Adventures by Disney Viva Italia

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In June 2018,  I had the chance to experience Adventures by Disney Viva Italia tour with my husband and two kids, who were 12 and 9 at the time.  The tour started in Rome with private access to the Colosseum where we had a local guide walk us through the steps of the gladiator and spectators and the workings of ancient Rome.  From there we had our first private dinner at the lovely Gran Melia Rome, a fantastic hotel for families located near the Vatican and one of the few with a pool in the city itself.

The next day we started off with an early morning admission to St. Peter’s Basilica and a tour of the cathedral. We then boarded a bus to complete a walking tour of historic Rome, hitting the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, and lunch at a local pizzeria.   After a free afternoon, we headed back to the Vatican after dinner to experience an after hours tour of the Vatican Museum where we literally had the entire museum for our group, including a 30 minute visit in the Sistine Chapel where we were the ONLY people there. This experience alone was worth the price of the trip.  If you have ever experienced the masses being pushed through the chapel without having the time to take in, or even look at, the masterpieces that the chapel beholds, you can appreciate the wonder that it is to have time to yourself (and maybe 30 other people tops) to soak in Michelangelo’s works and have a guide point out to you the different representations in the ceiling, such as the cardinal that the artist painted without his skin because he ticked Michaelangelo off!)

After Rome, our next stop was Orvieto, a lovely Umbrian town between Rome and Florence, where we stumbled upon a Fiat show. Parked outside the striped marble Duomo (cathedral) were dozens of colorful Fiats polished to a shine showing off for all to admire.  They then all paraded out of town honking and revving their engines right past our lunch destination.

After lunch we headed to our hotel in Tuscany, but first we had an unscheduled stop at the American Cemetery in Florence. This solemn places houses the bodies of hundreds of American soldiers who lost their lives in WWII in the battles to free Italy from Mussolini and the Fascists.  Disney magic was then bestowed as we got to participate in the flag lowering cemetery as it closed for the night. The ceremony was incredibly reverent and moving and definitely a trip highlight.

After visiting the cemetery, we arrived at our Tuscany hotel, Hotel Borgo de Cortefreda, in Tavarenelle Val di Pesa. This lovely hotel is located in the heart of Tuscan wine country and is surrounded on all sides by vineyards. It has a hillside infinity pool, a restaurant and lots of outside gathering areas from which you can take in the surroundings.  That night, the adults were treated to a wine tasting dinner while the “junior adventurers” headed off for lawn games, Italian soda tasting and a movie.

The next day, we headed toward San Gimignano, the city of towers, to Fattoria Poggio Alloro, a organic farm with a gorgeous view of city. Our visit started off with a pasta making class with proprietor Sarah Fioroni.  Next up was a walking tour of the winery and Tuscan chianina cows, before heading to wine tasting for the adults and olive oil flavoring for the juniors. Our agriturismo visit concluded with an outdoor lunch before heading back to the hotel for an afternoon by the pool.  For dinner that night, we headed further into the Tuscan countryside to an inn where Leonardo di Vinci is rumored to have stayed on his way from his home to Florence. Castello Vicchiomaggio remains a hotel with a restaurant in the Tuscany setting of your dreams. After our traditional Tuscan meal, we were treated to a folk music show (audience participation warning), that had everyone dancing along.

Our last day in Tuscany took us to its capital, Florence.   Our day started with our local guide meeting us for a tour of the Accademia and Michelangelo’s David. We then set out for a walking tour of the city which included the Duomo, Baptistry, Plaza della Signoria, Plaza della Republican, and Ponte Vecchio. Our guided visit of the city then concluded with a VIP tour of Palazzo Vecchio where we learned about the lives of the Borghese family that ruled Florence during the Renaissance.

The next morning, we boarded the ITALO train to Venice and stepped off into this magical city. Our stay began by being shuttled into gondolas where we were serenaded en route to our destination. We were then dropped off in the San Polo neighborhood where were were met by none other than the neighborhood’s namesake, Marco Polo, who taught the juniors (and the rest of us) about Marco Polo’s travels and his impact on the city of Venice. We then walked on through the city to Piazza San Marco, the heart of the city, where we boarded the board to our hotel, Hilton Molino Stucky.  I was initially skeptical about staying in a Hilton, feeling that this wasn’t exactly a very Italian hotel, but my assumption was completely wrong. This hotel, located across the Grand Canal in the Giudecca neighborhood, is converted from a historic flour mill. Since the mill was made up of several smaller buildings, the hotel is as well. This situation resulted in many small courtyards, one of which includes a Nutella bar, a favorite for all ages, with its Nutella crepes, toast, gelato and shakes. The hotel also has a rooftop pool which has fantastic views along the Grand Canal and of the Doge’s Palace and San Marco in the distance.

Our final full day with the tour in Venice had us exploring Venice’s Carnevale mask-making tradition. After visiting one of the top mask-making studios in the city, we then became artisan maskers ourselves by having the opportunity to make our own masks with some help from the experts.  The grand finale of our tour did not disappoint with a pirate ship party where we ate, drank and danced our way around the Venetian lagoon at dusk wearing the masks we made that morning. It was truly a magical night and the perfect conclusion to our adventure.

While our tour may have concluded we decided to stay a few extra nights in this magical city. After a final breakfast with our tour mates, we headed out to further explore Venice.  Starting at the Rialto Bridge, we then headed to the fish market to inspect the catch of the day. We then headed off on foot, got hopelessly lost (as you can only do in Venice) and eventually made it back to the hotel after much gelato and a canal-side lunch.

We capped off our final final day in Venice in a true Venetian way-on the water.  We met our chartered sailboat with our captain Ernesto and headed off onto the lagoon. After getting our sea legs, Ernesto asked if we wanted to take a swim. Why not. We followed his lead and jumped in to cool off for awhile. After toweling off we had lunch on the deck while sailing by Torcello and stopping at Burano to visit the colorful fisherman’s island.  

Overall, my impressions of Adventures by Disney is pricey but worth it. The ease of travel, top notch, exclusive experiences and fantastic guides made the whole experience one of my family’s favorite vacations. Yes, there are downsides of travelling in a group, but our experience wa that the benefits outweighed them.  As for the location itself, Italy is, and always will be, one of my favorite European destinations. This trip was my 6th and my first on a tour. Other trips were fantastic but I have never experienced the access that we did with Adventures by Disney. Our next trip is England and France … stay tuned!

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