We just returned from 2 weeks in Italy (4 days in Rome, 4 days in Florence, 4 days in Venice then back to Rome for 2 days). I'll just report on the Rome part here and try to post trip reports for the other cities later in the week.
We arrived on July 29 and were met at the airport by RomeCabs. They were wonderful and even including a bonus sidetrip to peek at the view through the keyhole at the Knights of Malta gardens - just breathtaking.
For our first 4 days in Rome we stayed at the Rose Garden Palace off the Via Veneto. I wrote a review, but it has not yet been posted to TA. The hotel was good value, service was indifferent.
The weather in Rome was quite hot when we were there, but still we walked a great deal, which allowed us to eat as much as we wanted!
We found the city very manageable and not as crowded as we would have thought. The Romans were very friendly and helpful, but I found that all of the time I spent studying Italian was wasted! Every request I made in Italian was answered in English! I guess it was just easier for them, but I started defaulting to English by the end of the trip. I found this to be true in every city we visited. I suspect that we would have had different experiences in smaller towns.
We spent our first day and half roaming around on our own. My husband and I have been to Rome before, so we enjoyed rediscovering the city and introducing our children to the Eternal City.
On Tuesday we headed to the Vatican Museums at 7:30 am to meet our private guide (referred by a friend). I know that there are very differing views on the need for a guide, but I have to say that for our family, this was definitely the way to go. We were in the Museums promptly at 8am (the Vatican Museums do not open to the general public until 10am; between 8 and 10 only guides with reservations are allowed in. During this time period 2000 visitors per hour with guides are admitted for a total of 4000 people before 10am). Our guide was fabulous and spent a great deal of time with the children, especially in the Sistine Chapel, which we managed to see before it was filled to the brim with people. My husband and I had both been to the Vatican before, but never with a guide and we were both surprised to find out how much we didn't know!
St. Peter's Basilica was an awe-inspiring visit. We loved everything about this majestic building and I was moved to tears while praying at the tombs of Pope John Paul II and Pope Paul VI. Our daughters, who are 13 and 10 said that the Vatican and St. Peter's were the highlight of their trip (even after visiting Venice, which I thought would be their favorite!)
On Wednesday we covered the Colosseum, the Forum and Palatine Hill. I loved all of this, but I am a bit of nut for ancient history. I was surprised to find out that the kids found it all "boring", too much "old stuff"! Although, I have to say that my older daughter said that she wished she had visited the sites last year (before studying ancient Roman History in school). Go figure!
Please do not stress about clothes, shoes, etc. We saw everything in Rome. Dress in what makes you comfortable (as long as it is appropriate for the sites you will be visiting). I can't stress enough the importance of comfortable shoes. I started wearing a pedometer 2 days into this trip and found that we walked anywhere from 8 to 12 miles a day! We did not use public transportation at all in Rome - and only took taxis on two occasions (both to meet our guide early in the morning). Otherwise, we walked everywhere, saw a great deal of the city and ate ALOT!
We had no issues with safety, no pickpockets, no scams. We felt safe everywhere that we traveled. We did have our camera stolen in Venice (details in my Venice report), but otherwise all was fabulous.
At the end of our trip we returned to Rome for 2 days and stayed at the Hotel Raphael near Piazza Navona. This by far was my favorite hotel of the trip. We had a lovely terrace overlooking the cloister next door, and would sit outside sipping wine and listening to the churchbells ring all over Rome.
Oh well, back to reality!