When our oldest was 20 months old, he had a very important job to do. He was going to be a ring bearer at a family wedding that was taking place in Tuscany, Italy.
It was a black tie affair and it was going to be a supremely chic event for such a young guy. The wedding was being held at a private village owned by Salvatore Ferragamo!
We got him a little tuxedo, complete with a vest and cummerbund, with fancy black shoes. We couldn’t get over just how CUTE he was all dressed up for such a glamorous occasion!
We even joked that he was a “little celebrity”, like a miniature George Clooney. Little did we know that would turn out to be true!
Since the wedding was in Italy, we thought it would be fun to extend our trip by doing a cruise around the Mediterranean prior to the wedding. You can read more about the trip on my blog HERE.
I had never been on a cruise before, but I heard they were kid-friendly. It was such a good choice because it was the most relaxing vacation we’d been on so far with a toddler.
We had been nervous about the flight from Seattle to Rome, but it ended up being a breeze! I made a few busy bags full of airplane activities and we brought a ton of snacks.
When we boarded our Royal Caribbean cruise, it was like all our cares just melted away. We could grab food whenever anyone was hungry and they had a nursery available to watch our toddler so we could get a massage, read a book, or have a kid-free dinner.
But, we spent a majority of the cruise spending time with our toddler. Our server at dinner just loved our son and would always bring him a little dish of olive oil so he could dip his bread before dinner was served.
Royal Caribbean had the best customer service and we truly felt taken care of, no matter what our needs were.
And it was the first time we didn’t feel like we had to apologize for traveling with a toddler!
We chose to do several cruise excursions throughout the trip. We saw the site of the first Olympic games, relaxed on a beach in Mykonos, and climbed the stairs in Oia to see the iconic blue doors.
Side note: If you go to Oia with a toddler during a heatwave in August, be prepared to be lectured by shopkeepers if he’s not wearing a hat!
On the day we disembarked the cruise, we signed up to do one last excursion around Rome before we met up with family members who flew into Rome for the wedding festivities.
The itinerary sounded great. We’d tour the Colosseum, see the Pantheon, and visit the Vatican. We’d be on an air conditioned bus and we figured our toddler could nap along the way.
I was particularly excited to explore the Vatican. See, the last time I was in Rome, I was with my high school history class. I was so nervous about such a long flight and it was my first time being in another country.
I ended up getting really sick and had to spend a lot of time in the hotel room. My teacher was so worried that I had missed most of Rome that he arranged for one of the chaperones to take me to the Vatican to see the Sistine Chapel.
However, my only memory of the Vatican was sitting on the steps in front of St. Peter’s Basilica dry heaving before we took the train back to the hotel. Yep. Good times.
So, I vowed that this time, I’d actually go inside St. Peter’s Basilica and just take it all in. I wanted to see Michelangelo’s Pieta and the rest of the beautiful artwork.
My husband loves photography and he was eager to get some shots of the paintings and architecture inside.
I just wanted to look around, so my son and I left him to leisurely take photos while we explored on our own.
That meant we walked (quite literally) at a toddler’s pace. He was very interested in the pews, the floor, and things on the floor. So, I experienced St. Peter’s Basilica in a way I hadn’t planned.
But it was fine. The real trouble was that I was wholly unprepared for what would happen next.
After we had been exploring for about 15 minutes, I bent down to repack my bag while my son walked around near me.
When I looked up moments later, I saw a Chinese tour group taking pictures – of my son!
He looked a bit dazed at first with his binky in his mouth, but he stood still as they snapped away.
But then, things got a little bit crazy.
One by one, the Chinese tourists started taking turns posing WITH my son for photos!
See, my husband’s family is from Hong Kong and so my son is half Chinese and half Caucasian. This usually gets some attention when we’re traveling, but nothing like this!
I wasn’t really sure what to do, but I’m all about turning awkward situations into positive experiences.
Since my son and I were taking Mandarin classes at home, I said “Ni hao!” and waved. That got a lot more excitement and pretty soon the tourists were speaking Chinese to me loudly and it caused a bit of a scene.
I tend to talk with my hands, so my arms were flailing about while people were still taking selfies with my son.
Something was clearly lost in translation here, and we were all starting to become the center of a very disruptive scene – at the Vatican of all places!
That’s when the Swiss Guard came over and sternly asked them to stop taking photos. They didn’t understand and so, again with my arms moving all over the place, I tried to help explain to the Chinese tourists that we couldn’t take any more photos.
But, that was apparently distracting and the Swiss Guard told us to leave immediately!
So, my son and I had to patiently wait out in the hot August sunshine until my husband came out looking for us. He was completely oblivious to the entire situation!
What’s funny is that my Mother-in-Law warned me this might happen, but only if we brought him to China.
See, they went with my nephew (who is also half Chinese and half Caucasian) and kept getting stopped everywhere they went so people could take photos of him.
Get this! At one point a shopkeeper took my then-4-year-old nephew out of the booth to bring him to another random booth to take photos with him!
Of course, panic ensued and everyone held his hand tightly the rest of the trip.
Also, when I went to Rome back in high school, the Colosseum was our first stop in Europe and it blew my mind (and it’s one of the reason’s I’ve been so passionate about traveling as a family).
I wanted it to be extra special with my son, so I ordered him a little gladiator costume to wear at the Colosseum. It also got him a lot of attention with people taking his photo, but it was nothing like our ordeal at the Vatican!
In fact, I have to give credit to those Chinese tourists for getting my son used to the attention and relaxed in front of the camera because we got some amazing photos of him all dressed up!
Our time at the Vatican was quite a memorable experience and it made for a great icebreaker at the wedding. Most of the guests were from Hong Kong and could picture the ordeal perfectly!
My son did a great job walking down the aisle and the wedding was absolutely stunning!
We’ve gone on quite a few adventures with kids since then, including Paris, Barcelona, and Hawaii, to name a few. But, this is still one of our most unique experiences that gives us a good chuckle ever now and then.
Kids bring a whole new level to travel. We have noticed that locals are more engaging when we have our kids with us and we end up chatting with many other tourists while traveling abroad with kids.
Because of our kids, we have created meaningful experiences in other countries that will live in our hearts forever.
Whenever I hear a news story about the Vatican or people asking me for tips for Rome with kids, I always picture my son and the swarm of Chinese tourists and it just makes me smile warmly and laugh inside.
And every once in awhile, I think back and wonder how many vacation photos in China my son must be featured in!