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Italy: Plan your own vs Travel Agent


Oct 1st, 2012, 04:41 AM
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Italy: Plan your own vs Travel Agent

This is my first time visiting Europe and I'm planning a trip to Italy end of this month (October) with my wife and 3 kids (aged 6,4,2).

My draft itinerary as follows:
1st day (Thu): Arrive Rome afternoon (Free and easy)
2nd day (Fri): Colloseum Walking Tour and other places on the 101 Tourist bus
3rd day (Sat): Travel to Florence; Visit Uzzi (4 hours walking tour)
4th day (Sun): Day trip to Pisa.
5th Day (Mon): Travel to Venice, free and easy
6th Day (Tue): Venice (3 hours walking tour)
7th Day (Wed): Travel to Milan (Free and Easy maybe visit Duomo)
8th Day (Thu): Day trip to Lake Como
9th Day (Fri): Free and easy and depart from Milan

I've got a quote from a travel agent for the above itinerary which plan and book every single thing of my trip for of course slightly more (around USD 6,000) which includes 3* accommodation, meet and greet, train tickets, transportation to and from hotel, guided walking tour at each city and a car with driver to Lake Como.

I was thinking that maybe i could save some money by planning the trip on my own but i'm not sure if i can plan it smoothly and need advice/tips/hints on the following.

1) Any tips on how to book the train tickets. Are they really strict on the timing? How do i book for a family so that we can seat together? Do i get a ticket or just use the print-out to board the trains?

2) On accommodation, i don't know if finding one which is near to the train station is suitable. I've read mixed reviews concerning the safety of the hotels near train stations.

3) Is hotel booking via Booking.com secure/honoured by the hotels in Italy. I've been to countries where i have to personally call again the hotels to re-confirm my booking.

4) Is taking the Rome 110 Tourist bus ticket worth it? Or is Rome small enough to walk through to all the places of interest.

5) How will the weather normally be at this time of the year? Should i bring a jacket? Rain coats?

6) Any other ideas to add to my itinerary? Fillers for the free and easy session perhaps?

Appreciate any advice from those experienced travellers out there....
mhazli is offline  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 05:02 AM
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Definitely bring rain protection for the family.

You can definitely book this trip on your own. You will not only save money, but you will be able to choose better hotels in better locations than travel agents can usually offer.

I have used booking.com for two years to book 90 percent of my European stays and I have NEVER not had a reservation honored. It is an excellent sight for you to use.

If you buy fixed train tickets (which will save you money) and need to change them when you arrive in Italy, you can (although you will lose the advance-purchase discounts).

The train station area is not terribly unsafe, but it is nicer to be in a part of Rome without so much car traffic if you have kids.

If your walking tour of Florence does not include taking your family to the Uffizi art museum, then you should make a reservation for tickets online -- but I warn you, children have a hard time inside the museum because it is extremely crowded and they often aren't big enough to see past other people to see the paintings. There is lots and lots of painting to see in Florence that is not in the Uffizi, so you might want to skip it and let your kids climb up inside the Duomo instead.
vietritiles is offline  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 05:03 AM
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I think you will regret going to so many places in nine days, especially with the kids.

I think if you reduce the number of locations you could plan it yourself for less money.

Is there anyone like grandma and grandpa who would take care of your children for nine days and you could enjoy with your wife only?

I suspect the children will not appreciate the trip and the cost for them to travel with you is high. Just a thought.
Cindywho is offline  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 05:06 AM
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Re-reading your post, I think you should eliminate museums entirely from your trip. Your children are too young (and too young to climb the Duomo). There are many other places you can enjoy with them and still see beautiful public art and church art, so do that instead.
vietritiles is offline  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 06:00 AM
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Wow! Too fast and too many destinations for 2, 4, and 6 year olds, not to mention adults! I couldn't handle 4 hours in the Uffizi and I'm a rather patient art-loving adult.

I'd add a day to Venice, eliminate the day trips to Pisa and to Lake Como and arrive in Milan the day before your flight.
mamcalice is offline  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 06:11 AM
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We travelled to Italy with a 3 1/2 year old. We had a wonderful time. All my daughter was interested in was meeting other children and playing in the parks. She loved the gondola ride in Venice. She loved the pigeons in San Marco Square. She loved the public park 10 mins walk from San Marco Square.

Personally, spending time in just one or two places at most will mean, if a child is unwell or unco-operative there is still a possibility of seeing something you want to see another day.

Also, it should be easier to organise a trip with fewer stops yourself.

I organised my whole trip myself by asking questions on this site.

We stayed 6 days in Venice and everyday was great. There was time to go to the park, sightsee, have a relax if we chose.

We stayed in an apartment owned by Villa Vaniglia (6 years ago) same street as a public park at the giardino stop I think. Easy to stop in and have a play and then catch the vaporetto or walk to san marco square.

You could visit Lake Como as your second stop (haven't been there yet)

Maybe just fly in and out of Milan.

Anyway the more you all enjoy the trip, the more likely you will all want to go back!! Like us, we are heading back next year!!
3togo is offline  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 06:36 AM
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I totally agree that you are trying to do too much. with nine days and kids maybe 3 locations.
tidy is offline  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 06:37 AM
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I'm sorry but I will be blunt. I can't believe this kind of trip with 3 kids in tow (especially a 2 yr old!) will be pleasurable. I think you're underestimating the challenges of moving such a group every couple of days. In any event, unless you have already booked your flights, I would retool the trip and stay in Rome. You can always do Florence as a day trip from there(train takes about 1:30 hr). Or at most, travel mid point in your 9 days to Venice.
I would also suggest staying in an apt rather than hotel.
cruiseluv is online now  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 06:41 AM
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This reads like a commercial bus tour and is totally unrelistic for a family with young children.
YOu will be hard pressed to just see the big 3 art cities. Sta
bobthenavigator is online now  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 06:44 AM
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Sorry, hit the wrong key.
Start over and fly into Venice and home from Rome and hope to see Florence as well---that is a full plate.
bobthenavigator is online now  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 07:12 AM
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Oh, I wish you would have come here first. It sounds like a lovely trip, but not for a family. You will all be exhausted and cranky.

I would suggest just northern Italy and throw in Gardaland for the kidlets. Yes, it's a bribe but they are the perfect age for it and they will love it.

My rec would be Venice, Florence and Verona (with Gardaland). Just make the decision to come back and do Rome another time.
SloJan2 is offline  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 07:14 AM
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Agree - this would be a very challenging trip for an adult couple - just not on with 3 small kids. Also I don;t know how you will travel by train with 3 little kids - and all the stuff they need. One adult will have to somehow push and hang onto 3 children while the other deals with all of the luggage for 5 people. Getting everyone/everything on and off the train will be a nightmare. And even though kids clothes are small - kids those ages are always getting dirty and needing to be changed. Plus stroller - and how will a 4 year old be able to keep up on these tours - or will you have a double stroller or are you planning on carrying him/her - then toys, snacks etc.

And taking the mobbed tourist bus with 3 kids this age is close to madness.

For this trip I would get an apartment in one place and stay there - so you have more room, can have snacks for the kids, and everyone isn't constantly rushing around and trying to get ready for a tour.

Really - how will the kids do on these 3 hour walking tours? And is this a private guide - or are you going to pay for tours for 5 people when 3 of them would much rather be somewhere else and playing?
nytraveler is offline  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 07:14 AM
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Have you traveled much with your kids? Don't the two younger ones still nap? And the youngest one still wear diapers? And isn't the 6-year-old in school?

It looks to me like the travel agent has shoehorned you into their standard Taste-of-Italy itinerary for adults.

You know, the kids are not going to remember this trip, except maybe as a forced march. As for adults, it's a faster pace than I would recommend.

With kids so young it's good to have a hotel in the center of the city, close enough to drop back to for naps or if someone gets tired. Better yet is an apartment, with a kitchen for breakfast and snacks, and a separate bedroom. But travel agents tend not to know the good 3* hotels in the center. (They're smaller and don't belong to chains.) Do travel agents even do apartments?

What kind of hotel rooms are you looking for? European hotel rooms are small, mostly with just one double or 2 twin beds. With 3 kids, you'll need a family room, which are relatively rare. But probably easy to book in October, when fewer families travel.

Taking the advice above and asking questions here, you can plan your trip yourself and have a much more satisfying trip. But it will take time, especially if you're going in the near future.
Mimar is online now  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 08:25 AM
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Good point on the travel agent, Mimar.

WE traveled extensively in Italy when my children were that age and there were a few rules that we lived by.
1) Always apartments or villas
2) Have a car (even if doing cities)
3) Half the day devoted to the children (usually the second half) and the morning would be spent touring the city and exploring.
4) Limit times in museums and visit the basilicas instead. We have a great story when my 4 year old daughter announced to the crowd outside the basilica "Jesus is dead! But that's ok, because he's a rose!" She was very impressed with all of the dessicated corpses and cruxifixes.
5) Carry snacks
6) A good stroller with big wheels. When ours were 3 and 4, we even used a double stroller.

The good news is that Italy is a wonderful place to travel with children. They are welcome everywhere and catered to. The food usually agrees with them too. We even did Michelin starred restaurants at lunch and special meals were made for them...they weren't just tolerated but treated. We did ask if it was ok that children would be with us though.

Fire the agent, slow down your trip and enjoy!
SloJan2 is offline  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 08:49 AM
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There is nothing free and easy about any of this, and I doubt your "travel agent" has ever set foot in Italy with children, maybe never even set foot in Italy at all. Someone is just looking at bus tour brochures and making up a "tour" for you that is entirely unrealistic. Dump the travel agent and do this yourself so that the money you're spending isn't entirely wasted.

You need to start over. With 9 days, I would either just stay in Rome (and get an apartment) and make day trips, or pick one other destination. I would ditch Florence altogether (agree that a 4-hour Uffizi tour would be utter madness with small children). Maybe even dump Rome and just stay in the North around the lakes, do Gardaland, etc., as suggested. At any rate, what you've got planned at the moment will not work...period.
StCirq is online now  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 09:18 AM
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Agree with StCirq - this agent person is just plagiarizing, marking up, and selling you an already overpriced bus tour that you neither need nor want. And no one who has actually been to Italy would think that the pace of this trip is a good idea, especially with children.

Also agree that Florence is a toy for children 10 and up.

Rome with 3 young children would be very stressful for you - no vacation at all.

With small children I would rent an apartment in some place like Verona and do short day trips. Gardaland, Venice, maybe a drive up into the mountains.
robertino is offline  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 12:23 PM
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Whoa, whoa, whoa folks!

I'm going to take a wild guess that this family is coming to Europe from Asia, and that not only have they traveled long distances before with their young children, but they were taken on long journeys themselves with brothers and sisters when they were kids.

But just a guess. I could be wrong.

Anyway, I don't know how many of you have been to Gardaland, but these children are probably too young to get much of anything out of Gardaland and it is not cheap (and it is cold there in October).

What the kids might like is train trips, actually. The trains are warm and comfortable, and have tables where they can play games. It will be cold in Lago di Como, so bundle up.
lorettajung is offline  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 12:27 PM
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ps mhazli,

If you want to spend the whole time in Rome, it is generally warmer there and you'll find plenty to do and see when it comes to the kind of art work you would see in Florence and Milan. With a credit card, you could book a nice apartment near a pedestrianized area. in Rome You can even take a day trip to Florence or Pompei if the weather is nice there. (Strollers can't handle Pompei, so be prepared to carry kids, or go to Ercolanum).
lorettajung is offline  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 01:16 PM
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I'll just reiterate what every other poster has said. You are trying to do far too much in the time. What is the point of going on a holiday if most of your time is spent travelling between destinations, checking in and out of hotels, packing/unpacking etc?

I would limit yourself to two cities at most (e.g. Rome, Venice or Rome, Florence), with day trips out of those bases. Also consider whether you need to fly out of Milan or whether you can fly out of one of the destinations you will be at.

Having just been to Italy for the first time in May/June, I cannot conceive how you can go to Rome for a day and even begin to understand or enjoy it; likewise all those other locations. You need to spend time relaxing and sightseeing - not travelling.
THR is offline  
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Oct 1st, 2012, 01:27 PM
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Your travel agent has already done a bunch of work for you, and you should do her the courtesy of booking through her - even if it's just the hotel bookings - so she can get compensation (in the form of commissions) from the hotels. She should be able to book at the same rates you're seeing online.

Take some of the suggestions here seriously for revising your itinerary ... and ask her to work with them.
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