If you're headed to Rome for the first time this year, you'll undoubtedly want to check out the famous Vatican Museums. Maybe you think that you'll truly get into the relaxed Italian spirit and just wing your itinerary once you arrive. For most sights in Rome, this attitude can work out fine, but the Vatican is more popular than ever these days given the welcoming spirit of the current Pope, and a little advance planning will make your day infinitely less frustrating.
First, and most importantly, purchase your tickets in advance online. Web sites like this one offer you the chance to avoid the long ticket line for a surcharge of as little as 4 Euros. You can pay more to join a tour, but you can enjoy the museums just as well on your own. Yes, you will have to choose the specific day of your visit in advance, but when you emerge from the metro and you see the lines stretching out around the walls for a block or two, it will be difficult to stop yourself from skipping merrily past all the aggressive street vendors to your pre-ticketed entry.
Second, you may want to bring a guide book with you and review the museum's offerings in advance so that you can focus on what you most want to see. Of course you'll file in to the Sistine Chapel and gape for a bit at its splendor, but as for the rest of the museum, are you more interested in the gorgeous map room or the papal chariots? The collections are so vast that it is easy to run out of steam, so if you want to see the ancient Etruscan artifacts or the coin room, you might want to hit those earlier in the day. One way to lighten your load is to rip out the pages of the guidebook that are relevant to each day's activities, so that you're not lugging around an entire book. Also, if you want to climb the cupola to the top of St. Peter's for one of the city's best views, be sure to time out your day accordingly.
Finally, if you've never experienced the buffet line on a European cruise ship, you may be unprepared for the Italian approach to waiting in line, which is, basically, they don't do it. If you're planning on grabbing a panino for lunch at one of the cafes on site, it's best to split up and have one member in your party squat at a table while the other retrieves your food. Then you can sit back and stifle your giggles as international squabbles break out over territory which isn't sufficiently claimed. Leaving a scarf behind you is not going to get the job done and will only lead to bad feelings of injustice on both sides.
So, with just a little bit of advance preparation, you can relax and let yourself enjoy the fantastic collections of the Vatican.