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Go ahead, take the kids to Rome

The old wives say don’t do it. The guidebooks say don’t do it. But John Frenaye was never one to follow advice, so when his 9-year-old daughter said she wanted to go to Rome, he was determined they would go, see and conquer the Eternal City -- and have some kid fun, too.
Thousands Line The Streets To View The Body Of John Paul II
St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.Giuseppe Cacace / Getty Images
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I have a family tradition with my kids. In third grade (theirs, not mine), we go one-on-one to some place cool for a bonding vacation. The kid gets to choose the destination, with some guidance from me. My son chose China and my older daughter chose Barcelona. Elizabeth, my youngest and the next up, was torn between Serbia and Rome. That’s when the fatherly guidance came into play. After a brief discussion, we were making plans for a trip to the Eternal City, beginning with a trip to Borders Books & Music to get some guidebooks.

Uh-oh. All the guidebooks told the same story: Rome is not the place for kids. Well, I was never one to follow instructions too well (just ask any of my schoolteachers), so off we went to prove the naysayers wrong.

As soon as we landed in Rome, I knew my worries were for naught. We were in the very center of the ancient world, the mother church of Catholicism, the birthplace of pizza and gelato! Now, from my four years in college (OK, it was actually five years), I knew for a fact that man can indeed live on pizza and ice cream alone. So I set a challenge for my 9-year-old daughter: Find the best pizza and gelato in Rome. Of course, she would not realize that in the course of that quest, she’d get a lot of culture and history, too. Shhh, it’s still my secret!

Our hotel, the Hotel Arcangelo, is a small hotel within easy walking distance of the Vatican. The rates were right, the room was fabulous, the daily breakfast was more than adequate and the service was sublime. The hotel sent a car to pick us up at the airport and also handled our return. The hidden gem of the hotel is the rooftop “piano” (OK, I admit it, I did look around for a piano on the roof, but I never found one. Apparently “piano” is the Italian word for “top floor terrace” on an elevator button. Who would have thunk it?) Via Boezio 15 – 00192, Rome.

Elizabeth and I soon ventured out with an agreement not to spend a lot of time in “boring” museums and long lines, and rededicating ourselves to our mission (Pizza! Gelato!). Here are some highlights of the trip:

Well, there you have it: a quick snapshot of a successful Roman holiday with a 9-year-old in tow. Certainly not the fiasco that the guidebooks made it out to be. Elizabeth is still talking about it and showing off her photos to her friends. If you’d like to take a peek at our trip, check out the photo show.

Oh, and about that quest. After visiting at least three pizzerias and four or five gelaterias each day, Elizabeth and I came up with some clear-cut winners.

In the pizza category, the winner is:

  • Pizzeria La MontecarloThe alley outside this pizzeria is usually filled with tables occupied by loud Romans — always a good sign when the locals have turned out en masse. The service is faster than it is polite, but the pizzas are great. Elizabeth’s favorite was a plain margareta pizza with fabulous mozzarella and tomatoes. Mine was the special one they make with fresh red peppers and a very unique sausage! Bring cash, because they don’t take any credit cards. Via dei Savelli 13 (near Piazza Navona), Rome.

In the gelato category, it was a very tough choice, but we went with a place that has a U.S. connection, a cousin-operated delicatessen by the same name in my hometown, Annapolis, Md.

  • Caffe GiolittiThe air-conditioned, pink- and green-marbled gelateria screams ice cream. More flavors than you can imagine, and a variety of cones. The chocolate-dipped cone was my favorite with stracciatella, while Elizabeth opted for the basic sugar cone with mocha. The gelateria is always crowded and seemingly always open. Via Uffici del Vicario 40, Rome.

John Frenaye is the president of JVE Group, Inc., a diversified company based in Annapolis, Md. With nearly ten years as a senior executive in the retail travel industry and a background in business management, he writes about the travel industry as an insider with an outsider's perspective. or visit his . Want to sound off about one of his columns? Try visiting