We just came back from a two week tour of Italy, the trip of a lifetime. Having grown up in an Italian household (we lived with my Italian grandparents for my first six years), a lot of the time we spent in beautiful Italy felt like I had come home.
It was really neat to see so many well-dressed older women walking around, gabbing away with each other a mile a minute. These women could have been my aunts who lived across the street from us, or the women I would see in church every Sunday. We also saw miles of countryside with perfectly laid out gardens that my grandfather replicated in the small town we lived in.
We were on an 11 day tour (which really means nine since the first and last days are not really "touring,") and then we spent two days in Rome at the end of our tour on our own. So it is pretty easy to differentiate between the two different ways to see the country: With a tour group going from place to place or alone, wandering and enjoying whatever we encountered.
We had taken our first bus-type travel tour last year with some family members to France, and so, this was our second organized tour. We now have lots of thoughts about the good things a tour offers you and some of the more negative things you encounter. But as these tours are available for all types of people and all levels of time and money,
I thought it might be a good idea to get a discussion going on whether these tours are right for you. I am offering a short list below of some of my early thoughts on tours. Check them out and then let me know via email firstname.lastname@example.org what your thoughts are. Feel free to expand on any of these ideas or bring up some of your own. I probably should do a Facebook page or something to make this easier, but hopefully this will work.
Pros of Bus Tours
~~ You see a LOT. Trips and visits have been laid out for you in advance and if you keep to the schedule (which you kind of have to since you are on a bus), you will see all the hot button sights. (You won't come home and hear people say: What? You didn't see the (__________)? Seriously?) making you feel like your trip was a flop. In Rome you HAVE to see the Vatican, St. Peter's Square, the Colosseum, the Forum and so on. The main thing to remember here, though, is that every other tourist in Italy, and there are millions of them, trust me, wants to see those same sights, probably on the same day you want to. But having a tour group (safety in numbers!) to travel with from sight to sight makes seeing them a lot easier than if you were on your own.
~~ Your group can enter attractions early in the day before the crowds have built up. We were up early and hitting the ground running most days of the tour. We had appointments at several of the more popular sites so that we could sneak in (not easy for 43 people), and see what there was to see before "independent" tourists could. Spending hours (yes, hours) in long lines at ticket windows would seriously limit the amount of time you have to see the main sights. (It's like being at Disney World: You can't do it in a day because you spend half the day in long lines).
~~ As I mentioned we hit the ground running most days of the tour. Most of us had flown overnight from the US to Rome and never got to sleep until after the welcoming dinner on the tour's listed first day. So suffice it to say with a bus load of older adults, people were tired for the first several days. But no one complained too much because we were there to do a lot. But if you wanted to linger over a cup of coffee at breakfast, chances are that wasn't going to happen.