Our travel agent was wonderful from the very beginning. We had a brief conversation after she received my first overall idea of our trip, she listened to what I said and put together an itinerary. After several discussions, we reached agreement on a final trip. She was so fun and easy to work with. I appreciated her comments on what was worth spending money on and where our money was better spent. The itinerary itself was terrific. The hotels were wonderful, the guides for the most part were top notch and the side ideas she put on our itinerary really helped for our free time.
There was only one mix up that our itinerary said to meet in our lobby at 10 but the tour was supposed to start in Siena at 10. There was no worries, we did our best to finish breakfast and be ready sooner (9:30) and our driver alerted all the tour guides and scheduled stops for that day so it was no problem.
Our driver from Rome to Florence was very sweet - our daughter from all the driving, then flying and driving again was motion sick and he was very accommodating.
The tours that our travel agency set up with the "skip the lines" were invaluable and the tour guides themselves had so much knowledge that we could really appreciate what we were seeing.
My only suggestion for the written itinerary was for the airport and train stations is to make it clear that the driver will meet us outside security with a sign with our name on it. We weren't sure at the airport due to our flight being delayed and the bags taking so long to come up where our driver would be. He was waiting clearly for us - we just weren't quite sure where to look.
I made it clear that I wanted to be picked up and driven from Rome to Florence because it was our firs time, even though our agent suggested a train. Next time, I would definitely take a train from Rome to Florence. Although the ride is pretty and the stop at Ovierto was nice, the train would have actually been better but next time....
As for our guides:
Our guide in Florence was fantastic. Her youth was so fantastic as my 23 year old daughter really connected with her. The way she introduced us to sculpture really built up to seeing The David in a way that made us all understand it and appreciate it a way I never expected. Also, she had excellent tips for restaurants away from touristy areas that we loved!
Our chefs were phenomenal. We had so much fun seeing their neighborhood, going to their shops for the meat, veggies, and cheese (we met the king and queen of cheese :) ) The let us pick the dishes we wanted to prepare offering suggestions but leaving the choice up to us. The helped us learn in a very fun way and sent us the recipes after via email. The setting and the people made that experience top notch.
Our driver to Siena and Chianti was great in that he shared some thing s about the landscape and history along the way - the other drivers we had were friendly but just driving (not that that is bad it just make our driver good for that trip).
Our guide in Siena was also excellent - I appreciated her humor and showing us such beauty and sharing het culture of the neighborhoods and the upcoming race. Siena is so steeped in culture, I was so glad we stopped there - that was all our agent's suggestion as we wanted to do a winery in Chianti and experience some of the Tuscan countryside.
Our guide in Venice was extremely knowledgeable but a bit harsh. For some reason (my own fault) I hadn't put together that the women would need knees and shoulders covered for that day and it was very hot. However, she informed us and my daughter and I ran back to hotel to change. This was fine. During the tour she "corrected" anyone not following the rules and I appreciate that but she not only corrected but berated them. It was just a bit extreme. Her knowledge was unsurpassed but there was so much thrown at us, it was hard to retain and it was a bit overwhelming she kept saying "we only have two hours and that's not nearly enough time so we need to keep moving". There was way more than we could retain but bits and pieces got to each one of our family and we did learn a lot about the beautiful San Marco church and Doge palace but compared to the style of our other guides, this was our least favorite
Our guide in Rome was also superb. She took us to the Coliseum and the Forum and with her ipad, showed us the "missing pieces" so we could appreciate what it had looked like. She did a great job of balancing showing us things, teaching us things and letting us look. My daughter was especially impressed with her photography skills (not an easy thing for that to happed) and she got some great photos of the 4 of us. Also, she suggested great places to eat neat the area (which was EXCELLENT) and the place (pompi) to get the best Tiramisu in Rome (it was!)
Our guide in Rome for St Peter's and the Vatican was phenomenal. Her super power is surfing the wave! it was so crowded she instructed us to clearly on how to navigate the crowd, she found places to stop to inform us of the major things to look for = especially in the Sistine Chapel since there is SO much to look at and it is EXTREMELY crowed. (I described it to my friends back home and overwhelmingly beautiful and also hell on earth because of the crowds) I loved our guide's "lightness"/sense of humor while dealing with these sacred sited that also are overrun with tourists. In St Peter's we could feel the closeness of an individual experience and not be too "beaten down" by the crowds.
Our guide for the food tour was fun. She had said upfront she wasn't' really a "tour guide" but a chef. Well, this made for a great walk through the food region. She explained the history of the neighborhood (I think the "I'm not really a tour guide was modesty) and took us to some great places to sample pizza, cheeses, Soupli (Iife changing!) and the tiny calzones that contain dough the rises longer than usual and is deep fried.....OMG! Also, she took us to the central market and one of the vendors was so kind, he gave us apricots to sample and she bought us figs to try. Then we got to pick our cookies for our dessert for AFTER. We went back to the studio location where we could have wine and a light pasta dish. Overall, an incredible day. The afternoon lent itself not to shopping as suggested but napping!
Some suggestions: Highlight on itinerary when shoulders/knees on ladies need to be covered (we should have know but would have been helpful). Maybe point out that the names/numbers are for the servicesetting up the driver or guide and are not necessarily directly to the person you are meeting. It's a small point but surprised me at the airportwhen I called to see where we were meeting our driver
One highlight was meeting our agent in person in Florence! I so appreciate her coming to our hotel to say hello. WHEN we get back to Italy, I will request this travel agent to help up again.
For me, the most memorable parts were the cooking class as we did it all together, the people we met in each city that were so welcoming and funny (our host at the hotel in Venice was hilarious and gave us may great suggestions for food and set up a taxi/tour to Morano for us). The David and the Pietà we unsurpassed!
My daughter enjoyed Venice the most - especially at night and the "back porch" atmosphere.
My son enjoyed the cooking class, the food in Florence and The David.
My husband's highlight was the Coliseum but loved it all.
The food everywhere was incredible.
I would take the train from Rome to Florence instead of getting a driver (lesson - always listen to this travel agent!)
My daughter and husband would have liked to have done several vineyards in Chianti instead of one but I don't know we could have done to change that day because I would not have wanted to skip Siena.
It would have been fun to go to the Florentine soccer game but that was tough to do but that also meant that on Sunday afternoon, when we wanted to go to the church in Florence, it was closed.
I would have liked a different guide in Venice.
We all agree however that the trip was incredible and our "changes" are small on an already perfect trip
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