My daughter and I had a wonderful trip! We loved the hotels (Palazzo Bandino in Chianciano Terme, the Plaza in Sorrento and Hotel Abbazia in Venice) you recommended for us. The locations, staff and rooms were perfect and helped make the trip really enjoyable. You all really do know Italy! Thank you so much.
Rome: I highly recommend getting a tour guide for the Coliseum and Forum. We didn't and just rented the audio guides at the site. Those were useless as it was too difficult to match up the map with the audio. Loved seeing the ruins and Pantheon.
Tuscany: We used our Tom Tom GPS with Italy maps downloaded for driving which made it so easy. I don't see how you would drive there as a beginner without a GPS. Palazzo Bandino was perfect for day trips to Florence (2nd favorite city next to Venice, as they were both manageable), Volterra, Monteriggioni, San Gimignano and Siena. Pictures don't do Tuscany justice. Just beautiful.
Sorrento: We loved the Spinach gnocchi with salmon and vodka cream sauce at Cafe Latino! (We ate there twice.) The setting was in a garden. Lovely. We didn't think the day trip to Capri was worth the money or time. We enjoyed the rooftop pool at the Hotel Plaza for little breaks and they also had 10 euro passes to Leonelli's Beach.
Venice: My favorite city. So fun to walk around and ride the water bus up and back down the canal at night. We bought an all-day pass which was great. Our 2nd favorite meal in Italy was at the Gam Gam Kosher Restaurant. We were walking, just stumbled on it and decided we'd like a change from pasta. The hummus was incredible. The salmon with lemon sauce was great too.
General tips: 1) I had really bad jet lag because I didn't drink enough water and was enjoying the free wine on the plane over there! Getting a massage at Palazzo Bandino's spa really did the trick in helping me get over it. 2) We got reloadable debit card in the U.S. before leaving with Euros on it that we could use to withdraw funds at any ATM there without fees. This was great. We encountered several restaurants that took Euros only and no credit cards. 3) I bought a pair of Echo sandals that made walking everywhere so comfortable and easy. 4) There are 33 stops on the train from Sorrento to Naples, so it takes awhile.
It was just the kind of trip we were looking for (not too overly planned like a tour group with bus) and the hotels were quaint/charming, not sterile.