Adventures By Disney Review: Italy & Switzerland | Day 1 – Arrival in Stresa
Going on an Adventures By Disney trip has been a dream of my family’s since I was very, very young.
So the fact that I’m about to write this next series of blog posts is completely mind-blowing in every way. 🤯 I am so grateful and excited that I get to share this with you!
How I Learned About Adventures By Disney
I remember being around 12 years old, sitting on a Disney’s Magical Express bus (RIP) heading back to the Orlando International Airport.
Disney had a special little trick on this bus to help curb your emotions after you just had the best week of your life at Walt Disney World.
Their trick was to play advertisements of all of the other Disney offerings so you could get excited and start daydreaming about your next Disney adventure!
In 2005, I remember they started playing these brand new advertisements for this new offering called Adventures By Disney. This is where Disney took you on a group tour somewhere out in the world, completely separate from the parks! This destination could be domestic, or even more exciting – it could be international!
This commercial just kept going and going. We started seeing beautiful landscapes and mountains flash before our eyes. And the best part? There were those warm familiar cast member smiles in these brand-new environments, which mean you’d have the comfort of Disney service right alongside you wherever you went in the world.
I hoped someday I would get to experience that too!
Dreams Really Do Come True!
It’s been a lot of years since 2005 and the dream of going on an Adventures By Disney Trip as a family just never faded. We always talked about banking up our DVC points for it year after year, but for one reason or another, things didn’t quite pan out.
However… in comes 2022!
In the past few years, we’ve survived some tumultuous health issues. We made it through (enough of) a global pandemic. And then, I went nomading around Europe and didn’t see my family for 10 months straight.
What better way to reunite all together on our very first international trip ever than doing what we’ve talked about for the past 15+ years?
That was it – it was time to dive in and go on our Adventures By Disney trip. Let’s get into it!
What is Adventures By Disney, Again?
If this is your first time hearing about Adventures By Disney (ABD), let’s sum it up. Adventures By Disney is a Disney service that provides hassle-free guided group tours to destinations in the US and around the globe. Your “Adventure Guides” who host the tour are Disney Cast Members, and while there are subtle sprinkles of pixie dust throughout your tour, the real “magic” is in the exemplary world-class service and experience that is offered on the tour. They truly make things as seamless as possible so all you have to worry about is enjoying yourself.
Why We Chose This Itinerary and Service
There are tons of Adventures By Disney itineraries, but for our family, we decided on the Italy & Switzerland Adventure. It felt like a puzzle piece fit, combining everyone’s travel and activity interests. We always envisioned going to Italy with Adventures By Disney, but Switzerland was another country specifically on my brother’s bucket list! When we saw these two countries were combined, it presented the perfect two-for-one scenario.
The locations Disney chose for this itinerary were locations we would have never chosen on our own, which was another huge perk.
And, as I said before, this was my parents’ first trip international trip ever! My Mom went to Europe as a chaperone when she was 22 years old for a school trip and never made it back. My Dad just straight up never thought he would get to Europe in his lifetime. So this was a huge, huge deal!
As the oldest daughter and frequent traveler, when we go on trips I often fall into the “tour guide” category, which is so much fun but still a huge responsibility. However, getting to travel with Disney gave me the opportunity to actually be on a vacation with my family and really soak up these special moments. I got to be completely present with them which was the greatest gift of all.
Remember Disboards Trip Reports?
If you’re an OG follower, you know that I started blogging back in 2011 – 2013 when I used to write Walt Disney World trip reports on the Disboards. (If you’re still following along from those days, leave a comment on this post! Or share this blog post on your Instagram story and tag me @JessicaFaye508. I’d love to hear from you!)
However, if you’re new here, first of all – WELCOME! Second of all, all you need to know is that I’ve always had a huge passion for writing about Disney travel experiences. I have so much fun reporting back on what it was like, what we got to do, what we ate, etc.
Going on this Adventures By Disney trip really reignited that flame inside of me and straight up made me miss trip reporting! So to infuse my past and present selves, I thought it would be an absolute joy to share this Adventures By Disney experience with you on the blog – trip report style.
Here’s a little background on each person (again – trip report style 😉) so you know who is who as we go on this Adventure!
Most of you know me by now, but if you don’t, I’m Jess! Born and raised in Buffalo, NY. Huge Disney fan who worked at the parks from 2013-2020 in a whole variety of different roles, most recently as a VIP Tour Guide. When COVID hit, I started dating my current partner, Steven, and during this current season of life we nomad around the world and live in different countries each month. You can read more about the specifics of my story on my About page or on our Nomad Life Q&A post!
Mom and Dad –
I could not be more grateful to be raised by these two wonderful humans.
My Mom is one of the sweetest souls you’ll ever meet. She is 100% Italian and has dreamed of coming to Italy her whole life. She knows a lot about the Catholic faith, as well as the Saints and their backstories. (especially Saint Anthony and Mother Cabrini!) She adores beautiful churches and could not wait to step foot inside the Vatican! Some of her other interests include planting flowers in the backyard or at the family greenhouse, tap dancing, cooking delicious healthy recipes, and playing with our dog, Penny!
My Dad is truly one of the kindest people I know. Since he has sold insurance for construction projects for the past few decades, he is very intrigued by architecture wherever we travel! He is a total history buff, so I learned very quickly that the best way to travel with him is to go on tours where they can provide tons of factual information! He remembers so many details and soaks them up like a sponge. As I mentioned before, my Dad never thought he’d travel internationally, so this was a huge deal for him to go on this trip! (and hopefully more in the future!) His other main interest is sports – he loves all things Football, Hockey, and Baseball, but most specifically the BUFFALO BILLS!
My parents have been married for over 30 years and, as I said, this was their first international trip together! So special!
Jonathan is my brother! He is 3 years younger than me and my one and only sibling! We have one of those relationships where do our own thing for months at a time, and then reunite, pick up where we left off, and just have an absolute blast. Jonathan still lives in Buffalo, about 40 minutes away from my parents. He just got his Masters in Econometrics and works as a Data Scientist for a bank. (such a smart cookie!) Jon is a huge Marvel fan and loves Sports as well – you can either find him playing volleyball most nights of the week or at a Bills tailgate on Sundays.
Let the Adventure Begin!
Alright, it’s time to begin reliving the Adventure! To set the scene… we’re going to rewind just a few days.
From my perspective, it is our final month of Nomad Life in Italy. Steven and I took a train over to Rome to meet up with the crew. The following morning, my Mom, Dad, and Jonathan flew all the way from Buffalo, New York to Rome, Italy! After 10 months of being apart, we were finally reunited and were about to go on the trip of a lifetime!
If you feel like getting emo, here’s the reel of our reunion:
Our Pre-Adventure Stop in Rome!
To kick off my family’s trip (and give them a few days to adjust to the new time zone), we stayed in Rome for three nights! We crammed in so much – seeing the Trevi Fountain, a Colosseum Tour, and a tour of Vatican City. As well as introducing them to authentic Italian wine, pizza, pasta, and gelato!
If you’re interested in doing a Colosseum or Vatican tour, these are the two we did and HIGHLY recommend:
Tuesday, August 30th, 2022 –
On Tuesday, we said “Ciao” to Roma! (And to Steven! He was going back to Florence for the week and we would meet up with him after) We took a train from Roma Termini up to Milano Centrale.
Right as we were getting off the train, we were greeted by an Adventures By Disney representative! He lead us to our van driver who drove us an hour and a half from the train station out to Stresa, Italy!
Checking in: Stresa, Italy!
The drive got progressively more beautiful as we approached Lago Maggiore in Stresa. It was absolutely breathtaking! We turned onto our street, which was lined with lakefront hotels. We passed by one and my Dad said “wow, that one looks like a Castle.” And to our bewilderment, I said “Dad… I think we’re staying here!”
We arrived at our hotel to check in – it was called Grand Hotel et des Iles Borromees!
Disney hand-picks the hotels for the Adventures By Disney itineraries, and they do not skimp when it comes to beauty, elegance, and luxury. Grand Hotel et des Iles Borromees was probably the fanciest hotel I’ve ever stayed in in my life thus far, and what an absolute treat it was!
Each floor of the hotel was dedicated to a different era of Italian history. Ours was dedicated to Venice and the Chinese influence in the decor! Another really interesting piece of history is that Hemingway passed through here while he was writing A Farewell to Arms, so the bar at the hotel was called “Hemingway Bar.”
We arrived one day prior to the Adventure’s official start, which was absolutely wonderful so we did not have to rush. If it’s possible to do so, I would definitely recommend arriving a day early. Because once things get going… you’re going to be very busy, adventurers!
Meeting our Adventure Guides
As we were checking in, we ran into our Adventure Guides for the very first time! Their names were Alica and Miki. (Alica is pronounced like “one singular Lisa”, A-Lisa, and Miki is pronounced like Mickey Mouse!)
Adventures By Disney always pairs up one US Guide and one Local Guide for the Adventures! So, Alica was our US Guide (she lives in Hawaii, but is originally from Germany!) and Miki was our Local Guide. (she’s from Rome!)
They were just passing through, doing their guide duties, and getting ready for everyone’s arrival tomorrow. But we were all so excited to meet and I couldn’t wait to get to know them more!
Grand Hotel et des Iles Borromees
Once our check-in was complete, we headed up to the second floor where we would be residing. We had connecting rooms and a WATER VIEW! Wow oh wow 😍 We’re right on Lago Maggiore and it was one of the most stunning views I’ve ever seen in my LIFE! I am pretty sure my Dad shed a tear when he went out on that balcony, what a special moment.
We took our time settling in, rested a bit, and then Mom and I took a quick walk! There was so much to look at and see – we were totally on beauty overdrive!
Out to Dinner at Mamma Mia!
We took a little walk into the town of Stresa which was absolutely charming. It’s right along the lake and is full of sidewalks sandwiched between colorful buildings!
And we headed to dinner at a restaurant called… you guessed it… MAMMA MIA! The synchronicities were already beginning.
Mamma Mia was right in town and it was SO DELICIOUS!! The Concierge recommended we come here (and definitely recommended having a reservation) and they were right on all accords.
We got a fabulous bottle of Sicilian red wine to begin our meal.
For entrees, I got an Arribata pasta that was super spicy but it had the BEST penne noodle shape and texture. Jon got spaghetti and clams, which was an absolute winner. Dad got cod fish and Mom got a Quattro Formaggi pizza!
Then we did dessert – Dad got apple pie, Jon got chocolate cake (which was like a fluffy cloud), and Mom got cheesecake! (which had a way fluffier texture than in the States!)
Everything was so so so good. And crazy affordable! I think all of that was like… €83? My Dad still talks about how he thought the bill said €183 but then it was only €83! Best surprise ever!
That’s the secret about Italy – It’s not only the best food in the world, cooked by people who are exceptionally talented and passionate about their culture, but the way they price it is so reasonable. Paying 3x as much for medicore pasta in the States just ain’t it!!
After dinner, we just went back to the hotel to sleep! Tomorrow was our first official day of the adventure!
Wednesday, August 31st, 2022
I woke up this morning in total shock that I was actually here. We were about to kick off our grand adventure tonight at 6 o’clock.
While we waited for our fellow adventurers to arrive, we spent the day enjoying the hotel. We meandered downstairs and checked out the breakfast buffet. It was absolutely divine – so much so that they even had homemade jam and an actual honeycomb!
I made myself a little croissant breakfast sandwich, which was tasty. We sat outside to enjoy the views of the lake! However, the little birdies were trying to enjoy everyone’s food, too! They were ruthless! So we decided we’d be eating inside from now on.
Hotel Spa Day!
After that, I had the best self-care day of my life. I went to the Spa at 9 am and probably didn’t leave until around 2. It was called the Des Iles Spa and the whole space exuded the energy of pure tranquility.
We all had our own treatments booked, which was such a treat. When I finished up my massage, I went to the relaxation room and the whole family was there! They were either finishing up or waiting to go in for their appointment. Family spa day! (taking a selfie was required)
Mom went into her massage, Jon and Dad went up to the room, and I changed into my bathing suit so I could enjoy the other spa facilities.
I walked into the pool area and it was ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! If you had any spa treatment, you were allowed to use this whole area for as long as you wanted. It was genuinely the most beautiful spa I’ve ever seen. It had a gorgeous design and attention to detail, and the offerings were just straight up unique.
There were both indoor and outdoor sections of the pool, and then a whole other section of Saunas, Turkish baths, showers with 4 different colors/scents/temperatures (like mint or citrus), and a SNOW ROOM where snow literally fell from the ceiling!
When I’m telling you I was in total shock that I ever got to experience something like this in my life... I just couldn’t believe it was all real. I just sat there in awe and appreciation. It was the perfect moment of peace and reflection before the week got crazy busy!
A Little Lunch in Stresa
After my battery was fully recharged to the max, I went upstairs and changed so we could go to lunch!
We went to a place called Al Buscion and it was FANTASTIC! Our guides, Alica and Miki, recommended this place to us and they did not disappoint!
We got a small charcuterie board to share, and they had PINK HONEY!! It was insanely good!
For a starter, I chose mushroom soup, and then for lunch, we got some fresh sandwiches! I got one with mozzarella, tomato, and olive oil. I can’t believe I eat stuff like this now… if you knew me even a year ago, you would know I never ate unmelted cheese or tomatoes, period. Italy has changed me. 😂
Dad got a roast beef sandwich, Jon got tuna, and Mom got prosciutto!
There was a group of 5 people from New England sitting behind us and we found out that they were going on the Adventure, too! They had JUST flown in this morning. 😅 I don’t know how they did it, but they were as chipper and excited as could be. Their energy was infectious and we were excited to get to travel alongside them and all get to know each other!
In the afternoon, Mom and I walked into town! We found a place with a magnet and a postcard from Lago Maggiore to add to my travel collection. And then we found a store where there was all handmade Italian clothing named Babo’s! My Mom was so excited because being able to buy clothes from the country where her ancestors were from was really special to her. The woman who worked there was so nice and let us try on whatever we wanted!
My Mom found a beautiful shirt and a dress and I found a long skirt with blue flowers! Everything was absolutely gorgeous.
Adventures By Disney – Welcome Dinner!
Then we went back to the room, got ready, and went down to our Adventures By Disney Welcome Dinner!
We sat outside and our guides, Alica and Miki, introduced themselves and gave us the rundown on our upcoming trip. We talked about the entire itinerary, and they went into great theatrical detail. This is the moment things felt REAL!
(Also, one of the major perks about Adventures By Disney is that they took photos of EVERYTHING – angles I would have never been able to capture – such as us intently listening at the Welcome Dinner! So that was a special treat)
Getting to Know Our Adventure Guides
We got to learn so much more about our guides during our welcome dinner, too! Alica is from Germany originally but lives in Hawaii now. She worked at Aulani for 6 years, but now only does Adventures By Disney for the company! Outside of guiding, she is passionate about fitness, life coaching, and even has a podcast called Hungry for More.
Miki is from Rome and deems herself a “first-generation Roman!” She worked in hospitality (specifically at a hotel) before Adventures By Disney came along. Her brother applied for Adventures By Disney guiding first to check it out, and after hearing about his experience, Miki applied 2 years later! In addition to Adventures By Disney, Miki is also a language teacher! She gave us mini Italian lessons on the bus later in the trip and she was so good at making things easy to understand.
Both guides are absolutely wonderful human beings and had great energy right from the get-go! They trained for this job together in 2014 so they have known each other for a long time. (I, for one, understand the Disney bond you have with your fellow trainees – it’s a bond you’ll have forever!) Their chemistry was fantastic and they truly provided the most “Disney” experience possible during our Alpine Magic Tour!
Oh yeah, that’s what they call the Italy and Switzerland trip – Alpine Magic! 🏔 HOW CUTE IS THAT?!
Getting to Know our Fellow Adventurers
Everyone also had the opportunity to introduce themselves. Each family had a spokesperson so I stood right up and told them that we were from Buffalo. As the words slipped out of my mouth, I heard a whole bunch of cheering out in the crowd! There were at least 3 or 4 other people from Buffalo or Rochester as well, so we instantly had some built-in friends. We were in for a good trip!
Some people have done Adventures By Disney before – two groups actually did the China tour together a few years prior and now they were coincidentally on this trip together again! It’s such a small world.
Others have been trying to go on this trip since before COVID, and they have been waiting over two years for this Adventure. So needless to say, everyone was EXCITED!
On our Adventures By Disney trip, I want to say there were approximately 34 people. (give or take, I wasn’t in charge so I forget the official number 😂) It was a really nice-sized group and the guides made it look easy to move us all from one place to the next!
We also selected an Adults-Only trip and the energy was very fun. (no Junior Adventurers this time around!) There were only about 4 of us in the 25-34 age group (Jon and myself included), and honestly, it was a blast. Everyone was so kind and warm, age did not matter whatsoever! We got to hang out with people from all different places and backgrounds… and this was truly only the beginning.
After our introduction concluded, we went in for dinner! It was a buffet and it was SO GOOD! The pesto pasta was the best, as well as the little pizza squares and zucchini, and the blueberry cake for dessert!
We sat with the New England group that we met earlier today at lunch! They were so funny and we had tons to talk about! They were a group of friends who have known each other since school age, and they still go on trips together to this day. I absolutely love that and I love their energy and excitement. We are in for a fun time!!
After dinner concluded, we took a quick walk down by the lake. (Check out the new skirt!)
Then went back to the hotel room to go to sleep. Tomorrow (and in the next post)… the adventure truly begins!
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