Tauck Tour, Classic Italy, itinerary map

First of all, we loved it! We can understand why this is one of Tauck's most popular and highly-rated tours.
My wife and I have been to Italy (in September 2008) on the Tauck's 14-day "Classic Italy" Tour, and wanted to share with others who might be considering this vacation, or have already booked it and are curious about the details.

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Our Experience

We thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this vacation!  We were able to visit many beautiful cities and towns, come face to face with world-renowned works of art, see remnants of ancient history, taste local cuisine, and travel by air, bus, boat, and train, and gondola.

Tauck did a superb job.  Because this Classic Italy Tour is one of their most popular tours, they have been able to perfect the experience, and refine every last detail.

People told us that we would love it, and they were right!  We would recommend Tauck's Classic Italy Tour to anyone who is considering traveling to Italy in the future.  You can find less expensive tours, but you will get what you pay for.  I have traveled with other tour agencies, and now I will be comparing all others to the high level that Tauck has delivered.

Tauck graphicChoosing Tauck

We chose this Tauck Tour for a number of reasons:

  1. We have not toured with Tauck before, and we enjoy trying trying new travels before repeating what we have already done.
  2. Tauck has a good balance of organized activities and leisure free independent time, rather than being constantly on the go with a group.
  3. Tauck has a great reputation, and continues to win many awards in the travel industry.
  4. We appreciated the way their literature starts with Day 1 as the actual day the tour starts (as opposed to many other tour agencies that consider Day 1 as the day you leave home and start flying).
  5. We wanted to stay at nicer, better-located hotels on this trip.
  6. (Update: We have since taken four more tours with Tauck - "Paradors of Northern Spain", "Spain and Portugal", "Grand European" river cruise, and "Taste of Ireland".)

Destinations Visited On This Tour

Rome, Vincoli, Sorrento, Amalfi Coast, Ravello, Pompeii, Orvieto, Torgiano, Assisi, Tuscan Hills, San Gimignano, Pisa, Viareggio, Cinque Terre, Florence, Venice.

Attractions and Sites Seen In This Tour

Bay of Naples, Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii, Vatican City, Vatiican Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica, St. Peter's Square, Rome Forum, Colosseum, Imperial Palace, Circus Maximus, San Pietro, St. Francis Basilica, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italian Riviera, Galleria dell 'Accademia, Statue of David, Uffizi Gallery, Eurostar train, St. Mark's Square, St. Mark's Basilica, Doges' Palace, Venetian gondola.

These were just the places we saw as an organized group.  The schedule is well-planned, allowing time for individual exploration.  Some people (like my wife and I) took full advantage of this, and were able to see many more places and things.  Others in the group used their free time to rest up, as there is a lot of walking every day.

Booking The Tour

We made our tour reservation directly with Tauck Reservations, by calling the toll-free number listed on their web site. I was connected with a very personable and helpful sales counselor who answered all my questions, made the reservation, took all my personal information, and reserved a hotel for the night before the tour departure in Rome.

Within a day, we received an email confirmation with a PDF attachment that contained:

This email also contained an attached Word document, which was a Flight Information Request.  It is a form to fill out with your name, reservation number, tour name and date, and your flight arrival and departure information. This form is for people who are making their own transportation arrangements rather than booking the flight through Tauck.

When I called at a later date to pay the rest of my balance, I was again greeted by a very friendly person.

Mindy at Pavlus Travel(Update: I must put in a good word for Mindy, our current travel agent. She is able to get us the best tour prices available. We now use Mindy at Pavlus Travel for all of our Tauck bookings, and have been very happy with her. Pavlus Travel handles more Tauck Tour bookings than any other agency. Here's how to reach Mindy.)

Pre-Tour Documents From Tauck

After making our final payment a few months prior to our departure, we received a packet of printed documents from Tauck.  We found them to be very well-organized and inclusive, and left very few unanswered questions.

This packet included:

Connecting With The Tour Group

As we always do, we chose to arrive the day before the tour started.  This can eliminate much of the stress associated with flight delays, canceled or missed flights, baggage delays, etc.  It also allowed us one good night's sleep before starting an active tour schedule.

It seemed that those who booked their flights through Tauck arrived the morning of the tour.  Although everyone in the group made it without any issues, this has great possibility of causing problems with even small flight delays during international travel.

We chose to stay at the Hilton Rome Airport Hotel because it is very convenient.  It is a (long) walk under covered walkways.  The signage to find the hotel from the flight arrival area is poor, so we had to ask for directions at the information booth.  We knew we were using the hotel just for rest.  If we had wanted to do sightseeing that day, we would have chosen a different non-airport hotel, since the airport is quite a ways from town.  This hotel was one of the few that we stayed at in Italy that had in-room coffee maker, iron, ironing board.

Trotta coachOn the morning of Tauck "Day 1", we walked back to the airport.  We heard that some others who stayed at the hotel made arrangements with the concierge for transportation.  When we were going over the final walkway by the airport, we happened to look down, and saw the tour buses, so we made our way down to them.  We then easily found one marked "Trotta" on the side.  There was someone there who directed us to the correct Trotta coach for our particular tour.

Our Tour Director Giorgio was there, checking people's names off his list, making sure each piece of luggage had a Tauck luggage tag, and getting an exact luggage count from each traveler.  The coach driver Julio took each tagged bag and packed it on the coach.

While waiting for the last arrivals, many people introduced themselves to each other, and found out where everyone was from.  Once everyone was accounted for, we made an on-time 10:00am departure for Sorrento.


Day-By-Day — Our Itinerary at a Glance (yours will have differences)
   (you may download this itinerary as MS Word document)

Saturday September 6 Travel day

Leave home; fly to Rome.

Sunday September 7 Travel day; Rome

Arrive in Rome.

Transportation from airport to Hilton Rome Airport:    Walking distance via moving walkway.

Check into hotel: Hilton Rome Airport; one night 

Monday Sept 8 (Day 1) Rome, Sorrento

Check out of hotel.

Tauck Tour begins; Day 1

Go to airport; join Tauck Tour group for departure at 10:00am.  Be at airport by 9:30am. Ask driver to drop you off at the INTERNATIONAL ARRIVALS TOURIST COACH PARKING AREA. Once there, look for white Tauck motor coaches, with “TROTTA” outlined in red on each side.

Travel through the fertile Campania countryside, around the Bay of Naples, and past Mount Vesuvius to the lively resort town of Sorrento; your hotel overlooks the sparkling Bay of Naples. A light buffet lunch awaits you at your hotel.  The afternoon is free to explore as you choose. Join us for a welcome cocktail reception and dinner.

10:00am: Departure by coach from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport for Sorrento.
2:00pm: Arrive at hotel; buffet lunch upon arrival; rest of afternoon on our own
7:15pm: Welcome Reception at hotel
8:00pm: Welcome Dinner 

Meals L,D
Hotel: Hilton Sorrento Palace 

Tuesday Sept 9 (Day 2) Amalfi, Ravello, Sorrento

Rise early for an unhurried drive along the Amalfi Coast, one of the most spectacular drives in the world; visit the seaside villages of Amalfi and Ravello, where you’ll savor the panoramic views of the coast and sea. You will enjoy a family-style lunch at a local trattoria in Ravello. Return to Sorrento in the afternoon or early evening  to explore its charming piazzas and the historic Roman streets of the old town. Dinner on your own.

6:30am: Breakfast opens at hotel
7:45am: Departure from hotel for Amalfi Drive; 1 1/2 hours of free time in Amalfi; lunch in Ravello, then another 1 hour free time
4:30pm: Arrive back at hotel. 

Meals B,L
Hotel: Hilton Sorrento Palace

Wednesday Sept 10 (Day 3) Pompeii, Rome

Travel to Pompeii this morning, frozen in time when it was completely buried by volcanic ash from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Walk through the ruins of Pompeii with a local expert to discover the way life was in ancient Italy – visit the temple, the forum and a home adorned with frescoes. Lunch will be at a local restaurant.  Arrive late afternoon in Rome for the next three nights; your hotel is located on the fashionable Via Veneto, one of Rome’s most prestigious addresses. Enjoy dinner at the hotel’s dining room at your leisure.

6:30am: Breakfast opens in hotel
6:45am: Have tagged luggage ready inside room for collection by porters
7:45am: Departure from hotel for Pompeii
8:45am: Arrival at Pompeii for 2-hour tour
11:30am: Luncheon at restaurant in New Pompeii, and 30 minutes free time
4:15pm: Arrive at hotel in Rome
7:30pm: A la carte dinner begins at hotel (with reservations) 

Meals B,L,D
Hotel: Westin Excelsior, Rome 

Thursday Sept 11 (Day 4) Rome (Forum, Colosseum, Imperial Palace, Circus Maximus; San Pietro, Vincoli)

Today, enjoy an orientation tour with a local guide. Rome sightseeing includes views of the Roman Forum from above, and a visit to the Colosseum (see video) from above. See the ruins of the Imperial Palace and Circus Maximus, and travel to San Pietro in Vincoli for a look at Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. The remainder of the day is free. Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant in Rome – one of the many culinary pleasures Italy is known for. 

6:30am: Breakfast opens in hotel
9:00am: Departure for city sightseeing; 45 minutes free time at Colosseum; Group Photo taken this morning.
1:00pm: Return to hotel; rest of afternoon is free to explore Rome on our own
6:15pm: Depart for dinner 

Meals B,D
Hotel: Westin Excelsior, Rome 

Friday Sept 12 (Day 5) Rome (Vatican City, Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica, St Peter’s Square)

Get an early morning start for a visit to Vatican City, both city and state, includes the Vatican Museums. Tour St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square, then you’re free to linger at the Vatican or return to your hotel; spend the afternoon as you please. In the evening, enjoy a private tour of Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel.  Dinner on your own.

6:30am: Breakfast opens in hotel
8:30: Depart for 2-hour St. Peter’s Basilica tour; 30 minutes free time outside
11:30: Return to hotel; rest of afternoon is free to explore Rome
6:15pm: Depart for Vatican Museums private tour 

Meals B
Hotel: Westin Excelsior, Rome 

Saturday Sept 13 (Day 6) Orvieto, Torgiano

Arrive in Orvieto, high on a hill overlooking the vineyards below. Visit the Duomo, one of Italy’s greatest cathedrals; the façade is a visual treat, a blend of sculpture and mosaic splashed with a palette of colors and magnificent bronze doors. Following a traditional trattoria lunch near the Piazza del Duomo, continue through Umbria, a wine-producing region. Arrive in Torgiano, a small village in the Tiber Valley, where you will experience Italian country life for the next two nights. Your hotel is a former 17th-century patrician home featuring wooden beams, terra cotta floors, and a private winery – attend a wine tasting to sample the grapes, followed by dinner in the hotel’s fine dining room.

7:00am: Breakfast opens in hotel
7:15am: Have tagged luggage ready inside room for collection by porters
8:30am: Depart for Orvieto
10:30am: Arrive at Orvieto; 1-hour guided tour of Duomo; 1 hour free time
12:45pm: Lunch; 30 minutes free time
2:30pm: Departure from Orvieto
4:15pm: Arrive at Torgiano and hotel
5:50pm: Meet at front desk for short walk to wine tasting
6:00pm: Wine tasting at the Osteria
7:30pm: A la carte dinner begins at hotel (with reservations)

Meals B,L,D
Hotel: Hotel Le Tre Vaselle, Torgiano 

Sunday Sept 14 (Day 7) Assisi (St Francis Basilica)

Take a short drive to Assisi, a well-preserved medieval hillside town spread across the slopes of a mountain. Assisi was the home of St. Francis, who left a position of wealth and turned to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience, founding the order whose followers became known as Franciscans. Visit  St. Francis Basilica, built by the people, today houses some of Italy’s great 13th- and 14thcentury frescoes. Enjoy some free time in the center of town, and lunch on your own,  then return to Torgiano where you’ll discover the nuances of Italian cooking from an Umbrian chef who shares the secrets at a cooking demonstration.

7:00am: Breakfast opens at hotel
9:00am: Depart hotel for Assisi
9:30am: Arrive at Assisi; brief guided orientation walk; Basilica tour; then 2 hours free time to explore
2:15pm: Depart Assisi
2:45pm: Arrive back at hotel; free time to explore Torgiano
6:00pm: Cooking demonstration in hotel
7:30pm: A la carte dinner begins at hotel (with reservations; staggered seating times)

Meals B,D
Hotel: Hotel Le Tre Vaselle, Torgiano 

Monday Sept 15 (Day 8) San Gimignano, Pisa, Viareggio

Your travels through the enchanting Tuscan Hills take you through golden landscapes dotted with olive and fig trees. Arrive in the hilltop town of San Gimignano, and enjoy some free time and lunch on your own. Drive by Pisa to see the famed Leaning Tower, then travel through lush Tuscan vistas to the seaside resort town of Viareggio, on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Dinner will be at your hotel.

7:00am: Have tagged luggage ready inside room for collection by porters
7:00am: Breakfast opens at hotel
8:15am: Depart for San Gimignano
11:15am: Arrive at San Gimignano; 2 1/2 hours free time to explore
1:45pm: Meet at Porta San Gimignano
2:00pm: Depart from San Gimignano
4:15pm: Arrive at Viareggio
6:45pm: A la carte dinner begins at hotel (with reservations) 

Meals B,D
Hotel: Grand Hotel Principe di Piemonte, Viareggio 

Tuesday Sept 16 (Day 9) Cinque Terre, La Spezia; Vernazza; Florence

Cinque Terre was accessible only by sea for hundreds of years. Travel by train through the mountains to one of the villages, where you’ll experience daily life – from colorful fishing boats home from the sea, to the wine, olives, and citrus fruit produced locally. You’ll have time to explore, perhaps sampling the unique flavors of the local cuisine for lunch on your own. Aboard a private boat, cruise the shores of the “Italian Riviera” for unparalleled views of this dramatic coast. Journey to Florence for a three-night stay at one of Italy’s grand hotels. Dinner will be enjoyed in the hotel.

7:00am: Have tagged luggage ready inside room for collection by porters
7:00am: Breakfast opens at hotel
8:30am : Depart for approximately 1-hour drive to La Spezia;
             (Local schedule is determined by weather; will be announced on approach to La Spezia)
            Schedule was a chartered boat cruise to Vernazza, with 2 1/2 hours free time there; then train back to La Spezia
3:00pm: Depart La Spezia for 2 1/2-hour ride to Florence
5:30pm: Arrive at Florence; say goodbye to our driver (gave gratuity) upon arrival; free time until dinner
7:30pm: A la carte dinner begins at hotel (with reservations) 

Meals B,D
Hotel: Grand Hotel, Florence 

Wednesday Sept 17 (Day 10) Florence (Galleria dell’Accademia)

Begin the day with an in-depth briefing given by a university professor who is an art history lecturer, followed by a walking tour of the Galleria dell’Accademia. One of the most popular museums in Europe, it is home to collections of paintings and sculptures by the great artists of the 14th and 15th centuries, including Michelangelo’s statue of David. Spend the remainder of the afternoon and evening as you please exploring the artistic city of Florence. Sample Florentine cuisine on your own for lunch and dinner.

7:00am: Breakfast opens at hotel
9:00am: Lecture presentation on the “Art and History of Florence” in the hotel
10:00am: Depart for Galleria dell’ Accademia tour, and city orientation walk until noon;
               remainder of day free for independent exploration

Meals B
Hotel: Grand Hotel, Florence 

Thursday Sept 18 (Day 11) Florence (Uffizi Gallery)

Join a local expert for a guided tour of the inspiring Uffizi Gallery. Originally built as a suite of offices before being used to display the Medici family’s art treasures in 1581, it is renowned as the oldest gallery in the world. The rest of the day is free to explore Florence as you please, with lunch and dinner on your own.

7:00am: Breakfast opens at hotel
9:00am: Depart for Uffizi Gallery tour; remainder of day is free for independent activity 

Meals B
Hotel: Grand Hotel, Florence 

Friday Sept 19 (Day 12) Venice (St Mark’s Basilica, Doges’ Palace, gondola)

Travel by high-speed Eurostar rail this morning to Venice, built on 118 small islands and traversed by some 100 canals. Transfer by canal boat to your hotel, conveniently located near St. Mark’s Square; after a buffet lunch at your hotel, embark on a walking tour with a local guide. Visit St. Mark’s Basilica as well as the sumptuous Doges’ Palace, which was the official residence of the elected officials of the former Venetian Republic. Finish the day with the quintessential Venetian experience – a serenade aboard a gondola on the canals. Dinner this evening is on your own in Venice, renowned for its restaurants!

6:45am: Have tagged luggage ready inside room for collection by porters
6:45am: Breakfast opens at hotel
7:45am: Depart for train station
8:38am: Eurostar Train #9462 departs for Venice
11:17am: Eurostar arrives at train station in Venice; transfer by private boat to hotel;
              Buffet lunch upon arrival to hotel
2:00pm: Depart from hotel for city sightseeing walking tour
4:15pm: Return to hotel for check-in
5:00pm: Meet in front of hotel for walk to gondola pier for gondola ride

Meals B,L
Hotel: Westin Europa & Regina, Venice 

Saturday Sept 20 (Day 13) Venice

The entire day is free to do as you please. You’ve got lots to choose from – perhaps people-watching from a café in St. Mark’s Square, visiting the museums, walking along the narrow streets and lanes, or taking a tour of the islands. Join us this evening for a farewell cocktail reception and dinner.

7:00am: Breakfast opens at hotel; available until 11:00
8:30-10:30: Entire day is free for independent activity; Tour Guide available at lobby desk to assist with your independent plans
7:30pm: Farewell Reception at hotel
8:00pm: Farewell Dinner at hotel

Meals B,D
Hotel: Westin Europa & Regina, Venice 

Sunday Sept 21 (Day 14) Venice; start journey home

For those taking the 7:00am group transfer to airport:
6:00am: Have tagged luggage ready inside room for collection by porters
6:00am: Breakfast opens at hotel
7:00am: Depart for airport by private boat

Tauck Tour ends, 7:30am in Venice at Marco Polo Airport.

Monday Sept 22 Travel day

Arrive home


Day 1 Orientation

On our drive to Sorrento, Tour Director Giorgio (one of our all-time favorites) gave each of us an orientation packet in a clear green water-resistant pouch.  It contained a "Benvenuti In Italia" (Welcome to Italy, page 1 and page 2) sheet, an Itinerary with more specific times, a card with everyone's names and hometown.  It also contained handouts with information about shopping and size conversions, Glossary of Words (page 1, page 2), Glossary of Artistic and Architectural Terms (page 1, page 2), Outline of Italian History, Notes and Coins, Glossary of Street Names, Giorgio's Book List, and Giorgio's Film List.

A questionnaire was distributed with some food preference questions.  People were asked to note if they preferred not to eat veal, fish, or were vegetarian.  This was later used for planning the lunches and dinners taken as a group.

The Coach

The coach was modern and very comfortable inside.  It was clean, roomy, easy to enter and exit, had large unobstructed windows, and good air conditioning.  It had a restroom, but it was for emergency use; I don't think anyone ever used it on our tour.

There was an overhead shelf for storing small backpacks, large handbags, and purchases. It was not really practical to store anything under the seats.

The air conditioning vents could be individually controlled, similar to an airplane. Each seat also had it's own overhead reading light and fold-down tray.

So that everyone had a chance at front row seats, the Tour Director assigned seats every day, and posted the new seating chart on the door of the bus each morning.  Every day the group would rotate clockwise two seats.

Welcome Cocktail Reception and Dinner

This was on the first evening, after our travel from Rome to Sorrento and a free afternoon.  It was held in the hotel, in a private banquet room. There was a bar set up for us, with beer, wine, cocktails, and soft drinks.  Appetizers were brought around.  The Tour Director gathered us in a circle, said a few words of introduction, and had each of us introduce ourselves and tell where we were from and a little about ourselves.  Then we had a half hour to mingle and chat, and meet the people we had not yet met during the day.

For dinner, there were five large round tables, with place cards indicating guest seating assignments.

Although the attire was not quite as formal as the Farewell Reception and Dinner, most people changed clothes after a hot afternoon of walking around town, and tended to dress up a bit.  The men wore sports coats (with and without ties), or just collared shirts (with or without ties).  The women wore dresses or nice slacks.

Farewell Reception and Dinner

This was on the last evening, Day 13.  The reception started at 7:30pm, followed by dinner at 8:00.  It was held in a beautiful private area of the hotel in Venice.

There was plenty of champagne, wine, and premixed Belinis for everyone.  Cocktails were followed by an elegant dinner.  Seating was prearranged by the Tour Director at five 8-person round tables, complete with name cards.

The attire was decidedly more formal this evening.  The neckties with coats, and dresses came out.  Newly-purchased jewelry and clothing received their first showing.

The meal was very elegant, and provided a nice atmosphere to say goodbyes.  There was a lot of reminiscing about the preceding two weeks, and then the farewells, handshakes, and hugs.

Handouts

The Tour Director would regularly provide us with various maps and handouts. I have put some of these on a separate Handouts Page for viewing.  He would discuss each map, and suggest walking routes, sites, restaurants, and shops, so by the time we arrived at a new town, we felt very prepared for our independent time.

Money

I converted US dollars to Euros at a number of different places so I could compare the exchange rates.  Here is what I found, from worst to best:

ATM's ("Bancomats") were easy to find in most places we visited. They gave us the best rates.  I would recommend ATM's as your first source for Euros. Some tips:

Credit cards were accepted in all hotels and most shops.

We have found that Traveler’s Checks were good in years past, but nowadays are actually not recommended.  They can be inconvenient, difficult to cash, and many places simply won’t take them.  U.S. cash, credit cards, and ATM's should cover most situations.  Many travel experts consider Traveler's Checks obsolete.

Another option available is to order your foreign currency and have it delivered to your home before you leave.  There are a number of sources that do this, including banks (Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and probably others), AAA, and Travelex.  I checked the rates, and they all seem comparable to what you would get at the hotel cashiers.  Better than the airport kiosks.  Definitely not as good as ATMs.  But it might be a convenient way to get some starter money to have on hand before you go.

Pre-Paid Cards are yet another option.  They are available at AAA, and some banks and stores.  Although they seem appealing at first, further analysis reveals that they are a very poor value, and best avoided.  They are loaded with many hidden fees and costs, and you lose a lot of money with them.

Here are some web sites that discuss various forms of travel money:

We wore a money belt (Rick Steves Silk Money Belt) any time we weren't checked in to a hotel, carrying our cash and passports with us. We kept the passport in a ziplock sandwich bag to keep it from getting wet from sweat. When checked in, we would lock these in the room safe, but still felt more secure by actually taking them with us on a few occasions. We also used safety pins to pin the belt at the latch, so if the plastic latch broke or came undone, the money belt would not unknowingly fall off.  We like the washable silk ones (faster drying) that have a moisture-proof inner lining, and two zippered compartments. 

Leftover foreign money:  We always take some Euros home with us to use on our next trip.  It is always nice to arrive at a new Europe destination with enough Euros to guarantee a meal and transportation to the hotel from the airport.  Just one less detail to have to worry about.

Tips, Gratuities

Tauck states that the following gratuities are included in the price of the tour.  This is very nice, as group tour travelers always have questions about who, when, and how much to tip.

The following gratuities are not included.  Tauck's literature wisely suggests giving any gratuities on an individual basis, and not as a group.  They suggest:

We tend to be generous tippers for exceptional service.  We tipped more than the recommended amounts because we felt both Giorgio and the driver Julio were exceptionally hard workers, which contributed greatly to the success of the tour.

We tipped both of them with Euros, although others used U.S. dollars.

Gratuities were not included for meals taken on our own, or for taxi rides (tips are not yet expected for taxi rides, but are increasingly appreciated).

Restaurants and cafes:

Extra Expenses

Not included in the tour price:

There were no optional excursions offered, which was a bit of a contrast to most other non-Tauck Tours I have taken.  But this was fine with everyone, as our itinerary was very comprehensive, and included the things that most other companies call "optional".

Shopping

An obvious difference with Tauck Tours is that they don't make specific shopping stops as a group at any tourist traps.  This is a big advantage over other tours!  Those shopping stops can be quite a waste of time, overpriced, and boring.

The generous free time on this tour allowed plenty of time in all towns to do any shopping on our own.  There is not really any routine haggling over prices in Italy.  However, after finding out a price, you can always ask if they can do any better.

Some of the shops are obviously catering to the tourists, but these are interspersed among shops frequented by the true locals.

Beautiful crafts that are produced locally in Italy include alabaster and stone, paper and papier mache, ceramics, coral, filigree, wood, lace, leather, porcelain, and glass.

Many shops close for a mid-day break from 12:30 or 1:00pm until 3:30 or 4:00pm.

Non-residents of Italy are entitled to a refund of the Value Added Tax (IVA), with certain conditions.

Water

It is safe to drink tap water in the hotels.

Bottled water is easy to find.  Buy a few bottles to take back to the hotel.  Many take-out cafes and gelato shops sell it.  Avoid using the bottled water supplied by the hotel in the rooms; it is tremendously overpriced.

Chilled bottles of water were always available on the coach also.  It was convenient to grab a bottle while stepping off the coach to see a site, or returning to the coach after a hot afternoon.

At most places where you are served or sold bottled water, they will ask you if you would like still (naturale or non-gassata) or sparkling (frizzante or gassata).  Most of it is mineral water.

If you prefer ice, you will have to ask for it.  Italians don't routinely use ice in their beverages.

Food

In a nutshell, the food in Italy, and on this tour, is excellent!

Breakfasts were all provided at the hotels, and served buffet-style.  The selections were usually similar from hotel to hotel; juices, breads and pastries, fresh fruit, cereals, yogurt, eggs, bacon, potatoes, cheeses.  A few had attended omelet stations.  We could go to breakfast at any time after the announced opening.  We just told the maitre d' that we were with Tauck. We could usually sit anywhere we chose, although on a some mornings they asked us to sit together at a few of the larger tables.  Coffee and tea were served to each table, and often we could order espresso or cappuccino.

Five lunches were included:

We were on our own for lunch on nine days.  This gave us a chance to sit, rest, and eat a sizeable meal (and use their restroom) or just grab a small snack on the run, whatever we were in the mood for that day. The tour director Giorgio was always available to offer suggestions in each locale.

Eight excellent dinners were included:

Some people made specific requests to our tour guide concerning meal seating arrangements.  Usually requests to be with other couples on the tour who they have specially befriended.  If a few cases, requests to not be seated with specific others who just didn't have much in common.  Georgio graciously obliged all of these.

Pizza is different in Italy.  An Italian pizza is just about the right size for one hungry person.  The true Italian pizzas are thin-crusted, and have thin layers of sauce and cheese.  They consider a Margherita Pizza (tomato, mozzarella, fresh green basil) to be the classic standard. The more toppings you order, the more likely you are to be a tourist.  Pizza is properly eaten with a knife and fork unless you are getting it by the slice for takeaway.  Try to find a pizzeria that has a wood-fired oven.

Gelato was a popular snack with the group.  Italian Gelaterias are plentiful, fun, and popular.  More than a couple people in our group were in the Gelato-A-Day club; one even had four in one day!  At many gelaterias, you figure out what you want, pay the cashier next, and then give your receipt to the server behind the counter.

At most bars and cafes, you will be charged more if you occupy a table, even if you get your order at the food bar yourself. You might even see menus with two sets of prices to reflect this.

When you are ready for your bill in a restaurant, you usually must ask for it.  Italians don't like to rush you out after your meal, and don't automatically bring you the bill at the end of your meal.

Public Restrooms

There is usually no problem with restrooms on the tour.  With the schedule, you usually have plenty of opportunities either at the hotel, lunch cafes, or attractions.  There are a few occasions when you might need to use a public bathroom, so always have a couple of 1 Euro coins with you.  Some of the public WC's require a coin to get in, and others have an attendant on duty, and a tip is expected.

Luggage, Suitcases

Tauck tries to restrict suitcases to one per individual due to motor coach space limitations (all luggage is stowed in the luggage compartment of the coach).

A Tauck luggage tag is placed on each suitcase on the first day. This helps hotel staff to identify, sort, and deliver them to the right rooms.  The Tour Director keeps a total count of all the bags so they know if all were loaded onto the coach on travel days.  If anyone added or subtracted suitcases, they were to inform the Tour Director so he could adjust his count accordingly.

Carry-ons need to be smaller than what might be allowed on airlines because the overhead and underseat spaces are smaller on the coach than on airplanes. Tauck recommends dimensions not exceeding 17" x 12" x 10".  Soft-sided works best.

Some excursions to galleries and museums (such as Galleria dell 'Accademia and Uffizi Gallery in Florence) are very strict with what you can bring in.  No backpacks, no camera bags (cameras are okay), no large purses, no knives, no scissors, no Leatherman-type tools, no bottled liquids.  The Tour Director and Local Guides requested us NOT to take anything but bare essentials on these days.

Although not allowed to be used on U.S. flights, a set of small luggage locks can be packed, and used during the tour to add some security protection for your suitcases.

Packing

Most people tend to overpack rather than underpack.  Remember, you're traveling; it's okay to wear the same outfits over and over.

Use a packing list so you don't forget important items.  Here's a nice printable packing list, although it isn't specific for this tour.

Some general travel packing tips:

Laundry and Ironing

Laundry and dry cleaning service was available in all our hotels, but it was very expensive.  We used it one time for just a couple of items that we had soiled.

We also brought a stretchable laundry cord and small bottle of soap.  We bring wickable quick-drying undergarments, and wash them in the sink.  Exofficio is one brand we have had good luck with.

By Italian law, hotels do not have irons available to guests.

Clothing

Bring comfortable shoes.  There is a lot of walking.  If they are new, make sure you thoroughly break them in before the trip.  Bring Band-Aid in case you get blisters.  Pick shoes for comfort rather than style, but avoid the clunky white athletic shoes (that will mark you as an obvious tourist).

The most formal dress evening was the Farewell Dinner.  The Welcome Reception was a close second.  A sports coat or jacket would definitely be appropriate, but not required.  There were plenty of men who simply wore dress shirts.  Dresses (but not typical cruise-ship-fancy dresses) for women would be fashionable, but many wore nice slacks and blouses.

A number of the hotel dinners were in very nice restaurants, and people were more comfortable dressing up more than their daytime attire.

During the day, there was a little of everything.  Women wore mostly slacks; a few wore comfortable dresses.  Men also wore mostly slacks, although jeans and shorts were also occasionally worn.  T-shirts were worn by a few.

Shorts are okay (as long as you aren't entering the churches), but you will stand out as a tourist.  Same with t-shirts, baseball caps, and clunky white athletic shoes.

Many churches and cathedrals (including St. Peter in Chains, St. Peter's Basilica, Orvieto Cathedral, Basilica of St. Francis, and St. Mark's Basilica) enforce a dress code.  Shoulders and knees must be covered.  No cleavage or exposed bellies. Hats must be removed.  No tank tops, no shorts.  T-shirts and jeans are fine.  Sleeveless dress with a wrap is fine.  Dress modestly; respect the fact that you are in an active functioning place of worship.  We saw a few unsuspecting and embarrassed people asked to leave the churches because of inappropriate attire.

Here's a website with good tips on dressing for Italy:

Passports, Visas

United States, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand citizens must have a passport (valid for at least 3 months beyond length of stay); a visa is not required if your stay will be less than 90 days.

Phones

We brought our cell phones, and they both worked fine.  I have an Apple iPhone; my wife had her Motorola; we both have AT&T service.  They both automatically found and connected into the network as soon as we powered on the phones in Italy.  We were able to receive and make calls, and coverage was adequate.  We brought our phones primarily for emergency use; in case we got separated from the group, we could call our Tour Director.  Or if we got separated from each other, we could call each other.  We usually kept the ringers silenced, however, so it would not disturb the others in our group.

With some cell phone carriers, you have to call them to activate international roaming before you leave for your vacation.

If your phone connects to the internet, be careful.  Data costs are extremely high once you are away from home ($0.0195/kb with AT&T in May 2008).  It is easy to run up hundreds of dollars on your phone bill with minimal web and email use.  With my iPhone, I turned off Data Roaming except for a minute here and there to check emails.  I also turned off the email's AutoCheck feature. International text messages are fairly expensive also ($0.50 per message with AT&T; $1.30 with picture or video).

Cameras

You will take more pictures than you think; there are lots of beautiful things to photograph.  Buy a new battery so it will hold a good long charge (old rechargeable batteries tend to run out faster).  Bring more memory cards than you think you will need.  On every tour we go on, there are people who need to buy additional memory cards, or find out that their battery isn't very good any more.

When we fill up a photo memory card, it becomes very valuable to us.  We either lock it in the hotel safe, or keep it in my wife's purse.  We know of one person who's memory card was packed in her suitcase, and it didn't make it home; all of her cherished photos were lost.

Group Contact List

Most people in tour groups want to exchange mail and email addresses.  Our Tour Director was not allowed to initiate this on his own.  But once the group asked him, then it was okay for him to collect contact information from those who wanted to participate, make a master list, and distribute a copy to everyone.

Group Photo

Tauck Classic Italy Group PhotoTauck Classic Italy Group Photo Key
The Tour Director arranged for a Group Photo to be taken on Day 4, in Rome, outside the Colosseum.  He informed us of the day ahead of time, so we could dress for it.

An 8" x 10" print was given to each couple a few days later, at no charge (many other tours charge $20 or so for this extra).

One innovative member of our group scanned the photo at home, used Adobe Photoshop to superimpose circled numbers on each person, and made a "key" with each traveler's name.  This was emailed to everyone who had their email address on the Contacts List.

Electricity

Electrical current in Italy is 230 volts, 50 Hz, AC.

Bring plug adapters.  Most outlets in Italy won't accept U.S.-type plugs.  We actually bring two adapters, so we can be recharging both cameras, or camera and phone, at the same time.

Check the label on anything that you bring that will be plugged in to see if it operates on only 110v or if it is safe for higher 220v also.  If 110 only, you might need a converter in addition to the plug adapter.

Physical Activity

This is not a tour for people who aren't in good physical condition. There is a lot of walking with some climbing up steps.  People who get winded easily or need to take frequent rest stops when walking moderate distances or climbing inclines would have difficulty with a few of the excursions. You don't need to be in the condition of a mountain climber or cyclist, but be realistic with any limitations you personally might have.

Italy does not have the ADA (Americans with Disabilities act) access standards that we have grown accustomed to in the U.S.  Don't expect curb cuts (or even sidewalks), ramps, hand rails.  People depending on wheelchairs, scooters, or walkers would not be able to participate in the majority of the activities.

Hotels

All of our hotels were very good.  They were chosen for their high quality as well as their good locations.  We were able to walk from the hotels to attractions, shopping, and restaurants.

Read more details on the separate Hotels--Overnight Accommodations page.

Weather

It is impossible to summarize the weather in Italy.  It varies greatly on location and time of year.

However, here are a couple of web sites that are helpful:

Personal Safety

As with any travel, just use common sense, be aware of your surroundings, and take appropriate precautions.

Those of you who travel frequently know that it is easy to forget the name of the hotel you are staying in on any particular day.  When you get to your hotel room, look for something with your hotel name and address on it.  Put this into your wallet or purse.  If you ever get lost, you can show this to a taxi driver, another hotel concierge, or a tour guide, and they will help you get back.

Movies and Books

Here is a website that has a great list of Movies From Italy or About Italy.  Many of these will be fun to watch after your trip. Our Tour Director also handed out a Film List with his recommendations.

For books, here is a website that has a Selected Reading List For Italy.  For guidebooks, try Top 10 Guidebooks For Italy Travel.  Giorgio also handed out a Book List with his picks.

When traveling to foreign countries, it can be very beneficial to follow their cultural norms. This minimizes standing out as a tourist, and increases the chances of being treated well. An excellent book to read before leaving on this tour is "Italy - Culture Smart!".

Flexibility

On a different tour, the Tour Director gave us some advice that is worth repeating.  He said that there is one word of advice that can make the difference between someone enjoying a foreign vacation, and being miserable.  Flexibility.  We need to remember that we are in a foreign country, with foreign customs and ways.  We will be eating foreign food, and surrounded by a foreign language.  If we are flexible and able to adapt and embrace these differences, we are more likely to enjoy our experience than those who are inflexible and intolerant.

As the tour progressed, we saw how this rang true.  Those in the group who were obviously not as flexible were the ones who complained.  It was disheartening to realize that they were going home with a very different experience than the rest of the group who appreciated the differences from what we were used to.

In Summary

We would definitely recommend this Tauck Classic Italy Tour to anyone who is considering taking a tour of Italy.  If you are comparing between Tauck and other escorted tour groups, chose Tauck; you won't be disappointed!  They run a first-class tour, taking every little detail into consideration.  It costs a little more than some other tours, but is absolutely worth it.  Tauck sets the standard for group tours.

Photographs taken while on the Classic Italy Tour

Videos taken on the tour

Current Time in Italy:

You might also be interested in our "Paradors of Northern Spain" and "Spain and Portugal" reviews.

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