My family, two adults, two teens and two seniors, just recently returned from two weeks on the Perillo Italy North Continental tour. My husband and I have been to Europe on three previous visits seeing England, France, Germany (twice), Austria, Norway and Denmark. For those trips we had been independent travelers. I had been on two European tours, which included Italy, prior to that. So I'm speaking as a person who has been six times, three times independently, now three times on a tour.
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To Tour Or Not To Tour
The first decision when planning a trip to Italy is whether to take a tour or to go on your own. As prior independent travelers, we wrestled with this choice. For Italy, we are very glad we chose a tour. With six people, renting a car large enough for us and our luggage was going to be a challenge. Then squeezing that car through the city traffic of Rome and Florence, and getting us and our luggage to Venice presented another difficulty. It's much easier to travel independently with two, three or four people and it's much easier if the sites you plan on seeing are in rural areas like the fjords or the Romantic Road of Germany. Given all that, we opted for a tour.
Another major advantage of seeing Italy with a tour is to avoid the hours you could waste standing in line to see the Vatican Museum, the David in the Accademia in Florence, St. Mark's Cathedral and St. Peter's in Rome. A friend of mine in Rome last week had to skip seeing the Sistine Chapel because the line was FIVE HOURS LONG. Another friend had to miss the 'David' in Florence because the line was TWO HOURS. Tour groups, have separate shorter lines and reserved times and get in promptly. Imagine getting to Rome and having to miss the Sistine Chapel.
Which tour to choose?
A trip to Europe is very expensive. Do your homework carefully to maximize the enjoyment of the trip. Decide what you want to see. For example, I really wanted to see Pompeii and surprisingly not many tours went there. Perillo did. So that was one big plus. The second very important thing is to pinpoint on the city maps where the hotels are located. I went through the list of hotels used in Italy by Globus, Insight and Trafalgar and located on the city maps of Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan where the hotels were located. This is especially important for Venice. You will want to be on the islands of Venice, not on the mainland. If your tour houses you on the mainland you will be very constrained in seeing Venice when it's beautiful, quiet and uncrowded. That would be early in the morning and in the evening before and after the hordes staying on the mainland come in for their day trips. I searched all the hotels Perillo used and determined that overall their hotels were located closer to the historic centers of the cities than the hotels used by the other tour companies.
The Tour Experience
We had a wonderful tour guide. The guide, Rafaele, was very organized, and the tour operated like a well-oiled machine. He was very experienced, having been a Perillo tour guide since 1978. We pulled up in Venice, the water taxis for us and our luggage were waiting, we got in and were whisked off to the Grand Canal. No delays, no problems. Rafeale also kept up a humorous but informative narrative on the bus. It was very pleasant and added immeasurably to our enjoyment of the tour. The stops in places along the way were well-timed, not too long or too short. Our guide steered the group away from the dumb, touristy things, like "Juliet's Balcony" in Verona. He pointed it out as he guided us to the ancient Roman arena and the historic piazza. The headphones we used for local tours with local guides worked pretty well, although some always needed tuning or more batteries, which we had to adjust before setting out on the local tours. All the local guides in Venice, Milan, Florence and Rome were excellent, very knowledgeable on history and art.
The people on the tour weren't all senior citizens, the stereotypical tour client. Most were couples in the forties or fifties and families with teenagers. Honestly, those with difficulty walking could not have taken the trip. Not that we did grueling treks, but most sights involve significant walking over cobblestones or uneven ancient Roman paving stones.
The bus: The bus was comfortable although there could have been more legroom. The back seat, where we were stuck for one leg of the trip (fortunately a short one) would have been comfortable only for midgets. There was a bathroom on board and a small overhead compartment for small backpacks or purses. But the A/C worked well and the driver was great.
The hotels: While all the hotels were fine, some were better than others. The Starhotels Splendid Suisse in Venice had a great location, two minutes from St. Mark's. In Florence, the hotel was a longer walk from the historic center than I would have liked and in Sorrento, because of the steep topography of the area, the hotel was perched on a hill overlooking the town and we needed a shuttle bus to take us into town. The Jolly Hotel Leonardo da Vinci in Rome had a wonderful location in a quiet residential neighborhood about a twenty minute walk from the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. The hotel in Milan was one block from a Metro stop. All hotels were air-conditioned, had full breakfast buffets, all the bathroom amenities including hair dryers and were overall very nice.
Meals: We opted for the Italy North Continental because it did NOT include dinner. It's the identical tour to the Italy North Classic with that exception. We are very glad we did. I spoke to a family on the 'other' tour, and she said that the meals with the tour were not that good and took a long time. The difference in the tour price is $50 per day per person. Meals in Italy are expensive, very expensive, but most nights were not $50 per person. We think that by having dinner on our own we ate better, more authentic food and may have saved some money. The tour guide always recommended places in each city and his recommendations were always good ones. We always ate fabulous dinners.
The optional tours: We took just one of the optional tours, the boat ride on Lake Como, for the reason that we couldn't find a way to do it on our own. The other optional tours are doable on your own for less money. For example, I booked a time at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence before we left the U. S. The price for six people was 78 Euros. The optional tour offered by Perillo to go to the Uffizi was many times more than that. The same was true for seeing the catacombs of Rome. The optional tour was 46 Euros per person. With our cab fare and the 5 Euro admission price to the catacombs our total for four of us was less than 46 Euros.
Overall, we are very glad we took the Perillo tour. We enjoyed it immensely and felt we got good value for the money. We liked the guide very much, everything was run smoothly and efficiently and made good use of our time. The other people on the tour were nice folks, always on time and considerate of the rest of the group.
For us, taking the Perillo tour made touring Italy easier and more enjoyable than if we had done it on our own.
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Best Suited For: Families
Tour format: Bus
Tour length: Over a Week
Tour type: Group