Road trip update: All roads lead to Venice

By | September 22nd, 2011

They saved the best for last.

Our Adventures by Disney tour of Italy ended today, but not before hitting several highlights, including:

• A bullet-train ride from Florence to Venice and an unforgettable gondola ride from the train station to the hotel Luna, just around the corner from St. Mark’s square.

• A mask-making class with the same Venetian artisans who created the famous “poker face” mask for Lady Gaga. They were extremely helpful, and the kids loved the masks they made.

• On our own, we had a memorable dinner at the Westin Europa. The canal views were astonishingly beautiful. I highly recommend the traditional Venetian dinner.

We absolutely loved Venice. Every minute of it.

First of all, we got to find out what happens when you remove all the cars and flood the streets. Venice is much quieter than Rome and Florence, and the pedestrians rule the road. I felt safer, knowing that my kids could wander away without being in imminent danger.

(Um, then again, our youngest daughter isn’t a great swimmer — so you still have to keep your eyes on the little ones.)

We also found time to check out the two places Uncle Charlie recommended for the kids: Il Doge for gelato and Ae Oche, his favorite pizza joint in town. They were both excellent.

The Disney difference

I’ve been on my fair share of tours and press trips, but this one was special.

People would come up to our group and say, “Look, it’s Disney!” And they’d ask us questions about how a Disney tour is different from, say, Tauck or Perillo. I would answer that by saying it isn’t what you experience, but what you don’t experience, that makes it special.

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Disney goes to all the same places the other tours do. But it takes many of the hassles — dragging luggage around, standing in a long line to check into a hotel, waiting to get into the Forum — and quietly removes them. Our guides Courtney and Marco were working hard behind the scenes to make everything easy.

Then, Disney adds a little pixie dust, like the collectable pins for each day. Every day also has a theme. The pins combine the Italian theme with a Disney character. Mickey and Minnie are depicted on a gondola in one; in another Goofy is next to a castle.

The pins are marketing genius. Not only are they totally unique, and therefore valuable on the pin collection circuit — they also help market the next Disney “adventure.” When you’re back home, one look at the pins on your plastic badge will make you dream of the next tour, and maybe encourage you to book one.

Would we go back?

Would we take another Adventures by Disney tour? Absolutely. For our family of five, the extra price we paid for a guided tour was well worth the no-hassle promise. We’re already looking at Australia, Egypt and Peru for next year.

We noticed a lot of extended families on this trip. Some had three generations with them (kids, parents and grandparents) and they seemed to enjoy the tour. So next time, maybe we’ll take a set of grandparents to see how they like it.

In terms of Italy, we’ll definitely be back. I can’t say we’re fans of Rome, Florence or Naples, but we are head over heels in love with Venice and we are enamored of the coastal areas.

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Maybe we’ll spend some time in Sardinia or Malta, or take the kids up to the Italian alps to go skiing.

But Venice. Ah, Venice. It’s unlike any other city in he world.

If we ever returned, it would be in the dead of winter, when the boatloads of tourists are gone. I think we might have a chance to see the city the way it really is.

  • Sylviaguarino

    We found Sardinia a great destination…very rugged and the town of Alghero quite magical.  But we went in summer.  I think a winter trip there might be too stark, but the history, art and food is all very interesting with influences from other parts of the country and well beyond…

  • Sheila Englebardt

    So glad your trip was all you hoped it would be.  Couldn’t agree more about Venice.  We did a Tauck River Cruise this year and the attention to detail and lack of stress (due to terrific tour directors) was well worth the extra $$.  Glad to know that Disney is similar for families with children.  Loved following your tour and admire you for ‘making memories’ for your children.

  • sirwired

    Don’t all guided package tours include guides/tour directors that will take care of ticket pre-buying and make the appropriate attraction reservations that are common throughout the major sights in Italy?  I always thought that was kind of the point, and not unique to Disney.

  • edmontongirl

    Unfortunately, we did Venice as part of one of the big cruise ships (and there were 5 in port that day!), so I didn’t get a great vibe off of Venice simply because the crowds were just massive.  However, we paid for a special behind-the-scenes tour of St Mark’s Basilica after hours which was amazing.  I’d go back to do that again.  The Disney tour sounds fantastic.

  • Victoria k findley

    Chris…do the kids journal  or scrapbook their trips?  Sounds like you had a great trip.. I want to be one of your children in my next life ! lol

  • Karen C.

    Venice is magical — glad you enjoyed it. Yes, the no cars and relatively quiet motorized vehicles (boats) definitely take you a step back in time. Just read the book “The City of Falling Angels,” which chronicles the rebuilding of the Fenice Opera House, and talks about how you run into people all the time because they have to be out walking to get somewhere.

  • Valerio

    Sardinia is best in June and September, September especially is magical, not too hot and not too crowded.

  • Venice is so awesome places for couple. I love this place so much.

  • Baasbaas

    Yes, there is no other place like Venice.  I have been there in tourist season, and again late November.  Late November is the best time for me.  I had unforgetable canneloni in a little byway restaurant.  All the merchants and others were friendly and helpful.  Smaller Mom & Pop shops and restaurants are the way to go.  I can never get enough of Venice….even the unique aroma!

  • Lindaj

    I’m sorry to see you aren’t a fan of Florence.  Naples I can understand because I lived outside of it for 3 years, but Florence?  There is so much to see and do and great for walking!  It’s my favorite city in Italy.  It may be different when you have 3 little ones tagging along..

  • dreamofitaly

    Fun reading about your adventures in Italy, Chris! Glad you found Il Doge – awesome gelato. And winter is in indeed a great time to visit Italy. 

    Kathy McCabe

  • Sandy

    Thanks Chris for documenting your trip with Disney.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading your experience and wishes I could take my kids onto one soon.

  • Thebadgers8

    I totally agree with you. Venezia has always been magical for me. You are right, it is wonderful in the winter also, but be prepared for flooding. You might also check out Chioggia, which is similar, smaller, close, and not crowded. 

  • Arlington, VA

    We were in Venice in November of 2004 with Tauck.  That was a perfect time of year.  From your description, the advantage of Disney over Tauck is the attention to children while Tauck is really (except for the Bridges tours) directed towards adults.  After 9 trips with Tauck, we can recommend them.

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