Yesterday I bought a ticket online for the Vatican Museums during my upcoming trip. I have to say, the Vatican's system is easy-peasy: go on their site, submit your information, and you're sent an email with a pdf voucher to print and bring. There's a 4 Euro reservation fee, but who cares? You breeze through the door rather than wait in that interminable line snaking along Viale Vaticano.
I'm of two minds about the formidable Musei Vaticani. On the one hand, you have some of the most wonderful treasures of world art. On the other hand, it's crowded to the point of claustrophobia, and especially if you're a shortie like myself, it's difficult to have any sublime one-on-one encounters with the artworks. Except perhaps in the Museum of Modern Religious Art, a dour collection of rather depressing pieces that folks sprint through on their way to the Sistine Chapel. That section you can have to yourself, or at least until fans of Showtime's "The Borgias" realize that those were the Borgia Apartments back in the day and decide it's worth a stop after all. (For the record, I'm lovin' "The Borgias." I may have to stop and admire the Borgia-era frescoes myself since I too always sprinted right past 'em.)
It's true, there have been improvements. Despite the persistent crowds, the Vatican Museums are far more user-friendly than they used to be (the cafeteria alone...). The museum administration ditched those terrible one-way itineraries that visitors used to have to follow whether they liked it or not. (I remember leaving a jacket in a restroom once and having to persuade guards to let me go backwards in the itinerary to retrieve it.) But issues remain, a big one being the closure of this or that rooms without any apparent pattern. If the Holy Father ever deemed to put a Comment Box at the exit, I'd propose the Vatican take a lesson from the Louvre and arrange a predictable schedule of openings and closings of various galleries, then put it on the website for everyone to see. I have *yet* to find the Museum of Early Christian Art (aka Museo Pio Cristiano) open in any of my visits. ("What Museum of Early Christian Art," you say? Precisely.) And I consider myself the luckiest girl on earth if I arrive to find the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, one of the world's finest collections of Etruscan art, even partially open. The rumor is, the Greek Vase rooms in the Etruscan section are open to the public on a regular basis now...I've waited years for this...I'll report back!
The most valuable visiting tip for the Vatican Museums I actually learned from Rick Steves (aka, my guru) and tried last year. There are two exits from the Sistine Chapel: one that visitors are supposed to take, which takes you a looooong way back to where you started at the museums' entrance. But there is another, allegedly exclusively for tour groups, that leads from the chapel directly to the entrance portico of St Peter's Basilica. If you wait around for a group to leave that way, you can slip through yourself and save a lot of walking. (I hitched a ride with a large group of Germans. Luckily, I look German.) Can't do it if you have an audioguide, but if you don't, it works like a charm. Grazie, Rick!