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Croatia, Italy: mid-June- early July 2013, Family of 4

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We are a family of 4 from the Pacific NW, USA: parents and 2 teen daughters traveling from around June 16 to early July 7-9, 2013 for 3 weeks to Croatia (5-6 days) then Central Italy(2 weeks).
Main question is where should we fly into to get to Croatia?
Should we fly into Dubrovnik (expensive) via another main hub airport like Amsterdam?
Or should we fly into Venice and take a ferry to Croatia?
How to travel back from Croatia to Venice?
Where to focus our trip in Croatia?
I have not made any travel arrangements yet. Budget: like to keep it moderate but I realize it's busy summer travel time.
Time is ticking & I need to at least get our air tickets booked.
In between cities in Italy, should we plan to take trains vs. rent a car, or a combination?

Croatia: 6/16 for 4-6nights
For Italy:
Venice 2night/3 days
Cinque Terra 2 nights/3 days
Drive with stops to Pisa & Lucca, to Florence
Florence 3 nights/4 days: 1 day for museum, 1 day for sightseeing, 1 day to Siena & may be San Giminagno & Montepulciano.
Rome: 3 nights/4days, return home

Yes, I have also done hours of research online too. We are all healthy, enjoy the outdoors, love food and people. Thanks any advice would be appreciated.

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    You don't have much choice about flights into Croatia as there are only a few airports where you could connect. Which city would depend on what you plan to visit in Croatia. Flying into Croatia will cost a bit more, but flying into Venice probably won't save much by the time you add the cost of the ferry to Croatia (and the loss of a day of vacation time).

    >>>Venice 2night/3 days
    Cinque Terra 2 nights/3 days<<<

    This is backwards. If you stay 2 nights somewhere, you really only have one sightseeing day. The other days are travel days, checking in and out of hotels, etc.

    Travel from Croatia to Venice, spend night (night 1)
    Day in Venice, spend night (night 2)
    Check out of hotel and travel to CT (6 hours of travel!)

    >>>Drive with stops to Pisa & Lucca, to Florence<<<

    You can't drive in the centers of any of these cities (nor CT or Venice) so a car isn't practical. You could take the train from CT to Pisa, store your luggage at the train station (Pisa Centrale). Catch a train at Centrale to Lucca (3€ - 25 minutes), visit Lucca. Catch a train back to Pisa (get off at Pisa S. Rossore station), short walk to tower (5 minutes), visit tower, local shuttle bus to Centrale (about 1€). Retrieve luggage and take train to Florence.

    >>>1 day to Siena & may be San Giminagno & Montepulciano.<<<

    That's a bit much for one day although there are some day tours from Florence you could book that might include Siena and San G. (Montepulciano is too far). If you want to visit Montepulciano, you would probably have to find a wine tour or a Val D'Orcia/Piena area.

    If you just wanted to visit Siena for a day, it's easy to take the bus from Florence (about 7€ - 75 minutes).

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    I am noticing a lot of people asking questions about flights, but it is rare that a forum volunteer is going to have that information at their fingertips (not impossible but rare). We can offer our opinions and offer advice, but only you can look up all of the flight options. This is coming from a place of wanting to help, so please take it in that spirit--it is just something I am noticing a lot.

    I know that getting from the NWUS to Croatia is probably going to be challenging. I have used this agency:
    Even though it often costs more, I think it is better to book all the way through rather than try to change to a low-cost carrier in another European city, when you may have to change airports, deal with layovers, baggage restrictions, etc.
    If you are going to Venice, the Istrian region will make the most sense because of the ferries and land transport options.
    If you can get a good fare into Venice and out of Rome that could work nicely.
    If you were preferring southern Croatia, there are ferries from Split and Dubrovnik (to Ancona and Bari, respectively).
    good luck!

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    With so little time I would stick to the northern part of Croatia (like Yorkshire suggests.) You can also take the bus from Venice to Rovinj (and some other northern Croatian towns) instead of the ferry. To Rovinj it is 4 hours. There, get a car and check out Istria. Croatia deserves more time so maybe spend this time in Italy and check out Croatia another time...
    You could use a few more days in Italy with all these stops.

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    I don't know where you are going in Croatia, but I constantly hear how beautiful its beaches are. To go all the way across Italy at its widest point to be in le Cinque Terre to spend 2 days there (you will need an entire day just to get there), after you have already just been at beautiful beaches, seems like a huge amount of effort and money to see more sea views.

    You say love to be outdoors, food and people. You can of course spend all your time outdoors in any city in Italy, but why to go these cities and towns if you prefer an outdoors vacation? You could go to the fabulous Dolomiti moutains so easily from Croatia/Venice, and you could go to the Italian lakes. Especially if you pick Lago di Garda -- which your kids might love -- you will be meeting people other than Americans (which is who you will meet in le Cinque Terre).

    If you go to Venice, the Dolomiti, Lago di Garda and Verona, you could cap off your vacation this July with an opera outdoors INSIDE a genuine Roman arena that is in better shape than the one in Rome.

    If you want an outdoors vacation, pushing yourself through all these history and art cities and trying to make them outdoorsy while promising yourself you will NOT go to more than 1 museum is something I suggest you reconsider. There is lots of glorious and unique scenery quite close to Croatia, and it is filled with castles and Roman ruins and small towns of great charm. Plus it is usually a bit cooler up north.

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