Jerrold's Travel Guides, LLC
Using tours to explore Italy
Escorted tours have their place.
As I have previously indicated in the Where to Go In Italy section, even the independent traveler might want to review the itineraries provided in escorted tours to get ideas for their own travels. While I have often used half and full day escorted tours in the past I have never been one to tie myself to someone else's travel schedule. But, I am getting older. Physically, it is getting harder for me to handle travel and, whether I want to emit it or not, mentally, I am not as sharp as I use to be. The "planned for you" Italy tour is looking more attractive to me.
I click on the Viator - 5 day Italy Tour (relationship discloure - Jerrold's Travel Guides, LLC is an affliate of Viator). It offered me, travel from Rome, two nights in Florence, a side trip to Pisa and two nights in Venice. Carefully looking over the details of this offer I notice entrance fees were only included for a couple of select attractions, not all meals were included and guided touring represented only a portion of the tour day. To my surprise the tour started in Rome but ended in Venice. I thought to myself "cool”, this means we can stay an extra night in Venice and add travel with out immediately returning to Rome. I also liked that only a few meals, mostly breakfast, were included. This meant, for the most part, we would be free to sample Italian cuisine as we wished.
For me, finding a tour that starts in one city in Italy, ends in another city, and allows for plenty of "on your own time", is a big plus. But what if you are seeking an all inclusive tour. All the food, lodging and possibly even the flight all included. Where can you find these?
For fully escorted tours (air-flight not included) you have a number of options among them Trafalgar, in business since 1947, and Globus, which has been around for over 90 years. It appears that these (extended) fully escorted tour companies can only be booked directly through their travel website or via a Travel Agent. As there does not seem to be an advantage to booking directly with these tour operators; personally, I would tap a Travel Agent for guidance for this type of tour.
Package Tours are likely not to be escorted tours. A simple package tour would be a flight and hotel stay. You can use most air-flight booking engines or airline websites to book a flight and hotel stay as a package.
One thing you should keep in mind when booking any tour is the possibility of tour cancelation. Many tour companies will cancel a tour if they do not meet the minimal number of customers to make the tour profitable. Check out the tour customers cancelation policy; what happens if “they” cancel your tour and also what happens if “you” need to cancel your tour.
I have used Viator previously to book day tours and food experiences. This was my first time relying on Viator for booking a multi-day tour involving hotel arrangements. In the pass, I never worried that a day tour might be canceled; should that happen, I figured I could always fill the time with other activity. Arriving in Italy to find out my hotel arrangements for four days of my trip were non-existent is another thing. Checking I discovered their cancelation policy was (on Aug. 1, 2010) basically a policy of substitute or refund. They make no reference to how many days in advance I would receive notice of a cancelation. I decided to do a google search for Viator cancelation and found one posting of a customer who had a day tour cancelled. He was unhappy as he was only notified when he arrived for the tour and the tour company pushed substitution. I did not find any other reports of a canceled tour and no reports of canceled multi-day tours. I decided to book the tour with Viator.
Viator does not operate tours themselves but are a booking company.
My plan is to fly in to Rome, booking my first two hotel nights in Rome through a booking engine and then taking the 5 day Italy tour. I will book extra nights in Venice at the end of the tour and then eventually return to Rome by train.
With our first week of travel planned I start thinking of booking our flights. How long will we stay in Italy? I had figured this to be a two week trip. But, now I wonder will this be enough; there is so much to see? I find my self selecting a return date almost three weeks out from our date of arrival in Italy. Now rather than one week of independent travel to plan I have two, I will need to do some extensive travel planning. I am starting to wonder if I saved myself any work by booking the 5-day Italy tour.
The entry above was made prior to our trip: see the box to the right for my, after returning home, impression of this tour.
When booking tours do read the fine print; do not assume anything. Teaser price usually is for double occupancy but can be for triples or other combination.
After the Tour - would I recommend this trip?
In many ways the tour was a “poor man’s’ version of a luxury design tour as done by a travel agent. Our guided tours were with large groups and our hotel pick-up was repeatedly by private transfer. One of the more striking (luxury) events was at the Venice train station. Our private transfer consisted of being greeted at our platform. Our Greeter arranged for our bags to be carted to the hotel and then walked us personally (15 min) to our hotel. On our own, I am certain we could have found it easily with in one or two hours. We stayed in 3 star rated hotels, accommodations were adequate, we did not expect luxuries, 4 star hotels are a selectable option.
The tour we were on (other tours may work differently) basically used a number of day tour and city walking tours to create the tour experience. Most of the people leaving Rome with us were on a day tour of Florence. We stay with the group until it was time for them to go back to Rome. For us a taxi was arranged, paid for by the guide, and we were then delivered to our hotel in Florence. The following morning, after receiving directions from the hotel clerk, we walked around the corner from our hotel and got on the day tour bus for Pisa. Returned to Florence for the night, the next day we were picked up by a private transfer and taken to the train station to head in to Venice. On our fourth day we met up with a walking tour guide at Venice’s St. Mark’s Squire, receiving a tour of the immediate area and the Doge’s Palace. All the tour guides were good; though one was a little harder to understand, possible due to the audio equipment (wireless earpieces are the way many tours are done now).
Some HInts - Since you are being transferred between various day tour companies there is always the possibility of confusion. Once you arrive at your tour meeting spot (first day) make certain you, or your tour guide, acquires your hotel vouchers, and the vouchers for all of the day tours/hotels to come. The Viator voucher is your proof to be on the multi-day tour but it does not work as a hotel voucher. Make certain you have a copy of itinerary and the tour contact info with you. Call the tour company’s contact number if things do not seem right.
I would recommend this trip to people with limited time in Italy; or people that like to pack in a lot within a short travel time. Since we like to do things at our own slow pace, we wanted more time in the cities we visited during the tour. We realized this in our late planning stages and ended up taking the train from Venice back to Florence so we could spend more time there.
Mid - 2010 For a couple of yearsI have promised my wife a trip to Italy, I needed to act. Planning the trip seems overwhelming, I do not speak the language and I know next to nothing about traveling in Italy..... Working on my Europe website I notice Viators 5 day tour of Italy. I wonder, "could I mix some extended tours of italy with a couple of city stays and avoid the stress of planning all the details of our Italy Trip?"