Simply Italy » Review by Vanessa
I just got back from my third Contiki trip. My first was Russia, Egypt was my second and Simply Italy was my third. Russia was pretty good, Egypt was excellent, but Italy was unbelievably amazing. Simply Italy was by far the best Contiki trip I've taken to date. Our tour manager Laura and our driver Cornelius were an excellent team. Laura was what really made the trip fabulous though. She provided us with maps at every stop and always explained things so well. She always answered our questions and her Italian was amazing and beautiful even though she was a kiwi. Everything was so well organized and Laura, our tour manager, always made sure to balance sightseeing with partying. She made it clear to us that it was our holiday and that we would also help make it what we wanted. If we wanted to party she'd take us and if we wanted to sightsee she'd recommend things for us. Boy, could that girl walk though! We ate tons of food on this trip, but boy did we burn/walk it off.
The tour overall was excellent. The only thing I'd change is our stop at Pisa and the mall. We had 1.5-2 hours at a design outlet mall, which I didn't really care for. In Pisa, we were only there for about an hour. My friend and I really wanted to climb Pisa, but an hour didn't leave us with enough time to do so. We thought it might have been because of driving hours though. That day we drove from Milan, I think, all the way to Rome so it was a long driving day. More time in Pisa would have been super though. I could have easily used another day in Florence and especially one more in Venice. Venice is so amazing it's almost a shame to only spend a good full day there. I really enjoyed this one country focused tour though. We did spend some time on the bus, but it wasn't overly excessive. I think focused tours that spend time in one or two countries only are the way to go.
Overall, the food was amazing. My recommendation is to go off the beaten path and find a place where locals are eating and away from tourists. Some of the places we went with the whole group were hit and miss. This pretty much sums up food on Contiki in general. After three contiki trips I can safely say that dinners you find on your own will be better. They aren't trying to mass produce food so you get better food and service. We had an amazing all you can eat pizza dinner in Sorrento, but another night in Sorrento we had an optional dinner we paid like 40 euro for and it was just way too salty and we went home hungry. We had some undercooked pasta in Florence in an included dinner, but that was were the bad meals ended. Every other meal was quite good. The included and optional dinners were, however, better on this tour compared to Russia and Egypt so I was happy with that. Watch out for the places closest to tourist areas. This sandwich/pizza place across from the Colosseum in Rome was very pricey and not too great. Our Sprite was literally 5 euro, which was like 10 dollars Canadian. I guess I can check off another point from the bucket list as I can officially say I I had a 10 dollar Sprite. The pizza was as hard as the colosseum there too, but we only had 45 mins for lunch that day and there wasn't much else around. The best pizza and pasta we had were places we found on our own. Be careful of ordering in Le Spezia as we ordered pesto pasta thinking we'd have enough time before our meetup time and we were wrong. We literally had to inhale our food and were chugging our drinks and devouring bread sooo fast as I think the servers are on island mentality. One other couple we talked to also experienced slow service there so I'd recommend eating lunch in La Spezia first and then seeing the castle or swimming. The beach in the Cinque Terre was amazing though. Our guide said it's rarely super hot and nice so we were very lucky. The fruit shake place across from the beach is amazing too! It's expensive, but it's all made with real and fresh fruit right there in front of you. You can also order ridiculously huge alcoholic drinks. There was an optional hike you could do instead of the beach, but my friend and I were tired of stairs so we opted for relaxation at this point in the tour. I'm glad we went here too as I don't think I'd have known about it from just exploring on my own.
Overall, the hotels were really good. Wifi was hit and miss. Wifi in Italy is like food in Cuba. Overall, Wifi connections just sucked! Some hotels connected well, but at the Regent literally it would get overloaded and the wifi would have to kick someone out before it logged someone else on. The Regent in Rome was just okay. It was far better than the horrible Victoria hotel we stayed at in Egypt. Basically, if I have running and hot water on a Contiki now it's pretty much fab, so it was okay in Rome. The hotel in Sorrento, the Grand Flora, was decent and had a pool which was great, but I didn't care for a tile floor. Then in Florence the Club hotel was super. Rooms were small, but very nice and the lobby was very stylish. The Holiday Inn by Venice was fine and the beds were bigger and softer, which was nice. The local pizza place down the road was really good too, but they didn't know how to handle such a large crowd. It took forever to order. If you go there, I think it's called Pizzeria Al Calesse, then do take out as everyone that did got the food right away and didn't have to wait forever and ever just to order. Le Spezia had an okay hotel. The lift was so small here though that we could only fit one person and a bag in the lift/elevator at a time though. I think the pipes were very old though as our shower just turned on in the middle of the night. Either it was water pressure or this hotel is haunted... We also locked the door at night to find it unlocked in the morning. Okay, maybe I'm going for haunted/ghost on this one?! The hotel in Milan, the NH, was amazing. It's too bad they couldn't all be that great and then we headed back to Rome.
In terms of souvenirs to bring back, leather is big in florence. We went to leonardo's, which was pricey, bur you know it's the real stuff. With contiki you could get your initials imprinted in your purchase for free so that was cool. They also had these really cool puzzle rings that have to be put together like a puzzle in order to wear them. I think that's the only thing I regret not buying. It's hard because you want to balance out your money and it's not like you can window shop in italy and then go back and buy stuff. Venice is where to get glass and masks. If I had more money I would have bought an expensive glass piece. They can ship right from their shop and they have insurance incase anything happens. One couple got a lovely love bird piece. I ended up just getting small earrings. It's expensive, but in the demo this guy like throws the glasses around very hard and they don't break so you know it's good quality. Overall, the demos on this tour were very good and I really enjoyed them. We did skip the lace demo in Venice though. Some people went for the air-conditioning, but lace wasn't really our thing. Masks were amazing in venice. Basically, just look for paper mache as sometimes the italians will order masks from china and sell them. If they are paper mache or you see someone making them then they are the real deal.
Well, I hope I encounter more amazing tour managers like Laura. She did say our group was really amazing and everyone got along so well. I am a teacher so I can understand how you could get a bad group, okay group or amazing group. I suppose that part is all luck, but overall I've been lucky and had some really good groups. Egypt was just okay though when I went as a huge family of cousins packed over half of the bus so it was harder to meet people. It all kind of depends on who signs up for your tour. I am turning 26 in a week and hope I can save for and do a few more contiki trips before my time is up and I'm too old. I also went with a friend on this trip who did contiki for the first time and she just loved it so now she's also recommending contiki. I'm so happy we had a great tour manager and driver that really helped to make the trip amazing. I can't wait for my next trip! I just hope I don't get sick again. I've come home sick all three times I've done contiki. This time I got hit especially hard as it's been almost two weeks now that I've been sick. I think next time I will bring more money for souvenirs though. I took 1000 euro to spend, but I could have easily spent 1500-2000 euro between leather, glass, masks, drinks etc. If you are looking to make new friends and are looking for a safe, organized, fun and amazing time then do a contiki! You won't regret it!
Review written Aug 2013event 0.3