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Your favorite RS Tour - and why?

We enjoyed our first Rick Steves Tour to the Heart of Ireland in 2017 and we're looking forward to our second RS Tour to Scotland in October. The first experience was so positive that I'm already pondering a third tour - but which one? So many choices!

Many of the thoughts and suggestions offered in this forum have helped us shape past travel plans. Some of you have been on multiple RS Tours, so I'd like to know if you've had one favorite tour - and why? I know there are "top sellers" however I'm more interested your personal perspectives. Your insights may help us choose our next tour(s) in 2021.

Many thanks!

Garrison

Posted by
637 posts

Switzerland was incredible. My husband loved the fact that there were almost no museums for him to trek through. [ I happen to like art museums, however.] The tour spent so much time outdoors, enjoying the breathtaking scenery, via boats, gondolas, lifts, and a cogwheel train. The pace was great, and there was free time in the Alps to hike. The RS hotels were more upscale, and we all had rooms with views in Luzern and Murren. The country was so safe, friendly and pristine; the efficiency and dependability of the Swiss transportation systems are unparalleled IMHO . The local guides were also quality, and I particularly enjoyed the walking tour in Bern, led by the travel writer [who's name now escapes me.]

Cons: the country is expensive, but goes back to the adage: you get what you pay for. Also, weather, but we only had one day in which it rained heavily throughout , altho the rain did result in our missing the top of the Jungfrau.

Safe travels!

Posted by
738 posts

Just did a very quick look at the three links kathy noted. I wasn’t on the forum in 2014, but I did comment on the second link in 2017. As of now, I have been on 7 RS tours, 8th will be in May

Add the 10 day Scotland one tied with my holland and Belgium tour, then 14 day Ireland, 8 day london. Surprisingly the 8 day Ireland, 8 Barcelona/ madrid and 11 day Paris and heart of France were my least favs.

We are doing the 13 day so England villages in May

Posted by
349 posts

Garrison, you are sure to get lots of thoughtful responses here. Each will be as individual as the people who take these tours. Despite a fairly homogeneous demographic, I find RS travelers to be a diverse lot when it comes to the specific reasons they like a tour.
After 7 RS tours ( and two decades of LOTS of independent travel) we have discerned some Travel Truths about ourselves. Consider your preferences as you look at tours. Here are some of ours:

  1. We prefer experiences more than sightseeing. Wine tasting, cooking classes, small concerts by local musicians, cheese makers and sheep herders. Those are the memories we cherish. Museums, castles, cathedrals and “ Roman influence” enamored us much more 15 years ago than now.
  2. We prefer small towns more than big cities. Elbowing our way through urban crowds is to be endured. Conversations over dinner with ( often non- tour) patrons and wait staff in small, locally- owned restaurants are to be relived and remembered.
  3. Our ratings of RS tours certainly depends on itineraries ( as referenced above), but in the end it is mostly about the tour leader. We have had some truly stellar leaders. Esther was our first, and set a high bar. George, a gentleman and a scholar whose company we have enjoyed both on tour and on our own. Liz, who has the mind and the heart to transform the life of travelers. Yorick, whose reality- based leadership insured that we made the most of our time and money. Last but certainly not least, Chris. Her intuitive nature challenged and/ or nurtured each and every person on her tour. Then there were two other leaders, and the negative experiences with them nearly dissuaded us from taking another RS tour. We were also a bit bored by the “ formula”, and the reality that “ quirky” hotels can translate into sleepless nights. After taking a break and returning just to independent travel, we are signed up for a 2020 RS tour. We chose an itinerary which includes the Normandy beaches. If we are truly lucky we will have a stellar tour leader, who knows that building group camaraderie needs to happen early. And often.

In summary, my advice is to look for itineraries that compel you. With providence it might also leave you with the priceless memories that a great tour leader and cohesive band of fellow travelers can provide.

Posted by
643 posts

After seven tours we loved the Greece tour the best, but I will admit that we have liked all our RS tours.

Why: The history that envelops Greece, the wonder of the Acropolis, seeing Olympia, the island of Hydra, the food, and most of all the amazing Greek people.

Posted by
745 posts

I believe I am at 10 or 11 tours right now. My favorites: Eastern France - the sheer scope of it - done in April/May when asparagus is fresh! This tour takes in wine areas from Reims through the Alps, Burgundy, and down to the Mediterranean. Truly a lovely tour. I will return to Colmar and environs.

My Way Alpine and Switzerland: I may take My Way Alpine again since I love this region of Europe. Again, Switzerland was a well-rounded intro which has given me ideas for more independent trips.

7 Days in Venice - now defunct. This was my first tour in November 2005. It was so cold, and I was not prepared for the weather. I purchased a mask and a chandelier (yikes!). I had Liver and Onions for Thanksgiving dinner with tour members. This trip was especially memorable since it was my first venture after a hiatus. I stopped first in London and afterwards trained up through Verona to Bolzano's Christmas market. I finished in Munich. It was cold and snowy that year. Travel books: Miss Garnet's Angel (Venice) and Casanova in Bolzano. Oh, and Inspector Brunetti, of course.

Posted by
4718 posts

Sicily. More Greek temples than all of Greece. Great food, and short bus distances. All hotels were above average. It was one of those tours where everyone was happy, so it boosted the enjoyment level.

Posted by
3731 posts

We've done 14 RS tours. My favorites (of the tours that still exist) are Village Italy and Best of Eastern France, mostly for the reasons TravelingMom cites: experiences vs sights, and small vs larger cities and towns.

My DH's favorite tour was the 21 Day Best of Europe, just for the sheer expansiveness of it. It is a wonderful tour.

I don't think we've ever had a tour we didn't enjoy, and we've only had one guide we would prefer not to have again. All the others (including several that some tour mates and Forum posters didn't like) have been great. Your guide's personal style will make a difference in your tour experience, but we don't choose our guides. Which may be a good thing - we've been so impressed with the guides as a whole. They all bring different life experiences and personalities to the tour, and they are all devoted to the RS style of travel: teaching is paramount, including teaching people how to travel on their own.

Posted by
1083 posts

I have been on 7 RS tours. I couldn't choose just one. There are 3: Village Italy, 14 Day Ireland and the Scotland tour I took last fall. But, I really loved all 7, so I don't think you can go wrong. I love the free time, the education, the good use of bus time, the guides, the bus drivers. All of it has been good.

Posted by
2478 posts

I’ve completed 14 tours and will be going on number 15 in September. Looking back, I find it impossible to rank them because each was so unique. It’s the combination of location, sights, hotels, tour guide and fellow tour members. I really enjoyed Barcelona but about half the tour group worked for Boeing in Seattle - unplanned, just by chance - and they all stuck together which dampened the normal conviviality. In Florence, everything was great except the guide. Paris at Christmas - Christmas dinner at Le Tren Bleu in Gare de Lyon, snow on the ground. Basque tour - the small marching band parading through the streets on San Sebastián at 8am on a Sunday morning. The great fortune of having Karin Kibby and Toni Clark as guides on two trips each! How can you measure these things?

Posted by
1789 posts

Hi, Garrison. When asked this question I usually name whichever tour was my most recent tour. (Portugal, as of right now). That said, I have repeated the Sicily tour twice (different itineraries) and this year I will be taking the Greece tour (with some friends) and the Adriatic tour (with my whole family), both for the second time. I have taken somewhere north of 20 tours and would agree with other posters that I now enjoy tours with an experiential focus more than those with many visits to churches and cathedrals. But I think that comes from having taken so many tours and seen so many churches and cathedrals already! I have never repeated a tour guide and have thought they were all outstanding. It is hard to choose a favorite tour
!

Posted by
533 posts

First: Venice, Florence and Rome
Most Enjoyable: Best of Ireland
Most Interesting and Educational: Eastern Europe
Scenic Beauty: My Way Alpine Europe and/or Best of Switzerland
Surprising: Eastern Europe
Relaxing: Best of England
Most Likely to Repeat: Best of Ireland
Most Recent: Best of England
Next: Greece

Posted by
637 posts

-the reality that “ quirky” hotels can translate into sleepless nights.-

TravelingMom,
your response was so well-written and so wise. I couldn't agree more or have expressed the thoughts better, especially your focus on experiences.
I particularly agree with the above sentiments on hotels, which probably hints towards maybe the ONLY weakness of SOME of the stays on SOME nights [not all] on RS Tours. I can carry my luggage up narrow stairwells, and live out of a carry-on suitcase, but as a weary traveler, I require a good night's sleep, [supported by a quality mattress, reasonably quiet room, with some ventilation.] From the feedback here, I am feeling that the quality of the hotels used by the RS Tours is improving, and loved the hotels on the Switzerland Tour .
Safe travels.

Posted by
904 posts

We have been on six RS tours (Paris, Barcelona-Madrid, Sicily. Village of South England, Loire Valley/South of France and Village Italy. Our next tour will be in September 2020 - Best of England.

People ask me which tour is my favorite, and I say: the last one.

We like the longer tours, especially the ones that immerse you in a country or region. We also enjoy the so-called Cultural Connection type tours. Of the ones we have taken, the following fall into this category: Sicily, Villages of South England and Village Italy. These tours also seem to attract more experienced European travelers. The other Cultural Connection tours are: Best of Tuscany, Best of South Italy, Best of Eastern France, Basque Country, Best of Andalucia, Heart of Portugal, Heart of Belgium & Holland, Best of Switzerland, Best of Bulgaria, and Best of Turkey. According to the 2020 Tour Catalog, Cultural Connections tours focus more on off-the-beaten-path experiences with a deeply cultural, person-to-person flavor.

What really makes for the best tours are the guides and the fellow travelers. We take these tours to experience a foreign country, but we also learn about America from our tour mates.

Posted by
7565 posts

I've done 11 Rick Steves tours (and 11 Road Scholar tours) and I agree that it's hard to pick just one. I guess the hands' down favorite is the 21 day Best of Europe. I was talking with an RS guide (for Ireland) after I had signed up for it and he said he went on that one as an assistant and thought it was awesome to see blockbuster sights every single day. He was so right.

I saw SO much and learned so much about how to travel in Europe during that tour. The guide, Dimitri, was fantastic and made me realize I could do this on my own. Now I choose to go the tours because they are such fun but I don't "need" to do one if that makes sense!

If you are doing Scotland and have done Ireland, I'd suggest for your next tour you go to another cultural area - France, Italy, Germany, another country that is interesting to you or the whole basket of Europe! I have done the Best of England and Villages of Southern England and they were excellent, it's just I'd suggest for your next one you branch out.

OR do a back to back, lol. I did the combination of Best of England and Paris and Heart of France. What a great duo! Easy to get from London to Paris by the Eurostar so that was easy for a novice. Then stayed extra time before in London and after in Paris. The cultures are quite different, food is different, history is different. Just Perfect!

Posted by
828 posts

I’ve traveled with several different tour operators and I like RS the best. We’ve done only two with him but loved them both. We did the best of Turkey tour first and loved it. Our second was the BOE21 days and loved that one too.
In September we are doing back to back Portugal and Barcelona/ Madrid.
We had one bad room on the BOE 21 tour. The room was great but had a lot of mold on the bathroom ceiling. I showed it to the tour guide and I notified the RS tour office when I returned.
We apparently lucked out with quiet rooms.
I can’t say which one I liked better. We mostly had great weather for both. Our guides were great. One was better than the other but sill great.

Posted by
2748 posts

I have taken 18 RS tours (soon to be 19) and when asked this question I have a "copout reply": the last one. I have enjoyed every one of those 18 tours and would hate to rate one over another. I would advise you to do some more research into the tours you may want to take and see which ones appeal to you personally. One person's favorite may not be another person's favorite.

Posted by
15 posts

I've only done two so far, but so far my favorite has been the Basque tour. We went during the running of the bulls, and it was fabulous. If you go, you MUST go during the running of the bulls. It was a highlight of the trip, and definitely deserves a place on your bucket list! The Portugal tour was also very enjoyable, but not as "wow" as the Basque tour.

Posted by
7565 posts

So, Garrison! Have any of us hit on any itineraries that are of interest to you and your travel partner? Have we talked you in to Back to Backs, lol?

Posted by
2229 posts

Garrison, I have taken 11 RS Tours so far, #12 coming up in May (the new Best of Tuscany). All were excellent, several I considered especially outstanding, but if pressed to select one, I would say Best of Bulgaria, which combined: (a) a very interesting and beautiful but little known country and culture; (b) an exceptional Bulgarian guide, knowledgeable and passionate about his country, history, culture and religion; and (c) a very “interactive” itinerary, including many extended encounters with diverse everyday Bulgarian people, who do not work everyday with foreign visitors. Also, this is a lower-cost country and tour, compared to most others.

Posted by
68 posts

Pam: I am always interested in where you are off to next. My husband and I have done the GAS which was our first and we thought no way the next tour could top it. Then we did the Village Italy and that was wonderful for different reasons.. we both fell in love with Switzerland on the GAS tour so when the Best of Switzerland tour was added we did that the second year. It was outstanding. This year once again we wanted a tour to bring us back to Switzerland so we have chosen My Way Alpine.. since we have been to Salzburg on the GAS tour I am looking for fun things to do that we didnot have time for the first time. I have found a cooking class.
I don’t think you can go wrong on any RS tour.
I followed the gentleman tour reports from a couple years ago... the man who did five tours back to back.
A dream come true.. but I can’t imagine how exhausted he must have been when he got home.. was his name Brad? Anyone know if he is still touring?

Posted by
56 posts

Hi, Traveling Mom. Good to see you back posting again. You are so correct that the tour guide can make or break the trip. We shared an imperfect situation with you in 2018 on the Best of England tour. The end of that tour, which you described as an "epic fail" has been re-engineered now and sounds much improved.

Posted by
1452 posts

@Sue, his name was Brad and I wondered what happened to him as well. I don’t even think he finished posting about all his tours. I have not seen him on the forum since.
We have only done 1 RS tour-Athens & The Heart Of Greece, but we loved it so much we are going on our second one at the end of April-Paris & The Heart of France.

Posted by
738 posts

Brad from AZ... I too have not seen anything posted from him. Don’t think he did finish up his reporting.

Posted by
173 posts

We’ve done 6 tours and our fave is still 17 day Best of Italy, guided by the incomparable Patricia. Tied for 2nd place are Greece and Eastern France. I agree that the cultural connection tours are my favorite. Give me small towns over big cities and I’m a happy camper. But part of that is the huge crowds you find at all the “big” sights in the cities. Also agree that the tour guide can make or break a tour.

Posted by
123 posts

We've been on five RS tours, in chronological order: Venice/Florence/Rome, Belgium/Netherlands, Best of England, Germany/Austria/Switzerland (GAS), and Eastern Europe. We've done independent traveling in Europe as well. All the RS tours were wonderful, but my favorite was far and away the GAS tour. The main reason: Switzerland. You can look at all the photos ever taken of the Swiss Alps and the Lauterbrunnen valley, but they don't come close to seeing them with your own eyes. We were blessed with good weather when we were there. Munich in Germany and Vienna in Austria added some "city" to the tour. And the Black Forest and Salzburg are also beautiful.

Posted by
3731 posts

You can look at all the photos ever taken of the Swiss Alps and the Lauterbrunnen valley, but they don't come close to seeing them with your own eyes.

Al, you are so right. I found the same to be true of the Grand Canyon. Photos do not do any of these places justice.