International indoor theme park chain KidZania’s Mumbai outpost resembles the sets of Flipkart’s kids-as-adults Freaky Friday-themed TV commercials. Everyone knows miniature parks and attractions have long been popular. To date, Disney’s most iconic attraction has been “it’s a small world”—launched as a “salute to Unicef and all the world’s children”, the 15-minute boat ride underwent a massive renovation in 2009. At KidZania too, an entire city is scaled down to two-thirds the real size, but here financial literacy takes precedence over lessons on international awareness.
Fantasy lands with fairy godmothers and cartoons are traded for pint-sized urban establishments, service industries and branded retailers, where children can sign up for their first job. Tickets for 5-hour “work shifts” bought at airport check-in counters outside transport tots to the city, which boasts of its own “Declaration of Independence”.
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Upon arrival, each child is entrusted with a traveller’s cheque worth 50 kidZos (the local paper currency that can’t be bought or sold for actual money) that needs to be cashed after opening a savings account at the local bank, YES Bank, in Mumbai. Children are encouraged not only to earn money but also save it for later—the bank offers 7% interest on any kidZo savings.
An employment centre, run by Birla Sun Life Insurance, helps young go-getters design a résumé and zero in on their dream job based on current interests, while parents patiently wait outside. At 50,000 sq. ft, the ground level is the city’s nerve centre with public utilities and private storefronts. Young toilers can choose from over 40 work stations, such as a construction site, a recycling facility, an electric company, a radio station, an auto garage, a Big Bazaar supermarket, a pizza parlour, a bank vault and even a courier delivery service.
For budding fire-fighters, paramedics, journalists and police personnel, action-packed accidents are staged through the city every hour. The creative child can choose to spend kidZos on courses at the culinary studio, the painting school, the fashion design academy, the cultural centre and a Bollywood acting studio and later perform at the 120-seater National Theatre. Those who attend the National University for short 20-minute classes are awarded with degree certificates that fetch higher salaries at corresponding jobs.
Spendthrifts can indulge at a barber shop (paint-on goatees and sideburns start at 8 kidZos), a beauty salon, a pottery studio and our personal favourite, a dingy tattoo parlour with unicorn designs on offer. A car rental service is open to those with a driver’s licence—the simulated driving test is pretty tough if you ask us, we failed for not turning on the headlights and lane-cutting.
The mezzanine level, another 25,000 sq. ft, functions as the “suburbs” with factories and manufacturing units, an airport built from the fuselage of a Boeing 737, a TV recording studio, a discothèque that promotes DJing as a lucrative career option and a hospital where first-time surgeons can peek into chest cavities of life-size dummies.
At each institution, children change into uniforms and participate in 20-30 minute activities, designed to complement the school curricula. Educators across the world have lauded KidZania for its experiential learning model.
A dedicated house in the suburbs features activities for toddlers while parents can serve their “time-out” at the cafeteria, Costa Coffee or the designated lounge with a spa, a TV room and free Wi-Fi. KidZania will open in September.
KidZania, R City Mall, Ghatkopar (West). Tickets for children aged 4-14 will be priced around Rs.1,000, with additional entry charges for parents and toddlers. Tuesday to Thursday, 10am-3pm; Friday to Sunday, first shift from 10am-3pm, and second shift from 4pm-9pm. For details, visit www.mumbai.kidzania.com .