My husband and I booked an anniversary getaway cruise with a planned excursion to Rome. The cruise itself was okay, but after some of the excursions we had been on, we decided not to risk being herded through the city like cattle and wanted a more intimate experience tailored to our wishes. We found this fantastic tour and decided to splurge on it; we are so happy we did!
From booking, through time misunderstandings thanks to the cruise line, Nicola was very responsive to our every communication and made sure we got exactly what we were looking for.
Our driver was Marco and he was at the port when we disembarked, he very generously helped with our luggage and then took us to Rome. Marco is born and raised in Rome, and he knows the city (and its drivers) quite well!
Marco kept calling himself "just the driver," but that is a huge understatement! Marco's van itself is a lovely piazza, and Marco is the fountain of knowledge that we gathered around and chatted on a sunny day in Rome.
From the moment we got to Rome, Marco started telling us interesting things about the history of the city. We started at the top of the tallest hill in Rome with beautiful views of the city. We paused for a moment to take pictures.
(TIP: DO NOT let the people put the "free" bracelet on your wrist, they then ask for money and you will walk around all day with an even larger signal that you are a tourist to the rest of the street hustlers.)
From there we rode around the city as Marco told us the stories and history behind the things we were seeing. Whenever possible, Marco would slow down or stop at highlights for us, but the police in Rome are quite strict because the traffic in Rome is very intense, so it is difficult in most places. When it was difficult for him to get the van to a particular landmark for photos, he would give us 10 or 15 minutes to do so and would give us a meeting place and time so he could go around the block and not get in trouble.
(TIP: Street hustlers and pickpockets are very active in Rome, please take precautions to protect your belongings and be vigilant, Marco will look out for you and your belongings but he's not a bodyguard and there are times when you will be without him in crowded areas. We took the added protection of carrying our important things in bags that were in front of us rather than behind and when in crowded places we did our best to have a good grip on the bag itself too because it is common to have people cut the straps and run with the bag before you even realize it is happening.)
He drove us by and told us about so many things it is hard to remember them all; but some of them were the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Anfiteatro Flavio (aka The Colluseum,) and so much more. This tour is really tailored to what you wish to see and do. The highlight of our day in Rome was a visit to the Vatican, but first Marco took us to his old neighborhood and brought us to a wonderful family-owned and operated restaurant which was so far off the beaten path that we were immersed in Italian, and the food was among the most delicious we had in our ten days abroad.
After lunch, Marco dropped us off at the Vatican Museum and introduced us to our guide for the Vatican, Alissandra (Ali for short.) Nicola and Ali were able to arrange
skip-the-line access to the Museum, which we were very excited to hear because we had been reading online that tickets were no longer available for the day we were going to be there. Marco kindly stayed with the van and our bags while we set off on a 2.5 to 3-hour journey through some of the most important, beautiful, and awe-inspiring galleries and landmarks in the world, pausing to tell us about things along the way. She had two people with walking disabilities and she made sure we really experienced The Vatican's most important treasures at our own pace.
(TIP: The holy places in the Vatican require proper religious attire to enter, make sure your knees are well and fully covered, make sure your shoulders are fully covered, and leave your hat with Marco. My husband and I opted for linen shirts and pants, which did offer some help with staying cool, but not a whole lot. People who are not wearing proper attire will be denied a ticket and entrance to those areas.)
From the courtyard of the museum, she gave us an explanation of how the museum came to be what it is today, as well as a rundown of the things we were going to see, last she explained where we could and could not take photos and video.
Ali is interesting and so very knowledgeable. When she was talking she kept us engaged by throwing in anecdotes, and the occasional, appropriate, chuckle. We felt more like we were being given a tour by a relative who works at a place, than like we were being led around by a guide we just met that day. Ali is certainly an insider though, she seems to know everyone, lol. My husband and I had been jokingly asking our Catholic friends if they could kindly arrange lunch with the Pope for us, within the first 10 or 15 minutes of seeing her in action my husband leaned over and joked "I think if anyone can get us that sitting with the Pope it would be her!"
Through several galleries of the museum, Ali told us the history and paused at the important, or interesting things to take pictures. After the museum, and a brief explanation of our next highlight, we were off to be immersed in wonder again as we entered the stunning Sistine Chapel.
(TIP: no photos or videos in the Chapel, you will be scolded, and we saw at least one of the guards who caught someone sneaking a picture near us tell the person that they needed to delete the photo and that if they took another they would be kicked out. The Sistine Chapel is not only one of the most majestic works of art ever created, it is also a sacred and holy space. Talking is very restricted, and when it gets too loud they will announce "silence" over the PA and officers shush people. We didn't stay long due to time and walking considerations, but it also gets very crowded and claustrophobic quite quickly.)
After the Chapel, we were led out to Saint Peter's Square where we were treated to another explanation of the history of the things we were seeing, how things happen when the Pope is in the Square to give mass, and so many other amazing facts we didn't know. We took some photos and headed into Saint Peter's Basilica to be absolutely awe-stricken by this holiest of places. Ali gave us more wonderful information about the Basilica as we walked around, and left us plenty of time to take pictures. This is where my husband's phone battery died and our pictures ended, but we saw many more jaw-dropping collections before ending our tour in a gift shop adjacent to the museum side of the Vatican wall, where Marco was waiting to do his last act of service... drive us back to our hotel.
My husband says that you can't do Rome in a day, but from Nicola to an amazing guide (NOT just a driver) in Marco who showed us around the city, to the wonderous Alissandra, the Vatican insider that took us on the most comprehensive tour she could in the time we had, they made sure we got to glimpse everything we could which will help us tremendously in planning a week-long trip to Rome to have the opportunity to really explore and admire the wonders of the worlds largest open museum.
Thank you, Nicola, Marco, and Allisandra for the most memorable one-day experience possible in Rome! We were so happy we decided to splurge on this excursion, it was exactly what we were looking for, and the perfect way to spend our anniversary together!