Kidzania: A Chance for Kids to ‘Play at being Adults’ in Lisbon
Kidzania is a theme park in Lisbon that markets itself as a ‘highly realistic world where kids can play at being adults’. The setting – in a massive shopping mall on the outskirts of Lisbon – is hardly promising, but once you check in, and the kids get their cheque for some ‘kidzos’ (Kidzania currency), you descend into an alternative world where everything is kid sized and parents are rapidly ditched. Half-sized electric vehicles (ambulances, police cars, fire engines, delivery trucks) trundle about the cobbled streets, shops, factories and offices line the roads, trees reach up to the painted-on sky, and for some reason it’s always twilight.
The basic concept is that the children must earn kidzos in order to spend them on fun activities. However to be honest, my daughter enjoyed the activities to earn money as much as the spending. Examples of ‘paid’ activities include being a dentist (a particular favourite of my daughter who got to extract a tooth from a very realistic dummy), being a paramedic (attending to a roadside accident – my daughter proudly announced the victim dead as she couldn’t find a heartbeat – much to the concern of the child playing the victim!), working in a beauty parlour, being a pilot or airline steward/stewardess, working at a recycling plant, acting in a show, working in a tourist office, working for the police, the electricity company, as a surgeon in a hospital or a nurse in a maternity ward, being a TV and radio producer or a journalist, delivering to the supermarket, where you can also be a checkout worker or shelf stacker…. and many, many more. This is not a place you can nip into for an hour or so – we planned on half a day and ended up being there all day but its perfect if you want the kids to enjoy something completely different during their Portugal Holiday.
Most of the activities have a strong educational component, last between 10 and 20 minutes and have excellent staff who treat the children like adults, ignore hovering parents, and can speak English.
All children can take a ‘driving licence’ which involves some basic road safety instruction, and allows them to access 2 different go cart courses (depending on their age). And the driving licence with their photo is a nice souvenir. Older children can also study particular courses at the Kidzania University, allowing them to earn more when doing jobs. They can also open bank accounts and withdraw their kidzos from a cash machine.
Some of the fun stuff kidzos can be spent on include the disco (they can request particular songs with accompanying dance moves displayed on big screens), the climbing wall, the beauty parlour, making, and then eating, pizza and one of two race tracks for go carts (depending on age). There is also a kidzania shop where you can spend kidzos, though you need to have put in a lot of hours to buy much more than kidzania-branded merchandise.
I was surprised how well run Kidzania was – they clearly take security extremely seriously and on entry adults and children are given electronic wrist tags that can only be removed by Kidzania staff. Older children can be left at Kidzania as long as the tagged parent remains within the shopping mall and provides a mobile phone number. Throughout Kidzania are locator screens where you can hold your tag close and see on a map where your children are (and vice versa). There is an upstairs ‘parents room’ with a café, free wifi, and comfortable chairs, which I was annoyed to only find at the end of our second visit.
Of course, it’s a benign interpretation of the adult world – there are jobs for all, people get paid more if they have a degree, and hard work is always rewarded with hard cash. However, the kids did seem genuinely engaged in many of the activities, and my daughter still comes up with facts learned at Kidzania.
One aspect that jars somewhat is that almost all the activities are sponsored by companies – so branding is everywhere. So you make a pizza at Pizza Hut, if you are a maternity nurse you use Johnson’s baby powder on your (doll) baby, and if you want to drive the delivery truck, you’ll be delivering coca cola. This might put some people off, but in my opinion it’s a small price to pay for an exceptional day out for children of different ages, with some great education thrown in as well as a lot of fun.
Kidzania is at Dolce Vita Tejo Shopping Centre, best accessed by car – check out the website for public transport. http://www.kidzania.pt
Opening times are from 1030 or 1100 til late – again, best check the website.
Prices are not cheap, at 12 Euros for children aged 3 or 4 19,50 Euros for children aged 5 – 15, and 10 Euros for Adults. Children 2 and under don’t pay and there are discounts for over 65s.