La Spezia Shore Excursion – Pisa and Pinocchio Park

Day at a glance:

  • Morning – Pick up at La Spezia port; Leaning Tower of Pisa — Shore excursions from the ports of La Spezia and Livorno most often combine Pisa and Florence or Pisa and Lucca.  We asked the tour company Shore Excursions in Italy to take us to Pisa and Pinocchio Park in the Tuscan town of Collodi, and they happily obliged!
  • Afternoon Pinocchio Park in Collodi

Day in Detail:

Morning – Port pickup; drive through Tuscany; Leaning Tower of Pisa

For this port of call, we had a driver but no tour guide to inform and entertain our kids. Sometimes you need to feel the rush of flying without a parachute.  Italian theme park rides from the 1950’s also provide that same thrill, as you’ll read in a minute.   Honestly, we weren’t that brave.  We just felt our chosen outings – a photo op stop in Pisa and an afternoon in Pinocchio Park – lent themselves well to independent exploring. 

TipShould I book a tour? Tour guides are amazing and worth every penny for when you feel in over your head with the subject matter (like the Sistine Chapel) or you’re going from one place to another and have limited time.  You can absolutely go it on your own with your kids some days, especially when you are visiting a play-based location. For a successful day of self-touring, research sights ahead of time to see what your kids might find interesting and fun about the location or museum, use a reliable map app to explore, and when possible, purchase a kid-friendly city guide like Scavenger Hunt Adventures or a kid-friendly museum audio guide.

Our driver from Shore Excursions in Italy picked us up at the port of La Spezia and we headed out for an hour-long drive to our first destination – Pisa! 

Every second of a drive through Tuscany should be cherished.  Direct the kids’ attention to the beautiful scenery.  They will agree it is splendid and will stay riveted for the entire drive.  Just kidding.   Zen-fully ignore any complaining, brawling, or car sickness and behold mile after mile of rolling green hills accented by golden stucco fattorie with rust-colored tiled roofs; marvel at the tall, lean, majestic cypress trees and the stout, sturdy olive trees; and then shed a tear for each vineyard you pass…because your day involves nothing close to wine tasting.

Before your trip, you will tell your kids the leaning tower leans.  You will tell them it really leans.  You will show them pictures so they see how much it leans.  Nonetheless, when they step into the piazza for the first time and see the 186 ft tall bell tower looking like it’s about to topple, they will say, “WHOA, THAT TOWER IS LEANING!!!”  Then, you will ALL be incredulous when you learn you may buy a ticket to enter the tower along with many other people and climb to the top.  This was not allowed when I studied abroad in Italy in 1999.  Since then, engineers from around the world put their brilliant heads together, some stabilization occurred, and now it’s “ok.”  Ok?    But, we did not climb the tower.  Not because we are a risk averse bunch (which we are), but because there is an age minimum of eight. 

I’m not leaning, you’re leaning!

Tip – before buying a ticket to climb any duomo, tower, Mount Vesuvius, etc., read the guidelines, age restrictions, how many steps there are, check the weather, and be realistic – there is no air conditioning and often no turning back. 

While we couldn’t climb the tower, we had plenty of time to take the obligatory “holding up the tower” pictures!  EVERYONE does this.  You should not feel silly in the least doing whatever push, pull, one-finger, one-foot, multi-person, with or without props, creative pose you choose.  Your pictures will be adorable…but unless you are there first thing in the morning, you will have several other people in the background who look like they are miming.

Can you spot the mime?
Like a boss.

Afternoon – Pinocchio Park, Collodi, Italy

Pinocchio Park is a delightful theme park built in 1956 in the Tuscan town of Collodi.  The elements within the park reflect the characters and storyline from the classic “Pinocchio” written by Carlo Collodi in 1883.  The author Carlo Lorenzini took the name of the town Collodi (his mother’s hometown) as his pen name.  Collodi is now home to not only Pinocchio Park, but also the largest Pinocchio statue in the world, which stands 52 feet tall.

Before we left for Italy, I purchased and read to my kids the story of “Pinocchio” by Collodi.  Do this only if you want to be truly horrified. Here are some discrepancies we found between Collodi’s work of literary genius and the Disney derivative: Pinocchio brutally murders the talking cricket (Disney’s Jiminy); Pinocchio’s feet burn off and he desperately crawls home so Geppetto can make him some new feet, Pinocchio is hung by a noose; Pinocchio bites off the paw of the cat who cons him; and Pinocchio’s friend, Candlewick, dies an enslaved donkey. The most horrific part…my kids loved it.

Pinocchio pictured here moments before he murders the cricket

When we entered the park, we were pleasantly surprised to find it not crowded. It was lovely walking without bumping into people – which happens at other theme parks.  This makes for a wonderful time exploring and taking pictures. I had read some mixed reviews of this park, but we came with an open mind and the kids were genuinely excited to see it since we just finished the bedtime horror story.  From what I can gather, the negative reviews can be attributed to people who are expecting Disney’s version of Pinocchio or expecting a Disney theme park.  You will find neither of those things at Pinocchio Park. 

What you will find is beautiful, sprawling, tree-lined grounds with pathways that meander from one surprise and attraction after another for your kids, including:

A playground, kid-friendly zip-line, and ropes-course (recent installations in the park)

Hands-on activities and crafts for kids

Statues of characters from Collodi’s Pinocchio

Games

A concession with lunch items and snacks (there is also a restaurant for a sit-down meal toward the entrance of the park)

 A puppet show in Italian (which we unfortunately missed),

Antique puppets and toys on display

A few small fair rides that have not changed since 1956, which makes them fun AND scary. 

When people say, “they don’t make them like they used to,” they are generally not referring to theme park rides.  The gondolas and rowboats that go around in a circle are floating in water and don’t simulate rocking perilously. They do for real.   The moment your child places one foot in the center of the boat to embark, you will hold your breath and won’t breathe again until they have both feet in and are seated. I heard “SIT DOWN” being yelled in about 4 languages. Moms know this is as a universally understood statement when combined with frantic hand gestures. Surprisingly, my kids did not tip or push one another overboard. I am not suggesting you keep your kids off this ride.  They should go on this precious ride!! It is an authentic and fun experience, and it is an excellent core-strengthening exercise.   

The look of focus and balance.

The ride with cars creaked and sputtered like “The Little Engine That Could” and eventually needed a push-start.  I am certain this was because my older children, who far exceeded the height and weight limit, were on the ride.  How wonderful of the park employee to let my kids stay AND push them with all his might until the ride got going.  Disney World is not so flexible.  They enjoyed every second of this vintage vehicle ride. 

The highlight for my kids was the giant Terrible Dogfish (Monstro the whale in Disney’s version) that swallowed Pinocchio.  Your kids can descend into the mouth of the giant dogfish, climb on his teeth, and pose for a photo.  They will find Geppetto locked in a cell down there as well.  But don’t feel bad about that, because in a surprising twist of levity in the otherwise bleak tale by Collodi, both Pinocchio and Geppetto make it out of the dogfish at the end.

Unfortunately, we were not able to explore every area Pinocchio Park has to offer.  I wish we had more time to spend there.  We had such a relaxing day and the kids were glad we were finally not at a museum or church.  I recommend this park to anyone who has been touring through Italy with their littles and just wants to give them a day to play!  You will find it different from any theme park you’ve been to – in a good way!  But as with all theme parks, you will exit through the gift shop…

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