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Michael

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Michael

Michael

I'm passionate about meeting new people and exploring new cultures around the world.

May042014

Tour/Activity

Venice Gondola Ride and Serenade

Venice, Italy

My Rating
4 star rating: Recommended

My Review

I think your satisfaction with this tour has a lot to do with your expectations going in. Perhaps fortunately (?), mine were very low so I feel pretty good about the experience. Ours ride was about 30-35 min long, and we were in a group of 7 gondolas. Each gondola had 6 passengers in it, except for one, which had 4 passengers and 2 musicians. We went up the grand canal a few hundred yards, turned around, and then went into a side "street" to go around the block. The musicians were one accordionist and one tenor. Both were very good, in my opinion. The boats attempted to stay together so everyone could hear, though the boat with the musicians in it obviously had the best experience. Our time was for 7:30, but we arrived early, waited in line (everyone in line had vouchers) and got in when they had time.

If you're expecting a private gondola for an hour, gliding down secluded canals, with your own musicians, this is probably not for you. If you'd like to "check the box" so you can say you got a gondola ride and know what it's like, this is probably a good and relatively cost effective option.

May012014

Tour/Activity

Assisi and Orvieto Day Trip from Rome

Rome, Italy

My Rating
1 star rating: I do not recommend this

My Review

This tour has several fundamental flaws, such that I am not able to recommend it. While both Assisi and Orvieto are beautiful, scenic towns that are well worth a visit, we only had about 60 min of free time in Orvieto and 45 min of free time in Assisi to explore it. This is nowhere near long enough, considering all that is there. This isn’t really the fault of the guide, though. There simply was not enough time in the day to allow people to walk around and see all that a town has to offer, before getting back on the bus for a +2 hour drive to/from Rome. Previous reviews have also noted this, so I’m not sure why this problem is not addressed. Our tour was about 14 hours long, from when we left Rome and returned, so extending it would not be wise. The tour should focus on just one of these lovely cities.

The second fundamental flaw is not one that is disclosed on the tour’s description, but should be added. This is a bilingual tour in both Spanish and English. Both languages are spoken by the guide, nearly simultaneously. My wife is Colombian and I speak Spanish too, yet we found it VERY difficult to understand either language because the guide was switching back and forth so quickly. This made it almost impossible to ask a question as well, since the guide was always talking in one language or another. When compounded with the strong Italian accent of the Assisi local guide, understanding what they were trying to communicate was nearly impossible.

Both towns are wonderful places, and should be on your list to visit. Unfortunately, unless these two fundamental problems are rectified, we cannot recommend this tour.

Apr292014

Tour/Activity

Ancient Rome and Colosseum Tour: Underground Chambers, Arena and Upper Tier

Rome, Italy

My Rating
2 star rating: It was OK, but could have been better

My Review

This incredible site is something everyone should see. But you probably know that, since you’re looking for tours of it, right? I was counting on this tour to get me past the lines and show me something unique and special in the site. While this was true, I found that the tour’s unique points probably did not justify the tour’s exceptional cost in my opinion. Going to the bottom of the coliseum was REALLY nice, and we were the only group down there. However we were only there for about 20 min out of the whole 3.5 hours. Similarly for the 3rd level, the view was great but only for about 10 min. Everyone in our group wanted more time in both areas. My wife was pregnant during the tour, and elected not go to. Instead, she went up to the ticket counter like everyone else and bought a ticket when they opened at 8:30 AM. She had no problem with the line, despite the very heavy crowds. She was able to get an official tour through the Coliseum without a problem for a small fraction of the cost of this tour.

Finally, the only real downside to this tour was the guide Alessia. She was the most difficult guide to understand in this trip to Italy, and possibly the most difficult to understand in my experience across 30+ countries. While she was very clear on her credentials as a historian with university degree, and was extremely knowledgeable, my companions and I were only able to understand about 1/2 to 1/3 of what she said. This was primarily due to her accent and fast speech pattern. We did ask her to repeat several things, but getting her to stop talking so you could ask a question was also quite difficult. In such an important site, with so many other good tours, the guide’s role in making a great experience can’t be underestimated. For that reason, I’m rating the tour a bit lower than usual. With a better guide, I’d say the tour could be a 4/5, due to the value vs. limited time in unique areas that I mentioned.

Apr292014

Tour/Activity

Skip the Line: Crypts and Roman Catacombs Small Group Walking Tour

Rome, Italy

My Rating
5 star rating: Highly Recommended

My Review

This tour definitely goes to some less visited sites, for those interested in going beyond the typical Vatican, Coliseum, Forum, etc. sites. While we had one tour bus with about 35 people on it, there were 2 guides assigned which made the group smaller and more enjoyable. The catacombs were very interesting, and humbling, from a historical perspective. The bone monks were also unusual. I had seen something similar to this in Paris, but didn’t know anyone else did this. The church was wonderful too. With 4 different and individually interesting layers, the site was really unique. I think our tour guide categorized it best as “archeological lasagna.” Speaking of which, our guide was a wonderful American named Rebecca. Yes, and American guide in Rome! She was terrific! Her energy and passion for Rome was contagious, and really made the tour enjoyable. Plus, the lack of a language barrier was really nice for a change. Overall, we really enjoyed this tour and would recommend it to anyone wanting to try something a little different in Rome.

Apr282014

Tour/Activity

Skip the Line: Vatican Museums Extended Art Tour Including Bramante Staircase

Rome, Italy

My Rating
4 star rating: Recommended

My Review

How can you possibly do justice to one of the world’s greatest museums in only 4.5 hours? This tour certainly attempts to do so. While there are tons of tours that cover the museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s, this one definitely spent more time on the museum art than another I had been on. While much attention in the title and description is paid to the fact that you visit the Bramante staircase where nobody else does, this is only about 10 min of the overall tour. Is it nice? Yes. Plus, you’re alone with no other groups. However I would caution against over-weighting this component of the tour in your decision to buy it or another. Our guide was Tiberius, an Italian art history expert, who had a very deep knowledge in both history and the art we saw. He was an enjoyable guy, whom we would welcome a tour with again. The only caution is that he talks so much about everything so quickly, it can be difficult to keep everything straight. Given the sheer volume of pieces and material to cover, perhaps this is unavoidable, though? For this reason, I recommend this tour for real art fans only. If you’re just interested in a basic overview of the museum’s highlights, the Sistine, and St. Peter’s, one of the other tours may be better suited for you.

Apr262014

Tour/Activity

Skip the Line: Borghese Gallery and Gardens Walking Tour

Rome, Italy

My Rating
5 star rating: Highly Recommended

My Review

This could be the best, relatively unknown attraction in Rome! The quality of the art in this gallery may be second, only to the Vatican. While I’m not really into art and often have trouble appreciating it, the pieces by Bernini and Caravaggio were truly amazing. Our guide was also the best of our many tours in Rome. Rebecca is an American guide living in Rome, which is very unusual. Her knowledge of art history was incredible. Her energy and passion for the masterpieces at the Bourghese Gallery was contagious, and her charm made the tour very enjoyable. Of course, her ease of communicating in American English was also a huge plus. She even recommended other tours and local restaurants for us afterwards, so we can’t say enough good things about her. If only all of our tours were as nice! As a footnote, the Borghese Park, which surrounds the museum, is free and very beautiful too. A nice afternoon could be had picnicking in the park, enjoying the grounds, and then going on this tour with Rebecca. We stayed in the Vatican area, and bus 116 took us right where we needed to be.

Feb232013

Tour/Activity

Cozumel Shore Excursion: Segway and Snorkel Adventure Tour

Cozumel, Mexico

My Rating
5 star rating: Highly Recommended

My Review

This was really a great experience for us. We met Jose at a hotel almost immediately next door to the cruise terminal. He spoke nearly perfect English, had a great attitude, and was very patient. Learning the segway was very easy and stress free, and the beaches were beautiful. The snorkling area is a beach club with showers, restaurant, etc. Not too bad, but the food and drink prices were actually more than American prices! I suppose they can't control that, so I won't hold it against them. Overall, a great tour that I would recommend and do again!

Nov212012

Tour/Activity

Falmouth Shore Excursion: Jamaica River-Tubing Adventure on the Rio Bueno

Falmouth, Jamaica

My Rating
2 star rating: It was OK, but could have been better

My Review

While the rafting portion and beach was nice, the port pickup was TERRIBLE! The phone number provided by Viator didn't work, so it was hard to find the guide. Then, once we found him, he said "wait right here" and never returned. 1 hour later, thanks to another guide's kind help, we found our van!

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