I knew next to nothing about Gate 1 Travel prior to our Italy trip, except the slogan “See the world for less.” They offer a wide variety of locations and escorted tours compared to other (luxury) travel companies! My first impression was that they were trying to unload less popular tours at discounted prices on Groupon Getaways. Trish actually described her experiences on another helpful travel blog I follow when she purchased a shorter Italy package that included car rental. My husband and I specifically chose the 14 Day Tuscany & Amalfi with Venice & Rome package in May and paid (almost) full price. I want to share with you my take on whether this package was a good value for the total cost, the quality of the Tour Manager, and our overall impression of all of the locations and excursions! I will break it down by 5 categories, similar to the Engagement & Wedding Series, after the summary: Itinerary, Activities, Accommodations, Tour Manager, Value
Gate 1 Travel: General
- Trips offered range from 6 to 20+ days! Packages include land only or with flight
- We added flights to ours since it was just easier with the additional discount.
- You can book either use your own travel agent or use Gate 1’s
- Escorted tour packages with accommodations, breakfast, and a few other meals
- Tour Manager travels with the group throughout the whole trip. S/he coordinates all accommodations, local excursions and multi-tasks with planning future trips.
- Answers questions on the fly and gives culture tips & language phrases
- Passes out “daily water bottles” at each stop.
- Few weeks prior to embarking on trip they send a PDF Travel Document
- Details include accommodations, add-on excursions booked/vouchers, know before you go, information on culture and the ever important “tip guideline”.
- According to other travelers who have booked through Gate 1 they do not have a very responsive or helpful customer service. So it is definitely better to leverage your own travel agent for support! We were lucky and only had a couple logistical hiccups during the trip.
If you’re wondering about the general summary of our expectations and locations visited take a gander at the Ciao Italia, which also handily links all of our subsequent Italy posts!
Itinerary 5/5 ★★★★★
- 13 locations on our 14 day trip which consisted of a mix of half day and full day excursions from our hotel. Note: 3 of them were optional add-ons at an extra cost*
- Stops covered the popular cities (Venice and Rome) as well as the underrated (Lucca)!
- Pace of travel is moderate/fast as we spent 3-4 nights at each hotel.
- Early morning wake up calls at 6-7AM.
- Wish we could have spent more time independently in the day trip cities before taking the bus back!
Activities Available 4/5 ★★★★
They offered a good variety of excursions in the package as well as add-ons such as the Gondola Ride and the Dinner Opera. My favorite included activities were the Glass Factory demo in Murano and tours through Cinque Terre by boat, train and bus! If we were more familiar with the train and ferries we could have saved the cost and explored other towns ourselves! The Gondola was a good value compared to booking in person! However, the one tour I thought we could have totally passed up was the Piazzas & Fountains. We were only ~15 minutes walk away from the Spanish Steps so we could have explored to all of the stops ourselves!
Thank you again to all of our lovely family and friends who gifted us these extra tours so we could try everything available!
Accommodations & Food 3/5 ★★★
Lucky for you, I diligently reviewed all of the 4 hotels themselves on Yelp and TripAdvisor! Gate 1 boasts 4 star+ hotels, but I truly think that there’s a different standard in Italy compared to the US. Some of the hotels may have started out at 4, but it’s unclear if they get reinspected year over year to maintain the rating. (The trip dates on the website could have variations on the following hotels; I noticed some of them listed staying in Sorrento instead of Naples.) We started off strong in Murano then went downhill to rock bottom in Rome!
- LaGare Hotel Venezia in Murano
- Hotel Francia e Quirinale in Montecantini
- Hotel Royal Continental in Naples
- Hotel Romanico Palace in Rome
Tour Manager 3/5 ★★★
As I briefly mentioned in my Ciao Italia summary, we had a Roman tour guide named Giovanni (AKA Johnny) who traveled with us on the trip and had a noticeable vendetta against Rick Steves. He greeted us on our first night for the 14 Day trip (1/3 of the group had started earlier as an add-on at Lake Como as part of the 16 Day Italy Trip). He coordinated all of the daily local city Tour Guides and worked with several of them in the past. I don’t have other Tour Managers to compare him to personally, but other Gate 1 patrons we traveled with mentioned that he was not the best of the best. Johnny had worked several other trips straight without breaks so by the time he got to ours he was ready for his 2 month holiday afterward! He did arrange nicely arrange for the musicians to board our the Gondola to serenade us Venice! When we ran out of cash in Capri (because we were not warned about the extra costs) he let us borrow some money for the boat ride.
I’m not sure why Johnny needed to collect our traveler preference information when after Venice all of our rooms were TWIN BEDS. I think it was the default option when booking over the phone with our travel agent. In Tuscany, when we asked him for directions in Florence to the Bobali Gardens he disparaged the location saying it wasn’t worth our time, and gave us directions to avoid crossing at the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, even though that was clearly the most direct route on the map. While in Tuscany, he showed up tardy on the bus two times to leave for our day trips and laughed them off as “bad hair days”. At our last stop Johnny played no part in alleviating the worst hotel experience at Romanico Palace in his hometown (he was already checked out by then). In fact for one of our final excursions he made the poor decision of asking the couple celebrating their anniversary to sit in the very front where there was no support so when the bus made a very sudden stop one of the passengers flipped over the edge onto the ground! Johnny did check to make sure the passenger was okay. We also never snapped a proper GROUP PHOTO with everyone including the travelers that left early after Tuscany. Romanico Palace took a very poorly lit photo of us in their restaurant, however we were crowded in a horseshoe and looked miserable. I see all of these happy groups with Tour Managers all over their website!
Value 3/5 ★★★
If we had more time to plan our own trip and knowing what I know now with the immense resource of other travel bloggers, we could have planned a cheaper trip. However, you can’t beat the ease of picking a trip location with dates convenient for our schedule. I started getting nervous when it was about 6 months before our honeymoon time frame and we hadn’t completed any research! There was also an incentive to book before the new year since the website showed prices rising after December by $500!
- We booked our flights with the tour through our tour guide so after the “discounts” it was $2,932/person BEFORE the add-on activities & trips, which is comparable to the low end of the “Air & Land” quote above.
- As a deal seeker I scoured the internet and found a code on RetailMeNot! $25/person is trivial compared to the total cost, but better than nothing right?
- To reserve our spot, we paid a $658/person deposit via credit card. We saved up with a lot of help from our friends and family who contributed to our Honeymoon Fund Registry the following months to pay the remainding balance for the final payment.
- I’m not sure what the “Package Airfare Reduction” line item refers to but I tracked a few flights from our area to Venice and Rome and it ranged from $800-1,200+ with some budget Airlines. I was quite pleased with Lufthansa and AirCanada (thankfully NOT United)!
- They have the option to “Save 5% by Paying Via Check” as they tack on a hefty 5% Credit Card processing fee!
- We booked EVERY add-on at an additional $466/person, so total cost for trip was $3,398/person.
- HIDDEN COSTS – TIPS for local tour guides and Tour Manager! I suspect it’s because Gate 1 is an American company and there’s no way to escape the tipping culture here. Plus it allows them to make their base cost pricing seem more competitive. We could avoided a large cost at the end if we booked on our own and saved a couple hundred € Euros…
- 12 days of travel (excluding flights) x $7 = $84
- 9 local tour guides x $3 = $27
- 2 bus drivers over 12 days x $3 = $36
Overall Rating 3.5/5 ★★★1/2
Averaging all of the ratings I actually calculated 3.4, but I rounded up since I can’t be categorizing fractions of ratings on my blog! That would be impossible to search. I also expected to receive a survey after our trip according to our Travel Packet PDF…
Your feedback is important to us. Shortly after returning from your trip, you will receive an email from Gate 1 Travel requesting your feedback via a brief online survey. We are constantly striving to improve our programs and your opinion is very important to us. Thank you again for choosing Gate 1 Travel.
However, I guess this blog post will do! All in all Gate 1 escorted tours are a good way to explore countries which you are not familiar with the language/culture, however now that we are more familiar with Italy I think we can plan our own trip. I also submitted an inquiry to their website and I can attest that they unfortunately are not very responsive. Their Facebook page doesn’t even have an option to send them a message directly, nor do they respond to the (negative) reviews consistently. There was also a strange moment where their Instagram account completely disappeared, and it resurfaced a couple months later.