As two American Honeymooners, we were very excited to see as much of Italy as we could. Our travel agent recommended Contiki because of our age and the sites that we could see. Now that we've done it, we have a few positive and negative things to say, both of which we hope will help future Italian Espresso goers.
Being that we had spent two days in Rome prior to starting the tour, we were disappointed in the location of the first hotel, The Grand Hotel Fleming. Especially since our first hotel was so close to everything and not as expensive. It was very far from the main sights, about 20 Euros by taxi, to get back to the hotel from downtown. If you're planning on doing the tour, go a few days early, so you have TIME to go see the places you get to see (briefly) on your free time. All of the main attractions are short walking distances from each other, so you'll not be disappointed going to Rome early and seeing these sites in greater detail. Being that the ME times were either in the middle of the day, or at the end of the day while in Rome, your ventures could be shortened if you like spending time at each location. BOTH of the ME times for Rome are worth it. The things you'll learn and see about the Roman Forum and the Colosseum are short, but very informative. And the pasta cooking class was SO MUCH FUN!! Do BOTH!
Vatican City was amazing! But again, you're only in the Sistine Chapel for maybe 10 minutes and in St. Peter's Basilica (which is HUGE) for 20 minutes, so its very quick and a little disappointing-more so in feeling that you got robbed of your time in such beautiful places. The place you stop for lunch is a restaurant in a toll stop- super expensive if you get the buffet! Order a sandwich- much cheaper and tastes good.
Florence is beautiful. MAKE SURE YOU BUY TICKETS to see the Uffizi Gallery and Michelangelo's David. We had misinterpreted the vague description of the brochure and thought that we'd be seeing these things as a group. Yes, as a group you'll see the fake David (which is where the real one used to stand) and the location of the Uffizi Gallery, but you will not go in. Some people on the tour knew about buying tickets, not sure how, but it would have been nice if there was a heads-up on not seeing the real David, or going into the Uffizi Gallery. And expect Florence to be super busy on Tuesday when you have the whole day to explore the town. The museums are closed on Monday, so everything has huge lines to get in. If Contiki could change San Gimignano to Tuesday and explore Florence to Wednesday, I think that would be beneficial. My husband and I did go into the Vecchio Museum and climbed the Vecchio tower- worth it. There was no line. We did get to see a lot of art work thorough the Medici house and got beautiful views of Florence and the Duomo from the Vecchio tower. The optional dinner was good, worth the money, because there is so much food and the service and entertainment were excellent. Karaoke night on our first night in Florence was fun too. And the restaurant that is included as a group meal on the first night was good too. The hotel was nice, the Wifi- not so much. The connection kept dropping- so don't expect to upload all of your pictures.
This was probably mine and my husband's favorite day on the tour. It was relaxed, yet you got to see things, and we were really able to soak up the Tuscan countryside and culture. San Gimignano was great. Not super busy, yet there were plenty of shops to stop in. We climbed the tower and got excellent views of Tuscany. The winery tour was great too. The wine was excellent, and the tasting was more of drinking rather than a tasting! Maybe the Italians do tastings a little differently. But it was great! You could easily have had 3-9 glasses of wine rather than one at the end of the tastings. Loved day five!
Most of day six is traveling. Pisa was cool, but really- the tower is the only interesting thing. You're only there for 90 minutes, so a quick visit, which was fine. The outlet mall was a waste of time! We weren't sure if because Italy has restrictions on how long the bus driver can drive (2 hours), if that was why we stopped. But it was a waste of time. The outlet is the same as those in the States, and really not much cheaper. If there was something else to see, Contiki, please consider that. Verona was beautiful. When you picture an Italian City- Verona is what you picture. There's no graffiti (like every other city in Italy) its small and quaint. We could have easily spent more time in Verona. The included dinner is DISGUSTING!!! Even though you've already paid for it, either order something else or go somewhere else. It was like bad, cheap Chinese food that tried to pass as country Italian food. It was gross. Contiki- please break your contract with this restaurant and GO SOMEWHERE ELSE!
Venice is cool. The glass blowing demonstration was very cool, but if you plan on buying Venetian blown glass, expect to drop at least 100 Euros. The city is beautiful and the optional city tour was worth it. My husband and I didn't go on the gondola ride- which, money wise, is worth it as a group, but as something romantic to do, is 80-100 euros for just two people. And after finding out on the city tour that the sewer systems drain into the canals, we were glad we didn't do it. The optional dinner was worth it, more because its your last meal together and you're able to spend time together before saying goodbye that night. The hotel was fine, wifi was not. Don't expect to upload anything.
Overall, we liked Contiki as a tour because of everything you get to see, but have decided to not go on a tour again. Many of the places we could have seen and spent more time at if we planned ahead of time and gone by ourselves. There was so much free time that it almost felt like you were on your own anyway. It was nice and convenient that we didn't have to worry about transportation for the week. Because you're on a tour, if there are people who annoy you, you're stuck with them until the tour is over. If you're single, in or fresh out of college, go for it. If you're older (26+) or established in your life, single or not, do a different tour. Yeah, you'll have people your age/situation to hang out with, but the loud, younger crowd will just annoy you with their need to cling to each other and their constant desire to get drunk rather than enjoying the time and company. There were three other couples there on their honeymoon, so its pretty common to go as a couple.