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Old 06-20-2009, 01:41 PM   #1
SLK1
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Trip Report: Viva Italia June 11-19

We're baaack!!! Here is our report from our trip. After more than ten months of planning, we can't believe we're back home! We highly recommend ABD!!!

Day 1: Benevenuto! – We (“We” is my DS15 and me) were greeted by Marc, our tour guide, who, come to find out, was a first-time tour guide for Viva Italia (we didn’t find this out until the end of our tour but it didn’t matter; he was great). We took a van to our hotel, the Hotel Bernini Bristol. The traffic was horrible but we finally arrived and were greeted by Cinzia, our other tour guide. It was around 9 AM and our room wouldn’t be ready until 1 at the earliest. She gave us a map and some suggestions of things to do while waiting. She also gave us complimentary tickets for an open-air Rome bus tour which we decided to save until later. Tired and weary, we headed out into the streets of Rome down to the Monument to Emmanuele. It was massive and impressive and we climbed a very steep staircase to get to the top. Given that we were going on about three hours of sleep, it seemed even steeper! We headed back to the hotel and on our way back hit a pizza shop and grabbed two pieces of pizza and two bottles of water. Mmmm, we said to ourselves (after a week of eating “real” Italian food though, we look back and realize this was pretty gross). Neither of us wanted to admit it wasn’t very good. Back at the hotel, our room still wasn’t ready and we were zombie-like. Finally we got to our room and, against the advice of our well-meaning friends, we napped. We had to! Two hours later, plus a shower, and we were good as new. We went to meet our fellow adventurers! Dinner was good, we did a “get to know you” game, and introduced ourselves. We got our instructions for the next morning and then we headed out to the Trevi Fountain, one of my personal favorites, and to get a gelato. Now THAT was good.

Day 2: All Roads Lead to Rome: Met very early and were introduced to our local guide, Stefano. He was incredible. However, we used “Whispers”, personal audio devices, and they were not good at all. We heard about every fifth word Stefano said, and just tried to make the best of it. We saw the Colisseum, The Forum, had lunch, and then took a two-hour walking tour that hit the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and Piazza Navona. After that, we had time to ourselves so we headed back to the hotel to rest up before dinner. We decided to go back to Piazza Navona and eat at Café Bernini, which ended up being one of our favorite meals – gnocchi and pizza (we have simple tastes!), but it was good and the service was good too. Walked back to the hotel via quaint alleys, and got “a little lost in the city”, but all was fine. We got a gelato before bed, of course.

Day 3: Let’s Be Civilized: Today was the Vatican. Again we met Stefano and had to endure the every-fifth-word guide given by him. I so wished we could have heard him better as he was a wealth of knowledge, not to mention very pleasant. The Vatican Museum was very interesting, but hot and stuffy, and kept you moving at a fairly steady pace. We went into the Sistine Chapel, eyes ceiling-ward, but no pictures! We then went into St. Peter’s Basillica, which was almost too much to take in. It is crammed full of art and statues and mosaics, and it’s fascinating, but overwhelming at the same time. Outside was very impressive. St. Peter’s Square was massive and we enjoyed taking pictures there. We had lunch with the group then were on our own for the afternoon, so we used our bus tour tickets and toured around Rome, and got off at the Castillo de St. Angelo. This castle had great views from the terrace, and we enjoyed that stop. We walked to the Spanish Steps to have dinner, and waited for it to get dark so we could see the city lit up. Well, it gets dark really, really late in Rome and we waited forever! Finally, we clicked a few shots and headed back, too tired to wait out the darkness…but still were able to grab a gelato!

Day 4: Etruscan Roots: We took a bus to Orvieto, a stop along the way to Artimino. Unbeknownst to anyone, including our tour guides, there was a medieval procession going on in Orvieto that seemed to last HOURS! We probably should have enjoyed this more, but since we didn’t know what it was and got stuck in it several times, we were more annoyed than impressed. The procession stopped at and went past the Duomo, which was so beautiful and big from the outside; however none of us could get inside because of the events going on. For lunch, I had a mozzarella and tomato salad and DS had a boar and truffle sandwich (they’re famous for that supposedly) right outside the Duomo. We left there and got on the bus, headed for Artimino. What a beautiful place! The scenery and overall feel of Artimino was breathtaking. We found our rooms (seemed each room was different!) and we felt lucky to have scored an end room, and one with a shower, albeit a tiny one. We went over to the Cantina for wine tasting, where DS got his first taste of wine (I’m not a wine drinker). Dinner was served outside overlooking Tuscany…so beautiful! After dinner the kids swam and played games in the dark, and finally got to make friends and bond after so much walking/touring in Rome. Everyone seemed to finally relax a little.

Day 5: Tuscan Holiday: This was our “day off” of sorts. We got to sleep in finally, then had breakfast and met to make pasta! I have read reports before of going to a castle to make pasta, but they have changed things due to guests not enjoying being on the bus so much. So, they make the pasta right there at the villa. We each got a pile of flour, egg, olive oil, and spinach. Lots of messy hands, but everyone seemed to enjoy this. We ate lunch in the restaurant, then had the afternoon to do whatever we wanted at the villa. The kids swam, played games, and explored the area. Adults talked, read, and laid out all afternoon. The kids walked to the gelateria right down the road and DS thought that was the best gelato of the trip (too bad I missed that one!). Dinner was a “Tuscan Barbecue”, but I have to admit I prefer American barbecue much more! But, the scenery more than made up for it as we watched the sunset over Tuscany.

Day 6: Romance and Renaissance: We were off to Florence. I admit I was not exactly looking forward to this day, and I was right to not get excited. Seeing the statue of David was amazing and fascinating. But it ended there. We toured a little bit and the streets were extremely crowded and it was HOT. That would have been o.k., but after our group lunch, we had SIX hours on our own. If you’re like us and can only look at so many churches and so much art, and shop so much, then you’re bored. We went to the Pitti Palace to see the Boboli Gardens. We spent 20 euros to see shrubs and fountains and be extremely hot. Sorry, I can’t get excited about Florence. We were very happy to get on the bus and get back to the villa. I sincerely hope Disney will re-think giving groups that much time in that city, especially on a tour where the kids (and adults too!) want to go back to the beautiful villa and enjoy that some more.

Day 7: Venetian Fantasy: We arrived at the train station to find out our train was delayed 25 minutes. Finally on the train, they informed us it was going to be cloudy and windy in Venice, which might prevent us from riding a gondola. However, it turned out we WERE able to ride the gondola and I for one welcomed the cloudy skies as it kept the temperature down! The gondola ride was a fun way to start that part of the tour and Venice ended up being probably our favorite city. We toured St. Mark’s square and the St. Mark’s Cathedral, among other things. There are lots of narrow alleys in Venice, and we couldn’t really tell where we were and where we were going! Our tour guide there, Laura, was excellent. We went to our hotel via water taxi, and the Dei Doggei Hotel was by far the nicest hotel, amenity-wise, that we experienced (although we had a horrible view of a work area and a metal roof). We met up with some of our fellow adventurers for dinner – adults at one table; kids at another – and ate at Pizzeria Vesuvias, which was delicious. All exhausted, we headed back to the hotel but not before all getting a gelato before bedtime!!!!

Day 8: Carnevale!: We went to the mask makers via a traghetto, which is a gondola type boat that you STAND UP IN. Even though you’re only crossing a narrow canal, it was a bit scary. Someone in the previous traghetto even screamed, which we found to be quite funny. We all got to choose a mask to decorate, and it was a very fun group activity, and even more fun that night when we saw our creations! During our afternoon on our own, we had lunch (gnocchi for me; pizza funghi for DS) then walked around Venice, which we enjoyed. We took the elevator to the Bell Tower at St. Mark’s and realized – what a surprise – that the bells do actually ring!!!! We were about ten feet from the bells, if that, and kept our hands over our ears the entire time they were pealing away. Pretty cool! That night was our farewell dinner, which was outstanding. We all left feeling like we had indeed had a great adventure.

A few thoughts: I’m sure there are better tour guides than others, but we enjoyed our tour and our fellow adventurers, and we all exchanged e-mail addresses upon leaving. Let’s see, for some random thoughts…bring flushable wipes as the toilet paper stinks. Always keep euro coins in your pocket – as we found out, you have to pay to use the toilet, unless you’re actually eating in the restaurant! Bring your own travel alarm clock. Don’t expect to sleep much – you are up, showered, and ready to go by 7:45 or 8:15 most days. I think they might not accurately represent how much walking you will really do. It was a LOT of walking and I honestly don’t know how the junior adventurers in our group managed. They were excellent children (we had a great range of ages), and it was quite a bit of walking involved in every city. If you’re a Diet Coke drinker, you will have to switch to Coca-Cola Light, which was still good, although a bit more like Coke than we’re used to. If you need wi-fi, the only place you will find for free is in Artimino; otherwise you will pay dearly for it. Meals were good, however some better than others. You will eat more pizza and pasta than you can imagine, and on the rare occasion we had roast beef, it wasn’t very good at all. Take notes or keep a journal! We have gone over our notes many times and relived things that might otherwise have forgotten. There is just so much that you will do you can’t possibly remember it all, especially those little things that were special.
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Old 06-20-2009, 04:59 PM   #2
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Thanks, SLK for your trip report. We went the week before and it was like living it all over again. Sorry to hear about this issues in Orvieto, we were surprised how much we loved the town. Wasn't the pasta and mask making fun? We loved staying in Tuscany. Our Artimino olive oil got confiscated at the airport, don't know what my husband was thinking trying to carry it on. I'm so depressed to be home, are you?
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Old 06-21-2009, 06:22 AM   #3
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I really did love Orvieto, and the procession was fine, but just so long! I think it actually looped around the streets several times, and being a medievil parade, the people in it looked miserable (certainly not a Disney parade!!) I did enjoy looking through the shops and the view from that little park area was incredible.

I can't say I'm bored at home though...I left my three girls with my husband and missed them terribly; I'm incredibly happy to be home with them. However, my son and I keep talking about the trip and laughing about so many funny things that happened (we even made a running list of funny things just so we wouldn't forget!)...I think everyone wants us to shut up already!

What did you think of the Whispers? I wish they had a better system as we had a very hard time hearing!
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Old 06-21-2009, 09:32 AM   #4
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That's too bad about the Whispers. We had the same devices on our trip last year, but we found them to work well about 80% of the time. Once I got one that didn't seem to work well and just traded it for a different one. On the Florence tour, however, we just couldn't seem to make them work at all, and so I missed most of what was being said.

I do wonder what Disney could do to improve the day in Florence. I think part of the challenge is that the city is so crowded. I also really hated having to walk forever to get out of the city to our bus at the end of the day, but I'm not sure what they can do about that. We wound up wasting most of our afternoon just fighting the crowds and being tired. I didn't need more free time at Artimino (although I loved the time we had) but might have liked to have either more useful guidance in Florence, or less time there (add in a quick visit to another small town, maybe). A recommendation for a good restaurant there might have helped too, as we had a disappointing lunch.

Aside from our day in Florence, we had the most amazing time ever on this trip - I am so sad we aren't doing it or something like it again this summer. It's hard for me to imagine how anything could be as much fun.
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Old 06-21-2009, 12:49 PM   #5
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I found using Whispers that it was better to have it turned lower, when it got too loud it seemed fuzzy. I also stayer near the front of the pack. I thought Florence was crowded, too, but one of the shop owners said it wasn't, and that sales were down 40%. I'd hate to see it on a crowded day. We avoided things that had long lines, instead of the Duomo, we did the Bell Tower. They suggested the Baptistry, and we did that, easy to do on your own. I think many in our group loved the shopping. They gave us the list of restaurants open early for dinner, but we just stopped in a panini shop recommended by one of the shopkeepers on our way back to the meeting spot. I enjoyed the day in Florence, and could have had more time to get a proper dinner, but didn't feel it was a city I wanted to go back to, unlike Rome, Orvieto, Artimino, and Venice.
I think if I had left any children at home, I would have been more anxious to come back. We did miss our cat, but I still find myself down that it is over. Don't know what to do other than plan another ABD in a couple years!
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Old 06-21-2009, 03:00 PM   #6
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Oh trust me, since I took the 15yo, I now am promising my 13yo that in two years, it'll be her turn to go! I'm already eyeing the Alaska tour...let's just hope ABD keeps their head above water, financially speaking, as I know they have been cancelling a lot of tours. But, at this point, I'm trying to get caught up on laundry and sleep!
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Old 06-21-2009, 05:38 PM   #7
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Thank you so much for your wonderful trip report! We are leaving in 2 weeks and reading it has made me even more excited!

I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me? As far as clothes go did you end up wearing mostly shorts and tank tops t-shirts, as it sounds so hot.

Did you find the need to wash clothes when you went or did you bring enough?

My daughter is 10 and is at the complaining age and I was wondering even before I read your post, if you decided not going to Florence, is it possible to just stay and have the day at the Villa or is it mandatory to go? As I don't know how worth it would be to take my 10 year old and drag her around for 6 additonal hours. I know I would be missing David ect and some wonderful things but may be worth having a nice day in a small town.

Thanks again so much, your advice is much appreciated!
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Old 06-21-2009, 06:52 PM   #8
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Thanks SLK1 for your trip report. You had to have missed your family, especially the baby terribly, but I hope your son loved every minute of his Italian experience. Didn't it go by so quickly? Florence was my least favorite experience too while others just loved it. My husband could have spent a week in Tuscany but I loved Venice. I think Disney does a great job balancing individual 'highlights' of everyone's dream trip.
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Old 06-21-2009, 07:46 PM   #9
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Ivory,
We went on the Viva Italia trip a week before, and I did not wear a lot of shorts or tank tops during the tours, as you needed to have your knees and shoulders covered if entering a church such as the Vatican and St. Mark's in Venice. You could buy a scarf to cover at the entrance, though. I wore more capris or longer shorts that just covered my knees. I would think you could stay back at the villa on the Florence day, but if she is the only child who does, I don't think it would be as much fun. With our just turned 13 year old, we climbed the Bell Tower, shopped, ate Gelato at Grom, and toured the Baptistry, which was very open and cool and a nice respite from the heat. She really enjoyed climbing the tower and taking pictures from the top and of course, the Gelato. Some of the other children loved watching the mimes on the street. Though Florence wasn't my favorite city, I would not have wanted to miss David, it was incredible. And there is a chocolate cafe in the square where you meet the group that my daughter bought chocolate for the bus trip home.
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Old 06-21-2009, 08:04 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ivory View Post
Thank you so much for your wonderful trip report! We are leaving in 2 weeks and reading it has made me even more excited!

I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me? As far as clothes go did you end up wearing mostly shorts and tank tops t-shirts, as it sounds so hot.

Did you find the need to wash clothes when you went or did you bring enough?

My daughter is 10 and is at the complaining age and I was wondering even before I read your post, if you decided not going to Florence, is it possible to just stay and have the day at the Villa or is it mandatory to go? As I don't know how worth it would be to take my 10 year old and drag her around for 6 additonal hours. I know I would be missing David ect and some wonderful things but may be worth having a nice day in a small town.

Thanks again so much, your advice is much appreciated!
Despite not liking Florence, I would not have stayed back at the villa. For one, we had a wonderful group who bonded quickly, so missing out on something and not being able to share that experience would have been a bummer. Second, I thought David was absolutely incredible and seeing that was certainly worth the trip. It is NOT mandatory to do anything on the itinerary though. According to our guide, they used to make that day a short tour, lunch on your own and a few hours on your own in the city, then back to the villa for a group dinner. Our guide did NOT like the new way, and felt many people wanted to go back earlier - not just our group. Hopefully they will go back to the original way of doing things. It was VERY hot in Florence, but as someone else stated, you can find your way into some air conditioned places and kill time. Also, I loved the leather market and wandering around in there, even though we only bought a wallet for my son.

As for clothes, we wore shorts pretty much the whole time. For the day at the Vatican, I wore capris; my son wore a longer pair of shorts and no one said a word to him. However, in Venice, at St. Mark's, someone in our group was told to "pull down" her skirt a bit, but others with shorts/skirts even shorter than hers went in. I think it's like TSA - hit or miss with the rules! But, don't chance it - for the Vatican, wear capris/long pants and then since it'll be hot, after lunch go back to the hotel and change. Take plenty of clothes - don't count on doing laundry - there simply isn't time, nor are the facilities convenient. And, don't count on wearing a shirt twice - we were so sweaty each day there was no way we could wear something twice!

I hope you'll do a trip report! At least write a journal so you will remember details after you get home - it's easy to forget the little stuff!
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Old 06-22-2009, 12:49 PM   #11
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Thank you all for your very important tips! SLK1 I will definately take a journal, you are so right that you tend to forget the little things. As far as staying back the day in Florence I think I will decide when I get there as if we will participate or not. My daughter being an only child is fine with just my husband and I as we always travel with her and she is used to adult company so I think she will be fine that way.

As far as clothes I will make sure I bring plenty, I know everyone says they overpack, but we are going on the Knights and Lights tour first before the Viva Italia, so I will need a ton of clothes so I will take as much as the weight restrictions allow. I have many skirts so I think that will be the way to go and maybe a pair of capris and a few long shorts, I hope that does the trick. My husbands says worst case we will have to get a few things done in the hotel laundry and just pay the crazy price! What we will do for clean clothes!!

If anyone can think of anything else we should know before we go please let me know I love hearing everyones point of view.

Thanks to all!
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Old 06-23-2009, 07:50 PM   #12
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Viva Italia 2009

Regarding laundry, we, too thought we would have a hotel do just a bit, and pay the high price. However, once arriving, we realized just how high the price was (7 euros for a tshirt) and elected to wash them ourselves in Tuscany. There is a washer/dryer by the pool, and you can cram several things into what looks like a very small washer. Just make sure you have several one-euro coins as you leave Rome.

I wouldn't miss Florence, as it was one of our favorites. David was amazing, although the tour guide we had was difficult to understand (the Whisper problems don't help). Shopping in the market was fun for our kids; the only downside to this day was the gruesome walk to the tourbus at the end of the day, followed with a long trip back to the Tuscan villas.

The hotel in Venice is amazing, and a wonderful way to cap off the trip. Have a great time!
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Old 06-24-2009, 07:30 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ivory View Post
Thank you all for your very important tips! SLK1 I will definately take a journal, you are so right that you tend to forget the little things. As far as staying back the day in Florence I think I will decide when I get there as if we will participate or not. My daughter being an only child is fine with just my husband and I as we always travel with her and she is used to adult company so I think she will be fine that way.

As far as clothes I will make sure I bring plenty, I know everyone says they overpack, but we are going on the Knights and Lights tour first before the Viva Italia, so I will need a ton of clothes so I will take as much as the weight restrictions allow. I have many skirts so I think that will be the way to go and maybe a pair of capris and a few long shorts, I hope that does the trick. My husbands says worst case we will have to get a few things done in the hotel laundry and just pay the crazy price! What we will do for clean clothes!!

If anyone can think of anything else we should know before we go please let me know I love hearing everyones point of view.

Thanks to all!
Wow...two tours back to back? I cannot WAIT to hear about them, and comparisons you will make. I also considered Knights and Lights but decided on Italy for a variety of reasons...how nice you can do both! Please do a trip report so we can hear all about it! Have fun!
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Old 06-24-2009, 03:51 PM   #14
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Thanks Soccermom and SKL1, for your advice, 7 euro for a shirt? I see what you mean that is really outrageous, I will make sure I have the coins for the washer dryer.
We are doing a back to back with DLP in the middle, I hope I'm not crazy for doing this, but the opportunity came up and I could not pass it up! I think I may look and see if DLP has any washer and dryers maybe I can do some necessities there.

Will let you know how it all went, and thanks for the journal tip, I did end up getting one!
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