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A long but hopefully helpful overview of our MyWay Italy trip October 2018 Part 1

This is a long but hopefully helpful overview of our MyWay Italy trip October 2018. Hope it helps you decide whether a MyWay trip is right for you.

First, I would like to say that I don’t understand when some folks on the Rick Steves chat forum say they could do this type of trip on their own for less money. Unless you’ve been to Italy multiple times, I don’t see how anyone but an already seasoned traveler could get the kind of value we received on their own.

To begin, our tour manager, Donato did more than just give us the logistics and basic dos and don’ts, he also gave us little lessons on Italian culture that includes wine, art, history, food and much more making the tour bus almost a literal rolling school bus. The time just flew by. By the time we would arrive at our destination everyone knew not only what to expect as far as hotel logistics (and quirks), but an idea of the best things to do and the most efficient way to go about doing them. Armed with the knowledge of great places to eat, honest places to shop, where to be most wary of pick pockets, and the most interesting sites to see we felt confident of getting the most out of our experience in every city we toured. We gave Donato the nickname of “il professore” because he conducted the tour in true “Rick Steves” style giving us a full package of knowledge for each stop.

Nothing is pushed on you and you can make your own choices. He might say something like “It’s not really a Roman forum like you might expect but feel free to check it out if you like.”

Also we never went wrong going with one of his restaurant or tour recommendations. One of THE best meals we had the whole trip was at the Giglio Rossi (Red Lily in English) in Florence. Sometimes we would strike out on our own with mixed results but you can’t go wrong with his recommendations.

There were also a few casual (mostly BYOB) tour dinners and happy hours which you are free to attend or not, some we did and some we didn’t.

Donato also gave short orientation walks when we arrived at the larger cities and it really helped get us started and not be completely lost and frustrated right out of the gate. In Rome, for example Donato taught us how to effectively deal with Roman traffic, navigate a successful street crossing (it’s harder than you think and I’ve lived in a big city) and hail a cab in addition to helpful bus and Metro information.

Of course on the down side you have to schlep your own luggage to and from the bus to the hotel but Donato makes this as painless as possible. He preps you as to what to expect—flat or stepped terrain, where to turn left or right and for God’s sake don’t pet the cute guard dog at the train station because he bites! If you pack lightly and efficiently it’s not really a problem.

I was impressed with all the hotel choices. I was expecting super simple and basic but most of places we stayed had at least some of the amenities we are used to in the States. Mattress hardness or softness and room size varied but all the hotels we stayed at had clean rooms, travel size soaps and shampoos, hair dryers, good water pressure, and best of all, elevators!

This trip taught me how hard it is to be a tour manager. Donato makes it look easy but the best job description I can think of is: traveling cat herder, fixer of broken luggage, listener of minutiae, answerer of repeated questions, the patience of a saint, and Pied Piper Extraordinaire. I also learned on this trip that yes, there is such a thing as a dumb question, yet Donato treats every question seriously and respectfully. He told us that the one time he would not answer a question is when a woman once asked him how to use a bidet...so you get the picture. Quite frankly I don’t know where he gets the patience.

See "Part 2" below for the rest of my review..

Posted by
3735 posts

please post your "Part 2" here as the first comment so the pieces stay together

Posted by
179 posts

What a great description of the My Way tours. After a couple of RS tours we decided to try a My Way with the Best of Europe in 14 days. I cannot say enough about how much we enjoyed this untour! And our guide Jody managed the entire trip just as you described. As far as I'm concerned, the My Way tours are the best of both worlds!

Posted by
18 posts

Great report. And ditto to Kim's post about keeping multi-part reviews together.

Posted by
35 posts

I wanted to but the character count wouldn't let me. If there is a way around that, please let me know.

Posted by
1729 posts

All you have to do is make a new post to your established topic -so make it simple, copy your Part 2 to here as anew post, and then Delete that post/thread.

Posted by
35 posts

Got it and done (thanks all!):

PART 2 HERE:

Aside from our most excellent tour manager, the tour schedule is arranged very thoughtfully. A busy start in Venice when everyone’s excited, then the schedule takes a couple of low key trips to Lake Como and Monterosso before ramping up again in Florence, then off to the picturesque tranquil towns of San Gimignano and Assisi before finishing off with a bang in Rome so you don’t get exhausted with “If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium” syndrome.

I highly recommend this trip to anyone who is interested not only seeing the incredible sites of Italy but immersing yourself as much as possible in the Italian culture. In a short 13 days I learned so much more than I thought possible.

I think MyWay people like more flexibly and choices and as Rick Steves says, you want to maximize your time as much as possible.
This was truly a “MyWay” tour in every sense and one of my best vacations ever. Donato really made this tour special and stress free.

Note: If mosquitoes are a problem for you and you like open windows, then bring some mosquito repellent and anti-itch cream because none of the hotels’ windows had screens.

Posted by
20165 posts

thanks for the info, and I'm glad you combined the bits. Can we have more, please? Is there anything else you can add?

Posted by
35 posts

Thanks, I'm glad you like it as I thought people would be on me for it being soooo long. Lol!
I'm happy to answer any questions you have.

Posted by
5621 posts

Thanks so much for your Trip Report! Sounds like you had a wonderful time! I think it will be helpful for someone who is wanting more information about My Way tours.

"One of THE best meals we had the whole trip was at the Giglio Rossi"

I love that restaurant! I've actually eaten there twice - both on RS guided tours, lol. That dessert cart is something else!

Posted by
35 posts

My ONE regret in Florence was that I didn't get a dessert from the dessert cart. We had had an exhausting day and I was so tired I thought my head would drop in the pasta (Try the pasta with wild boar...DE-licious!) They had a large group in the back and it looked like it was going to take too long to get a dessert served so we bagged it. I did see the dessert cart though and it looked stupendous!

Posted by
11561 posts

Maria, what a valuable asset you've become to our forum. Thank you !!! I'm glad you enjoyed your trip and had a good RS experience.

Posted by
20165 posts

Tell me more about this desert cart.

I've been to Florence several times but always just get a coffee or three during the day and grab a snack for the evening.

Please tell me more about this restaurant. Is it central? Do I need to see my bank manager (what a joke, they don't even exist any more!!, at least in England) before I walk in the door?

Is it a place a mere mortal can enter, or is it really only for groups?

You've made me hungry now.

Posted by
1425 posts

Thank you, Maria, for posting your "My Way" experience.. It's wonderful to have such a comprehensive and fun report of the type of tour I've been circling for a while now. I just might take the plunge. I am glad you had such a terrific time!

Posted by
35 posts

Hi Nigel,
Unfortunately, I did not get to experience the dessert cart but OMG...it looked so delicious! All kinds of torts and wonderful looking treats. The restaurant is called Giglio Rosso (Red Lily in English). It was about 2 blocks away from our hotel (Hotel California) and very central. I would also highly recommend the pasta with the wild boar sauce and some parmesan cheese. It was the best meal I had in Italy. Prices were very reasonable too.

Posted by
5621 posts

The dessert cart is one of the 3 level things and the nights I've been there the dessert chef was the presenter. I'm vegan so just asked for macedone/fruit salad and he was hilarious. Acted as if his heart would break because I was "only" getting fruit and he had worked all day on this presentation just for me, hahaha. Very entertaining. I will tell you that if anything would have made me eat a non-vegan dessert this would have done it. Based on others in the group everything was swoon-worthy.

Of course it's reasonably priced if Rick's groups go there. There is a back area up a few steps where they put the groups and table space in the front.

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you for your post! I'm so excited! We've booked a MyWay Italy trip for Sept 2019 and we are just starting our planning. Did you spend much time with your tour manager your first evening in Venice for him to give you good advice/recommendations for your first few days there? Does the tour manager meet with the group daily or is he just available as needed when you are staying at locations for multiple days? Was he able to get you discounts for any tours or activities like a gondola ride in Venice or is he not able? Did you book any of your tours ahead of your trip (i.e. Colosseum, Vatican)? I know I'll have a lot more questions as I do my planning.

Posted by
35 posts

Question 1: The first orientation lasts about two hours. About half of it was redundant for us because like you, I am an uber-planner and watched many You Tube videos of Rick Steves and others about Dos and Don'ts of Italy. Probably my one "improvement" would be a shorter orientation but I'm sure a lot of people would disagree with me because as in any group there’s a range of attention spans and various levels of organizational skills.

Question 2: Donato had "office hours" where he would let you know when and how long he would hang out in the lobby for questions. After that, you are pretty much on your own. Of course he is there on the bus giving you an overview of where you are going and you can ask him questions then too.

Question 3: No, he can't really get you discounts but he will recommend honest places to shop or good, reasonable places to eat. He will tell you what rip offs to avoid. He will also guide you as to what to expect for say, a gondola ride and how much you should pay, etc. Go with his recommendations. We never got steered wrong with any of them. If you mention "Donato" or "Rick Steves" they will treat you right.

Question 4: YES! We booked tours in advance and I would highly recommend doing that. If you don't you will spend hours of your valuable vacation waiting in line and once you get in you won't know what you are seeing. The tour guides are very informative so you get more out of the experience. We booked through Walks of Italy and they were great!!

We booked:
Doges's Palace and Secret Passages (Fabulous tour! We loved Eriza)
Express Florence Highlights with Uffizi & Academia Tickets
Vatican Museums Night Tour with Sistine Chapel
St. Peter’s Basilica from Top to Bottom with Dome Climb & Crypt
The Coliseum and Nero's Underground Palace
You might also want to book something on the Palatine Hill which we didn't do but would be worth it if you have the time.

All were super crowded and we were there mid-October. We also added few extra days in Venice and Rome so our trip was more like 18 days but well worth it to see everything you want to see.

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you so much!! Your list of tours is very much appreciated. I was just looking into Walks of Italy.

Posted by
1016 posts

I did 3 Walks of Italy tours last spring. All very good. Last year they had a sale on Black Friday

Posted by
125 posts

You are lucky to have had a knowledgeable tour director. A couple years ago on an GAS My way tour we had an director who told me I knew more than she did. RS told me afterwards that I expected too much. I will never do a My way tour again because of this. I don’t know how you can check this beforehand.

Posted by
35 posts

That's too bad you had that experience. Someone on our tour also said that they had a tour manager who was not as well versed as Donato. I'm not sure how you can check who is the tour manager but maybe they don't want to advertise it because then everyone would flock to one person and not the other. Donato has lived in Italy and worked for Rick Steves for over 25 years so he really understood the culture and the company.

Posted by
11561 posts

Patricia, I'm sorry you had a subpar experience. I took one MyWay tour, the Alps. The tour manager was Cynthia, who works for RS in Edmonton the rest of the year. Not only did she have all the information on hiking, she had done them all! She'd use our time on the bus explaining the various options for the next day - hikes, bikes, sights, then work her way through the group, helping each party individually plan the next day's activities, helping them choose what was best for them. Our group ranged from 8-year old twins, through serious hikers, to older people with physical limitations. She'd stayed in all our hotels before and took us on orientation walks in each new place.

Posted by
28 posts

We must have been on Don’s My Way Italy tour right before your tour. Ours ended October 5th. I did the planning for our group and had done so much research and reserved tickets and tours ahead of time that we didn’t make full use of Don. I do have to say that we used him to work out our public transportation in Rome, which went well and his Rome walk was valuable as we were able to make it back to venues he pointed out to see the Diocletian Baths (hit the sacristy first, it explains the church’s features, etc) and Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. On the walk of Florence we also saw the entry for the dome climb so we were able to easily find it. I think the best thing about the My Way tour is that we were able to plan our own tour within the confines of the overall tour. This was our first RS My Way tour, but third tour overlay. Both have advantages and disadvantages to the point I don’t know that I’d choose one over the other (although the Alpine My Way is calling me.....).

Posted by
359 posts

Thanks for posting. It seems like you did a lot of private tours. I was wondering how the price worked out vs doing a RS normal tour? I think with all the tours it might be a wash? Thank you for telling us about the tour. Any fun places in Rome you went to eat? Planning our RS Rome tour in Dec. Thank you

Posted by
35 posts

Hi SA,
That's one way to look at it but it depends on what you are looking for. For example, I booked the "Vatican Museums at night" and "Nero's Underground Palace" tours which a regular tour would not offer. I liked that I could customize the tours we took and see what we were most interested in. With the regular tours the time and tour is already set. So cost wise, you might be right but depends on how much flexibility you'd like and if you are ok with the tours that are pre-packaged.

We booked the MyWay tour because I didn't feel like spending hours and hours on Trip Advisor looking for just the right hotel to stay in. We also didn't want to hassle with the transportation. However, I was interested in searching for just the right tours to take. So again, it really depends on you, your expectations for the trip and how much pre-planning you are willing (or not willing) to do.

Posted by
756 posts

Ah Donato!
He was the guide on the Best of Italy tour I took almost 20 years ago.
We wrote a little song and performed it on our last night after dinner -- "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's Donato!" and so on... you get the picture.
We thought we were hilarious... coulda been the wine! ;-)
Anyway, it's nice to know he's still working for Rick because he was really GOOD!
Thanks for posting.

Posted by
37 posts

I had Donato on our Rome city tour about 10 years ago--he was fantastic!! I'd do a tour again if I knew he was leading it. Is there any way to find that out before booking??

Also--what was the price difference between everything you had to pay for plus tour cost vs the usual RS tour of same area? Is there really a cost savings doing MyWay?

Posted by
35 posts

Hi Phaedra,
I'm not sure if there's a way to know who's managing the trip. You might have to call the Rick Steves offices. Not sure about that one.

All our separate tours on top of the trip and plane fare cost @$650 for two people for about 6 tours through Walks of Italy. It wasn't so much a cost saving issue for us as much as a Do-It-My-Way issue. I liked this tour because we didn't have to follow a strict schedule. We could do the Vatican Museums at Night and Nero's Underground Palace which probably would not be on a regular tour schedule. I would say to make your decision on how you feel about planning and scheduling. If you like to know where you are going to be and what you are going to see on a certain day and time, then you would be fine with a regular Rick Steves or other tour. If you don't like to do any planning and want it all done for you then a regular and/or cost efficient tour might be best for you. We liked the MyWay tour because Rick Steves company took care of the "icky" planning (transportation and hotels) while I got to plan the fun stuff (tours and planning free time). I would say think about what you want to plan and what you don't and make your decision that way.

Posted by
284 posts

I just wanted to thank you for all the info you have given about the MyWay tour, especially the extra tours that you took. I have done lots of the regular tours in the past and have found that there isn't much free time left on them and I have gotten worse about scheduling stuff to do when there is. I have really missed that. Your first posting came right after the two people I travel with all the time cancelled on me for next year and after reading your review, and not wanting to be totally on my own, I think this looks perfect. Looks like I have a lot of planning to do. Thanks again.

Posted by
35 posts

You're welcome. Glad to be of help! Let me know if you have any other questions and I'll do my best to answer.