A Memorable Mother-Daughter Trip

By Eva Braiman, Director of Digital Experience, Travel Leaders Group

Every now and then, I get to step outside my day-to-day role at work and experience first-hand what a privilege it is to travel as a CLIENT of Protravel International. When my daughter Mariska's 10th birthday were coming up, and she said she didn’t want a bunch of presents or a party, but asked me to take her somewhere really special for our annual mommy-daughter trip, I turned to my Protravel advisor colleagues (and well-traveled mommies) Helena Marks and Nancy-Kay Streiter for advice and guidance. 

What destination did they suggest? The iconic and child-friendly city of Venice! I had been there over 20 years ago, but revisiting these magical islands again through her eyes was a dream come true. Mariska was super-excited to see a city where the streets are made of water and there are no cars. I was a little worried about her stamina and attention span, but we had a truly profound experience together that I think we will both remember for years to come.

As part of Protravel's American Express partnership, my travel agent was able to help me redeem some of my Amex points towards the air travel, and recommended two legendary hotels which gave us access to exclusive VIP amenities, including upgrades and included breakfast: Hotel Danieli and Griiti PalaceNancy introduced me to a wonderful in-country partner that may of our agents work with to arrange a fabulous kid-friendly tour (more on that below.) Especially when traveling with young children, you do not want to leave anything to chance. Working with experienced luxury Travel Agents meant every detail was taken care of and I had peace of mind to focus on this precious bonding time.

Packing tips: very comfortable, breathable shoes for all and water bottles are a must. This is a walking city, so you want to take good care of your feet and stay hydrated. A sketchbook & colored pencils plus a good camera to capture the art around you. Leave room in your suitcase for gifts.

A Perfect 5-Night Itinerary

From my own experience and the sage advice of experienced travel agent colleagues, I always remember this admonition: do not over-schedule! As tempting as it is to try and cram in as much sightseeing as possible in a short time, you will find that approach has diminishing returns, especially when traveling with kids. I arranged only one pre-paid tour. You definitely want to choose a well-located hotel (or, in our case, palace) home base for a trip of this length.

Before we left, I did some research and made a list of the absolute “musts” and then tailored our daily schedule with no more than two activities per day, plus meals and free time. I gave my daughter a lot of options so, she felt included in the planning process. This worked perfectly, and we actually fit a lot in without getting stressed out, and there was virtually no whining!

Another important thing to remember is to always factor in jet lag. In our case, we arrived at our first hotel and she was so tired, she slept for 16 hours! So I did not schedule anything for that first day, and she was well-rested and up for adventure from then on. Early Spring is a perfect time to visit Venice; it was warm enough to walk around in light jackets, but not so hot that the canals smelled bad, and it was not horrendously overrun with tourists as in summer.

Arrival: Friday & Saturday

We departed from New York JFK in the evening and arrived in Venice the next morning. For these overnight trips, I highly recommend booking—we flew AirFrance—business class seats. Flying with kids is so much less stressful when they can be decently fed and get some actual rest in lay-flat seats, and it is so worth the extra money.

We took the public ferry (€30) from the airport right to the S. Zaccharia stop near San Marco and checked in at the legendary and perfectly-situated Hotel Danieli, just steps away. It could not have been an easier or more pleasant way to arrive in Venice. Ask your travel agent to book you in a canal-view balcony room; it will make your trip extra special and Instagram-able.

After checking in to our beautiful room, we unpacked, sat on our balcony and discussed our itinerary for the week. Kids really like knowing what is going to happen each day. When you are staying at a property like the Danieli—a destination in itself—just exploring inside and around the hotel is a good start. We loved seeing the famous Bridge of Sighs (right next to the hotel and NOT named for romance, as I previously thought) and eating brunch at the hotel bistro was a wonderful start to our journey.

Venetian Cuisine

Italy is, of course, food heaven. And while there is no shortage of fresh and delicious pasta and gelato, traveling is a great opportunity to encourage kids to break out of usual food habits and try something new. In Venice, four local specialties were a big hit with us:

  • Roasted local baby artichokes, grown on San Erasmo island were crunchy and delicious.
  • Cicchetti (with a glass of prosecco for mommy): these little snacks—like Spanish tapas—are a perfect introduction to Venitian cuisine. At 1-3 euros, order a variety of plates at an authentic osteria to make a great lunch. Tramezzini (tea sandwiches with cured meat); fried zucchini flowers; grilled polenta and many more delicious bites await.
  • Risotto is a wonderful alternative to pasta and the lemony shrimp with fresh asparagus and parmesan version we had was addictive. A note for those avoiding gluten: My Protravel colleague Katie Defillips has a lot of experience and writes about gluten-free travel to Italy here.
  • Finally, Venice being an island has a great variety of fresh seafood, which is delicious and includes kid-friendly preparations such as soft-shelled crabs, baccalà (tell them it is mashed potatoes not whipped cod, lol) and baby prawns.
  • Be sure to research and mark on a map the best places to eat in Venice and AVOID the horrible tourist traps that are everywhere, especially around the main attractions. Prices will go down and the quality will go up the more you stick to residential neighborhoods like Cannaregio or Campo Santa Margerita. We had a wonderful meal at Il Nuovo Galeon on a quiet street in the Castello district. Time your walk there over 6 bridges from S. Zaccaria at sunset; you will not be sorry.

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

Sunday: Art Museum

After a delicious breakfast at the hotel (complimentary, because we booked through Protravel), we went on our first walk to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. This is a great museum for kids because it is small, intimate, bright & airy, includes an outdoor sculpture garden and is right on the water. The walk over the Ponte dell'Accademia was really wonderful. Mariska decided to follow the sound of street musicians (and give them Euro coins from her pocket), so we took an extremely winding path that doubled our travel time but tripled the fun since we were in no hurry.

Glass figures from inside a window at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Venice Italy

My daughter enjoyed looking at the art, but got bored after about 30 minutes, so I parked her on the beautiful terrace and I got to enjoy 20th-century modern masterpieces by 3 of my abosluetly favorite artists: Giacometti, Modigliani and Hofmann, plus Calder, Arp, Braque, Picasso, de Chirico, Basaldella, Mondrian, Kandinsky, Miró, Ernst, Rothko, Gorky, Moore, and others.

We wandered back enjoying many sights and some gelato (her: hazelnut/Nutella; me: lemon.) We then explored the area around our hotel, including the famous Palazzo San Marco, where my little New Yorker wondered why other tourists thought having a pigeon (“flying rat”) perch on their head for a photo-op is a good idea, lol.

Venice Italy

Monday: Cultural Heritage

Whether you are of Italian Catholic, Ottoman, African, Asian or Jewish ancestry, you will find Venice is drenched in history — both triumphant and tragic. Once a crossroads between East and West, the culture, architecture, language, and cuisine of Venice is forever marked by those who conquered — and were conquered — by it.

When we speak of immersive experiences and the way children absorb knowledge, the multi-sensory nature of travel is a perfect complement to their formal school studies and a great way to teach them about history. There are few better ways to remember historical facts than by tracing the steps of your heritage in person!

So after breakfast, we took the vaporetto to S. Marcuola and used Google maps on my iPhone to locate the entrance to the Jewish Ghetto. We learned that the word “ghetto” (“foundry” in Italian) originated in the Venetian Jewish Ghetto, one of the oldest in the world, founded in an industrial part of the city in March 1516 (exactly 493 years to the day before she was born.) It was a very moving experience to see the crowded, gated conditions which Jews were forced to live in, with only doctors being let out at night. We took a brief tour of one of the four synagogues and museum and bought some gifts for family and her Hebrew teacher. The Murano glass menorahs, goblets, seder plates, and mezuzahs were especially beautiful. Today, there are only 450 Jews living in Venice. After that, we spent the day riding around on the vaparetto to see different areas and enjoy Venetian cicchetti for lunch.

Venice, Italy

Tuesday: Murano & Burano

Wikipedia tells us that Murano’s reputation as a center for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic—fearing fire and the destruction of the city’s mostly wooden buildings—ordered glassmakers to move their furnaces to Murano in 1291. Murano glass is still considered the finest in the world. Today, its artisans still employ these centuries-old techniques, crafting everything from contemporary art glass and jewelry to chandeliers and wine stoppers.

Two tips: (1) Be sure to visit the amazing historical displays at the Museo del Vetro in the Palazzo Giustinian. (2) There are a lot of “Murano glass” fakes on sale in tourist shops. Be sure to only buy pieces bearing the trademark that certifies glass products made on the island of Murano. You can safely have them packed and shipped home by reputable factories.

Burano: A center of lacemaking since 1500, the craftsmanship is prized across the globe. Today noteworthy works are exhibited in the Lace Museum located in the Piazza Galuppi, seat of the famous Burano Lace School from 1872 to 1970.

Venice, Italy

Wednesday: Lion Hunting & Gondola Ride

The one pre-arranged activity we did was through a wonderful tour operator that Protravel partners with that includes a team of highly-skilled and engaging local guides in cities around the world. The private tour we did was a children’s “lion hunt” in which our fabulous guide Giovanna—a naive of Venice with degree in Art History, trained in inquiry-based learning techniques (and the mother of two boys)—gave my daughter a pencil, a compass necklace, a clipboard with a map and 12 photos of winged lions from around Venice and we spent three glorious hours together hunting for them. In the process, we both got a great education about many aspects of Venetian art and history and experienced all manner of hidden treasures (and fabulous pastry), lead by a local resident that would have been hard to discover on our own.

After that, we had lunch at a local (non-touristy) place our guide recommended. And since our feet were a bit tired, we hopped on an enchanting 30-minute gondola ride across the city, arranged by our hotel concierge. This is the kind of experience (like a horse-drawn carriage ride in New York City) that a native resident would never do, but I am so glad we did because it is a relaxing and truly magical way to experience Venice, even if your gondolier does not sing.

We then returned to our hotel and splurged on a “couples” massage at the Gritti SPA by Sisley Paris, which is the perfect way to end a glorious week discovering the wonders of Venice.

Our last night was spend enjoying yet another fabulous dinner together, with no cell phones, talking and watching the sunset over the Grand Canal.

Thursday: Farewell to Venice

I have to say, we really lucked out with the weather and every detail of this trip came together perfectly. I believe my daughter will remember this experience and the things she saw, heard, tasted and learned for the rest of her life. And for me, it was another beautiful chapter in our mother-daughter story, and hers as a world traveler. #EnjoyRespectVenice #GoWithPro

Luxurious room in the Hotel Danieli in Venice, Italy, international luxury travel destination

Hotel Danieli

Castello 4196, Venice, Italy

  • US$100 Resort credit
  • Complimentary Buffet breakfast for two daily
  • Property will offer upgrade upon availability at time of check-in
  • Late check-out upon availability
Gritti Palace Venice Italy

The Gritti Palace

Campo S. Maria del Giglio 2467, Venice, Italy

  • USD $100 Food anf Beverage credit valid at Clud del Doge restaurant
  • Complimentary Buffet breakfast for two daily
  • Property will offer upgrade upon availability at time of check-in
  • Late check-out upon availability

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