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Author: redheads2

Joined: 5/16/2010
Posts: 7
Countries Visited:

Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Spain, Italy, Central America, Hawaii, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Greek Islands, Israel, Canadian Rockies, Mexico, China

Traveler Since: 2000

November 08, 2011

Heading to Sicily on 4/11/2012.  Would love to hear about the highlights and what NOT to miss.

Author: captainlarry

Joined: 4/24/2010
Posts: 386
Traveler Since: 2002

January 20, 2012

Sorry to take so long to respond. I must have missed your request when first posted. I just found it.

We did the tour in March 2011 and were delighted. You will have time for touring on your own in Palermo and you will enjoy it. The excursions to Erice and Cefalú are fantastic. We enjoyed the stop in Corleone and the stay in Agrigento was okay, not great. We were too tired for the trip to Syracusa but enjoyed Messina. We paid extra for the Vesuvio tour but you will have it included. Either way, GO! I don't know if you will stay in Taormina or Giardini Naxos, but either is fine. We stayed in Naxos and I personally did not miss Taormina at all. We got a little tired of antiquity in Malta but I would not recommend skipping anythiing. The day trip to Gozo was very nice.

I don't know if they have improved the trip home from Malta, but the last night, in Ostia, was the only really unsatisfactory part of the trip. But it's only one night, and it was tolerable.

Our Program Director had previously done only OAT small groups and was in a little over her head with the 42 of us (you'll have a slightly smaller group, I believe). She was assisted in Palermo by Maurizo, who may well be the highest rated PD ever in GCT's history. He was then the supervising PD for all of Italy. In Taormina we were joined by a gentleman whose name I do not recall. He was GCT's resident manager for Italy, Malta, and Tunisia. The presence of those two gentlemen indicated to us that the PD was somewhat on probation and was being closely evaluated. In almost all cases she handled the job admirably.

Author: njoma2

Joined: 2/2/2011
Posts: 11
Traveler Since: 2005

February 27, 2012

CaptainLarry -- Did your group stay at the Airport Palace Hotel after Malta?  If so, please tell me how unsatisfactory it was, even tho it's only one night.  Thanks.
 

Author: captainlarry

Joined: 4/24/2010
Posts: 386
Traveler Since: 2002

February 27, 2012

I believe our hotel in Ostia was called "Satellite Palace" and not "Airport Palace". It was a long bus ride from the airport. If there were 25 in our group, the Satellite Palace got 50 thumbs down.

Author: captainlarry

Joined: 4/24/2010
Posts: 386
Traveler Since: 2002

February 28, 2012

Not that it has anything at all to do with your question about the Airport Palace Hotel, but I thought you might be interested in seeing my interpretation of the trip home, as recorded in my journal. Here are the "chapters" for the last two days of the tour. Although this sounds like a bit of a nightmare, even this was not enough to detract from a really fantastic trip.

Day 19 Sunday, March 27, 2011

Today was the first of three days it took us to get home. We had a relaxing morning. We kind of slept in and went to breakfast about 8:00 AM. We finished packing and put our bags out about 11:00 AM. We boarded the bus about 11:30 AM and half an hour later walked into the airport in Luga, Malta. We got checked in, checking our bags to Rome only. We said good-bye to Denise at the airport and then went to the gate to board our flight. Alitalia flight AZ887 departed Malta (MLA) at 2:00 PM and arrived in Rome (FCO) at 3:25 PM, a flight time of one hour and twenty-five minutes. The airplane was an Airbus A319, kind of old and worn but not too bad.

As we walked off the plane we were greeted by Antoinella, our “program director” for the night. She waited until we all got our luggage and then led us to the bus. It was a long hike dragging our bags, and some of the tourists were getting quite weary by the time we got there. Then we waited while Antoinella and Maria went to look for Maria’s missing bag. After a while we were all delighted when Antoinella and Maria arrived at the bus with Maria’s bag in tow.

The bus ride to the Satellite Palace Hotel in Ostia was uneventful but rather long. The hotel did not get very good reviews and I think the reviewers were being kind. The town is old, dirty, and run down, and so is the hotel. The welcome drink was just that, with some snacks on the side. Antoinella didn’t even stay with us, and she told us she would not be there to see us off in the morning. We walked next door to a restaurant where we had some difficulty reading the menu. Mary and I each got a large and not really good pizza. One would certainly have been enough for both of us. And everything was rather expensive. We got back to the hotel and turned in early because we had to get up early the next morning. We did not unpack anything so we would not have any packing to do the next morning.

Day 20 Monday, March 28, 2011

We got up at 5:00 AM, put the bags out at 5:30 AM, and went to a rather nice breakfast at 5:45 AM. The breakfast is the only pleasant memory I will have of the Satellite Palace Hotel. We were supposed to be transported to the airport at 6:30 AM, but it was nearer 7:00 AM when we got started. Thirteen of us and our luggage were jammed into two vans. It was uncomfortable but uneventful. Directional signs are nonexistent at Rome Airport, but we finally saw on an electronic board the desk number at which we needed to check in. We were quite a bit earlier than the rest of our troop. Security was no problem and we found our departure gate and settled in. Then they cleared the gate so that we could go through another security screening before boarding the airplane. Mary and I were not searched but several were, apparently somewhat randomly.

The first leg, Alitalia flight AZ642, was supposed to be a Boeing 767-400. We were to have seats 15A and 15C. They are the two seats on the left side of the airplane. There are no “B” seats on that airplane. The plane turned out to be a 777 instead, and it does have “B” seats. But 15B was not assigned so we had an empty seat between us. That was good, but better still was the fact that row 15 on the 777 is the first row of coach and therefore a “bulkhead” row. So, in addition to the empty seat between us we had considerable additional leg room. Our seats were the kind that some airlines are now charging a premium price for. Eleanor, Elsa, and Maija, who were stuck in the “cattle car” section, expressed their displeasure at our “preferential” treatment.

The flight was scheduled to depart FCO at 10:10 AM but it was about half an hour late getting off the ground. That was Central European Daylight Time. It was scheduled to land at Newark Airport (EWR) at 1:45 PM Eastern Daylight Time, an elapsed time of nine hours and thirty-five minutes. We were nearly on time, having just about made up the 30 minutes in transit. Then began a series of frustrating delays and “run-arounds” that made us glad we had a long layover. We had checked our bags to Newark only since that was where we had to pass customs and immigration. Our plane seemed to be the only international flight arriving at that time, so the lines at Passport Control were not long. But as we were two persons away from the agent, he spent a long time with one individual and finally left his post to take the man to some other location. The rumor was that the man was not a US citizen but we were in the US citizen only line. But we finally got through Immigration, picked up our bags, and were waved through Customs with barely a glance.

The next fiasco came as we tried to get checked in for our United flight to IAD. A woman pointed us at a queue that she said was for Continental and United. We had been in that line for about twenty minutes when a man announced that the line was for Continental only. When we asked about United he said we had to go to Terminal A. We were in Terminal B where Alitalia flights land. So we dragged our bags – remember, we had both our carry-on and checked bags with us – to the Airtrain and rode it to Terminal A. We were outside the secure area, of course, so we knew we would have to go through the screening again. Mary had quite a struggle with her bags on the escalators, and I was unable to help her much.

We finally found the United Airlines check-in desks and asked about our flight, UA4794. The man said, “You have to check in at the Continental Express Desk.” I almost “lost it”, but calmly walked the couple of hundred feet to the Continental check-in. The kiosk would not accept our passports and confirmation number. I didn’t understand at the time, but now I have to assume that we had a United confirmation number and were trying to use it on the Continental system. But the clerk finally got us our boarding passes and our luggage tags. But we were not done! We then had to drag our checked bags to a drop-off spot and then ride the Airtrain to Terminal C. Fortunately we did not have to drag anything but our carry-on bags now.

When we got to Terminal C we had now been in every terminal owned by Newark Airport. As we went through security, much more stringent than in Rome, of course, Mary’s bag was pulled aside for “questionable” content. They thought they detected “something sharp”. So her bag was hand searched and what they decided on was that her packages of hot chocolate mix, in foil packages, were the culprits. They had already gone through security at six airports, including once before at Newark, without sounding an alarm.

But we got to gate C111, our assigned gate, with still nearly four hours to go. So we went to Ruby’s, a 1940’s style diner, with 2011 style prices, of course, for dinner. We had some very good and very expensive sandwiches and fries. Then back to the gate.

With about an hour and a half to go I got up to go to the restroom. I looked at the Departure board and saw that our flight, now Continental flight CO3450, had been moved from C111 to gate C99. No announcement had been made, and later, as the time of departure drew near, some folks had to really hustle to get to the new gate. So we walked all the way back to the hub and followed the signs for Gates 70 – 99. It was a totally different concourse, and the first gate we came to was 70. Gate 99 was at the far end, and downstairs.

So we didn’t have time to get very bored even though we had the six-hour layover. The last leg was on United Airlines flight UA4794, which was a code share with Continental CO3450. The plane was a De Havilland DHC-8. We had seats 8A and 8B. It took a long time to get clearance to take off, but the flight lasted only forty-five minutes once in the air. That was fortunate because it was a very uncomfortable flight. The only good thing was a lot of leg room. The seats were horrible. We landed at Dulles (IAD) about 9:15 PM. By the time we got our bags and got out of the terminal it was after 9:30 PM.

Amy picked us up at the airport and transported us to their home. It was after 10:00 PM and the kids were asleep. Matt was also in bed but he got up to greet us. We spent the night.
 

Author: njoma2

Joined: 2/2/2011
Posts: 11
Traveler Since: 2005

February 28, 2012

Thank you for your reply captainlarry.  You may find it had to believe, but the Airport Palace Hotel has a lower rating than the Satellite Palace (on tripadvisor).  We have decided to reserve a room at the airport Hilton instead.  I do realize that we are not paying GCT to put us into deluxe hotels, but . . .   I'm glad that the nightmare of the last two days of your trip did not take away from your enjoyment of the trip.  We rcvd our pre-departure info and Maurizio will be our PD in Sicily.  One week until departure -- really looking forward to this trip. 

Author: captainlarry

Joined: 4/24/2010
Posts: 386
Traveler Since: 2002

February 28, 2012

You're going to have a great time, and you will certainly enjoy the time with Maurizo. Prepare to spend a lot of time laughing. His lecture to us about "Speaking Sicilian with and without Words" was the biggest laugh of the whole trip.

Author: jkr10

Joined: 1/14/2012
Posts: 1
Traveler Since: 2008

March 16, 2012

 The Airport Palace in Ostia sounds like it is described in Trip Advisor- awful.  What a pity GCT has chosen to end a trip in such a place.  

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