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First Italy Trip: tour versus independent?

First Italy Trip: tour versus independent?

Dec 12th, 2012, 11:51 AM
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First Italy Trip: tour versus independent?

Hi all! My husband and I are planning our first trip to Italy. This is something that I have dreamed of for years and means a whole lot to me. I have done a tour of the UK and Ireland in the past but I was really thinking about setting my own itinerary for this. The itinerary I have in mind:

2 nights in Sorrento
2 nights in Rome
4-5 in Florence or Tuscany area- am debating the merits of staying the nights in Florence and doing day trips to other areas in Tuscan versus staying in a more rural Tuscan location- thoughts??
3 in Venice

I am really interested in making sure that we do the following things:
Sorrento- day trip to Capri
Rome- Sistine Chapel
Florence/Tuscan area- Uffizi, Accademia, bike tour of Tuscany, vineyard tour, possible day trip to Siena, and in between Florence and Venice hit Pisa for half a day
Venice- St Marks, Dodge's, going to Burano.

I want to make sure that I don't feel really rushed and have the ability to follow my whims a bit. Ie, if we find that we want to spend more time at the Uffizi, we have the ability to do so, ect. I'd also like to have the opportunity to really explore each place and get less of a "cruiseship" experience.

I guess my question would be, which way is the most bang for my buck? Independent travel or a tour? Also, those that have done both: which way did you find a more fulfilling way to travel?

Also, I speak a very small amount of Italian but am planning on learning more before going. How much is language an issue particularly when you get away from some of the cities in the Tuscan area?

Tons of questions! I know! Thanks in advance for the help!
JFtravels is offline  
Dec 12th, 2012, 12:04 PM
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I'd suggest taking at least one day off Florence and putting it into Rome - you currently have only a day and a half there - considering travel time from Sorrento via Naples to Rome.

Rome has so so much to see - the Vatican takes most of a day and it ain't even in Rome! The Forum/Colosseum area another most of a day - plus wandering around the historic city center - Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps - the world-class museums, etc and many folks enjoy going out to the Catacombs - ancient burial grounds with literally thousands of skulls and bones - so much to see in Rome - Florence's central city where most of its sights are clustered is very compact.

No need to take a tour - getting around is so so easy, especially if you take Italy's ever increasingly modern and fast (up to nearly 190 mph between Naples, Rome and Florence. If you are certain of your travel dates go to www.trenitalia.com and score some deep discounted tickets but to do so you should book weeks in advance as they are limited in number - that is if you can get the trenitalia.com site to work - legions of Fodorites have not but there are always experts who have around to help you thru that morass.

anyways for lots of fine ino IMO on Italian trains check out these IMO superb sites - www.seat61.com; www.ricksteves.com and http://www.budgeteuropetravel.com/id12.html.

If going first class on trains - and IME there is a world of difference, especially for folks with luggage to stow away - fewer people traveling in first class - seats are bigger, etc. then check out the Italy Railpass which if you want fully flexible decision making to decide which trains to take once you are there - full fare and fully flexible tickets then the pass may well be cheaper than individual tickets, depending on what type of day trips you may do from Florence perhaps. but have no fear ever of not being able to get on trains in Italy - so so many - rarely a problem so put any angst about that to rest.
PalenQ is offline  
Dec 12th, 2012, 12:05 PM
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If you plan well---and no reason you cannot with the help here--independent travel will be less--perhaps 20 to 30% less.

I would do this trip in this order:

You really need 14 nites in Italy to do justice to tjis itinerary. Be sure to fly open jaw to save backtracking.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Dec 12th, 2012, 12:08 PM
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I think that spending 2 nights in Sorrento just to visit Capri is not a good use of two days of your trip. Capri is a massively crowded island during the day, when the tourists come over, and I literally could not stand it. On the other hand, spending a day at Pompeii and/or Herculaneum - and the archeological museum in Naples - would be quite worthwhile.

Not enough time for Rome... there is so much to see and do in this city. Read up on ways to avoid standing in line for hours to get tickets for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel.

Pisa is not in between Florence and Venice - it's to the west of Florence and Venice is to the east. The common wisdom is that it's not worth a day trip just to see the leaning tower.

For a first trip to Italy, I'd put together a basic tour of Rome - Florence - Venice. You can do it independently, with perhaps a group tour in each city (to cut down on the very expensive price for private guides), but there are also tour companies that give you a lot of flexibility in how you spend your time (Tauck Tours).

Frankly, although it's contrary to the common assumptions on Fodors, working with a travel consultant who is very knowledgeable about Italy can be very cost efficient - helping you avoid pitfalls, guiding you to where you want to be, and generally helping you make the most of your budget. I could make a recommendation, if you're interested.
travelhorizons is offline  
Dec 12th, 2012, 12:20 PM
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Order your tickets in advance of your visit to the Sistine Chapel - you'll avoid the long lines to purchase tickets that way.
Debs is offline  
Dec 12th, 2012, 12:26 PM
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Sorrento is important to me as my grandmother was from there and I forgot to add Pompeii to the list.
JFtravels is offline  
Dec 12th, 2012, 12:48 PM
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Hi JF,

i see that you are new to fodors so welcome! you'll find many shades of opinion here about almost everything but we are united in wanting to help you have the bast holiday, even if we can't always agree how to achieve it!

but I think that most of us would agree that 12 nights isn't enough to do justice to your itinerary. What you have to remember is that every time you move, you lose at least 1/2 a day. so the itinerary that you posted probably amounts to this:

2 nights in Sorrento.

Day 1, arrive Rome in am. travel by train from airport then by train to Sorrento. arrive mid afternoon. rest of day in Sorrento.

Day 2 - in Sorrento/Capri - one or the other - not both.

2 nights in Rome

Day 3-4 - am train to Rome. arrive lunchtime. day and a half in Rome.

4-5 in Florence or Tuscany area-

Day 5 - early train to Florence - arrive lunchtime. rest of day in Florence.

Days 6,7,8,9, - if you do 2 day trips, that gives you 2 days for Florence. this is the most doable part of the trip.

3 in Venice

Day 10 - train to venice. Arrive lunchtime. rest of day in Venice.

Days 11, 12 - Venice - that's one day for the islands, another for the rest.

Day 13 - fly home.

Give yourselves an extra few nights, and your original plan becomes doable. but if you are stuck with 12 nights, IMO you will need to cut out one of your destinations, and the obvious one, sadly, is Sorrento, as it is the furtherest one with the smallest reward. but only you know if that's a must for you. personally I'd rather spend that time in Rome - you would then have far less travelling to do at the beginning of your trip, and double the time in Rome. now 3 1/2 days in Rome is not a long time to see the eternal City but it's not a bad start. if you would rather spend your time in Sorrento then I would suggest dropping Rome - 1 1/2 days is such a short time there it's probably not worth doing. add the time to Sorrento and enjoy your time there to the full.

do you need a tour to do this? of course there are tours that will find you centrally located hotels, will not have you getting up at ludicrously early hours to eat uninspiring breakfasts so they can get you on the coach, and will find you pleasant restaurants where you aren't served lukewarm tasteless food very slowly. but generally if you want to spend your time in the places that you want to be in and to see the things you want to see, you're better off doing it yourself.
annhig is online now  
Dec 12th, 2012, 02:16 PM
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My husband, 16 yr old daughter and I did this trip on our own through all the help on this website - we spent 3 nights in Florence and 4 nights in Rome.
We did a day trip to Sienna and San Gimignano from Florence with a car we rented for the day. It was great. We bought a couple good guide books and with the help from our hotel hosts, we were able to see so much walking around the city ourselves.
We did take a train then to Rome - we used Angel Tours for the Vatican museum and St Peters - it was worth every penny and a half day. We did hire a guide on the spot at the colleseum and Forum - they are all standing around there trying to sell to you so you can definately bargain for the best price. That was worth it also but certainly doable without a guide also.
One thing I really wanted to do was see the Amalfi Coast - we trained to Naples for a day, driver picked us up at the train station and drove us around for an 8 hour day. Positano, Amalfi and the coast there are so perfect. Again it was worth it but it took an entire day away from our time in Rome.
We ruled out Venice, Bologna, Milan and Pisa - had to make some choices. Tough decisions.
I think sometimes you spend too much time changing hotels and getting from one place to another that you miss out on really wandering and feeling part of this amazing culture. Don't forget to make time to do that.
There is so much to see in Rome itself, we had to pick our must sees - but one advisor here on Fodors said something like "you'll be back". And I certainly hope that I can someday make that journey again.
AMYWISS is offline  
Dec 12th, 2012, 02:20 PM
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My suggestion would be to start in Venice, and finish in Rome. Flights out of Venice (assuming that you are from the USA) leave very early in the morning. With only two days in Venice, I would suggest that you leave out Burano. It’s about a one hour ferry ride from Venice to Burano, so maybe not the best use of your time.

I concur with Anne, in that Sorrento may be a bit too far to be possible in a 12 day trip.

Think about Venice / Florence / Rome, and travel by train between these cities is very easy. Two hours Venice / Florence, and two hours Florence / Rome.

I think that with the advice that you will get on this forum, you won’t need an organised tour, and you’ll save money. It’s really quite simple.
Book your flights into Venice and out of Rome.
Decide how many days in each place.
Then book hotels – three, or four if you do Sorrento.
Train tickets – you can buy from vending machines at the stations, and it’s a good idea to buy your tickets the day prior to travelling. Sometimes the train you want is full, so it’s good to buy a day prior.

Then buy tickets for attractions to save time in lines – Vatican, Doges Palace, whatever.
Peter_S_Aus is offline  
Dec 12th, 2012, 04:31 PM
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I think you need to add a few days to your trip for your itinerary.

If Sorrento is a must, fly into Naples, take the airport shuttle bus to Sorrento. You will need at least 3 nights here to see Capri, Sorrento and Pompeii. That's still cutting it short and leaves out the Amalfi coast. It's often as economical to fly into Naples versus Rome as you aren't having to pay transport (train from the airport to Rome, train to Naples, train to Sorrento).

Rome needs at least 3-4 nights just to hit a few highlights.

Florence/Tuscany - You will have to narrow your list unless you add some days here.
kybourbon is offline  
Dec 12th, 2012, 05:36 PM
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Thanks for the suggestion. I hadn't considered taking a shuttle bus to Sorrento. We were thinking of taking the local train.

Everyone here seems so adamant about adding the extra time to Rome. I have heard/read mixed things about Rome. Basically all the good things that you all are saying but then hearing that it's very dirty and not as great a representation of Italy as some other places. On my must do Italy list in Rome I have Sistine Chapel, Forum/Colleseum, Trevi Fountain. I am not as into the catacombs ect.

Amy~ thanks for the suggestion about the tour company. We have been looking into other day trip tour companies as well. I hadn't heard of Angel.

Everyone~ any of the afforementioned day trip companies that you have used? What did you use them for?

Thanks again for the feedback!
JFtravels is offline  
Dec 12th, 2012, 06:26 PM
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JFtravels, what time of year is your trip?

My husband and I were just in Sorrento, Naples, the Amalfi coast in October. On the way home we took the bus from Sorrento to the Naples airport and it was 10 euros each, a big comfortable bus, a totally easy way to get there, I would recommend you do this.
If you can I would fly into Naples instead of Rome, or as someone else suggested, fly into Venice, then work your way down Italy and fly home from Naples.

We did a day trip to Capri and it was disappointing, it was literally wall to wall people and we felt like we had our hands in our wallets all day. We made the best of it by taking a taxi to Anacapri (20 euros) and it was less crowded there. We had a pleasant day as we made the best of it and it is very pretty for sure, and maybe very pleasant to stay there for a few days although how you avoid all the crowds during the day is beyond me. I think with your limited time in Sorrento I would forgo the day trip to Capri.

Independent travel is my preferred way of doing it although I have done one Western Med cruise (against my better judgement but it was a family thing). With the help you will get on this site and by doing your research you will have a great trip.

I have been to Rome twice and yes it is a big city but I did not find it dirty. There are some fantastic things to see there but again it depends on you, what your interests are, what you like and don't like. One of the things I like about Rome is that is a functioning, working city, not only there for the tourist attractions.

We did two tours in Rome with Context tours and they were great, especially as the docents had Art History degrees and made everything come to life. We toured Ancient Rome and the Vatican and St.Peter's with them.
raincitygirl is offline  
Dec 12th, 2012, 07:25 PM
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Thanks for the input. We are thinking of an October trip as well.
JFtravels is offline  
Dec 12th, 2012, 07:48 PM
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We had very nice weather for our trip, there were a couple of days where it rained on and off but for the most part it was sunny and a pleasant temperature. We stayed five days in Sorrento and spent a couple of afternoons by the pool. We really enjoyed Sorrento and used it as a base for the day trip to Capri and also to Pompeii. We took the Circumvesuviana train from Sorrento to Pompeii and that was easy to do, the train was quite crowded on the way back so just be careful of your handbag and your husband's wallet as pickpockets are around any of the tourist spots but they have an especially easy time of it on a crowded train.

You got good advice upthread about booking some of your entrance tickets in advance online.Two years ago on a trip to Florence I booked the Accademia and was so glad I did as the line was very long and slow moving and we were able to go straight in.
This year in Florence we wanted to see the Uffizi and our tour fell through at the last minute so we went there to see how busy it would be and the line looked like it was three weeks long. LOL.
Needless to say we did not see the Uffizi. So definitely do this unless you are doing a tour and then the tour does that for you.

If you tell us your budget we will recommend favourite hotels for you.
raincitygirl is offline  
Dec 12th, 2012, 08:00 PM
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Thanks Raincity. I was going to ask you about weather.

Our total trip budget is 6-7k. Is this reasonable?
JFtravels is offline  
Dec 12th, 2012, 08:16 PM
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Does that include air fare? If so, how much is left after air fare?
raincitygirl is offline  
Dec 12th, 2012, 08:31 PM
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My advice is to listen to all the advice you get on here. I didn't and tried to do too much on my Italian trip. I've had to go back several times to get it right.
joanw is offline  
Dec 12th, 2012, 08:36 PM
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Yes, including air. I have found air for 2200 total for my husband and I. So leaves us with 3800-4800.
JFtravels is offline  
Dec 12th, 2012, 09:36 PM
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I think it is doable, it really depends on how you like to travel and what your expectations are in terms of the type of hotel you want and the type of meals you will eat.
Every Italian hotel I have stayed in included breakfast in the price so that helps a bit. Generally speaking this would be breads,pastries,yogurt,fruit,juice,coffee, cheeses, some sliced meats but in a couple of the hotels this last trip they had bacon and eggs as well.

For an example in Sorrento we stayed in the Hotel Mediterraneo for five nights and I prepaid in order to get a discount.( booked through the hotel's website), they also threw in a free dinner in their restaurant, and our bill was $787.00 Canadian dollars for five nights including a buffet breakfast and the one free dinner. (And it was a lovely hotel,we had a view out over the Bay of Naples and Mt.Vesuvius from our room,which gave me a thrill every morning when I opened the shutters.)

One of the hotels in Florence I used which was very good value for what you got was the Hotel David, take a look at their website. They are located on the other side of the river from the historical centre but there is a bus right outside the hotel that will take you there. We walked and it was a 20 to 30 minute walk which I enjoyed but I love walking, you may be different.
raincitygirl is offline  
Dec 13th, 2012, 02:52 AM
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Everyone here seems so adamant about adding the extra time to Rome. I have heard/read mixed things about Rome. Basically all the good things that you all are saying but then hearing that it's very dirty and not as great a representation of Italy as some other places. On my must do Italy list in Rome I have Sistine Chapel, Forum/Colleseum, Trevi Fountain.>>

you don't have to go to Rome if you go to Italy - I'd been to Italy at least 6 times before i actually got to Rome - but then i was blown away, and fell in love with it. Yes it is dirty, yes it is noisy, yes there is graffiti, but there are more things to see on every street than you can shake a stick at and its Roman heritage has the cornerstone of Italian culture for the last 2000 years. Which is why I say if you decide to go, give it a chance and stay a few days. you will need at least 3 to see the major sights - a day for St. Peters and the Vatican museums [you have to visit them to see the sistine chapel as it can't be visited separately], a day for the Colosseum, Forum etc., and a day for wandering round the wonderful centro storico - Piazza Navona, Trevi, spanish steps, the Pantheon, plus any churches and museums that take your fancy.

if that doesn't fit into your schedule, or you still prefer the Amalfi [and why not?] why not leave it for anther trip? Unlike Venice, it will probably still be there.
annhig is online now  

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