Hi all - thanks for the many replies. Answers to what I can come up with:
@charles - yes the measurements include wheels :( -- We practiced and were able to come in under 17lbs. However, what about the souvenirs & such we buy in Paris/Rome... I'm disappointed to learn I could have changed to "economy" instead of "economy light" at the beginning for ~$40US per ticket and not worried with it. But for 5 people, that's $200 and we thought we would give it a go. THEN I learned to now check a bag it will be $60 per bag, 1 way. Hopefully, if we go over, we do it on just one bag. $300 (5ppl) per segment is a fortune compared to the $200 I could have paid to have peace of mind. Live and learn... I have no idea how much they will charge me at the desk if I have to check. I think there is a price difference. If I wanted to switch my fare type now I'd have to pay a change fee #smh.
@Patty - that's the plan - we're putting "day bags" in our personal items so we have something lighter to walk around in but have a decent sized "backpack" to transport on the plane. Will definitely keep valuables & a change of clothes in the personal item.
We kinda killed our budget on this trip. I had heard so many friends tell us that we could fly from France to Italy (or EU to EU) for like $35 per person. Then we found out about all of the horror stories on Ryan Air and EasyJet so we went from $350 round trip to $1300 round trip and so we tried to save wherever we could. I'm also concerned about toting luggage to and from train stations and thought we'd look "less touristy" if we had smaller rollaboards. Le sigh.
Thanks again, all! Bon voyage!