Tuesday morning my father drove us to the train station in Vicenza and we took the high speed train to Venice with my mother. Walking all day in Venice was too much for my father.
Venice is unique and beautiful. It’s also very confusing. Figuring out the water bus system is a task. We bought 3 day tickets for us and 1 day for the kids and Nonna. We took a boat to our hotel after some confusion on what stop and what water bus to take. Venetians are very quick to wave you in a direction without much information. Turns out 2 days later we discovered a “moved due to construction” water bus stop near our hotel which was the reason for much confusion. Found the hotel and dropped off our bag, my husband and I were staying for 2 nights, the kids were going back “home” with Nonna. From there we walked leisurely to Piazza San Marco where I had a tour of St. Mark’s and the Palazzo Ducale scheduled. Again, easy meeting point and it was a well organized nice tour. We were able to skip the line into both places like on our tours in Rome and Florence.
After our tour, we wandered a bit and stopped for lunch and then took a gondola ride, another things the kids really wanted to do.
We continued to wander and make our way back to our hotel slowly with a gelato stop of course along the way. Our room was ready when we arrived back so we checked that out.
I had searched long and hard for a perfect hotel in Venice and found a great little gem in Dosoduro by the Accademia Bridge. Hotel Ca Pisani was a on a quiet little street between the Accademia water bus stop on the Grand Canal and Zattere on the other side. The hotel was small and decorated in an Art Deco style, very beautiful. We had a duplex room, 2 floors, with the bedroom up a glass staircase and a spa like bathroom downstairs. Breakfast was included in the restaurant and they had some tables set up outside as well to people watch.
We then made our way back to the train station because Nonna wasn’t sure she could find it on her own. 🙂 We left Nonna and the boys at the train station and found our way back, this time managing to take the water bus we wanted that traveled along the Grand Canal.
We wandered to a piazza across the bridge and had a lovely dinner. It rained for the first time on our trip this evening, but we had gotten un umbrella from the hotel before we left.
The next morning, I had scheduled a tour to the islands of Murano and Burano which I had never been to. We made our way and easily found the meeting point near Piazza San Marco and boarded a private boat to Murano where we visited a glass factory and toured the island a little. Then back on the boat and on to the gorgeous island of Burano where the art of lace making is dying away. Had a lovely lunch here and did some shopping. It’s tiny, but beautiful.
We ended our time in Venice with dinner on a terrace by the water and gondolas, absolute bucket list item!
The next morning we had breakfast and wandered around our hotel area which was so lovely. We had discovered it yesterday afternoon. Then made our way back to the train station for our noon train to Vicenza where my father would be picking us up.
Onwards from Florence to Northern Italy and “home” for my family. My parents are from small towns in the Veneto region, between the cities of Verona and Vicenza, not too far from Venice.
We took the Italo high speed train again from Florence to Verona on Sunday August 12 and had a taxi pick us up and bring us to my parent’s apartment in the town of Schio. They bought this place when my father retired years ago and spend a few months each year there. Their apartment is located at the base of Monte Summano which is the mountain my father hiked as a child, he loves that mountain and now has a spectacular view of it outside his apartment.
We settled in and found the rental van (let’s call it a truck much to large for the tiny streets of Italy!) and went to one of my Aunt’s for lunch. My mother’s sister.
Another Aunt, the baby sister of my mother’s, arrived with a HUGE surprise for the boys. She had gotten wind that Matthew was a little bit obsessed with fancy cars, his favorites being Ferrari and Lamborghini. Visiting these museums/factories was on the required list for the trip, but Lamborghini is closed the entire month of August. Well, Zia Laura’s boyfriend owns a Ferrari and while they live in Verona, picking 6 of us up at the train station in a 2 seater Ferrari wasn’t practical, they made the 1 hour trek to surprise the boys.
As they drove into the parking lot, my father proclaimed “what is that sound, sounds like a Ferrari!” He didn’t actually know what was happening, he genuinely just thought that and said it. Matthew ran to the balcony, we were on the 2nd floor, and was in total shock at the sight before him.
Okay, so it wasn’t shiny, it was actually matte black, but still…
The boys both got short rides and were in heaven.
We also received our instructions for the next day, which was our adventure to Maranello, the birthplace of Enzo Ferrari and location of the factory and museum. Lamborghini was closed, but Ferrari only closes a few days a year, major holidays, so we made the trek to visit the museum. The boys really enjoyed this. Plenty of shiny metal objects at this place.
We made some mistakes on the way and it took longer than it should have and of course, road closures on the way back caused some confusion. The giant truck didn’t help. Toll booths that only take credit card even though they say they take cash, etc…driving in Italy is an adventure of it’s own.
That night, we had dinner at the old beer garden in my father’s home town of Piovene, we walked from my Aunt’s.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Returning treats include the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular stage show in front of Cinderella Castle featuring the mischievous Sanderson sisters from the hit Disney film “Hocus Pocus,” Mickey’s “Boo-to-You” Halloween Parade and “Happy HalloWishes,” the fall spectacular led by the infamous Disney villains!
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party tickets start at $75 in advance or $85 at the gate, if available.
When the seasons change, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party will transform the Magic Kingdom Park into a winter wonderland for the most magical 22 days of the year!
Returning favorites for the holidays include Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade; “Holiday Wishes,” fireworks spectacular; “A Frozen Holiday Wish,” featuring Queen Elsa using her incredible powers to present a gift to everyone in the kingdom—transforming Cinderella Castle into a sparkling, icy centerpiece for the celebration; and the jubilant show, “Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration.”*
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party tickets start at $95 in advance or $105 at the gate, if available.
Shopping at Disney World is fun! So many interesting things, not just gifts but for the home as well.
Here are my favorites:
5. The Lego Store at Disney Springs. My boys really enjoy this store and so do I. Lego is fun. They have things you’ll never find anywhere else and the Lego creations are incredible.
4. 365 Days of Christmas at Disney Springs. Do I even have to say why? Because it’s Christmas… always. Christmas is the best.
3. World of Disney at Disney Springs has everything which is fitting as it is the largest Disney Store in the world. Even the decor is amazing to see.
2. MouseGear at Epcot smack dab in the middle of Future World. I particularly love the selection of t-shirts and hats here. I could spend hours in this place!
1.The Emporium on Main Street. This store runs almost the entire length of Main Street and it’s a great way to beat the crowds and heat by walking through it instead of the street! You can find anything and everything here and if you don’t want to carry your purchases, have them sent to Guest Services to be picked up on your way out or if you are staying at a Walt Disney World resort, have it shipped there. And let’s face it, there is just something special about shopping right inside the Magic Kingdom on Main Street USA.
Be sure to take some time to check out these fabulous shops on your next visit to the House of Mouse!
You made the plans, took the trip and made treasured family memories. Now what? You’ll want to preserve those memories somehow and one of my favorite ways is by making a photo book of the trip.
Shutterfly does have a Disney themed photo book option which is great, but if you are a little more hands on then perhaps these digital scrapbooking kits are more your speed. Easy to download and then use in Photoshop Elements.
5. A Frozen Heart by Studio Flergs
A digital scrapbooking kit by Studio Flergs. A frozen heart was inspired by a Norwegian Princess named Anna. Striking bold colours, rosemaling patterns, and filled with beautiful elements. A Frozen Heart is perfect for fans of the other sister! But also great for winter pages, sisters or more. **Coming soon is the sister kit to match**
4. Animal Kingdom by Digital Scrapbook Ingredients
Whether you are going on safari, spending a day at the zoo or just like wild animals, this beautiful kit Animal Kingdom by Digital Scrapbook Ingredients will help you capture your adventurous memories!
3. Pieces of Eight by Studio Flergs
Avast ye scallywags. Look no further! As I have the perfect kit fer scrappin’ those pirates of yers. Grab yer dubloons & pieces of eight or be sure to walk the plank into Davy Jones’ locker.
2. In My Imagination by Studio Flergs
“Something very magical can happen when you read a good book” -J. K. Rowling.
Calling all book lovers! Celebrate your love of books with this magical kit. Fairytales, fiction, whatever your favourite genre or book is, In My Imagination is perfect to help you scrap about your love of books.
1. Believe in Magic Collection (multiple themed kits)
Believe In Magic consists of many kits themed for different princesses, stories, etc… all created by Amber Shaw and Studio Flergs.
Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando Resort is set to open May 25, that’s just a month away!
And as details emerge I am more and more excited to visit! Here are my top 5 things I am looking forward to at Volcano Bay. In no particular order.
1. Kopiko Wai Winding River™
Yes, that’s right. I LOVE me a lazy river. It’s my favorite thing to do, just lounge and float along.
2. Premium Seating
For a very reasonable price, just $29.99 + tax you can have 2 padded loungers with an umbrella and a lockbox in an area with food and drink service. Umm, yes please. Sign me up.
3. Tapu Tapu
This is Universal’s new virtual line system, so no waiting in long lines for rides. You tap the totem pole by the ride entrance with your wearable Tapu Tapu bracelet ( similar to Disney’s Magic Bands), and get a return time. Then come back at that time and tap and enter.
4. Express Pass
Even better, most rides will also offer Express Pass options to bypass even the virtual line system.
The dining at Volcano Bay looks incredible. Imaginative options in-keeping with the South Pacific Island theme.
Volcano Bay is going to be a fantastic addition to an already exciting vacation experience at Universal Orlando Resort. Read more about a Universal vacation here and here.
To start planning your EPIC Universal Vacation, contact me at Barbara@ATimetoTreasureTravel.com
Staying onsite at Universal Orlando Resort has many benefits and staying at one of the 3 deluxe resorts includes the best benefit of all, included Unlimited Express Pass.
HOTEL GUESTS ENJOY EXCLUSIVE THEME PARK BENEFITS
SKIP THE REGULAR LINES with Universal Express SM Unlimited ride access* in both theme parks – a FREE benefit worth up to $89 per person, per day^
(valid theme park admission required)
Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, one hour before the theme park opens† (valid theme park admission required)
Loews Royal Pacific offers the lowest cost option of the deluxe resorts and is an absolutely gorgeous resort. Easy walking distance to both parks and boat service as well.
Dine on exceptional cuisine; delight in the impeccable service; and soak in the breathtaking splendor of lush tropical surroundings at a white sandy beach of the lagoon-style swimming pool; all while enjoying the latest in modern conveniences.
Royal Pacific offers several room categories, from standard, water view, suites and their fun kid’s suites…Jurassic Park themed!
Guest Room Amenities
1,000 guest rooms including 51 suites; rooms start at 335 sq. ft
Flat panel television with HD channels and On Demand® in-room movies (fees apply)
iHome clock radio and docking station
Keurig coffee maker featuring Emeril’s Gourmet Coffee and assorted teas
Cotton signature bathrobes
Nightly turndown service (upon request)
Iron, ironing board, hairdryer and in-room safe
Complimentary* wireless internet access in each guest room and most common areas of the hotel
Upgrade to Premium Plus^ wireless internet access for optimal entertainment and business needs
2 telephones (1 cordless) with dual voice lines, data port and voicemail
Club Level rooms feature complimentary continental breakfast, access to the fitness center, and more
Whether it’s relaxing in the serene lagoon-style pool, the sights and sounds of our weekly luau, or a workout in the fitness center, Loews Royal Pacific Resort has something for everyone.
One of the most impressive features of this resort is the lagoon-style swimming pool and sandy beach. Sink your toes into the sand and ease your body into your lounge chair. Lagoon style swimming pool featuring a white sand beach and the following:
Two (2) hot tubs
Beach volleyball court
Private cabanas for rent
Mandara Spa® & Fitness Center
Visit the full service Mandara Spa® next door at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. Mandara Spa® offers comprehensive wellness services, a de-stressing zone where you can work out, or tune out with a delicious spa treatment.
Supervised Kids Camp
When Mom and Dad want to enjoy a night on the town, drop the kids off at the supervised children’s activity center.
Kids will enjoy an arts & crafts table, storybook corner, computer desks, a movie room, and more. Counselors are trained to supervise toilet-trained children ages 4-14 only. One counselor for every 8-10 children.
COST: $15 per hour, per child / $15 per meal
HOURS: Open from 5:00 pm to 11:30 pm, Sunday through Thursday and from 5:00 pm to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. * Times are subject to change.
Emeril’s Tchoup Chop
In both atmosphere and menu, Emeril’s Tchoup Chop offers diners a unique and exotic journey through the Pacific Seas, a perfect complement for the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, complete with bamboo, waterfalls, sculpted gardens and giant woks in full view.
Islands Dining Room
Enjoy savory chef-inspired creations featuring noodle bar dishes, rice bowls, wok and hibachi specialties. At breakfast, join us for traditional favorites, along with several Polynesian-influenced morning specialties.
Jake’s American Bar
Jake’s American Bar is the perfect place to meet for drinks and lively conversation after your day’s adventures.
Sit back and experience an evening of authentic Polynesian food and entertainment at the enchanting Wantilan Luau, a weekly Hawaiian dinner show featuring an all-you-can-eat buffet of Polynesian specialties, live Hawaiian music and traditional hula dancing. Hula and fire dancers delight the audience and entice a few to even learn the hula! (Fees apply; reservations required)
Orchid Court Lounge & Sushi Bar
Enjoy a continental breakfast or a tropical cocktail at the Orchid Court Lounge, which overlooks a serene orchid garden. The Orchid Court Sushi Bar features modern, inventive sushi and sashimi presentations along with Asian-inspired desserts and South Seas martinis.
Bula Bar & Grille
Bula means “welcome” in Fijian, and you’ll definitely feel right at home at this poolside eatery serving up food and beverages with a tropical flair.
THE LONGER YOU STAY THE MORE YOU SAVE!
Stay more nights and save up to 35%!
Contact me to get starting planning your EPIC vacation at Universal Orlando!
Rope Drop is what opening is called at the Disney theme parks. At Magic Kingdom, they have a Welcome Show each morning as a part of their Rope Drop. Occasionally, the other parks have had shows as well, but not regularly.
Why should you plan to be at the Magic Kingdom in time for Rope Drop?
3. It’s a fun show! The train pulls into the station with most of the characters on it, there is singing, dancing, waving, confetti and often a Family of the Day picked from the early arrivals to the park. Often there is fun going on just inside the park as well, cast members waving hello, the Dapper Dan’s may be out. It’s exciting!
2. Parks are empty! You are walking into an empty park. A cast member will lead people to the main attractions and there are photo ops with fewer people than you will see for the rest of the day. You can ride the big ticket rides with little to no wait, more than once if you’d like.
1. The number one reason is to maximize your time in the park! By arriving at opening when crowds are minimal and many are still sleeping in, you’ll have access to many rides with little to no wait for an hour or two. You’ll get much more accomplished in the morning than in the afternoon and it’s not quite as hot either.
While sleeping in is nice, my number one recommendation on a Disney trip is to be at Rope Drop and make the most of your time. Relax by the pool later in the afternoon when the lines are long and the parks are crowded.