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Your First RS Tour? Some Suggestions To Keep You From Being Surprised

This summary is from having been on the Best of England tour. You have been told a lot about what to expect. Now the rest of the story.
First, let me say I enjoyed my BoE tour. Went places I could not have gone on my own. Met some really great people who were my traveling companions. Good folks. Didn't have to plan much of anything, other than how to get to Bath and how to get home once it was all over. Very convenient. I felt the price for what I got was very reasonable. We spent a lot of time on our coach (not bus) but one of the great things RS does is provide enough seats that each person has two seats to use. No scrunching up next to each other. The tour was sort of a "sampler" for me. Covered lots of ground and saw lots of things I didn't even know I wanted to see! When I go back on my own, I will probably re-visit some of these places and stay longer.

But be prepared. You MUST travel light! Decide what you must take, then leave some of that at home. Your hotels will be "quaint" which is not always great. If you get a room with bad beds, ask if you can get another room. You may be able to.

There will be lots of walking. Sometimes in rain and cold wind. There will be stairs in the hotels. Lots of them. Got good knees?
Your tour guide may not learn your name, even by tour end. But do learn everyone's name because they are worth knowing. Learn as many as you can before leaving for England.

Provided meals. Breakfast was always provided at the hotel, although sometimes we had to leave before they opened the kitchen, meaning it was Continental or nothing. The evening meals that were provided were limited in what you could select, 1 of 3 choices, plus a vegetarian option. What you need to know that I did not think of until too late is when you go to the 2 or 3 dinner meals where nothing is to your liking, just bite the bullet, ask for a menu, and order what you want. Sure you are paying twice, but it may be better than the alternative. Do it. Spend more money and get a good meal.

Don't expect everything mentioned in the tour description to actually happen. We were told we would get a bus tour of London. We did not. Our brochure did not say how long we would be at the Tower of London, but the 2016 brochure said we would arrive at Tower of London in the morning, then have the afternoon on our own, meaning we could spend all day there if we wished. Its easily an all-day destination. But our tour got us there at noon, having had no lunch, and we had 2 hours to eat and see the Tower. Really poor planing.

There are various tour guides. Some better than others. Ours was totally inflexible in varying from the plan. Our itinerary called for us to take a walking tour of York on the way from our hotel to dinner. So, rather than postpone the tour and walk us directly to dinner, he marched us around in the wind and a very cold, very drenching rain.

In summary, the trip is worth taking, but pack lightly, be prepared to speak up if your room or bed is bad, don't hesitate to take matters into your own hands if the provided dinner is unacceptable, and you don't have to do everything the tour guide says. If he says lets go walk in the rain, you can say "No thanks, I will stay here".

Posted by
106 posts

Wow. We’ve been on five RS tours (not England, however) and never had a bad guide. 4 of 5 have been wonderful-one adequate. Only one that didn’t know everyone’s name by the end (most sooner), most group meals were fair to very good, and yes, the hotels can be “quaint” with lots of stairs, but that’s most of Europe outside of large luxury hotels.

I think anyone considering a RS tour should watch the DVD about the tour experience, and read (and take to heart) the information in the tour area of this website. We love them, but they’re not for everyone.

Posted by
6361 posts

Surfdog, this is the second thread I've seen with some of the same negatives for the Best of England tour. I hope this wasn't your first (and only?) RS tour, because your experiences are not typical. The hotels and meals, yes. But I don't think we've ever had a guide that didn't learn our names, and all the guides we have had have been very flexible - changing plans on the fly if the weather is bad, or a site is closed or too crowded.

We've taken 12 tours, and only had one guide that I would not consider excellent. Please try again.

You are right that it is perfectly okay to opt out of any activity, as long as you tell the guide.

Posted by
470 posts

Surfdog, these are all excellent tips. It never occurred to me that I could just ask for something else from the menu. I wonder if the restaurants would actually do that. Kind of chuckling here because for some of the group meals we have had I can see there would be a Menu Mutiny once other people became emboldened enough to also ask to see a menu.

Truth to tell I would be happy to just do all meals on our own. You could still group up with other tour members, but eat at the place and time you wanted. The food would probably be much better as it has to be tough for a restaurant to create 26-30 entrees at the same time. You would probably also be able to converse and move about. In our 6 tours almost all group meals had back- to-back seating where you were isolated from seeing and/ or talking to more than a handful of people anyway. No question it would be a money saver as I am certain that the embedded food costs are high.

Thanks for such a thoughtful post. Wish I had seen these ideas before our first tour. On the other hand, long before 6 tours we would have been labeled “ grumps” and banned from future tours.

I love what Emma from London said in a previous thread; it seems like the RS model creates a “ badge of honour” for people to feel proud that they paid a lot of money to stay in mediocre hotels, tote their own luggage, and eat substandard food. All with a smile, so as to not be labeled a grump. Hmmmm. Real food for thought here. Never thought about it that way before.

Having said that. We have had 4 tour leaders that were absolutely outstanding. Their knowledge, compassion, humor and professionalism were beyond compare. We have had two that never learned our names and were clearly just “ phoning it in”. Based on those odds I hope you give it another try.

Posted by
919 posts

While I think many of the thoughts and comments here are good “heads up” items for anyone who hasn’t done an RS trip, I am going to quibble a bit on a few things:

I’ve been on five RS tours. I think having two to three meal options is a pretty good deal, and unless your meal is your last event of the day or something is terribly wrong with your food, you may not have time to order off of a menu and/or a guide who wants to deal with that.

The only time I had a room issue on an RS tour that I bothered to ask about changing was in London at a large “chain” hotel where we are going to be all week. On a coach trip, you’re in a room one or two nights. Unless something was horrible, I think I’d just deal.

And I have had guides who’ve remembered my name and the names of others on the trip.

I guess my overarching point is that the line between asking for what you want and being a “grump” (or being perceived as a grump) can be a thin line to walk at times.

Posted by
2252 posts

I have to ask, Surfdog, is this your only Rick Steves tour experience? I've been on several tours and would write what cill has written above my post nearly word for word. With the possible exceptions of the City Tours, all the tours are designed to be a sampling of the country/countries you will visit. These tours definitely are not for everyone, you must know what you are signing up for when you do sign up. I have always felt prospective tour members are fairly warned about what to expect but you have to read everything before you sign the documents and pay your money.
"Your tour guide will not learn your name, even by tour end. " I have never, in my many tours, had this happen! I am dismayed it did to you and would give you the same advice I wrote TravelingMom on her post about this same tour-let the tour department know exactly what you are unhappy about and I mean call them on the phone! I really think this particular guide needs more in depth training. I am sorry you didn't have the experience you were hoping to have.

Posted by
375 posts

Thank you for your thoughts on your tour. As suggested, I hope you do follow up with a call to the office about the tour guide. We’ve gone on several RS tours and we come back due to the quality of the tour guides. We pay a lot and expect a good product in return. If the guide is subpar, then why bother to do the tour.

Posted by
11374 posts

Have done RS tours in Italy and Greece. ( not England) Never had a problem finding a delightful dinner choice.

Definitely contact the RS office with your comments about the guide. They cannot fix a problem unless they know about it.

Posted by
11350 posts

Surfdog, when you join a tour you give up some things, but benefit from others. Perhaps you would like touring independently better. It is not the tours fault if meals , hotels are not ones you might choose.

Posted by
8500 posts

I think a person's first Rick Steves tour is really a bit of an experiment. I know the tour I take in 3 weeks will be one for me. The question, "Is group travel something that I want to persue as a travel option?" is in the front of my mind. It is pretty hard to answer this without trying it out and seeing how it "fits." I know that I am going to enjoy the tour and be stretched a little in some of my travel habits. That goes without saying. What I don't know is when all is said and done whether I will want to repeat the experience or keep traveling independently.

I think it is pretty important to enter into the experience with an open mind and understand that not everything is "going to be my way" all of the time. I often travel with my sister and have discovered that being open to different ways of doing things or exploring places that aren't on my first string list of "must sees" actually makes me have some better trips than if I wasn't taking the interests and needs of someone else into account. I'm anticipating group travel will be a little like that. I will be stretched, but in a good way that will give me some experiences that I might not have on my own.

The hardest part for me so far was to not pick the hotels where I would be staying. I always put a great deal of time and effort into this and usually have great places to stay. I was sharing this thought with my sister and she laughed and said, "Ardlui Hotel" (Loch Lomond). Okay, so I have picked some stinkers on my own before :)

I am really looking forward to having guides that will teach me more about what I am seeing than I might figure out on my own. We hired Peter Carney as a guide for a day at Hadrian's Wall last year and I realized that I enjoyed the next few days along the wall so much more because I knew what I was looking at and the associated history. I'm hoping that having a guide will often be like that.

Names. Some of us do better with names than others. I am a high school teacher and every fall I end up with 150 new names to learn. It takes me awhile and even then I can struggle from time to time. Learning hundreds of names over a guiding season can't be easy. It's true that each group may have only 26-28 people in it, but your guide may have already learned that many new names and more in just the previous few weeks. I think this is an area to be understanding in. I am warning my tour members right now, I will probably struggle with your names at first. Sorry!

Posted by
116 posts

Surfdog-- Great comments and especially good for new tour participants to know. We took the Best of Italy tour in 2016 and experienced some similar issues. It was our first tour, and we would have benefited greatly from this kind of heads-up. It is refreshing for someone to share their reality of not having the perfect tour experience (especially at the risk of being labeled "a grump"). I like hearing the good and the bad so I can be prepared.

Posted by
15532 posts

You were promised a bus tour of London and didn't get it? I hoped you mentioned this to the RS office. Almost every tour company I know of, and I've worked for a few, will issue some sort of refund or credit towards a future tour if you don't get what you were promised.

By the way, I think Emma's description is spot on.

Posted by
15643 posts

First, let me say that I sympathize with your disappointment and based on both my own 3 RS tours and the reports from many other people, your experiences are very uncommon so I hope it won't turn you off complete to RS tours.

From your accounting, RS needs to make some improvements and you should let them know directly the things you were unhappy about. Guides should know everyone's name by the second day! Guides should be flexible! It's possible, even likely, that in York, your guide could not change the time of the dinner, but he absolutely should have found an acceptable alternative to a walk in bad weather. I'm also surprised that a full breakfast wasn't provided every morning. RS works with these hotels regularly and they should be able to arrange to have breakfast according to the tour schedule. I would understand if there was one incident when it wasn't possible (maybe someone just didn't show up) but if there were multiple instances, RS needs to remedy the problem - either working with the hotels or finding others.

Changes do happen in the schedule and the terms of service do specify that not everything that's planned will happen as detailed. You are relying on a 2016 brochure for some reason. The current description on the tour itinerary page is: Today we'll board a train and make a beeline past the Midlands for London. Upon arrival, we'll jump into the city's medieval past, with a visit to the Tower of London (the first "skyscraper" of its time), where you can join a tour with a witty Beefeater and get a close-up look at the UK's majestic collection of crown jewels. Then we'll take an entertaining cruise on the River Thames, hearing tales about the London Bridge, St. Paul's Cathedral, and Big Ben. Later this afternoon, we'll check into our hotel and get oriented to our neighborhood and London's Tube. Had you used that information, you would have seen that there was no "free time" scheduled until late afternoon/evening.

And you are right - people should know as much as possible before choosing a tour. They should read all the available information carefully as well as the comments from previous tours.

Posted by
14157 posts

I guess I am most surprised at the guide not knowing everyone’s name. I’m currently in the middle of tour #9 and I’ve never had that experience. As much as I detest The Name Game it sounds like some of the guides should do it for themselves not for the benefit of the group. I am on my 2nd tour in England and for the record both guides knew all names by about day 2. Neither has done the Name Game. My current guide says he has to give himself several days between tours so he can forget the last set of names before he has to learn new ones.

I’ve also done 10 Road Scholar tours, both US and Europe. Road Scholar has name tags which I hate. There were a few exceptions with Road Scholar guides, but otherwise I feel like the Rick Steves guides have tried harder to make a personal connection with tour members than the instructors/leaders who had the name tags to depend on.

Food-can’t really speak to this. I’m vegan and every guide I’ve had has tried to get me vegan meals when available. I’ve always got back up food available to meet my needs.

Although this tour I’m traveling with family I normally am solo on tours. I enjoy the group meals for the social aspects more than the food. I do try to sit with different people each meal to get to know them and learn from their experiences.

I do see people struggling with luggage, the walk from the bus to the hotel and stairs. I also see people having difficulty in airports and train stations. In a small village pub last night I watched guests wrangling their very big suitcases up narrow stairs. They were not on a tour and they sounded like they were British. For the record it looked like they all had 24-26” bags.

I do think it’s important for people to have a reality check when they sign up for their first tour whether it is one of Rick’s, a Road Scholar or another company.

With the wide variety of personal observations just on this thread, it’s clear to me that there is no typical experience. Guide, group, location, itinerary, weather, local holidays all play a part in shaping the tour.

Posted by
2485 posts

I’ve been on 5 RS tours and have not experienced inattentive and inflexible guides. I travel independently and have chosen hotels and restaurants that were not what I was expecting so I recognize that will happen on a tour, RS or any other tour company.
The “no grumps” policy does not apply to a bad mattress or even 50 stairs going up to a tiny room. How many floors up were you? Those merit a private talk with the guide. You don’t have to endure those things. On the 17 Days Best of Italy tour, I slipped on some steps in the hotel and nursed my ankle for a couple days. The guide very kindly assigned me rooms that were lower down in the next hotels for the rest of the tour. A bad mattress is inexcusable.

I’m not sure we have a badge of honor that Emma mentions just because we understand we will be staying in older hotels, etc. I don’t think the tours are mediocre either. Guides are human and maybe this particular one needs to have a conversation with RS. RS selects all the guides from my understanding.

I’m sorry you had a bad experience.

Posted by
3290 posts

I guess my overarching point is that the line between asking for what you want and being a “grump” (or being perceived as a grump) can be a thin line to walk at times.

This is an interesting topic. I don't think someone is a grump for speaking up about an uncomfortable bed, or asking to order off the menu (at one's own expense) if the set menu is not to his/her liking.

Posted by
919 posts

We are all individuals and have different expectations of what’s acceptable or what’s worth bringing up to the guide or not. I agree with others that these comments should go to the RS office.

Traylaparks, the impression that sticks with me as I’ve read through the forum the past couple years is that the expectations of RS tour participants seem to have gone up and fewer people seem willing to shrug their shoulders at the periodic lumpy mattress or windy staircase.
Any tour participant is welcome to bring a concern to a guide but what I find dangerous, if you will, is posting that all RS tours are like X so be prepared for X. Many of them are like X but that’s one departure and one participant’s experience, and some of what’s described doesn’t match my past experiences with the company. That’s all.

Posted by
6361 posts

Trayla, on the subject of grumphood: we had one fellow on our recent Best of Europe tour whose very first statement when the group gathered for the initial meeting was "I want to go back to America so I can get a decent cup of coffee." On our last evening together, when our guide asked us all for our impressions of the tour, the same fellow said "If I have to see one more museum, I'm going to slit my throat."

Now, I will say although our fellow traveler grumped a lot, he did take part in all the activities, and finally admitted that he had had a good time.

Pam, our guide Dimitri did say, when we did the name game, that it was as much for him as for us. And as much as people hate it, it does work.

Posted by
1019 posts

Jane - I agree. I forgot to mention to you that out of my five RS tours. Two have played the name game (we may moan about it but your right it works and can be made fun). The other two we had to get to know our buddies and introduced them to our group. Then one tour nothing!

Posted by
3290 posts

Jane - I do 99% of the planning for my husband's and my trips to Europe. By the last day of every trip, even I am saying that if I have to go to another museum I will slit my own throat!

Posted by
3521 posts

the RS model creates a “ badge of honour” for people to feel proud that they paid a lot of money to stay in mediocre hotels, tote their own luggage, and eat substandard food. All with a smile, so as to not be labeled a grump

Well, you can pay a whole lot more for not much better with other tour companies. Or you can travel on your own and pick things that are more acceptable to you. I have done both and couldn't wait to get back to the RS way.

I don't see anything about the RS way of doing anything that would make me think I am suffering for the good of mankind. Everything you encounter on the tour that some would consider shortcomings is detailed, repeatedly, so you know what to expect. The walking and carrying your own luggage to the hotel. The stairs and possibly no elevators in hotels. No air conditioning in hotels. Long marches through medieval towns. Nothing being guaranteed for accessibility. None of this should be a surprise. And these tours might just not be for everyone. That's why there are other tour companies offering a different approach.

Food has never been "substandard" on any tour I took. It varies with some tours having food that seemed way over the top and made you wonder how they paid for it while others have had food that made you want to go and have another diner after because there just wasn't that much. And with the limitations cause by trying to have a restaurant feed up to 30 people at one time, sometimes there just wasn't anything in the choices that looked appealing. But there was nothing substandard about any of the food and each group meal was intended to give you a feeling of what the local cuisine is like.

Is everything on a RS tour perfect? Of course not, and I never meant to give the impression that I though it was. But when issues were brought to the attention of a tour guide, they have always been resolved as best they could within the limitations of the specific situation. And I have never been labeled a "grump" for bringing legitimate issues to the guide's attention.

Posted by
2479 posts

Mark has said pretty much what I was going to say.

I will be going on my 5th RS trip in the fall, and by now I know they suit me. I planned our trips when my Husband and I traveled independently, but since his death I prefer to travel with groups.

The only other company I have used is Trafalgar--for 1 tour, and I did not enjoy it nearly as much.

Posted by
788 posts

I won’t try to add much here, having already commented on the related “Best of England” thread, but I will address the guide not knowing people’s names after two weeks. That’s simply lazy and inexcusable. I’ve only done two RS tours - Best of Paris and VFR. Our fabulous guide Rebecca in Paris knew everyone’s name by day 2 and suggested everyone should know everyone else’s names by day 3 or 4. And we did.

On our VFR tour last year, I saw our guide Reid sitting quietly a couple of times with the tour roster, scanning the group and diligently associating names and faces. That’s just common professional courtesy in a job like that.

The quality of the guides is a major reason we’ve enjoyed our tours, consider them good value and plan to take Best of Scotland next year. Sounds like your England guide simply wasn’t up to standard and that’s really unfortunate.

Posted by
79 posts

Thank you, everyone, for your thoughtful comments regarding the post. It was intended as a "heads up" for new travelers, as this was my first RS tour and I felt I learned things that I wish I had known in advance. It is every bit as much a criticism of my first-timer ignorance as a criticism of any shortcomings of the tour itself. Probably more so. The two main things I now understand that I did not think of while on the tour are 1. Ask for another room if your bed has a mattress that is beyond worn out, and 2. Be prepared to not like the dinners offered and do not be shy to ask for a menu and of course pay for the meal out of pocket. Sounds like Travelingmom wishes she had thought of this as well. Seems a no-brainer now, but at the time it just didn't occur to me to do that.

Our guide has been with Rick for 30 years, so no need for me to tell them anything about him. He is very knowledgeable but completely inflexible. For instance, we could have waited a few minutes before leaving our hotel in York to walk in the cold rain to dinner, but instead we left right on time and wandered around in the cold. Somehow I did not see the benefit of that. His lectures sounded like college lectures from a professor who had been presenting the same material for too many years. I felt it showed a lack of enthusiasm on his part that he did not bother to learn our names. He is getting paid and the rest of us were not, but somehow we all managed to learn the names, other than him. That can't be helped, but as advice to new RS travelers I suggested they do bother to learn the names of fellow travelers because these are going to be great people you will want to know and interact with.

As for using the 2016 book to describe the London experience, I referenced it to show that previously RS knew it was worth up to a full day in the Tower of London. This time we were deposited there at noon, unfed since an early breakfast in York, and given a total of 2 hours to eat, take a Beefeater tour and see the the Crown Jewels and everything else, as the 2018 brochure suggests. Only it left out the part about only having 2 hours and you figure out if you want to spend 1 of those hours eating or would rather wait until dinner. My stomach won the argument and I had 1 hour to see everything. This is by far my biggest criticism of the tour itself.

Hopefully, by preparing new folks for things to expect that they might not expect (despite warnings in the RS tour descriptions) and by sharing things I would do differently now, it will help people enjoy their first tour more. There IS a lot to enjoy.

Posted by
6361 posts

Surfdog, you should still report your reactions to your guide to RSE, at least on the post-tour evaluation. Even if the guide has been with them 30 years, it sounds like he is either burnt out, or was not fit that week to lead a tour. A "heads up" to the office is necessary.

I may be over-extending here, but if your guide is the person I'm thinking of, we've had him twice and he was wonderful. Another reason to suspect burn-out or some other problem that kept him from doing his job. Please let the company know of your concerns.

It's the old saying "If you like our company, tell your friends; if you don't, please tell us!" Not that you shouldn't post your negative comments here, but do let RSE in on it.

Posted by
898 posts

I took this tour in 2015. I have been on 11 RS tours, signed up for my 12th soon. I sympathize with your and do not doubt that anything you said was untrue. However, I wanted to give your my thoughts/reactions. Please don't take this as criticism.

"Your tour guide will not learn your name, even by tour end."

This has never happened in 11 years of touring with RS. I am sorry you got a bad guide but this has not been my experience ever. Unfortunately, a bad/grumpy/tired/overworked guide can set a bad tone for the entire tour.

"Don't expect everything mentioned in the tour description to actually happen. We were told we would get a bus tour of London. We did not."

While I wasn't on your tour and don't know the exact circumstances, I would like to put this into perspective. There are EU rules on how many consecutive hours the driver can drive the bus. These limits are very strict. On one of our tours, when we arrived at our next city by bus, we were supposed to have a but tour of the city. However, because we were stuck in traffic en route, the driver had reached his limit for the day. Therefore, we could not have a bus tour of the city. The guide apologized to us but there was nothing that could be done. It was not a terrible disappointment, as it gave us more free time to get up and walk around and explore on our own.

"There are various tour guides. Some better than others. Ours was totally inflexible in varying from the plan. Our itinerary called for us to take a walking tour of York on the way from our hotel to dinner. So, rather than postpone the tour and walk us directly to dinner, he marched us around in the wind and a very cold, very drenching rain."

Just playing devil's advocate. I would have been very disappointed if the tour guide forced us to hang around the hotel, wasting time just because of rain and wind. I would rather be out walking and exploring, especially with the limited time we have in each location. You, as a paying customer, have the right to opt out of activities if you wish to do so. If you were not prepared for the unpredictable weather (either mentally or by the choice of clothing/footwear), you could have asked the guide for the name of the restaurant and met the group for dinner, without having to march around in drenching rain.

Posted by
5697 posts

Thanks to Surfdog and other posters -- haven't taken a RS tour yet (although many in the SF and Sacramento travel groups have, and rave about them) but these observations will be filed away for future decisions.

Posted by
3289 posts

Glad to read this review. We just signed up for our first RS tour (Greece). I had only read such glowing reviews for RS tours, this one does vary from those, but seems authentic to me. We will still go, but I am nervous a bit. I absolutely would not want to share a bathroom with others. I know it is a possibility, but really hoping we don't have to.
Also, nervous about no A/C. I picked the last Greece tour of the season in hopes that the heat will have died down some.
If our room is too warm, I will not be able to sleep. Hoping at least there are windows we can open.

Posted by
17 posts

There are many wonderful things that England is famous for, Big Ben, Henry VIII, and afternoon tea, but as for cuisine, not so much. (well except for bangers and mash, or fish and chips) We traveled with Globus a few years back and found the food to be less than enjoyable. Now if you told me the included meals in France or Italy were disappointing that would be concerning to me. I am heading on my first RS tour, best of Italy next week and I do appreciate your words of wisdom.

Posted by
79 posts

I continue to appreciate the well-thought comments. My goal here is not to bash RS or the tours, I am very glad I went, but to give pointers and possible heads-up info to newbies. Learn from my mistakes. Make your own, but don't repeat mine.

As for the tour of London by bus we were promised but not given, it had nothing to do with our coach driver being over his hours as we had said good-bye to him in York. The bus tour we were promised was one of those open-top bus tours you see people on in London. Apparently for reasons unknown to me and not explained, we ran very short of time in London. No bus tour and a total of 2 hours at the Tower of London, including lunch. Something must have gone wrong somewhere, but we were kept in the dark about it.

My description of the walking tour of York in the cold rain on the way to dinner was given as an example of our guide's refusal to adapt to conditions. The extra walking was about 15 minutes, and I doubt anyone on our tour would have been upset if we were told to meet at 6:30 to walk to the restaurant instead of 6:15, under the circumstances. We still wold have gotten wet and cold, but some things can't be helped. The next day, which was nice, we repeated much of the same walking tour. The few things omitted could have been squeezed in somewhere, I am sure. You have to understand, this was not just a little rain. It was pouring buckets and the temperature was about 46. No way I could have waited and gone to the restaurant later as this was our first few hours in York, and if you have been there you know it is not the easiest city to find your way around in if you are new there. Besides, everyone would have been seated and the meal well in progress if I had waited and gone later. Being a team player, I soldiered on.

Many people have commented that their tour guide learned their names right away. In my original post I should have said "Your tour guide MAY not learn your name", not "Will not learn your name". My bad.

Posted by
489 posts

For first timers, please don't expect that you will get 2 seats on the BUS! We definitely DID NOT!
Yes, you must haul all your luggage, but that can be a good thing as you know exactly where your things are and saves some time.
Never assume you will have a choice on entries at any group dinner/lunch. If you are picky,, ask ahead and just bow out of the dinner. You are not loosing that much money. And I have one comment, on a bus tour get your bum off the bus or into the restaurant at the head of the line. Being nice and waiting patiently gets you nothing. I'm sorry to say this, but on our trip we were the suckers most of the time. By the end of the trip, I had a lot of hostility.
Your accommodations are RS approved. Very clean, but not all of the rooms on the tour will have a great view or the great configuration. We will report back on whether being a return tour member gets you any perks on better rooms, because we had the less than best rooms at each place.
The itineraries are fantastic! And because we don't want to write off RS tours, we will give them another try. The itineraries are the best! Oh, I already said that...

Posted by
914 posts

Did RS provide you with a portal etc to make your comments or rate your tour? If so did you give them your thoughts etc? I would definitely give the RS personnel your thoughts.

Posted by
8586 posts

I guess there are a couple of things I get out of this thread: (1) dont expect all the hotel rooms to be great; (2) dont expect all provided meals to be great; (3) dont expect all tour leaders to be great. I think the OP was right to bring these up, as I think some people assume that its a luxury tour.

I think that the first two are pretty clearly spelled out in the descriptions of the tours in general. Given that in his guidebooks RS spells out his primary criteria for hotels and restaurants are location (proximity to where you are), and ownership (smaller family-owned businesses), its not surprising that some are not the best possible in any place. With a tour group of 24-28 + guide and driver, its not surprising that it would be even more difficult to find small convenient places to accommodate the tours, and do so on a regular basis all year long.

Our experience on three tours was that the tour leaders worked very hard to address any issues that came up. And something always came up with scheduling that required flexibility and changes to the plan. One of them made a point of explaining how and why decisions were made, and that they knew that not all hotel rooms in a hotel were equal. She made sure that the better rooms were rotated among the group, so that nobody was always getting the least desirable room. There is skill in being a good tour leader.

They all learned everyones' name too. This seems to be a no win issue: people dislike the “name game” but name tags would be worse, I think. Somebody who has a better idea should tell RS.

It does look like the customer base' expectations keep creeping upward, along with the costs.

PS we've had at least on grump on each tour. A grump is one who complains to the rest of the group. Complaining to the tour leader is feedback they may need.

Posted by
3240 posts

As Mark as iterated so well:

I don't see anything about the RS way of doing anything that would make me think I am suffering for the good of mankind. Everything you encounter on the tour that some would consider shortcomings is detailed, repeatedly, so you know what to expect. The walking and carrying your own luggage to the hotel. The stairs and possibly no elevators in hotels. No air conditioning in hotels. Long marches through medieval towns. Nothing being guaranteed for accessibility. None of this should be a surprise. And these tours might just not be for everyone. That's why there are other tour companies offering a different approach.

I don't know why you were surprised. There are many other tours that provide more pampering, but then you will be with a different type of tourist. There's no wrong or right, but one needs to read all literature before putting money on anything. That being said, it is disheartening to have paid for something and be surprised at what is not being provided. It sounds as if you want more of a luxury tour, which is fine. Buyer beware in all things. I didn't take the BoE tour, but I had the opposite experience than you on my Greece tour. My tour far exceeded my expectations. I couldn't tell you whether the guide knew my name...she knew who I was and that's all that mattered.

Posted by
533 posts

I guess there are a couple of things I get out of this thread: (1) dont expect all the hotel rooms to be great; (2) dont expect all provided meals to be great; (3) dont expect all tour leaders to be great. I think the OP was right to bring these up, as I think some people assume that its a luxury tour.

I think that the first two are pretty clearly spelled out in the descriptions of the tours in general.

I think the tour descriptions make more than clear that these are not luxury tours, but from the prices charged, I would have expected the accommodations, although simple, to be of consistently excellent quality. I can stay in not-great hotels and eat at not-great restaurants of my own choosing, without any of the challenges of accommodating 26-30 people at the same time, for a lot less than the cost of an RS tour. These threads have made it clear to me that independent travel is the way to go for me.

I don't know what the "name game" entails, but when I was a camp counselor back in my wayward early 20s, we were expected to learn all the campers' names from photographs so that we could greet them by name on first sight. There were always one or two who showed up with a completely different hairstyle than they had in their picture, but they were easy enough to learn once we met them in person.

Posted by
3290 posts

Three Forum participants on the same RS tour - Surfdog, Rebecca and Traveling Mom. I don't know if that's happened before.

Did you all "come out" to each other?

Posted by
6361 posts

tgreen, what tour were you on the didn't have enough bus seats for 2 per person? We've been on 12 RS tours, most of which were bus tours, and there have always been at least twice as many seats as people. Our latest Best of Europe tour was cutting it close: there were 28 tour members, and 56 seats. Since our guide needed a seat, we were technically one seat short, but I don't think anyone noticed.

Posted by
2853 posts

I understand that the buses don’t have a potty. That would concern me more than lacking 2 seats per person. Sometimes you can’t wait for a pit stop. How have tour participants dealt with that?

Posted by
308 posts

Another good tip for anybody taking a RS tour for the first time: it is your vacation so if you don't want to do a group activity you can opt out and do your own thing. Just be sure to tell your guide before you disappear.

Posted by
14157 posts

I understand that the buses don’t have a potty.

All the buses I’ve been on for RS tours have had a toilet. We’ve generally been asked to use it only in emergencies because

  • the driver can’t dump the tank until they get back to their home base so it starts to smell after a few days

  • the driver is the one who has to clean it

Generally they stop every 1.5-2 hours for a break.

As to the hope above that having been on a previous RS tour will get you a better room, that is not what I have noted. Of course, I am a solo traveler so my rooms are often small and tucked in odd places but there is no difference in the assignment of rooms for the person who has been on 11 vs 9 (me) vs 1st timer. I’ve also been told the hotel does the room assignments so there is no way they would know if you are a repeat traveler. In general the guide and driver get the worst rooms.

I have seen a mention on other forums that some tour companies do give the “better/upgraded room” kind of advantage to repeat customers - maybe OAT? Not sure as I’ve only traveled with Rick and Road Scholar.

BTW there is no advantage to being a repeat traveler with Road Scholar either. At least Rick gives you $50 off for every tour you’ve taken which is wonderful! Almost up to covering my single supplement! Road Scholar-nothing.

Posted by
2853 posts

Thank you Pam for reassuring me that I will have no potty worries on the bus.

Posted by
3806 posts

I really hate to wade in here....I really do....but to comment on what Rachel said on 5/28:
"guess my overarching point is that the line between asking for what you want and being a “grump” (or being perceived as a grump) can be a thin line to walk at times."

Keep in mind that you sign tour documents online at the time you're making your final payment for the RS tour. Within these tour documents is a clause that says you may be kicked off the tour at the guide's discretion for being a grump, being disruptive, etc. This of course means to me if you cause real trouble such as abusing other tour members or anti-social behavior. I don't remember the exact wording, but I will go find my tour documents and get back to you on exact wording.

This means you'd better be careful how much complaining you start doing. Or you will be the one kicked off the tour. Left at that very town, while the bus pulls away. It's at the discretion of the tour guide.

Remember, you signed the tour documents agreeing to these terms.

People should read all the details of this tour before signing up. Also, go to the Tour Scrapbooks that are posted once a year for the contest. Look closely at the details in that Scrapbook about the tour you're thinking of taking.

Call the Rick Steves Tour Department and ask any questions you have at this point.

It is better to decide at this point if a tour will be too strenuous for you, or that you'd rather go independently booking your own hotels and meals, than to sign up and decide you're not happy once you're on the tour.

People should look closely at the tour and see if it is a fit for them.

I had a wonderful time on my Best of England tour. Saw sights I would never have seen on my own (Wales and the Lake District). Met new friends/tourmates. There are one or two minor things that I will mention when I write my trip report that can be improved, but basically it was two weeks of "Wow!" moments.

You just have to decide for yourself if you are good with all the details of the tour. If not, you are a person who will enjoy traveling independently.

This was my first tour of any kind. I have traveled independently up until now in England. Have never had any trouble finding good hotels, restaurants, transportation or things to do in England.

Posted by
2252 posts

"I had a wonderful time on my Best of England tour. Saw sights I would never have seen on my own (Wales and the Lake District). Met new friends/tourmates. There are one or two minor things that I will mention when I write my trip report that can be improved, but basically it was two weeks of "Wow!" moments.
You just have to decide for yourself if you are good with all the details of the tour. If not, you are a person who will enjoy traveling independently."

Rebecca, this was so nice to read from someone else who was on the same tour as Surfdog and TM. Good to have some positives along with the negatives. Thank you for your "first tour" impressions and your (always!) excellent advice to prospective participants. I'm looking forward to reading your tour report. It's always so interesting to read/hear different perspectives on the same situation. Different expectations, I guess?

Posted by
3806 posts

Hello Andi! Thanks!
One more thing I should add. This tour is very active, and it says this in the tour description on this website. I thought I was ready for it, but on the second day, I injured (sprained) my ankle when I was walking uphill to the Royal Crescent in Bath! This plagued me the entire time we were walking around on the tour. I had thought I would do the RS Southern England tour next. But after this tour, I don't know. I may not be able to keep up the pace on the Southern England tour.

Knowing that, it would prevent me from signing up for that tour. That's what I was trying to get across in my post. That people should look closely at the tour and see if it is a fit for them. I would rate the pace on my Best of England tour as strenuous. It was fast-paced. But it has to be for the group to see all the sights.

The activity level is one big thing to consider when booking a tour. Can you keep up the pace? I felt I slowed the group down at times, and I felt awful about that.

My allergies flared up. But I enjoyed all the sights anyway. I wasn't going to let that or the ankle ruin my vacation. The biggest "Wow!" moment for me was Wells Cathedral. There were a lot of "Wow!" moments, but I'll mention those in the Trip Report.

Posted by
489 posts

Jane, We were on a best of the Adriatic. 29 people and many on the trip thought that was too much.

Posted by
6361 posts

Thanks, tgreen. Our recent tour had 28, which was pushing it. And although I posted elsewhere that that was the most people on any RS tour we had taken, I seem to remember on one tour (don't remember which) some folks being upset because we were one over the published limit.

Posted by
996 posts

I don't remember having two seats per person available on our Sicily tour, but - in all honesty - I wasn't looking for that. Having said that, I still don't think there were that many spare seats.Enough for everyone to have a spare seat beside them? Maybe not. Again, that wasn't a priority for me. But there was a bathroom on the bus.

And the stops were frequent enough that there was no worry about how long until the next stop for those who needed a restroom.

Posted by
106 posts

In my experience, not always strictly “two seats per person” but definitely never crowded on the bus. We’ve always been able to spread out (and sit across the aisle from each other) because some couples always want to sit together. It’s never been an issue. The busses are quite comfortable, in my opinion.

Posted by
474 posts

Thanks for the post. I really miss the long reviews they used to post about the tours so you could see the good, bad , and ugly. We have been on 5 tours all with excellent guides. Now I am worried number 6 will be our downfall.

Posted by
2788 posts

I have been on 16 RS tours and have never had a bad guide. In fact all of them have been very good to excellent. As far as contacting the RS office, did you not get an evaluation e-mail after your tour? If you did not, then call the RS office and request one. Calling in a complaint will not substitute for a written one the way the office works. I see that the standard boiler plate information of the RS tours states that changes can be made at the discretion of the guide as happened on your tour. Have you taken any other RS tours to compare with this most recent one? Sorry you were disappointed.

Posted by
79 posts

Thank you, Charlie. I did address my disappointment with the London part of our trip and the York dinner on my official trip report. Our guide was not bad, I just felt that maybe he had done it too many times and was bored with it.
One must admit giving us two whole hours to eat AND see the Tower of London is a bit ridiculous. Since they did that, plus removed the bus tour, something must have gone wrong. But we were not told anything. And you can't really go up to the tour guide and say, "Hey, guy! Why are you just giving us two hours to do everything at the Tower of London, including eat?" I forgot about the bus tour until after we all parted ways. Everyone else must have as well, because nothing was ever said about it.

Posted by
15643 posts

Sometimes RS will increase the group size to 29. I have to ask, is 29 that much more than 28?

The tours are promoted as small group, 24-28. Are there any tours that are limited to 24 participants? Is RS creating unrealistic expectations if they will put 28 on (almost?) all tours?

Posted by
14157 posts

And you can't really go up to the tour guide and say, "Hey, guy! Why are you just giving us two hours to do everything at the Tower of London, including eat?

Actually, yes you can. To me it’s much better to address it to the guide at the time as they may be able to make an adjustment. Or not... but might be able to at least give an explanation.

I do agree your time here was ridiculously short.

However unless you’ve been to some site such as the Tower before you have no idea how long you need to see it so you might not know to ask the guide about timing.

Posted by
6361 posts

Pam's right about asking the guide. We have done so ourselves, and have always been told why a particular decision was made. Often (usually) it's something that's out of the guide's control, or sometimes it's a last minute policy change. Or occasionally it's just a whim on the part of the guide or driver. But yes, next time ask the guide. I had a very interesting discussion with our recent Best of Europe guide about the ridiculous (IMHO) amount of time we had in the Vatican Museum. He not only agreed with me, he explained why the tour was laid out that way, and what attempts had been made to change it.

Posted by
2485 posts

Chani,
I have been on 5 RS tours so far - there were 28, 20, 19, 28 and 24 people on all of my tours.

Surfdog,
I agree 2 hours at the Tower of London is way too brief. That is a drawback of organized tours, imo, that you don't have as much control of your schedule. When you travel independently, you can dawdle at sights you are enjoying and eat meals at a more leisurely pace. The way I view the RS tours, and I'm a fan, is that, for the most part, they are meant to be a "highlights" or overview so you can return to places you want to see in more depth. Unfortunately, even on organized tours, things do not go strictly as planned. The meal in York sounds dreadful.
But, overall, did you have a good time?

Posted by
1501 posts

I have been following the three threads about the 4-25-18 Best of England Tour with great interest. I rely heavily on the reviews that people write when making purchasing decisions. It is a positive thing to see 3 different people on the same tour agreeing about some not so good aspects of the same tour as it increases the likelihood that the opinions were not skewed by someone's high expectations. The complaints were voiced in a clear and specific manner which is also terrific because I know exactly why you were not pleased.

I am very interested to know what RSE will do (if anything) about these complaints as it will further reflect on the quality of the company if they move quickly to fix something that is broken.

So, out of curiosity, I went to the tour page and read the reviews. I saw the two reviews, one mentioning the poor hotels and excessive stairs, and the other mentioning the inflexibility of the guide (although still with a 5 star rating). So now I am concerned that these complaints will not be heard by the people that need to hear them. The other reviewers said positive things about the guide.

My question for Surfdog is: now that you have had more time to reflect on your tour and pinpoint the unsavory bits, will you contact RSE and give them a more thorough critique? I would hate for your comments to go unseen by RSE.

Posted by
79 posts

Again I appreciate the feedback. Remember, I started this topic as someone who learned more about what to expect on the trip and share with newbies. For Pam, Jane, Judy, and Vandrabrud: I could have asked the tour guide why so little time at the Tower, but I did not know what I know now. To put you on the scene, we were all gathered underneath a tree when the tickets to get inside were handed out. Listening on our radios, were were told where to enter, and that we would re-group under the tree at 2:00. It was now noon. Go. I knew the timing was unrealistic, as I had been to the tower before, but I could think of no way to broach the topic of so little time without sounding like a trouble maker, or grump! Besides, we had already been told what we were going to do next, and the 2:00 deadline was clearly important. The way I saw it, I could say nothing and we would meet and depart at 2:00, or I could sound like a complainer, and we would meet and depart at 2:00. Questioning or disagreeing with the timing would change nothing.

Our tour guide was OK overall and I gave him 4 stars out of 5 on the official review. He scored high on knowledge, his ability to keep us all moving without losing anyone (even on the crowded tube at rush hour), and his compassion for those on our tour who became ill. I rated him down for being inflexible, sticking to his schedule no matter what, and for being so professor-like. His presentations often sounded like college lectures with no enthusiasm or humor. Just the facts. More like taking a Physics class than being entertained as we were by some of the wonderful docents at places we visited. And since I was enthusiastic enough to learn all the other tour members names before the trip started, I found it rather rude and uncaring of our guide to not bother to learn our names. I know its not easy, and that there are names to learn and then forget, but is it not part of their job description?

I do not plan to make any contact with RSE other than through the official feedback I have already left. I realize my opinions are just that, my opinions, and may not be shared by everyone. I do think that some of the "heads-ups" I have attempted to leave for people who may not have been on a RS trip before may help them better prepare for it and feel empowered to do things I did not think to do such as ask for a menu and pay separately at group meals or ask for another room or bed, or even refuse to eat at a restaurant if they do not feel safe, as I did not at the Indian restaurant in York.

Posted by
1501 posts

Surfdog,
I understand your position. I definitely would not have challenged the guide on the spot. I appreciate the time you took to share your views. I also appreciate that you do not want to take this further and contact the tour department now.
I hope that someone from RSE is reading these threads, however, and carefully considers the comments made. It is a rare opportunity to read what three tour members from the same tour are writing especially when it is constructive criticism.

I have been on one RS tour and am signed up for another one this fall. I was happy with the excellent quality of my guide along with the quality of the food and lodging. Hopefully, I will be able to continue to say that.

Happy travels.

Posted by
5635 posts

or even refuse to eat at a restaurant if they do not feel safe, as I did not at the Indian restaurant in York.

Surfdog, what do you mean by ”do not feel safe” in the statement above?

Posted by
79 posts

The restaurant was over-crowded and the RS people were squeezed into the back with most of us sitting at two tables designed for 8 people each but with 10 forced in. Egress was very difficult, just getting up to go to the restroom took a lot of doing. In the event of a fire, the only way out would have been blocked. I say this as a former safety engineer. Had there been a fire in the kitchen, people quite possibly may have died. I should have left, but I did want food. An empty stomach will overrule your brain sometimes.

Posted by
1 posts

It's also important for everyone to realize that alcohol is encouraged at every meal, there are wine tastings, too, and anyone who doesn't drink and get loud like the rest of the group, are labeled "grumps". What is this? Are we all back in second grade? C'mon. Get real. After doling out thousands of dollars, I think that's a poor way for RS to handle those in the group that do not drink. The word is "sober", not "grumps'. When you have 8 people at a table, fake laughing at everything around them (as the booze begins to take affect), the table conversation turns louder, almost shouting over each other, then it's an uncomfortable way to spend the entire trip. For the 1 or 2 people at the table who are not drinking, you begin to dread every group meal, because it's the same thing over and over and over.

We have all paid thousands of dollars to go on these travels as a group, please remember that people have personal spaces and not everything is done as a group. Some never acknowledge that personal space, and get right up in your face every morning, afternoon and evening. Be more respectful and less aggressive, with those in the group you hardly even know. Don't judge everyone the first day or the second day. Don't start cliques just because you found some drinking buddies in the group.

Everyone is on these tours wants to travel and see the world. Let's not label them grumps and silly labels. That whole thing has gotten out of control and is completely juvenile.

Posted by
919 posts

Everyone is encouraged to drink alcohol?

Again, not my experience at all. Sorry you all have experienced what you’ve described, but, wow. Unless something has radically changed in the last year, what you’re describing has not been my experience. Maybe some of this happens more on the longer, bus tours, but I have not seen this on the shorter tours.

Posted by
7050 posts

fake laughing at everything around them

Who says they're "fake laughing"? Maybe they're having fun. Lots of issues in that post all conflated together....drinking, personal space, cliques, judgements, on and on. Who exactly is "RS"? The organization as a whole? The tour guide? Fellow travelers on the tour? My take is, it's your life, it's your money, so make your own fun on a tour and don't let others shape your feelings. If certain people bug you, let it roll..and sit elsewhere. These types of issues come up in life in general - in the work place, for one, and social gatherings generally. Travel is no different, and spending thousands of dollars doesn't guarantee you any particular outcome with a bunch of random strangers.

Posted by
2252 posts

TravelBug. You wrote this very broad generalization of RS tours: "It's also important for everyone to realize that alcohol is encouraged at every meal, there are wine tastings, too, and anyone who doesn't drink and get loud like the rest of the group, are labeled "grumps". " Some of this is true (wine tastings are on some tour itineraries), but alcohol is not always offered at every group meal (the Istanbul tour comes to mind). In all the many tours I have taken, I have never seen anyone "encouraged" to drink alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is often offered with group meals but not necessarily either encouraged nor discouraged unless individually by a travel partner. The "grumps" label is reserved for those who constantly find something about which to complain, or at least that's how I've always interpreted it!

Your advice about forming cliques (of any kind, not necessarily based on finding drinking buddies) is interesting. I have made several new friends during tours based on discovered common interests, not drinking. Common interests do not always result in cliques. Respect for each individual is key on a tour. Stay away from those with whom you have nothing in common.

Posted by
2479 posts

In 4 Rick Steves tours, I have never seen anyone encouraged to drink, and I have never seen obnoxious behaviour at group dinners. I drink very little, and I'm on the quiet side--I would have noticed.

Posted by
2485 posts

I have been on 5 RS tours and have never experienced obnoxious drinking on any of the tours. Or, the guide or any tour mate encouraging or expecting others to drink.

Posted by
14157 posts

My experience echoes Andi, Liz and Judy’s regarding alcohol intake. I dont drink much. I just finished tour 9 with someone who doesn’t drink at all and with some folks who have moderate intake. I don’t think any of us felt encouraged to go out of our comfort zone.

As far as I recall one glass of wine was offered at the first and last dinners. There was a beer tasting which I skipped because I don’t like it. I’m not sure anyone noticed.

I’m sorry you experienced this on your tour but in my experience it is atypical.

Posted by
1019 posts

My experiences same as Pam, Andi, Liz and Judy’s regarding alcohol intake, etc. I have been on 5 Rick Steves tours. Yes sometimes glass of wine or beer is offered on some meals. I have never experienced my fellow tour mates over indulged nor my guides. My husband does not drink and he still has a good time not drinking and visiting with our Tour mates and doesn't dread the group meals. I generally try one wine/beer depending on the region I am in, generally it is only one. Sometimes I may skip the alcohol.

Unfortunately loudness may happened if you are in a noisy restaurant, which did happen on my 8 day Heart of Ireland tour for our last group meal. I think the guides try their best to choose restaurants that have a separate room or away from the general public.

Nothing is always perfect, things happen and you just have to punt and go with it.

I am sorry if anyone has had any bad experiences

edited/added
Rebecca - here is what is said about actions for being discharged from the tour

(Authority to Deny Transportation and Remove Tour Members: Although we want everyone to have a good time,
it sometimes happens that someone participating in a tour misbehaves or does things that are incompatible with the
safety, comfort or convenience of other RSE tour members. If we determine that such circumstances exist, you agree
that we have the right and discretion to expel someone—even you!—from a tour at any time, and that you have waived
and released any rights that you may have to make a claim against us.)

One other thought - We went on the Holland/Belgium tour in April 2016. The Belgium bombing occurred about a month or so before our tour departure. Because of this event, RSE changed the tour itinerary for Holland/Belgium. Yes, changes can be frustrating or disappointment, but sometimes they turn out to be a better thing.

Just keep an open mind and willingness for changes.

Posted by
3240 posts

I can't help but wonder if Travelbug has even gone on an RS tour. This is his/her first post, it's angry, and he/she gives no real specifics. My RS Greece experience match the others who didn't find any alcohol issues with others. I might have had a glass of wine once or twice during the entire tour and I did not feel like I was unusual. I didn't see anyone drinking to excess by any stretch of the imagination. There were two happy hours, which included plenty of non-alcoholic drinks. If there were a few who really enjoyed themselves and stayed on for hours, so be it. The thing is about drinking is one can always leave after dinner if they feel put upon by drinkers.

That being said, I'd much rather be on a tour consisting of 'glass half full people', no matter what is in it!

Posted by
61 posts

I took the MSV tour last year and never took an organized tour before or left the USA before. I loved it! Our guide was Fabian, one of the guides featured on the test drive a guide webcast. Lots of group members opted out on activities, some members hung out exclusively with their traveling friends, some were butterflies, we all had a great time, as far as I know! No one was forced to consume alcohol, I'm a boozer and even I didn't drink at every opportunity. Too much to see and do. If you watch the tour experience video and read the description you shouldn't be surprised. It's your money and you are always free to do what you want. Accommodations are taken care of, its only for 1 or 2 nights, its a journey, enjoy it! Hate your meal? I had the toughest pork knuckle on our first welcome dinner in Munich, oh well, the kraut and veggies and strudel were awesome !! Had a street sausage before bed, all was made good!! Although opting out would cause scheduling difficulties for you to meet up later, it is always your choice. And, if it rains, wear your raincoat and endure, I walked an hour in Munich in pouring rain looking for an Augustinian Beer, was totally soaked and almost destroyed any phone from the rain, but got that beer and sausage and loved every second of it!! Its your trip, just enjoy it!
Keep on traveling!!

Posted by
474 posts

Hope travelbug comes back & tells us what trip. Also been on 5 trips none of them centered around drinking. I have never seen anyone even close to being drunk on any of the trips. Yes their were groups of friends hanging out. . Mostly ones that traveled together but some new fast friends. My family of four would usually split up for group dinners so we got to know more people. Enjoy

Posted by
788 posts

I agree with everyone about the drinking. On our two RS tours, most people definitely enjoyed their wine, but some didn't drink and I don't recall anyone ever became obnoxious nor made the non-drinkers feel less welcome. I think Travelbug posted only to stir the pot.

Posted by
470 posts

After 6 RS tours , I can honestly say that I have never witnessed pressure to drink except for one tour. Until our 8 day Ireland tour it never dawned on us that we would be in the minority if we did not stay up until 2-3:45 (AM) partying. (I am not exaggerating or assuming here, as our room was directly above the front door of our Dingle B/B. ). The first night I had to go let some tour members in as they had forgotten to take a key. The next night we were awakened by inebriated tour members arrival. The third night at least one drunk tour member arrived at 3:45 am. We awoke to hear amorous “conversation”. The next morning we could see the sandy footprints left behind all the way across the lobby and up the stairs. It felt like we were reliving college pledge days.
Albeit rare, such things clearly happen.

Posted by
79 posts

Travelingmom, that is very interesting about your Ireland tour. Glad there was nothing like that (that I am aware of) on the BoE tour. The group on the BoE tour did not seem like the party-harty type, and I am glad. It was a very good group and everyone was considerate. Always being on time or even early was a sign that everyone was on the same page. Drinking was definitely not an issue on the trip I was on.

Posted by
2252 posts

"After 6 RS tours , I can honestly say that I have never witnessed pressure to drink except for one tour."

I'm sorry this happened to you, Travelingmom. Do you think while you were on this one tour, the members involved in such behavior were encouraged by the tour (the tour vibe itself? the guide? the other members?) to over imbibe?

Definitely unfortunate and immature behavior but I can't imagine how it would have been encouraged by the tour. I hope you reported these incidents as soon as you could to the guide and/or the RS people on your eval, and that something was done to curb the members' behaviors for the rest of the tour. No such behaviors should be tolerated and you shouldn't have had to put up with it.

Posted by
107 posts

We have done one RS tour in 2016 and thought it excellent. We have traveled extensively on our own and there are definitely pros and cons to each approach. With RS you are on their time-table. We knew that going in and that was not a problem for us at all. We thought the "quaint" hotels on the tour rather fun even though, if on our own, we probably would not have chosen those particular hotels. I can say though, that the location of the RS hotels is very central and, as such, quite convenient. Same for the food---we probably would have not chosen the restaurants that RS chose for his tours; but, each restaurant at which we ate was quite acceptable with excellent service. Our tour guide, Amanda, bent over back-wards to assist each member of our tour and the group got along quite well---actually, better than well. On the last night of the tour tears were shed during the good byes. That bond is what we thought about when scheduling our next RS tour in August 2018. We could have easily navigated thru Scotland on our own; but, much of the fun and experience was in meeting other travelers and engaging in a camaraderie of sorts with the group.
Go into the trip with an open mind and relax. Yes, you will walk great distances and tread many a stairway with your luggage. But, you will never forget your experience.

Posted by
2485 posts

Jamev13,
I really like what you said about the group experience being a key to the overall enjoyment of the RS tours. I myself have been on 5 tours and number 6 comes up in October. I agree with your comments on the hotels and restaurants that RS selects and realize that many times I choose hotels and restaurants on my own that are disappointing, even when I travel in the US and Canada. In Dec. 2017, I stayed in a miserable hotel in NYC, a big mistake!
In any case, tours are simply a different way to travel. I sometimes have more time to plan an independent trip and do enjoy that process. Right now, while I'm still working, tours seem to fit my life better.

Posted by
79 posts

Yes, the hotels were good, just the one in Bath REALLY needs to replace the mattresses. No excuse for not doing so. The meals were mostly good, I just thought it would be good to remind folks up-front that it is OK to refuse the offered meal and just order from the menu, provided you understand you will be billed separately. For some reason I never thought of this.

I enjoyed getting to know the members of our group. Wonderful people. Our tour guide, however, did not bother know us and spent most group time with the same few members of our group, never circulating or checking on how the rest of us were doing. Never once on the entire trip did he ask me how I was doing, how is the meal, or even say "hello" for that matter. I felt totally invisible to him.

Posted by
734 posts

I think the tour guide failed you and the other participants who weren't in his clique. Their task is to engage with every RS customer to help them obtain the experience they want out of the tour. Our guide in Paris learned our names and many personal details during the first meeting. She discussed the group dinner menus with the tour participants before choices were made and every day made excellent suggestions for lunches on our own time. She remembered my particular interests the entire week and coached each of us in French, cultural differences and how to encourage positive interactions with locals. Our guide was a bilingual French citizen who had spent time teaching in the US. Her patience and interaction clearly demonstrated an educator's skills. I still remember her taking the time to snap photos of us at some of the nicer locations. She must have been very aware of the group's dynamics to see that we needed someone to help us. I loved how she circulated on the Seine cruise while distributing champagne. I was really impressed by how calmly she handled the collision between our tour bus and a car at the Arc de Triomphe and a tour participant's acute illness.

Posted by
79 posts

I agree, Silas. Although our guide is a long-time guide with RS, and many people praise him, my experience was that he phoned this one in. Did you ever have a teacher or college professor who really knew their stuff, but had been teaching the same thing for so many years their boredom showed through? Especially if maybe this was their last year before retiring? Truthfully, I did not realize just how poor of a job our guide did until I got feedback from people such as you, saying how involved your guide was with the group and how he or she went above and beyond to make sure everyone had the best tour possible. Our guide, for instance, dropped us under a tree outside the Tower of London at noon and told us through our radios to meet back under the tree at 2:00. That was our instruction for visiting the Tower of London! No suggestion about eating, or how two hours is not enough time to see the tower so maybe you should just go hungry a few more hours (we had last eaten a hurried breakfast at 7:00 am in York). Nothing. Go. See. Meet back here. See 'ya later.
One thing I am curious about. I had sort of expected a group picture might be taken at our farewell dinner and made available by email to those who wanted it. Nope. Is this sometimes, often, or never done? I really liked the folks on our tour and sure do wish I had a group photo.

Posted by
54 posts

Nine RS Tours here, nine group photos. Your tour guide was a dud, surfdog.

Posted by
79 posts

Thank you for that additional tid bit, hcota99. Every day I learn more from people such as you just how poorly our guide treated us. Since this was my first RS tour, I had no way of knowing if his aloofness and indifference was normal or not. To be fair, I cannot say he acted as though he did not care, just that he did not care much.
During the final dinner he circulated absolutely not at all, sat with the same few he had been closest to during the trip, and ignored everyone else.

Posted by
3290 posts

*During the final dinner he circulated absolutely not at all, sat with the same few he had been closest to during the trip, and ignored everyone else.*

To me, the fact that the guide had his own little clique is worse than ignoring everybody. I hope the RS Tour folks at least talk to this guide to find out what was wrong with surfdog's tour group.

Posted by
734 posts

traylaparks, I agree with you - the thought of the guide restricting himself to a "clique" is just so unfair to others who paid the same amount of money and deserve equal attention.

surfdog, our guide never just deposited us at a site or with a local guide. She accompanied us even when local guides took over and clearly was interested, involved and learning as much as we were. Also, she took a group photo at our first meeting, labeled it with our names and sent it to us via email before the next day. We had instant access to everyone's face and name for the rest of the tour. I'm really appreciating how she handled her responsibilities!

Posted by
79 posts

Wow, Silas, your guide was really involved. I don't know if that is normal or extraordinary, but it sounds like you had a great guide! This being my first RS tour, I did not realize just how uninvolved our guide was. I could tell he was bored with the whole thing, but I had no idea what a good guide would have done for us. I do know that if I decide to take another RS tour I will insist on knowing who the guide is before I pay my money.

Posted by
8586 posts

Silas' experience is what we had on our three tours. The tour leaders (and often the driver) made a point of sitting with different people at each group meal and discussed the tour, answered questions, socialized and encouraged others to explore things of interest.

Posted by
734 posts

Our stupendous guide was Virginie Moré - "a bundle of positive energy with a winning smile and a deep understanding of French history and French attitudes (she is, after all, French)." She works with Rick on his French guidebooks. She also conducted her own wine and cheese tasting class for the tour's participants. I suspect I might be disappointed with future guides. https://www.ricksteves.com/tours/guides/virginie-mor

Posted by
6361 posts

Silas, Virginie sounds wonderful. I hope we get her on our Paris and the Heart of France tour next year.

But I must say, we've taken 12 RS tours, and had 10 different guides, and I would be pleased to have 9 of them again. And two of our tours were guided by the one who was so disappointing on Surfdog's tour. He was very good on both. I'm sorry to hear that he was not his usual self on the best of England tour. How sad for the folks on the tour, especially those whose first tour it was.

So Virginie may be your shining example, the one all other guides have to live up to, but believe me, there are a lot of great guides out there. The odds are definitely in your favor.

Posted by
788 posts

There’s a recent “Best of Paris” thread on the forum mentioning another fantastic guide, Rebecca Berry, who also does the Paris/Heart of France tour. Can’t sing her praises highly enough. Silas’ experience with Virginie was very similar.

I think I commented earlier in this thread that our VFR guide, Reid, was also attentive, involved, learned everyone’s names quickly and made it a point to give personal help and guidance to all 26 of us.

Posted by
79 posts

Yes, Jane, I had heard great things about our guide and originally felt we were lucky to have him. That, and because this was my first tour is probably why it took awhile to realize that on our tour he just wasn't doing very well. He was clearly very knowledgeable. He managed to keep us all together and on time. He seemed empathetic when members of our group had to go to the hospital. But he gave his presentations in a flat, monotone with no enthusiasm at all. He left us on our own sometimes when he probably should not have, such as the Tower of London. He did not circulate. I never once heard him refer to anyone by name, other than James, our fantastic, wonderful, witty coach driver.

Posted by
474 posts

This has been an interesting read. I am sorry you had a bad experience. We have always taken a group picture on my 5 tours sometimes more than 1. It was just with one of ours cameras and I know I personally shared it on our Facebook group site. Our last tour guide had us put one together to share pics within a private site. I don’t think RS reveals their guides till a few weeks before a trip. So that could be a problem for you & any future trips. You might want to call their office & ask. They are so very helpful.

Posted by
15532 posts

One of the problems you might face with your guides not "guiding" in some areas is because they are not licensed and can't legally do so. On two of the three tours I took, my guides were not licensed. On the third, the guide was licensed before he joined RS.

Posted by
15532 posts

Well, the "No Grumps" policy is going to be put to the test this weekend.

There is a Best of England tour arriving in Conwy tonight for two nights. I left that hotel this morning after spending three days there. They just put a new boiler in with electronics controls and it's wrecking havoc. In part of the hotel, the radiators have come on and they can't be turned off. My room, with the windows open and a fan going, was 85 degrees. And that was after sundown with an outside temperature of around 52 degrees. For other parts of the hotel, there was no hot water.

I was talking to the manager before I left and a couple of employees and they were concerned about the group arriving today. I reminded them that they shouldn't worry....there's a no grump policy. They laughed.

Posted by
79 posts

Frank II, you speak of the Castle Hotel in Conwy, right? Sound like the group is in for an unpleasant surprise. Pity, because I liked this hotel. Good beds, good restaurant, nice views.

Posted by
1019 posts

Guides and tour mates can make or break a tour.

I have been on five RS tours and all have been delightful, helpful and new our names. I don’t know how they do it. I have been back from my two RS tour almost two months. Wow, I ready to go again. But anyway, I had a fantastic guide and bus driver on my Scotland trip. His passion and knowledge of his country, energy. His singing... sang songs to us . I don’t have enough time and words to describe how awesome they were. Then our other top notch guide was for our holland Belgium tour. Those were my best and favorite, others were great also.

And yes as Frank said .... schedules and events change, so you may not know your guide until a month out or so. I think I called about 3-2 months before trip and they work still working on the guides

Posted by
36 posts

This post relates to any of you who may be considering a "My Way" tour. I have read comments about the My Way tour that we just completed in June. The reason that the tour is structured in the my way format is so that you can plan on activities that interest you and don't have to participate in a more structured tour. With that said, it will be up to you to do your research and purchase tickets for attractions that you want to see. The tour information has suggestions but no hard and fast rules. We did the Spain My Way tour and certain attractions sell out before your tour date. Don't plan on getting tickets after you get to your destination. That will take up valuable tour time. We didn't get tickets to the Alcazar in Seville prior to the tour but I got to the gate 30 minutes prior to opening and was able to get in. That was poor planning on my part but worked out. Again, read materials closely and if you don't have time to purchase tickets, you might reconsider your dates to allow more planning time. We have taken four Steves tours at this point....three fully guided and one my way. We have enjoyed them all. BUT, we had an extremely HOT room in Vienna with no air conditioning. I think temperatures are changing and you can't depend on averages when you are checking. Plan on hotter. I hope this information helps.

Posted by
1501 posts

Hello Surfdog,
May I ask you if there is something that would give you peace regarding your poor tour experience?

You wrote that your guide did a 4 out of 5 star job, but it seems that as you are looking back you feel cheated out of some of the things that other guides have provided. Others have stated that they had this person as a guide and he did a great job. Let's assume he had a bad week. What should be done? Would an apology or acknowledgement from RSE help? You wrote above that you are not planning to give your feedback directly to the tour company. Maybe if you could talk with someone you could get some sort of resolution?

Posted by
79 posts

vandrabrud, you raise excellent points. I rated him 4 out of 5 originally because i was just back from the trip and had not reflected on all that happened yet. Our guide did some things right, and I did not want to be overly critical. But as I played the tapes back in my mind, and as I learned from other posters what their guides had done, I realized our guide was just phoning this tour in. Anyone can have a bad day or week, but he had two bad weeks in a row with us. His knowledge was extensive, but his sharing of information with us became lectures. His delivery was monotone. I forgot until I got home about the bus tour we were supposed to get in London and our guide never mentioned it to us. He gave us two whole hours to eat and visit the Tower of London, with no explanation. He gave us no group photo, which I have now learned is normal, and very desirable, to get. He did not do so any things I am learning other guides actually do. Things such as bother to learn tour members' names. A little thing, perhaps, but reflective of his attitude of "what's the least I can do and get through this tour?"
I said I did not plan to notify RSE because as the guide explained in our first group meeting, he has been with Rick 30 years. Who is RSE going to blame for any bad tour experiences, me or his buddy and trusted guide for 30 years? Clearly, the problem is with me, except that there are actual events others say their guide did which ours did not.

An acknowledgement of some sort from RSE would be nice, but it would be totally pointless for me to get into any sort of discussion or even argument with them about it. But thank you for your thoughtful suggestions. I appreciate that.

Posted by
14157 posts

"I said I did not plan to notify RSE because as the guide explained in our first group meeting, he has been with Rick 30 years. Who is RSE going to blame for any bad tour experiences, me or his buddy and trusted guide for 30 years? Clearly, the problem is with me, except that there are actual events others say their guide did which ours did not."

This is exactly why you should notify them of your experience. You have concrete examples - not learning names, not engaging with everyone on the tour equally, not checking at mealtimes to see if all group members have been served and are satisfied, not getting the bus tour your itinerary says you should have with no explanation from the guide, not being given adequate explanations on how to use your time at the Tower of London (or not being told ahead that your time would be short so you should take food with you or given other options)

In my opinion, less important would be:

-the lecture style - one person's pedantic lecture is another's fascinating view of Roman (insert time frame or subject) Britain,
-the lack of a group photo (really I never look back at these but that's me! I also never take pictures of people, lol). I've had some groups where we took several as the guide first took one the first time it was sunny, then a better opportunity presented itself later
-the mid-tour eval - some do, some don't. You can mention it since Rick apparently mentioned it in his blog so it must be important to him

Your list of issues may be different or ranked differently than what I listed, it's up to you. You CAN call the RSE office and ask to talk to someone in the tour department if you've already submitted your evaluation you got via email. Tell them you've been on the forum and were encouraged to share some of the things that you felt made your tour experience much less than you expected.

To me RSE is a company that states every evaluation is read and I actually believe that. I don't think blame is assigned to evaluations, they are statements of experiences and everyone's frame of reference is different.

Posted by
6361 posts

As usual, I think Pam is right. (Damn, girl, we've got to get together sometime!)

I think I mentioned upthread that we've had this guide on two different tours, and he was great. That's why I suggested something was wrong - maybe he's burnt out, maybe he was sick, maybe he just didn't want to be there. If that last is the case, his behavior was unprofessional, but RSE needs to know. If something is wrong, perhaps it can be fixed, but please don't hesitate to communicate with RSE, They're very responsive to their customers.

Posted by
4421 posts

Surfdog, I recently retired from my teaching job because I realized I no longer had the love for it(and the willingness to work nights, weekends, and summer) that I had the previous 27 years. Many of us reach a point that we're no longer at the top of our game and need to leave it to others who still have the passion. This may be what's going on with your guide.

Posted by
155 posts

Surfdog, I feel compelled to add my two cents to this thread due to the behavior of your guide. My husband and I have been on two RS tours - My Way Europe in 2015 and My Way Alpine Europe in 2017. On both tours our guides (Travis and Dan, respectively) helped make these experiences very special for us. I know the My Way tours differ greatly from the regular guided tours as there is not so much togetherness, but that is what we prefer. Both of these guides not only ran our initial get togethers in a professional manner, but also went up and down the aisle of the bus before reaching each destination, stopping and talking with each tour member (destination map in hand) to see if we had questions/preferences on what to see and making suggestions based on those questions/preferences. On the 2015 tour there were several mishaps with cash machines and a forgotten purse - Travis kept us together and resolved the issues. On the 2017 tour we had several tour members who came down with dreadful colds - Dan arranged doctor appointments and pharmacy runs. Both of these wonderful guides encouraged us to travel independently but be social and open with our fellow tour mates. They arranged happy hours for those so inclined (everyone showed up) and a farewell dinner on the last night of our tour. We had a great time on both tours! I sincerely hope you will consider another tour and perhaps make it a "My Way" tour. I guess Hubs and I better start looking - seems we're on the "every other year" plan.

Posted by
2252 posts

Pam has given you great advice. By following it, I think you will be able to get by this apparently still festering issue. Instead of rehashing it over and over, please think about talking to someone at RSE for satisfactory explanations and/or resolutions for what you perceive as your valid issues. You apparently had two others on your tour who I'm sure agrees with all you have said. It seems to me as if it would benefit the Rick Steves organization if you let them know what you observed while on the tour and subsequently learned from the forum feedback to your initial post. Again, I am sorry you had all these negative experiences but wouldn't it be better to go right to the heads of the organization so they can address it with the guide rather than keep it personal and "all in the forum"? We readers can't really do anything to help you with your tour guide, hotel and meal issues but the staff at Rick Steves can address it with you.

Posted by
79 posts

Andi, you are correct, and the proper folks know about the situation.

Posted by
6361 posts

Surfdog, I'm glad you followed up.

We, too, have had guides whom we felt were not up to RSE standards. In both cases, we gave our concerns with explanations of why we were dissatisfied in our tour evaluations. In 12 RS tours, we have had 10 different guides, and 8 of them were great, one was great except for one recurring problem, and one we felt just needed more training.

Please don't give up on RS tours. You must know from reading posts and reviews that most of us who go on the tours go back, and back, and back....

Posted by
2 posts

I just returned from my third RS tour (all in Italy). I cannot think of a single negative on any of the tours. The guides were fantastic. The hotels were as expected (not the Taj Majal, but RS makes that clear). I travel solo, and I felt like I was with family on each of the tours.

Posted by
2976 posts

Just curious do the tour guides (often) have you introduce yourselves or something along those lines? Or do a group thing where you have to participate like word games or whatever?

Sorry to be a stick in the mud but I simply don't like these things at all. I'm an introvert, I guess, but I have no problems making friends quietly with those on a tour. But if I have to stand up and do something, no thank you.

Funny thing is I'm a teacher and a coach, but when travelling I like to lay low and incognito. The less I'm noticed the better.

Posted by
6361 posts

Mike some guides have the "name game," despised by many. It simply consists of standing in a circle repeating the names of the tour members. First person - usually the guide: "I'm Dimitri." Next: "I'm Jane, and that's Dimitri." Next: "I'm Pete, that's Jane, and that's Dimitri." Etc. until the circle is completed. It takes about 10 minutes, and oddly enough, it works. Our last guide said he did it more for himself than for the group. It's very effective, and after about the first 5 or 6 people, everyone is trying to help.

On two tours I've been on (out of 12) the group also had "buddy introductions." (A tour buddy is someone you're supposed to make meaningful eye contact with whenever the guide or anyone else calls for a "buddy check." There are no other social obligations involved. It keeps the guide from having to count heads at every stop.)

Buddy introductions are a drag, but more fun when you get to lie. Our recent guide asked for 6 facts about each buddy: three true, and three made up. It also helps if alcohol is involved. :-)

That's it. The buddy intro, if done, (again, only twice for me) becomes a social occasion; the name game is effective and takes just a few minutes out of a multi-day or multi-week tour.

Not a deal breaker. And you can always decline to participate. We had a couple of people skip the buddy intro this year; no problem.

Posted by
8586 posts

Mike, some kind of introduction like the name game to just let people associate your face and name, is better than name tags. It helps the tour leader as much as anyone. Otherwise, when you get left behind, no-one will be a able to say who's missing, just "the short bald guy." I'm not very sociable either, but would rather have someone know my name than say "hey you, . . . " We've had people who declined to say anything about themselves, and no-one cared. Others who we found out from the beginning had things in common with us.

Posted by
79 posts

Mike, on the only tour I have been on, our guide had each of us stand and give our name and say where we were from and a brief bit about ourselves such as line of work or previous work during our first meeting as a group. We also selected a "Travel Buddy" at the meeting (someone sitting near you) that would always look for you each time the group went anywhere. This was a great idea and made it simple for the guide to know if everyone was present. Eye contact with the buddy and a thumbs up became a fun routine.
Of course you will remember no one's name from the intro. Learn as many names and home towns of your fellow travelers as you can before you leave home. You are going to be spending a couple of weeks with a fantastic group of people you will want to be able to call by name. Getting to know these folks is a rewarding part of the tour that you can't get if you do a trip on your own.

Posted by
734 posts

I'm surprised people do not see the value in using the buddy system. It's the best way to ensure that every tour member is present. I personally would consider non-participation a violation of the "no grumps" policy if I were a tour guide. Why would you want to make the guide's job more difficult? I can't see the buddy system as any kind of imposition - come on, it's easy folks. I became very good friends with one of my buddies and I was glad that on our last tour my spouse was paired with a single female who was also from our Detroit metropolitan area. It's a small world after all - I really enjoy having a new local friend who shared one of our peak experiences!

Posted by
2485 posts

Silas,
I agree with you about the buddy system, I'm friends with a woman I met on the Best of Italy tour and one of these days we are going to visit each other and even perhaps go on another trip together!

Posted by
734 posts

Judy B, that's wonderful! My partner's buddy/lasting friend resides 20 miles away from us in MI. Even better she is in my profession so we have plenty of shared interests. My last buddy lives in Florida so we will not see them often. He was the only video enthusiast on our Paris tour and he polished his recordings into a splendid collection and gave us a copy. Now we have video for all the group tour activities as well as from his optional ventures. I provided he and wife with some of my best photographs from the tour. This is one of the potential benefits of shared experiences - you might have a wealth of material to share. It was a pleasant surprise to find video footage of us!

Posted by
1103 posts

On our most recent tour, we had buddy introductions about 1/3 of the way into the tour. We were supposed to spend a little time with our buddy and obtain a few facts about them. Some people took this process seriously and others did not. In any event, it was a good way to attach names and faces.

On only one out of our five tours did we do the name game.

Posted by
1019 posts

I enjoy the buddy system. On my tour last April, My buddy sought me out in our first meeting because she has relatives that were/live from Oklahoma. And the funny thing too, she lives in Rocklin, CA where I have a cousin that lives there. Small world.

We had to do buddy introductions at one of our group meals. She and her travelling friend were delightful!!

I always tell my buddy to look for me in the back of the bus!!