The Rick Steves Family tour is all about the people, really. The people you travel with. The people you meet along the way. The kids. The families. The guides.
From your coach driver to your agriturismo hosts to the venetian mask-maker teaching us all a little about his craft. It's the people that truly bring the magic to this tour.
Our group consisted of 28 individuals for most of the journey: 11 "kids" ages 8-18, 14 adults, 2 guides, and 1 driver.
We take the family tour for the kids. Much to everyone's relief, the kids bonded rather quickly, for the most part. With varying degrees of shyness and nervousness, the first day or so the families tended to stick together. The bus experience quickly changes this. By day three, most of the kids are congregated in the back of the bus playing games and being goofy...and the adults are heaving a collective sigh of relief that this might just work out after all!
It is my understanding that the assistant guides on the family tours are there expressly for the kids. That is to say, to make sure that the kids are adjusting and coming together and feeling included etc. Our assistant guide on this trip managed this task exceptionally well. He was attentive and observant and really did a wonderful job at bringing even the shyest kiddo into the fold.
Highlights especially for the kids:
The history and art and the culture were all presented in a way that was educational, and interesting and approachable for everyone, regardless of age (8 and up.)
Food: Interesting treats, tasty local cuisines, a pasta-making demo, and frequent snack breaks.
Physical activities. For the kids, I really think this was key - From the hikes to the luge to castle ruins to the region's longest suspension bridge, they always had something fun and physical to do. There always seemed to be something to climb on, or a place to play soccer or swim or play table tennis. There was even an opportunity for the musicians in the group to play the hotel piano.
By the end of the trip, most of the kids had not only had an amazing and fun experience but, had made lots of new friends and I believe, some life-long memories!
The guides made the tour. The lead guide, Matt and assistant guide, Hilbren, made an excellent pair. They had different individual strengths and they complimented one another nicely. This made for a smooth sailing experience from start to finish. Matt is knowledgeable, reliable, relatable and was a real pleasure to get to know. He did a super job bringing together all the tour elements and keeping everything running smoothly. He has a relaxed manner and was able to make the tour experience educational and fun. Hilbren was an indispensable part of the tour. He was equally engaging with all, regardless of age. The adults and kids alike appreciated his in depth knowledge of history and politics as well as his wonderful storytelling ability and talent for connecting with us all. We all really enjoyed getting to know our coach driver, too! - Will is a great guy and super funny and adeptly skilled at maneuvering that big coach. He got us where we needed to go safely and on time!
The local guides were just as wonderful as our main guides. They added a dimension of authenticity to our travel experiences. By sharing their knowledge and passion for their homes, they allowed us, as visitors to better appreciate and understand the places they so loved.