Archive for January 2009
January 30th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
This week’s Photo Friday post is a shot of my boys during a recent excursion to Rodeo Beach and the spectacular Cavallo Point Lodge in Marin near San Francisco. Many of us have a “first born” that is 4-legged—the people that have had the experience of raising a puppy before children universally share a laugh around the fact that we all thought that dogs were so much work and great preparation for kids. A week with a newborn shatters that fantasy!
I’m thrilled that more and more hotels at all quality levels are accepting pets. In Europe, this has been the case for years, but this is a recent trend on this side of the pond. We just added The Westin Verasa Napa to our portfolio—during our recent visit there were so many dogs walking through the lobby that someone asked me if there was a dog show in town. There are also some brands like Kimpton Hotels that accept dogs across their portfolio and offer an array of pet-friendly amenities—the Sky Hotel in Aspen offers a Pet Package complete with doggie day care and Hotel Palomar Washington DC offers pet massage.
It is important to note that hotels have varying weight restrictions for dogs they allow and price policies. Be sure to include your dog in the reservation and confirm any applicable fees—I’ve seen pricing range from $25 to $100 a night, i.e. pet fees can be a substantial addition to your nightly room rate.
, Photo Friday
January 28th, 2009
Shannon from Arte al Sole
As director of Arte al Sole: A Tuscan Cultural Adventure for International Children, each year I wonder how the experiences of the children who attend this day camp at a rural property in the Lucca hills will shape their perceptions and memories of their time with the family in Italy. I’ve found over the years that these experiences are all very different, but always cherished and memorable.
Teachers often say there is nothing more rewarding than hearing how they have influenced their students. In recent months, parents of children who attended last summer’s art camp generously passed along some examples of Arte al Sole alumni schoolwork that reflected their experiences. These touching words illustrate how observant children are amid the often awe-inspiring monuments and landscapes they are exposed to in Italy. But you should really hear this straight from the mouths of babes:
Julia of Encinitas, California, cited Italy as her inspiration for a 5th grade science project, as she explains to her school teacher:
“Inventing a water segway really piqued my interest because I loved the thought of possibly inventing a new, useful, watercraft. I thought of this project when I did an art camp in Italy…One day we studied Leonardo DaVinci and we made our own little inventions. I had seen a segway before and I thought they were very cool so I wanted to invent one for water. For my project I am trying to figure out if it is possible to build a life-size, functional water segway. In doing this I will make many mini-models showing either that it is or isn’t possible to build a life-size one. I think that it is possible to build one.”
Isabella of Santa Barbara, California, wrote about her experiences during an essay writing lesson in her 3d grade class:
“At Arte al Sole you get to make puppets and have a puppet show. You get to do art and have lots of fun at a villa with a vineyard.”
For parents, many times the gratification of seeing their children so fulfilled during their holiday provides for a new sense of relaxation on their trip, and needed time for themselves. For the Henderson family of Montecito, California, who frequently spend summers in Europe, the anticipation of looking forward to attending art camp helped to keep their 6-year-old daughter content during the first two weeks of their trip, while her attendance at the program gave the whole family some time to explore on their own.
Parent John Henderson observed:
“Having a daughter who is very interested in arts and crafts and loves to travel, this was the perfect combination for her and nice for us as well. The time she spent having fun with her friends at Arte al Sole, allowed us to get away and see some sights during the day. There was always time after the camp for us to spend time together. Whether it was just hanging out by the pool heading off for an early dinner, it was a great atmosphere in a super location with so much to see and do in such a close proximity.”
Finally, trips are always more memorable when we make friends along the way. Parents often tell me that for the students, meeting other kids during their holiday and having their own time to play and have fun in many ways makes family time after art camp all the more special. For parents, by midweek many have formed friendships among themselves and are carpooling to camp, exchanging sightseeing advice, meeting for lunch at an amazing trattoria they discovered, or even heading off for a ladies’ day out at the nearby thermal baths while dads do…whatever they very well please!
At the end of the week, parents join us at the villa to attend an art exhibit and performance featuring their children’s creations. The kids burst with pride at the idea of hosting their parents and displaying and explaining all the arts, crafts, experiments, and innovations they produced during their very own “Italy art camp.”
Shannon Venable is director of Arte al Sole (www.artealsole.com) and publisher of Italiakids.com, an online resource for international families in Italy.
, School Age Travel
January 26th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Mexico is an appealing beach destination from December through May when the weather is good—there are many non-stop flights to the tourist hubs from major cities and in recent months, airfare to Mexico has been much less expensive than flights to places like Hawaii.
I was thrilled to discover that 3 months ago a St. Regis resort opened on the Riviera Nayarit near Puerto Vallarta. The resort is in Punta Mita—best known in past years as the home of the Four Seasons. Competition is definitely a good thing, and after staying at both properties last month, I’m happy to report that The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort is an amazing option for families with young children seeking luxury accommodations (I’ll compare the properties in a post over the next few weeks).
Quite simply, the St. Regis is stunning—the décor has been described as Provence meets Mexico—the perfect analogy—the fabrics and furnishings are European, but otherwise the construction is distinctly Mexican using natural materials from the region. Guest rooms are as extraordinary as public areas, and unlike the Four Seasons where there are many rooms looking at an unremarkable garden, the layout of the St. Regis is ingenious—practically every room seems to have some kind of ocean view and is no more than a 3-minute walk to the beach. The other phenomenal feature at this property is the personal butler who is assigned to every room—this person proactively offers to do whatever you need which feels very pampering and distinctly different than trying to figure out who to call for different requests.
All swimming pools here are oceanfront and gorgeous. The pool configuration is ideal including an adult-only pool with private cabanas and a family pool area with multiple, shallow pools that are good for toddlers and school-age kids that aren’t ready for the deep-end. This set-up is so refreshing—nothing is more frustrating than having the family pool feel substandard compared to the adult facilities. Pool toys and floaties are on hand, and poolside service is readily available. The kids club here is a bright, clean, and friendly place noting that the club is available for ages 5 to 12 —disappointing for me since the space seems ideal for ages 3 to 12, but I learned this is a brand-driven policy. At this point the kids club is closer to childcare than an interesting cultural or nature-focused experience and is less appealing for kids that are 9 and up, but that may change as the program matures. The spa is worth mentioning with an exceptional get-away-from-it-all ambiance and customizable treatments using the Remede product line.
All properties have some trade-offs and the St. Regis is no exception—the beach is on the rocky side and the surf is too rough for young kids to wade with any independence. The property has limited overall activities of interest for older kids and teenagers given the limitations of the beach, so I did not rate the property as Cool For Teens in our review. The service here is impressive considering the property is so new; the only complaint was around the speed of meals (room service and restaurant)—but I’m confident that will improve over time. In addition, onsite evening dining options with kids are limited to one restaurant or room service, but the town of Punta de Mita is a 5-minute drive.
If you want an outrageously beautiful hotel in a setting that is all about relaxation, The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort will not disappoint. Read the full review.
, North America
, Puerto Vallarta
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January 23rd, 2009
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
Is there anything better than a baby falling asleep on your chest? Now imagine that on one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful beaches. One of my favorite experiences in life is when I can settle down enough and my babies can settle down enough to doze off together. The set-up here at Grace Bay Club in Turks and Caicos was just what we needed this summer for a lot of rest and relaxation.
The other day my son said to me, “Mom, at home you’re always so busy. That’s why I like vacation. You and dad just hang out.” Buddy, me too! At home, there’s always something the has to be done. On vacation, everything stops! The computer, blackberry, iphone and TV’s are off (or at least well hidden). The “to do” list is gone and we just get to be together. I crave that time with my kids. In a good economy or bad, it’s something that as a busy family, we simply have to carve out. It doesn’t even matter where we go, but just that we’re out of our house. Now that my kids are old enough to articulate what it means to them, it’s even more valuable.
For me, when I look at this picture, I remember to take a deep breath and for a moment, slow down and try to connect in the same way we do when we’re on vacation.
This photo is part of DeliciousBaby’s Photo Friday.
, Travel Stories
, Turks and Caicos
January 22nd, 2009
Courtney from Babyccino
Inn The Park, Family-Friendly Restaurant in London
One of my favorite kid-friendly restaurants in London is Inn The Park, located as the name suggests, in the middle of the lovely St. James’s Park in central London. Set amidst the grassy lawns and overlooking ‘Duck Lake’, the setting couldn’t be more ideal for an afternoon meal with your family. It also makes for the perfect lunch break if you’re sightseeing in the area: Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and Trafalgar Square are all close by and within walking distance.
Given its location, one might think it would be buzzing with tourists, but somehow Inn The Park maintains its anonymity and cool. The tear-drop shape of the building was designed to fit into the ‘gently undulating landscape’ of the park, which makes it easy to miss. You can’t see the restaurant from the road, so it feels like a little treasure once you’re there.
Inn The Park is a contemporary British restaurant serving both traditional and modern British recipes. In summertime the terrace transforms to a champagne and cocktail bar. It’s stylish and sexy in the evenings — hard to believe that during the day (or early evenings) it caters toward families and children! They have a great kid’s menu, loads of high chairs, and friendly waiters who will let you save your extra bread to feed the ducks after your meal. My kids LOVE the promise of a walk along the lake if they behave and eat their food! (There’s also a playground located at the Buckingham Palace end of the Park.)
The taxi drop-off point is by the ICA on The Mall, and there’s a pay-and-display parking lot on Waterloo Place (across The Mall and up the steps).
Courtney writes for Babyccino from London.
Ciao Bambino recommended London family hotels
Ciao Bambino recommended England family hotels
Great family friendly guides and walking tours in Europe
London Eye photos and tips
London food tour with kids
London Double Decker Bus photos and tips
Favorite London toddler playground
Kids attractions London, free family-friendly museums
London Guide for Families on Peter Greenberg
Ireland with kids
Dublin with kids
Galway with kids
Edinburgh with kids
Europe Family Vacations
Museums and Kids: A Winning Combination
Making Urban Destinations Fun with Kids
Tips for entertaining kids on planes
, United Kindom
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January 20th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Many hotels will offer deep discounts for rooms booked within 24 hours of arrival. Spontaneity and travel with kids may not feasible, but if you can swing it, there is a terrific opportunity to save money on favorite destinations. Here are some tips to facilitate the process:
Call the hotel directly
Of course, we’d rather have you request Ciao Bambino-recommended properties through us since that is how we generate revenue—but in many cases email is too slow of a channel for these last minute requests, plus you may not be connected with the right contact, per my next tip below.
Avoid central hotel reservations
Many larger hotel brands use external, centralized call centers for bookings and in my experience those staff members rarely have access or the authority to discount rates on the fly. You can ask the operator to send you to the in-house reservations line, but in some cases this may not exist (i.e. the only option is reservations outside of the hotel). If this is the situation, ask the hotel operator to send you to the front desk.
Speak to a manager if necessary
I just had a situation this past weekend where I was sent to central reservations even after dialing the hotel’s local number (vs the 800 number on the web page). The reservations agent I spoke to categorically stated that the hotel was not offering last minute discounts and when I asked to speak to a supervisor, they said that none was available. At this point, I could have given up, but being the persistent woman that I am, I asked to be transferred to the front desk supervisor on staff; he immediately offered an appealing rate—50% off of the “normal rate” for the quoted room category. Done!
Don’t be shy about asking for a discount
Like many things in life, hotel rates are based on supply and demand. Hotels need to generate profits and empty rooms don’t make money—they would rather sell room inventory for a discount, then not sell the room inventory at all. This is one reason why Ciao Bambino uses form-based requests instead of a booking engine—our clients have the opportunity to dialog with hotels about the room configurations and pricing that will work best for their family. There is nothing wrong with asking for a better rate at any point in the process—the hotel can always simply say no—noting that you are more likely to receive a discount if they have a good reason to give you one, meaning they have excess rooms to sell.
Get the quote/confirmation in writing
The downside of phone conversations vs. email is that you don’t have the “paper trail” of the conversation and what was promised. In my rush to book and leave for our last minute trip last weekend, I didn’t realize that the hotel didn’t send me a confirmation around the price and the room category quoted. When I checked into the hotel that had downgraded me from what was quoted and the attitude was essentially—you got a cheap rate, deal with it. Needless to say I was not pleased, but since I failed to ensure I had a confirmation letter, it was my word against theirs. Yes the customer is supposed to “always” be right, but in this case it wasn’t so and I didn’t want to spend my weekend arguing about it.
Hotels want your business right now and will work with you—within reason—to accommodate your needs.
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January 20th, 2009
Debbie from Delicious Baby
This is a guest post by Debbie Dubrow of DeliciousBaby.com.
Seattle’s walkable urban areas, beautiful natural setting, and laid back atmosphere make it a great vacation destination for anyone, but you might be surprised to learn how accommodating the city is for kids. Seattle’s major sites (and some of its most popular restaurants) are just as much fun for kids as they are adults, and many popular activities seem tailor made for kids.
Seattle Kid-Friendly Activities
Pike Place Market Pike Place Market is the classic Seattle tourist site. The colorful market, filled with fresh fruit and flowers is interesting for everyone, but kids will be drawn in by the life-sized piggy bank at the market entrance, the live crab displays, and the “flying fish” at Pike Place fish company. On summer weekends, scheduled kids activities make the bustling market even more fun. Stop in one of the many restaurants for lunch, or grab a snack and take it to the park located at the North end of the market.
Seattle’s new Central Library attracted architecture buffs from around the world when it first opened, but it’s also appealing to young children. Designed by Rem Koolhaas, this thoroughly modern building mixes modern building practices, eco-friendly materials, public art, and library science in a totally new and engaging way. Daily library tours provide insight into redesigning a public space that needs to serve many different needs. Even toddlers will be engaged as you explore the library’s unique spaces and see all the different building materials. Best of all, the enormous children’s area has toys, puppets (and of course lots of books) alongside cozy chairs for parents. It’s the perfect place to take a quick rest while your children play. The teen area has comics and music listening stations.
Seattle Art Museum
Parents might be wary of trying to visit the Seattle Art Museum with kids, but every effort has been made to create a kid-friendly environment. Even if you aren’t interested in visiting the entire museum, consider ducking into the (free) art ladder and WAMU Open Studio Craft Area for a little break. Kid-friendly art and one or more hands-on crafts give your child a chance to explore or create for a little while. Inside the galleries, there is a cozy play area with dress up clothing, blocks, drums, engaging toys for all ages and art related books.
Seattle Center is home to many of Seattle’s kid-friendly attractions, including the Children’s Museum, the Pacific Science Center, a small amusement park, and the famous Space Needle. Our favorite spot on a sunny summer day is the (free) International Fountain where kids can get soaked running in, around, and through the choreographed spray. You can reach Seattle Center from downtown via the Monorail that leaves from Westlake Center.
If you have a rental car, a visit to the Ballard Locks is fun and memorable for young children. Kids love the opportunity to watch up close as boats pass through the locks from salt water to fresh water (and vice versa). In season, they will also learn about Salmon and watch through a glass viewing area as salmon jump up a salmon ladder. The visitor center has helpful exhibits that explain what you are seeing in more detail. Best of all, kid-friendly Ballard has plenty of food options for lunch or dinner and several offbeat, locally owned stores for children and adults.
Need more to do? Other family friendly destinations in Seattle include the Woodland Park Zoo, a newly renovated Aquarium, and the Olympic Sculpture Park.
Fun things to do in Seattle with kids by Red Tricycle
Ciao Bambino recommended Seattle family hotels
Debbie Dubrow is a mother of two (ages 3 1/2 and 2) living in Seattle, WA. Her blog, DeliciousBaby.com is about traveling with babies, toddlers and kids, and is filled with personal travel stories, family-friendly city guides, and lots of tips and advice for traveling with kids.
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January 18th, 2009
Shelly from Travels with Baby.com
For many of us, planning a stay with friends or extended family sounds like a brilliant stroke of travel planning genius. Particularly for those of us with a small child or baby in tow, particularly in these tightening economic times. What better time to plan a vacation with free accommodations—and possibly built-in babysitting to boot?
Yet before you call the cousins in California or the uncle in Umbria, do all of yourselves a favor and think through these vacation-critical points:
What’s (really) in it for you?
As a guest in someone else’s home, you will be obliged to observe their daily rhythms and routines. Enthusiastic pets, light-saber-wielding children, steep staircases, toxic houseplants, precariously perched lamps, Hummel collections, and more may await your little family at the home away from home. Just establishing a safe place for your child to sleep or play during your visit could prove challenging. Add to that the possibility of delayed bed times, extended meal times, and noisy visiting hours and you may find yourself wishing for a night off at the local motel.
How about your hosts?
As well, take your hosts’ lifestyles into consideration—in spite of your best intentions, would having a baby or small child under their roof prove a major inconvenience to them? Try to get your hosts on the same page before you arrive in their home. Describe a typical with your child at home, when he usually rises, naps, how often he eats, and what his sacred rituals are. Tell them how much you are looking forward to seeing them, but be honest about your concerns—including upsetting their own sacred rituals (like, perhaps, sleeping). Share your ideas of how you can help with childproofing concerns and other details about having a baby or small child in their home.
In some situations, it might be well worth spending a little more to stay nearby and come for visits if it means safeguarding the integrity of your relationship. But if you do ultimately decide to plan a home-stay, here are some friendly suggestions for how to avoid some of the most common points of tension that can arise from staying as guests with babies and young children in other people’s homes.
Your hosts may not be as prepared as they think they are for dealing with the thrills and spills associated with baby and toddler dining. If your child is using a portable dining booster, ask your hosts for an extra bath towel you might use to protect their chair from any overboard spills or splats. Pack a vinyl tablecloth (like those used outdoors) to spread beneath your child’s seat to protect your host’s floor during meal times. Afterward, you can simply shake off the crumbs and wipe the surface clean. Also, bring along your child’s own plate or bowl to save your host from searching for suitable dishes or risking breakage of their own.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Guests in diapers, however, may smell upon arrival. Be sure to check with your hosts early on to see where they keep their outdoor trash so that you may export any stink bombs straight away. Also, be thoughtful on disposing wet diapers; some people bristle at the sight of perfectly harmless puffy Pampers in their bathroom wastebasket. It may be simplest to bring your own sack or trash bag for collecting these in your quarters rather than filling up your hosts’ wastebaskets.
I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face: Earplugs can make a thoughtful and a humorous hostess gift. If your child isn’t likely to make it through the night without a vocal interlude, give your hosts fair warning. They can take any precautions to help ensure a restful night for themselves (using aforementioned earplugs, closing their doors, indulging in a nightcap, and so on). This will also help prevent them from worrying if your child is feeling well or if you need their assistance or intervention—Uncle Larry’s get-happy clown dance could prove disastrous at three a.m.
Adapted from Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Trips with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children. © 2007 Shelly Rivoli. All rights reserved.
Shelly Rivoli is the author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby. She’s changed diapers on four continents and is not done yet (baby #3 is due in February). Together her family has traveled by airplane, elephant, subway, train, cruise ship, taxi, and long tail boat. Find her online at www.travelswithbaby.com.
, Baby Travel
, Toddler Travel
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