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Big Change in 2016 Best of Italy Tour

I just noticed that in 2016, the Best of Italy will not include a trip to the Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica, or Sistine Chapel. You will have to do this on your own time. Instead, you will go to the Borghese Gallery. This is a BIG CHANGE! I don't know how this can be called the "Best of Italy". I am glad I am going this year. I don't think I would have chosen this tour if I were going in 2016. Why the change? Are other tours like Trafalgar eliminating the Vatican? I don't think so! Come on Rick, don't sell out on your tours! That's a strong statement, but I think a fair statement. Moral to the story, don't assume the 2016 tours are the same as 2015.

Posted by
39 posts

After reading this I checked the BOE and the Vatican, St. Peter's and Sistine Chapel aren't part of the tour. I am really bummed. Rome is the number one place my husband wants to go and those are all places he really wants to visit. Of course, we can still do that, but the time will be limited and we lose the advantage of being able to do it as part of a RS tour and having the ability to get in quickly--a big reason we are paying to travel with RS.

Posted by
600 posts

I noticed that too, and I was surprised because it is such a must see. I imagine the change has more to do with making the itinerary easier rather than selling out, as when I looked up the prices there is only a 3 euro price difference between the two. I have never been to Rome, but perhaps they were finding that trying to do the Forum, Pantheon and Coliseum and the Vatican, St. Peters Bacilica and the Sistine Chapel along with the final group dinner was just too much organized tour time for a day and a half and didn't allow for any free time? Just a thought. For me, the Borghese gallery and the Vatican were both a must do, so we plan to stay an extra day. This new format actually works better for us because I was interested in the Walks of Italy Pristine Sistine tour so we could see the chapel less crowded, and now we can do it. I imagine this won't be a very popular decision for others though.

Posted by
12402 posts

The Borghese is WONDERFUL - IMHO a much better experience than the horribly crowded Vatican Museums and Sistine. Even St Peter's was so overrun the last time we were there that we ran for sanity after maybe 30 minutes or so. Enduring the Vatican mob long enough to do all three attractions (well, two, as the Sistine in IN the museums) is very, very wearing so maybe that was the rationale? Having done all of these, I wouldn't call the switch "selling out" at all but providing a quality experience with a marvelous collection in a fascinating building with excellent crowd control.

But you don't need an RS tour to skip the line. Tickets and /or tours are easily purchased on the Vatican website:

http://www.museivaticani.va/3_EN/pages/MV_Home.html

A museum/basilica combo tour ( booked through the Vatican website) will get you directly into the church from the Sistine, and save some time - just as an RS tour would.

Posted by
3458 posts

I had not looked at that level of detail for the 2016 tours yet. I'm sure as we read the details we will find other similar changes to other tours as RS constantly tweaks their tours based on feedback from the travelers and changing availability of the various sights.

I think the change is mainly due to there being a lot of discussion about overlapping activities in the RS tours (not necessarily this one specifically, but many of the RS tours). The week in Rome tour for 2016 still includes the Vatican, St. Peter's, and Sistine Chapel as part of that tour. By not including this in the Best of tour, there is more reason to do both. ;-)

Posted by
1609 posts

It's not a statement. None of the France tours include the Eiffel Tower. I assume that the itinerary is based on feedback from tour members and their level of interest. I ordered tickets and did the ET in my free time. Based on advice from another traveler, I always arrive a few days in advance to get over the jet lag. Good time to do that kind of stuff.

Posted by
127 posts

I've got to respectfully disagree. There is plenty of opportunity to visit the Vatican but going to the Borghese Gallery takes a bit more effort. I went on the RS Southern Italy tour last year and neither was included as part of the tour. I personally found the Vatican to be grossly overcrowded to the point that you really couldn't appreciate the works in Vatican Museum.

Posted by
8203 posts

I've been to Rome twice on Heart of Italy and 21 day BOE. The experience in the Vatican/Sistine/St Peter's was just OK both times. Trying to keep 25 people with listening devices that sometimes worked and sometimes didn't ( a function of the building and interference from the many other devices being used) was sort of a nightmare with the huge crowds. In retrospect I would have preferred paying for one of the really early tours where it might not have been so hot or so crowded.

It is really hard to convey the feeling of being moved thru hot, airless, jammed corridors like packed sardines with a guide talking in your ear while the audio cuts in and out trying to explain what you are seeing while you watch your purse (yep I'm sure there are pickpockets working the crowd), try not to step on someone or be stepped on, attempt to look at the art and keep up with your group. This is not an optimal experience.

Posted by
1047 posts

In the 2015 Itinerary and in his videos, Rick describes St. Peter's Basilica as "awe-inspiring" and the "greatest church in Christendom". He describes Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel as "one of the world's most famous works of art". Don't forget about Michelangelo's Pieta. I am sorry, but the Borghese Gallery can't compare to seeing St Peter's for the first time. This will force the tour members to add another day to their trip and probably a private tour just to see what all other tours will be taking their members to see. How can you go to Rome and miss the Vatican? To my knowledge, the Best of Italy has always included the Vatican. I would like to know the reason for the change. I am sure it is a lot more of a hassle to take people there than the Borghese Gallery, but that's why we are spending over $5,000.

Posted by
2263 posts

Not to be picky, picky, but the tour is called "Best of Italy" and the Vatican is not a part of Italy, but a separate country located within the borders of Rome. This could be considered a long overdue correction, no?

Posted by
6321 posts

Things change. It's the way of the world. Nothing stays the same. Why should RS tours be any different? I'm sure if you call them they will give you some reason why, but what's the big deal, it is what it is. My question to the OP is: if you're going this year, why do you care what they change for next year? The people going on that tour next year will adapt - either add a day or two to the tour, as many do, or arrange to do a tour at a less crowded time, or even just get timed tickets to avoid the lines.

Posted by
2707 posts

I went to the Vatican, St Peter's and museum once, in the seventies. (My background includes art history.) I couldn't stand it even then. Finally, I had to leave St. Peter's and wait outside for my friends. I have never been back. I think perhaps it is more of a religious experience for some people and thus needs to be an individual's choice in free time. From the dissatisfaction I've read on various forums with people's behavior and the crowds, it does not sound like the place to go as a group. RS can not go everywhere. I'll take the three Bernini statues in the Borghese anytime! Personally, I think museums should be a personal trip, because everyone's speed and interest is different. But that is just me, someone who hasn't been on a group tour since my first one in the 70's. However, am considering a few of RS's at this time to try it again…but I'm hesitant. However, that's a different story.

Posted by
3458 posts

Nancy,

I'm not the OP, but I appreciated having it pointed out that the tour changed. For some the Vatican visit is a major reason to take the tour. It could be helpful to those still deciding which tour to take this year who may have assumed that part of the tour did not change.

I am scheduled to do the Best of Italy next month but had thought about changing it to another tour due to work conflicts. Now that I know the Vatican parts will not be in this tour next year, I will keep my plans as they are.

Posted by
1047 posts

Thanks Mark. I think it was important to point out the changes. I am sure many people had looked at the 2015 tour itinerary and might have overlooked the fact that the Rome portion of the tour has changed. And yes, I think a visit to the Vatican is probably on the bucket list for a lot of people going to Rome.

Posted by
12402 posts

Personally, I think museums should be a personal trip, because
everyone's speed and interest is different.

That's a really good point, Wray. Interests can be VERY different, and I'll be the first to say that while St Pete's is impressively enormous, it's not my favorite of the (countless) churches I've seen in my life, or of those just in Rome. And the Vatican is far from my favorite of art museums so everyone is different.

But tourism in general has exploded in Europe this season, with reported record numbers overrunning all of the hot spots. Replacing the Vatican with the Borghese could be because it has become just too difficult to comfortably, efficiently herd a group through, and especially not on a timetable? If guides have to wait for the stack of bodies 4-5 deep to clear to see every piece or even get into the room… The BOE tour only spends less than 2 full days in Rome: very, very little time to cover even a fraction of the city. From a personal standpoint, the Borghese - 2 hours to see/no crowd - is definitely a 'best' for a squeezed itinerary of balanced variety, and one that still allows for a little free time.

Posted by
6321 posts

" I appreciated having it pointed out that the tour changed. For some the Vatican visit is a major reason to take the tour. It could be helpful to those still deciding which tour to take this year who may have assumed that part of the tour did not change."

I may be in the minority here but I would certainly never sign up for (and pay for) a tour without first looking at the itinerary and what is included. I would never assume that a particular tour would include a sight I wanted to see even if last year's version did. Just because someone is taking a tour rather than planning everything themselves does not mean they don't have to do any research and have due diligence.

Posted by
244 posts

I was curious so I looked at the Best of Europe in 14 days. Looks like the Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica, and the Sistine Chapel are no longer on the tour. Our friends took this tour last year, I am positive they would not have gone if these tours were not included.

Posted by
39 posts

The BOE tours go to the Capitoline while it looks like some of the others go to the Borghese Gallery--just so some don't think the BOE go to the Borghese also.

Posted by
280 posts

As a huge Michaelangelo fan, I think it would be a shame to not see the Sistine chapel and the Pieta. (Yes, the crowds are awful, and we were told to watch our bags.). Hopefully the new tours will have enough time set aside to visit on their own. I agree that there are major attractions in each city that you visit that are "must-sees". I would have been terribly disappointed if those 2 places weren't on that tour when I took it 2 years ago. I was a novice to travel in Europe 2 years ago, and might have skipped this tour without those attractions. I now know that it's best to take an extra day or two at the beginning or end of a RS tour. Some people also don't have the option to take extra time at the end of a tour. They might have limited vacation time. Hope they get it worked out.

Posted by
1047 posts

I am surprised that the Venice, Florence, Rome tour continues to go to the Vatican. They do not include the Borghese Gallery even though there are more days allocated to Rome than the Best of Italy Tour.

Posted by
865 posts

I think 2016 might be a Holy Year, so leading a tour group around the Vatican might be a much bigger undertaking than usual. If that's the case, perhaps the office elected to substitute something else and will (maybe?) return to the former tour program for 2017. ?

Posted by
1047 posts

I think you may be right regarding it being a "holy year" and more crowded. I hope that is the case because I am sure most people who have never been to Italy and are going to Rome would want to see the sites in the Vatican.

Posted by
16847 posts

After a great deal of discussion and soul-searching, we’ve decided to remove the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel visit from most of our 2016 tours that pass through Rome. The extreme overcrowding of this site has made it a highly stressful experience for our tour members. Looking ahead, the pope has declared 2016 to be a Jubilee Year, which is sure to attract even heavier crowds.

Two of our Italy tours — Venice-Florence-Rome and the Best of Rome — spend enough days in Rome so we can creatively schedule those groups for off-peak times during the week. But our other itineraries, with less time in Rome, don’t give us that flexibility.

Fortunately, Rome offers many other unforgettable sights and experiences, which our guides are eager to share with their groups in 2016.

People on those tours who wish to visit the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel regardless, can make independent online reservations (and visiting as a solo traveler can be less stressful than moving through the site as part of a group). Rick’s guidebooks which cover Rome all include directions on how to make a reservation.

Posted by
168 posts

I've now been to the Vatican/Sistine Chapel/St. Peter's three times, and the best experience I've had was when we booked tickets for ourselves through the Vatican website...it was November, and though the museum was still crowded, we were able to pace ourselves and simply step aside when the big herds came through...there was invariably a nice breathing space between tour groups when we had the place virtually to ourselves.

Posted by
1926 posts

Thank you, Kate for your reply and yosemite1 for your original post. I see the logic here and agree that if tour members want to see some of these sites, they can accomplish that during their free time either on their own or with a privately booked tour. I remember reading in another post, another reply, how lots of folks don't actually read every itinerary very closely, sign up and then complain when some site they expected to see is left out. Everything changes at some point and I would reiterate as others have, that you should carefully read and digest all aspects of what your prospective tour includes and plan accordingly.

Posted by
12402 posts

Andi, don't let this one omission influence a change of tour! David, Laura and Terri make great points about the flexibility of doing the museums on one's own, and being able to more nimbly move around crowds as a single or couple versus a larger group. It also allows for your choice of which of 4 miles of collections you wish to spend more or less time with. You can do that solo, or with a tour booked through the Vatican or other resource, if a tour is your preference.

Rome is full of amazing treasures: you will not be disappointed in whatever ends up on the itinerary!

Posted by
1926 posts

Good grief! Meant to thank Laura, not Kate who is the other RS rep who usually answers queries! Sorry, Laura! Thank you, too, Kathy, for your reply. I won't change my tour plans-heading for England next year.