Venice with kids
Our tour guide: We spent a lot of time researching “tour guides for kids in Venice” and after many hours of deliberation we chose Rossanna Columbo. She was easily one of the best, if not THE best, tour guides we have ever had with the kids. She was absolutely wonderful with the children; in fact that may be an understatement. Being a generally terrible writer with a 4th grade vocabulary, I lack the words to describe how good she was with my, admittedly insane children. Suffice to say, if she can handle my kids, your kids are not going to be an issue. She had broad historical and contextual knowledge of Venice. In fact there were no blank stares here, she was able to answer any and all of my obscure questions about Venice. This impressed me as most of the time I have some “interesting” questions that are left unanswered by guides. This is especially true when the guide is very good with children. It’s like finding an engineer that has great people skills (sorry engineers but you know what I’m talking about). Beyond being able to answer my obscure questions, she went the extra mile and was able to deal with my children’s ill-timed and rambling “5 year old daughter” questions. This takes great patience and she handled them with style and aplomb. Rossana was patient, understanding and kind for 8 straight hours. They are my kids and I might have drowned them in the Grande Canal after 8 straight hours.
Navigating Venice: Bikes are outlawed (seriously) and there is a lot of a walking; get some comfy shoes because no one is dumb enough to spend the trip minimum of a hundred bucks on a water taxi to go the equivalent of 10 city blocks.Finding your way around Venice is basically impossible. Sure Venice is small enough, about the size of Central Park for you New Yorkers, but the passageways are narrow and tall with very little light. Many of the alleys dead end at rivers with no bridges. Even more of them are poorly labeled if they are labeled at all. Essentially it’s a rat maze for people. Good luck using your Google Maps because it was absolutely and completely useless. Let me expound on this a bit. Everywhere you travel to, you will find people using Google Maps to navigate. I should rephrase this, you will find people (me) “over-relying” on Google Maps and running into dead ends or finding themselves a street off of where they need to be. We have all done this. I stupidly ignored a well-signed exit on the Jersey Turnpike because my wife who was navigating via Google Maps at the time informed me that “The Google” says NO! Of course this was promptly followed by… “The little blue dot just jumped over a street!!” according to my wife as we passed the well-signed exit, watching the exit we should have taken fade into the distance. So really the point here is that Google Maps isn’t perfect and we shouldn’t rely on it so much. Furthermore it really generally isn’t a big deal if it’s off by a street because you just take the next turn or walk down the next block. No big deal. However, when the streets have no defined blocks and all the buildings are connected into long winding alleyways, this becomes a huge problem. Welcome to Venice. It’s pretty damn frustrating when you reach a canal and you can see where you want to be and there’s a canal in the way. You look left and you see a bridge that you can’t walk to, because the houses are literally on the water with no pathway so you have to turn around and go back into the maze and blaze a path to the bridge. Here’s my recommendation. Punch in your general directions to your mapping program of choice when you have wifi at the hotel. Take a screen shot. Put the phone away and just walk in that general direction. You will have more fun if you get a little lost and discover some new fun interesting spots and shops than you will cursing at Google Maps. But if you have a plan you might not even get last. That’s a lie, you’re going to get lost. Bring snacks; no one wants a hangry child.
Seriously, when you get down to walking a line on the phone the bastard of a little blue dot will jump all over the place and stick on one street for 500 feet while simultaneously jumping a street over and there may be no way to get to that next street from where you are. You can’t remap it to find a new way because of the limitations of GPS and the Google and Apple maps. Ridiculousness. So it was particularly helpful to have Rossanna who knew her way around the city show us about. She knew the ins the outs the restaurants and everything we wanted to see. She saved us hours of time being lost and helped us make the most of our short time. That said, one day we just wandered and got lost in the city. It was fantastic to just wander and get lost as eventually you’ll find your way to St Marks Square or some good shopping and food, there is food everywhere and shopping everywhere. We had this leeway because we knew we were going to everything on our tour and it gave us plenty of stress free “us” time.
Time of year: We went in late October early November and the weather was just about perfect. Crowds were small; the temperature was in the 60’s, which is in my estimation perfect. The shops were all open and it wasn’t too cold for gelato. There were but a handful of trees so there wasn’t any foliage to speak of but hey, it’s Venice you don’t come here for the trees. Bonus, there was none of the rotting fish smell I have heard people whine about. I imagine this may have something to do with the temperature. Therefore I feel that this is a great time of year to go.
The Gondala’s: One cannot write an article on Venice without mentioning the gondolas. The gondolas are a ridiculously over priced tourist trap and they are everywhere. At 80 dollars for 30 minutes it’s a racket for sure. I highly recommend you …
A.) Avoid them at all cost
B.) look away when they slide by
That said, you and I both know that you are going to do it…when in Rome and all that. I don’t blame you I did it too. Keep in mind that not all Gondoliers are created equal. Some are good, some are bad and some will sing, at extra cost of course. Ours, quite enjoyably, spent the entire time on his cellphone. He was also only mildly annoyed when I interrupted him.
Getting to Venice from the airport: When you arrive at the airport follow the signs for the water taxis. There’s some inside the airport and there’s some at the pier. We chose to go with a private taxi as I get violently sea sick and it would be faster, also worth the extra cost to keep from chumming the water or vomiting on an unsuspecting tourist. Either way you will be walking quite a distance to the pier maybe a ¼ mile or so along the side of the airport down an odd half tunnel of sheet metal and through a parking lot. Would it kill them to pretty it up a little?
Where to Stay: The Palazzo Paruta As far as returning to the airport we booked a water taxi from the nearest waterbus stop back to the airport a few days in advance, through our hotel, for early morning departure from the Palazzo Paruta. In our haste to get aboard the boat at 6am, in the dark alone on a pier in Venice, we left a bag. By “we” of course I mean “me”. Unfortunately this bag contained my 5 year old daughters “fluffy bunny”. This was her first stuffed toy which she has had her entire life. If you’re reading this you are a parent and you know the significance of this loss. It was greatest most destructive loss of her tiny little life and it was MY fault. My traumatized daughter noticed the missing bag promptly upon our arrival at the airport. Which placed fluffy bunny a 30-minute, hundred dollar cab ride away. That’s in each direction mind you. I had neither the time nor the money, to make that trip. My daughters Great grandmother who she was attached to passed away a week before our trip So the loss of a backpack containing fluffy bunny was an immensely more traumatizing event than it otherwise would have been. My heart sank and we called the water taxi, the hotel and had another water taxi driver get a hold of everyone who spoke their language to get everything sorted. This random water taxi driver refused to take my cash to make the phone calls for me. Great people in Venice. Much to my shock the hotel Palazzo Paruta sent a bell boy to the pier, a good 10 minute walk away, at 6:30 in the morning to get this bag. They then shipped it to our home in Hawaii. Amazing people! In fact the service at this place was fantastic and so was the free breakfast and location. More on this later as my wife demands that I let her write a review of the hotel.
Pro Tip: Avoid the water taxi’s if you can, they are exceptionally expensive. (exception is from the airport as i don’t think there is a better way to enter Venice)
Shopping: The Venetians were the great traders and the end of the silk road for generations. Venice has row after row of similar “artisan” shop. There were many leather shops where you could pickup Italian made leather goods from belts, to purses, to Venetian masks. Historically Venice was the center of the trading world from east to west and vice versa during the fracture of the Roman empire so mercantilism isn’t out of place as it was in say the Pyramids of Giza. There are only about 50k people still living in the city as it has become so expensive so most of these people actually bus it in from the surrounding cities, unlike the old days. However, like the old days these shops are actually staffed by families of workers who are trained in their fields. These are not the made in China knockoffs you see in every city in the world. I am not big on shopping but I will advise you to bring some extra Euros to Venice with you. It’s a great opportunity to buy hand made goods and support a local culture and dying arts. You can watch them make, then size a belt right int he shop, or see the famous Venetian masks being hand made. There’s some incredible costume shops from which you can rent elaborate hand made dresses and costumes to wander Venice in or just snap a shot of the family in for a few euros. My daughter was enthralled with the costume shops, my son…not so much. Better yet everything is “reasonably” priced, at least for hand made western goods go.
Topography: Venice is a city built on a marsh in a lagoon. What this means to you is that it’s “flat-ish”. The ground is uneven and there’s lost of staired bridges to walk up and over but otherwise there’s no real hills to speak of. This does not mean a stroller is a good idea. This is no place for a stroller I promise. You will rattle the teeth right of juniors head. My daughter, all 5 years of fury, tripped quite a bit on the uneven surfaces.
Conclusion: There’s a lot of walking, seriously, A LOT. There’s very little in the way of kid friendly stuff as this is clearly destination for adults but never the less we enjoyed it thoroughly as did our kids. Of course we enjoyed different things about it. The children loved the boats and the streets of water, the liked the gondolas and the glass factory in Murano. They loved that we actually bought them some souvenirs and they adored our Tour Guide Rossanna Columbo. We loved the quaint shops and alleys which were a total departure from life in any other part of the western world. We loved the history and we loved that our kids enjoyed it. So Venice is wonder spot with different strokes for different folks, just don’t over do it. If you stay more than 2 or 3 days you will find that the children will get over it rather quickly and you will get past the novelty and find yourself walking a rate maze of corridors that all look very similar. So give your family two or three days max, find yourself a great tour guide for a day and take a day to just relax and soak int he atmosphere, you’ll be glad you did.