Road trip update: All roads lead to Venice

They saved the best for last.

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

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight. Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

• 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.

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.

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.