10 Days In Italy: Getting Started On United To Rome

I don’t claim to be a renowned world traveler who’s been to every corner of the earth, but I feel like I’ve done a reasonable amount of exploration.  Plenty of destinations have been worthy of a quick stop, though not likely to be a repeat visit anytime soon.  Other destinations were worthy of repeat trips.  And then, there’s Italy.  We just plain love Italy.  Maybe it’s my heritage, but I find the people to be approachable most places we’ve been.  And, although some parts of Italy resemble Detroit in cleanliness, it still compels me to return for all the special places we’ve found.  This will be a series of posts over the next few weeks as my bad wing allows me.  I plan to post the following:

  • United Airlines To Rome
  • St. Regis Rome
  • Vatican
  • Osteria 44
  • Photo Essay of Angels & Demons
  • A Quiet Meal At Cul de Sac
  • Trevi Fountain (Semi) Closed For Business
  • A Fast Train To Venice
  • St. Regis San Clemente Island
  • Hotel Danieli
  • Antico Pignolo
  • A Quick Trip To Murano
  • How To Ride The Vaporetto (Water Bus) In Venice
  • Getting Lost In Venice
  • British Airways 787 Flight Home

It had been a few years since we had ventured over to Italy.  When our son was born, he didn’t take to flying quite like our daughter did.  That meant gradually increasing the flight times to arrive at a time when we felt safe going across the pond.  We’re located on the East coast, which can be a blessing and a curse for trans-Atlantic flights.  I actually prefer departing from further West so the redeye is longer, and thus more sleep.  But, it’s not a brutally long flight; actually much shorter to Europe than to Hawaii from our neck of the woods.

We originally booked 4 business class tickets on Lufthansa before the Black Friday United devaluation where partner awards took a horrific beating. We had flights scheduled on the new Boeing 747-8i through Frankfurt to Rome. We enjoyed flying that plane earlier this year on the way back from Paris.

I frequently tell folks it’s their responsibility to feed and water their reservations, watching for schedule changes and other quirks. You don’t want to get caught having an issue that you don’t have time to react to. While checking on my reservations, I usually re-check availability just in case a better routing pops up. In this case, a better routing had, though it meant flying on United Airlines.  I’m not against flying United, but Lufthansa is consistently better for service in their premium product, including service, food quality and attention to detail.  But, the primary goal here was to get to Rome the easiest way possible, this being the first trans-Atlantic flight for our 3-year old son.  So, a quick switch had us on the direct flight, leaving at roughly the same time as our original Lufthansa flight.

Getting to the airport, the security lines were much longer than normal. We didn’t have TSA PreCheck on this occasion, so we ended up hanging out for a while in line before finally hopping on the train to the C terminal at IAD.  As a parent traveling with kids, I knew there was a realistic chance of bad food onboard or poorly timed meal service.  So, we swung by the newly opened Au Bon Pain in C terminal and picked up a variety of healthy foods the kids could munch on in case things went sideways.  That left about 15 minutes to hit the United Club near our gate for a quick snack.  Shortly thereafter, we were onboard.  We wandered up to the cockpit to see if the kids could peek in since we had plenty of time before takeoff.  They definitely got more than a peek!

Rome

I had asked a few of my fellow travelers what to expect from a United 777-200.  Each person I asked had the same answer, “Avoid the 4 seats in the middle”.  Well, for us that configuration worked out perfectly.  The plan was for the parents to sit beside each other and the kids to do the same.  That plan devolved quickly (Michelle and I did get about half a glass of champagne down) as I moved to the other side in between the two kids to keep the peace.  Catherine used to be a window girl.  As a parent, having the aisle while your kids are in window seats provides a certain level of comfort that they need to climb over you to wreak havoc on the plane if you happen to nod off in flight (one of my favorite pastimes).  But, one of the ways Cat has been dealing with anxiety is by taking an aisle seat because it makes her more comfortable.  No kidding, same for Dad when he flies!

Rome

Our flight was a bit delayed due to weather.  We sat on the tarmac for about an hour, finally taking off for Rome.  The delay surely would have caused us to mis-connect if we had stuck with our original Lufthansa flights.

My premonition on meal service was well-founded as it was nearly 90 minutes after takeoff before the flight attendants served the kid’s meals, and that was after some gentle prodding by me.  If meal quality is important to you, you’re not choosing United for international travel in the first place.  The kids received a tray with a cookie and apple sauce on it to begin with, and about 30 minutes later got a plate of chicken fingers and potato wedges.

Rome

Rome

I don’t proclaim to be the healthiest eater in the world (#understatement) but even I would throw more fruit and veggies in a kid’s meal than a pack of applesauce.  The chicken fingers and potato wedges were fine enough and Cat full enough from Au Bon Pain that there was no complaining.  Charlie had decided to pass out early which seemed like a blessing until he woke up just in time for ice cream service!

Rome

Michelle and I had a decent appetizer of smoked salmon and a caprese salad to go with our sparkling wine.  The entrees were unremarkable, so much so that I didn’t take any pictures.  I have the menus at home and will post pictures of them in a follow-up for those that are interested.  Again, don’t book United for the service and food quality.  Book them because the routing works.

Rome

A bit later than we would have liked, the kids settled down and we all caught a bit of shut-eye.  I’m guessing the kids got about 4 hours, more than I would hoped for with Charlie on his first overseas flight, but less than I hoped for Cat.  All in all, enough to get through the first day in Italy.  Kids survive on less sleep much better than parents other than the occasional meltdown.

We woke on final descent.  I chugged a glass of OJ and roused the kids for bathroom breaks before landing.  An easy descent but we didn’t have a gate (not sure if due to late arrival or if United does remote stops for all flights at FCO).  Deplaning to the buses allowed me to snap a quick pic of Cat in front of our plane (and quickly got admonished by a member of the ground crew for doing so).

Rome

It was an easy ride over and a few minutes for luggage.  We did have to find a poorly marked door and ring a doorbell that sounded like a siren to retrieve our stroller from the oversized area (immediately on the left as soon as you enter baggage claim). After that, we were free to go through customs and catch a train.  Unlike previous trips where I way over schedule, we were taking it easy.  That left extra time for…..the playground in baggage claim.

Rome

Rome

It seemed an odd placement, and I don’t remember it from last time, but the kids were having a ton of fun.  Goes to show that with all Rome has to offer, our kids were happy with the simplest of things.

The walk through customs was literally that.  No forms, 30 second walk.  We chose to take the train, something we’ve done every time we’ve come to Rome.  I know some folks choose a car service, but I’m normally a fan of trains and subways for reliability sake, not necessarily just because a car service in some cities (Paris, Tokyo) can be brutal from the airport.  Additionally, our hotel, the St. Regis, is a short walk from the main train station, Termini.  Walking out of baggage claim, we hung a right towards the train platform.

For those choosing the train, there’s a ticket machine before you head up the elevator or stairs to walk across the bridge.  Everyone stopped here and the line was brutal.  I recalled there were ticket machines and ticket agents on the train platform itself, so we bypassed the line and headed upstairs.  It took us two minutes to get tickets from an agent.  Both kids (age 8 and 3) were free, the adult tickets were around 10 Euro.  We grabbed a pastry and some ice cream (after all, what else do you eat on vacation at 10am?) and boarded the train shortly for a 30-minute ride to Termini.

How Do You Plan The Same Flights?

United Airlines has direct service from Dulles to Rome, our choice.  Any flights that United operates from their gateways (like Chicago) to Rome will set you back 60,000 miles for coach and 115,000 miles and minimal taxes.  After their brutal Black Friday devaluation, flying on a partner like Lufthansa is an eye-popping 140,000 miles to Europe.

Regardless of which option you like, the Chase Ultimate Rewards cards are one of the easiest ways for non-flyers to stockpile miles and transfer them to United for trips like this.  Just the sign-up bonuses alone (currently a 70,000 Chase Ink Plus sign-up offer) will pay for a coach ticket overseas.

Up next, St. Regis Rome.  Gosh, I love that property….

 

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Lufthansa’s food, and seat product in business class is inferior to United’s. I don’t know whch Lufthansa flights you’ve been flying (perhaps on the 747-8 which have the new seats which are nice) but most of their planes have recliner seats and the food is economy-class quality. A seat that does not lie flat doesn’t deserve to be called “business class”. I’m not claiming that United’s food in businessfirst is amazing by any means, but it is at least edible. Also, you can request special meals (religious or dietary) and there’s usually a healthier meal option, which I have not seen on Lufthansa.
    Also,

    1. Augius, I have to disagree. United likely does have a higher percentage of lie- flat seats than LH, but I can’t imagine that’s a wide spread. Not sure if when you say ” recliner” you mean angle flat. I have not been on any international flight on LH with a recliner style seat. I have been on some with angle-flat, but less frequently as of late. The kid meal choices on LH out-distance United by far. You can see those meals here:
      http://pizzainmotion.boardingarea.com/2014/05/15/paris-abbreviated-lufthansa-new-business-class-upstairs-on-the-747-8i/

      I can’t say for sure that the food on UA or LH is healthier, but I know I eat a lot more of the meals on LH. Hands down.

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