Planning a trip overseas with young children can be overwhelming when you don’t know all of the customs, the area, or how to get your little one safely from one place to the next. For those reasons, we considered a group tour of Italy for our first trip, but they just seemed to all be designed in the same cookie cutter fashion and without the kind of flexibility we hoped to enjoy. Thankfully we found our way to our agent with this Italy travel company who put together a custom itinerary that truly enabled us to experience several parts of this beautiful country—Venice, Florence, Rome, and The Amalfi Coast. From the individualized planning, the well-coordinated transportation, the lovely accommodations, knowledgeable guides, unique experiences, and especially the little details such as a local cell phone pre-loaded with all of the numbers and documents we would need during our trip, she went above and beyond in designing a trip that was unforgettable in all of the right ways. For these reasons and those discussed below, I enthusiastically recommend this company to anyone planning an Italian vacation.
From the start, we worked with several travel agents at different companies, trying to design an itinerary that fit our needs, interests, and budget. Our agent was the only one that seemed to truly listen to us and select not only hotels and transportation that would accommodate a toddler, but also experiences that would include her and were unique to our interests, even including a trip to my family’s hometown that was far off of the beaten path. She also offered us advice on best ways to get around with children in each city, provided a list of restaurants that would welcome our daughter, and, when I unexpectedly learned I was expecting another child, she offered to let everyone involved with our trip know of any special needs or food aversions I might have. While the individualized service and transportation would seem to come with a hefty price tag, the cost was actually the same as the hokey bus tours and very competitive with all of the other offers from travel agents we received, making the choice of this company a no brainer.
And the transportation alone was well worth the price. Everything was so beautifully choreographed: for instance, we walked out of our hotel in Venice and boarded a water taxi, which took us to a Mercedes van with child seat installed that was waiting for us, which took us to the train station where we boarded and took our first class seats. All of our transportation ran this smoothly, and we know there is no way we could have seen everything we did see had we tried to navigate Italy on our own. We always rode in luxury vehicles. Some were even equipped with DVD players for our little one. The drivers were excellent. Each English speaking driver was waiting for us at the airport or train station with a sign, handled all of our luggage, and acted as our first guides to each city as well. Additionally none of them pushed for any of the tips they definitely earned.
The hotels also exceeded our expectations. All of the accommodations were well-located, four star properties, and were the same hotels our agent included in her original price quote. When we were planning our trip, people kept telling us of the small quarters you’re forced to stay in in Italy and other European cities, but we did not find this to prove true in the hotels our agent chose for us. Every room had at least a queen size bed and a full size bed for our toddler, a sitting area, as well as a decent sized bathroom—one even had two bathrooms, another even had a bathtub, which is quite rare in Italy. Each hotel offered an exceptional free breakfast with a mixture of hot and cold entre choices and fresh local produce. Plus every hotel offered something different. In Venice we stayed at a boutique hotel with a long history that was in an area all of the locals agreed had the best restaurants and cafes. It had a lovely courtyard with a pool. In Florence we stayed in a sleek, modern hotel that featured a rooftop pool and bar with stunning views of the city. In Rome we stayed at a modern boutique hotel that greeted our child with a t-shirt, coloring book, and candies. And finally in Positano we stayed in a hotel that had terraces overlooking the bay and city, a pool that looked out to the water and mountains, and an excellent restaurant. The hotel staff at each place was quite friendly, and I doubt we could have selected better places on our own.
All of our local guides had specialized knowledge that made them an excellent fit for the service they provided. In Rome we visited the ancient sites with a sculptor who spent his childhood at the ruins with his father, a famous archeologist involved in the digs and study of the ruins. In Venice we got to know the city by spending the day walking and boating with a woman who spent nearly her entire life there, who gave us excellent recommendations for restaurants and things to do, and knew almost each person we passed. Similarly in Pisa, we were introduced to the city by a woman who lived there and whose husband operated a local winery. They were all so knowledgeable and friendly, and having them to ourselves for much of the day was invaluable, as we were able to ask questions and visit some places not accessible to large groups.
Once we were introduced to the city, our agent also planned unique experiences to help us experience the place. We toured Venice by water. We biked our way through the narrow streets and beautiful countryside of Florence. We toured a winery and had a private six course lunch with wine pairings. We let our toddler run through an amazing Sculpture Park in Chianti. We shopped, cooked, and dined with a chef in Rome. We sampled foods at specialized eateries in a neighborhood that pre-dates the Coliseum. We visited the abbey at Monte Cassino, rebuilt after being destroyed during WWII. And we travelled the entire Amalfi Coast by boat, visiting the Emerald Grotto, the Blue Grotto, swimming in caves, and enjoying Positano, Amalfi, and Capri. In two weeks we saw, experienced, and tasted so much that we will continue to relive this trip for a lifetime.
In all ways, as I hope is clear, this trip was exceptional because of our agent's hard work and the work of all at our travel company. This showed not only in the ways already described, but also in all of the small details. We were greeted upon arrival with a welcome package and were given a phone that had all of our tickets, our itinerary, and everyone’s phone number loaded onto it. Our agent checked in with us periodically while we were there and made it clear that we could call at any time if we had questions, concerns, or if something was not up to par. When our boat tour was late, for instance, she called to change our dinner reservations. And she even educated us about some Italian customs before we arrived.
A trip like this one is a financial investment for many of us, and I know from experience that putting your trust and your hard-earned money into the hands of someone you only communicate with via email or phone is scary. But believe me, if you choose this company, you will not be making a poor decision. There is literally nothing more I could have asked for, no other way this trip could have been more spectacular, and no better way I could have spent every one of my pennies. Thank you to our agent for making us the envy of all of our Facebook friends, for truly making this an awesome family vacation, and for making one of my ultimate dreams come true.
All of the unique experience our agent had planned for us--cooking with a chef in Rome, cruising the Amalfi Coast in a luxury boat, biking through Florence.
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