Am I the only one who would be interested in doing a Rick Steves’ tour where I pick my own hotels, but still have a RS tour guide and the transportation from place to place? I much prefer staying in more typical American chain hotels, especially as I travel a lot for my day job and tend to accumulate a lot of frequent hotel points, so I love to be able to book my own Marriotts and Hiltons etc. for free in Europe. But I really like Rick’s other aspects/philosophy of travel and would really like to have one of his guides take us around, as well as the camaraderie with the other group members, in addition to prearranged trains, buses, etc.
Hmmm. Don't know how that might work.
On the "My Way" tours, all that is included is the hotels and bus plus the tour herder that makes sure everyone gets on the bus at the appointed times. The guide is not taking you around on these tours, just available to suggest things to do if you don't have any in mind.
Unless everyone would have to meet at a specific spot where the bus will be parked, the time it would take to make multiple hotels stops and collect everyone would eat up a lot of the tour time.
Most of the places the "My Way" tours stop don't have any chain hotels. Better use of the points might be pre/post tour to extend by a few days and not have to pay for hotels.
Not saying something like you suggest could not be done, but it would be a major rethink.
I see your point and I know what you suggest would be the best of both worlds for you, and maybe many others. But looking at it from the other side, I can't imagine trying to coral a group for the days touring or for the move from one location to another when everyone is staying in different hotels. That sounds like a logistical nightmare to me.
Don't you recognize what a problem that would cause for tour guides and the other arrangements? The typical Am style chain hotel are often located outside the city centers and at a location often only accessible via a car. The logistic for you getting to and from your Marriott could be difficult. Just not practical. Part of the charm is the small hotels and B&Bs that are used by his groups. Use your points elsewhere. Or just book your hotels and hire the guides independently.
I would be very surprised if you are able to find any group tour from any provider that includes transportation and group activities but not lodging. So I don't know how you're going to ever get the camaraderie of traveling with a group when you are booking your own hotels.
I don't know how many of the tour leaders and guides Rick's company works with are employees of the company versus independent contractors, but I do know that you can hire as private guides some of the same people that guide tours for Rick (because I have done that). Some of them probably offer group tours in cities, either on their own or through local tourism agencies. Rick recommends a lot of these people in his guide books. That might be the best you can do to get one of his guides to take you around.
It sounds like this tour model would be quite inefficient in smaller places when're business hotels are absent and that's likely why it doesn't exist (plus most people can be corralled to accept the entire package, not merely an "a la carte" version of it...and tour operators have built their business model around choosing hotels and getting financial breaks from volume, etc). If you can just take care of transport on your own (this is easy in Europe), you could just hire a tour guide for when you need one.
Oh, I know there would be logistics issues...but a girl can still wish. I would think it would work best in large cities, with a central meeting and ending point each day. It would be silly to expect a bus to go to 27 different hotels for pickup/dropoff.
Interesting perspective since I gravitate towards the opposite type of hotel or B&B. When I’m on vacation, I don’t want to feel like I’m back in a work trip American chain hotel.
From a financial standpoint, the hotels within a travel package are a piece of the profit. Also, the tour guide is at the same hotel in case of a medical emergency, etc. which they couldn’t be if everyone was off-site. And time is so valuable during a trip, so the group hotel makes sense.
You might want to use your hotel points for the major city in a country to extend your trip either before or after a RS tour. Or, take a multi-large city tour and sign up for activities that could give you some camaraderie, I.e. 3-day cooking class, etc.
a logistical nightmare
The typical Am style chain hotel are often located outside the city centers
The 2 key insights on why it won't happen.
RS is built on the "backdoor" experience and being in the heart of the locale.
Actually, I can tell you several cities in which major American hotels are right smack in the middle of the central city districts. Paris, London, Barcelona, and Amsterdam immediately spring to mind. Of course there are also many European cities (and American cities for that matter) where this is not possible. Even if one did not want to go with a chain hotel like me, I know there are many others on this board who love all things RS except his hotels. Truly his hotels are the only thing stopping me from doing a RS tour. We have stayed at a couple of his recommended hotels and they just did not jive with what we like. Not insulting anyone who does like his hotels, just saying that they don't match our preferred style.
My parents go on different tours than Rick Steves. Those tours always use nice, 4-star business hotels (Barcelo, Radisson Blu, etc)...so there are other choices out there that may be more in line with your hotel preferences. Only downside is those are not small group tours - they spread the cost of those big buses and expensive hotels among more people. That's the trade-off.
Take a look at Tauck Tours. They offer two options: a full-sized bus group and then small group options (about the size of RSteve tour groups). Taucks hotels are nothing short of wonderful (deluxe or better rooms, usually with fabulous views). You can click on any of their itineraries on line and they show which hotels their groups will stay in (whereas with RS Tours, it is often a mystery until closer to tour time).
We have been on both Rick Steves' Tours and Tauck Tours. Both are great for the products they are; just different price points.
Also, with Tauck Tours, you are picked up at the airport and dropped off at the airport on the return, which is nice when one is exhausted from the long flights. Tauck offers special inclusions like a private after-hours tour of the Vatican, a visit to a private villa in the Amalfi where a professor talks about contemporary Italian society followed by wine/nibbles on her terrace, a ride down a canal in Amsterdam on a vintage canal barge (which the president of Turkey has just been on a few days prior), special cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, etc. There are some group dinner nights, then also nights when you can dine in your choice of restaurants with a choice of menus. More inclusions than the RS tours, but at a higher price for the tours. From time to time, they offer special business class airfare promos, too. Their travel insurance program can also be superb, but it varies by tour location/type (land vs. ship, etc.).
We would not hesitate to go on another RickSteves' tour, but we got introduced to Tauck Tours after a couple of years of my begging the RS tour product manager to offer more one-week tours. She explained Rick always pushes them to lengthen tours rather than shorten them. At that time in our lives, it was hard to be gone much more than 10 days total. But, as our lives have evolved, we became brand loyal to Tauck and have done some two and 2.5 week journeys with them. Also once you are a repeat guest, they usually include a complimentary extra night at the hotel if you fly in early (subject to booking your tour by a certain date). Had Rick's team offered more one-week itineraries (to places we wanted to travel) back then, we likely would not have upgraded brands.
@Maggie - thank you so much for your Tauck reviews! I have long lusted after their European River Cruises, so I may just get them to send me a land tour brochure.
I think that there is plenty of room to be flexible on hotels, although probably not on a group tour.
I have often been a little surprised at the "hotel snobbery" that can exist on this site. Really, there are plenty of options out there and it is okay to stay in a hotel not recommended by Rick Steves or not classified as "family run."There needs to be flexibility in thinking regarding hotels because different travelers have different needs and likes. What seems perfect for one person may not fit the next person.
We had an absolutely terrific stay in The Munich City Center Hilton a few years ago. There was a special summer sale and we had the room for a very low price and it included the most amazing breakfast I have ever seen in my life. It had a direct entrance to the subway system and was two short stops from train station. If I was unwilling to consider "chain hotels" I would have missed a great opportunity and a great stay.
After reading Maggie's post re Tauck , I had to go look to see what they had.
Definitely a different price point and features.
There is Outback Steakhouse and Ruth's Chris. If you have the means, and want to, then eat at RC.
I did a very luxurious tour with Tauck, and I would never tour with them again.
In all fairness, they do offer mostly incredible accommodations. Far more meals are included, and you have transfers to/from the airport. You don't have to worry about your suitcases, so you can take along as much luggage as you can pack.
I just didn't like the Tauck experience. I've only done one RS tour, but I found that I enjoyed the RS group, hotels and meals far better than anything we did with Tauck. The hotels were far more fun with RS - you didn't know if you'd have a standard room or one with a surprise door that opened onto a big square patio. The RS food experiences felt more authentic to the locales.
And y'know that no-grumps policy which RS tours has? On our Tauck tour, I swear half of them never stopped complaining, and this was coming from people who claimed to have been around the world half a billion times. (Well, maybe not a billion. But a LOT.) I always thought frequent travel would make people more tolerant of the hiccups which can happen when you take to the road. Not with that group.
Of course, what I am describing there are the group dynamics for a single tour. I'm sure that not every Tauck tour is like that. I've read reviews - like the one above - of people who love the Tauck product. I just didn't have the same experiences.
Anyway, I had a few other complaints on that Tauck tour, but I have tried to chalk that up to a learning experience. No travel is ever wasted in my book. If nothing else, I learn what I don't want to do next time! :-)
I think that one of the main attractions of a group tour is the camaraderie of the group, getting to know your tour mates at breakfast, happy hours in the hotel (the guides often organize them, sometimes they are just spontaneous), having dinner with them. If everyone's at different hotels, that is all lost. It would take a week or more just to learn everyone's names if you only see them on the guided tours.
Honestly, I think the OP is in a very small group. Either he has identified a niche that could make him a small fortune, or he is better off booking his own tour.
Hmm.... How about an American Fast Food Tour - eat only at MacDonalds, Burger King, KFC, etc. Stay only at hotels that offer a full American breakfast - pancakes, eggs, waffles, crisp bacon, sausage muffins, etc. preferably pre-made so that the tourist only has to microwave them for a minute.
You might also take a look at Odysseys Unlimited Tours. They stay at hotels that are a little more business class than quaint, do airport and baggage transfers and group sizes are 24-28. We still prefer RS tours, but have friends that can no longer tolerate carrying their own luggage or the vagaries of the RS tour hotels. You have to find the style that suits you best.
I find this thread super interesting because the hotels are one of the things I like about RS. I like how they are all walkable to something interesting. Usually right in the heart of things. Also, we are really only in the hotel to sleep so the location seems to be the most important thing for us. All that being said it’s interesting to hear other opinions.
I'm an unabashed collector of hotel points in the name of affordably extending a trip and don't see mold and mustiness as making a property 'more authentic', so IHG (technically a UK company these days) Marriott and France-based Accor get a fair number of nights from me overseas. The irony is that Rick's books themselves recommend a fair number of chains like the budget end of the Accor line, and I can remember reading a review of an Ibis in Munich (typical concrete box with IKEA-style furniture but adjacent to a closer in U-Bahn station and the parking was cheap) and an early entry started out with 'I stayed here with a Rick Steves Tour so don't know what their normal rates are...'
Thank you, @Patty - the Odyssey tours look very cool. I like how they include airfare and food as well. Will definitely take a more detailed look at them!