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40th anniversary 2018 vacation Best of Sicily Tour ?

We both will be 65 next year and active and it is our 40th anniversary. We have previously been to Rome, Amalfi, Florence,Venice, Munich,Innsbruck,Salzburg and Vienna on past non RS tours. We are looking for a tour that departs on 10/16/18 and later. We are considering tours that run in Oct or November 2018 (important to us).

The 8 day Heart of Italy, the 11 day Paris and the Heart of France and the Best of Venice, Florence and Rome are all interesting and meet our time requirement. We previously loved our Italy tour and would love to go back. The France Tour also looks incredible especially Mont St Michel.

But I am really interested in the 10 day Best of Sicily. Couple questiins.

1) On the return trip home, how difficult is it flying out of Catania? Can we make it to the US that day?
2) How photogenic is Sicily? We love archecture, churches, landscapes and old structures. Looks good, is it?
3) Do you feel safe touring Sicily touring in late Oct or Early Nov? I was told by a coworker that Sicily felt very seedy to them.
4) Any comments on this tour are welcomed.
5) If anyone has the the Paris and Heart of Paris tour AND the Sicily, which one do you believe was the most impressive?

General question, if we do an Italy tour, we would plan to stay in Rome or Florence (Heart of Italy) for an extra day. How easy and what is the possibilies of staying at the Rick Steves hotel? We really don't want to change hotels.

Thanks all.

Posted by
17089 posts

Catania is the largest airport in Sicily. How easy or hard it is to get home will depend on where "home" is. What is your preferred airport?

I loved Sicily. It has photogenic architecture and scenery. If you're interested in photographing interiors, you'll find the endless churches and chapels in Palermo intriguing.

There are parts of Palermo that I would say look somewhat scruffy (crumbling stucco, graffiti). The same is true for some non-touristy streets in Catania. It wasn't an issue for me, and I think within the scope of the tour it would be a very minor nit, even if you happen to find yourself in those areas.

Although Sicily can be visited via public transportation, it is an area where availability of a tour bus to whisk you from town to town would be quite an advantage--more so than in some other parts of Europe. I vote for the Sicily tour!

Posted by
974 posts

We went on the RS Sicily tour in April 2016, and it was fabulous. You are wise to consider the off-season, since it gets very hot in Sicily during the May to September period. Italy tends to be rainy in November, so I would go in October if possible.

Flights: Sicily is a bit challenging to get to from the US. We took an Aer Lingus flight from Boston to Rome via Dublin and stayed a couple of days before continuing on to Palermo on Alitalia. At the end of the trip, we flew from Catania to Rome on Alitalia and stayed overnight before returning home. The Aer Lingus flight was so inexpensive relative to other options that it paid for the extra nights in the eternal city. The alternative would have been a grueling and expensive 2 stop flight going each way. In addition, we would have had to leave Catania very early in the morning to make the other flight connections home.

Is Sicily photogenic? By all means, yes. Check out the Rick Steves videos on Sicily. Sicily, for example, has more intact Greek ruins than Greece itself.

Safety: People in the past have complained about Palermo. There are some neighborhoods to avoid, but we did not feel unsafe anywhere. Rick Steves actually went on one of the Sicily tours in 2017, and made some favorable comments about Palermo in his blog.

General Comments: This tour tends to attract more experienced travelers. The lodging was excellent, and the hotels seemed to get better with each stop. Of course, the food and wine were outstanding.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks,

Home is Pittsburgh Pa.

Forgot to ask, in 2017 there was an in season and off season tours listed. In 2018 only one tour is shown. I take that is correct and no Tour alterations are made for " off season" tours.

Thanks so much, comments are very helpful.

Posted by
974 posts

For 2018, there is just one itinerary. Compared to the previous off-season itinerary, the new one drops Ragusa and adds Taormina.

Posted by
17089 posts

I took a quick look at Google Flights and saw nothing better than 2-stop itineraries. You won't have a lot of options that take less than 20 hours, but there are some for the next few weeks. It's too early to see fares for next fall. I checked on Wednesday and Thursday since most of the 2018 fall tours end after breakfast on Wednesday.

Flying out of Catania one day, spending the night at that intermediate destination, and continuing home the next day (or several days later) would be one way to avoid a super-lengthy trip home. There are non-stop flights from Catania to many cities in Italy. You can take a look at what's available for November 2017 on skyscanner.com .

Posted by
4091 posts

When we took the Sicily tour in 201, we flew from Catania to Rome, and stayed in Rome several days. It's a great tour.

In terms of photogenic, Sicily may well be the most photogenic of the RS tours we've been on - and we've been on 11. (Two of which were Sicily; that was when there were two different itineraries.)

Posted by
869 posts

We just finished the Sicily tour last week and based on your criteria I have two words of advice : DO IT!

I have also been told that Sicily is seedy and I will say that in Palermo and Catania you should watch your wallet a little closer than the other stops on this tour. That being said, I LOVED Palermo. The history, architecture and people are simply stunning. Sicily has such a vast history of people, food, wine, etc. prior to Sicily we have been to Italy 8 times. I have to say that Sicily stunned me and is one of my new favorites. Taormina is very lovely, much like the Amalfi coast.

As for getting to and from Sicily; it's not really easy. We made destination stops on the front and back end so that we didn't have to waste a day on either end. It was just more vacation time. Sicily is incredible though and highly worth it.

Posted by
5904 posts

You can fly from Catania to Rome plus many other places in Europe and then take a flight to US, NY ,ORD, LAX, etc. Yes, you can fly home in one day as you do from all over Europe. No problem.
Photogenic? Yes! Incredible views and so many outstanding Greek antiquities.
Seedy??? Have you been in Naples? Palermo is nicer and I liked Naples but Sicily isn’t a wealthy island. It isn’t a sterile, modern place but rather one with character and history.
I felt totally safe.
Happy Anniversary wherever you spend it!

Posted by
307 posts

We were in Sicily in May, and while not on a RS tour, we had several days on our own before joining a small wine tour. This was our third trip to Italy, and probably the most interesting.

We flew in and out of Milan (via Vancouver/London), and spent a couple of days to relax and get back on schedule.

Sicily is probably the most photogenic place in Italy we have been to. Churches and ruins are outstanding.

Safe. Depends upon your idea of safe, but not anywhere less safe than some places in the rest of Italy, or here in the US. Seedy, yes in some areas. It can be gritty, loud, gorgeous, incredibly alive, vibrant. If we were to go back to Italy, we'd probably go to Sicily. The food and wine was amazing, the people warm and welcoming, and the island a mix of cultures and history.

Posted by
362 posts

We are doing this tour later this year for our 35th anniversary. I will post back here with details when we return. :-)

Posted by
315 posts

I am in the planning stage for a trip to Sicily. Flying to Palmero or Catania will only work for us with an intermediate stop in London, Paris or Amsterdam. These are the direct flights from SLC. Not bad places to be for a night or two. Rome2Rio shows multiple options to arrive and depart Sicily from these airports. Most are low cost airlines.

Posted by
2334 posts

I have not done the tour but was in Sicily this past spring. I'll answer as best I can

  1. From Catania you can fly to Rome and many other airports in Europe easily and from there connect on to the US. I just picked a random day in November and looked for CTA to Pittsburgh. Most common was two-stop, usually leaving Catania early, going to Rome, layover in Rome a few hours, on to NY or Toronto, then arrive in Pittsburgh late the same day. It's obviously longer travel than a place like Rome with direct flights to the US, but not too bad.

  2. VERY photogenic. There are parts of the big cities that are run down (but that can actually make for interesting photos too) but most other places have what you mean. Ortygia (island part connected to Siracusa) is one of the most photogenic places I've been. Erice is beautiful. Mt. Etna. The churches in Palermo are spectacular as well.

  3. Extremely safe. I'm sure there are bad areas like everywhere else but in the tour areas you won't feel unsafe. It's not Naples (which I like but can feel dodgy. Sicily not so much). In Palermo you might need to reset your filter - run down, crumbly buildings and graffiti does not mean an unsafe neighborhood. Not that the whole city is like that but there are areas that are safe but look bad. Beyond that, and the usual Italian pasttime of dodging traffic, it feels just as safe as anywhere else I've been.

Posted by
5166 posts

I've been looking at the same tour in the same timeframe for a while, and understand the difficulty in getting decent flight options to get back home in a reasonable amount of time. As acraven said, it depends on what your home airport is - unless it is NYC or another gateway city, there is a third connecting flight. Most options I see require connections in Rome, or some very long layovers in Zurich or Munich. I think the suggestion of staying a night or two in the connecting city might be a good idea.

Posted by
974 posts

A multicity itinerary (Pittsburgh-Palermo/Catania-Pittsburgh) would cost around $1,400. You could probably fly from Pittsburgh to Rome for under $900. The flights from Rome to Sicily are under $100 each way. Also, many flight itineraries to Italy involve using Alitalia, an airline I would avoid due to bankruptcy concerns.

Posted by
4091 posts

In Palermo you might need to reset your filter - run down, crumbly buildings and graffiti does not mean an unsafe neighborhood. Not that the whole city is like that but there are areas that are safe but look bad.

I think Mira hit it dead on. We loved Palermo. Of all the places we've been to in Italy, it felt the most ... the only word I can think of is "authentic." I guess I mean that even though there were a lot of tourists, we seemed to spend most of our time in markets and neighborhoods that had few, if any, tourists.

And I'm not not knocking tourists here; we are tourists, after all. But one of our favorite places was the Vucciria Market, just a couple of blocks from our hotel. Gritty, yes. Seedy? Nope. Just lots of folks, the vast majority of whom were locals, enjoying an evening with good food, beer, and friends. We loved it.

Posted by
2006 posts

And there are some of us who enjoyed the Sicily tour so much, we took it twice! For me February, 2016 and May, 2017. Love Sicily and the RS tour. I had Alfio for both tours who is an outstanding guide, teacher and friend!

Posted by
2777 posts

We are taking the RS Sicily tour in May 2018. We are flying from Seattle to Paris on Delta, non-stop, then on to Rome for 9 days where we are taking the RS Rome City Tour. We then fly from Rome to Sicily on ALATIA (spelling?) where we will be spending a couple of day before the Sicily tour starts. After the tour is over, we will be staying at the last city a couple of day before flying back to Rome on ALATIA then on to Paris the same day.
We will be overnighting in Paris before flying back to Seattle the next day. We have started to stay in our European departure city prior to flying back to Seattle over night so that we do not have to catch REAL EARLY morning flights to get home on the same day. My only concern at this point is flying on ALATIA Airlines as I have read some discouraging posts about it since making my reservations. All of our reservations were make thru Delta so it is my hope that if there is a problem, Delta MIGHT take care of it. We have taken 14 RS tours and always stay in the tour hotel for a couple of days prior to the tour and have never had a problem booking into them. I always mention that I am coming to start a RS tour and want to stay in a room where we can stay once the tour begins. Only had a problem with that once. I have already booked into the tour hotels in Rome and Sicily which I did as soon as I got the hotel information from the RS folks.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks for all the excellent comments.

One last question, we have enough miles on our Delta mileage program for free flights. We have not contacted Delta yet about flights from Pittsburgh to Palermo and Cantania to Pittsburgh.

I used to travel a lot for work and have had numerous " free flights" via frequent flight programs. But every program free flight I have taken has been in and out of the same cities. How easy is it working with Delta on more complicated flights such as possibly required on this trip?

I am fearful that my wife may prefer simpler flights such as on the other Rick Steves tours we are considering. My wife is the nervous nelly on flights. I have had some major health issues recently which has rattled my world so maybe simpler is better versus this tour.

Posted by
5166 posts

wfalatovich, we flew Delta multi-city, to Milan and back from Rome in 2012. We used one free FF ticket along with a paid one, but could not see the same flight itineraries by working online. Ended up calling their special FF help line where the very helpful agent was able to get us the same flights. So my suggestion is call and talk to a human and see if they can make it easier.

Posted by
11170 posts

If you want ALL the details of my visit to Sicily in April-May 2014 (with a friend, not with Rick Steves), here's my trip report: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/sicily-palermo-caltanisetta-siracusa-taormina

Short version - we had a great time. GO!

To answer your questions that I can:

1) Flying home from Sicily can mean complicated flights, since there are no nonstops to the US. For Pittsburgh, it would mean at least three segments (two changes). I was going to suggest what others said above - after the tour, fly to another city and stay there a night or two, then fly home. Catania to Rome has by far the most flights, so that Rome extension you wanted to do would be easy. But there's lots of other options. If you want to see where you can fly nonstop from Catania, here's the list from their Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catania%E2%80%93Fontanarossa_Airport#Airlines_and_destinations

2) Sicily is extremely photogenic! But then, it's hard to think of a place in Italy that isn't.

3) "Sicily" is not seedy. Parts of Palermo - and only parts, mind you - do feel a bit seedy. However, other sections are quite ritzy, and still others are intermediate. As I said in my report, before I went to Palermo, I had heard stories that made it sound like Naples on crack. It was actually like a slightly scruffier Rome - and much calmer and more sedate than Naples (at least to me, it had none of the in-your-face quality so prevalent in Naples). Similarly, before our trip we had constantly heard how different Sicily was from mainland Italy. But during our trip, we kept saying to each other, "It's still Italy." Sure, Sicily feels different, but so does each region of Italy; we didn't find the differences between Sicily and, say, Tuscany, to be any greater than the differences between Tuscany and the Veneto (and definitely less than the different feeling of Alto Adige or Turin). Furthermore, we agreed that Hawaii felt more different from the mainland US than Sicily did from mainland Italy.

Posted by
362 posts

I don't think I'm adding anything new to what has been said above, but we just returned from this trip. I can answer four of your five questions.

1) On the return trip home, how difficult is it flying out of Catania? Can we make it to the US that day?
---Flying out of the Catania airport is extremely easy. You can theoretically make it to the US in one day (depending on your airline and its flight schedules), but it's a very long day given the time difference between the US and Italy.

2) How photogenic is Sicily? We love archecture, churches, landscapes and old structures. Looks good, is it?
---OMG, I took so many photos and not just of the buildings. It is a photographer's dream.

3) Do you feel safe touring Sicily touring in late Oct or Early Nov? I was told by a coworker that Sicily felt very seedy to them.
---We just returned from the late November tour. The lines were practically nonexistent at most of the major tourist exhibits. I found Sicily to be charming, picturesque, and welcoming. I felt very safe. As always when traveling, exercise the same common sense precautions you'd use at home. There were street vendors in a couple of cities who pressed very close to our group when we were standing still and listening to the guide in public areas. This made me feel uncomfortable, not because I feared for my safety but just because I have that American concept of personal space. Plus, I was suddenly remembering all of those pickpocket warnings that I've read on the forum here. But nothing bad happened to me or anyone else in our group, including one tour member who left her cell phone in a church. It was still there when she went back to retrieve it.

4) Any comments on this tour are welcomed.
I saw in another post where you fly Delta. We flew Delta from the States. Hometown to Atlanta. Atlanta to Rome. Rome to Palermo (via Alitalia). On the reverse we flew Catania to Rome (Alitalia again). Rome to JFK. JFK to hometown. If Delta or one of its partners flies to a particular destination on the day in question, it's easy to tailor your flight plan to your specifications.

Posted by
50 posts

Hi. I understand your concern for the flights for the Sicily tour! I've booked a tour in October 2018 and have been looking at flights to/from Seattle. The options for flights so far are not appealing. Either there is a very long layover (12+ hours) or an unrealistic short layover (how is one to get through customs and onto the next plane in 1 hour 5 minutes?) or leaving essentially at midnight from the last airport to go through London but with an airport change (a small city airport to Heathrow at 2am). I'm considering the option of a long layover in Frankfurt and get a hotel room for part of the 17 hour layover time. I'm also considering adding on the week in Paris tour just before the Sicily one because the flight options to get better - at least on the 'to' part.

On the other hand I took the Heart of France tour this spring - last minute decision so while I got a sale price for the tour the airfare was not cheap but I booked starting in Vancouver and the price was much better. I loved that tour! And flights to/from Paris are much much easier than to Sicily - at least from the west coast.
I know you'll have a great time whichever you choose. Happy travels and anniversary celebration to you!

Posted by
64 posts

Having already been to various places in Italy, it is time for you to travel south to Sicily. I read the itinerary for the 2018 Rick Steves tour. It is slightly different than the Rick Steves Sicily tour we enjoyed. However, it looks just as good, if not better, in terms of places visited & experiences offered. I recommend it highly! Although we did not fly out of Catania, keep in mind it is Sicily's major airport, with direct flights to/from many European cities. We flew to Palermo from Munich, but, again, there are flights from many other European cities. If you want to avoid Alitalia, you can easily fly in & out of Palermo & Catania on smaller, but reputable European airlines, such as Vueling (a Spanish brand) or Tui (German). These are friendly airlines, similar to Southwest or Jet Blue. Sicily is no more dangerous, seedy or gritty than anywhere else in the world. In my opinion, it is friendly, welcoming & very beautiful; full of history, incredible architecture (including historic churches) & a variety of wonderful scenery. Hotels were comfortable & food was fantastic. Some people like to portray Sicily as if it were a third world country....This is so wrong! We explored on our own, as well as participating in tour group activities. Never once did we feel unsafe or uncomfortable. At first glance, Palermo seemed exotic & somewhat earthy, as compared to other places we had visited in Italy. But, in reality, it has its share of upscale areas, with plenty of affluent, well-heeled locals. My husband celebrated his 60th birthday on this incredible trip, so I think it is a perfect choice for your 40th anniversary. We travel throughout Europe & throughout the world (with groups & independently) on a regular basis & have visited Sicily twice. Based on the tours you are interested in, I would definitely choose the Sicily tour for this trip. Bon voyage!