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Hello Fellow Travelers- I am looking for some advice on identifying some great Travel/Tour companies that you have worked with and feel great to recommend. we are hoping to great to Europe in May/June 2018.
Rick Steves is a terrific source of information ... he only discusses places/things that he feels are worthy of your consideration. I wouldn't consider starting the planning of a trip without reading Rick's advice.
When it comes to tour companies, we have had great success with Grand Circle Travel out of Boston. They cater to older people, but we did our first tour with them about age 52 and really like their balance of service and value. Their people are phenomenal. Don't overlook a river cruise in Europe ... it's the BEST way to travel, especially for a first-timer.
We took a Mediterranean cruise several years ago and rather than take the ships shore excursions, I Googled "Shore Excursions in ..." and found private companies that picked us up in luxury sedans and took us all over, at the same or less than the ship's shore excursions. In Scandinavia, we used TJ Travel out of St. Petersburg. I would check these out and see if they do tours as well as shore excursions. Also, TripAdvisor is a great resource
I have taken two Rick Steves tours --Southern Italy and Germany,Austria and Switzerland-- and could not have been more pleased. There are several factors that make his tours so enjoyable and successful: 1) he limits the number to 25 (no herding 45-50 sheep around), 2) the guides are employees of the RS company and as such have no interest in stopping at "my uncles restaurant", 3) RS tours clearly spell out the meals that are formally provided and the discretion of the tour guide to add to that, and 4) RS tours believe in using smaller, family owned hotel properties often in the downtown area which facilitates the traveler's ability to walk around and explore rather than a chain hotel on the outskirts of the city.
Have been on two RS tours and could not have been more pleased. RS tours limit tours to 25 people, not the 45-50 if some others. The tour guides are employees of the RS company so do not look for kick backs by taking you to "my uncle's restaurant". Hotels are usually smaller, family owned in the heart of the city rather than a chain hotel on the outskirts. Finally, RS tours clearly spell out the meals that are included and, in addition, the tour guides have some flexibility to add to those.