Tell us a bit about where you went, and why it meant so much to you?
Julia: I graduated with a degree in History, so I’ve always had a love for and fascination with Europe. Being in the travel Industry for the last 5 years, I have been lucky enough to travel around Europe and experience the rich history and culture of many countries. Each time I arrive in a new place, not only am I looking to learn about the city but also to immerse myself in the culture and experience as much as I can the way the locals do. Doing research is great, but I believe you can never truly know a country until you get the opportunity to explore it on your own.
Marielle: While I’ve been in the travel industry for over 10 years, selling Europe, this in fact was my very first time in Italy and cruising the Mediterranean. Selling the product is very different from experiencing it first-hand. Although I do a lot of research, that first-person experience is just amazing. One practical thing I learned was the value of the ‘skip-the-line products we offer. The ‘regular’ lines (and this was not even during peak season) for many attractions in Rome are crazy. The cost really isn’t much higher, but for the traveler, the benefits can be huge.
What cities did you visit?
Rome, Cinque Terre, Cannes, Mallorca, Barcelona, Naples, and Amalfi
Julia: The cruise itinerary allowed us a lot of free time to explore on our own and choose where we go and what to do. The cruise staff were there to offer assistance wherever we went, with advice or suggestions for places to visit, but we were not on a tight schedule which made the trip more enjoyable. We really got to take in each location we visited and were not rushed trying to get from place to place. Cruising is an excellent way to see many places you might not regularly think to go.
What was your highlight and why?
Marielle: For me, it was Cinque Terre. I’ve always wanted to go here and experience it and it was totally not what I expected, especially in the logistics of how to access the villages! Walking down, the roads were pretty steep and hilly. But it’s worth it to walk through these amazing small villages and their pretty scenery.
Julia: It was a tie between the beautiful city of Palma and our Naples/Amalfi Tour. Palma was more than I ever expected, it is a beautiful location with stunning views of the water, beautiful churches and cathedrals everywhere you look, and easy-to-navigate streets. I could have spent hours wandering through the labyrinth of streets as everywhere you turned there was a new restaurant, shop, or magnificent sculpture or artwork. If you ever get lost in the Old Town of Palma, all you have to do is look up and make your way back to the Cathedral which is the focal point of the whole city.
The Naples/Amalfi tour was also incredible, while we did get stuck in some torrential rains and strong winds, the view from the top of the mountains looking out over all of Naples was breathtaking. We drove through the clouds to come out the other side overlooking the water, and the small towns that litter the coastline. It was one of those moments for me where I had to stop and just take everything in and say “wow, I am really here, I am really seeing this!”
What was your favourite 3 properties and why?
We only stayed in the Hotel TwentyOne in Rome, which was within walking distance of all the big sights (many within a 20-minute walk). The rooms were much more spacious than I had expected, and the staff was incredibly friendly. Definitely a wise choice, great accommodation, and is very cost effective. Now we have a great picture of how conveniently located this property is and how very affordable it is.
Name two things that surprised you about the experience?
Julia: We went at the end of the low season. The crowds were still very, very big, and lineups were incredibly long! I cannot even imagine what it would look like in the midst of high season! Then, there are the drivers in Rome. I felt very safe with our driver, but just the amount of traffic and cars on both the highways and within the city, it was a bit scary at times! While self-drives are great, I would not recommend driving within the city of Rome. The metro is incredibly easy to navigate and to get where you need to go, it really will beat the traffic in the city center!
Marielle: I agree about busy crowds and long lines ups! It can get crazy in both the Colosseum and the Vatican if you don’t have the ‘skip the line pass.
What are some interesting excursions, or itineraries that you would recommend (one to take when touring, and one independently)?
Julia: When touring, I would highly recommend the Pompeii day tour, however, if you or your clients are incredibly interested in Pompeii, do the full-day tour! We only got to do a half day, and we only got to see a quarter of the town. It was incredibly interesting but easy to get lost, so I would really recommend going with a guide and not independently.
Marielle: For independent trips, I would recommend Palma, Mallorca. It is a beautiful city, super easy to navigate, and the people are very, very friendly. The food was fantastic and cheap, and there is so much to see there. It could also be because of the time of year we went, but the number of tourists was a lot lower than in the other towns we had visited.
Top tip for what should always be upgraded or always included?
SKIP-THE-LINE TICKETS ARE THE BEST OPTION! Even in October, the Colosseum and Vatican had lineups down the block. In the summer, lineups can be hours long, and it is much hotter during the summer so it’s not so much fun to stand in line to get in. In addition, the guides always have great stories that are both entertaining and include things you might not have learnt from the Audioguide.
If you can go back, what would you like to see/do?
Julia: If I can go back I want to spend more time in Rome, Palma, and Barcelona. In Rome and Barcelona did not have much free time to see and do everything I wanted to, and they are massive cities with so much to explore. On a smaller scale, Palma just stole my heart, so I am very eager to get back there and wander the streets again!
Marielle: I would like to see and experience more of Italy, from the north all the way down to the south as I sell a lot of the country. I would love to see more of Spain.