By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, July 9, 2009 10:11 AM
Q. I am traveling to Rome and would like advice on visiting the Vatican, especially on how to avoid the massive lines.
D. Gaeta, Woodbridge
A. More than 4 million souls visit the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel each year, and if you haven't planned ahead it can seem as if every last one of them is waiting in line with you to get in. Three-hour waits are not uncommon. But don't worry, it's possible to jump the line, and you won't even have to go to confession afterward.
The secret: Book your ticket online through the Vatican's Web site or -- even better if you hate crowds -- pay extra for a guided tour. But choose carefully, because tour prices vary wildly.
On the Vatican Web site http://www.vatican.va/phome_en.htm, the admission price is 14 euros plus a 4 euro booking fee, about $25 total. Reserving online will let you skip the long line, at which point you're on your own.
The Vatican also offers two-hour guided tours for $42, including admission, but they can be crowded, with as many as 50 people per group. For a more manageable visit, book with a private company.
There are a lot of tour operators out there, so shop around for the best deal. For example, Presto Tours (617-642-7082, http://www.prestotours.com), based in Brooklyn, N.Y., charges about $49 per person, plus the $25 entrance fee. Tours last three hours and are limited to 15 people.
Presto's founder and director, Kirsten Gottwald, also recommends visiting the Scavi, the excavations under St. Peter's Basilica, where the original grave of St. Peter is preserved. Admission is about $10. But commercial tours aren't allowed, so you must apply to the Vatican in writing. (Find details on the Vatican's Web site.)
Many visitors to the Vatican also want to arrange a papal audience, offered most Wednesday mornings. Tickets are free but must be reserved through the Vatican. Tour operators can facilitate the process, but some charge for the service. Gottwald said Presto provides the service for its clients at no charge.
Last year, my best friend and traveling companion passed away. I do not want to stop traveling. I have looked at various packages, but they all include a single supplement charge. Are there any programs for a single traveler that do not include extra costs?
Cynthia Edwards, Silver Spring
There are, but most programs require that you share your hotel room or cruise cabin with a roommate. Many companies will do the matching for you, including Grand Circle Travel (800-959-0405, www.gct.com) and O Solo Mio Tours (800-959-8568, www.osolomio.com). Grand Circle, for example, which specializes in international trips for people older than 50, will fix you up with a roommate of the same sex upon request; if it can't find you a match, it won't charge you a single supplement. The company also has a free service that lets you create a profile and search for a companion before your trip.
Two readers had the same bright idea for the Ashburn couple who need to get to Union Station by 5:30 a.m. (Travel Q&A, July 5): Stay in a Capitol Hill hotel the night before the trip. Rob Stern of Arlington recommended the Phoenix Park Hotel, a block from Union Station, with packages starting at $89 a night plus tax (www.phoenixparkhotel.com/specials.html). And Jaynie Simmons likes the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill, three blocks from the station, which has a Friday-night AAA rate of $111 plus tax (washingtonregency.hyatt.com).
Regarding China's quarantining airline passengers for swine flu checks (June 28), Catherine Chen Hester of Columbia experienced the policy firsthand in Shanghai in May. Instead of being screened in the terminal, she said, passengers were scanned for fevers while still on board; all were allowed to leave except for three rows of people who sat near a baby who registered a fever. And the outcome? "I'm not sure what happened to those folks."
Send queries by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.