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Italy First-timers: Tour or self-guided?


Jan 3rd, 2012, 11:34 AM
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Italy First-timers: Tour or self-guided?

My husband and I are planning a trip to Italy with our 9-year-old son in July, 2012, and we are divided on whether to book through a website that features pre-scripted destinations/tours, or to book the trip on our own. One of us likes the security of a tour with bus and/or train travel, without the stress of driving. The other doesn't mind a little driving, combined with train travel so we have the flexibility of our own hotel, food and excursion choices. Since this is our first trip to Italy, we want to do it right, and see as much as possible in about 10 days. We want this trip to be fun and safe for everyone in the family, and I would love to hear the pros and cons for both travel methods. Based on what we have been reading thus far, we would like to start in Venice, see Tuscany, and end in Rome. I would also like some feedback on how long to stay in each location.

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!
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Jan 3rd, 2012, 11:40 AM
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We need a bit more detailed info before we can really help. So here are our standard questions...

1) Are the 10 days true days on the ground or do they include your arrival and departure days?

2) Traveling with a 9 year old will be great. That said, what are your interests and your son's interests?

3) Other than Tuscany, there is no need to drive in the locations you discuss. Is there a reason you want to hit 3 locations in 10 days, with a family? Reason for this is that each time you move locations you can knock off 1/2 day of seeing stuff.

4) Comment, not a question. You really do not need an organized tour and would probably find you hate it. It is very easy to set up you own itinerary, which allows you to stop and smell the roses if you want. Doing a tour, you are stuck to their timetable.

So, great to see you on the board and hope to hear from you soon.

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Jan 3rd, 2012, 11:43 AM
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I share your/ your husband's concern about the stress of driving. I have been to Italy many times and have never rented a car, but I have also not done it in a tour (well, except my first trip to Europe over 30 years ago!).
What places specifically in Tuscany were you thinking of covering? Many of the main ones can be reached by train and/or bus. You could fly into Venice, train to Florence (from which you could do day trips to other areas in Tuscany by train or bus), and then train to Rome. With 10 days frankly you will not have too much time to be roaming around in a car, and you certainly dont want a car to go to Venice or Rome.
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Jan 3rd, 2012, 11:46 AM
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You can actually do a combination of what you've described.

We've never been on a tour nor have we ever rented a car in Europe.

We get around by train as much a possible and mix in buses when required.

Our last trip to Italy was 10 days. As we get older we didn't want to move that much. We booked a hotel in the historic area of Florence but very close to the train station for the entire time.

Of the 10 days we spent most of 4 days in Florence and took day trips the other 6 days. Actually, two of the daytrips were overnighters (with a small backpack). We slept in Siena and La Spezia (Cinque Terre - not really in Tuscany).

In our younger years we'd move every couple of days for close to two weeks. We always tried to spend at least 2 nights in each place and if possible three.

You've mentioned a starting and ending point (Venice and Rome). The decision you really have to make is how to get around in between. Do you want to drive (with its advantages and disadvantages) and go strictly but train/bus.

Contrary to what some will write you can really enjoy yourselves either way.
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Jan 3rd, 2012, 11:52 AM
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No denying that a tour is hassle free. But, then again, you are on their plan. The stops are their stops, the days start when they want,etc..but they will get you to the major sites..all you need to do is give them the €€.

It is not a bad choice to blend car and train. You could fly to Venice, tour there, train to say..Florence, rent a car, pick a drop off city, and train to Rome. This way you avoid driving in major cities.

In the cities themselves, you could still take advantage of tours, just that they would be within the city, versus the whole trip.
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Jan 3rd, 2012, 11:55 AM
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If you want to see "as much as possible" in that short of a time period, a guided tour is probably the way to go. Still, as others have said, you need not rent a car at all if you plan it yourself. Italy is very easy to get around almost everywhere by train or bus. Only in a few areas (like Tuscany countryside) would you probably want a car in Italy unless you are a seasoned traveler wanting to see more obscure places.

A typical, relatively simple first Italian tour you could plan yourself would be Venice-Florence-Rome. Ten days (nine nights?) barely gives you time to scratch the surface, but you could plan it fairly easily. There are fast trains between those three cities running several times a day. Do an "open jaw" and fly into Venice out of Rome instead of booking a round trip - it's more practical and not more expensive (usually) to fly to/from Europe that way, check the prices for yourself.
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Jan 3rd, 2012, 11:57 AM
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Perhaps for your first trip, you could do a combination. Book your hotel and plane with an organization (American Express, Expedia, Air France or a travel agent if there are any around anymore!). Make more independent decisions once you are there.

In July, there will always be guided tours available and your hotels should be able to provide a wealth of information.

In general, Venice, Florence, Rome are the "big three" that the tours usually combined when my hub and I started traveling.

Try to fly into Venice and out of Rome--no backtracking that way. Take the train between the cities but rent a car in Florence for independent travel in Tuscany area. Have you looked at any Rick Steves books? He gives very practical information about getting in and out of towns. In Florence, you will also find many tours of the area. From the Venice airport, you can take a bus or go on the water-others can describe those options. To get to the Rome airport, it's just as easy to take a cab.

How long you stay at each place must be a function of your interests. 10 days is not very long. Does the 10 include losing the first day to travel? If not, then you have 3 days in each place with 1/2 day lost to travel. As much as I LOVE Venice, you might condense your time there and then decide how to split between Florence and Rome.

Read LisaRoberts' trip report for ideas for children: http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...taly-day-1.cfm
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Jan 3rd, 2012, 11:57 AM
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I'm not sure how easy it will be for a tour to accommodate 3 people - any one want to comment on that? But if you don't mind doing some planning I would think it would be better to do it yourselves so you can include activites that are enjoyable for your son - most tours will be filled with adult activities! But it should not be difficult to train thru Venice, Florence and Rome - no car necessary. But do try and research which of the major sights you want to see are bookable ahead of time so you don't spend alot of time waiting in line.
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Jan 3rd, 2012, 11:57 AM
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I think you are limiting your options by framing the question as guided vs driving. As cruiseluv indicated, you can do it yourself without any driving at all. Depending on your destinations, driving means boxing yourself into a corner, spending more frustrating time navigating around, racking up breathtaking traffic fines that hit you months after your return. If your destinations are limited to big cities, this is more the case. Many of my friends rented car thinking it would be useful driving around Tuscany, but often found themselves running out of time, not doing any trips where a car would have been useful, but ended up all the liabilities without any benefit of driving in/out of Florence, Pisa, and Venice. I think the relevant recommendations hinge on what you plan to do in "Tuscany". If Tuscany=Florence+Pisa+Lucca, then a car is more likely to be liability. If Tuscany=Montepulciano+Montalcino+Pienza+Chianti, etc, then having a car is an advantage.
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Jan 3rd, 2012, 11:57 AM
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Looks like a few of us wrote the same stuff! Great minds, eh?
TDudette is offline  
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Jan 3rd, 2012, 12:41 PM
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I am going for my third time on may 1st. I don't like to go on tours, so I play it by ear. Getting around Italy is very easy. On one trip I went to venice for three days,florence for three days. rome for three days and sicily for three days. Next trip was the best.Ten days florence. Took dAY trips to chianti, sienna, monteriggioni,san gimigignano, aissi.and cinque terre. We also spent three days in venice. this trip was more relaxing.The train is easy. I usually get my tickets at the station the day before. I am bringing my daughter this time, so I will have to revisit some places and add a few new ones. I hape that your trip goes well. When in doubt just ask the locals. They are helpful.
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Jan 3rd, 2012, 01:39 PM
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Pick up some spices in Italy at the local grocery. Keeps the memories going...
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Jan 3rd, 2012, 02:32 PM
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Just a thought about a tour versus self-guided. We have traveled extensively with our boys and appreciate the flexibility of a self-guided trip. We were able to change our plans easily depending on the boys, and also after being in an area it seems we always "happen upon" something that they were unexpectedly interested in. Part of traveling with children is seeing things through their eyes and allowing them to explore and experience a new country/culture.

With all the great information here and in guide books I feel certain you could plan a trip enjoyable to your family. You could also arrange to have private day tours of the things you are most interested in seeing. I haven't navigated trains in Italy but those in France and Great Britain were very easy, even for novice train travelers.
You may want to search for "family trip to Italy" or "traveling to italy with children". You'll find some trip reports with lots of great information and ideas.
Good Luck!
LauraLF is offline  
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Jan 3rd, 2012, 02:54 PM
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Ìtaly is an easy country to visit on your own. And I do think the 9-year-old will appreciate not having to get up each morning and be herded around, most likely by "old people." The greatest joy of traveling with kids is seeing what grabs their attention and stopping spontaneously to enjoy it, whether it be a street performer, a playground, a gelato shop, or whatever.
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Jan 3rd, 2012, 03:06 PM
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We had the same dilemma & decided on combining some exploration on our own with a tour with our 14 & 11 y.o.

We're flying into Rome and spending a few days in Sorrento and then returning to Rome to join Adventures By Disney's Viva Italia family tour on July 9. It allows a lot of free time during the tour as well.
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Jan 3rd, 2012, 04:22 PM
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A couple other threads you may find helpful ......

Trip Report .... 13 Days, 7 Cities, 3 Kids - Italy >>>


10 Spring Days in Italy w/ Kids >>>

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Jan 9th, 2012, 04:03 AM
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Hi...WE just did this same trip in August with3 kids: 13, 14, 15! We bought the Rick Steves book and booked everything ourselves. Tours just seems to waste precious time. We flew in to Venice for 4 nights....took the train to Florence for 3 (daytrip to Lucca)...and then on to Rome for another 4. We did not want to drive either. The trains were terrific. We would have spent less time in Florence and more time in Venice and Rome. In Rome, pay a little more to stay near the Pantheon. It will be worth it to have everything at your fingertips. Make sure to book the newly opened tour that takes you underneath the Coliseum...one of the best things we did! And make sure to go to Lucca and rent bikes to ride on the wall surrounding the city.
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Jan 9th, 2012, 04:52 AM
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The first time I took my son to Italy, we did the 9 day tour with Gate 1 Travel to Venice, Florence and Rome. I never felt the tour wasted any time, in fact I felt that it saved time on many occasions when others were waiting in lines to get in somewhere and our group went right in the entrances. The tours also allow you plenty of free time to explore on your own. They give you a good introduction to the cities and get you to the places you'll want to see. On all our subsequent visits, we've gone on our own, but don't rule out the convenience of a tour. You won't have to make any hotel or local transportation arrangements and it is a stress-free way to experience your first time visit.
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