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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy
Old 02-02-2006, 09:43 AM   #21
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy

Wow, so many great responses.

To answer the general question, no, I'm not looking for one of those fully-escorted bus tours. *Rather, what I'd prefer is just simply a package that includes airfare, hotel and options for travel within the cities/between the cities. *Essentially, I want someone to have done the work on determining where I should stay and for how long. *What I don't want to have to do is read dozens of hotel reviews online (with the accompanying "best foot forward" photos/reviews), and then later find myself in a hotel with bad service, bad rooms, etc... *The same goes for restaurants. *I've been down that road more times than I can count, and tell myself each time it happens that I won't let it happen again.

As for liking to travel -- I do like to travel. *However, I don't excuse/tolerate poor service or poor quality (hotel, restaurant, etc...) as simply part of the "experience" of traveling. *Buying a package from a reputable travel agent/company removes much of the guesswork from the planning, and ensures at least some baseline level of quality (assuming you choose the "right" travel agent/company).

Edit: Sheryl hit it right on the head. I want the vacation, not just the travel experience.
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy
Old 02-02-2006, 10:06 AM   #22
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy

bleah! *:P *I think you would have to pay me to go on another cruise. We did Venice, Drubrovnik, various Greek Islands, Bari.

Best part: waking up in the AM, looking out the window and seeing the port of a new place gliding into view!

Worst part: almost everything else. The one day you spend in each place means: Get up at 6 or 7 to manage to have breakfast and be off the ship by 8 or 8:30, along with about 1000 of your fellow passengers (mooo!). Clamber onto a fleet of 30 or 40 pullman buses that take you to the spot of interest (never near the port; the port zones are fairly scuzzy). Follow the guide with the umbrella for a while, get a 10 or 15-minute break to buy postcards or have a coffee, then.. back in the bus and back to the ship. You pay extra, BTW, for each on-shore excursion. We were also bused to the obligatory gift shop where the bus driver has an "arrangement" (wink, wink) with the owner--held hostage is more like it--and where you end up buying trinkets for friends back home regardless just because you have no time to shop in any of the more interesting local stores as you are traipsing after the lady with the umbrella.

Since you have paid to eat on the ship you don't get to try the local cuisine. If you choose not to go on the planned excursions, you're on your own getting from the port to any town or beach, so you're no better off than if you were traveling solo. You'd want a map and a guidebook and some idea of how not to get ripped off by the foreign taxi driver. Then you're anxious about being able to get back to the ship before it leaves, 'cause it ain't waiting for you...

After a few days of this, we just didn't even get off the boat one day because we wanted to relax! We just hung out on the deck reading and sunning ourselves. We were "in" Greece, but we could have read books at home!

Then you look at the bill for your "all-inclusive" trip and realize they've been charging you $2 or $3 for eaxh pint of bottled water.

The food was OK, the entertainment was charmingly mediocre, the atmosphere is schizophrenic because on the one hand it's "de-luxe" and on the other it's flip-flops.. The most irritating thing was trying to get out of earshot of the hyperactive "animators", those employees that go around trying to encourage everyone to "have fun", usually by doing some sort of on-deck aerobics with a Madonna-type microphone to a bad techno/disco soundtrack.

--
Sheryl is right. I'm don't want to knock any particular kind of vacation, as long as you know what you are getting into. Some "organized" vacations take the stress out of making plans, but can add stress in other ways afterwards (but if I oversleep I'll miss the Duomo!). If you can manage to book a plane flight, and can get a taxi to a hotel or B&B, the hard part is over. Wander. Sleep in. Go down a tiny street and eat in a tiny restaurant with four tables where the owner serves you. Sit by the Trevi fountain for a whole hour, if you feel like it. You will never see everything worthwhile in Italy even if you live 100 lifetimes, so enjoy what's in front of you!

Jay, I hope you have a chance to review the sites I posted. You can use them as a guideline for planning.. see where they put you up (I've seen them mention hotels by name), see what time frames they use and the points of interest that are included. You may be able to find one that lets you opt out of the daily group activities and gives you a cheaper rate by just hauling you from one place to the next? Why not call or write them and explain what you have in mind? In Italy, if you are not planning to go with the pullman group,* "options for travel" between distant cities are plane, bus (avoid because the bus stations are usually in nasty hard-to-get-to areas outside the center), train (best option, but you'll have to be up for deciphering the timetables and dealing with purchasing tickets), and renting a car (if you don't mind getting lost in traffic in Florence trying to find your hotel). I don't know where you have traveled in the past, but I would say it is pretty impossible to get a "bad" meal in Italy, unless you go to a Chinese restaurant or an Autogrill. Hotels you sound pretty picky about, but I figure I'm out wandering.. I only want the hotel for a place to sleep in. Best of luck, anyway!

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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy
Old 02-02-2006, 10:26 AM   #23
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy

I've never been disappointed with anything I bought from REI (although I haven't personally tried their trips, some friends really enjoyed their Nepal trip):
http://www.rei.com/adventures/trips/...taly_hills.jsp

Tim
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy
Old 02-02-2006, 11:43 AM   #24
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy

I don't mind cruises per se, as long as they're not the Carnival family-type ones. I don't want screaming kids or teenagers running around all day/night when I'm trying to relax. Likewise, I hate it when I've gotten up at 10:00 a.m. (I'm on vacation, when else would I get up?) wander down to the pool, only to find that every deck chair is taken. What makes it even worse is when I would look upon the "no vacancy" pool deck and think I'm seeing a colony of fat sea lions/walruses sunning themselves on the beach. :P
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy
Old 02-02-2006, 11:51 AM   #25
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy

Oh fer cryin' out loud...

http://www.italy-travel.net/

http://www.inforoma.it/package.php

http://www.escorteditalytours.com/

http://www.frommers.com/destinations...228021094.html

http://www.infohub.com/TRAVEL/SIT/sit_pages/Italy.html
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy
Old 02-02-2006, 12:00 PM   #26
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy

Forget it, FB.. I already tried.. He's determined to be cranky today. Go with the personalized Abercrombie & Kent, Jay. It will cost an arm and a leg, but they will chauffeur you around individually, not with a group, four-star hotels, plenty of free time, and you will have the vacation of your life. You're a lawyer, right? For crying out loud.. cough up the bucks if you're going to be so persnickety! Otherwise, get the Rough Guide.* *
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy
Old 02-02-2006, 12:27 PM   #27
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy

First time poster here, but long time lurker, and thought I'd throw in my 2 cents.* When I was still in college I booked with a tour company called Contiki, which is for 18-35 year olds.* It was really fun (mostly 20 somethings, and usually budget hotels, which you may not like).* They plan most things, but give you just enough time to do some on your own.*

They have an all inclusive 8 day Italian package here, which is $1749 land + air:

http://www.contiki.com/en-US/Tours/E.../Itinerary.htm

I've since been to Europe several more times on my own and if you're looking to relax, 1 week will just get you stressed out if you're trying to travel between 2 or more cities.* The first and last day of any vacation will be totally lost because of packing, unpacking, transportation, etc.* That only leaves you 5 days to squeeze in several cities plus the travel to and from them.*

If you're not interested in the touristy stuff and just want to relax, I'd suggest spending the entire week in Cinque Terre, which are 5 small cities on the Italian Riviera.* You can rent a nice hotel or even an apartment and you'll be minutes from the beach.* Plus you can easily travel among the 5 cities if you get bored or want to explore more.* You can even hike to each city through the mountains or take boats to and from each one.*

I think I even remember seeing a post on the board about Cinque Terre, but that would be my suggestion if you want relaxation and only have 1 week in Italy.

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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy
Old 02-02-2006, 12:31 PM   #28
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy

Cinque Terre - I saw a PBS travel show a few years ago that featured this area. I assume it is small enough now that it is either prohibitively expensive or chock full o tourists. It looks like a really neat little area - a cliffside trail between the 5 cities where you can see the sea most/all the time.

Anybody been there recently?
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy
Old 02-02-2006, 02:00 PM   #29
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy

Quote:
Originally Posted by ladelfina
Forget it, FB.. I already tried.. He's determined to be cranky today.
I'm not cranky. Just trying to find a reasonably low stress way of seeing Italy (or Rome specifically) for a week.

I appreciate all of the links.
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy
Old 02-02-2006, 04:53 PM   #30
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy

Quote:
Originally Posted by justin
Cinque Terre - I saw a PBS travel show a few years ago that featured this area.* I assume it is small enough now that it is either prohibitively expensive or chock full o tourists.* It looks like a really neat little area - a cliffside trail between the 5 cities where you can see the sea most/all the time.*

Anybody been there recently?
We were there about 2 years ago and had an awesome time hiking between the 5 cities. Absolutely gorgeous! Unfortunately we were there on a holiday weekend or something so all the rooms were booked with Italians - we stayed in La Spezia instead. Several of the places told us to come back on Monday and we could stay as long as we wanted, but alas, we only had 3 weeks to travel and needed to move on.
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy
Old 02-02-2006, 05:23 PM   #31
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy

OK - I know you are interested in Rome, specifically, but I'll give Florence for an example since I have experience there.

There was way more in Florence than could be done in a week. The only arrangement we had help with was hotel. Other than that we did our own thing.

We used a Frommers guide. And just figured out where to go each day or in a day or two.

There were also neat places to visit as day trips from Florence. We went to Pisa. I wish we had gone to Sienna.

Public transportation was great and easy. Especially by train. We just got tickets when we wanted to go somewhere. No need to plan ahead.

Anyway - my point is that you don't have to figure out all this stuff ahead of time. Just get the plane tickets and the hotel. Just stay in Rome, and plan for day excursions to other places. I'm sure Rome could easily keep you busy for a week and there is no point in city hopping.

If you do wish to city hop: pick two cities. Take the train between them. Then explore the cities and do day trips to other location from the cities.

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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy
Old 02-02-2006, 07:09 PM   #32
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy

Jay, if you stay at any hotel in the old part of Florence, you can walk pretty much anywhere you want to go. Heres a list of hotels and many reviews:

http://www.en.hotels-in-florence-italy.venere.com/

IIRC, we stayed at the Hotel Adler Cavalieri. Very nice. There are many towns a short distance from Florence...to the west, Lucca; to the South, Sienna, Montepluciano, San Gemingnano, Pienza, Orvieto...ah, Tuscany!

C-T, thanks, now I feel better about missing Pisa!
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy
Old 02-02-2006, 11:22 PM   #33
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy

I did a Globus 7 night in 1998 Rome, Florence, Venice and with the new wife did Globus again in 2002 and included 7 nights in Greece. Asissi and Ferrai were both pleasant surprises.
If you are a first timer in Italy IMHO they are good, especially for Rome. Very little to plan, no navigation challenges, and access to shorter lines, especially at the Vatican and to see David in Florence. Bad things about tours: the hotel rooms usually have 2 twin beds, the speed and timeliness of the tour is totally dependent on the slowest/latest tour member,
the included dinners are fair at best.

We now prefer doing it our self. Did a week in Venice February 2005 and have booked 8 nights in Rome this April. We do some one day train trips out of the city to smaller towns for variety. We are fans of United Vacations and get good deals on air/hotel packages.
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy
Old 02-03-2006, 03:33 AM   #34
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy

Cut-Throat, what a lovely story. I'm glad you were enterprising enough to be able to take those kind of memories home with you.

Pisa is indeed not worth the hype; the only real interest is the tower and that's surrounded by tons of foreigners and cheesy souvenir stands. Many visitors take a day out of their vacation to see it, but they would be better off spending the time in Lucca or Siena..

I have heard great things about the Cinque Terre (great for people who like to walk; I hear it is pretty hilly), though I have never been there.

I can give some of my personal restaurant favorites in Rome:
Perillo, near the metro Piramide. Authentic Roman cooking (coda all vaccinara, carbonara)
Al Regno di Re Ferdinando, Testaccio. Great Neapolitan dishes, superb service
PierLuigi, via Monserrato near Piazza Farnese. great variety, popular with the cinema crowd.
none of these are very touristy..

A type "A" American will be wise to bear in mind that an evening out at a restaurant in Italy means just that.. an evening. I've walked in at eight and left at 11 or 12. Your waiter will not rush to take your order, and there may be a bit of a wait between courses (which is just as well, otherwise you'd have no room for them). They will also not rush to bring your check. The table is yours for the evening; they'll leave you sitting there until you signal the waiter and ask for 'il conto'. Do not bother tipping, unless you feel the service was truly out-of-the-ordinary, and then maybe 5 or 10%, no more. Waiters go to a kind of hospitality school and get a decent salary; waiting tables is not a temp job. If you show up at 7, the place may not even be open, but by eight it may be packed. Best to make reservations. You have to time your meals carefully: lunch is at one; dinner at eight. A place may be open at 3, but you may well get turned away, as they want to close up and get ready for the dinner crowd. If you don't keep to the canonical schedule, you'll end up eating a cheese sandwich at a bar, or a slice of pizza to go.

I kind of miss my tourist days!
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy
Old 02-03-2006, 08:20 AM   #35
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy

I also enjoyed the story Cut-Throat. It reminded me of when I was traveling post-college. No schedule (and no job that I had to get back to or else get fired), so I could do and see everything until I had just enough money I had ran out.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ladelfina
I kind of miss my tourist days!
Why? Don't you play the tourist every once in a while?
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy
Old 02-03-2006, 08:51 AM   #36
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy

Well, it's different seeing it through the eyes of someone going there for the first time. When we go to Rome now it's to visit family, and you have to take 3 different "mezzi" (bus, tram. bus) to get to the center from Flaminia, the area where they are. The shopping areas attract us once in a while, when we need to get something, but the parking is infernal. A "regular Italian" can't access the historic center by car for most of the day unless they have a resident sticker. You used to be able to sneak by the 'vigili' if they didn't see you, but now they have cameras that snap your license plates and you'll get a big fine in the mail. Then sometimes there are smog issues, so they issue an order that you can only drive inside the larger "fascia verde" with odd- or even-numbered plates, with not very much notice.

If you stay in the center, it's very pleasant not to have any of these issues!
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy
Old 02-04-2006, 11:18 AM   #37
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Re: Pre-packaged tours of Italy

Recommendation. Took a Rick Steve's 10 day tour in October. Three nights Venice, Florence and Rome. Many half days of free time to explore. Group size about 24. Stay in small hotels in the city core. Most days walking. Ride subway or city buse in Rome. Good restaurants off the beaten path. Very good tour leaders. Great trip if you want to see those cities.
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