Pros: See/do so much - would take 2x as long on your own, very easy, value
Cons: Never get to sleep late, some of the optional tours are not worth it
Just got back from Trafalgars Best of Italy tour. This was our honeymoon trip and we had a wonderful time.
I wont detail where and what is seen as this review is going to be long enough. If you are not familiar with this tour - simply go to the Trafalgar site to view the full write up of the "Best of Italy" tour. We visited all the cities on the tour and the descriptions of what was included is accurate. In short, you spend nights in: Rome, Florence, Venice, Assisi and Sorrento - all other visits are shorter in duration.
Our group consisted of 44 people. We were one of 2 honeymooning couples. There was one other young couple vacationing with their parents and another woman in her thirties vacationing with her mom. The rest of the group consisted of couples/families/singles in their 40s, 50s, 60s +. At first, I was a little concerned at the marked absence of people our age but as the days wore on it was apparent that nearly everyone was young in spirit and this was a fun group. Also, being on our honeymoon the age difference allowed us some time to be alone and time to socialize with the group so there was a good balance.
The itinerary was close to perfect. When Trafalgar says Best of Italy they mean it. You spend a few days in the cities that are really worth seeing and have a lot to offer and a few hours in the cities that might have less to see but are just as demanded by tourists (i.e. Pisa) This was our first trip to Italy and we wanted to use it as a introduction to the country assuming that we will one day return to see the cities we really loved in-depth. We chose the trip based on the Itinerary and we were not disappointed.
In most cities, there is an included tour that gives you the basic lay of the land and points out most key points of interest. These are a must but unfortunately are ALWAYS at an early hour. On most days, the early start is a necessity but there were a few days with free afternoons where I would have appreciated the opportunity to sleep late. This is my only complaint about the itinerary.
With the exception of 2, most hotels are not in the city centers. We knew this even before booking so this was no surprise. But ALL of the hotels (even the worst ones) were perfectly fine for our purposes. They were clean, safe and had appropriate facilities. Luckily for us, we had a few last minute hotel changes that were definite upgrades to something closer to luxury hotels than standard (indoor pools, internet points, etc.)
You spend a lot of time on the motor coach. Its not an unbearable amount since the tour director works in interesting stops and plenty of breaks along the way but I definitely recommend bringing some distractions with you to make the time go faster. I brought several books and a game boy armed with Tetris. Lots of people brought crossword puzzles which is another good idea. The bus itself is clean and comfortable.
There are a substantial number of meals included and if you do most of the optional tours (as most people did) virtually all of your dinner and breakfasts are taken care of.
Not surprisingly the pasta was excellent in nearly every restaurant we ate in. Whether it be on an optional tour or included at the hotel. Southern cities had red tomato based sauces; Northern cities had cream/oil-based sauces. The main dishes however left a lot to be desired. The meat in Italy (no matter where we ate) is very tough and generally not tasty at all. The desserts were hit or miss we had lemon cake on several occasion which is not my favorite to begin with so Im biased against. But the best gelato is available everywhere so your sweet tooth will not go unsated.
As with most tours like this, there are optional excursions, which you can choose to join for a fee or opt out to do your own thing. Each tour director chooses their own mix so you wont know your options until you. We did most of the tours and enjoyed a select few. Not that we were unhappy on any of them, but our time may have been better spent elsewhere in a few cases. I wont go into each excursion here but email me if you have questions.
We had a wonderful tour director (Marilena). She was honest and thoughtful without being sappy sweet. She really knew all her stuff and we are so happy we were with her.
Marilena handled all our wake up calls and our luggage loading and unloading. It was nice to have that done for you.
No question, the trip is worth the cost for the first time Italy visitor. You see virtually everything you would want to see on this kind of trip. A couple traveling alone would need no less than 2x the time to do/see all the things we did.