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Context tours, Icon tours, Through eternity tours, Romewalks, et al

Context tours, Icon tours, Through eternity tours, Romewalks, et al

Feb 4th, 2008, 07:05 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Nov 2007
Posts: 196
Context tours, Icon tours, Through eternity tours, Romewalks, et al

I posted this question under a different heading and got a disappointing response, so I thought I would try again.

I am interested in doing small group tours of some of the major sights in Rome, and maybe Florence. I've seen these 4 companies mentioned frequently here on Fodors - and I have some questions. My original post and the responses appear below - I would have just transferred the whole thing to a new heading but I didn't know how.

Author: butnotrmpt
Date: 02/01/2008, 10:43 pm

After getting much advice on my 'Italy with a reluctant travel partner' thread and then on follow ups (thanks to all who chimed in), I have finally booked my air for my April trip. I am now looking into the more day to day aspects of seeing these cities.

I am very interested in using small guided tours for many of the sights. I have seen a number of companies recommended. What I want is someone who can convey their enthusiasm and knowledge without being preachy, drowning in details, or sounding like a grad school lecturer. I am concerned that a company like Context tours might be aimed well over my head. Any advice on what company to use, specific guides at those companies, what sights to use tours for, etc is appreciated.

And - I've read postings about the Scavi tour at the Vatican. Is this something that a non-Catholic would find interesting?

Author: elaine
Date: 02/01/2008, 10:57 pm

"What I want is someone who can convey their enthusiasm and knowledge without being preachy, drowning in details, or sounding like a grad school lecturer. I am concerned that a company like Context tours might be aimed well over my head."

That has not been my experience with CR. Their guides are knowledgeable yes, but the ones I've experienced were entertaining, affable, and not geeky. They know their audience.
Tour guides are always luck of the draw, but your chances are good if the agency has a great reputation to begin with. CR limits their groups to 6-8 at most. The group is small which also enables the guide to tailor the presentation and route to the desires of the group.

Author: The_Judge
Date: 02/03/2008, 01:48 am

I am a lawyer w/an MBA, my son graduated college in '06 & my wife has a H.S diploma & 1 year business secretarial school but we all enjoyed & understood all of the Context tours we did(4 in Rome & 2 in Florence-they were not yet operating in Venice or the number would be higher)-I firmly believe that Context will fulfill every requirement you have listed & it will make your trip much more worthwhile-but, as I tell everyone, see the other comments to confirm what I say-that is how we came to use Context. Good Luck

Author: 5alive
Date: 02/03/2008, 02:56 am

you do not have to be Catholic to enjoy the Scavi tour. You do have to have either a fascination with history or a deep curiosity about the history of Christianity.

The grave of St. Peter is one of those tangible links to the past.

This is a good thread for your reference: http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2

Author: butnotrmpt
Date: 02/04/2008, 12:15 pm

I'm still hoping to hear from others about their small group tour experiences. I've been looking at the Icon tours website, and I'm wondering whether the 2 1/2 hours they alot to an ancient Rome or Vatican/St. Peters tour could possibly be enough. I have also spent time on the Context site - they offer many more tours, but they are very expensive. I've also been looking at Through Eternity and Romewalks. Ironically, I might end up choosing based on the time of the tour, since this trip is designed to be leisurely, and I don't want anything that requires rushing out in the morning. I want my husband to continue to travel with me after this Italy trip, so I have to travel at his speed.

Despite reassurances to the contrary, I am still concerned about feeling like an undergraduate in a graduate level course, particularly if we go with Context. This is primarily because although my husband and I have graduate degrees, we do not have a base knowledge of art, architecture, Roman history, or Catholicism. (We will be doing background reading, but I don't expect to have the level of knowledge that so many of the Fodors posters seem to have).

Hoping to hear from travelers who have used the companies mentioned, or any others you might recommend. And also would love to hear if anyone took one of the Rome evening walks (Passeggiata) - this seems like a nice thing to do before dinner on the day we arrive in Rome from Florence - or the Jewish Ghetto and Trastavere walk from Romewalks.

Thanks again to all who take the time to reply

butnotrmpt is offline  
Feb 4th, 2008, 08:14 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,256
butnot, on our first visit to Rome in Nov of 2005 I scheduled four tours with three different companies. I was curious to see whether using the Context Rome service was worth the extra cost. As we were in Rome for a week, I had one tour booked with Through Eternity, one with RomeWalks and two with Context Rome.

Since we were there in November the Through Eternity tour of the Colosseum group was small, the tour was longer than the 2 1/2 hours scheduled and was certainly good value. Our guide was excellent, well informed and very personable.

Unfortunately I cannot say the same for the scheduled Rome Walks tour of the Vatican. Ron and I were at the pre-arranged location at the correct time but no one from the company ever showed up. We were never told of any change of schedule and Rome Walks had been given our hotel and phone number for contact. I never received an explanation for their failure to meet as arranged.

Luckily for us, Context Rome was able to fit us into a tour of the Vatican the next day after my rather frantic phone call to them. We would have been so disappointed to miss a tour of the Vatican. With Context Rome we toured the Vatican, Underground Rome and the Borghese, all were excellent tours and worth the cost. The guides with Context were as exceptional as we had expected.

I can recommend Through Eternity and Context Rome but of course, I would not recommend RomeWalks due to our experience with them.

Have a wonderful trip, Deborah

DeborahAnn is offline  
Feb 5th, 2008, 05:56 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,898
butnotrmpt, I took three Context Rome tours in November 2007. I have not used Icon or Through Eternity.

Let me just suggest, if you do decide to go with Context, to be sure to use the text box on the form that you submit to them to tell them what your interests are or aren't. I told them what other kinds of art and history I like, and in all three instances, the guide was either able to incorporate my interest into his/her tour, or bring the discussion full circle back to my primary interest. That is the benefit of the small group and a guide who takes time to care.

Based on the three guides I had, I'm sure it won't be a problem anyway, but if you told them what you told us about not being talked down to, that request would be heeded. Their excitement and passion is palpable and the range or their knowledge is amazing, so they have something to share with everyone.
amyb is online now  
Feb 5th, 2008, 02:23 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,229
We did the Through Eternity tour of the Forum and Colosseum just a couple weeks ago. Excellent guide! It was just the right mix of information, and we were never rolling our eyes thinking that this was way more than we would ever want to know. She obviously knew her history very well but was able to interject the interesting details that would keep a lay person interested. As some one else mentioned about Through Eternity, our tour also went over the allocated time because the enthusiastic guide had so much to tell us.

We had actually booked a tour with the same agency for the Vatican too but decided to cancel ahead of time (before we had even done the Colosseum and Forum tour) because we decided we would want more time in the museum than the 5 hour tour which was split between the museum and St. Peter's. We are glad we went with our gut and went on our own. We spent 5 hours in the Vatican museum alone. I should also throw in here that when you mention drowning in details I think some of the guides may do this. In one of the areas of the museum we hapened to be standing next to a couple who were doing a private guided tour. I thought I'd hang around for a few minutes to see what their guide was talking about. I can tell you it was way more than I ever would have been interested in learning about that particular area of the museum. St. Peter's we also did on our own with a good guidebook. For us, this was a perfect solution.

As far as the Scavi tour. We are neither Catholic or religious, and it was fascinating!! If you can get tickets, definitely do it. We also went to the catacombs of Priscilla on our own and toured those. Seeing the catacombs, doing the Scavi tour and taking the tour of the Colosseum/Forum tied the history of Rome and the Christian Church together for us; it was fascinating seeing the recurrent themes and connections.

Now, for the reluctant travel companion, my piece of advice. Don't overdo the churches! This is where my husband started to become bored with Rome. However, he was as intrigued as I was with all the things I mentioned above.
julies is offline  
Feb 5th, 2008, 02:46 PM
Join Date: Mar 2006
Posts: 4,447
Hi B,

I did 3 Context Rome tours in 2005 and I had the exact same worry as you with regards to being shown around by a professor etc.

Let me assure you, these are all down to earth people. Our guide on the Vatican/Art museum tour was a professor of theology, a young New Zealander. It was just like having a chat with a friend. It was fantastic to have all the art pieces explained to you and the tour through St Peters was more an art tour than a religious one.

Our Baroque Evening stroll was with a young American girl and again it was just strolling and chatting with absolutely no brain pain at all.

Our Ancient Rome tour was again with an American, a young male. This was my favourite tour, more so because I particularly loved the Forum and Colosseum.

The guides are all well prepared but by no means do you feel you are being spoken 'at'. Bear in mind, none of this information is....??should I say intellectual? It's just the facts, pure and simple they just happen to know most if not all of them.

I am not an 'educated' person - year 10 high school (quite common in my day to leave school at age 15) nor am I a great art lover but without exception, every tour, every piece of information, was just music to my ears.

I am sure it will be the same for you so stop worrying - book your tours - and you will absolutely love them.
stormbird is offline  
Feb 8th, 2008, 10:21 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Nov 2007
Posts: 196
Thanks to those of you who responded. Obviously all of you enjoyed your Context tours, and I am leaning toward them because of the positive reviews, the times the tours are offered, and the length of the tours (not too short, not too long). I also spoke to someone at their Philadelphia office - I was surprised to find out that they are actually an American company. If anyone has more to add, about any of the tour companies, I'd love to hear it. I certainly was disappointed with what happened with Romewalks - I was considering their Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere walk, and their Vatican City walk met my time of day and length of tour requirements, but I will be taking a pass after reading your experience.

If anyone has any experience with small group day tours in Florence and Venice, let me know.
butnotrmpt is offline  
Feb 9th, 2008, 03:42 AM
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 9,825
I took 2 Icon tours this past summer.

Vatican museums & Ancient Rome (Forum/Palatine/Colosseum)

Both were good tours, with enough detail to provide insight, history, and culture. Tour guides were very knowledgeable on the subjects & were fun.

I chose Icon for the price (kids under 10 are free) and was very happy.

For me and my family 3hrs in the Forum/Palatine/Colosseum was just right. I don't need to know the history and archeology of every single brick, stone, and ruin in the place, nor the life story of every emperor and senator who lived there.

The Vatican museums tour was also good. It was crowded, so you are squeezed and distracted by the hordes. Again guide was knowledgeable, pleasant and fun.

For both tours the guide did a good job interacting with the kids in the group as well as the adults.
J62 is online now  
Feb 9th, 2008, 05:05 AM
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 515
We have scheduled a Context tour in Rome for March for our family (including young children). I've been impressed with their level of service so far - they've been quite helpful in scheduling the "right" level of tour for the kids.

I will report back after we take the tour!
txtree is offline  
Feb 9th, 2008, 05:46 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 8,616
"we do not have a base knowledge of art, architecture, Roman history, or Catholicism."

I don't need to be a shill for Context Rome, but they don't assume any particular basis knowledge, just basic interest. It's such a small group that the guide can tailor the presentation to the group. When I went on a first tour with them years ago, of the Colosseum, our small group had a very interesting discussion for a while on the film "Gladiator".
elaine is offline  
Feb 10th, 2008, 08:31 AM
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 81
I certainly hope my prior reply to your request was not preachy nor did I intend to shill for Context-My trip to Italy in October 2006 was for 21 days & I did & still call it my "trip of a lifetime"-I had wanted to go to Italy since I read Dante in high school. I spent over 14 months getting ready, using all the travel sites & numerous books-I had a great time based on the info I got on-line which included guiding me to Context. I used them as described & would use them again. I sincerely wish you good luck whatever you decide.
The_Judge is offline  

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