deciding where to go next.

Posted by
195 posts

Regarding the "buddy introductions" maybe the reason they do it is to get an introvert to talk about themselves is painful, talking about someone else is easier. But (as I was reminded this weekend at a family gathering) getting an extrovert to talk about themselves is painful to everyone else.

Posted by
31 posts

We just returned from Paris and the Heart of France and the Best of London tours....no name game or buddy introductions on either tour!

Posted by
1047 posts

I just returned from the 17 Day Best of Italy tour and want to say that it was the best vacation that I have ever taken. I can't think of anything that I would change in the tour. I had been to Europe on 5 other occasions. On those five occasions, I have planned my own trip and have either traveled by car or by train. There is no way I could have seen as much as I did on this tour if I had planned it myself. I know I paid a lot more to be on this tour, but it was far the most efficient way to see everything. Italy was far more crowded with tourists than it was in 1977 when I was last there. The lines to get into the favorite attractions went for blocks. Our guide was Ferdi and I cannot say enough on what a great guide he was.

As I said, I wouldn't change anything that we did on the tour. That said, I thought I would share some things that might help those of you that have booked this tour. The first real chance to do laundry was in Florence. We stayed in the Hotel California. Laundry was not cheap! I saw a listing of what everyone was charged and the average bill for laundry was 35 Euros. The next place to have laundry done was in the Cinque Terre. I think it was actually cheaper to have the hotel there do it. Our hotel there was the Hotel Ville Steno

Now I thought I would say something about the hotels. All were very good, but not all rooms were equal. Some rooms were far better in the same hotel than others. We got the best hotel room that I ever stayed at in the Cinque Terre. It was room 6 in Hotel Ville Steno. We had our own private patio with a table under an olive tree. Every room at the Hotel Ville Steno was great though you had to walk up the hill to get to the hotel. Half of the tour stayed at the Hotel Pasqual. Everyone loved the views from their rooms, but their rooms were a lot noisier because of the trains and the crowd noise outside.

Because we had the best room in the Cinque Terre, it only was fair that we got the worst room at the Altarocca Wine Resort. Most everyone loved their rooms, but two of us got rooms that I would compare to a one star hotel room instead of a four star as indicated. When we left our room, the view was magnificent. I think the Altarocca Wine Resort was a little overrated. All the pools and spas were ice cold unless you paid $15 each to use the indoor pool and spa or you paid for a spa treatment.

As I mentioned above, I really loved this tour and would highly recommend it!

If you any questions regarding this tour, you can send me a private message or post your question here and I will try and answer it.

Posted by
280 posts

I just returned home after the Rick Steves Germany, Austria and Switzerland tour. It was wonderful. Friends of ours just got back from a different tour of Germany. They saw a lot, but I don't think they enjoyed it as much because they were in a different city each night. They had no free time to see something specific that they were interested in a and they had 36 in their group. These are all the reasons that we prefer Rick Steves tours. We had free time in every location and 2 nights in most of our locations. We got to see a lot, but we weren't constantly on the go. We did play the name game, but as we went around the circle, everyone said everyone else's name. No one was put on the spot. The Buddy intro was a little different also. We each told 2 truths and 1 lie about our buddy and the rest of the group had to figure out which was the lie. We had some pretty outrageous truths and lies! Also the RS tours prepare you to travel in Europe. We arrived 3 days before our tour and stayed 3 days after our tour. We were well prepared to do things on our own. We knew how to travel by train, get around in new cities etc. We are hooked. Can't wait to take our next trip.

Posted by
256 posts

My husband and I just returned from a 14 day Europe My Way Tour. It was wonderful!!! We had so much fun and met really great people. We did this tour thinking we are loners and didn't want to have to follow a selfie stick with a ribbon tied to it! Something happened and we were all (people on tour) trying to figure out if it's Rick Steves or the My Way tour idea that drew people with similar ideas. We pretty much bonded over the 14 days.

I loved just about everyplace we stayed especially the Cinque Terre,so beautiful. I had many 'wow" moments but one was sitting on the terrace of the La Colonnina hotel and seeing the ocean. We also were lucky enough to get a table for 4 in the Belforte Restaurant tower for lunch. Also being in St Marks Plaza in the evening listening to the dueling orchestras play!! We also were able to just go in and sit at the Hofbrau House tent for Octoberfest! We toasted (about ever 8 mins.!) with the young guys next to us from St. Louis and the young people on our other side from Belarus! Another interesting experience was doing laundry in Lauterbrunnen, drinking red wine and eating dark chocolate a la Andrew, our escort!! He was great. Just enough hand holding to get your plans underway and then he set us free!!

I think the only place I wasn't totally happy with was the Hotel Schiltzen. Just a little sketchy!

If I had more $$, I would take a month to rest up and then head out again on a Rick Steves tour!! Great fun,people and experiences!!

Posted by
65 posts

I have been pondering a RS tour for a few months as I am now a single traveller and don't relish the idea of travelling alone. But and this is a big BUT for me, I have most enjoyed planning and then travelling relatively inexpensively and deciding when and where we would splurge. This thread has been remarkably enlightening, thanks to everyone for contributing...still don't know if I'll book a tour

Posted by
41 posts

We just returned from our latest tour: it was incredible, with kudos to our guide. He moved us through his country smoothly, with special attention to the " newbies" in our group. His expertise, personality and sense of humor set the tone for a lot of fun and "wow" moments.

The trip was highlighted with upgraded, beautiful hotels, delicious group lunches and dinners, and archeological sites that blew you away. The extraordinary countryside made the five hour bus rides - with breaks every hour and three-quarter or so - enjoyable rather than tiring.

The only odd aspect of the journey was our guide's spoken English. Compared to him, all of our previous RS tour and local guides had a "native-speaker" quality command of English. Our guide was understandable- with effort and a few seconds time-delay as you pondered what he was actually trying to say. But it was surprisingly sub-par for this tour company.

Through the course of our travels it was evident our guide really needs to go back to class for sentence structure, subject-verb agreement, pronouns, prepositions, adjectives and adverbs, et al. Is it possible the Rick Steves organization doesn't administer their own pre-employment version of TOEFL or do on-site observations of a guide at work? We have never seen a local guide with this degree of poor spoken English on a Rick Steves video.

Posted by
41 posts

I opted to leave the specific tour unstated as my concern was our guide's language skills. The tour and country were not relevant. Everyone had a great time and was very happy with our guide's leadership, teaching abilities and patience. But we knew, with his version of English, he would not been seen on a Rick Steves video anytime soon without a lot of rehearsal time and a carefully studied script.

Posted by
36 posts

I have been on six RS tours and I have to say that I really enjoyed learning about the history and culture of each place visited. The sights and/or sites were wonders and because of this I have no regrets.
I do have to say that I feel that the lead guide makes or breaks the tour.
I have had 3 superb guides - Spain, Scotland and Best of Eastern Europe. They were
enthusiastic,knowledgeable, they all interacted with group members and I believe this had a large role in the overall enjoyment of the tours.
2 very good guides - Best of Europe -seemed to take an interest in each tour member and again the group fed off on this - the downside - she recited the RS guide book almost verbatim
Best of England - so knowledgeable with a great sense of humour - unfortunately the group got away from him, with a dominant group making things awkward for the rest of us
Ireland -1 not so good guide - has great reviews on this site - just seemed that he was 'over' being a guide, told great stories on the bus, but rarely interacted with the group. The group itself were very nice but lacked a real camaraderie and I wonder if the guide showed a bit more enthusiasm from the get go that this might have been different.

Posted by
267 posts

Thanks so much for starting this thread. I know that it has become quite lengthy but wanted to chime in even if it is late. Better late than never, right?
We had been watching RS on PBS, following his website and reading his guide books for some time before our first trip to Italy in 2013. We felt that his tours were pricier than we wanted and decided to plan our own trip using his tools. It was a trip of a lifetime! The problems we encountered were few and the pros of planning our own trip were many. I'm one of those that subscribe to the idea that the planning of the trip only doubles the pleasure, and still do.

We figured that we were fortunate to take a European trip that one time and it would probably be our only one. But as many can relate to, by the time our plane landed on US soil, we were already dreaming of a return trip. This time since we were so entranced with the RS tours we decided to go for it. We selected the Southern Italy tour and were thoroughly amazed!

PROS:
-Obviously not having to handle the logistics of getting from place to place
-The hotels were so fun bc they were different form here at home, yet clean and safe.
-Having the hotels centrally located made it easy to get around on the tour as well as our free time.
-Our main guide was nothing if not AMAZING!! She (Ann) added so much to the enjoyment of our trip. Her
knowledge of Italy, her humor, concern for tour members, and he organizational skills were wonderful!
-A good balance of organized and free time. Planning the free time satisfied the need to be a part of this aspect .

-The local guides were also very good! It was so exciting to actually meet Francesca who I had enjoyed listening to
on the RS podcasts. Her voice is a treat to listen to and her knowledge exceptional! And the guide in Pompeii
really brought that city to life!
-The food, it's Italy, enough said.
-The buddy system (we did not play the buddy game) is great. I hate wearing the name tags and following a raised
umbrella!
-Sharing this wonderful experience with like minded people enhanced the whole experience.

CONS: They are few, but like it has been mentioned previously on this thread, the negatives are as helpful as the
positives.
-Health: I had not given this much thought being fortunate enough in this area, but it truly became an issue when
a group member arrived with a severe upper respiratory infection sever enough to cause a trip to the hospital
for dehydration the first full day of the trip. I had mentioned this on my review but asked that it not be published
not wanting to cause hard feelings (the member involved was really nice), but it is an issue. Half way through the
trip 75% of the members were affected. There isn't much that can be done to protect yourself from this when on
a bus for 6 hours. Even arming yourself with antibiotics are not helpful against a virus. I'm not sure what RS
policy is in a case like this, but would like to see it addressed as it did affect the ability to fully participate in the
activities.
-While the food was wonderful, having more variety of vegetables to accommodate vegetarians would be nice.

All and all I think that the RS tours have so much to offer and am so grateful to have had the experience. Thank you so much for this thread and the opportunity to share my thoughts in an informal way.

Posted by
41 posts

I would like to post a query that's not so much a "dislike" as a regret.
Rick Steves has written: "A tight budget forces you to travel close to the ground, meeting and communicating with the people." He often speaks of the rewards of meeting the locals via this frugal "Backdoor" approach to Europe.

Others have posted, on the "Meeting Locals" travel forum, their own stories of personal interactions. But none were part of an RS tour: they were traveling on their own during these memorable encounters. Is it even possible to have such experiences as part of a RS group of 24 or so people?

Looking back on my four RS tours within Italy, Sicily, Greece and Paris, my wife and I never had a "meeting of locals", other than during dining/sales transactions. Nor did anyone in our tour groups ever mention "personal" encounters with locals. They just didn't seem to happen. Bussed from place to place, rendezvous with our local guides, walking through scheduled sites, group lunches and dinner: we were self-contained. "On your own time" was often taken up with finding restaurants and much needed, restful "downtime."

What have other tour members experienced in the way of one-on-one, non-retail communication with "the people"? Is it a language issue or the comfort zone of our homogeneous fellow RS tourists?

Posted by
260 posts

This is an answer to the Comment on not meeting locals. Try a picture of your dog, or home, etc. I your phone. We were just on the Loire/southern France trip. We have a Bichon (French dog). Saw lots of these The trip. Every time, we would approach the owner and show them the picture of our pup. Had many lovely interactions this way. I think this would work also if you see folks with cute kids (show Pixs of yours if you have them) home towns - if you are in an area that reminds you of yours -- you get midriff. And always: learn a phrase or two in the local language. Try. Worst case scenario, you will be ignored.

Posted by
6697 posts

What have other tour members experienced in the way of one-on-one, non-retail communication with "the people"?

@Tom - I think only a narrow number of RS tours can be said to truly focus on this as a tour objective. I took one in 2011 called "Village Turkey" (it's no longer offered, sadly, because it was undersubsribed) and it definitely had lots of interaction with all kinds of locals. Almost everywhere we went, the guide invited locals to share with us and give us their perspective (she did have to translate all dialogue though, as no one obviously could speak Turkish to the locals directly and vice versa). I have heard similar comments about the Bulgaria Tour (read Teresa's) comments. I think your observation about groups tours in general is spot on - one is shielded away from a lot of experiences, both pleasant and otherwise. On the other hand, there are some experiences you can only get on certain tours (but I'm thinking more along the lines of accessing local tribes on the Amazon in S. America or somewhere logistically difficult for an independent traveler to get to).

I personally find that meeting locals is much easier if you stay in a local neighborhood (most likely in an apartment) and not a tourist hotel and definitely not in any resort or area which accommodates tourists and where English is widely spoken. In rural areas, that's practically guaranteed. In more urban areas, you have to do as the locals do, including getting around by public transit, eating at less commercial mom-and-pop type places, etc. And you have to try speaking their language, however shaky you may be at it. I just had an excellent experience independently traveling to Sicily which I didn't want to do as an RS tour. Since I speak Italian well enough, it was easy to engage with locals every day.

Posted by
524 posts

I have taken tours and have interacted with the locals, lots of opportunities on your down time.

In Ireland, at the local pub. I don't think you can ever meet a stranger there, the country, not just pubs. :)

Standing on a busy Paris street, checking location on map, gentleman stopped to offer aid and got into a conversation with him.

Went to Harley shop in Paris, practiced my greeting. Upon asking if English was spoken the shop owner smiled and said "not a d---- word. From that point on it was the best shopping experience in Paris, ever!

Walking down a street in Oban, spotted a gentleman wearing a ball cap with Texas logo. Spoke to him about it and discovered he was from Scotland, but had been to Ft. Worth. He told the funniest story about his visit to Stockyards.

These are just a few examples of my interactions with locals.

Posted by
5890 posts

Tom, what we have been encouraged to do on RS tours in our free time, and given plenty of opportunity and guidance on what to do, is visit farmers' markets, visit shops for bread & cheese, lunch, etc., attend local music performances, explore back streets, and otherwise interact with locals, one on one. This is outside the comfort zone of many people in the groups, who stick close to the tour leaders, but nevertheless, they do try and promote it. Hence all the, bus-time lessons on language and customs.
As part of the tours, we've visited wineries (VFR & Paris & Heart of France), gone to Oktoberfest (GAS), taken public baths (GAS), go to local festivals (GAS, PHF), attend church services (VFR, GAS, PHF) and plenty of other opportunities to mingle and interact with locals. What the tours take away from you is much of the opportunity to interact directly with hotels, restaurants, ticket agents, etc.

I agree that the tours are more structured and regimented than the independent travel that RS promotes, but that's to be expected. I think the tours are clearly designed to give a first time visitor to a country, an introduction and the highlights, and with the limited time, its up to you to fill in the human factor.

Posted by
1047 posts

I agree with the comment that you spend less time with the locals when you are on a tour. On the other hand, a good guide will share insights about the local culture and customs that you might not be aware of when touring on your own. As an example, when we were in Siena with our tour, we had dinner in one of the towns contrades (local neighborhoods). The dinner was prepared by members of the church. I don't think you could get that experience on your own.

Posted by
8203 posts

I just finished the Paris and Heart of France tour and had a couple of memorable interactions with locals on tour.

In Amboise Rebecca, our guide, was walking us to the Clos Luce. As we walked along she was talking about the "Trogs* or cave homes cut into the cliffs that people live in and was pointing them out. We got to one and she said, "I met this owner a couple of weeks ago and he invited the whole group in to see his home. I called earlier and he did not answer so he must not be home today." About that time, he opened his window and waved to her and gestured for us to come in. She went up to speak to him and explained she had about 20 of us...he essentially said Come on in. So we trooped into his home (actually it turns out it is his weekend home and I decided his wife makes him use it for his Man Cave as he has all his collections of stuff there!), he showed us around and answered questions. He did not speak much English so Rebecca had to translate altho he did have short conversations with the guys in the group about his model cars/planes/tanks. The home was so interesting and he was wonderful!

The second encounter was on the DDay tour with Dale Booth. We stopped at the church in Angoville au Plain which was in Drop Zone D and where 2 paratrooper medics set up an aid station. They wound up treating Americans, Germans and townsfolk as the village changed hands over the days. At the end of Dale's very poignant story, the Mayor and the lady who is the church cleaner came in. The Mayor welcomed us in French (translated by Dale) and then offered to sign the brochures they had available in the church. Then they both stuck around and answered questions (translated by Dale and Rebecca) but were so warm and friendly. Amazing to me that these small villages do NOT forget Allied soldiers.

On the Village Italy tour, we did a truffle hunt with a local farmer, then his wife cooked us dinner. Of course it was all an event paid for by the tour but the farmer, his wife, her sister and the mother-in-law to their son (or possibly daughter...I had too much of their home made wine to remember) were hilarious and all trying to communicate with us. Us with no Italian, them with little English, but all of us with an appreciation for lovely food, wine and delightful company. Such a fun evening.

So yes, I've had interaction with locals, planned and unplanned on RS tours.

Interestingly, on the Paris &HOF tour Rebecca drilled us each morning on polite greetings. Imagine my surprise one morning as I walked down Rue Cler very early as I headed to worship at the shrine of St. Arbucks when one of the guys setting up his fruit/veg stand actually looked me in the eye. I bon jour Monsieur'd him, he bon jour'd me back and upped it with a ca va? I ca va bien'd him back and et vous'd him. He might have been laughing at my atrocious accent but He just gave me a great big smile which made my day! Now, anything more and I would have been at a loss, but it was fun and thanks to Rebecca that I had the confidence to interact that much. The guys tending the shrine of St Arbucks were nice too, lol.

Posted by
14267 posts

I took the RS Turkey tour 2 years ago (or was it 3?) and there were memorable meetings with locals in villages, both as a group and as individuals. I went on a 12 day tour of Ireland with another company and a lot less free time than the similar RS tour and still had lots of interaction with locals and visitors from other places. Having a common language helps a lot. Though I haven't had nearly as much interaction with locals, I have had a lot of interesting conversations from people from all over the world who were visitors. For instance, I learned a lot about the Venetian Carnevale from a New Yorker I met in Padua who's been going to the festival every year for a decade or more.

Posted by
41 posts

The recent capsizing of a British Columbia whale watching boat reminded me of a troubling "dislike" on our Athens and the Heart of Greece tour.

Rain was coming down as we embarked on a chartered " shuttle craft" for two nights on Hydra. With the rain and some chop on the water, our guide made a point of covering our luggage on the exposed outer deck with a tarp.

On rejoining the group in the cabin, someone queried him regarding life vests or a safety talk. His response: "Is short trip. Not to worry." We spent the next 25 minutes, skimming across the waters, clueless as to the location of flotation devices.

This laissez faire approach was also evident early on day three - our first bus ride. Our guide informed us EU law required passengers be seat belted, with big fines levied on bus operators if we got caught unbelted. He never said another word about belts for the rest of the tour.

Granted, he kept reminding us we were adults and would be treated as such. You rarely get that latitude from airline flight attendants: they want you buckled. Maybe they take safety more seriously because airplanes are obviously more hazardous than tour buses or ferry boats. What are the odds of a bus rollover on a Greek two-lane mountain road or a short-haul boat on the Saronic Gulf getting in trouble? I imagine pretty low. But it was still a bit worrisome.

Posted by
524 posts

We just returned home from the RS 10 day Venice, Florence, Rome Tour. Our guides were top notch and it was SO nice to get into the main attractions (Coloseum, Forum, Vatican, David) without a line/wait and with guides who taught us the essentials at each place. There is way too much history and art in Rome & Florence and I can't imagine trying to see the key places without a guide. The Vatican alone is 4miles of art.

What we did NOT like at all were the pre-set group menus/meals - they were our worst meals in our 3 weeks in Italy (and many others in our group felt the same). We have been on other tours (with Tauck) - where we had open choice off a menu. With our 4 RS meals - they were pre-set, no choice - and we didn't care for any of them (the desserts were fine, but the meals were not good - risotto with mussels and lots of fishy things in it, Veal which even the Veal lovers said it was tasteless, pork) . . . they should at least offer a choice of 2 entrees - how hard would it be to offer spaghetti with pomodoro as a 2nd option? Every place we ate offered that and it is super easy for the kitchen to prepare and it looked much better than our meals (we saw others eating it everywhere we went). So the pre-set group meals were our only disappointment on our tour. If we do another RS tour - we will most likely skip out on the group meals and just eat out on our own. The food in italy is way too good and very reasonably priced to waste meals on food we don't like. We loved everything else about our tour (other than several of our rooms had NO where to hang the RS clothes-line which is a shame because RS encourages light packing and sink washing)

Posted by
1047 posts

We took the 17 Day Best of Italy tour and had 8 group meals. Our guide, Ferdi, did his best to make sure that we had options to choose from for dinner. However, when we had our two dinners at the agriturismo, we only had one choice for dinner. Lamb was the first night and steak was the second night. Of course, if you were a vegetarian, you were given another option. It was very disappointing to be given only one choice as we could not go to another restaurant. We were stuck at the agriturismo with no transportation and nothing close by to walk to. Judging the reaction from the group, lamb would not have been first choice for a meal. I didn't like it.
I think Rick Steves should reevaluate offering so many group meals. I enjoyed the group meals that were optional, that Ferdi arranged, because we had more choices.

Posted by
11450 posts

Lamb.. you lucky duck..its one of my favorite meats in the world..

Posted by
219 posts

Regarding Tom's post of 10-30-2015.

Our Greece tour had the same two situations. The seat belts on the bus didn't work. I tried three different seats and the belts either would not pull out or not retract. I would have used if available. The trip to Hydra was in wind strong enough we had to time the leap onto the boat when the wind pushed the boat against the dock, and in rain so hard that it came into the seating area drenching some passengers and soaking some luggage enough that inside clothing had to be hung out to dry. No mention was made by boat operator regarding life jackets. I assume they were under the seats, but really don't know if any were available. (During the return trip from Hydra on a hydrofoil there was a safety video similar to those on planes.) No, I was not on the same tour as Tom.

Posted by
6320 posts

Regarding the seat belts on tour buses, I assume this is a fairly recent law in Europe as none of the tour buses I have ever ridden in even had seat belts - although the most recent was in 2005 (I think). I would venture to say that even if they were available nobody would use them. As far as ferries, I've been on ferries in France, Sweden, Scotland, Ireland, Greek Islands, Turkey, and Italy. I don't remember any of them having lifeboat or life vest drills such as those on an ocean cruise, but I do remember seeing signs posted that showed where life jackets/vests were stored on some of the larger ferries. Of course who knows if there were enough for the number of passengers because they do sometimes pack in as many passengers as possible. Also I'm not sure that smaller ferries on short routes even carry enough of them.

Posted by
1047 posts

On our Rick Steves Italy tour, we were instructed to wear our seat belts on the first bus day but not after that. I think everyone is so used to wearing seat belts and know how important they are, there was no need to remind people to wear them. Regarding life jackets, no one made any announcement on the Lake Como ferries, but it was clearly marked where the life jackets were located.

Posted by
11450 posts

I took a tou to Mont St Michel this past summer from Paris, not with RS of course.. just a daytrip with Pariscityvisions.

On boarding bus we were informed it was in fact the LAW to wear our seatbelts. We were only told the once, and of no one actually checked to see is we did. I always wear mine is available.. but noticed many folks chose not to.

Posted by
3466 posts

We also took the Best of Italy tour and had Ferdi as our guide. Quite frankly, that tour had the best food we've ever had on our many RS tours. It has been our experience that the group dinners usually have very good food and we wish there were more of them. It might not always be what one would ordinarily select, but one should be at least a little adventurous or stay home. The tour was designed with many people in mind -- not just you. Some of us actually like lamb, and steak too. Just because you didn't like one or two meals, don't expect the world to change just for you. As someone once said, "If things are not to your liking, change your liking". If you want everything your way, then travel independently.

Posted by
1047 posts

TC, you obviously missed the point of my posting. I am willing to go to another restaurant when the group meal is not of my liking, but when you are at agriturismo without any transportation or any other place to eat, the group meal should give two choices of food. We actually did have great food on the tour and I enjoyed the group meals a lot and even participated in all the optional group meals that Ferdi arranged.

Posted by
3458 posts

Yosemite,

On your food comments:

I have to disagree with you on wanting fewer group meals. I think that they are an important part of the entire experience and provide multiple pluses. First, they get all of the tour members together so we talk with each other. Builds a team spirit among the tour members. Second, the meals usually are some food local to that area meaning we get (forced) to try things out of our comfort zone. Finally, they provide a guaranteed decent meal when we are in a new place and may be confused over what or where to eat. Having to not worry about finding a meal after a full day of bus and activities is relaxing.

I just completed the Best of Italy tour a couple weeks ago. I agree that there was a lack of choice in the provided meals compared to what I have seen on previous RS tours with basically a single option for everyone not on special diets. But what we got was good. Most of my 12 other RS tours I went on have offered at least 3 options or a reduced menu for the group meals (mains are meat (beef, chicken, pork, game, etc), fish (or a second meat option), and vegetarian and so on) except when we did things like fish 'n' chips in London. Having the multiple options is a good thing because maybe, even if I don't call myself a vegetarian, I might like that option for dinner one night. Maybe not having the options for a large group is just an Italian thing.

On all the tours, the included group meals have all been good. Some were excellent (especially the Belgium Holland tour with Ferdi as the guide), some were just OK, some were just strange. And I realize this opinion is influenced by my personal likes and dislikes as well as not knowing what constitutes a meal in some countries. This Italy tour was the first where the tour guide offered to set up extra group meals.

And I have found much better food where we ate not as part of the group. Amazing small places, unique preparations of the ingredients, and not shockingly high prices. But getting 30 people into a restaurant and having them all served at the same time is a logistics nightmare. Not every restaurant can handle that, so it limits the options available for the RS group meals. But I think we end up eating what Rick thinks we should no matter what. ;-)

Posted by
1917 posts

Yosemite1,
I was on a RS tour to Berlin Prague & Vienna in June and we ate lunch at a very nice restaurant in Dresden. I ended up eating only a salad, a delicious crisp green salad with just the perfect amount of vinaigrette dressing because I could not eat the main course. I took one bite and decided not to eat any more of it because they told us it was oxtail cheek, something, something. All I heard was oxtail cheek and I could not make myself eat it. To be honest with myself, it actually tasted good but the visual image could not be erased from my mind. I told myself I tried it and that was it. I did not complain because I made the decision not to eat. I signed up for the group experience and not everything can be to my liking.

I think the group meals are a wonderful social time with the whole group and I enjoy them very much. To me, it is worth the price of being presented with an entree that I may not care about, to be able to experience a meal with the lovely people that travel on Rick's tours.

Judy B

Posted by
168 posts

TC, that was harsh. One thing we noticed on our RS tour was that we often had to line up for meals, served cafeteria style. If you were near the back of the line, most of the good stuff was gone!!!

Posted by
8203 posts

Terri, would you mind saying what tour you were on that you did cafeteria style meals? And it sounds like most of your group dinners were that way?

I've been on 7 RS tours and all dinners were sit-down meals. Along the way there were several picnics on various tours but there was plenty of food for everyone.

Posted by
7 posts

I just wanted to jump in to introduce myself (hi, I'm Áine! New to the forum, but not to RSE) and make a quick comment on group meals. We do generally try to provide a few options to choose from, but, as one poster pointed out, we are occasionally at out-of-the-way-lodges or agritourismi where they cook one meal for the house. It is usually something local and in season, but admittedly there may be a dish you simply don't care for. This question of menu choices is something we are discussing internally, and I encourage you to mention your thoughts on this topic in your post-tour evaluations- my colleagues and I read every single one!

Posted by
672 posts

I'd also be curious which tours feature cafeteria-style meals. Of the 22 tours we've been on, I don't remember group meals ever being served that way.

Posted by
168 posts

Well, it was awhile ago, but I do remember lining up for meals in our hotels in Austria and Switzerland. In Switzerland there were fondue pots on the tables, but we had to line up to get the stuff to dip into the fondue.

Posted by
3458 posts

Terri,

Yes, breakfasts at the hotels on RS tours are usually served buffet style, but have never seen a line you had to wait in to get your food and all of them have constantly refilled things so nothing ran out. Maybe if you arrived at the very end of the breakfast time a few things might be out, but most of the tours I have been on left at the early end of breakfast time so not really a problem. Very few other meals have been served at the hotel except for the breakfasts on my tours.

I fondly remember my Swiss fondue on the GAS tour. The pot was on the table and each table had trays of all of the various dippers to use in the fondue. Excellent meal!

Maybe what you experienced was an attempt to try out something different, maybe it depended on the choice of hotels for those specific tours. It apparently did not work well enough to continue because I have never been exposed to that in my 12 tours with RS.

Posted by
33 posts

In Murren on the GAS tour we did have a buffet in conjunction with the fondu - and yes we diddling up as you do at buffet tables. Do not recall any food shortages though.

We took the Spain tour last month and without exception the meals were delicious; as a non-meat eater I had no problem with selection or quality.

Posted by
1047 posts

Don't you just love auto correct or the microphone on the keyboard. I would have been kicked off this forum many times if I hadn't checked what was written before sending.

Posted by
113 posts

I have enjoyed reading this thread. I have been one RS tour as a single traveler. I could not complain about the food. I took the GAS tour in 2014 and yes, we did have a buffet line in our hotel in Murren, Switzerland. We had several options to choose from on the buffet line

I am going on my second RS tour in April on the Paris and Heart France tour. I can't wait. I am trying to plan my free time for my pre-tour days and free time on the tour.

I am trying to figure the best place to stay pre tour because our tour hotel is in Mont Montre and I don't really want to stay up there for the whole time in Paris.

Posted by
3747 posts

Hi Judy,

For your pre-tour hotel room at Paris, I would recommend the Luxembourg area. You could take the RER B from the airport, and exit at the Luxembourg stop (no need to switch trains or metro lines). Then when you need to head up to Montmontre, you could hop on Metro #12 line at Notre Dame des Champs (this is not the cathedral location) with no changes in Metro lines again to reach the Abbesses (Montmartre stop). Be sure to take the elevator up at Abbesses because this stop is about 3 stories up to the street.

You could have breakfast at Deux Magots, stroll the St. Germaine area, walk through the lovely Luxembourg Garden or head anywhere by Metro.

Posted by
1 posts

For a Paris Hotel, I too recommend the Luxembourg Gardens area. Hotel Relais Medicis is right across from the Odeon Theatre where they have an outdoor area for before dinner drinks. Restaurant La Mediterranee across the street. Grab a picnic with wine (they will open it and give plastic cups) at Gerand Mulot at corner of Rue Lobineau and Rue de la Seine. Hotel is walking distance from RER stop at Luxembourg - direct from CDG.