We returned from Venice on Thursday and only had that afternoon and Friday left.
We visited some relatives and had a fun and delicious dinner at my aunt’s country house. Her 4 kids, my cousins, were all there with their families. My boys got to meet my cousins kids, a few who spoke a bit of English. They went from ignoring each other to not wanting to leave a few hours later.
Before that, we visited my uncle who is a master cheese maker. He travels the world helping cheese makers perfect their cheese recipes. A Belgian company just put his face on their latest cheese calling it, Nonno’s Cheese. We sampled some delicious mozzarella at his house.
While we were in Venice, the kids had a good time with their Nonni. They visited some family, got to swim in a cousin’s pool and jump on their trampoline. They also hiked up Nonno’s beloved mountain. Nonno couldn’t handle the 30 minute hike so waited at the church where you can drive the car to, and my uncle Carlo took the boys up to the top where there is a pretty interesting looking Jesus on a cross.
Friday we did a little local sightseeing. We went to the birthplace of grappa, Bassano del Grappa and stopped in Marostica as well.
Marostica is known for having a human chess game they play a few times a year. The chess board is in the middle of the main piazza. It has a cool castle up on the hill which makes up part of the wall around the small city. They were setting up for the event.
Bassano is famous not only for grappa, but for the covered bridge that leads into the historical center of the town. The covered bridge, which needs some tender loving care at the moment, was designed by Palladio.
Friday night we went out to dinner with as many of my cousins as were available, and not away on their summer holidays.
And that’s all she wrote. Saturday morning we packed up and waited for our taxi transfer to the airport. The Venice airport was a little crazy. By the time we made it to our gate it was just about time to board the plane. This airport traffic is growing too quickly and the building is having trouble keeping up.
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.
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.
Animal Kingdom turns 20 this year. This truly unique park opened on Earth Day 1998, April 22, 1998. A month later, I got married and spent part of my honeymoon at Disney World and we both enjoyed our day at this brand new park immensely. It was great then, but 20 years later…it’s so much better!
The newly added Pandora, World of Avatar land is a must see even for non-Avatar fans. Just the visuals, pictures don’t do it justice, you have to see it in person for the full effect. Mountains suspended in the air, waterfalls descending into pools seemingly on the rainforest floor, the colorful plant life and at night it all takes on an incredible luminescent glow.
This area brings with it two new attractions, one of which is hands down the best attraction in all of the Orlando theme parks according to me at least. Flight of Passage takes you on a Banshee ride! You fly…on a banshee! It is the best simulator I’ve ever experienced. It’s even worth the long lines. There is a height requirement of 44″ on this one, but the Na’Vi River Journey is family friendly. It’s a leisurely boat ride through the bioluminescent forest of Pandora.
Animal Kingdom has extended their hours and are open into the dark hours now adding a nighttime show, Rivers of Light which is also worth a look and don’t miss the projections on the Tree of Life after dark.
Of course, one of my favorite rollercoasters of all time is Expedition Everest, it wasn’t there in 1998, but I have since made up for that. Single rider line means no waits and the ability to ride it over and over and over again in quick
Some of my favorite things at Animal Kingdom aren’t even the attractions though. There is just so much to see. The trails that take you into the animal habitats are wonderful. Pangani Trail brings you up close to gorillas and so much more. The Maharajah Jungle Trek bring you up close with Bengal Tigers. A walk around the Tree of Life just marveling at its carvings could take hours and there are hidden spots with animals dispersed around the tree. And of course, Kilimanjaro Safari is a classic and now available at night as well for a completely different experience.
Make the most of your vacation with Walt Disney World ®
Do you have a Disney Visa Rewards Card? Do you know of all the perks that come with it?
Disney Character Experience at Our Private Cardmember Location
At Walt Disney World® Resort, stop by our private location—reserved just for Cardmembers—to meet and pose with some of your favorite Disney Characters. You’ll receive downloads of your photos, too! Just present your Disney Visa Card to enter this exclusive event, offered daily 1pm to 7pm at the Disney Visa Photo Spot at Epcot®. Our new location is located in Future World next to Journey Into Imagination With Figment.
Star Wars™ Character Experience at our Private Cardmember Location
Feel the power of the Force at the Star Wars™ Character Experience, offered daily from 11am to 4pm at the Star Wars Launch Bay in the Animation Courtyard at Disney’s Hollywood Studios®. You’ll receive downloads of your photos to mark your visit to the dark side! Simply present your Disney Visa Credit Card to enter this exclusive location.
10% Off Select Merchandise
Receive 10% off select merchandise purchases of $50 or more at select locations at Walt Disney World® Resort.
You can enjoy this discount any time during normal Theme Park hours. Just use your valid Disney Visa Card or Disney Rewards® Redemption Card and mention this offer.
10% Off Select Dining Locations
Receive 10% off select dining locations most days at Walt Disney World® Resort (restrictions may apply). Just use your Disney Visa Card or Disney Rewards Redemption Card at the locations below and mention this offer to receive the discount.
Save at Select Walt Disney World® Resort Operating Participant Coffee/Tea and Merchandise Locations
Receive 20% off entire purchase at Joffrey’s coffee/tea kiosks throughout Walt Disney World® Resort, at Tea Traders Café by Joffrey’s, and online at Joffreys.com with code: VISABEANS. Plus, receive 10% off select merchandise purchases of $50 or more at the following Walt Disney World® Resort Operating Participant merchandise locations including Basin®, Basin White®, Chapel Hats, Good Fortune Gifts and House of Good Fortune, kidsHeritage and Marrakesh Emporium Arts & Crafts.
15% Off Select Guided Tours
Receive 15% off the non-discounted price of select guided tours at Walt Disney World® Resort. Just use your valid Disney Visa Card or Disney Rewards Redemption Card and mention this offer.
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Receive 10% off the non-discounted price of select recreation experiences at Walt Disney World® Resort. Just use your valid Disney Visa Card or Disney Rewards Redemption Card and mention this offer.
15% Off at Select Spa and Salon Locations
15% off the non-discounted price of any salon treatment valued at $45 or greater or any 50-minute or longer spa service most days at the spas and salons at Walt Disney World® Resort.
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Remember, even though you might have your Disney Visa Card linked to a MagicBand or RF-enabled card, you will still need to present your Disney Visa Card at the Cardmember Character Experience locations and use it for purchases to receive your Cardmember perks throughout your stay.
I often have people asking me how we survive traveling to Disney World in August, which is when we always go. For various reasons, school, work…it really is the only option we have. Yes, it’s HOTTER than the surface of the sun most of the time!
Channel your inner Olaf!
But, with some strategic planning and accessories it can still be a very enjoyable vacation.
Beat the summer heat at Disney World with these tips!
Rope Drop – I hear you, you want to sleep in on your vacation, but getting to the parks early at opening, or even Extra Magic Hour opening even better is really one of the best ways of beating the heat. The coolest part of the day, relative to the heat of Florida in the summer of course, is before noon. Which leads right to the next tip.
Schedule a midday break – If it’s a short trip it might be difficult to schedule downtime, but a midday pool break will save your sanity and hopefully prevent those kid meltdowns when they’ve just been pushed too far. Doesn’t matter how hot it is, being in the water or under an umbrella with an icy drink will keep you cool.
Stategic FP and Queue Planning – Choose the longest queues that are outdoor for your Fastpasses in the afternoons. Become familiar with the queues as many are inside and have a/c or even outdoor ones have fans and are shaded. It helps…a lot. Outdoor ones that are kept fairly cool are Rock n Rollercoaster, Tower of Terror, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Expedition Everest. Inside queues where you might enjoy a slight wait to cool off include Test Track, Soarin, Space Mountain, Toy Story Mania and Dinosaur.
Plan those WET attractions – There are rides that you WILL GET WET on in most of the parks. Plan those for afternoon, noon – 4pm. It’s amazing how even a little bit of water can make a difference, and you’ll dry quickly. These include Kali River Rapids which will get you soaked. Splash Mountain and even a little splash on Pirates of the Caribbean is possible.
Water Parks – If you have any interest in the water parks, summer is the time to explore those. If you have a long enough trip 1-2 afternoons at the water parks is a great way to stay cool.
Accessories – Cooling towels like Frog Toggs or iCool Towel will keep you cool and misting fans can be bought in advance from Walmart for less than the ones they sell in the parks.
Showtime – Shows such as Mickey’s Philharmagic, Turtle Talk with Crush, Finding Nemo the Musical, It’s Tough to be a Bug, Indiana Jones (although outdoor it’s covered and there are fans) are another great way to cool down and rest, mingle them into your schedule.
Use Disney transportation – Nothing is worse than getting into a hot car that has been baking in the Florida sun for hours. Use the air conditioned monorails, buses, boats to get from A to B.
Disney actually did a very good job of creating waiting areas and queues to ensure the least amount of time out in the heat and sun.
Don’t forget your sunscreen and sunglasses!
With a little bit of strategic planning which I am happy to help you with if you book your trip with me, you can prevent melting in the hot Florida summer sun.
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