For those of you that have been on Rick Steves' 17 Day Best of Italy Tour, are there any recommendations regarding what you did or what you have wished you would have done that would have make my tour experience even better? (EDIT: I have moved this posting to the Rick Steves' Tour section of the Forum in hopes of getting a better response.)
On my Italy tours I usually got up early and went out walking before breakfast. Priceless, especially in Venice where the workers were sweeping the cobblestones with twig brooms. It was so quiet! I try to find people outside my group for conversation. When the others were gathered for their lunch, I would walk around to see the town then find a snack to eat on the bus. In Rome I walked across town from the Circus Maximus to the Vatican, alone. You can make the tour to your liking by taking off on your own.
This was our first RS tour. The only thing I would do differently would be to add on a couple of extra days in Rome at the end of the tour. We did fly in a day early at the beginning of the tour and spent the first night in Milan. We were able to see the Duomo and the Last Supper before heading to Varenna to join the tour. I think it would be too much to go on to Varenna after the long overnight flight. Two nights in Milan might be better. This tour is my favorite of the six RS tours we have taken - just a wonderful itinerary - you get to experience all the classic sights as well as a nice mix of smaller towns. Enjoy.
If at all possible, fly into Venice two or three days early and stay an extra two or three days in Rome afterward. The tour, while really great, is only able to scratch the surface of those two great cities.
We loved the 17 Day Italy tour and have returned to Venice, the Dolomites, Verona, Siena & Rome on subsequent trips. During the tour: I agree with the previous posting of getting up early in Venice - such a special place! This tour was our favorite because each location was interesting. Wear your most comfortable, supportive shoes so you can hike in the Dolomites & Cinque Terre and walk your feet off everywhere else. Bring a swimming suit, so you can swim in the water at Cinque Terre, if that interests you.
I would highly recommend arriving early. We arrived in Italy 3 days before the tour started, stayed in Verona, and that set the stage for having a wonderful trip. You will get more out of the trip when you join the tour because you're over the jetlag, and you've had some fun experiences with the language & culture - go into a grocery store, take a bus into a local area away from tourists & have lunch. We took the easy train connections after we flew into Milan. If you decide to go to Verona, I recommend the Verona Card for free entry & free use of the bus system to explore the center of town. Then the day that the tour stops in Verona, we were able to go back to a couple of our favorite spots.
Thanks for the great suggestions. We had already booked our flights and will be arriving two days early. I wished we could have added two days at the end of the tour so we could have spent more time in Rome, but I was worried that we might experience flight delays in getting to Europe from the West Coast and decided to add the time at the beginning of the trips. Also I thought we could use the time to get over any jet lag. We will be spending one night in Milan and an extra night in Varenna before the tour starts. From everything I have read and from your suggestions, I agree with how important it is to get up early and see Venice before the crowds. I did this on a trip to Paris and it was a magical time to be out walking along th Seine River. Thanks again for all your suggestions!
Arriving a few days prior to a tour is a good idea, as that provides a bit of a "cushion" for any unexpected flight delays or whatever.