I've been looking at the Italy tours offered by Rick Steves, and can't decide which would suit me best so I'm hoping some people who have done them both can offer some advice. I'm told by various people who have been to Italy that Venice, Florence, and Rome are must sees, so I was thinking the City Tour of those three might be right for a first trip. Then I was looking at the My Way Italy tour, and it also stops in those three towns, but for two nights instead of three. The My Way Tour is longer by three days, and covers more ground, but it would be up to me to arrange my sight seeing for each day. What are the advantages/disadvantages to both. For the My Way tour would there be a lot of things I would have to plan in advance or is it fairly easy to get into most of the sights without having to stand in a long line? The price for the My Way tour is more reasonable, and I have to factor in the low Canadian dollar, and I am also travelling solo. Looking to go in late Sept. early Oct. and it looks like the City tour is filling up fast so I need to make a decision.
I can't speak for the My Way tours, but you will not regret taking the Venice-Florence-Rome tour. Most of the time the activities are planned for you, but there is plenty of unorganized time when you can do what you want. You will avoid the lines into insanely crowded attractions like the Colosseum and the Vatican. You may arrive solo, but by the time the tour is over you will have made new friends. Venice-Florence-Rome, last year, was our first RS tour, and we enjoyed it so much that we have already signed up for another tour (Belgium and Netherlands) this summer. By late Sept. the heat of Italy should be somewhat less intense.
Anita, I haven't done the tours you are considering but I am a veteran of 5 RS Tours and am taking the Best of Italy this summer. Probably for you, the city tour would be your best " first." All the kinks have been worked out and you will just need to be ready in the morning and have the cities presented to you. Remember, the My WayTours include only breakfast and not entries and every other dinner. My Way Tours mean YOU wait in the ticket line and you don't profit from group rates. Take full advantage of the Rick Steves organizations years of touring. Remember YOU are on vacation. Have fun!
If this is your first RS tour, I'd suggest taking one of the fully guided tours rather than a My Way tour. With the My Way tour, you will have to plan all your own sightseeing, and you may have to stand in queues or whatever. I've taken both types of tour, and prefer the fully guided versions.
It time and budget allow, the Best of Italy 17-day tour would be an excellent choice, as that covers a wide variety of places in northern Italy. The Venice / Florence / Rome tour would also be good as that covers three of the most historic and popular cities in Italy. With the guided tours, all sightseeing will be arranged and you'll be able to breeze past the queues with a local guide, and really learn a lot about the sights you're seeing. These tours also provide lots of free time, so you'll have the ability to explore a bit on your own. The group meals are one of the best parts of the guided tours, and you'll eat well!
If there are other places you want to see in Italy, it's very easy to fit those in either before or after the tour. Some of the other popular destinations you could consider are the Cinque Terre, one of the lakes (Maggiore, Como or whatever), Siena, Lucca, the Dolomites, etc. There are a LOT of different possibilities!
Well, I will chime in with a 4th vote on taking the guided tour! Rick's are such fun. As Ken indicates you eat well and the group and guide are SO much fun!
If the city tour is more than your budget allows, consider the Heart of Italy tour. It does Rome, Volterra (a really charming hill town), Cinque Terre and Florence. It was my first RS tour and it is terrific. You have a blend of big city and smaller towns which is a nice combo. You could travel to Venice for a few days after the tour because by then you will have some experience traveling in Italy. Do know that the Venice airport is more of a hassle to fly out of than say, Florence or Rome.
Anita, the guided tour provides so much more than just hotels & transportation. Don't just compare the dollar cost - there is value in the stress relief from having the hard parts figured out. I think the My Way tours are geared for people who may have already been somewhere, and just want the logistics and transportation assistance. V/F/R is the one we did and loved every minute of it. But also, its short enough that you can and should add on a few days on either or both ends, on your own if you feel you want more
Thanks for all the great responses. I think I have two problems going on right now. One is that I'm just itching to go somewhere....anywhere, and the other is the low Canadian dollar which would add about $1000 to the cost of this tour which is why I'm also thinking about the tour to Turkey. It's more affordable, and the history is also fascinating. I agree that there is a lot included in the guided tours, and it's probably worth it to save myself the hassle of trying to figure it all out myself. I'm not a rookie solo traveller, though, my last trip was to Scotland where I rented a car and drove on the wrong side of the road for 10 days! I've also done Ireland alone, but these are English speaking countries, and everywhere I went I always found someone to talk to, things to read etc. I guess I'm just nervous about going alone to any country where they may not speak my language. I guess I could postpone going anywhere until next year when I could afford one of the longer guided tours. Who knows, maybe the Canadian dollar will bounce back a bit.....
You sound like an experienced traveler! We went on the Italy My Way tour and it was wonderful! It gave us the ability to spend our days the way we wanted to. Most of us did pre- planning so we didn't have to wait in any lines! Follow the RS suggestions, take his walking tours, and enjoy meeting new people. We had happy hours and dinners each night in small groups. You can spend the amount you wanted. Breakfast was included. We usually were so busy we skipped lunch, had some gelato then went to dinner. It was well worth it!
Well, I've not done the Turkey tour but everyone I've spoken with just loved it! Of course I've never really talked to anyone who didn't like their RS tour, lol.
If money is an issue, you could always plan a trip on your own with the help of these boards and a couple good guide books. You shouldn't worry about the language barrier, 90% of the people you come into contact with as a tourist will know enough English to get by, and a small Italian phase book will help with the niceties. Grazie, prego, etc.
Rome, Florence and Venice are easy enough to plan on your own (figure about 9-14 days for those cities), and you could add another destination or two based on the time you have and your interests. Do some inexpensive walking tours in each city to get an overview. It's really not that difficult.
"and the other is the low Canadian dollar which would add about $1000 to the cost of this tour"
I know that feeling well, as that's also been one of my concerns with the eight tours I've taken. As with most travellers, you'll have to be guided by your budget.
As the others have suggested, you could also look at the Heart of Italy tour, or perhaps take one of the off-peak tours which are priced less. For example, the Oct. 30 departure of the Heart of Italy tour is priced at $2695, which is considerably lower than the peak price of $3195.
Well, now I've added Greece to the list of options as it seems it might be impossible to book a flight out of Rome on my air miles. The tour to Turkey is also a bit of a problem with flights as it doesn't end in Instanbul, and looking at flights to get back to Istanbul to fly home it appears it's going to take me a couple days to do that! Has anyone else done this tour and sorted out how to get from Izmir to Istanbul without having to spend a day and a half at an airport? Right now it looks like it's easiest to get flights in and out of Athens for the 14 day Greece tour.
As a veteran on 9 tours……for your first tour I would not do a My Way tour. Great advice has already been posted regarding the concept of the My Way Tours.
We did the Turkey tour. Outstanding tour! We took a short flight back to Istanbul for two more days (gave us two more days to dodge the pesky carpet salesmen) and flew out of there.
Just an FYI…..go where YOU really want to go. You will enjoy your trip much more (and no regrets in the back of your mind)…….even if it means eating beans and rice for a couple of months after you get back :-)
We've done Heart of Italy and the RS Greece tour- you can't go wrong either way. The weather should be good that time of year. One nice thing about the Greece tour was it was easy to eat well and inexpensively when we had to do our own meals. Actually, we ate so well with the meals provided that I could have skipped the meals we did on our own.
I agree that you should go for a fully-guided tour if possible. Also, you could try the Heart of Italy tour and then add on 1-2 days on your own for Venice if that helps with the cost. I like the mix of cities/smaller towns. Plus, it's nice to have people to talk to, even if you don't mind going it alone.
However, to answer your question about Turkey- have you checked flights from smaller airlines, such as Pegasus, Onur Air, Atlasjet, or Sun Express? According to Google, there are about 51 flights per day from Izmir to Istanbul (although that would be to both airports - just make sure you select Ataturk). They usually cost under $100 U.S. When I was in Turkey, I took Pegasus out of Istanbul and Onur Air back to Istanbul. I believe it's only about an hour flight. I will say I had trouble booking the flight using the American credit card, but I had a friend who lived in Turkey do it for me, then I just paid him. You may/may not experience this.
I hope this info helps. :)
Enjoy your trip,wherever you go. Please come back and let us know what you decide.
Why not pick the guided RS tour that fits best with your flight and date options? You really can't go wrong; might as well make it easy on yourself. The places you don't visit will still be there.
The Greece RS tour is AMAZING.
Best of luck and have fun!!!!
Another vote for a full RS tour - I have taken 12, soon to be 13, and have never considered the My Way Tour as I like so many things that go on on the full tour that you miss out on on the MWT, perhaps the constant companion ship of the guide and other tour members being important to me.
Thanks for all the great feedback. It has helped me make up my mind to do the three city tour of Venice, Florence, and Rome. It fits with my schedule (thanks for that suggestion, Stacey), and I may be able to add a couple of days onto the end to explore Rome a little more.
Gretchen, thanks for the info on flights from Izmir to Istanbul. My mistake was looking at the flights from air miles rewards site, and they obviously don't deal with those smaller airlines. I still want to do this tour, but will leave it until I have more time.
So, any suggestions on what to do if I spend a couple extra days in Rome?
When you are doing your planning, give yourself a day or 2 in Venice before your tour to adjust to jet lag. You don't want to land the day the tour starts! Plus that gives you some slack in case there is a glitch on the way over.
There is a ton to do in Rome that it does not look like you cover on your tour. BTW, your tour guide will also have some suggestions for post tour sightseeing. I enjoyed the Capitoline Museum, the Basilica of San Clemente, the National Museum of Rome and peeking thru the Aventine Keyhole. I have not done the Borghese Gallery altho it gets rave reviews (you need reservations). You will also get an Italy guide book with many suggestions for your free time in there.
If you're an experienced traveler I would recommend the My Way Italy tour. You'll see Venice, Florence and Rome but so much more. The Cinque Terre, Lake Como and Assisi are wonderful places to be see and be enjoyed also. The key to this tour is to do plenty of pre trip planning. Read guide books, check out the travel forums and study maps of each location to get oriented to what you want to see and do when you arrive. Also your RS trip "shepherd" will be more than happy to help with directions and recommendations each day typically each morning and afternoon.
We did this tour last year and were extremely pleased with the experience.
I was skimming this for info and saw that you were concerned with getting back to Istanbul to fly out at the end of the tour. We did this tour a few years ago (FABULOUS!) and after our trip, we took a Turkish bus to Bodrum for 5 days to relax before we headed out and it was a great experience! The buses are clean and comfortable and VERY reasonably priced. We then took a short flight at the end of the Bodrum stay to Istanbul, spent one last night there in a RS recommended hotel and flew out the next day. It was very easy to book and very easy to take. Don't be afraid! If you can take your time!
The more I travel, the more I realize how great it is to have several days in one place, and minimize bus travel. For that reason I would pick the Rome-Florence-Venice tour as it is all three night stays, right? And only two 4 hour bus rides.
Better, yet, if you can arrive in Venice at least one day early. Not only will this help with getting over the jet-lag, but now you have three full or nearly full days in Venice instead of two. If possible stay an extra day in Rome. One can easily spend a week there.
That said, my next RS tour is Greece, where all the stays are 2 nights max and the bus rides are 4-5 hours each. However, people have told me that the rides are very scenic, so I may only sleep on the bus just a bit.
Don't worry about the language barrier in the tourist areas of Europe. Most of the people there speak fluent Canadian.