Hi! Super excited to have booked the Venice, Florence and Rome trip for May 2018. This will be my first time to Italy and I am thrilled. I am married, but traveling solo so that my husband can stay home with the kids. I would love to hear any tips for someone on their first RS tour and feedback from others who have taken the trip. I plan to arrive in Venice a day early and spend the night in the same hotel as the RS trip will use. I am hoping that will help with jet lag as well as insure I am on time the next day. I am surprised how few reports I was able to find online about this trip. I am used to cruising and there are usually endless detailed trip reports from former passengers. LOL. Am I just looking In the wrong places? Thanks for your help!
teresa, are you looking under the Reviews link on the page that describes the tour? You can see page after page of comments.
That was our first RS tour and we loved every minute of it. Tips: Take the guidebook with you and it will help with things to do in your free time, as well as find places to eat when you're on your own. The tour leader will be there to give suggestions and advice on just about anything, so don't feel like you have to plan everything out yourself ahead of time.
Not surprising that you would not find tons of reviews. Rick Steves does 44 of these tours a year, with a maximum of 28 people on each, that comes to maybe 1200 people a year. That is about 1/2 to 1/3 the number of people on a single modern cruise ship. Think about how many of these monster ships are working at a given time and that results in a lot of potential reviews.
I did see those Stan, but they were so overwhelming positive I was not sure if negative responses were culled. Maybe the trip is just that fantastic! After posting I found the “scrapbook”section which had some great day by day break downs of the trip with photos. That has been fun to browse this morning.
You make a good point Sam about the difference in numbers!
teresa, we've done 3 RS tours, and looking at a 4th. They do a good job of describing what to expect as far as daily activity level, hotels and food, etc. As long as you're clear on expectations, you'll see the highlights of three great cities. What is nice about the VFR tour is that the bus time is short. The vineyard stop is a nice break: you might plan on bringing back some wine and olive oil. They really do try to encourage you to explore and interact with the locals, rather than insulate you.
VFR was my first RST as well as my first Italian trip and it was everything and more I had hoped for. We did take the easy jaunt to the Lido for some fun beach time when in Venice. Bring your own earphones for the wireless mic'd whisper system, those provided are generally not as comfortable. Having lightweight and comfortable footwear is crucial. Remember to take in the sights, sounds, experiences through your eyes and ears and not mostly through the viewfinder of your smartphone's camera. Definitely do the cicchetti crawl in Venice if it remains an optional offering when you are there. Also add night(s) at end of tour in Rome, especially if your return flight departs 0:dark 30. Read, read, read about Venice, Florence and Rome -- don't wait until you can get the RS guidebook(s) with the $100 tour credit. Scrolling through trip reviews for VFR on this site gives plenty of info on what others thought about the trip. While the snippets can be repetitive and maybe not as in-depth as would be helpful, references to the different guides, both RS and local folks, are helpful to understanding what you can expect. You'll thank yourself by planning to travel with carryon luggage (you can always check it on your return), you will be getting on and off the tour bus/collecting your own items to get them in to each of your hotels. Communicate with your guide if you have any special needs or questions, he or she can't help if unaware of concerns/problems you might have. When using public transportation keep your awareness of surroundings and your personal property at a judiciously high level. A husband, tall and fit, became surrounded by a Roma group as we descended stairs to reach the Colosseo in Rome. With their numbers and deft experience they managed to relieve him of his money, i.d. and passport. It was amazing how fast it happened and I was surprised they targeted a good size male -- I'd think they would go for someone who appeared more 'vulnerable'. It was an eye opener on how adept pickpocketing can be. Keep an eye on weather when trip time nears so you tweak your packing list as needed. And make that packing list, down to the last itty bitty item, pack ALL of it up ahead of time and then lug it around the house (at least). Does it work? Can you get to things easily enough? Any problems lifting it up to put in overhead areas? Is it too light? Just joking, I don't think if you're like me, that's possible. ;-) I am confident this first trip to Bella Italia will most definitely not be your last. Of these three amazing cities, I loved the Eternal City best. You will be struck by the inherent pride Venetians, Florentines and Romans have for each of their own beautiful, fascinating and special places.
Thank you Theresa and Stan for the great advice. My husband and I have travelled a lot on our own through Mexico and Central America, but I have not been to Europe since a semester abroad in college and never been with a tour group on an extended trip. I thought it might be a better way to go as a “single”woman in case of an emergency — and for pleasant company along the way!
We just completed this tour in July and found it to be very good. Based on your post I suggest you contact the RS office and ask when they will know hotel you will be assigned for the three nights in Venice (one suggestion given to us on this forum). The sooner the better...we did this very same thing but the hotel didn't have a room for us the night before (we arrived the day before as well). RS did offer us other proprietors who graciously gave us a discount for a room. We ended up at a B and B and enjoyed it very very much.
It is a fairly busy tour with lots of walking. Bring two different types of walking shoes (another suggestion given to me before the tour). It helped to change between shoes every couple of days. I did get a couple of blisters by day three and wouldn't have been able to wear the same shoes so this gave relief to my feet when needed.
We stayed in Rome an additional 5 nights as we have family outside of Rome. In this case we were able to remain in the hotel aissgned to our three nights in Rome and stayed in the same room which was great!
If you need more info feel free to message me directly.
If you have two nights to spend prior to the tour I would suggest looking at Padua. I think there is direct bus service from Marco Polo airport. It feels smaller and less congested than Venice. Scrovengi chapel has Giotto’s frescoes. Good food, gelato etc. and is relatively cheap. Easy to get to Venice for the start of the tour. Only do this if you can stay two nights, one night and it’s more hassle than it’s worth.
As others have mentioned use a money belt our take other precautions against pickpockets.
Have a great trip, they are really fun tours.
Rocket's suggestion of a couple nights in Padua (Padova) beforehand is a good one - just wanted to mention that if you do go to the Scrovegni Chapel, which is one of the greatest art treasures, you need to reserve in advance on their website.
Thanks! Unfortunately I can only go one day ahead of time. My boss was not thrilled with my taking off nine days. Can’t wait to retire and have time for longer trips!
This was my first Rick Steves tour, also, and I was also was a solo traveler. I got to Venice the day before, but wished I had arrived two or three days in advance as there is so much to see. I bought a day pass on the vaporetto and went out to Burano, and then did a trip on the Grand Canal, and went up the tower at S. Georgio for a great view of the city. I would have like to have had time for another art gallery or two. I spent two extra days in Rome, and again wished I had spent more. On one day I went out to the Appian way and wandered around there for the day, and on the other day I went out to Ostia Antiqua. I used the same hotels as the tour, but you need to get on it as soon as you can. When I booked the extra two nights in Rome the guy told me they were already 90% booked and that was six months out. I did not pay the single supplement, and there were two other women who did the same thing so the three of us alternated room mates, one person having a single room in each city. They were great room mates!
RS sent me the names of the hotels in Venice and Rome in my confirmation email so I was able to make a reservation online for the Venice hotel for the night before. I think that will help my stress levels considerably! I did pay for the single room —I am a terrible snorer and would hate to inflect that on anyone!
After having traveled extensively on my own in England, France, Netherlands, and Belgium, I did a Rick Steves VFR tour in June 2017. I was very, very impressed by our group guide and our local guides. I went with a friend, but singles in our group all fit in very well. I definitely agree that you should make a hotel reservation ASAP for the night before the tour begins in Venice. One amusing piece of advice: at both our Florence and Rome hotels, breakfast was on a lovely patio, and in both places, if you left your plate for 1 minute to grab something else at the buffet, small birds swooped down to nibble your breakfast.
I went on my first RST solo this summer. It wasn't this tour but here is my advice. First of all I am sure you will have a great time. I also paid for the single supplement (I also snore). I am a person that needs quiet, alone, don't want to talk time. There is a lot of good, friendly company available during the day and it was nice to have privacy and quiet meditation time at night. You won't be spending that much time in your room. You have a leg up already just in the fact that you found this site. A few snarky comments aside, there is a huge well of information here at your disposal.
I went back to the very first thread listed under packing and read every single thread. Yes, people have different views and different practices, but reading them all helped me. I packed the perfect bag. It weighed 19 pounds. My second bag was a crossbody purse. This made my trip more successful.
Some of my tour mates showed up to the tour without any preparation. They knew little to nothing about what the itinerary was. And guess what? They had a great time. For me, the months and months leading up to the trip when I am exploring the location, history and culture through endless reading is just as valuable as the trip itself. So try to figure out what your style is in this regard. I like to have a list of things to do in my free time with knowledge of hours of operation ahead of time. Then when I am there I decide what to do. This helps to prevent one from feeling all dressed up and not sure where to go. I use the RS guidebooks and Tripadvisor and the location local websites to explore what to do.
I recommend that you consider your physical fitness. I walked about 5 miles 3 days a week leading up to my trip and wished I had done more. Although, I did not have to walk as much as I did on the trip. I walked even more during free time than I did with the group.
There is a lot of info about booking flights on this site. I would emphasize purchasing the best seat you can afford. I work extra shifts to buy business class on the way over and economy plus on the way back. Your trip is relatively short. You cannot afford to feel tired and miserable for the first few days because of the flight.
Consider some language lessons. You won't be able to speak fluently, but it will help connecting with the locals and reading signs and menus etc.
Consider using Google street view to "walk around" your hotel neighborhood. It will be reassuring when you get there and it feels a little familiar.
Have a great trip!!
Thanks so much Vandrabud. Those are a lot of womderul suggestions. I went out walking today with that very thought in mind!
The most important advice for Venice is buy mosquito spray and keep you hotel window closed. Great tour!
Wow! I would not have thought of mosquito spray. Is that something they let you carry in carry on luggage or do you buy it there?
I would not have thought of mosquito spray.
Neither would I. I have been in Venice about ten times (usually in March - September), never carried mosquito spray and never needed it.
I’ll just add that I don’t think the company culls out bad reviews. I’ve seen a few 3* reviews over the years, none really lower than that though. The reviews only go back a year I think.
I have done 8 RS tours, 5 of them solo and have had a wonderful time. I get the single supp as well. I probably snore-don’t want to find out from a new roommate, lolol!!
I also recommend you follow RS Italy guide Sarah Murdoch on her blog www.adventureswithsarah.net She also has a FB page. She is an advocate of light packing and has great tips! She’s also pretty upfront about any mistakes. Recently she posted she packed 3 or 4 pr of shoes for a couple of tours but suddenly hates 2 of them!
Do research ahead of time what you might like to see in free time. Also know that you might do a walking tour which might zip into a church but you might want to go back for a longer look.
Google walk your way from the vaporetto or ferry dock to your hotel so it sort of looks familiar!
You’ll have a wonderful time!
Thank you Pam! I will certainly look at that blog. Wonderful suggestion! I have enjoyed looking at all the scrapbooks people have posted of different trips. Does anyone remember if the hotels had hair dryers? I have heard that even with an adapter they tend to melt down if you bring them from home.
If memory serves correctly, all the hotels on eight RS tours had hair dryers. Worst case scenario you can always buy a cheap one there. It will probably be dual voltage so it can be used at home as a back up.
I did this tour as a single female in 2014 and loved it. I flew into Venice several days early and went to Treviso (stayed in Airbnb) and then 2 nights in Padua. I had well broken-in with added athletic insoles in Skechers and Dansko boots. I am accustomed to walking several miles a day, but my back and feet hurt the entire trip. Now I wear brown suede New Balance hiking/walking shoes with extra insoles. Yes, I am an American tourist.
LOL Fluffy. Was it hard to get from the Venice airport to the hotel? I thought I was getting there in the early afternoon but with the time change it may be about 5pm. A little worried about finding my way in the dark. Thanks TC for the info on the hairdryers! My hair gets super frizzy if I air dry it.
I did this tour in November and loved it. You’re in for a great time! Our hotel in Venice was the Pensione Guerrato and it did not have hair dryers. It’s the only hotel I’ve been in on a Rick Steves tour that didn’t have them.
Thanks Beth. Our hotel is the Hotel Fenice in Venice and Hotel San Carlo in Rome. They have not said which Florence Hotel we will be in.
FYI Beth: Pensione Guerrato has hair dryers, but you have to ask for them at the desk. You also have to ask for a remote control to turn on the air conditioner, which we didn't realize on our first night there in one of the tiny, spartan shared-bath rooms on the ground floor. The rest of our stay in larger rooms upstairs, we were able to use the air conditioner, but it was pretty weak.
Teresa: We thought Hotel San Carlo in Rome was excellent. Room was comfortable, with COLD air conditioning. Staff was friendly and very helpful. If, when, we get back to Rome, I'd be happy to stay there again.
Thanks stout fella!
You asked if its hard to get from the airport to the hotel in Venice.
There are 3 ways to go from the airport to your hotel. The 1st is a water taxi and it's the most expensive. Probably 120 Euros or so for the boat. If you can join with another couple or individual or two it might be worth the cost. Only you can decide.
I understand there is now a shared water taxi but I don't have detailed knowledge about it. In any event you will probably still have to do a bit of walking once you get near the hotel.
The 2nd and next least expensive is the Alilaguna boat. It will cost about 20 Euros per person. It takes longer, you do have to "check" you baggage so you don't have control of it the entire time, and you probably will not be able to get a "non stop" line to the area of your hotel.
The 3rd and least expensive is a combination bus and vaporetto (vap.). It takes a bit longer, but that is what we do because we travel very light with just one carry on apiece. There are two bus lines that serve the airport. One is ATVO and is NOT affiliated with the vap. system. The other is ACTV and IS affiliated with the vap. system. At the airport you can get a vap. pass for various periods from 24 to 72 (or more?) hours. You can have a one way bus fare added to the vap. pass. There is a good site maintained by the ACTV system that has current prices and etc.. Don't remember the url so just Google it.
If you decide on option # 3, take the # 5 ACTC bus from the airport to Piazzale Roma. Be sure and validate the vap. pass on the bus. Do not wait until you get on the vap. Also, validate the pass each time you use the vap. Then take to the vap. to the stop closest to your hotel. We've done option # 3 many times. Easy Peasy and cheap to boot.
If we know the exact address of your hotel we can probably let you know which vap. to take. In addition, for detailed walking knowledge, go to googlemaps.com. It has street views, aerial views, and even street level views so you can "walk" you route from the vap. stop to the hotel before you leave home.
There is a site called veniceforvisitors.com that has a lot of good info. that you might want to check out .
Thanks TC. It’s on the corner of Calle Fenice and Campiello Fenice. Option 2 or 3 sound good. I plan on only having one carry on bag and a cross body purse/bag.
If you do the bus and vap. option you'll take vap. # 1 to the S. Angelo stop which will be on the right side of the canal. The hotel or the RS office should be able to give you walking instructions from there. Strongly suggest you go to googlemaps.com, type in the name of the hotel, use the satellite view and get the lay of the land. Then use the street view to "walk the route". You can also do the same for the Piazzale Roma area.
Thanks TC. The wonders of modern technology!
Thanks for the information stoutfella regarding hair dryers at the Pensione ! I don’t think anyone on my tour realized that. Several of us were commenting about the lack of hair dryers. I was there in November, so I didn’t need to worry about the air conditioning fortunately.
I'd follow TC's recommendations for getting from the airport to the hotel. The Airbnb folk picked me up from the Venice airport for the ride to Treviso. I took the train from Padua into Venice, so didn't make the trip directly from Venice airport into town. Enjoy and wear comfortable shoes!
I am walking a lot and trying to get in good shape for the trip, but was wondering how strenuous “strenuous” is? LOL. I see a lot of scrapbooks with people 70 and up and was wondering how they could make those folks walk for miles. Or do some people just sit certain activities out?
A lot of people 70 and up are in great shape, but yes, you can sit out an activity, just make sure your guide knows that you are doing that, and know where to meet up.
I did this last May and what an enlightening travel it was for me. I had traveled this route with a couple of smaller towns back in 2000.
Having both a full guide and individual city guides, connected the dots of history with the art and architecture I was seeing and how the artist(s) depicted it to their audience.
Tips: Before you leave home read the itinerary a few times. Know what interests you may have for your free time. Be able to carry your bag up and down 3-4 flights of stairs. Do alot of walking and add stairs, squats, and lunges to your exercise if you already do not do them.
On a fun note several ladies wore fitbits. We walked on average 10-14 miles a day on the fuller guided tour days. Our guide's fav was knowing where all the best gelato shops were. He also took us to some excellent restaurants. When I got home and went on the scale I had lost 5 pounds completey that stayed off. This was a pleasant surprise as I enjoyed wine, desserts, gelato, cheeses, and lots of bread and pastas; not my usual weekly nutrition at home.
The Arno River in Florence was still very brown. Rome had/has a rubbish issue (unions/protest of wages?)>The sidewalks were dirty, many trash receptacles were left neglected. I had been there back in 2000 and it was not like that then. Venice is crowded as always.
This travel was a wealth of education, fun and making new travel buddies. Enjoy!
Thank you Diane!
What a wonderful time you will have...and will likely make lifelong friends to boot! I would strongly recommend you do the googlemaps street view to map out your walk from the vap stop to your hotel. Modern technology is indeed very helpful. You will feel so much more comfortable with getting to your hotel after seeing some familiar landmarks. You will have 3 nights in Venice with your group and I'm not sure what group activities are. We only had 2 nights in Venice on our BoE 21 day tour and I wish we had had more. We spent our evening on our own by attending a concert at a local church. It was amazing! The food, amazing. The sites, amazing. We loved Venice so much! The only thing we missed was a gondola ride as it rained both evenings while we were there....but San Marco Square was even more beautiful rain-soaked :)
When it gets a little closer to your trip you can start another thread asking for others who will be on your tour. I did this for each trip and found it helpful to be a little acquainted with our tour members. You may not get a huge response. I am shocked that
more folks aren't posters on these boards. I found the message boards to be extremely helpful, especially when planning our first trip to Europe in 2015 (can't believe it's only been 2 years since that trip)! NOt sure if you are on facebook either but at the end our our tour I started a facebook group and passed around a sheet where tour members could put their info down (if they chose to)....then invited those who were interested to the group. It was a fun way to share photos and keep in touch after the trip.
The concert we attended was the Interpreti Venieziani -they often play Vivaldi’s Four Seasons among other known concertos. Even if you aren't into classical music, this is something worth hearing.....and the concert is held in the church, Chiesa San Vidal in Campo San Stefano. We had a lovely inexpensive dinner at a restaurant in that same area before the concert. You should get tickets before you arrive as I think they are quite popular. If you google Interpreti Venieziani you can purchase tickets directly via the website.
I totally second Kathy's suggestion for an Interpreti Venezia concert. This was probably the highlight of our time in Venice. It's kind of a "standing" joke here in central Illinois that every performance gets a standing ovation, which we often resist. Well, I absolutely stood up to applaud this performance with tears in my eyes. One of the most wonderful musical experiences I've had. Our VFR tour guide mentioned that, since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Europe is awash in world-class musicians looking for places to play, as their state-run orchestras are no more, and some of them end up in Venice.
We had dinner at a not-so-memorable restaurant in the square adjacent to the church, only because I'd gotten turned around when we got off the vaporetto near the Accademia Bridge and gotten us lost. There are lots of interesting-looking restaurants on the other side of the bridge, but we ended up rushing over to be sure we found someplace before the concert. Also, people start lining up for the concert well before the doors open. We got in line shortly before doors-open time and ended up near the back of the seating area, but it was still a fabulous concert.
Thanks Kathy & Stoutfella!
This was our first tour back 11 years ago. We have been on 4 more since including 3 with our now teenage kids.
We came in after dark & got very lost and wandered for what seemed like hours till a nice older local who spoke little English was able to put us in the right direction. Everyone gets lost in Venice. It is part of the charm.
There used to be much longer reviews on the site but those are gone. You were able to read more detail including more negative details. These tours are not for everyone. You will not be pampered.
Bottom line many people on these tours are repeat customers. You will walk a lot especially up stairs. Yes even people over 70. We haven't really made lifelong friends while on any of our trips but enjoyed our time with the groups while on the tours. We are very social so enjoyed very much getting to know people from around the U.S. & Canada. The guides are amazing and we have loved each one on our tours.