My eight year old twin boys have never been to Disneyland or Disney World. They aren't too keen on spending time with Mickey Mouse. Nor had they been to Italy before this summer when we embarked on a trip from Adventures by Disney, the company's entry into organized global travel.
While hitting the road with young children is always an adventure, I discovered that traveling with a group of them can actually be easier. All of those years in school have taught them to follow the leader, and they cheerfully traipsed on to the tour bus each morning like a group of well-trained ducks. Our guides -- one Italian and one American -- quickly won favor with the kids by allowing them to choose a snack from the ubiquitous "snack sack" before getting on the bus.
Our one-week trip was based in Sorrento and Florence. We visited Positano, Amalfi and Capri and while those sites are probably more appropriate for a romantic weekend, our group happily sailed to the Blue Grotto and jumped into the sea. One evening, we visited a local farm for some Italian agriturismo where we watched our hosts make fresh mozzarella and then made our own pizza, which was actually good enough to eat.
The highlight of the Naples portion of our trip was a visit to the ruins of Pompeii. When it started to rain, our well-equipped Disney guides showed up with ponchos on demand -- and a replacement when my son lost his. An added bonus of our escorted trip: While the adults were taken to see some of the less family-friendly frescoes in Pompeii's famous brothels, the kids stayed with their adventure guides and played in a fountain.
We then headed to Florence, for four action-packed days of activities. Our group had five kids aged eight or under, but to my surprise, no one snickered at very naked statute of Michelangelo's David. In fact, the art was such a hit that I ran out and ordered some last minute tickets to the Uffizi Gallery so my kids could see the Botticellis.
Later, we were escorted to the Museo dei Regazzi, where we got a lesson in fresco making and were each given our own stone slab to paint. Since those things weighed a ton, I was relieved to discover that our guides would be transporting them back to the hotel, so we could head out for our daily gelato, unencumbered.
Our group also spent one day in Siena, learning about Il Palio, the town's famous annual horse race and the 17 contrade, or neighborhoods, that compete. For some complex, historical reason most of them are named after animals, including a panther, an eagle, a porcupine and a unicorn. Then we were off to another early morning departure for a morning in Lucca, where everyone had a blast biking around the ancient walls of the city.
Since no trip to central Italy is complete without a pit stop at the leaning Tower of Pisa, we spent our last afternoon taking silly pictures on the grounds of the Tower. Even though some of the kids thought they were too cool for a Disney flick, the whole bus quietly watched Pinocchio on our way home.
While organized tours get a bad rap, our Italian trip contained surprisingly little moaning, an impressively prompt and fun group of families and the joy of having someone else tackle the logistics. It turns out kids love group travel. My children completely fell in love with Italian culture and the only thing they didn't "get" were the Disney pins that our guides gave out every day. Since they had never seen them before, they tried to sell them to their new friends!