I see marianne is very knowledgeable, but we went to Italy in 2006. I can tell you that we used Perillo Tours based out of NJ. I used them because we were kinda scared to be in a foreign country and because I had been watching them advertise since I was born.
We did the 8 day Rome tour. We also added 3 days in Siena before the tour. The Perillo tour itself was very good, hotel was Cicerone, away from touristy Rome but a short walk across the bridge by St Peter's to the touristy part. Although I did jot down the name Hotel Genio as a preferred place to stay WHEN (not if) we go back. It is very very close to Piazza Navonna. But I haven't been in a "camera" (room) so I can't say if it's a nice place. Being on a tour has advantages such as skipping the lines at St Peter's and Coloseum, but overall we felt that we would have been just fine on our own.
I bought the Learning Language Series of CD's from a bookstore and kind of learned Italian before we went. As I struggled to speak Italian, the Italians always answered me in English, which threw me off as I was trying to translate English into English. @@
Read lots of Rick Steves guides before you go, it helps with manners etc. (Tipping, always greeting storeowners as if you have walked into their home. Ex: always say hello and goodbye, compliment the merchandise) But he gets a little ridiculous with some of his tips.
We landed in Rome and all by ourselves got a train to Tuscany and Siena where we blew our budget and stayed for 3 glorious wonderful days at Villa Scacciapensieri. Bruce the concierge is from Scotland and he is absolutely wonderful. Read about the hotel on tripadvisor. From there we took a train to Florence and saw the Accademia (but skipped the Ufizzi), and other things the city had to offer. Go online and reserve a time at the Accademia and Ufizzi, you can walk past the lines of people waiting to get in.
Digression to talk about college: A year after our trip my husband and I took an art class for our Fine Arts requirement. In our art textbook was Bruneschelli's gold doors. We had ignorantly walked by these and without pausing said to each other "cool doors" and continued on our way. :::slapping forehead::: So my advice, study for the Art of the Western World CLEP if you haven't already. Half the textbook is there. :-)
Especially in Siena, or maybe all of Tuscany, you can't find food between 2pm and 7pm. Plan accordingly so as not to die of hunger. In Rome this isn't a big deal.
You only asked about tour companies, but I get a little carried away talking about Italy. :-) We just loved it. When we came back, we woke up an hour early for a while just so we could have an Italian breakfast and linger like they do. Meals are SO relaxing.
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English Composition, Literature & Composition, Art Appreciation, General Psychology, Intro to Anthropology, Abnormal Psychology, Travel Agency Operations, Advanced Hospitality (7 credits), Intro Computer Software, Digital Photography, War and American Society, TESC Capstone
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