Milestone Italy trip - need your insight

<p>We will be celebrating a milestone anniversary in about a year and a half. If we still have some funds left after college payments, we would like to take a trip to Italy. I have actually been putting some funds in a separate savings for this. We have been to Europe several times for both work and pleasure but have never had the opportunity to go to Italy. </p>

<p>Must sees are Venice, Rome and Florence (Tuscany area). I might also want to see Cinque Terre. Anyhow, from what I know, there are two ways I would want to do this. The first is a cruise that goes to all these places and we might even get Greece thrown in. We would get to see more places without worrying about transport or lodging. Of course, the issue is the small amount of time we would get in each place. We have been on cruises before and the ship issue does not bother us.</p>

<p>The second way is via train. I would take the train down from Switzerland, so we can ride the Bernina Express (on my list for a while) and find my way to Venice, Florence and then Rome. It might be easier to get an award ticket into Switzerland and back from Rome(maybe). The thing that worries me about this option is getting around on the trains in Italy, which, I have been told, are not as easy to navigate as in Switzerland. We do not speak Italian but we do speak Spanish and find most Europeans speak one other language. Hopefully, we will not have an issue. Although, I have heard from some who had some language trouble in Italy.</p>

<p>Someone suggested going with a tour group, however, we would prefer to have the flexibility to do this on our own and not worry about fitting in with our group or missing the bus.</p>

<p>If you have done this, can you give me some insight on what you did and what you liked and disliked about it. It will help me with the pros and cons and then I can focus on one option over the other. If you did the land trip, where did you spend the most time?</p>

<p>We plan to spend about 10 days. Budget may change from here to there but I am aiming for at least a Princess cruise outside cabin type of budget. So, not luxury but not hostel level. Somewhere in between. </p>

<p>Train travel in Italy is super easy. That’s the way I would go. 10 days is really tight; could you squeeze in a couple of extra days?</p>

<p>If flexibility is important to you, I would skip the cruise. You could be stuck for hours waiting for transfers, etc. Last time I was in Cinque Terre it was a mob scene due to the cruise excursions. Not relaxing at all. I’ve taken trains all over Italy and had some mishaps (taking wrong train, etc) but it was more due to fatigue and less than diligent question-asking on my part! If you do decide to take the train, buy tickets as far in advance as possible as that greatly affects the price you pay.</p>

<p>The cruise is problematic for Italy. For instance, look where Florence is on the map, and imagine a bus of 45 people traveling out there and back. You wouldn’t have time to see much, I don’t think, and you spend a lot of time either on the bus, or in line to see David. A friend of ours tried to do this, and he said the distances from the port of cities like Rome and Florence made it very unsatisfying. </p>

<p>You might want to think about a Rick Steves “My Way” tour. It looks expensive, but once you figure in the cost of excursions with a cruise, the overall cost is not that high. A My Way tour gives you centrally-located hotels, and includes all the transportation between cities. Once at the destination, you’re completely on your own (no group, no guide). I don’t remember how many days it is. </p>

<p>Whatever you end up doing, you’ll have a blast. Italy is such a wonderful country that no way of seeing it is a bad way! </p>

<p>I concur with hayden’s recommendation. Though a bit longer than you planned, Rick Steves has a 13 day My Way Best of Italy tour that hits all your points, plus some bonus visits. Takes the stress out of traveling, you get great advice, all your transportation and hotels for a decent price. Choose what you want to see.No less than two days anywhere, with plenty of freedom. The reality is, you will have to make some transportation deadlines, whether it’s on a train, bus or cruise boat. But this seems like a pretty relaxed way to go.</p>

<p>Rick Steves guidebook is definitely the way to go. It has logical itineraries & good tips for train connections. We used it to visit the hill towns north of rome, and the amalfi coast south of rome.</p>

<p>Group tours are seriously annoying. Problem w seeing italy by cruise ship is that the places the ships dock are not conveniently located near the tourism places so land transport from the dock is costly & time consuming. </p>

<p>Thank you all. It seems the cruise is not the way to go. Thank you for pointing that out about the distances. That would be a waste of time in itself. This helps a lot. I will focus on land travel. </p>

<p>I showed my DH the Rick Steves “My Way” tour and he said he might be ok with that. He just does not like the group tours where we are all herded around. I think this tour is the best of both worlds. I have used Rick Steves books in the past to plan our trips and have gotten good results. I have enough time to get the book and see if we can plan on our own or take the “My way” tour. I think we could extend the days if there is enough to do.</p>

<p>We went to Italy a couple of years ago and took the fast trains from Rome to Florence to Venice and then to Milan without problem. We speak no italian and the train people speak enough english for you to find your seat and your track. We had a travel agent reserve the train for us before we left home, since we had never traveled like this before. If you had to buy tickets on the non reserved (and slower trains) in the station, I still doubt that you would have a problem. I don’t like group tours too much since they rush you from places you might like to explore more, and may take you to places you aren’t really interested in.</p>

<p>We just returned from a wonderful 14-day trip. We don’t speak Italian and found that employees of the train companies, hotels, and restaurants all speak English. We loved the trains, especially the fast trains. Most were on time and fairly reasonable in price, even at the last minute. We did not purchase any of our tickets in advance, but I understand that you can, saving you around 50% if you book 3 weeks beforehand. When you arrive at the train station, the easiest way to purchase tickets if from the machines. Every once in a while a machine wouldn’t work. Trying a second machine usually did the trick. You can also purchase tickets from a representative at the counter, but sometimes the lines are long and you must take a number. One time we used a travel agent who had an office near the train station. All the train stations were right near the tourist areas, so you could walk, or take a short cab or ferry ride to you hotel. We did a northern Italy loop, beginning in Milan’s lake area, and then on to Venice, Rome, Florence, and Cinque Terre. Yes, Cinque Terre is pretty busy, especially during the day, but it clears out at night. If you like small towns, don’t mind walking a lot of steps or steep inclines, and want to see more of a “real” Italy, you would enjoy this area.</p>

<p>We spent two weeks in Italy last summer with the teenagers and backpacked through Italy years before that with a baby! We love Italy and have found that it’s quite easy to get around by train. People are generally very helpful, and most speak English. I speak decent Spanish and it did come in handy on several occasions. </p>

<p>I concur with the other posters who have recommended either a Rick Steves’ tour or at least read some of his books. Not sure if you’re close to Seattle, but his travel company is based in Edmonds, Washington. They are very helpful, especially if you’re considering purchasing a Eurail pass. You can also make phone appointments with them. There is a fee but I think it’s worth it, considering the price of a train pass. </p>

<p>We’ve traveled in Italy and other European countries using Eurail passes as well as buying tickets. Many of the TGV or high speed trains are an additional fee even with a Eurail so it’s sometimes cheaper to just buy a ticket for that leg of the journey. </p>

<p>If you’re flexible travelers and have lots of time it can be fun to wing it. But if you enjoy knowing where you’re going to be each day and have a tight timeline then I strongly recommend you study the train schedules and make accommodations in advance. This is a must for summer travel. </p>

<p>Our first trip (with the baby) we wandered over to the Vatican one early morning not realizing it was a holiday. We were literally one of about 20 people for most of the morning, since no one seemed to realize they were open! Knowing we’d never get that lucky again, we paid for a tour of the Vatican last summer. It wasn’t cheap, but it gained us early morning access and we were fortunate enough to see about ¾ of it before the hordes arrived. </p>

<p>Worth. Every. Penny.</p>

<p>We are planning on going in September next year and I’m so excited! I spent quite a bit of time on Trip Advisors asking questions a few weeks ago. My SIL just came back from a Rick Steve’s 7 day tour and what they did was add 2 extra days onto the front and went by themselves. I think several of them did that. They went to Venice first, and had 2 days to get over jetlag and have time to themselves before meeting up with everyone before starting the tour. You could also do that at the end of the tour if you want! I was thinking of doing that, but RS isn’t going to where I want.</p>

<p>One thing that is nice about his tour is that you have lots of time to wander by yourselfs…the whole day isn’t packed with the tour group…which is about 26 people. Now, one of my best friends went on another 9 day fantastic tour last summer with her family…but they went to so many places, she said that although it was nice…she would prefer to do it my way…on our own.</p>

<p>So…if this helps you any…we are planning on arriving in Venice for 2 nights, fast train to Rome for 4 nights (with a day trip to Orvieto), then train to Salermo to catch a ferry that will take us to Positano (can you imagine arriving there by ferry…how beautiful. 3 nights Positano…then onto Naples for the last night (leaving from Naples back to US). On our way to Naples we will stop in Pompeii to tour.</p>

<p>Am I nervous about the trains? YES! But everyone says it’s not hard at all, so I have a year to ask more questions. </p>

<p>If I was wanting to go to Venice, Florence, Rome and Cinque Terre…i would definitely have done the RS tour and added 2 - 3 extras days to ourselves. However, after watching “Under the Tuscan Sun”…I just have to be in Positano!</p>

<p>Conmama, I like your itinerary. Pompeii would definitely be interesting to see. Wow Positano sounds amazing as well. I know what you mean about “Under the Tuscan Sun” I am going to have to run out and get the RS book soon to see what makes sense. I might also watch the movie again : ). I am happy to see most people had no language or train issues. </p>

<p>Once I have some sort of itinerary, I will hit tripadvisor with questions. I have gotten a lot of help on that site on specifics. RS site/forum is also pretty good for Europe. </p>

<p>From what I’ve read the Amalfi coast is quite different that Cinque Terre, although they both have the lovely houses. I just have to be in Positano after seeing that movie! I’ve even narrowed my hotel choices down to 3. While there I will tour Capri, maybe another Amalfi coast Village, soak up the sun and enjoy the romance of Positano itself. I read it fills up quite a bit with day tourists, then is much quieter in the evening. We could do a Pompeii tour while there, but I read it would be much easier to just do that on our way to Naples. I don’t want to leave Positano the day that we leave, I just want to be by the airport. If I didn’t have Positano on my to do list…I’d just do the regular RS tour the first time.</p>

<p>I did a trip as a teen with my parents years ago to Rome/Florence/Venice on trains, and we had no problem. For an anniversary in 2006, H and I went to Florence and Venice with a train connection and it was fine. In 2012, took the kids to Rome and Amalfi (train from Rome to Salerno, driver from Salerno to Amalfi). Great trip!</p>

<p>We avoid traveling with tour groups, like to do our own thing. One thing I would recommend if you do this on your own is buy as many tickets online ahead of time as you can. I got tickets for the Colosseum tour and the Vatican Museums ahead of time, and my kids loved me for it! Line for the Museums was around 3 or 4 long blocks (on a rainy day), and we just walked right in with our passes. Colosseum tour line was not as long but it was still better to have no wait. </p>

<p>Venice and Florence can be very romantic, we really enjoyed our anniversary trip there. Lots of long walks and big delicious meals. And gelato is necessary every day, of course!</p>

<p>If you decide to go to the Cinque Terre, I have a book recommendation for the plane: Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter. It’s a wonderfully nostalgic novel set in that area. </p>

<p>Honestly, though, I wouldn’t put Cinque Terre at the top of my list for a first trip to Italy, unless I had substantially more than two weeks total. </p>

<p>There is so much to see in Rome, in Florence, and in the Tuscany region generally that I’d want to maximize my time in those spots. Venice is also obviously a “must-see,” but a couple of days is sufficient on a two-week trip, in my humble opinion. </p>

<p>And Pompeii is incredible. An absolute must read if you are going to Pompeii: “Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing,” by Melissa Mohr. The first 50 pages or so goes into depth about the history of profanity in the Roman Empire, based mostly on evidence collected in Pompeii. Mohr is a linguist who approaches the subject which scholarly rigor, but boy-oh-boy is her account eye-opening! </p>

<p>It is an excellent, scholarly, if-somewhat-bawdy book that analyzes in depth (in the first fifty pages) the graffiti left by the ancient Romans in Pompeii. Somehow, reading about these very human aphorisms scrawled on the walls of the ancient city makes so evident how similar our society is to theirs and it somehow makes the horror and terror of the destruction wrought by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius all the more real and moving. </p>

<p>Highly recommended reading!</p>

<p>And if you are going to Pompeii, it makes sense to tack on a day trip to Capri . . . .</p>

<p>Just how many weeks did you say you have? We haven’t even mentioned the Lake District . . . </p>

<p>Booked our April tickets jsut an hour ago! So happy to have that part done. I traveled in 1972 to visit relatives, first Rome, then Foggia, Florence and Milan.
Two years later lived in Florence and visited Pisa and Sienna and flew home from Paris.</p>

<p>This time we will fly JFK to Milan, travel 3 nights to Varenna, train to Venice for 3 nights, do a Tour (our first ever) with Nada’s Italy for 10 days ( a total of up to 12 guests). We then meet up with our D for a stay in Florence, train to Milan and back to JFK. As we are from Oregon, there are other steps but the JFK to MIlan was a better price and hours and so we will stay a night or two going in NYC (want to visit ground 0) and straight home coming back.</p>

<p>Even in the 1970’s Italy was an easy enough travel. Most people speak English and the Italian language for basic knowledge is pretty welcoming. I think I picked up 100 words my 4 months living there. </p>

<p>Have a happy trip.</p>

<p>Lucky! I can’t even buy our tickets yet. Would you mind if I asked how much yours were. I know we are in different parts of the country, but I would still be interested.</p>

<p>It looks like the JFK to Milan flight is the more affordable one than flying into Rome or Venice. However, that might change depending on the season and I am still a little far away. However, it is good to know. I am starting to think I should switch Cinque Terre for Amalfi coast. However, then, I would need about 12-14 days. A very loose itinerary coming together right now is Venice 2 days, Rome 3 days, Florence 3 days, Amalfi 4 days. RS 2015 book seems to be scheduled to come out October 21. Can’t wait!</p>

<p>Milan was the cheapest for us in September. It was under $900 for my son to fly from JFK and around $1200 for us to fly from Detroit. </p>

<p>@lia_b…if you have 12-14 days I would definitely do that tour!!! We are only going 10, so am crossing out Florence, which was a very hard decision to make. So many of my friends talked about how much they adored and loved Florence. Then the readers on Trip Advisors said to concentrate on the things you can do, and don’t worry about the ones you can’t…so that is what I’m going to do. I’ve heard that if you are a big hiker, you would like Cinque Terre more…but I’m not. Plus, I want to see Positano, Capri and Pompeii. I also knew that RS 2015 book is out that day, and am anxiously awaiting. Would you be flying home from Naples?</p>