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Rick Steves Tours
Old 03-21-2015, 02:10 PM   #1
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Rick Steves Tours

Has anyone taken one of RS' guided European tours? If so, I'd like your feedback. DH and I are considering taking one of his southern Italy tours. We nearly always travel on our own in Europe, but we're not enthused about the idea of driving in southern Italy, which is how we'd have to travel to Matera, for example. Thanks.
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Old 03-21-2015, 02:55 PM   #2
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My wife and I took our first trip overseas last year. Never having done international travel before, we wanted our first trip to have some structure and yes, maybe some hand-holding. All this, with the idea that we would be able to branch out completely on our own in future trips.


We couldn't have had a better experience. Our guide was fabulous. The Vatican, the coliseum, the louvre, almost zero wait times. We bypassed every line we saw and went directly into the venue to be hooked up with yet another guide that took us thru. In Rome at the coliseum we had as our guide, the young lady that is often seen on his PBS show. To say that she was amazing was an understatement.


What I liked about our guide, is that in our walks (and there is a fair amount of walking) he always presented the sites in a dramatic way. Let me explain. There are long boulevards in Rome where you can see the coliseum from a distance. Walk up the street and it just keeps getting closer and closer... no big deal. Our guide would take us thru back streets, talking about architecture or whatever and we would turn a corner, and BAM... theres the coliseum. Right in front of us, Dramatic as all get-out. Same with the Trevi fountain. He says we're going to dinner tonight and then walk back to our hotel. Again thru small ally's etc. Again, turn the corner, there is the fountain, all lit up and beautiful. He could have brought us the main way, and we would have again seen it from a distance but it would not have been as impressive.
Your experience may not be like ours but we thoroughly enjoyed the participants, the activities and more importantly the background info you get from a knowledgeable guide.

Finally, they treat you like adults. They say, "if you get separated from the group, go ask someone for directions to the subway. Read the transit map and go back to the hotel." They don't hold up any parasols or give you name tags. If the group wasn't tightly bunched up walking down the street, you might never know it was a tourist group. And heck, nothing stops you from doing your own thing. You don't have to participate in every walk or event.

One thing you may consider is "My way Tours" (I think that is what they are called) offered thru RS. It's my understanding that the only thing they do for you is arrange lodging and transportation to the various cities. Once there, you are entirely on you own. No Guide. That might be a good fit as driving seems to be a concern (as it would for me as well)
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Old 03-21-2015, 03:36 PM   #3
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Good to know the Rick Steve's tours don't have name tags, headpieces, or signs held high in front of the group for people to follow.
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Old 03-21-2015, 03:38 PM   #4
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+1 to what Firebug said.

Also, I would add that there are no long stops for shopping 'experiences'. If you want to spend part of your museum time in the gift shop that's your choice. But, no 'lucky' extra stop at some factory that sells dish towels with the Eiffel tower on them. You may tour places that sell stuff to tourists. It's hard to avoid that, but there is no pressure to buy anything. And, you can always use your own free time to shop if that's your choice.

And no tipping. The guide is paid a good salary and takes care of tipping any others for group events.

Still, one is having a group experience and the time will probably come when you will think, "I would rather have spent more time today at the Trulli sites and less time at the beach walk." My suggestion, plan on spending a few extra days after the tour on your own, perhaps even going back to some place you really liked and want to see more of.
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Old 03-21-2015, 05:09 PM   #5
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Wow, I'm so glad I asked about this. I appreciate the detailed information, I like what I'm reading. I'm encouraged and excited enough now that I'm eager to reserve our spots. I saw reviews on Rick Steves' site, but I wasn't sure they could be fully trusted. Now I'm feeling much better about this. Many thanks!
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Old 03-21-2015, 05:44 PM   #6
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We have been on 7 RS tours and never had a bad one. The So. Italy trip you are looking at in fact was one of our favorites. When we took the trip, the highlights for us was Pompeii and the side trip we took to Herculean while the rest of the tour went to a gelato factory in Sorrento where we were spending the night. The guide gave great instructions on how to get there, and made sure we got home.
RS trips in the major cities we found particularly good because the low wait times at the various shrines/museums/churches etc. RS has specific entries all arranged and you go in pretty much on arrival at the location. We felt we got 10 days of visits into our week on the RS city tours.
The guides really make a difference and we can say we never had a truly bad one. All are well versed in their location and are great at sharing the "back story". In fact, Nina who leads many of the Italy trips has been our favorite guide.--She is a Cleveland, OH native but has lived in greater Italy almost since she graduated college--probably 15 years now.
Depending on your appetite for hotel "comforts", the one thing you might be less than enthralled is the hotel choice. All we have been in are what Rick likes the call the "choice of locals"--no chains, proprietors from the location who own the property, and care personally about the guest experience. That being said, the properties are solid 3 star but no more--narrow staircases, and narrower elevators if any. Oh, moving luggage from bus to room and room to bus is your own chore.
While shopping trips are not a feature of most RS's trips, he will on some trips make a point of "letting you share the experience of the market". On the RS Turkey trip we also made visits to a rug and one other crafts oriented enterprise. Never high pressure but some visitors apparently loose their "NO Thank You" voice. Turkey is a close second for our favorite trips.
Feel free to PM if you want more details.
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Old 03-21-2015, 07:26 PM   #7
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Many years ago an older co worker of mine was telling me how much he enjoyed RS tours. I knew nothing about them. At that time, parts of Europe was having concerns about terrorist bombings. Generally, the first night of a tour folks gather to meet etc. My co worker says their tour guide said something like this, "Now I know some of you may have concerns about recent terrorists acts, but let me assure you all.... terrorists are far more likely to STAY at our hotels, rather than blow them up". Classic.
But really, they are very nice
Our recent Venice room
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Old 03-21-2015, 10:59 PM   #8
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I have also heard very positive reviews from my sister-in-law and others. The one thing I've been advised is to expect to be in good enough shape to carry luggage up and down stairs, and to spend quite a bit of time walking and on your feet.




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Old 03-21-2015, 11:08 PM   #9
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Yep, both true. But unless you have serious physical limitations, most all 50-60+ plus people have no issues.
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Old 03-22-2015, 07:44 AM   #10
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That looks like a nice room. When we travel to Europe we stay at places that are recommended by Rick; I imagine the accommodations on his tours are similar to those in his books.

We'll be sure to pack light since we'll be hauling our luggage ourselves.
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Old 03-22-2015, 07:57 AM   #11
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I use Rick Steves books heavily in trip planning but I don't usually choose any of his hotel recommendations. I go to TripAdvisor for that.
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Old 03-22-2015, 08:38 AM   #12
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I use Rick Steves books heavily in trip planning but I don't usually choose any of his hotel recommendations. I go to TripAdvisor for that.
We've watched his vids, and looked at his books, (also use TripAdvisor), but for accommodations we've had lots of luck with HouseTrip, Wimdu, etc.

Here's a link to the apt we rented in Prague through HouseTrip in 2013:

HouseTrip.com – Evita apartment & free zone street parking
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Old 03-22-2015, 08:59 AM   #13
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We've watched his vids, and looked at his books, (also use TripAdvisor), but for accommodations we've had lots of luck with HouseTrip, Wimdu, etc.

Here's a link to the apt we rented in Prague through HouseTrip in 2013:

HouseTrip.com – Evita apartment & free zone street parking
Nice!
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Old 03-22-2015, 09:17 AM   #14
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Nice!
And inexpensive, (we're very 'cheap' people). A little out from the city centre, but we purchased a Metro/streetcar pass, and oftentimes just hopped on public transit, went 'home', prepared lunch......and headed back downtown afterward.
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Old 03-22-2015, 09:45 AM   #15
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Nice place, Nemo2.
We're big on vacation apartments also - but, for this trip, we're emphasizing location. We're paying a bit more to be in praha 1 (about 30 euro more per night). We won't have a car and will be walking/using public transport. This is the place we're renting this summer.

As far as driving in Southern Italy - I understand your nervousness. That said - I survived driving in Palermo - which was a challenging proposition. (Lets just say that painted lane lines are completely ignored and parking appears to be legal anywhere - including in lanes of traffic and on sidewalks.) After that experience I know I can survive driving in Southern Italy.
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Old 03-22-2015, 10:34 AM   #16
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Nice place, Nemo2.
We're big on vacation apartments also - but, for this trip, we're emphasizing location. We're paying a bit more to be in praha 1 (about 30 euro more per night). We won't have a car and will be walking/using public transport. This is the place we're renting this summer.

As far as driving in Southern Italy - I understand your nervousness. That said - I survived driving in Palermo - which was a challenging proposition. (Lets just say that painted lane lines are completely ignored and parking appears to be legal anywhere - including in lanes of traffic and on sidewalks.) After that experience I know I can survive driving in Southern Italy.
T'was not I that was 'nervous about driving in Southern Italy'......after spending 7+ years driving in Saudi Arabia I still operate on the premise that everyone else on the road is trying to kill me....and act accordingly.
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Old 03-22-2015, 01:10 PM   #17
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Another nice thing about the RS trips is that the bus hold 60 people, but the tours are only 24-28 people. So everybody gets a nice big double seat. If you go with a partner, pick seats on opposite sides of the bus and you can switch back and forth to see the sights.
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Old 03-22-2015, 02:43 PM   #18
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We have neighbors who are quite independent travelers, yet they speak fondly of their past Rick Steves trips.
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Old 03-23-2015, 01:28 PM   #19
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...after spending 7+ years driving in Saudi Arabia I still operate on the premise that everyone else on the road is trying to kill me....and act accordingly.
Heck, you don't need to go to a "fur'n" country for this. Dallas will do, as will Houston, Atlanta, Chicago...
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Old 03-23-2015, 06:24 PM   #20
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How well-located are the hotels on the tours?

That's often the key with these package tours.
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