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Italy Tours - Help!

My husband & I are planning our first trip to Italy. We think we would like to go with a tour. So far, Globus’s Italian Highlights tour has caught our eye. Has anyone taken this tour? We would like to avoid a tour that is very fast paced. Most that I’ve read about seem that way. We would rather not get up at 6ish each morning and rush from place to place. Friends have taken tours like this and recommend them ! even though they say it’s a blur and exhausting!! They say it’s a good way to see a lot. My husband is very wary of such a “vacation”. I’ve looked at Trafalgar, Insight, Colette, Perillo & Tauk. They ALL seem hectic. We would love to visit Rome, Venice, Verona, Milan, Florence, Siena, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Capri/Amalfi Coast & Portofino. I know this is probably much too ambitious for one trip. That’s why we were considering the Globus Italian Highlights tour. But, we’re concerned it, too, may be hectic and rushed. We’re nervous about going it alone, not with a tour. Any feedback & suggestions regarding tour companies, specific tours, itineraries, etc, would be greatly appreciated! We are in our 50’s and can go any time of year. We thought the spring or fall would be best in terms of the weather.

Posted by
97 posts

Given this is the Rick Steves forum the majority of us are going to recommend a Rick Steves tour. We've taken one a year for the last 3 years and we are taking another this May. We loved the South of Italy tour and we're doing the Village Italy tour next. Did you look at https://www.ricksteves.com/tours/italy/best-italy? You will just about never have to get up that early. Breakfast is usually 8-9ish.

Posted by
520 posts

Just wondering if you have checked out the Rick Steves tours? I have taken a few of the shorter Italy tours. Rushing is not really part of these tours' agendas, IMO. Generally, lots of personal time is built in to use as you see fit - sightseeing or whatever you choose. Myself, I occasionally have taken a day out to sit on the beach when on a tour where that was a possibility (meaning a beach was there and we were not travelling that day).

Posted by
1275 posts

We like Gate 1-the afternoon is usually unscheduled. We took a Globus Tour in 1990 and would never go with them again-the tour director was a jerk who disliked Americans.

Posted by
478 posts

I can't remember ever eating breakfast as late as 8:00 on a RS tour.
Summerfox, how long would it take you to visit all of the places you mention on your own?
I love going on tours, but I don't really consider them a "vacation", but more a great learning experience. I am happily exhausted when I get home.

Posted by
5740 posts

My experience with breakfast times has been similar to Vandabrud's. Of course, I'm a morning person and I wake up hungry so I am always one of the 1st to breakfast which generally is 7-730. I may have had a few times where on a weekend breakfast didn't start until 8A.

I've done 10 of Rick's tours, 2 in just Italy (Heart of Italy and Village Italy) and also did the 21 day Best of Europe that included 8 nights in Italy. In general there is free time in each location for you to see what interests you. Often this is an afternoon after a walking tour in the AM so you can get your bearings. As long as you are not on a transit day you can easily skip the group activities. I say that but I never do....I'm too afraid I will miss something interesting!

The tour that best fits your wish list is the Best of Italy tour but it does not go south of Rome and instead of Portofino it goes to the Cinque Terre.

https://www.ricksteves.com/tours/italy/best-italy

Vandabrud is being modest and not mentioning she did a trip report after her recent Best of Italy tour and it is an excellent read!

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/pre-trip-report-best-of-italy-in-17-days-september-2018

I've also traveled on 10 Road Scholar tours, 5 international ones but none in Italy. That used to be Elder Hostel and might be a slightly older age group - more 60's and 70's.

The things I look for in a tour is that I want them educationally focused with guides that are enthusiastic and well educated on their areas. I want a group that is no more than about 24-26. I want some of my meals on my own as I get tired of group meals (too much food!) plus I'm a weird eater. I don't care about being picked up at the airport, I can easily figure out how to get in to most European cities. I want tipping included so I don't have to figure out the # of Euro per day for the guide and driver. I want some free time on my own (Road Scholar usually has less free time than Rick's tours). I want at least 2 night stays most of the time. I don't want a series of 1-night hotels. I want hotel locations to be city center so I can get out on my own. I like Rick's tours because the guides do have a focus of teaching you how to use the local transportation.

Laughing...you'd not know it but I swear I am not a shill for Rick's tours!!

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks so much! I will definitely check out the Rick Steves tours. My friends have all gone on tours to Italy and NONE of them took Rick Steves! I just heard of him, myself, when I got his tour book from the library. The more I read posts on the forums, the more I am starting to think my husband and I might be able to do it ourselves without a tour. How feasible for a newbie? I have traveled extensively in the U.S. , but only once outside U.S. to London.

Posted by
40 posts

We have been to Europe 5 times and the Orient once. So far we have never done a tour. You can definitely do it on your own but just curious how much time you are spending---with your selection of cities I hope at least a month. We also like to take our time and enjoy the area instead of rushing from one place to the next. The only reason I would go on a tour now is because my husband doesn't get around as well as he used to and I do not want to drive a stick shift in Italy. You really need to look at your lifestyle and how comfortable you are on your own.

You might consider hiring someone to help you with your itinerary if you go on your own. It would be money well spent.

Posted by
8535 posts

I'm looking at (what I think is) the Globus Italian Highlights Tour: 10 nights/11 days. Except that it's not 11 days as the first and last days don't really count: you only meet up for dinner at 5:00 on day #1, and depart on day #11. That leaves 9 days for them to squeeze in the following:

Rome, Castel Gandolfo, Pisa, Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, Verrazzano Castle (loosely near Greve), Venice, Verona and Milan.

I'm exhausted just looking at this list and can't imagine doing all of this in just 9 days without the memories being not much more than a blur. While I understand that we all travel differently, there's something to be said about staying in one spot long enough to get your head around it and having some 'down' time to enjoy it a little?

Flexibility is lovely to have too: with longer stays in one place, you can work around things like the weather a little better than having to go when, where and for how long the tour's itinerary dictates. You can also choose NOT to visit something that doesn't interest you (in my case, glass-blowing demo and overnight in Murano or a wine-tasting excursion) and stay longer at something which does.

Italy is not an especially difficult country to travel independently, and especially if not venturing far off the grid. If I had 10 nights/9 days to work with?

Fly into Venice: 3 nights/2.5 days
Train to Florence: 3 nights/2.5 days. 1 day for trip to Siena or Lucca/Pisa
Train to Rome: 4 nights/3.5 days
Fly out of Rome
The missing .5 days are for transport/relocation time and for arrival process in Venice. The remaining arrival .5 day might be a jet-lagged fog.

If you could add a day, I'd add it to Florence for an additional day trip or another FULL day to explore the city itself. Shoot, we've stayed 5 nights in Florence without coming close to running out of things to see just in the city, and have nearly two weeks of sightseeing under the belt for Rome...and we're not done with either one of them yet! That said, we don't just RUN, and do take advantage of regular coffee/adult beverage breaks to rest the heels and do some people watching. :O)

We haven't taken an RS tour as set sightseeing itineraries and short stays just don't work for us at this point in our lives. We can also go on longer trips for the same amount of $. Your style may be different and you might just love one of his tours: there's obviously an enthusiastic fan club for those here!

There's no right or wrong to it but what YOU are comfortable with and how YOU want to spend your $$. Let's just say that should you be interested in an independent adventure, you'll find TONS of great help here for putting a trip together. If you have the time to work with, you could also consider a tour plus additional days added to explore on your own?

Posted by
11446 posts

You absolutely can do it on your own. I think one key rule for first-timers traveling independently is not to rush. Most people start out with limited time and a list of places to see that only gets longer as they research their destination. That can be a formula for a stressful trip on which they never get to settle into a place and really enjoy it.

I recommend thinking of your research as background for more than one trip to Italy. Mark the places you want to see on a map and figure out how to put them together into two (or even three) trips. Independent travelers simply cannot move around as efficiently as a tour group with a professional driver and guide.

Posted by
9997 posts

There are several issues here.

If you don't like waking up early, then no tour is likely to be suitable (all the ones I've seen, whether budget or fancy or in between, get a relatively early start). If you're concerned about being exhausted, then you have to look at the tour itinerary carefully, and make sure it does't have too many changes of cities and hotels, and allows enough free time. And if you want to relax, you'll want to cut down the number of destinations, whether you go on your own or with a tour.

"We would love to visit Rome, Venice, Verona, Milan, Florence, Siena, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Capri/Amalfi Coast & Portofino. I know this is probably much too ambitious for one trip."

I'd say that's 3-4 weeks even at a fast pace, so unless you want and can take a full month of travel, yes, that's definitely too much for one trip - whether on your own or with a tour.

Even more than many other countries, Italy simply has too much. You not only can't see it all, you can't even see a fraction, of a sliver, of a piece of it, on a single trip. So, don't try. Accept, right now, that whether you go on your own or with a tour, you're going to "miss" a lot - and that's OK, because you will see great stuff anyway.

Posted by
731 posts

Our years of travel have been independent, guided or combination of both. As far as Italy we took two guided tours. They were with Eartbound Expeditions. www.earthboundexpeditions.com. Similar to RS Tours. The owner used to work with RS. We loved both tours. We have taken 4 exceptional RS tours. We chose to add on before and after on our own. Our next journey to Central Europe this year will be independent. We plan 3.5 weeks to enjoy a slower pace. We had great advice from relatives who encouraged us to travel independently and hire guides as needed. It's been fun planning!

I think it's a personal preference. Italy is certainly doable independently. That said, we believe "less is more." From personal experience our first Italy (Tuscany) guided tour exceeded our expectations.

Enjoy your planning!

Posted by
1973 posts

summerfox3, you need to carefully understand and assess the kind of trip you seek and will enjoy, and see if a particular tour matches your desires closely enough. None would be perfect, I expect. Most tours want travelers to feel that they are getting a lot for their time and money, so I doubt many would start their sightseeing visits late in the morning, when most sites are most crowded. RS tours generally try to get the group to the highlight sites right when they open, to avoid the major crowds as possible. I have traveled both independently and with tours, including 11 RS tours, all excellent for my own style of travel. Usually I add more days of independent travel before and/or after the tour.
I encourage you to take a look at the RS tour I took first, which is the My Way Italy tour. The concept is that the tour includes transportation by roomy bus once the tour begins, centrally located, quality but not luxurious, hotels, and a tour manager who is an experienced guide who handles the logistics and is available to give tour members guidance about their own sightseeing plans and how to fulfill their personal interests. The tour includes breakfasts at the hotels, but does not include other meals. Any site sightseeing choices and expenses are up to each tour member. The tour cost is less because you get less. Sometimes tour members get together for meals, sightseeing, etc. Other people like to go off on their own, as individuals or couples or with their own travel companions. This tour involves 2-night stays in each of 6 diverse locations, beginning in Venice and ending in Rome. You can easily add days on to Venice and Rome, if you have the time and funds available. On the full days in each town, you can get up when you want, and do sightseeing, relaxing, shopping, meals, etc as you please, based on your own preferences and advance research on what is available. Of course on travel days, everyone needs to be packed and on the bus at a certain time. Note: I found this to be an excellent first RS Tour, but then realized I really wanted more group experience and especially more learning with excellent guides.
Yes, certainly you can travel on your own in Italy, it is relatively easy, although you would need to do considerable research, planning and advance reserving of transit, lodging and very popular sites. You can also use the services of a travel agent, but make sure you find one who really knows well the various cites and towns in Italy, and understands what you are looking for
Italy is wonderful, especially in the spring and fall, and I hope you find the best way for you to visit, that may well be different from my own, or others.

Posted by
2354 posts

I know 2 couples in their 50's who separately took either the 11-day Italian Highlights tour or the 13-day Italian Mosaic tour (can't remember which). Both couples said they really enjoyed their Globus tour, but both mentioned that all hotels were outside the city centers and so they felt compelled to buy a lot of add-on packages in order to see the sights and not feel separated from the rest of the group. I got the impression their tours were fairly fast paced, but they didn't seem to mind as it was their first time in Italy and they wanted to see as much as possible while there. I also know people who have taken Perillo's Italy tours and liked them. Be sure to consider the tour company's style and amenities when choosing a tour. While I find Globus and Perillo too comfy, others find RS tours too casual. It's all a matter of finding the right fit for you.

Tours tend to be hectic but they're also a great way to introduce yourself to unfamiliar destinations. Since you'll only get a taste of each place you visit no matter what tour you take, plan to go back to the places you like most for longer stays on a future trip. I find the weather a little nicer in the fall (September-October) than in the spring (April-May), but both are pleasant times to visit Italy.

Posted by
520 posts

If you are not familiar with the Rick Steves tours, I encourage you to look at his MyWay tours which take care of transportation and hotel, but everything else is up to you - where to eat, what to see. Here is the link to the My Way Italy tour.

https://www.ricksteves.com/tours/italy/my-way-italy

I took the My Way Alpine, and found the group to be warm and friendly and the pace just what I was looking for - lots of time to explore what I wanted on my own.

Posted by
29381 posts

summer,

I've travelled both solo and on tours, so have an idea what's involved with both travel methods. After reading the description of your situation, my suggestion would be to take one of the Rick Steves Italy tours, and then continue with self guided travel after the tour to cover any places of interest not covered on the tour.

Unlike Globus and some of the other big bus tours, RS tours have a maximum of 28 people in each group on a full size bus, so everyone has room to stretch out. While parts of each day can be at a faster pace, tour members are certainly free to skip any activities they wish, and there's always free time in the Itineraries.

As this is your first trip to Italy, beginning with a tour will get you up to speed on how to travel well in Italy and the skills to continue on your own. Rick's guides are exceptional at teaching tour members to navigate the local transportation, deal with language issues and get the most out of their holiday.

Posted by
324 posts

Hi Summer,

I'd like to suggest this (it may or will be a little investment), but weighing the costs of your own time travel and a complete tour (which amounts to a lot also); it may be an option.

It would take some strategic planning and organizing (keeping a detailed notebook), but, I bet it can be done.

Rome is easy to walk about and navigate. Just keep aware with a big city attitude and walk confidently.

You could plan a few days in each of the few cities you list and favor. Maybe 3 full days in each? I don't know how much time you'd like to travel.

edit: Of course, the trip to the places you wish to visit would have to be worked out geographically so you're not backtracking and taking advantage of your time.

For example, you could take a high speed train to Florence from Rome (about 2 hours), settle in and plan to take guided tours sponsored by one of the tour companies listed below:
https://www.walksofitaly.com/ or https://theromanguy.com

Both companies offer reasonable time starts for the traveler who prefers to take it slow with their site tours. But, I would think their full day tours 10+ hours would have an early start for obvious reasons.

I think Walks of Italy offers a higher discount if booking more than one select tours. The Roman Guy offers 5% on select tours when booking multiple. Double check that.

If you are a lighter packer, you could train it to the cities you favor, settle in to your accommodations, and book a leisure day/afternoon/night with one of the tour companies.

Maybe something like the above might work better for you?

Posted by
753 posts

If cost is an issue, look at Rick Steves or G Adventures/National Geographic. Both will give you a comprehensive experience of the areas you want to see.

If cost is no object, I recommend an adults only tour through - don't laugh - Adventures by Disney. No, Mickey Mouse does not board the bus with you. The trip is lively. The service is superb and far superior to Tauck.

Having traveled with multiple tour companies (both high $$$ and lower cost), I think you'll get the most bang for your buck with either Rick Steves or G Adventures/National Geographic.

Determine what you MUST SEE/DO while you're in Italy. Find the tours which best cover that site/city/experience, and then go from there.

Posted by
5740 posts

OK, time for you to order a tour catalog. Even if you don't go with an RS tour this time the pictures are worth it!!

https://www.ricksteves.com/publications/tour-catalog-dvd-form

Here also is a link to his tour experience video. Based on the tours I've gone on it's pretty true to life.

https://www.ricksteves.com/tours/tour-experience

I'm glad someone upthread brought up "optional" tours within your tour. This is something you'll need to look at for companies other than Rick or Road Scholar. It annoys me because I want everything spelled out as to what sights we will go in and what I need to do on my own. Occasionally things change - in fact I just got an email from Rick Steves Europe today notifying me of a change in a sight on my upcoming Belgium and Holland tour. It also is a way to show a lower price but you'll wind up paying more if that makes sense.

You can do this on your own. I was tentative so that's why I took my first Rick tours however...after I took the first one or two I was hooked. Now I am comfortable traveling independently but I continue to take tours because I learn so much on them and go to places I might not think to go or be able to go on my own. I also add independent time before and after.

You've got a lot of fun research ahead of you!

Posted by
8535 posts

I'm glad someone upthread brought up "optional" tours within your
tour. This is something you'll need to look at for companies other
than Rick or Road Scholar.

This is a really good point, Pam. There's math involved in what tours do and do not include, and what the final bill might be once you add up the desired "optionals" which cost extra. That can include airfare, attraction tickets, travel insurance, meals, etc. which are not included. Read carefully and have a calculator handy..... :O)

Also, hotels which are not located within easy walking or public transit distance from attractions or restaurants one wants to take advantage of during allocated free time can be an issue with some of the cheaper 'big group' tours.

Posted by
763 posts

Hi Summer,

How much time do you have for your trip? If you have 3 weeks, I think you can see all of the places you would like to see at a relaxed pace. If you don't have that much time, you will have to accept that you will need to move at a quicker pace (which is done more easily with a tour who can manage your luggage, have a bus waiting for you, etc) or save some locations for round 2. I think Ken's ideas of doing a tour and then finishing up on your own is a great one. You will feel more comfortable in the country by then and feel empowered to do your next trips on your own, if that is what you want (who knows? you may love the tour!)

I will throw another tour company into the mix- Intrepid. They are my first tour ever and I did their active Cinque Terre tour and loved every second of it-small groups and a great mix of people. We represented 4 different countries, age rage mid 20s to mid 50s, couples and solo travelers. We had a lot of free time, especially at meal times, but we usually ate together because we enjoyed one another's company. They have lots of tour themes if an "active" theme isn't quite for you. I have had friends do their Amalfi Coast Tour (in fact, some of the people in my tour group did both of those tours back to back!) and Vietnam/Cambodia tours and all couldn't say enough good things. I have also heard many great things about Gadventures which someone else has mentioned.

For time of year, May or September and maybe October if swimming isn't important to you. April is also a good month to go but can be hit or miss with rain and you often have to compete with Easter crowds.

This forum (other people, not me) are fantastic at helping people with their itineraries. If that is one of the daunting tasks and you let everyone know how much time you have available and your priorities, I bet many people will have suggestions for you.

Posted by
41 posts

Globus is a tour company I would never use. The extra add-on experiences totaled over $1,200 per person on their European Tapestry tour our group took several years ago. We didn't know until we were told once on the bus in London. Another thing to look out for was the guide making extra on stops. We were taken to a glass blowing demonstration in Venice where we watched a 6 inch horse being made. This demonstration was done in a room up several flights of stairs. Then you were led into different rooms that all sold glass blown items. It was a maze that you couldn't escape easily. The group were there for 1-2 hours. I found our guide sitting down stairs and let her know what a waste of time in Venice since we only had 6 hours total there. When we got home, we dumped Globus and picked up another company.

Pick a RS tour or plan one yourself as previously suggested.

Posted by
381 posts

Wondering how much time you have for this trip and besides these towns what do you want to see in these places? With a tour you get tours and skip the lines for places. If you do on your own you do need to get many tours prescheduled. I know you said you don’t want to start early in the day but Italy is very crowded with tourists you will wait in longer lines the later you start in the day. . Just a few thoughts. We like the RS tours but then add days before or after on our own. Enjoy

Posted by
696 posts

We have found that we love the tour size, the itineraries, the ability to see so many things and have someone drive for you on Rick Steve’s Tours. The convenience and not having to think or plan your vacation is sometimes very relaxing. That being said, the pace can be too much for us sometimes. We like long relaxing mornings, and you just don’t get that on tours. But that’s how you get to see and do so much. On years that we divide to take tours, we usually arrive to Europe at 4-6 days in advance so that we can relax and adjust to the time change. We usually choose one location in some small relaxing the tour and then maybe a few more days after the tour in another relaxing place.

Italy is one place that you can definitely do on your own. The trains are great, but we usually get a car when we are there in our own. I think the key is just to realize that you can’t do all of the same sites and locations in the same time frames as a well organized tour.

Posted by
40 posts

Summer,
On our first trip to Italy we were on a tour. We had not been to Europe since college days. Our travel agent intelligently advised us to arrive in Rome 2 days prior to the tour beginning. So glad we did that! It was fast paced to be sure but we saw so much and our guide was fantastic. I couldn't call it a "vacation" but more of a learning adventure. It was while our guide was sharing his knowledge as we rode on the tour bus in Tuscany that the thought came to me that I would save up some $$, rent a villa and invite my entire family to visit and explore that region. Several years later I did just that. It was a wonderful experience. We have returned once independently and will do so again this year. Personally, that first visit guided tour gave us so much more than we could have done on our own. It also paved the way for the following independent travel. We have done both Spring and Fall. Both were enjoyable though the Fall trips were rainier. No matter what you decide it will be an exciting adventure. Happy travels.

Posted by
4048 posts

Summerfox3, if you have just discovered Rick Steves, be sure to watch some of his videos as your own "pre-tour from home" -- you can find them on this website -- to see what parts of Italy appeal to you the most. (Spoiler alert -- it's ALL of them!)

Posted by
43 posts

I think a key question to ask yourself is whether you will enjoy planning the details of the trip and having control over how much time you spend in each destination, or whether you would like to have it planned out for you. I find the planning to be great fun, and like the control of our schedule and activities for each day. I have carefully and successfully planned four 2- to 3-week trips to Europe in the past 20 years, with one more coming up soon. I agree with all the suggestions to first dive into some guidebooks and also look closely at tour brochures and see which makes sense for you. We have found RS books to be outstanding, supplemented with some searching online and this forum. If you decide a tour is right for you, adding some days before or after seems a great way to explore one or two destinations in more depth.