Our Rick Steve’s tour included only hotels and transportation. The hotels all included breakfast. There three optional group dinners and a happy hour. No activities were included.
- Rick Steve’s Do It Your Way Tour – This turned out to be an excellent choice for us. All hotels were centrally located, provided Wi-Fi and breakfast with nice accommodations. The bus had Wi-Fi and dropped us off in front of the hotel or just a short walk away. We did not have to deal with the sometimes confusing (but efficient) Italian transportation system. Our group was around thirty people, so we could stay at smaller, more authentic locations. Amanda, our tour guide, provided great recommendations and advice and was available when needed. At a minimum, get the Rick Steve’s guidebook. There are tips that save time waiting in lines and all the restaurant recommendations proved to be wonderful. Our not so good meals were when we picked a restaurant at random.
- Venice – If you must visit Venice, it is very crowded. If you fly into Venice, allow at least three hours to get from the airport to your hotel. With the crowds and vaporettos (water buses), you probably want to fly out of another airport. It would be really difficult to estimate the time it would take to get to the airport. You probably would need to make water taxi arrangements which would be expensive.
- Pack Light – Unless you are on a tour that delivers your bags to your room, you will have to carry your bags. Many of the small hotels are on streets with no parking or unreachable by bus. We carried suitcases that converted to backpacks. There are lots of steps so the suitcases with rollers were not as convenient as the backpacks. There were laundries near several of our hotels which were reasonably priced (by weight). The Rick Steve’s guidebook notes laundries.
- Hotel Location – All of our hotels were centrally located for the sites. This becomes really important. It saves travel time and allows you to have some down time in the middle of the day if would like. Crowds were less in the morning and at the end of the day.
- Pickpockets – They are real. Spread out your cash. Don’t keep credit cards or ID in a wallet. Wear a money belt and keep your important stuff there. A shirt with breast pockets with snaps or Velcro seems pretty secure. Keep a close hand on any bag or backpack. There are crushing crowds leaving the airport, getting on vapotettos, subways and buses. Be especially vigilant there.
- Visit the Smaller Towns – The cities have lots of famous sites but are no more picturesque than the smaller towns. Smaller cities and towns were much less crowded and prices were better. We felt relaxed in the towns but a little harried in the cities.
- Time Commitment – We covered a lot of Italy in a short time. Consider a longer trip or less locations. Are you out to check off sites or enjoy the country? Make sure to find the right balance for you.
- Audio Tours – We used a bunch of audio tours for things like the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. This really enhanced the experience. Rick Steve’s has a bunch of these for your smartphone or free download. The Android app has features like maps and is better than straight MP3 downloads.
- Mobile Passport – Check to see if your return airport supports this app. If so download this app. Lesson learned – it is easier to scan your passport and take your photo before you get on the plane. You answer the customs questions on your phone and when you land and have an internet connection, simply click send and you receive a QRC code. We got to go to the shortest customs line and breezed through.
- Cell Data Service – I used Google Fi for international service. I wanted to have data while walking around. My Pixel 2 phone supports eSIM so I could switch between Fi and Verizon with a tap. Google Fi also supports regular SIM cards. Google Fi worked here in the US, Ireland, Italy and the UK. Cost for the two weeks in Italy with calls to the US is under $40. I especially liked that I was able to set this up and test it before leaving the US.
- Cell Call Service – Dolora was able to use her Verizon service for calls and text with no additional cost while traveling. Most newer Android phones (I don’t do Apple – so I am unsure) have a setting “Wi-Fi Calling”. If you turn this on, you can make calls and send texts without a cell signal. This works like being at home, no additional numbers to dial, no international charges. The downside is that it does not provide any service while walking around but you can’ beat the price (Free!). This is also handy for those places where you have a good Wi-Fi signal but not so good cell service, maybe your basement.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like some more info.