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Hey mambo, FESTA ITALIANA!

The 41st Annual Festa Italiana takes place July 20 through July 22 at the Henry Maier Festival Park, and we’re already excited to see what this year has in store. Here’s why we think you should mark it on your calendars.

1. It’s the perfect place to bring the whole family

There’s no doubt that Festa Italiana is fun for the whole family. There are plenty of activities for the little ones, regardless of what they like to do: For the adventurous ones, try out some rides at the carnival. For the sporty, play a game of bocce ball. For the hungry, the kids’ pizza-making contest takes place on Sunday. The Pinocchio Parade takes place Saturday and Sunday at 5 p.m. and the Children’s stage has live entertainment every day. Did we mention kids 12 and under get in free?

2. It’s packed with Italian history and culture

Although Milwaukee might not be Italy, it could be the next best thing during Festa. There are a variety of arts and culture events taking place to celebrate Italian culture. Stop by the genealogy exhibit to learn more about your Italian heritage and learn about the history of Liguria. The Italian Heritage photo exhibit and Pompeii Church exhibit are also must-sees. This year’s regional tent explores the Marche Region, a scenic mountainous area in Eastern Italy.

3. There will be bocce ball (and futsal!)

If you’re feeling the need to work off that second cannoli, give these two traditional Italian games a try. Bocce ball, a common lawn game with underhanded ball throwing between two teams, will be held throughout the festival, as well as the 41st annual Bocce Ball Tournament on Sunday, July 22. Festa will also host a Futsal Tournament on July 21 for those ready to get their competitive edge on.

Photo courtesy of Festa Italiana.

4. You can watch (or compete in) Italian Idol

Think you’ve got what it takes to mesmerize Milwaukee with your voice? Once again, Festa will host the popular Italian Idol with shows Friday through Sunday. Contestants can register and audition on either Friday or Saturday until there are 16 acts for each night’s show. From there, judges will select four finalists from each night to compete on the Sunday show. Contestants will sing one song of their choice as well as an Italian song chosen by the judges. Not only will the top three receive all the glory, but they also win cash prizes up to $500. Take a chance, eh?

5. Where else can you take a gondola ride in Milwaukee?

Is it possible to go to Italy and not take a ride in a wonderful gondola? Maybe, but not in Milwaukee! Experience Festa like no other by riding the smooth waters of Lake Michigan as a gondolier paddles you around the festival. Gondola rides begin Friday at 3 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at noon and rides are $25 individual or $30 couple. But we recommend spending a little more and watching the fireworks on the water at 10:15 p.m. each evening for $40/individual or $50/couple.

Photo courtesy of Festa Italiana.

6. Sight-see like an Italian without leaving Wisconsin

If all of these activities haven’t already made you feel like you’re in Italy, then just wait until you open your eyes and take a look around. Take a trip to Rome where you can marvel at the Coliseum Display, then venture over to the Piazza San Marco in Venice to stare up at the St. Marco Venetian Tower, and lastly travel to Florence to see the classic Statue of David replica, which might be difficult to differentiate from the real one.

7. We cannoli be happy while eating

Holy Cannoli, we don’t know if you’re up for this challenge. Peter Sciortino Bakery will provide the delicious traditional Italian desserts for all who dare to compete. Those who wish to participate in the Cannoli Eating Contest must register by 1 p.m. on Saturday, as contestants will be chosen shortly after, with the contest beginning around 1:30 p.m. Fair warning: last year’s winner ate nine cannoli in four minutes.

Festa Italiana

Photo courtesy of Festa Italiana

8. Party like an Italian

What other way to show your Italian pride than gathering with others for a fabulous parade? The spirited parade begins on the North end of the grounds and winds its way around the festival grounds on Saturday and Sunday starting at 5 p.m. Along with plenty of floats and fun surprises, the festival is still looking for children to participate and wear feathered Carnevale masks.

9. Celebrate with Others

For those who celebrate, the annual Festa mass and procession will take place on Sunday starting at 11 a.m. in the American Family Insurance Amphitheater. Father John Baumgardner will preside over the Catholic mass, with a procession of societies and patron saints following the conclusion of mass.

Photo courtesy of Festa Italiana.

10. Did we mention food?

With over 25 food vendors making an appearance at Festa this year, there’s no way we can tell you to hit just one. We suggest looking at the list and narrowing it down by examining each restaurant’s specialty Festa menu. We’re looking forward to Alioto’s, Bartolotta, Dorsia, Peter Sciortino Bakery, Vino Cappuccino and so many more. Mouths are watering while writing this.

11. Bevi il vino

We don’t know about you, but when we think of Italy, wine is almost always our next thought. This year, Festa is excited to offer two specialty wine tastings from LoDuca Brothers, Inc. and Corvina Wine Company. Get ready to sip your way through Italy, venturing from Tuscany to Veneto to Verona and more.

12. Watch some of the best chefs in town

Sure, we all love to call ourselves chefs when cooking dinner every night, but take a break and watch some local chefs do it the right way. With a variety of chef demonstrations and foodie competitions, there’s something for every Italian foodie. Some exciting restaurants to look forward to include Birch + Butcher, The Chef’s Table, Divino Wine and Dine and plenty more.

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