From the Eiffel Tower to the Blue Grotto, and everything in between!

When an adventurous young bride and groom (one of whom is an art teacher) set their honeymoon sights on an ambitious (and independent) exploration of France and Italy, you just KNOW they’ll come back with stories to tell. Naturally, with a little help from an experienced travel professional, the stories are mostly of the “this was a trip of a lifetime” variety:

Hi Ann,

It feels great to be back!  I would be happy to tell you everything!  First, I want to thank you for all of your time and effort in planning this amazing honeymoon!  During the busy time of planning our wedding, it was great to know that this was one less thing to worry about and that we were in good hands!

Our wedding was absolutely beautiful and better than I could have ever imagined!  Our honeymoon was just as memorable!  We saw so many great cities, monuments, and museums, and experienced so much together!  We felt that we truly got to take the trip of a lifetime!  This trip was one that we will never forget!

Le Royal, Paris:  Awesome hotel!  Excellent location, great service, good breakfast.  The room was tiny, but super clean and we had a cool view of the street below.  One of the concierges even recommended to Shane and I that we take the dinner cruise on the Seine one evening, and although expensive, it was one of the most memorable things we did on the trip!  We watched the sun set and the city light up while dining on a delicious five-course meal.  Perhaps that’s something that you can recommend to future travelers!

Westminster Hotel, Nice:  What a location!  We had a room overlooking the Promenade de Anglais and the French Riviera.  By far the best view!  The service at the Restaurant and Bar out front was also great.  The room itself was okay – the safe, the toilet, the A/C, and a trash bin in our room were all broken.  The A/C would have been nice since it was 97 degrees!  Shane and I chalked it up to the fact that we were on a budget and kept in mind that we were overlooking the water.  We would recommend it, but warn that it is a bit old.

We also rented a car one day and got to drive up to the coast to Villefranche-sur-Mer, where we originally had wanted to stay, and I am so happy we were in Nice! It was beautiful, but much smaller and did not have easy access to the beach.  We also saw Monte Carlo on our drive, and the winding cliff road along the water that we took was unbelievable!

NH Jolly, La Spezia:  Great location, but that’s it.  The hotel had a nice lobby, but the rest of the hotel was old and smelled bad, unfortunately.  The carpets in the room were really dirty, also.  BUT we hardly spent any time there due to our late arrival, and spent the entire next day at the Cinque Terre.  I would not recommend that hotel to anyone else.

The Cinque Terre was by far my favorite part of the trip!  We started in Riomaggiore, and hiked between four of the five cities (one route was closed due to a landslide).  The hike itself was quite difficult, but the scenery made it all worth it!  Hiking up and down the cliffside through vineyards, with breathtaking views of the water and the towns below.  The last town, Monterosso, might be another city to consider if booking for anyone else visiting the Cinque Terre.  Each town had authentic Italian charm, with lovely homes lining narrow alleyways, and great shops and restaurants.

Silla Hotel, Florence:  Another favorite!  Great location surrounded by awesome restaurants.  The breakfast was good and offered the best cappuccinos we had on the whole trip!  It didn’t have the view of the Arno River like we were expecting because there are trees that have grown in, but that was no big deal.  Very old decor, but up to date bathroom and amenities.  We really enjoyed it!

We had the opportunity to visit the Accademia della Arte and the Uffizi Museum.  They were incredible, packed with so many works of art!  Reservations were definitely required if you did not want to stand in line all day, so were able to have our concierges do that for us.

Serena Hotel, Rome:  Good hotel, convenient location, clean.  We were able to walk all the main sites of the city from our hotel (The Colloseum, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, several main Piazzas).  My only warning would be that, while the hotel was surrounded by great restaurants, one of which we went to all three nights we were there, it was also right next door to an “Adult” Store that often had some characters hanging out front.  It did not bother Shane and I, but I would keep that in mind when booking for future travelers who might be a bit more conservative.

Michelangelo Hotel, Sorrento:  Biggest disappointment!  This was supposed to be our splurge and we were looking forward to this hotel the entire trip!  To just hang out on the balcony, enjoying wine and a beautiful view…  And we were in a room on the second level overlooking train tracks and the back of apartment buildings!  We complained to the concierges and they insisted there was nothing to do.  After overhearing another man complain shortly after about the same thing, we knew we were stuck there.  The room itself was okay, so to anyone who just wants a nice room this would be fine.  But we were so disappointed to not have a view, even if just overlooking the busy street.  Needless to say, we didn’t use the balcony, and we feel that we really missed out by staying at this hotel.

We spend our first day traveling to Pompeii which was very exciting!  The second day we took the packed ferry to Capri to visit the Blue Grotto, only to find out that it was closed because of choppy weather!  We ended up taking a cab to Anacapri and taking a chair lift to the top of Mount Solero.  It was awesome!  Best views from the top!

Bus Tours:  All of the tours in each of the cities were awesome!  We were so pleased to have the opportunity to see the city the way we did!  It also often acted as our public transportation and saved us that expense!  This was especially the case in Paris because it ran so frequently.  Rome was a slower route, and had many stops that lasted more than 15 minutes, so it didn’t work quite the same way there.  Overall, we loved it!

Vatican Tour:  One of the highlights of our trip!  Our tour guide was informative and funny, the museum was beautiful, and the Sistine Chapel was unreal!  I’m proud to say, as an art teacher, that I have now visited one of the most famous works of art ever made (as well as the Mona Lisa, the David, and many others throughout our trip).  We also toured St. Peter’s Basilica, which was breathtaking!  You were absolutely right to say that it would not have been a trip to Rome without a tour!

Trains: Unfortunately, the trains were an absolute nightmare.  In many cases, it was completely unavoidable, but I would absolutely recommend that in the future you book as many of the trains as possible.

When we were leaving Paris to Nice, no one at the ticket counters spoke English.  We had to wait while they found someone available to tell us that all the trains were booked up.  They finally found us two spots on a train that wouldn’t come for four and a half hours.  We were charged additional fees, and forced to stay in the terminal because we had two giant pieces of luggage and had no idea what was around us.  We were told that summer is a busy time with many people traveling, so it is absolutely necessary to have reservations.

When we got to Nice, we booked the rest of our trains so we wouldn’t end up waiting for too long in terminals.  The trains we booked from Nice to La Spezia would require a transfer in Ventimiglia and again in Genova.  The train to Ventimiglia was fine, but the train to Genova suddenly stopped for about 45 minutes.  No one in our cabin spoke English once again, so it took us a long time to figure out that there had been “an accident”.  We had no idea what kind of accident or how severe, and no one, not even the conductors, could tell us when we would be moving again.  We eventually went ahead a couple of stops before they made everyone get off.  We waited for two hours before the brought a local train half the size to pick everyone up and take us to Genova.  We were packed in like sardines for another hour and a half, while they continued to stop and let people on.   By the time we made it to Genova, we were three hours late for our original train, and didn’t make it to La Spezia til 1am.   We ended up finding out that a gas line had leaked and they shut down all trains, buses, and highways in the area surrounding Genova until they knew it was safe.  It was a terrible experience, mostly just because of the language barrier and watching everyone in a panic but not having any way to find out what was going on.  But I guess that’s all part of the adventure!

The next few trains travelled as planned, until the ultimate shocker on our last day!  We got up early to catch the 8:30 Circumvesuviana train out of Sorrento to Naples so we could make our connecting train to Rome to catch our flight at 2:50.  Apparently, July 22 was the day the only train out of Sorrento decided to GO ON STRIKE!  We had no way out of the city.  The buses would take too long to catch the connecting train, and so we ended up taking a 180Euro cab ride to Naples!!!!  We were so upset!  We hadn’t thought of the ferry before we left, but figured it would have been packed with everyone else trying to make it out of the city, anyway.  Shane would like to know if the travel insurance can cover such an unexpected expense due to the circumstances.  He did not get a receipt from the cab, obviously, but has record from his ATM withdrawal that morning.

In addition to those few set backs, the trains were also very hot because of the summer heat.  More often than not, no one even checked our tickets so we only used our Eurail Passes twice.  Also, having the two giant bags we had made it very difficult.  Because of the fact that many of the stations did not have escalators or lifts, poor Shane had to lug both our 50lb bags up and down the stairs!  I will certainly recommend to anyone I know traveling to Europe for a lengthy period of time that they should pack the smallest bag they can, and plan on doing laundry.  We didn’t want to have to do laundry, so we packed just enough clothes for the time we were gone, and it was still too much!  The lack of lifts would also be significant information for anyone with a physical disability.

I hope our experiences with the trains will help you warn future travelers of the many, many things that can go wrong!  We realize that there was nothing we could do to change all of these things, and we certainly would not have opted for any other means of travel, but we also couldn’t have anticipated that it would be this difficult!  Speaking with other travelers on our trip, it seems that many people shared the same experiences.  Two Australian girls who had been traveling for over a month on their college break through many countries said that Italy was the absolute worst train experience they had.

Hopefully all of this information is helpful to you!  We had such a great time!  The highlights were memories that we will share for the rest of our lives, and the few challenges just helped us to work together!  If we could, we would do it all over again!  Shane and I will take some time to go through our photos and send a few your way soon.  Again, we thank you so much for planning this amazing trip!

Many thanks,

Alexandra & Shane

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You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)