I’m not always a fan of organized tours. I consider myself to be more of an experiential traveler where my idea of a great day in a new city involves random wandering about the streets, a visit to one site (major or minor), and a lot of lazy people watching done from a sidewalk café or busy public area.
Whirlwind tours exhaust and overwhelm me… I find myself left without time to process everything I’ve seen.
And yet in some new places, an organized tour is the only way to go – to ensure that all the bases are covered (especially its a cruise ship port stop with only a few hours to explore), to time things appropriately, and to avoid having to do much advance planning. Prior to the Grand Mediterranean trip, my experiences in Italy were limited to a couple of weekends in Milan and an airport transit so I was making up for lost time in seeing some of the great sites of the continent. Rome In Limo offered the best way to see as much as possible while still making it back to the ship on time.
We took three tours with Rome In Limo – Pisa/Florence, Rome Highlights, and an Enogastronomic Tour (near Naples) – I will share both general observations common to all three tours as well as highlights of each.
Our first tour experience was in the port of Livorno. Our guide, Nicki, met us outside the port and guided eight of us to our minibus for the day. Along the way, she shared basic destination advice and shared with us a code for the in-vehicle wifi. (This would consistently be repeated all three days by the Rome In Limo guides. The wifi, while slow, was a welcome treat to avoid the expensive cruise ship internet!)
Our first stop was Pisa where we immediately experienced the benefit we’d realize many times over the next three days – curbside service. Although traditional tour buses often have to park blocks away from major sites, our Rome In Limo guides were able to park curbside (or occasionally actually ON the sidewalks) right in front of major destinations. This allowed us to cover more ground and also avoid exhaustion from too much walking.
After about an hour to explore Pisa, our next stop was Florence. We made a few stops there – some just for quick photo opportunities while others were longer timed visits that included free time to wander about, shop, or browse an attraction at our own pace. We were able to choose one museum for the group (either the Accademia or the Uffizi – we chose the Accademia) to end the day – the museum was chosen in advance.
I felt that our Duomo stop was too short and our Ponte Vecchio stop was too long (although I would have not minded a longer stop there that included free time for lunch on our own). Instead, our Piazza visit included a lunch stop at a restaurant that Nicki assured us was very authentic and “not touristy” where she called ahead for a table reservation. Alas, the restaurant seemed primed for tour groups – we saw other Rome In Limo groups and a couple of cruise ship groups also seated there at large tables.
The prices were comparable to other restaurants we passed in Florence and the food was not bad (although the truly al dente “toothsome” pasta was not a favorite of everyone), but the service was rushed and despite several of us ordering primo and secondo courses, everything arrived at once. We were left with a group bill to try to split out amongst ourselves. A bit of investigation of reviews of the restaurant on Trip Advisor turned up many references to Rome In Limo. Its understandable that a tour company would have relationships with specific restaurants but a bit of transparency would have been better. (We would discover the same with most of the stops we made over the three days – lesson learned!)
We were back at the ship in plenty of time to grab a sun lounger for sail away before many of the ship tours returned.
For day two in Rome, we were prepared for another busy day. When we arrived in Civitavecchia, we met our driver Nick and the six others who would join us for the day and hit the road for the sites of Rome.
In Rome, we made many photo stops – some quick and some lengthier. Our major stops were to tour the Coliseum and the Vatican and the majority of our time was spent at these two destinations. Our group was able to split up at the Coliseum so that everyone could tour at their own pace. We were given a meeting time and location to return to when we were done.
We hired a guide for the Vatican (for 180 Euros) – well worth the price. Despite having 2+ hours for the Vatican, we truly had to hustle to see the high points (which included the Sistine Chapel and the Basilica of St. Peter’s). I cannot imagine navigating that in the short time frame without a guide. I’d love to return to the Vatican again but will allocate a full day the next time I return.
Today we were given three choices for lunch – a quick stop for “the best pizza in Rome”, a nicer sit-down restaurant, or a family style dining restaurant. Our group chose the quick pizza stop in the interest of time. It was good, but nothing not noteworthy. We ended the day with a gelato stop after the Vatican – while it was near a touristy area, it was the best gelato I had while I was in Italy.
We were again back to the ship well ahead of the tour bus crowds.
I was looking forward to a change of pace after the first two days of hectic touring so the enongastronomic tour was a high point for me. Our guide picked the six of us off and we sped towards the Amalfi Coast for the morning.
Our first stop was an olive farm where we were scheduled for a tasting. I had imagined we’d sample a few oils and experience a sales pitch. I was pleasantly surprised. We instead had a leisurely tasting with over 20 different olive oils plus honey, preserves, and almost a dozen different liqueurs and limoncello. No big sales push was made but we all purchased generously – I came home with six different oils.
Next we hit the town of Sorrento for our pizza making stop. We were set up at a local restaurant where we donned hats and aprons and each had a turn behind the counter to pat our own crust to top and bake in the wood oven. The restaurant also supplied us with wine or beer, salad, and a huge sampling of desserts. We then had a long stretch of free time in town to shop or enjoy the beautiful coastal views.
Our last stop was at a winery on the slope side of Mount Vesuvius. I was worried when we pulled into the parking lot and saw tour buses, but that fear was alleviated when we were escorted to a lovely table in the shade. We each received an antipasti plate and sampled several wines. While I didn’t purchase any of the wines, it was a nice afternoon stop with generous pours and the retail pressure was not what I would have expected it to be elsewhere.
Today it appeared our tour ran late (according to our guide, who warned us we’d be charged extra if the tour ran past 4 pm) but we still were back to the ship in plenty of time. Daniele was very personable and he made minor adjustments to the normal tour (we did a longer stop at the olive farm, for example, instead of a paid stop at limoncello factory) that he felt gave us better value.
On this tour, the pizza stop and wine tasting were extra – so if individuals don’t want to taste wine they can opt out and save a bit of money. If doing the pizza stop with children, it might be possible for a parent/child to share as it was a very large amount of food!
Overall, I was pleased with Rome In Limo and wouldn’t hesitate to book with them again. Its important to note that while the drivers are knowledgeable, the are not licensed guides but the company does offer contacts for guides at sites where they are offered (such as the one we booked for the Vatican) and those guides are paid separately.
My favorite of the three tours was the Enogastronomic Tour. I felt that it fit my personal touring style best – and having plenty of food and drink to sample during the day was definitely a plus.
One of the benefits of booking a shore excursion through Rome In Limo is that we were able to open up a tour to share with others on our ship without having to identify or know those individuals. Tour prices are based “per vehicle”, not per attendee so tour organizers can select the desired tour and desired size for a particular date. Interested parties can then sign up and show on the date of the tour.
Rome In Limo had us purchase all of our site attraction tickets (Accademia, Coliseum, Vatican) in advance which saved quite a bit of time and helped the group’s efficiency.
We set up three tours and received a discount so those savings were shared by all of our participants. Our tours ranged from 6-8 attendees and ran 500 to 550 Euros per tour. We met our fellow attendees for the first time on the ship (or at the dock on the day of the tour) – some came from a cruise roll call on CruiseCritic.com, but others found us via the Rome in Limo website. While I had a minor bit of trepidation about assuming the cost should individuals not show up, we did not have that issue and each participant contributed cash to pay when the tour ended (which was when payment to the driver was due).