13:02 EST, 31 August 2013
13:03 EST, 31 August 2013
Last month, I visited Rome with my family. The queue to enter the Vatican Museums must have been at least an hour long, with the poor souls standing in 32C-plus heat. But we’d booked ‘skip the line’ tickets. We met a jolly lady near the museums’ entrance at an agreed time, and she slipped us in within a matter of minutes.
Though it was incredibly crowded inside, my children got to see the Sistine Chapel, something I hope they’ll remember for a long time. We also spent a few days in Venice, where we had pre-booked a tour in a water taxi along the Grand Canal and through smaller side canals. It was easily the highlight of our stay. We shared the sleek motor launch with one other couple, so there was ample space for all of us to stand outside in the stern and bow like celebs.
All aboard: Fred and his family enjoy their tour of Venice on a motor launch
Our guide, Massimo, was excellent. We booked the Venice tour and the Vatican skip-the-line tickets through a company called Viator. The worldwide market leader in sightseeing tours, it offers some 15,000 tours, excursions and activities across more than 1,000 destinations. Many of the options are very enticing.
For Rome, we could also have booked private, guided tours of the Vatican Museums, a small group tour to normally off-limits areas of the Colosseum, a cookery lesson – even a session at a gladiator school. In Venice, other possibilities include tours that let you skip the queues to enter St Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, and walking tours with your own private guide. On Viator’s website, the tours are spelled out in impressive detail.
Booking is done online, and the process is quick and easy. You print off the voucher and simply present it to the tour guide. Viator doesn’t offer its own tours – it uses local companies. You can, of course, book tours directly with local outfits, and they are easy to find on the internet. But the trouble is, how do you know which are any good? Viator says it carefully vets the tour companies it features – and both the Rome and Venice ones we dealt with were very professional.
Beat the queues – and the heat – with a pre-arranged tour of the Sistine Chapel
Our only gripe was that the Venice tour turned out to be around 55 minutes long, when Viator indicated it would be 70 minutes. Importantly, on Viator’s website you can read multiple reviews, and ratings, left by previous bookers.
For the Vatican Museums skip-theline ticket arrangement, there are over 1,230 reviews, and for our Venice Grand Canal Boat Tour nearly 300 reviews. So how do Viator’s prices look? For the skip-the-line Vatican Museums tickets, Viator charges a family of four around £116.
This is virtually the same price that the local tour firm used by Viator charges. However, for about half the cost, you can pre-book tickets online on the Vatican Museums’ website (mv. vatican.va), and by doing so you’re entitled to join a much shorter queue than the regular one. So before paying for any tour firm’s skip-the-queue entry tickets, do check options on museums’ own websites. Our Venice tour cost £150 for four people – again, roughly the same price as quoted by the local company laying on the tour.
The going rate to book a water taxi directly for a 55-minute tour for four people is €125 (£109). But for that, you don’t get a guide – and by booking on the spot you run the risk of being ripped off. We witnessed a screaming match between a taxi driver and a very disgruntled tourist who believed he had been overcharged. We found pre-booking a tour through a company such as Viator is a reassuring and hassle-free approach, and the experiences on offer can enhance a break hugely.