I have bumped into mentions of Kidzania once or twice on the internet but never knew much about it. I knew it was some place where the kids play and they had locations around the world, but that was pretty much the full extent of my knowledge. So when my friend Lorena invited Haley and Zoe to go play at Kidzania with her sons for the day, we gladly accepted. These kinds of things are always more fun with friends!
I soon learned that the Kidzania concept is this: kids play in a kid-sized adult world. They work at jobs, they earn money (“kidzos”) and they can then use the money to do activities or buy things. That sounds kind of like real life! The jobs were real-world jobs that were organized by sponsors. Here’s just a small list of the jobs:
- pumping gas at a Pemex station
- DHL delivery driver
- Berlitz language school student or teacher
- Walmart employee
- Sanborn’s employee
- Liverpool perfume department employee
- Police Officer
- Fire fighter
- Insurance agent
- Dog trainer
- Yogurt/milk factory worker
- University professor
All the jobs were in real-world businesses and they had authentic offices and store fronts where the kids could do their work.
They also had a very interesting system for parents. Because our kids were all over the age of 8, we were allowed to leave them or we could pay for our own entrance (kids were $12 USD, parents were $6) and hang out in the parent’s lounge. We decided to just pay for them and leave them. We were given these large electronic bracelets that matched the kids’ electronic bracelets. We were told we could have 3 visits during the day of 30 minutes each. What is this, jail?? But OK, we get it. Parents are not welcome. And when we did visit we were only allowed on the “main street”. When we would go into a business to watch what the kids were doing or they wanted to show us something, we were always told that parents were not allowed. I think the kids loved this part.
Admittedly this place was a little better for slightly younger kids. Zoe, age 10, was the perfect target market. Haley and Ian, ages 14 and 13, found it skewed a little young but somehow they managed to spend 9 hours playing, and even kept their credit cards and driver’s licenses for the next time they go.
I was really impressed with the organization and cleanliness and authenticity. When you go to see your kid you check in to what looks like an airline counter, although everything is about 1 foot shorter than in real life. We would get our bracelets scanned and they would tell us how long we had to visit our kids. Everything looked so authentic. They had an ADO bus station, the DHL office, the Toyota showroom, and even the DMV where the kids had to wait “forever” to get their licenses. It was all so much like the real thing, just on a smaller scale.
The kids stuck together for most of the day, and Haley said it was a lot of negotiating on what to do next. They all enjoyed the driving the best, although Ian was a distracted driver while fiddling with the radio and was pulled over by the “police” and given a warning. Zoe chose to spend her kidzos on activities so she did rock climbing (on a building) and getting a tattoo. Haley bought rubbery animals with her kidzos.
At first Haley was not so sure she wanted to go. She’s not a fan of germs (understatement) and places where there are a lot of kids running around are her unhappy places (think Chuck E Cheese). But this place was incredibly clean. And we loved that the kids all had to wear disposable hair nets before putting on helmets or costumes, not to mention the tight security. By golly they have thought of everything!
The only thing similar to Kidzania is a place in Arizona called JT Biztown. It’s a place where kids act like adults. It’s not open to the public, it’s only designed for field trips. Haley went in 5th grade and had a great experience and it was one of the things I was sad that Zoe would miss by not being in school. Well, who knew that she’d get to experience something like it in Mexico City of all places! JT Biztown was a little bit more strict and your job depended on others doing their jobs, but it was the same concept.
Here was a typical conversation between Lorena and I during one of our approved visits:
A: “Where’s Tommy?”
L: “He’s changing a tire. Ian is driving. Where are your girls?”
A: “Zoe is at the bank putting money on her credit card. Haley is eating pasta and then is going to work in the hospital.”
The other thing Kidzania thought of is the PARENTS. For those parents who had to stay, they had an entire lounge area that was just for parents. There was a nail salon (a real one with adults working in it!), a computer lab and a living room area where you could relax, eat, sit at tables or watch TV. But if your kids were old enough allowing you to leave, you could go to the small mall across the street that had department stores, a movie theater, a food court and some services. We took the bus a little further down the road to an even bigger mall where we had coffee, explored, did a little shopping and had lunch.
It was an amazing day full of education but not in any way that the kids recognized (other than the Spanish speaking all day!). It was great for the kids to have social time without adults, to play in their own world and to just run around all day. I am fascinated that there is not one single Kidzania location in the USA, despite it being very popular in major cities around the world including London, Tokyo, Dubai and others. So if you’re looking for an investment opportunity in good old ‘Merica, I’d put my money on Kidzania.
It was a great day made even more amazing because we spent it with great friends. Even a day later, Haley would spontaneously remark “Kidzania was so much fun”. Looks like we’ll have to keep our eye on their locations and maybe find another one someday. Hopefully we can find some great friends to share it with.