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Rick Steves ruined us!

My wife and I have been on 5 Rick Steves tours and truly loved them. The company I work for sent me to a conference in Barcelona, Spain (flight and room paid for) so I was excited, a trip to Europe for free!!!! Of course, I took my wife with me since all we had to pay for was her airfare. The conference was in the Ritz Carlton, on the beach in Barcelona!!! The hotel staff was awesome, the room was huge, heck the bathroom was bigger than most of the rooms on the RS tours. We had a balcony overlooking the ocean, we had finally hit the big time!!

(Now the sad part)

After 2-3 days my wife looked at me and said she missed the quaint & folksy hotels that we stayed at on the Rick Steves tours! I had to confess that I did too, I missed the bathrooms that you could barely turn around in, the showers that ran hot & cold all at the same time, the stairs that creak as you walked up or down, the two single beds pushed together and then called a double bed, the air conditioning that just pushes the air around a little. Yes, we have been ruined, the RS hotels, in spite of all their quirkiness, just felt like home to us, so we look forward to going on the Switzerland tour 2019 and getting back to the "backdoor" experiences that we love!

Posted by
2768 posts

That’s great! I too have stayed in big, fancy hotels for work or extended family reasons. I usually travel independently, not on tours, but I prefer to stay at the type of hotels you describe or in quirky apartment rentals. The big name hotels are nice but I prefer the personality and location of the smaller places. You are not alone in that!

Posted by
1282 posts

Well, we all have different likes. Fortunately many places have a choice of hotel and one can choose the type that suits.

To me "quaint & folksy" sounds worryingly like code for an out-of-date, poorly run rabbit warren of rooms with bizarre rules and, worst, often no kettle in the room. I prefer the certainty of a chain hotel to those.

However, there are many good independents around Europe too, I just prefer it if they turn down the "quirky" and remember I'm a paying guest and not pretend I'm some much-loved friend of the family.

Price notwithstanding, favourites for me are the network of paradores in Spain and equivalents such as the country house hotels in England. These often combine an interesting building with modern hospitality standards.

Posted by
2499 posts

I started a book club with a few close friends and named it "Ruined by Reading". Now I can say I've been ruined by RS! I have been on 6 of his tours and am signed up in 2019 for my 7th: MSV 12/01 - 12/08/19.
Thanks for this topic, I love it! So much about the tours are ruinous, the itineraries, the guides, the hotels, the deep educational background conveyed by the guides. Not to forget, the fun and congenial tour mates!

Posted by
8632 posts

I've only been on one Rick Steves Tour, but the hotels were not as described by this poster. They were nice hotels in good locations, some with air conditioning. There was only one hotel that came close to the description above.

I think this post gives a bit of a false impression about hotel rooms. I think that this used to be the case in the past, but that the quality of the hotel rooms is quite a bit different these days than the image portrayed above.

Posted by
619 posts

I'm with Nick. I keep away from B & Bs and small hotels with poor facilities and quirky owners. We have stayed in plenty of chain hotels with helpful staff, and family-run places which are up to date.

Posted by
3794 posts

Well to each his or her own. I have stayed at the Hotel Arts in Barcelona twice and my family loves it. I've always known we are not fans of "quirky" when it comes to hotels so us liking the Hotel Arts and not liking some RS suggestions makes sense. We stayed at two RS suggested hotels about 5 years ago and both were mediocre in our view for all reasons that could be called quirky by others. Ultimately though, what it comes down to is that as with most aspects of life everyone does not want or enjoy the same things.

Posted by
7075 posts

One person's trash is another person's treasure, and one person's quirky is another person's dump. No right, no wrong; no good, no bad. Just differences of opinion and to each their own.

Personally I prefer quirky to sterile, everything's the same chains, or to first class luxury, but that's just me.

Posted by
16894 posts

I hate to spoil your anticipation for Switzerland, but I feel like some bathroom salesperson has recently gone 'round that country offering deals on sparkling new tiles and modern hardware.

Posted by
81 posts

I stay in what is cheapest usually, well to a point. But I try to spend so little time in the hotel that it doesn't really matter. I've had some great B&B and quaint joints and some that were horrific.

Posted by
5426 posts

Ritz Carlton or Motel 6? I certainly know which one I prefer.

Posted by
2788 posts

I have stayed in some of the best hotels in Hawaii, San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Washington, DC. I have also gone on 16 RS tours and am signed up for #17 in June. I prefer the RS accommodations.

Posted by
5141 posts

We did a RS Switzerland tour fall, 2017, and the RS' hotels were VERY nice- hope you all can adjust!

BTW, that was an incredible tour- all superlatives!

Posted by
6374 posts

We've done 12 RS tours, and the hotels have ranged from definitely quirky (Bacharach, anyone?) to downright luxurious. We've noticed that as time marches on, the hotels seem, in general, to be getting nicer. I do love the quaint, small, family-run hotels, even the one in which we had to share a bathroom, but having a bit of luxury now and then is a treat.

Posted by
318 posts

Kind of a fun thread. I agree, to each his own, but I have to say that although we thoroughly enjoy independent travel, the RS way has taught us that group travel is just as fulfilling and the choice of hotels is a big part of that. When we travel on our own we tend to stay at chain hotels only because it hopefully cuts down the chance unsavory surprises. But we look for independently owned restaurants for that local flavor.

When we travel with a RS tour, one of the most exciting part of the adventure is what our next hotel will be like! We enjoy those hotels that are quirky knowing that it will be clean, have a great location, and the staff will undoubtedly be superb. These hotels have the benefit of being scouted out by a crew that knows what to look for so that we don't have to rely on booking a chain hotel in order to feel comfortable with our choice.

Posted by
10351 posts

If we do a group tour, it’s with a French organization whose tours are in the same price range as RS tours. Air from Paris is included, but also the hotels are definitely one or two grades above what’s described here and advertised by RS. I’ll stay in one of those places if I have to, and did stay in them exclusively when young and nearly broke, but now that I’m old, I want a comfortable room to relax in, a good mattress, and good lighting whether it’s a hotel or bed and breakfast. And air conditioning isn’t important to me; I just open the window.

Posted by
420 posts

Donald, your post made me smile but your descriptions aren’t exactly a ringing endorsement for RS hotels. Problematic air conditioners make me want to say “Ah he _ _ no.”

Posted by
7450 posts

We’ve taken 3 RS tours, and I’ve planned 8 independent trips. Taking the RS tours definitely taught us that location really is #1, so our lodging is always right in the center of a historical town. That criteria usually reduces the chance of a spacious hotel room. I do try to select the family run hotels or B&B’s vs. a chain hotel because the hotel staff interaction is part of our vacation experience.

But, I do have to say that the surprise upgrade room we were given at Hotel Stephansplatz for four nights in Vienna was amazing! We “didn’t mind” being given the top floor gigantic suite with a large balcony overlooking the gorgeous St. Stephan’s Cathedral.

Posted by
15682 posts

What Emma said....I want a hotel that is:

--well located


--has more than one electrical outlet,

--a shower bigger than my left leg,

--more than one pillow on the bed and is more than 1 cm thick,

--has wifi faster than dial-up,

--air conditioning or at least a fan in warm weather.

I don't need luxury--although a five star hotel is nice occasionally--I don't see why I can't have these things when paying top dollar on a RS tour. Staying at the type of hotel I describe does not separate me from the locals as many are left to believe. (These are not necessarily chains but smaller well maintained hotels.) After a long day of sightseeing it's nice to come back to a clean, comfortable room with a few amenities where I will be better rested for the next day.

Posted by
15678 posts

Put me in the same group with Emma and Frank. For me, a hotel room is a place to shower, use the internet and sleep. Charm is wasted on me. If I get to stay in 4 or 5 star accommodations I enjoy the "luxury" but I don't need it. Given the choice, I'd rather stay in a comfortable room with a modern bathroom. Quaint and quirky - I look for that during the day.

Posted by
3941 posts

I like quirk to a point - I enjoy staying at Airbnb's with the person there as we've met some great people...we've couchsurfed as well and me some wonderful people and had a great time (and have met a couple odd people as well)...but I've also been in places with a tiny, can barely turn around in shower (Rome airbnb), or the shower curtain sucks into the shower and sticks to you (Naples hotel), or the open shower/bathroom combo that leaves everything wet (Amalfi Coast Airbnb)...I do have my limits. I want to AC to work if it's hella hot. I HATE having to fight with the water in showers - by the time I finally get it to the temp I like, I could have been finished my shower, and really feel I'm wasting a lot of water. So I can deal with quirks to a point...but man, if I could afford 4 star hotels every night, I might just be tempted....

Posted by
4473 posts

I'm with Frank II-I prefer reliable comfort and location to quirky and atmospheric. That said, I have stayed at hotels recommended in RS books that we loved.

Posted by
1874 posts

I have been on 6 RS tours and I agree with some that the quality of the hotels has been increasing. This past summer I went on the 14 Day Ireland tour and the hotels were all very nice except for one. That one wasn't quirky. It was old, being renovated, not particularly clean, tv didn't work and windows could only be opened about 2 inches during a a heat wave and room had no a/c. However, part of the problem was we had just had 3 nights in Dingle at the nicest country inn I have ever stayed in. So the contrast was really apparent. I don't like big American chain hotels because they are so impersonal and I don't want a hotel filled with bell persons trying to grab your rolling bag for a tip. However, I do want clean, safe location near the sights, and a fan with windows that open if there is no a/c. I noticed in Ireland that even the bedding in the places we stayed has really improved. Many of the hotels had pillows and mattresses that matched what you find in the nicest hotels in the U.S.

Posted by
1056 posts

Donald, I’ve been on 5 RS tours. I haven’t, for the most part, found RS hotels to be as you described and have, indeed, found a few that were absolutely stunning. I’ll be taking a RS tour to Switzerland in 2019 as well. When are you going? We could compare rooms..

Posted by
2713 posts

Over the years we’ve seen the hotels improve on the RS tours, with few clunkers compared to earlier tours. Some were pretty lux like our ones near Ronda and in the Douro Valley. The tour was such that those two stays were mostly down time and we were very happy to have large rooms, bathrooms, nice products, a pool. When we travel independently we choose hotels based on how much the hotel stay is part of the experience. By and large in Europe we are out and about so a comfortable quiet room is just fine. When I’ve paid big bucks, as I did in Paris a few years ago, it was nice but not necessary-we were never there except to sleep. On the other hand we recently traveled to the Willamette Valley in OR for a wine tasting/spa/dining vacation. There we really appreciated the fine resort, Allison Inn and Spa, as we spent a lot of time there. Going back from the wineries to a suite with a fireplace, a balcony overlooking a vineyard, large tub and separate shower, Frette linens-well you get the picture. So, I think there is a time and place for clean, safe and functional hotels and the luxury type.

Posted by
4174 posts

I've been on 3 RS tours so far: Istanbul, Village Italy and Best of Scandinavia. Compared to my first solo trip to Europe in 1977-1978 at the age of 31, the lodgings on those RS tours verged on palatial. They were better than most of the lodgings I've had to pay for myself over most of my life, in the US, Canada or Europe.

I feel completely cowed when I stay in a fancy hotel. I feel much better in a place that is more down-to-earth, so long as it is clean, has a shower head on the wall, and has a good breakfast. There's always been plenty to eat on the RS tours, but I think the best breakfasts are in business chain hotels with big buffets. I find the ones in Europe and Scandinavia to be much better than similar ones in the US.

As for "the two single beds pushed together and then called a double bed," I first encountered this when I lived in Germany in the early 1980's. I don't recall staying anywhere that didn't have a bed like that. Can you imagine how hard it would be for the cleaning staff to put a king-size comforter out the window to air it out? A friend had that kind of bed in her apartment. We called it the "landing strip."

On the Village Italy tour, my room in Padua was one with "air conditioning that just pushes the air around a little." For only 2 nights, it was really no big deal. I think I may have been the only person with AC issues on that entire trip.

On none of those tours did I experience what I would call a tiny bathroom, but you wouldn't want to drop the soap in some of the showers. They were the size of the shower in my husband's shop.

Each person has a different comfort zone, but the RS tour rooms hit mine about 95% of the time.

Posted by
348 posts

I agree with Frank's sumatian.. while I read the original post about what they miss I was thinking (for the most part) that sounds terrible!

I've learned a lot about traveling in other countries and traveling in general from this board. From packing cubes, to packing lighter and smarter and not extending a trip too far outside of your main destination so as you maximize your time better And don't waste time in airports.

While I do appreciate a quaint Hotel and enjoy proximity etc I require high-speed internet adequate air conditioning and hot water. LOL.

Posted by
440 posts

I like a mix of both, but I normally stay in fancy hotels in the UK.

Posted by
7450 posts

For those who appreciate quirky, this was our favorite, even to the point that my husband took a video of me heading to our apartment from the street where it was located! Our apartment was in one of the traboules in Lyon’s Vieux Lyon neighborhood - loved the experience!

Mon Hotel Particulier, Lyon. found on
We had the apartment with the ancient arched ceilings.

Posted by
1825 posts

Did you still wear your Tilley hat, zip off pants/shorts and Teva sandals while staying at the Ritz?

Posted by
54 posts

One time, a long time ago, we were in Paris, and realized that we were one day short on our hotel reservation. So because our hotel was totally booked up for the extra night we needed, we had to go look for a hotel. This was before Expedia and the like. We found a nice hotel room, and when we moved to it on our last day, we were fascinated by the incredibly tiny bathroom. We're both skinny people, so we had no problem with it, but it was amazing the way they had fit a shower, sink, and toilet into a space that small. Twenty years later, we're still occasionally referring to that bathroom in conversations about effective use of space.

Posted by
6374 posts

Marty, we had one like that in Rome. I'm not slender, but not obese, either, and DH is of average build. Either of us had to squeeze into the bathroom, and it was a tight fit. And the only way to get to the bathroom door in the first place was by crawling over the bed! We loved it.

I agree with all of you. There are so many different ways to travel. Different styles. If I were camping and needed a place to escape rain - I would be more inclined to go for the motel 6. If I were attending an upscale wedding - then, it's the Ritz. Weekend Honeymoon - a beautiful B&B. Business travel - give me a Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express. My friend and I have radically different styles. She wants to be treated like a celebrity and doesn't mind paying extra fees to do so. She likes shiny and sterile with a bathroom attendant and guy to carry your luggage. I prefer the RS type of places. I pack light, don't mind a few stairs, like some character.