Traveling with children made fun
No one is indifferent to the charm that emanates from Italian cities. The rich history of Italy marked by the unparalleled power of the Roman Empire along with the Renaissance art treasures created by renowned artists are sure to attract tourists from around the world (check my posts The Vatican Museums and A Day In Milan).
But Italy’s enchanting natural beauty is breathtaking on its own with its captivating lakes and shores. Also, this exceptional European country offers tantalizing dishes, making the Italian cuisine one of the top three favorite cuisines in the world, and is home to prestigious fashion houses that attract millions of visitors every year (check my post 5 Roman Piazzas in One Afternoon).
My husband and I had Italy on our travel list for some time before we could visit it. Since we decided to travel with our kids (more posts on family vacation in Dubai 4 Best Family Attractions in Dubai and Canada’s Mont Tremblant Resort), we included fun and family friendly places in our plan.
Gardaland Park – Lake Garda
On our way from Venice to Milan, we stopped by Gardaland Park, nearby Lake Garda, thinking that half a day would be enough to enjoy a few rides in an amusement park. But that was a huge mistake.
In fact, Gardaland is Italy’s biggest and most popular amusement theme park with over 40 attractions. It is a wonderful place for all family members alike. Fantasy attractions offer pleasurable rides for young children, whereas Adventure attractions grant full excitement to the thrill-seekers and Adrenaline attractions are mainly designed for the bravehearted.
Have you ever dreamed of flying an unidentified flying object (UFO)? Gardaland can make your dream come true! Shaped like a flying saucer, the spectacular ride known as Flying Island rises high up in the sky, in a circular motion, reaching 50 meters above the ground. Standing behind the handrail of the ride’s circular balcony, my husband and youngest son witnessed an extraordinary panoramic view of Lake Garda unfold before their eyes.
In Peppa Pig Land we felt as if we were pulled inside an episode of the popular cartoon show, where the house of the lovable pig stands tall and all Peppa Pig’s Family members surround us. As for the Giostra Cavalli, a two-story dreamy carousel with an elegant feel, allowed us to take the perfect break from long walks between rides.
Our kids were ecstatic when they reached the water playground which structure is built in the shape of a medieval castle. Children can let their imagination run wild while pretending to be knights loading cannons with water jets and avoiding the sudden showers of the big bucket.
Bioparco Di Roma – Rome
Another special place to visit for kids and adults alike is Bioparco di Roma, a remarkable zoological garden spread on an immense land inside Villa Borghese gardens. It is home to more than 1,000 wild animals from different species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.
When we first arrived, we took a train tour around the extraordinary zoo like a mini safari excursion. Then, we explored the zoo on foot, stopping at the various animal zones where each species lives in an allocated area that simulates its natural habitat.
We assisted to an adorable “love interaction” between two male and female bears involving kissing and hugging, it was almost surreal. Also, our kids were lucky to reach the elephant area at feeding time, so they got the chance to see the big animal catch carrots with its trunk then pass them down to its mouth.
Our boys’ favorite area was the reptile zone, where they looked in disbelief at all sorts and sizes of snakes right under their noses. Thankfully these species are not left outdoor. They are well maintained behind large glass windows. Our kids were additionally amused by my horrified reaction and kept showing me the video shots they took with their iPads long after we came back from Italy just to tease me.
Although I was repelled by all those creatures, I was particularly amazed by a specific species: I looked at a small room with green plants trying to figure out what reptile was supposed to be kept there and why it was removed. Suddenly, I detected a discreet movement that caught my attention and to my big surprise I was able to discern the sneaky chameleon that had changed its color into the exact shades of green of the plants. It was the first time in my life that I witnessed a chameleon camouflage!
Explora – Rome
When in Rome, many kids’ friendly spots allow children to have fun such as Explora, Il Museo Dei Bambini, located conveniently a few minutes’ walk from Piazza del Popolo, in Via Flaminia 82. In Explora, kids get to role play and discover real life experiences on a smaller scale.
Our kids enjoyed fun and interesting science-based activities. They explored the power of the wind by inserting fabrics in a tube where they get sucked in and projected out in the air super-fast. They also tried another cool activity at the water station where they created a vortex and took pleasure in other water-related experiments.
Our boys acted like professional deejays as they combined modern radio communication and sound effects with their own voices and listened back to their recorded track.
At the supermarket corner, they weighed fruits and vegetables and scanned products prices. A barcode provided them with accurate products information.
Our kids got a taste of what it feels like to drive a real train. They sat in a cab, accessed the control panel and pulled the lever, then remotely drove a small-scale model of Frecciarossa 1000, Trenitalia’s high-speed train.
Other play stations included plastic recycling and turning flat drawings into 3D models, auto repair and coding.
Explora sets specific timings for the visits so you should check the calendar on the museum’s website beforehand. Also note that each visit lasts 1 hour and 45 minutes to avoid overcrowding the place.
Pinocchio – Collodi, Tuscany
Many of us read the story of Pinocchio or watched the related Disney movie at some point in our childhood. It is quite amusing to see how, with every lie the wooden boy tells, his nose grows longer. So, it was quite pleasant for my husband and I to introduce Pinocchio to our kids in a related theme park.
We rented a car in Florence and drove for about an hour to Collodi village, where the Pinocchio Park is located. It is actually the village where Carlo Lorenzini, the author of The Adventures of Pinocchio spent most of his childhood and the reason why his pen name is Carlo Collodi.
Those familiar with Pinocchio’s story will be reminded of the scenes through the sculptures and mosaics scattered in the park as a make-believe story setting. Our boys had a blast at the Pirate Ship area where they wore safety helmets, got supported by climbing harnesses and started a skywalk adventure. They skipped the zipline that goes over a river because we wanted to explore other parts of the park and head to Pisa before sunset. They also raced in a maze, played on a giant xylophone and competed at a giant memory game.
Remember the infamous big shark (whale in Disney’s version) that swallows Pinocchio and his father Geppetto? Well, there is no chance to miss it in the park. Created by the Italian architect and designer Marco Zanuso, the impressive concrete shark can fit many visitors who can stand around its large teeth while it emits splashes of water at regular intervals. The park was built to honor the author and is rather a calm place to visit if you happen to be in Tuscany.