They say Rome wasn’t built in a day. But could it be tackled in a day with a toddler in tow? Rome was the most highly anticipated stop of our Disney Mediterranean Cruise for my husband, Phil. It was also the most dreaded for me. I worried the city’s numerous monuments would be too much tackle in one day, particularly when traveling with a 2.5-year-old in the flaming heat of a Roman July. Phil is typically a “whatever you want to do is fine with me” kind of vacation-goer. However, he had made it clear it was imperative that he see all that Rome had to offer. Taking it easy was not an option. Here's how to get the most out of visiting Rome in a day.
Rome without kids vs. Rome with kids
I had visited Rome years prior during my year abroad as a student in Southern France. I fell in love with the history, culture, art, food, and vitality of Rome the minute I stepped foot in the Eternal City. On my first visit, I literally (and I mean literally!) ran from site to site with my girlfriends, more enthralled with the next ancient treasure than the last.
This time around my family hired a private guide, a pleasant Roman woman named Irene (Eee-ree-nay), who drove us the nearly two hours from our port town of Civitavecchia into Rome. Our first stop was the Papal Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, also known as St Paul's Basilica or St Paul Outside the Walls. This was a treat for me since I had not visited this lesser known church on my previous visit. It was lovely, but certainly not a must-see for first-time visitors.
Convenience vs. authenticity
Next we swung by the Roman Forum for a family photo (shown at the top) before we jumped back into Irene’s car. Hopping in and out of a vehicle to take photos of these historic sites was not the most “authentic” way to experience Rome, but you would’ve done the same under the blazing hot, time-crushed circumstances. Irene’s air conditioned car was our new best friend. Still, it would have been nice to spend more time here, wandering through the ruins of what was once the cultural, financial, and religious center of Ancient Rome.
It never hurts to ask!
Then it was on to the Roman Colosseum. As you know, the Roman Colosseum is the largest coliseum ever built by the Roman Empire and is famous for its remarkable architecture and engineering.
Massive lines of tourists snaked around the monument’s perimeter. Our daughter, Karissa, had fallen asleep in her car seat and Irene assured us we could bypass the lines since she had pre-purchased entrance tickets for us. So we decided to…leave our toddler sleeping…in the car…with Irene…whom we had just met a few hours prior. (ARE WE CRAZY?!)
The monstrous lines turned out to be for groups (some of them our fellow Disney cruisers) awaiting a tour of the Colosseum’s interior. They also had their entrance tickets and were none too eager to let us squeeze in front of them in line. An Italian woman offered to sell us a personalized tour of the interior. We declined but my husband, salesman that he is, offered to pay her if she could help us bypass the line since we only had a half-hour to get in and back to our sleeping toddler. She took pity on us and marched us up to the front of the line, refusing our money. Grazie mille, you sweet Italian lady, whoever you are!
Soon we were inside the Colosseum (another first for me). We marveled at the network of underground tunnels and imagined gladiators fighting for their lives in this giant amphitheatre. We snapped a few photos, bought a couple of souvenirs, and departed.
From a distance, Phil and I spotted Irene standing outside the car bopping with our daughter in her arms, while Karissa wailed, “Mommmmmmmyyy!” I sprinted to my little girl and she quieted the minute I reached her. Irene said that Karissa slept much of the time and then woke a few minutes before we arrived. Irene played her some Italian pop music and sang to her for a bit. Then it occurred to Karissa that her parents had gone missing, which is when the screaming commenced.
Take time out to enjoy la vita bella
Our family stopped for a quick lunch of lasagna and cold pasta with Irene. For how laid back the Italians are supposed to be, I will tell you this: the tour drivers are anything but. Maybe it is from years of dealing with uptight Americans eager to squeeze in every Italian site possible, but when we asked if we could stop for a cappuccino or even lunch, she looked at us like we were crazy (as was the case with our driver in Sorrento and Pompeii).
Make room for your must-sees
Our next stop: the Trevi Fountain. On my first visit, I knew nothing of this fountain beyond what I had read in my Let’s Go Europe! Sure, the guidebook said it would be big. But big did not prepare me for the overwhelming magnitude of this fountain. This is the fountain to top all fountains. I defy you to find me a more magnificent fountain! On this trip, we hopped out…ran over to the fountain…gave Karissa a penny and helped her toss it over her shoulder to ensure she would someday return to Rome.
Go separate ways as needed
Our original plan was for the three of us to embark on a private tour of the Vatican (ahhh…the days before the economy collapsed were glorious!). However, I was on a crazy quest for a lemon centerpiece and I had already visited the Holy City, so instead Irene dropped Karissa and me off near the Spanish Steps before she drove Phil to the Vatican.
The stores I encountered were intimidating, high-end fashion boutiques like Gucci, Dolce & Gabana, and Prada (none of which, curiously, carried citrus-themed ceramics). I felt odd pushing my dirty old stroller up steps and into the luxurious shops, but the air-conditioned interiors beckoned to me.
I rambled along cobblestone streets searching for an indoor seat at an air-conditioned café. Finally I found one. I ordered a lemon ice over which I lingered like an Italian, buying time out of the stifling heat while my daughter dozed.
After more than an hour, I braved the heat to head toward my pick-up spot. I found a reasonably priced boutique where I purchased a silky teal shirt and a sexy scarlet dress, both size small. I should have realized that a size small American equals a size medium or large Italian, but my ego got in the way. Hence, the teal shirt was worn exactly once (on the ship that night) and the red dress was given to my tiny friend, Sona, after we returned home.
Meanwhile, my (Jewish) husband adored his tour of the Vatican with his personal guide, Marta. He marveled at the Pieta, the painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and thousands of other priceless works of art.
Schedule more than one day in Rome!
The first time I had visited Rome it was over the span of a few days and I left enchanted with the Eternal City. This time, I just left exhausted. I hope Disney Cruise Line will dedicate two days of their Mediterranean Cruise itinerary to Rome, allowing cruisers to get a more genuine taste of the city.
Rome is meant to savored, not swallowed in big gulps. I hope our Trevi Fountain coins will indeed bring us back to Rome someday so we can meander from square to square, eat leisurely meals of pasta and wine, and simply enjoy life as it should be in Italy…simple, relaxed, delicious.
If you only had one day to visit Rome, how would you spend it? Let us know in the comments!
A Note from the Travel Mama: My family paid for this cruise and I did not receive any compensation or goodies from Disney related to this story. I will always let you know if I receive any money or products related to a blog post.
All photos by Colleen Lanin.