Arrival in Rome
We were supposed to arrive at 7:35 am on Wednesday morning but due to the delays and re-routing we didn’t get in until 4:30 pm. For our arrival, I set up a car service through RomeShuttleLimousine.com and when we stopped in London, I made sure to e-mail them with our new flight information. Most car services check on flight status’ but they won’t know if you get re-routed on a different plane unless you tell them.
As expected, they were there waiting for us at the airport with a sign when we arrived. The cost was 45 Euros (with a 5 Euro discount on the way back) for private transportation from FCO to downtown Rome in a very nice brand new Mercedes sedan. It was actually cheaper than a regular taxi (which I saw quoted on the side of the taxi at 48 Euros) and it’s a pretty cool feeling to walk out of the airport with your own personal driver.
Italy has pretty good public transportation and I know there is a bus/train you can take to the city center but the taxi option was a lot more convenient in this situation. And after all of the delays, I was even happier that I had chosen that option. If you decide to book private transportation make sure you do it ahead of time because the first company I contacted was already all booked up.
Credit Cards & Debit Cards
I made sure that the car service would accept credit cards since I didn’t want to have to deal with an ATM or money exchange kiosk right when we got there. Once we arrived at the hotel, I busted out my Barclay Arrival Card since it gets me 2x points back on all purchases and there is no foreign transaction fee and paid for the ride without a problem.
I also signed up for a Chuck Schwab Investor Checking account prior to the trip since they give you free ATM withdrawals worldwide. I sent a quick travel notification to them before hand and my ATM card worked from the first day all the way until the last. I also brought a back up ATM card in case this card didn’t work but I never had to use it.
2 Nights at the Westin Excelsior
If you’ve ever been to Rome in the middle of the summer you already know how expensive lodging and the city in general can be. Once the outbound flight was set, I started the arduous task of looking for lodging. Since I had a decent amount of Starwood points, I ended up booking two nights at the Westin Excelsior.
At the time of booking, standard rooms at the Excelsior were going for $506/night but I used Starwood’s Cash and Points Option and paid only 10,000 points and $180 per night since the Excelsior is a Category 6 property. The total cash price would have been $1,012 but I spent a total of 20,000 points and $360. So my 20,000 points saved me $652 ($1,012-$360) which equates to 3.3 cents per point.
I booked these rooms about 6-7 months ahead of time and I’m glad I did. Just a couple weeks after I booked, the cash and points option was no longer available for my intended stay. Starwood normally has pretty good availability but if you plan on traveling during peak times, make sure to book as early as possible. I also recommend booking individual nights since it’s a lot easier to link nights together for a stay than it is to break them up.
Reaching Out Via Social Media
About a week before the trip, I made sure to reach out to the hotel and SPG on Twitter and let them know how excited I was for my honeymoon. This was my covert way of telling them to prepare a nice welcome gift for us and to increase our chances of getting an upgrade.
Related Article: The Best Customer Service is Now on Twitter
SPG responded instantly and when I e-mailed the hotel directly a few days later, they confirmed my reservation and told me my request for a suite had been noted.
Quick Review of the Westin Excelsior
The hotel was in a very nice part of Rome on a street called Via Veneto. The street is lined with expensive shops and restaurants but there are more reasonable eating options on the side streets. It’s about a 10 minute walk to the Spanish Steps and right next to one of my favorite places in Rome: Villa Borghese.
The hotel itself is very beautiful and you can definitely tell that it caters to people much wealthier than myself. Let’s just say I was the only one walking around the lobby in a tank top and sandals. But that’s the cool part about booking with points and miles. Other people are paying over $500 a night while you’re paying only $180 a night (plus some points that you got for free).
The rooms are older but they are still very beautiful. Lots of carved details, gold paint, etc. The rooms have a very regal look and the bathrooms are also top notch. We had a nice sized balcony and there was a little tray of awesome Italian pastries and a bottle of champagne waiting for us along with a handwritten note from the manager.
Even though you kind of have to ask for this treatment for special occasions, it’s definitely a nice touch. I was very impressed with this arrangement and my wife and I both loved the pastries!
I inquired about upgrades ahead of time, but with flights and hotels the only real way to get an upgrade in my experience is to have status (and there also needs to be availability). If you’re on your honeymoon you can expect a bottle of wine or champagne, but not much beyond that. Still, it’s better than nothing and you might as well take advantage of it when you’re paying $500 $180 a night. We were able to get a small upgrade to a room with a better balcony/view but it really didn’t make much of a difference.
The one thing I’ve noticed though from staying at these super nice hotels is that I can’t really afford anything at the actual hotel. It would have been nice to order room service but breakfast in bed was priced at 40 Euros per person. We walked out the door and down the street and had an identical breakfast for about 20 Euros total. I don’t mind paying a premium for convenience, especially on my honeymoon, but a 400% mark-up just won’t fly with the PF Pro!
Since this was my first time in Rome, I wanted to see all the traditional tourist sites at least once so we booked tickets online for the Colosseum and The Vatican. If you visit Italy during the summer or any time for that matter, you should book your tickets ahead of time online and you’ll be able to bypass all of the crazy lines. I would never wait 2-3 hours to see anything and it’s such a simple process to book everything online. Here’s how I did it:
You can book tickets online for the Vatican at the Vatican’s official site and they also offer group or private tours. We opted for the group tour and it was pretty informative but the Vatican itself was just way too crowded. We toured at 11:30 am and after about 30 minutes I just couldn’t take it anymore, there were just WAY too many people.
I wasn’t getting claustrophobic, it just wasn’t enjoyable so we returned our headsets and bee-lined for the Sistine Chapel. Honestly, I think the Vatican needs to do a better job of limiting the number of tourists that they let in. It was a mad house and it left a very sour taste in my mouth. I will not be going back.
For me, the only part that I really enjoyed was walking through the Basilica. Even though there were a lot of people in there, it didn’t feel too crowded since the place is so big.
If you plan on going to the Vatican, I recommend going early and buying a ticket online. There were people waiting in line for hours in the hot sun and all they had to do to avoid that was book a ticket online. Some people will never learn that planning ahead saves money and time (the latter is more valuable in my book when you’re on vacation).
You can buy tickets for the Colosseum online but if you also want to do the Underground Tour you need to call them. I called one day via Skype and got through after about 15 minutes on hold. The tour and the ticket can be purchased together and I highly recommend it. Our tour guide spoke great English and was very knowledgeable. It’s also the only way you’ll be able to go under the Colosseum (which is nice when it’s hot out) and to the top floor of the Colosseum (public is not allowed here).
Here’s a good forum on TA where you can get all your Colosseum questions answered.
One of the reasons why I was so excited to come to Italy was for the food. We both LOVE food so this was the one area we knew we were going to splurge and we did. The highlight of our trip was a dinner at a place called Il Fellini off Via Veneto. They served an amazing prosciuttio and melon and mussel appetizer. We also ordered a sea bass entrée and a seafood carbonara that was to die for.
This was one of the best meals of the trip and by Roman standards, the cost wasn’t too bad at $120 Euros. In addition to the awesome food, they also had beautiful presentation and the service was outstanding. Even though the meal was pretty expensive, I definitely felt like we got our money’s worth.
Rome has some amazing food but the one thing I found was that there aren’t many good budget options when it comes to restaurants. I used Trip Advisor to find a couple budget restaurants but they weren’t anything special.
Trastevere Food Tour
For our other big dinner night we decided to do a food tour of Trastevere. The tour was pretty expensive (at 120 Euros/person) but it had amazing reviews on TripAdvisor and lasted for five hours. I really liked the tour part as we walked through Trastevere at dusk and our guides were very knowledgeable. They were on a first name basis with all of the restaurant owners and they showed us a lot of cool things that we never would have found on our own. We really enjoyed this aspect of the tour but the food didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
The food was good but it wasn’t anything like Il Fellini. For the price, I was expecting a five star Italian meal but the tour is really more of a sightseeing tour with food than vice versa. If you’re really looking for some great Italian food, this tour probably isn’t worth it. You can get two great dinners at the same price point and we didn’t even get one. But if you’re looking for a really cool tour with some food then I’d definitely recommend it.
My Ideal Food Itinerary
If you’re going to Rome, I’ve got the perfect food itinerary for you. It’s not super cheap but it will give you a nice variety of what’s available:
-Dinner at a Nice Restaurant: If you’re in Rome, make sure that you do at least one nice dinner. Go on Trip Advisor and find a place that is very highly rated and plan on spending around 50 Euros/person.
-Cheap Sandwiches in Trastevere: If your wallet is hurting after your nice dinner, I suggest you go to Trastevere and grab some sandwiches and beers and eat on the steps of the main square. There are lots of people drinking and just hanging out pretty much every night of the week and drinking in public is completely acceptable. Plan on spending 5-10 Euro/person. (You could also do the same on the Spanish Steps)
-Pizza Night: I love the pizza in Italy and we ordered it multiple times but always alongside some other dishes. Like I said, we kind of splurged on food since this was our honeymoon but that doesn’t mean you have to. I’d recommend finding a good pizza place one night and eating there, at your hotel or any of the public places available. Pizza is reasonable and should be around 10 Euros/person at most.
-Dinner in a Piazza: This is kind of touristy and you won’t get the best food in Rome but pretty much everywhere we ate had good food. We only ate at one place that we really didn’t like and it was beyond cheap by Roman standards. Plus, it’s fun to people watch and see all the crowds going by. My favorite places would be Piazza Navona or pretty much anywhere else in Trastevere. If you couldn’t tell, Trastevere is one of my favorite areas in Rome and you will find people hanging out and eating dinner until the wee hours of the night.
Readers, what do you guys think about our first 2 days in Rome? Did you enjoy Trastevere as much as I did and what should I do about food next time I’m there? Are there any great food options in-between fine dining and eating on the steps?
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-Harry @ PF Pro