Family Travel

Rock-a-bye Kasbah

by Alexandra Hall
Marrakech, What's the diplomatic way to say, "No snakes in face"?

What I'm about to share will sound a little douchebaggy.

My husband and I are proud to have never taken our tykes to Disneyland. Yeah, we're those parents — gluttons for punishment who insist on lugging our spawn on multi-legged flights to culture-rich locales where we'll all, you know, learn stuff, have adventures, become better people. And ultimately drive ourselves insane with annoyance and exhaustion.

The culmination of that misguided ethos was our trip to Marrakech. Zach was three; Cleo, two. Several nights in Paris in each direction broke up the trip from Boston. On the stopover there, we were a familial flutter of delight and anticipation. Even showing our kids the Eiffel Tower seemed like nothing but an amuse bouche to discovering the Medina with them. And yet, on the return trip's stopover, all the crêpes Suzettes in the world couldn't have revived us.

Once in Marrakech, we quickly realized there were minor traps we could avoid easily enough: searing sun (70 SPF; my kids are their own species of Caucasian), kid-unfriendly foods (tagines are a young palate's crack, it turns out), and the like.

But then there were the double-edged swords — the things my husband and I had waited decades to finally witness, but actually downright sucked when you're dealing with finicky or schedule-driven youngsters. And by schedule, I mean sleep schedule. Jet-lagged two-year-olds who don't go back to sleep easily, plus the call to morning prayer? That's one seriously toxic combination. And the romance of six-story riads and rooftop gardens towering above clusters of minarets gets quickly deflated when you're spending most of your time pulling toddlers back from practically (and often, truly) nonexistent railings. My husband spent years waiting to haggle his way through the stalls of the Jemaa el-Fna marketplace, but instead wound up putting those negotiating/diplomatic skills to use by prying away the tacky trinkets (and live snakes) that  vendors would cleverly place in the kids' hands. There were, certainly, moments of utter bliss: I almost died with happiness strolling the glorious outdoor Majorelle Gardens of Yves St. Laurent ... until my daughter almost died of fear — or, screamed bloody murder, at least — at the sight of a beetle twice the size of her fist. That thing could have worn a saddle (or, more appropriately, a YSL belt).

Were any of these instances life-threatening? Hardly. Several were actually pretty damn funny. But their cumulative effect had us constantly on edge. And I swear, we're not usually nervous travelers.

Hold on. Did I say none of them were life-threatening? Amendment: If you've ever tried to cross a major street in Marrakech, even without kids, you're probably already cringing. Never mind the mopeds and pickpockets and overly solicitous taxi drivers — we liked that stuff. No, I mean the absence of streetlights and crosswalks. Waiting for a critical mass of people to accumulate on your side of the street in order to force cars to stop makes for an adrenaline-releasing, cocktail-needing, scream-inducing sport when you're on your own, but it's nothing short of insanity when you've got a stroller in one hand and a wriggling, whining, 25-pound bag of potatoes with no sense of self-preservation in the other.

After one particularly treacherous street-crossing, we retreated to our riad, ordered a beer, looked at each other, and wondered aloud how in hell parents in Marrakech deal with all of it.

And yet, they do. And then some. In fact, kids are everywhere. And the people themselves couldn't be more family-centric — as evidenced by the Moroccan habit of hugging, patting, picking up, and playing peek-a-boo with other peoples' children. Including ours. Everywhere we went. We got used to it after the first 24 hours, and then reaped the interpersonal benefits for the duration of the trip, as locals struck up conversations with us about them, taught our ham-of-a-son to dance, and offered us tea we never would have been offered on our own.

That's the thing about traveling with kids: It breaks down barriers. You're not a stranger; you're a parent. Which puts you at least one step closer to that otherwise unattainable, it's-a-small-world-after-all fantasy concept of the global family in a way that Disney just can't deliver.

That said, for our next vacation, we've put a trip to see The Mouse on the table.


These are some of the places Alexandra visited on her trip.

Riyad Al Moussika 
62, Derb Boutouil
Kennaria, Marrakech

Jardin Majorelle
Safi Boulevard

Maison Arabe
1, Derb Assehbe
Bab Doukkala, Marrakech

We make every effort to ensure the information in our articles is accurate at the time of publication. But the world moves fast, and even we double-check important details before hitting the road.