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September 2011

August 2011

A warning about travel agents

Venice fisheye photo

ABOVE: If your travel agent has a distorted view of Venice's geography, you could find yourself stuck a long way from airport transportation or the cruise port.

by Durant Imboden

We'll almost certainly get a flood of angry e-mails for saying this, but it needs to be said:

Travel agents often give bad advice to their clients who are headed for Venice.

For example:

  • A reader told us that her travel agent had arranged a water taxi from the airport to the city center at a cost of 150 euros per person. For a couple, that's almost triple the normal fare--and it's about 10 times the cost of an Alilaguna airport boat ride.
  • Cruise passengers have told of being booked into hotels far from the Venice cruise terminals, with no easy way of getting from the hotel to the ship with their heavy luggage. (Venice is a city with more than 400 footbridges, and most of those bridges have steps.)

Why do such mistakes occur? I'd guess there are several reasons:

  • Travel agents may be experts at getting the best fare from Virginia Beach to Venice, or at recommending the cabin with the largest balcony on the MS Croesus, but that doesn't mean they're familiar with the geography of a distant city where buses and taxis don't travel door to door.
  • Even when a travel agent has visited Venice, his or her experience may be colored by the fact that someone else provided local transportation and baggage handling during a "fam trip" that was sponsored by a hotel or cruise line.
  • Online travel agencies like Expedia and Travelocity typically recommend hotels based on price, availability, and other factors, using computer algorithms that don't take the traveler's individual needs into account. (Airlines and cruise lines are no better: When I checked in with Delta for a recent flight to Venice, the airline suggested two outrageously-priced hotels without regard for my budget or preferred location.)

Bottom line: Don't let a travel agent--or anyone else--make local transportation and hotel decisions for you unless you know exactly what you're getting and why. And for more guidance on planning a trip to Venice--or on reviewing your travel agent's recommendations--go to Venice for Visitors, which has more than 600 pages of illustrated travel advice.

Personal plug: Minnesota State Flair

French Fries stand at Minnesota State Fair

ABOVE: Minnesota fairgoers settle for fried Idaho spuds instead of a fritto misto from the Venetian Lagoon.

You may wonder what the Minnesota State Fair has in common with Venice, and the answer is "Not much, except for the fact that they're both expensive" (though you'll find better deals on food in Venice, where--as a bonus--the gelato isn't deep-fried and served on a stick).

Still, Italians are big on family, and so are we--which means that we consider it both a duty and a pleasure to promote our daughter's new blog, Minnesota State Flair, a.k.a. "your year-round State Fair fix."

When we checked this morning, the lead article was "Get Ready for Greased Lightning at Andy's Grille," which is based on an interview with the restaurant's personable patriarch, Bob Andrus.

Other recent posts have covered such topics as "Canine Carny Cowboys," "Hamline Dining Hall's State Fair Ham Loaf" (from a church-sponsored eatery that's been at the Fair for 114 years), "Harness the Bear Within" (your chance to play Smokey, if you aren't too tall and can take the heat), and "Princess Kay of the Milky Way: Butter Beauties, aka 'Goodwill Ambassadors.'"

The blog is great fun even if you don't live in Minnesota, and we're especially proud of our daughter's hereditary affinity for alliteration.


Photo: Minnesota State Fair, August 25-September 5.

Mestre for Venice cruise passengers


ABOVE: Venice's Marittima cruise basin from the deck of MSC Poesia

2016 Update: We've closed comments on this post. If you're looking for a hotel in Mestre that's convenient to the Venice Marittima cruise basin, we suggest reading the Mestre Hotels for Cruise Passengers page of the Venice Mestre & Marghera Hotels guide at our travel-planning site, (And if you're already booked into a hotel in an inconvenient location, we suggest that you cancel your reservation and book a hotel that's more practical for cruise passengers.)

n a recent post titled "Trains from Mestre to Venice, and parking in Mestre," we offered suggestions for money-conscious tourists and motorists who might be thinking of staying in Mestre, on the Venetian mainland, instead of in Venice's historic center.

VE Mestre signNow we'd like to discuss a related topic: Why spending a few nights in Mestre may be a good idea if you're cruising from or to Venice.

First, some basics:

  • Mestre is at the foot of the causeway that leads from the Italian mainland to Venice's historic center and cruise port, which are about 4 km or 2.6 miles offshore.
  • Although Mestre is often described as an "industrial suburb," it's actually part of the Comune di Venezia, a.k.a. the City of Venice. It's a pleasant, prosperous town with a population of nearly 186,00 and a thriving commercial center with a number of historic buildings from the 12th through the 19th Centuries.

What does Mestre have to offer cruisers? Mainly this:

  • If you're laden down with luggage--as cruise passengers often are--you can take a cab from Marco Polo Airport to a hotel in downtown Mestre for about a dozen euros. When you're ready to board your cruise ship, you can hire another taxi to the cruise terminal (either Marittima or San Basilio) and ride directly to the ship for 25 euros or less.

As a bonus, Venice's historic center is only a 10- to 12-minute train ride from the Mestre Railroad Station, so you can easily sightsee before or after your cruise even if you've chosen to stay on the mainland.

We'd like to make one thing clear: We prefer staying in Venice's car-free historic center ourselves, and we think it's your best choice if can manage it. But if you lack the strength or enough hands to wrestle suitcases filled with tuxedos and evening gowns over Venice's footbridges, a taxi-accessible hotel in Mestre is likely to be a practical and less stressful alternative.

For more information about Mestre, including how to get there and where to stay, see our 23 pages of Mestre travel advice and photos at

BELOW: Shoppers on the Piazza Ferretto in downtown Mestre's pedestrian zone.

Piazza Ferretto Mestre