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Rome Italy air and land tour packages

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Need advice on travel to Italy. Best air and land packages (15 days), This is our first time visiting Europe/Italy. We are in our mid 50's active and healthy. We love history, art, music, food and wine :). We're traveling with another couple. We would like to visit Rome in May, June, August or September. We don't mind cruising, but heard from others seeing Italy by land (tours included) is the best way to go for first timers. We are recently retired, and this will be our first trip out of the US, we want to make this a memorable one. It's our bucket list of things to do.

Much thanks!!!

Guy...

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    Usually packages aren't the best deals, but really depends on what you want to see. This board is mainly people that plan their own trips, but there are a few that take tours. I would pick May or Sept. over June or August (much of Europe vacations in August and Italy is very hot then).

    Which towns/sites do you want to see?

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    If one of your goals is to make it a “memorable” trip, I immediate see two areas in need of rethinking. The first one is the effect on what you “heard”. What others say can be inaccurate or irrelevant in your case. You will have to do your own fact checking on what you “heard.” We are no longer in the 70’s when it was much harder to do this. With internet, it does not take much time to find out the relevance of what you “heard.”

    Also, it seems you are starting with an assumption that you need a tour package. You are probably assuming you get something your are looking for in a package. However, unless you can clearly identity exactly “what” you are looking for, it would be difficult to match your needs to a package, if a relevant one exists. It is also possible that a no package is a more relevant option.

    Many people here eventually go independent route if not from the beginning. You have the most freedom in choosing the venues, the budget, amount of time you care to spend at each destination. And best of all, you don’t get canned into don’t care souvenir stores wasting your time, so that the guides can pocket commissions. You also get to define how early you care to start your day. Some tours seem do trips cheaply. They often accomplish this by booking people in out of the way inconvenient accommodations where only people on group tours would stay and take tours to restaurants you wouldn’t go if you had a choice. High end tours let people spend enough time to explore, go to excellent restaurants, and stay at great convenient hotels. But you have to pay high premium to book this kind of tours.

    You can easily do your own research to rule out cruises. You can find the amount of time the boat is in ports. Put in time to get off and back on safely, you have an estimate of land time. You can easily found how long it takes to travel from the dock to the destination. What is left is time you have at the destination. If that is too little for you, a cruise does not satisfy your need. If not needing to move accommodation is your primary need and lack of ground time does not bother you, then cruise may be a relevant choice. Unlike tropical island cruises, the destinations are long trips from the cruise ports in Italy except for perhaps Venice.

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    Seldom do air/land packages save money -- especially when you are talking four people. Most likely XX dollars x 4 will be a huge amount of money. Wherever you can visit on a package you can also visit on your own and w/ more flexibility at less cost.

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    Ok, understand this is your first time across the pond. Certainly taking a cruise is a poor way to visit Italy (well anywhere apart from Islands), still what is the prime driver for using a tour? Lack of time to do the research, fear of the unknown, language barrier? Each of these is a reason but it helps us understand a bit. Then you 4 need to work out what you want to see.

    If it were me, taking 15 days (in the country or 13 after flights?) I'd look at Rome for 4 days, Venice for 3 days and then two out of the following for the rest, Florence, Siena, Bologna, Ravenna. In fact I might not even go to Venice but go to mini-Venice instead (Chioggia) and day trip in by boat "well now that the Clooneys go there, it has lost its class"
    :-)

    I'd take the train between each of these and I'd go first class (which will be more expensive than a car but far more efficient and pleasant). ALso it is good to get out of the whole US mind thing about using a car, eating quickly, ticking off bucket list and slooooooooww down to the more efficient relaxed way of life of Italy. (you will be amased how tough it is)

    August: No
    June: early only

    If I went down the Siena/Florence route I might look at a car for travelling around Tuscany.

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    Taking a land tour is not the best way to see Italy. Independent travel is so much better as you have flexibility to see what you want to see and stay as long or as little as you want. Tours are very restrictive and expensive and normally spend little time in each location.

    Best packages - can't say since I have no idea what you're looking for. Best companies are Tauck, Collette, Road Scholar.

    As you have not specified a bus tour you might consider Backroads for walking or bike tours.

    For escorted bus tours you need to read the detailed itinerary to ensure you get what you're looking for.

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    There are companies that do air-hotel packages only. We went to Rome in 2012 for five days for less than the airfare alone if we had booked it ourselves. I join others in not recommending a bus tour. A good bus tour is fine, but a bad one is deadly, and you won't know until you get on the bus and meet your fellow passengers and guide. If you want to tour something like "Tuscany's Best", there are local bus day tours available through the tourist office.

    Get a Michelin Green Guide from Amazon or your local bookstore, and borrow some guidebooks from your local public library to get an idea of where you want to go.

    Other independent packages will add a car, though I don't recommend driving in Italy on your first trip. Rural areas are more or less fine, but only local residents can drive in the center of most towns, and it isn't easy to know when the speed limit is changing or you are entering a restricted area. Trains work really well, and if you don't have to get an absolute rock bottom price, you can get tickets as you go, giving you a lot of flexibility.

    Go no later than mid-June or wait until October if at all possible. It is hot, humid, and packed with people in the summer.

    Learn to get cash from an ATM (called bancomats in Italy) rather than converting dollars or buying them from your bank in advance. You need to have realistic expectations about how much you can do. Changing cities and hotels is a minimum of half a day, a minimum, so travel days (Rome to Florence, Florence to Venice) really eat into your time. Small towns and even cities like Rome have siesta times in the afternoon, maybe 2:00 to 4:30, when lots of things close. Forget much of what you know about Italian food. Pizza is available everywhere, but pasta isn't necessarily the local favorite in Northern Italy. Portions are usually much smaller than in the US, so you wind up ordering more than one course. Etc.

    Learning about this kind of thing can be as much fun as the trip itself, and this is a good place to ask the questions! Have fun!

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    Both couples need to list their must sees (sites they feel their trip won't be complete without) before you can make selections. Your ideas of musts might be quite different and you will need to figure a way to mesh them together.

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    The benefits of package tours are also the drawbacks.

    You save money. They make money by choosing inexpensive alternatives for you.

    You don't get to have a luxury splurge day just for the fun of it. You can't have luxury hotels but budget meals, or the other way round.

    You don't have to plan the logistics. They get you there, get your hotels, arrange many meals, and show you the sights. You avoid the mistakes and the wasted time of the learning curve of foreign travel.

    You can't take the bus when the train is faster and more comfortable. You can't choose your hotel style or location. You get inoffensive tourist meals at places that can serve a busload at one time, not the little place you found on line or from a friend. You skim over sites you would like to see in more depth, you can't linger for an extra minute or two at something that fascinates you, you have to go to places on the itinerary that you are not interested in and can't add a site not on the tour.

    You don't waste time figuring out site schedules and waiting in line for tickets. You don't have to learn a foreign public transit system to get there. You don't need a map. You don't have to talk to anyone outside your tour.

    You can't explore and learn on your own. You will discover nothing on your own. You can't wander on a shopping street or get lost. (Yes, getting lost is a benefit. Trust me on this.) You will meet no one who is not showing you something or selling you something.

    OK, that's my bias based on early package tours and later independent travel.

    So, here are my recommendations, for what it's worth.

    Air plus hotel packages save a ton of money if you can choose a hotel that fits your desires.

    Independent food choices will never be worse than group tourist mess hall.

    Plan the sites you want see, research opening days and times, get a transit pass or take a cab, and go. But, for places that will be enhanced by a tour (examples: The Vatican, the restricted sections of the Colosseum, a day trip to ...), just buy that day, either online before you go or on the day that the weather is right at your destination. Every hotel will arrange this for you.

    Now you have the benefits of a package when you want it and the flexibility of independent travel. Plus two couples won't be required to do the same thing at the same time if they want to diverge for a while.

    Whatever you decide, have fun and please tell us what you did.

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    I agree with everything here - independent travel is more likely to give you what you want for a better price, though there may be some flight+hotel deals that are worth looking at, particularly if they include an airport to hotel transfer which for first timers can be a bit daunting. [but for 4 of you, there are companies who would provide a private taxi at a very good price, that you can book in advance, so really no need to worry on that score].

    you can also hire tour guides by the day or half day, who will take you on a private tour of wherever interests you [for example the Rome of the Romans or a culinary tour of Florence] which spread between 4 of you might not be too costly. Or the same companies [eg Context Rome] run small groups that you can join. Try looking at the "activities" section of trip advisor for the cities that you are interested in. This will probably be no more expensive [it might even by cheaper] than the tours offered by a cruise company.

    Fancy a day out in the tuscan hills? there are companies that will do that too - Hills and Roads are very well thought of here. http://www.hillsandroads.com/

    you might combine that with a stay in Siena for a couple of nights in between Florence and Rome [if that's what you decided to do].

    In 15 days you can see quite a lot, but I would limit myself to 4 bases - which could be these but just as easily could be 4 completely different places: Venice because it is unique and might not be with us for much longer - Florence because of the place that it holds in italian culture - Siena for two nights with a tour into the hills of Chianti on the way - and Rome, because it's Rome.

    Fly into Venice and out of Rome.

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    A "good" tour package s going to be much more expensive than doing it yourself.

    You need to look very carefully at the itinerary and where the hotels are.

    You need to watch out for:

    Going to too may plaes for too little tie each
    Hotels at the end of hell and gone
    Meals that are poor americanized versions of local food
    Having to provide your own options meals when where you are at meal time is not near a selection of restaurants
    Stops for "shopping" for junk no one wants - or cares to haul around
    Very early starts (bags at the door at 7 am and you on the bus at 8 am - this is NOT a vacation for me)
    Not visiting major sights - but only "viewing" (out of the moving bus window - or "stopping" for a 5 minute photo op out front)

    As you can tell I am not a tour of guided tours - although we often enjoy walking tours in cities that cover certain sights or topics (but only with better guides - not least common denominator)

    Only you can decide what you really want to see and do - but until you have figured that out you can;t really evaluate or compare the tours.

    Or you may decide to plan the trip yourselves (easy with the help you can get here if you are willing to research). Not knowing English is not a problem - tourist areas have many people who speak enough English that you can easily get by.

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    Hello Guy,
    Welcome to retirement. I cannot help you with organized tours, although I admit that I did pour over Tauck brochures for years before retirement, just dreaming about Italy. At retirement we moved to a community with a very busy travel group. Joining that group lit a firecracker under us and we began taking European trips.

    Not loving airports, we like to plan 2 or 3 experiences on the same trip. Maybe a couple of cities, and a unique geographic area combined with a cruise or a short group tour. Ideally we will fly in 3 to 5 days early so that we can have time on our own on the ground. We are addicted to day trips, so we always take good advantage of that time.

    Our last trip ended with a cruise around Italy. The Italy cruise, which we boarded in Venice, worked well because we scheduled it at the end of a 25 day trip and by the time we boarded the ship we were a bit travel-weary and it was nice not to have to plan where we were going to sleep each night. The ports themselves are commercial, and generally not attractive, so we used the ship as if it were a night train. We joined a group from home that brought its its own guide aboard ship. We left the ship ASAP every morning. We day-tripped, either by ourselves or with our group, and came back to the ship for dinner. We slept well every night, got up early the next day and did it all again in a different place.

    I enjoyed the cruise, not for the ports, not for the ship (an old Royal Caribbean boat) not for the entertainment, not for the food, but for all the places we got to see. For example, on previous ground trips, although we had been to Lucca and to Florence, we had missed Pisa. A day trip from the ship allowed us to see Pisa at a leisurely pace and we did it our own way. I will never forget walking on that soggy, gray day, being hopelessly lost, turning a corner, peeking out from under the umbrella and being astonished to be standing face to face with the leaning tower.

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    sirguy - you can just as easily see Pisa [or Lucca or Bologna or....] by getting a train from Florence and doing it as a day trip from there, or get a bus to San Gimignano or Siena or...

    Chelseyd - I'm not in any way discounting your experience, and I see that for you a cruise may have been a good idea. But you are still restricted to the places that you can easily get to from the port that you may be in.

    I do like the idea of not having to pack and unpack all the time though!

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    I suggest you at least take a look at the website for Rick Steves tours. I'm the dissenting opinion here but I actually think a tour for a first trip to Italy can be a good idea. It is probably a bit more expensive but you will probably see more. Yes, you can plan it yourselves but it will take a fair amount of time and research. It is getting very crowded there now so for optimal sightseeing, you should pre-book any sights that allow that. For optimal train savings, pre-book. Also a tour will give structure to your small group, minimizing differences of opinions on many issues.

    Rick Steve tours are small groups, try to give an authentic experience as far as local hotels and dining, will give you free time and will not herd you into buying oportunities. So it may well be the best option for you and your friends!

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    For our 1st time to Italy this past May, we did a tour (Gate1). It thought is was great for a first trip. We got to see a lot in just 9 days, although it was a bit rushed.
    When I return to Italy I will go it alone, but for the 1st time, I would highly recommend a tour.

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