Tag Archives: Europe

Italia Series Part 2 Street of Gold

Our Italian journey continues onto Florence. See how the trip started in Rome here.

This trip was a long time in the planning. My parents were born and raised in Italy and have been wanted to take their grandkids there for years. We wanted to wait until they were old enough to appreciate what they would be seeing. We were all set to travel last summer and 2 weeks before the trip we had to cancel everything because my father was ill and needed surgery. He came through nicely and the trip was rescheduled to this summer.

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On Thursday August 9th we taxied to the train station and took the high speed train to Florence. Unlike Rome, the hotel we had previously stayed in here was no longer open, so I spent a great deal of time searching for the perfect place for our family. I consider it a success. Hotel Kraft was wonderful. We were able to walk everywhere and it was close to the train station. One block from the Arno River and about 10 minutes leisurely walk to the historical center of Florence.

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Nonni walked off the elevator just as I was taking the photo!

Hotel Kraft is located on a quiet street a few minutes walk from the main train station, Santa Maria Novella and a smaller train station. With 78 rooms it is larger than our Rome hotel, but still not too large. We had booked 2 triple rooms here and they were spacious, had high ceilings and with good sized bathrooms.  This hotel had a restaurant with breakfast included on the top floor. They also served lunch and dinner and drinks in the restaurant and on the large rooftop terrace. Another gem, a rooftop pool with views of all of Florence past the River Arno and the Duomo.  There are very few hotels with pools, let alone rooftop pools in Florence so this was perfect for my competitive swimmer son. It was tiny, but he made due with some practice laps. It was perfect for cooling off as well, still brutally hot during a heat wave continuing through all of Europe.

In Florence I had scheduled a tour of the Accademia Museum to see Michelangelo’s David. We wandered the city, saw the Duomo and Baptistry doors (partially covered for restoration), shopped on the Ponte Vecchio which is the street of gold, Palazzo Vecchio, traveled up to Piazzale Michelangelo, saw all the fake Davids after seeing the real thing and countless statues that decorate the city.

Quick Tip: Limit museums and churches with children. Use Skip the Line entry or short tours to see highlights more easily. Lines in the hot sun are not where you want to be spending your time.

We knew our kids would have little interest in hours or museum strolling looking at masterpiece paintings so I scheduled a short, 1 hour Accademia tour which really just focused on the statue of David and the other statues he left unfinished. It also got us in without a wait in line. We could have stayed and toured the museum on our own after our short tour if we wished of course.  Katy was our tour guide and it was a nice short tour.

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The hotel recommended a restaurant which turned out to be another little gem of a place. We had a lovely meal at Il Parione on the street with the same name and upon leaving people were lined up outside waiting to get in. Another gem we found by accident, we were hungry and it was close by, Trattoria Armando was also excellent.

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Hubby and I wandered on our own several times to shop and explore and we had the best cheese (I think it was cheese) with prosecco when we stopped in to this little place on our way back to the hotel one day. It was so good, they brought it with the wine since they cannot serve drinks without food of course. Another spot we stopped in for lunch Trattoria Nella turned out to be very good too and tiny, only like 8 tables maybe. There was a moment of confusion when the owner started eating Eric’s side order of potatoes because he had ordered some too and didn’t realize they weren’t his. We laughed afterwards once Eric had his potatoes because he is no fun when he is hungry.

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Around the corner from our hotel was our favorite Gelateria! We hit B.Ice twice a day during our stay, afternoon treat and nightly dessert. The counter girl welcomed us in and laughed every time we walked in. She knew our order by the last day.

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A fun thing we loved about Italy, many of the Gelaterias are also bars. And sandwich shops. And snack bar. And pasta restaurant. And have souvenirs too.

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Dinner at the hotel rooftop restaurant on our final night in Firenze

A note about service in Italy: A cover charge and service charge is normally included so if you leave a tip, it can be just a few euros extra since the majority of the tip is included. They often will tell you it’s not included. It is. Also, service in general is slow and not like America where they keep checking on you. Once they bring your food, you never see them again unless you flag them down for something. Nobody is ever in a rush in any restaurant in Italy. Regardless of how many people are waiting outside. Just enjoy and go with the flow.

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While in Florence, we took a half day trip to Pisa since the Leaning Tower was one of the things the kids really wanted to see. This was the one sore spot of the tours I arranged through Viator. The ground operator in this case did not do a good job. We would have been much better off taking a train ourselves rather than doing a tour. The operator was My Tour and while the meeting location was close to our hotel and easy to find the tour itself was not run very well. The escort, Sarenna was a lovely young girl, but really said very little in explaining timelines and what was happening. She also walked very quickly since the bus stops about 1 mile from  Miracle Square. She never looked back to see if the group was still with her and never slowed down for the slower members of the group. There was a local guide which took us on a tour, but we only walked around outside of the monuments. He was good, but clearly worried about what would happen next. The biggest issue we had was they lied about the time we had for our tour of the Cathedral. The cathedral has free entry, but requires a timed ticket like everything in Pisa. We later learned that they send someone that morning to get the tickets and the time they were able to get for our group was 1pm. We had to be back on the bus at 12:45pm. They told us the tour was for 12:30 and we would try and get in a few minute early so as not to rush it too much, and then pretty much sprint back to the bus. They usually will let them in a bit early. But as we tried to get in at 12:15pm they refused and said they would let us in at 12:45pm. Several tried to make them wait and be late for the bus, but the escort and guide refused. For some, including my mother, the cathedral was the only thing they really wanted to see since it is often closed and they had never been inside before. Had they told us up front, we would have gotten ourselves a ticket when we first arrived hours ago and gotten in, but we didn’t because we thought we were getting in with the tour guide. We also would have had time to get a ticket to climb the tower had we known the tour was going to be a bust. So instead we did nothing but wander around and have lunch. Because they didn’t admit the actual time and give us the option.

Stay tuned for the next stop on our trip…

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Italia Series Part 1 The Eternal City

This is the first of a series of posts about our recent family trip to Italy.

This trip was a long time in the planning. My parents were born and raised in Italy and have been wanting to take their grandkids there for years. We wanted to wait until they were old enough to appreciate what they would be seeing. We were all set to travel last summer and 2 weeks before the trip we had to cancel everything because my father was ill and needed surgery. He came through nicely and the trip was rescheduled to this summer.

We flew out Sunday August 5th from Montreal on a direct flight with Air Canada. Landing in Rome we were met by a driver for our transfer to our hotel.

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We stayed in the same boutique hotel we stayed in 16 years ago and it was still as lovely as ever. Hotel Modigliani is just off Piazza Barberini next to Via Veneto and not far from Trinita Dei Monti, the top of the Spanish Steps. It’s a great, quiet location, walkable to everywhere really, but beware there is a bit of a hill since it’s halfway up the hill to the Spanish Steps climb up to the Borghese Gardens.

Hotel Modigliani is small, just 23 rooms. We had a small room with a small balcony and even smaller bathroom. My parents and the boys had a great setup off the garden in what the hotel calls The Apartment. A double bedded room and a separate room with a double bed and a twin bed for the boys. There is a breakfast room downstairs, which is included if you choose that option. The lobby lounge offers English newspapers and the staff all spoke English very well. The hotel arranged the airport pickup and would call taxis for us if needed. Since we were six, getting 2 taxis was easier when we all traveled together.

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We spent three nights in Rome. I had scheduled us to take a tour of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica on Tuesday morning and then the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill on Wednesday morning. These tours were great. The guides were fabulous, Agnese at the Colosseum and Angela at the Vatican. Both were art historians so had a lot of details about everything we were seeing. With both tours, finding the meeting point was simple and everything was organized. The ground operator for the tours was City Wonders. It was brutally hot both days, but especially walking around the ruins of the Roman Forum and climbing Palatine Hill.

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Set up for Wednesday morning’s Papal Audience

In between those scheduled tours, we wandered the city and saw the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Trajan’s Column, the Spanish Steps, Trinita Dei Monti, the Borghese Gardens, the Pantheon, enjoyed our new favorite restaurant/bar La Bottte on Via Sistina, first gelato and real Italian pizzas for the boys, and countless walks along the streets of Rome.

Around the corner from our hotel on Via Sistina which leads straight up to the top of the Spanish Steps was a little gem of a place my husband and I stumbled into looking for a drink and a break from walking in the heat. We returned for dinner with everyone and really enjoyed the atmosphere and friendly and amusing staff at this small establishment.

Fun Fact: In Italy it is the law that food must be served when alcoholic drinks are ordered. So tasty snacks always accompany any drinks in a bar. 
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View from the Palatine Hill down to the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine

The journey continues onto Florence…

Disney Cruise Line Summer 2019 Itineraries

In summer 2019, Disney Cruise Line will sail on new itineraries to seven new ports in Europe, including a first-ever round-trip cruise from Rome and first-time visits to destinations in Sweden, France, Spain, Denmark and Northern Ireland. Disney Cruise Line will take Guests on a grand tour of Europe with visits to the Mediterranean in early summer and northern Europe in late summer. Plus, adventures continue with sailings to Alaska, the Caribbean and the Bahamas, including new cruise lengths aboard the Disney Fantasy.

Also in the summer of 2019, Disney Cruise Line Guests can enrich their experience by combining a cruise with a package from Adventures by Disney®.

New in 2019, Adventures by Disney will offer a pre-cruise guided experience in Rome. These 3-night Short Escapes, also offered in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Barcelona, allow families to experience memorable icons in ways that few can, such as a private, after-hours visit to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel in Rome. Plus, activities like ziplining, flamenco dancing and preparing local cuisine immerse families in the culture of the region.

And, you can also enhance select European sailings with an Adventures by Disney package during the cruise. Adventure Guides lead travelers to experience the best of each port, helping them unlock the wonders of the destination through immersive excursions and off-the-beaten-path adventures. In addition, you will enjoy exclusive receptions onboard and have access to concierge service from these dedicated guides throughout the voyage.

These Adventures by Disney offerings are open for booking. A Vancouver Short Escape will open for booking later this year.

Disney Cruise Line Itineraries summer 2018

Open for booking today!

In summer 2018, Disney Cruise Line will sail on new itineraries and to new ports, including first-time visits to destinations in Italy and Ireland. Disney Cruise Line takes Guests on a grand tour of Europe with visits to the Mediterranean, northern Europe, Norway and Iceland. Plus, adventures continue with sailings to Alaska, the Caribbean and the Bahamas.

New sailings from Rome and Barcelona
For the first time, Disney Cruise Line Guests can experience more of the rich culture of Barcelona and inspiring history of Rome in a single cruise. In Rome, Guests can explore the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and the Vatican, and sample authentic local cuisine. Barcelona offers beautiful beaches, the market streets of La Rambla, the artistic architecture of Gaudi and the famed Sagrada Família church.

On June 16, 2018, the Disney Magic will sail a seven-night cruise from Barcelona to Civitavecchia (Rome). Ports of call include Marseilles and Villefranche, France; and Genoa (Milan), Livorno (Florence, Pisa) and Naples, Italy.

On June 23, 2018, the Disney Magic will sail a seven-night itinerary from Civitavecchia (Rome) to Barcelona. Ports visited on this cruise are Naples, Livorno (Florence, Pisa) and Genoa (Milan), Italy; and Cannes and Marseilles, France.

First-time visits to Milan, Italy
Disney Cruise Line will call on Genoa, Italy for the first time in 2018, as part of three special sailings from Barcelona and Civitavecchia (Rome). The historic port town of Genoa, located on the Italian Riviera, is a gateway to the beautiful metropolis of Milan and the picturesque locale of Portofino. Milan is a global capital of fashion and design, featuring top-name designer stores, boutiques, open-air markets and art galleries.

A 10-night Mediterranean itinerary sailing from Barcelona on July 7, 2018, calls on Genoa, as well as other popular ports in Italy, France and Spain.

First-time visit to Cork, Ireland and first seven-night British Isles
The Disney Magic will call on Cork, Ireland for the first time as part of a first-ever seven-night British Isles cruise, departing on September 2, 2018. Additional ports visited on this sailing include Dublin, Ireland; Greenock, Scotland; and Liverpool, England. Cork is home to a vibrant culinary scene and a plethora of pubs, shops and cafes. It invites visitors to connect with Ireland’s ancient past, with historic sites like Blarney Castle, where visitors can kiss the famed Blarney Stone.

Throughout the summer, the Disney Magic will continue to tour Europe with engagements in the Baltic, Norwegian fjords, British Isles and the Mediterranean.

Return to Alaska
In 2018, the newly re-imagined Disney Wonder will return to Alaska for the summer season, opening up a world of breathtaking natural vistas, magnificent glaciers and awe-inspiring wildlife. A variety of five-, seven- and nine-night itineraries will depart from Vancouver, Canada, with stops in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point and Tracy Arm Fjord.

Southern Caribbean Special Sailing
In 2018, the Disney Fantasy will embark on a special 11-night southern Caribbean itinerary departing June 30, visiting tropical destinations renowned for beautiful sun-kissed beaches, including Aruba, Barbados, Martinique, St. Kitts, Puerto Rico and the Disney private island, Castaway Cay.

Castaway Cay – More Opportunities to Explore Disney’s Exclusive Private Island
Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, is consistently a top-rated destination. In 2018, the Disney Dream will sail a series of cruises that include two stops at Castaway Cay so Guests can have twice the fun in the sun and enjoy even more of the pristine island paradise.