I Took a CostSaver Tour of Italy – Here’s What Happened

Ever since I watched The Lizzie McGuire Movie, I’ve dreamed about visiting Italy. The beautiful views, the delicious food and museums full of culture always beckoned me—and who knows, maybe I would be mistaken for a huge Italian pop sensation.

rome pantheon

In August 2017, I finally went on a tour of Italy, fulfilling my Italian dreams and checking a few items off my bucket list. I went on the Jewels of Italy tour with my family, a Trafalgar trip that included three major Italian cities over the course of six full days.

I know when I signed up for this tour, I had a lot of fears regarding whether this trip was right for me, and I basically had to wing it. Because of this, I decided to share my honest and unbiased experience on this tour of Italy.

What is Jewels of Italy?

The Jewels of Italy tour takes you through a few of the more famous cities of Italy, starting in Rome, traveling to Florence and ending in Venice. In between those cities, you also spend time in Pisa and Verona.

This is a guided group tour that travels by air-conditioned coach, with the same main travel guide throughout the trip. A free airport transfer is also provided to and from the airports in Rome and Venice, respectively.

The tour costs cover 6 nights of accommodation, transportation, and two dinners. It does not include optional excursions or tips.

verona

What to know before you go

This tour of Italy is through Trafalgar’s CostSaver branch, which has some elements that not everyone is on board with. There were some terms that people felt weren’t obviously stated when they signed up, so I want to make sure this is as clear as possible.

The hotels reserved on this tour are not city center. They are always just outside the city, because that saves a significant amount of money. This can make independent travel to the cities more difficult and more expensive. Each hotel, however, provides a buffet breakfast, which is always a plus!

Additionally, besides basic sightseeing, many activities are optional—aka, are extra costs. Some of these are totally worth it, because Trafalgar has partnerships that allow them to skip a lot of long lines. Others may not be of interest to you.

Each optional excursion is listed on the Jewels of Italy webpage with their costs, so be sure to plan ahead! You are charged for these activities separately at the end of the tour.

venice

Personally, one concern that I had before the my trip was whether or not we’d have any freedom for ourselves. Once we received our itineraries, however, I realized that there’s plenty of free time, especially if you don’t participate in optional excursions. We had tons of opportunities to walk around, eat and do whatever we wanted around each destination.

In the same vein, you can just completely do your own thing some days. There was one family that decided to go on a bike tour through Tuscany when we were in Florence, so they were allowed to go off on their own.

Day One

In order to stretch our miles further, we actually arrived in Rome a day before Jewels of Italy began and did some exploring of our own. This meant we didn’t have access to the free transfer from the airport. During our first day, we walked around Rome, eating delicious Roman food and visiting highlights like the Spanish steps and the Trevi Fountain.

rome 5

The path to see all the main sights of Rome is fairly short, and we probably stopped by each in less than two hours. This was a breeze for me, but a little strenuous for my parents.

The next day, we took a train down to Naples and Pompeii, and attempted to see as much as possible in just a few hours. This, again, was not included in our tour of Italy.

Since we had a meeting in the afternoon with the tour group, we didn’t have enough of an opportunity to relax and eat the famously delicious Neapolitan produce. We did, however, see a sizable chunk of Pompeii (side note: you can spend an entire day here, and still not see everything).

pompeii

After we met the group and our guide, the evening was left up to us. This is when the first optional activity took place, to visit some main sights around Rome with an included dinner.

We went off on our own that night to Gianicolo, an area that boasts having a wonderful panoramic view of Rome. While it does technically have this, the trees have unfortunately overgrown, which made taking photos less than ideal. That being said, it was still beautiful!

After we took our photos, we realized that there wasn’t any taxi service around the area and got a bit lost. We ended up in Trastevere, a trendy residential area across the river, which was full of lively restaurants. It actually became one of our favorite places in Italy, so we’re very glad we stumbled upon it!

Day Two

The next day we were taken to Vatican City, where we meandered around the plaza and explored the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica.

st peters basilica

We were given about two hours to see everything and take photos, which ended up being slightly too long. After looking around, you can go to the Vatican gift shop, where you can have items blessed and mailed to your hotel room later that day!

There is an optional activity for this day to skip the lines of both the Vatican Museum and the Colosseum. I highly recommend you sign up for this. Even though it’s a bit pricey (81 euros), it was well worth it after seeing the lines. The Colosseum can take hours just to enter, and in the hot heat of Italy, you don’t want to be in the sun for that long.

the colosseum
Did you know? The Colosseum used to be covered in marble, but was stripped for the Vatican.

Please note that if you visit the Vatican on a Sunday like we did, the Vatican Museum trip will be scheduled for the next morning instead.

There is another optional excursion this day to tour the piazzas and fountains of Rome, but we chose to spend it doing our own thing—after all, we had already seen them all on our first day! Instead, we took another stroll around Rome and stumbled upon Campidoglio.

This is a beautiful piazza designed by Michelangelo, and it turns out that the street behind the square actually oversees the entire Roman Forum! I had been slightly bummed out that the ruins weren’t included in our Colosseum tickets, until I realized I didn’t need a ticket for it after all.

roman forum

Day Three

The next morning was an early one, because we got to enter the Vatican Museum an hour before opening. This made the price for this activity even better, as few groups have this privilege, so looking around is considerably more relaxing.

Inside, we observed everything without any rushing, and had a lovely local guide explain much of the artwork we saw through an earpiece. The tour ended in the famous Sistine Chapel—photos are prohibited, by the way—and after a bit of time to soak it all in, we were sent on our way to Pisa.

The journeys between the cities in Jewels of Italy were fairly long, but they did come with gas station pit stops for lunch. That may sound unappealing, but the food at these stations were piping hot and fresh, and nothing like a 7-11 hot dog!

The coaches are set up with free WiFi, but ours ended up having issues until the last day. No one could connect to it, and our tour guide didn’t realize this until it was basically too late. Luckily, the Italian countryside is gorgeous!

Pisa doesn’t actually have much to look at besides the Leaning Tower (which is stunning), so we were only stopped in town for about an hour. We didn’t enter any buildings, as we were told that they weren’t very extraordinary, and admission was expensive anyway.

leaning tower pisa

While you can climb the stairs of the Leaning Tower, it didn’t seem worth it, considering the best building would be the one you’re on top of! Instead, we took our photos, meandered along the piazza, and bought a little Pinocchio souvenir.

After a few more hours, we arrived in Florence, a city I had heard nothing but good things about. This evening included an optional excursion that included dinner and wine at a local farm, but we chose not to go, and decided to relax at the hotel instead.

Unfortunately, I don’t have many kind words about our accommodation in Florence. The hotel itself is perfectly fine, but the area around it was abysmal. It’s located in a rancid smelling industrial zone outside of the city, where restaurants are scarce and few were open for dinner. This led us to eating McDonald’s that night. Whomp whomp.

Day Four

The next day was our tour of the city center and optional choice to skip the admissions line at the Accademia to see the David. We chose this activity and didn’t regret it, because the David is truly breathtaking. Not only that, but the line for admission to the museum is called the “line of no hope” (yikes!)

The Accademia also included beautiful artwork from students in the area and showed insight into their studies, which was really fascinating!

That being said, maybe you want to save some money, but you also don’t want to miss out on the David. Have no fear, as there’s a piazza outside full of statues, and one includes an exact replica of the David.

michelangelo david
Did you know? The David was outside for decades, and a replica has taken its place.

I actually found myself less enamored by Florence than most people. While the architecture was beautiful and the David statue was outstanding, I felt underwhelmed by Florence. Maybe it was because of how much people talked it up?

duomo florence

I certainly loved the gelato, but otherwise nothing was magical about the city to me. The shopping was not as amazing as everyone said, and it didn’t charm us like how we were promised. Perhaps if I had spent more time in the city I would’ve loved it, but overall I just felt very “meh.”

At around 3 PM, it was time for the optional day trip to San Gimignano, aka the Medieval Manhattan. This is one of the cheaper optional activities, and I can’t recommend it enough. San Gimignano ended up being my absolute favorite part of our tour of Italy, so I really do recommend you take this trip. I loved it so much that I started looking up the cost of rent in town!

san gimignano

Later that night was the first of our provided dinners at the hotel. It was exactly how I expected: bad. I don’t mean to be rude about it, but it just wasn’t good. Everyone in our group agreed that we would’ve been better off getting dinner somewhere in town instead.

Time in Florence was rather short. You only have a day and a half here, so it may be disappointing for some people looking into Jewels of Italy.

Day Five

Florence to Venice is another long journey, so we got up early in the morning to head out. But before we got to Venice, we made a stop in Verona, the famous city of Romeo and Juliet.

Verona is possibly the strangest city I’ve ever seen. When you first arrive, it’s like you entered New York or something, because everything is modern and full of skyscrapers (okay, it’s not as bad, but still!).

Suddenly I was thinking, “Wait, we’re stopping in a random metropolitan city? Where’s the history!?”

My fears were calmed when we arrived at the historic city center, which has the medieval look that you’d expect. Inside Verona was beautiful, but still very bizarre.

The old architecture remained, but it was packed with people and lined with designer shops. In the center of it all was a small marketplace, where you could grab food and snacks and other items (make sure to get a fruit cup!) Verona really is an odd marriage between the new and the old.

verona fruit cup

We only had a few hours in town, which was unfortunate, because there’s tons to see! I could easily spend an entire day roaming around the streets. We didn’t have the opportunity to visit the Verona Arena, because the line was so long. We did, however, see Juliet’s statue, after pushing through a mob of tourists to get to it.

Overall, Verona was a beautiful little city that everyone was disappointed to be leaving so soon. It was necessary, however, to arrive in Venice before dark.

When we arrived in Venice, we quickly threw our things in our rooms so we could make our way to the optional Grand Canal private water taxi tour. This is bundled with a gondola ride the next day.

venice hands sculpture by lorenzo quinn

We loved the water taxi. You go all around the island and see so much of the city, without the jostling and elbows of dozens of others on the same boat. It is definitely cheaper to use a public water taxi, but the relaxing experience made the price tag worth it.

After our water taxi, we headed back to the hotel for our second provided dinner. This, again, was a disappointment. The main course included a strange slice of turkey that tasted like something I had in an elementary school cafeteria. Our table actually laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of our meals.

venice water taxi

Day Six

Venice had the most optional experiences in one day, and we signed up for all of them!

We started our first day with a trip to Murano, where we went to a glass blowing demonstration and beautiful glass shop. Yes, it’s one of those sponsored activities, but this was very cool and had gorgeous items that everyone loved to see and purchase.

One of the highlights was a set of glasses that were so strong, they wouldn’t break when loudly slammed against the table!

On the main island, we went on our gondola ride, which was lovely and relaxing and totally touristy. No tour of Italy is complete without this experience, and it was a nice way to spend an hour in such a magical city.

venice

Afterwards, we went on our optional Secrets of Venice walking tour, meandering through narrow alleyways and hearing about what it’s like to live in Venice (spoiler alert: it’s not easy).

Even though I enjoyed this activity, if I were to go on Jewels of Italy again, I think I would prefer to spend this time exploring the island on my own instead.

Included in this tour was admission inside St. Mark’s Basilica, which was absolutely gorgeous. The inside is gilded gold everywhere, and I wish there was more of a chance to look at everything. Unfortunately, because of the volume of tourists, they always have you moving forward in a line, leaving little chance to stop for photos.

A few hours of the afternoon were left to our own devices. We wandered around the alleys, hoping to get a little lost, and ate some arancini on a stoop. It’s no joke that food is pricey in Venice, so opt for small grab-and-go foods, rather than a sit-down restaurant.

The last optional experience was the trip to Burano, which included a feast of a seafood meal and an inevitably short period of time to explore the streets. Burano is a residential island of Venice, known for its beautiful rainbow colored houses.

burano

Walking along the canals is like walking through a kaleidoscope. No amount of pictures were enough for this little town, making it by far one of the best parts of Jewels of Italy.

The dinner for this experience was amazing, by the way. It involved so many courses, with calamari and fish pate and seafood pasta. It also included all you can drink wine, which was great for some people on our trip.

burano house

Our day in Venice was jam-packed, and honestly everyone agreed that an extra day on our tour of Italy would’ve been nice to explore the main island further.

A day and a half of Venice is definitely too short, so if you can, book your flight for later in the day on day seven. You won’t be able to get a free transfer through Jewels of Italy, as there are only two in the morning, but the airport is a short 15 minute cab ride from the city anyway!

Post-Tour Thoughts

Jewels of Italy was the second escorted tour I’ve taken and second trip to Europe, the first being a high school trip to Paris and London. This was a larger group full of strangers, but it ended up being more enjoyable than my high school trip.

I think that as a young adult, it’s better to travel on your own. You don’t have to wait for anyone and you get to go wherever you want to go, staying in whatever hotel you wish. That itself is significantly cheaper than a bundled package that does everything for you.

rome 2

However, that’s me. My parents felt like this was an ideal way to explore the country, and look forward to a tour like this again in the future. They found the convenience to be well worth the price, and the pace was just right for them, even when they wished they had extra time.

There was also a solo traveler in our group, who wanted to see Italy but didn’t feel comfortable being completely alone. She found the convenience and the safety aspect to be ideal.

venice-4

Overall, Jewels of Italy was an enjoyable tour of Italy. We saw so much of the country that I had dreamed about, and my parents got to experience Europe for the first time. We enjoyed the amount of freedom you were allowed, and liked the optional experiences we participated in, with no regrets about the ones we did and didn’t do.

For my parents, it was a dream that came true at a considerably lower cost than they expected, and I think it really opened their eyes about world travel opportunities.

In short, I really recommend Jewels of Italy to families and to any solo travelers that aren’t fully comfortable traveling on their own!

This is not a sponsored post. Everything written here is my honest opinion!

Be sure to check out my Instagram, TwitterBloglovin and Pinterest

PIN IT:

jewels of italy tour review

costsaver tour of italy

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “I Took a CostSaver Tour of Italy – Here’s What Happened

  1. Sounds like an awesome trip– I love Italy so much! Your honesty is also really refreshing, so thank you for taking the time to share some of the surprising things about the tour!

    Like

  2. wow – what a whirlwind itinerary! reading this reminded me so much of my first trip to europe actually – it was a high school EF trip and many of the cons were the same (i.e. hotels outside of the city center) and we went to the same stop as you. It was great but I’m definitely more of an independent traveler these days. Great to see there’s flexibility with the tour you did though as there was zero flexibility for ours, which was a huge drawback. maybe I ought to give organized tours another try 🙂

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s