Archive for February 2009
February 27th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
This is one of those photos that makes me smile whenever I look at it—then 2.5-year-old Devon checks out the guard in front of St. James. Although at the time we unsuccessfully tried to remove the binky, it’s one of the things that is so amusing since he was furiously “working it” while trying to figure out what the fuzzy thing was on the guard’s head.
London is such a great place with kids of all ages. Toddlers enjoy the phenomenal parks and all other ages love the museums, towers, churches, and rich history. Per yesterday’s blog entry on the subject, the good news is that London may finally be an affordable destination for Americans again given the rise of the Dollar vs. the Pound. See other Photo Friday posts from this week.
The best family-friendly places to stay in England
Things You Need to Know Before Your London Tour
, Photo Friday
, Travel Stories
, United Kingdom
February 25th, 2009
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
Raising a family takes an incredible amount of energy and emotion. This can be draining, so each year I carve out a few days to replenish myself. For me, that means heading to Canyon Ranch with a group of mothers. To read more about the value of this amazing destination, check out my recent post on Tango Diva, a online community for women to share information about solo travel experiences.
, Parents Getaways
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February 24th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s phenomenal Earth From Above exhibit makes its NYC debut on May 1st and runs through June 28, 2009. I first saw his work 10 years ago in Paris and just went through the exhibit for a second time last week in Puerto Rico. Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s photography captures images of the earth—people and places—from a helicopter. His work is absolutely astounding; it is beautiful and educational, giving the viewer a unique and often mind-blowing glimpse of our planet. See a slideshow and interview with him in this Huffington Post Article.
The exhibit includes a photo and a message about the image and sustainable development. There are many images clearly demonstrating the impact of climate change—this exhibit is vitally important and eye-opening. We went through the exhibit with our 6-year-old and he was fully engaged and excited to move from one image to the next. It is a fabulous way to educate children about both the wonder and fragility of our ecosystem.
If you live anywhere near New York it is absolutely worth a trip into the city to see the show. The exhibit will move to San Francisco and Los Angeles on this 120-city tour, although I could not find specific exhibit information for these cities. The Earth From Above webpage has products to buy and more information.
Places to stay in NYC – Shoreham and The Pod Hotel
NYC Top 5 Kid-Friendly Excursions
February 23rd, 2009
Michelle from Wandermom
We are an active family. We don’t run marathons and my children are not likely to make the U.S. team in any sport, but we do, nonetheless, spend much of our free time enjoying some form of physical activity. Much of this is because both my husband and I are from large families where “go outside and run around” was a common parental directive. And so we carried this habit into our relationship with our own children. We walk, we hike, we bike, we ski, we swim – sometimes to the consternation of our children but always resulting in healthy faces, happy smiles and children who sleep soundly.
Leveraging habits from home is a great way to make children more relaxed while traveling and fresh air and exercise are vital when you’re trying to help your child adjust to a new time zone. Sticking to normal routines for bedtimes and mealtimes can be tricky in a new place, but my children rarely, if ever, resist daily visits to a new park or playground. If you’re visiting a city and do not having any luck finding green spaces, remember that it is truly amazing how much entertainment a young child can get from chasing pigeons.
We walk around our neighborhood in Seattle a lot and so, when we travel, we explore by walking around the cities and towns we visit. Bike rental is also a great choice with school-aged children. We cycled the walls of Lucca, Tuscany on rented tandems, parent in front, child behind on each bike – which led to some interesting discussion between our children on who was the better “secret slacker”!
We’ve hiked in four continents enjoying how our experience has changed as our children grew from being carried in backpacks to trotting alongside to rushing ahead to “be the leader”. These familiar activities gave my children confidence to explore unfamiliar locations.
On our recent trips, we’ve found that outdoor activities are becoming opportunities for our boys to challenge us and also to bond with us and with each other over adrenaline-fueled adventures. Zip-lining in the jungle is not something I ever thought I’d do, but when your eight-year-old cajoles, it’s amazing what a parent will do – and it was pretty exhilarating. Before we had children, we kayaked along the coast of Maui, imagine how awesome it felt when our then five-year-old son insisted on trying sea kayaking with his Dad when we visited Puerta Vallarta?
Our boys have been snorkeling many times, often with one parent while the other was scuba diving. In Mexico, our older son took the PADI Discover Scuba Diving. My husband and I joined his group on his open-water dive and he still raves about the experience – whether it was being underwater with Mom and Dad or the thrill of seeing sharks and turtles up close, we’ll never know.
Michelle Duffy lives in Seattle and writes the Wandermom blog for Wanderlust and Lipstick.
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February 20th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
My favorite part of Puerto Rico was old San Juan. A walled city in the middle of the Caribbean—fantastic! We felt like we were in Seville and parts of the city reminded me of Lisbon.
Fort San Felipe del Morro is magnificent with a massive grass area surrounded by water on three sides. We were there on a Sunday—I’ve never seen so many families flying kites. My only regret is we didn’t spend more time there. Although it is small, you need a full day to see all the points of interest. See our list of the Top 5 Kid-Friendly Excursions in Puerto Rico.
Check out more of this week’s Photo Friday posts.
Places to stay – Caribe Hilton Review
, North America
, Puerto Rico
February 18th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
There was no evidence of the recession at the El Conquistador hotel in Puerto Rico—at least over the President’s Day holiday weekend. The property was filled to the brim; every lounge chair was occupied (and there are hundreds of them) and even the forty-dollar-an-entrée restaurants had lines out the door. I just spent the last 5 nights at this 900+ room hotel and it reminded me about why mega-resorts like this may be heaven for kids, but they are exhausting for adults. Despite sunny weather and an oceanfront room, I was actually looking forward to checking out and getting on the plane today—that never happens!
We have mega-resorts on Ciao Bambino like Atlantis in the Bahamas. There is no question that properties like this are a blast for some families, but I think parents need to think about the overall experience they want to have on their vacation and review the resort amenities carefully to ensure they will not be disappointed, or worse, return home stressed.
Based on my experience this past week, I’ve outlined specifics to think about:
Peace and Quiet
It’s just like Vegas! Someone made this comment to me during our stay and I’m sorry to report that this was a true statement—there were so many people in every corner of the hotel, that it was noisy everywhere. Of course, any pool area with kids is going to be loud—we want it that way so kids (ours included) can yell their heart out and we can remain stress-free. That said, I desperately wanted to find other spaces that were peaceful and there were none to be found except the spa. An adult-only pool area in addition to the family pool area solves this problem. I would never go to a mega-resort on the beach without this again.
The hassle factor is high at big properties simply because they occupy a huge footprint and naturally it takes time to get across the property. In the case of El Conquistador, the trip from one end of the property to the other involved a funicular ride and an elevator ride. When you have 2000+ people going back and forth all day long, you end up continually waiting in line. This is not relaxing—especially with kids that are dying to get to the beach and pool. In this case, the beach was a boat ride away, so it truly took effort to get there. I’d hate to be the parent with a toddler that wants to easily get back to their room for naptime. Ask about any transportation logistics required between core public areas (like the pool, beach, and/or restaurants) and the quoted guest room.
Swimming Pool Set Up
The rush to get a good chair by the pool or beach is not unusual, even at smaller hotels. There are always “prized” seats that people will claim with books and towels early in the day. The issue for me is the number of umbrellas or seats with some kind of shade. For a property this big, there were a small number of lounge chairs with umbrellas compared to the number of people by the pool; moreover, every chair was pushed next the one next to it, so there no room to maneuver into a different position to escape the sun. For those that are sun-sensitive, ask about the umbrella-to-lounge chair ratio.
Food Quality and Price
Many beach hotels are in isolated locations where you are stuck eating there unless you are willing to drive a significant distance. This was the case at El Conquistador—not a problem in terms of variety because they have several restaurants catering to meals throughout the day—but quality and price was another issue. We had few good meals and the insult-to-injury was that decent dinners here were expensive ($30-50 for an a la carte entrée). This is the case at many upscale properties—I’m OK with it in concept if the quality of the food and service is excellent. Since there were no outside restaurants to go to in the area (just like a cruise ship another guest remarked)—we were trapped. If a hotel is in an isolated location, scan the Trip Advisor comments for food quality and service comments prior to booking.
State of Guest Rooms
If a hotel has been around for more than a decade, guest rooms need updates and renovations. When a property has over 900 rooms, this is an expensive undertaking. Our first room was in a depressing, older building with stained hallway carpeting; a few phone calls later we were moved to a room that was in better shape with a wonderful view. I asked around and learned that rooms had been updated in some way—that is the key—some way does not mean that all rooms are of a standard quality level. In an older property, always ask the hotel to confirm the renovation timeline for the specific room type you’ve been quoted; in a larger hotel, I’d ask them to confirm the specific building/wing they have available, as that can make a big difference.
We had an imperfect hotel experience, but there were good points. El Conquistador has a fantastic, multi-million dollar water park that was fun for all ages (although, I liked it for 1-2 days, not 5). The hotel also has a private island with a lovely expanse of beach and water. Our experience was inconsistent—there are always pros and cons at every property, but the bottom line for me was that the cons outweighed the pros.
The Families Should Know section on Ciao Bambino reviews highlights what may be a con or caveat, depending on travel expectations and/or the age of your kids. After this experience, there are new things we’ll add to this section. In the meantime, the Check Availability button allows you to request pricing and ask about additional details that are important and not included in the property review.
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February 17th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Praq is located along the Amstel river in the beautiful little village of Oudekerk aan de Amstel — a very picturesque little village not very far from Amsterdam at all (I would say about a 40 minute, very scenic bike-ride). It is our favourite kid-friendly restaurant!
We love this restaurant so much because not only do they serve great food, they also have a complete section reserved just for kids (and their parents). All this is done in a really tasteful way – no Donald Duck in sight! Parents, children, even business people feel comfortable here!
Cool features include: a puzzle wall, car-tables, a drawing-table, a DVD station, toy-kitchens and plenty of toys in general — even for babies. There’s also a great outdoor garden and seating area, which is lovely in the summer time, and also fun for the kids to explore.
And it goes without saying that kids’ menus, high chairs and changing stations are readily available!
When you’re in town and toying with the idea of paying a visit, make sure you make a reservation first. Because we are not the only ones in love with this place…
Esther writes for Babyccino from Amsterdam.
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February 15th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Many people associate tour operators with “old people” trips. After running Ciao Bambino for several years, I’ve learned that this assumption is false. In fact, using a tour operator can be a great option for families planning multi-generational trips, families that want more structure to their trip with pre-defined itineraries and access to an array of reliable tours and activities, families wanting to incorporate physical activity into the itinerary like hiking and biking, and/or families that want to explore more off-path locations or those with challenging infrastructure. Also, you do not need to be part of a larger group trip to use these services—many of the top tour operators plan itineraries for independent families as well.
Classic Journeys is continually recognized as one of the best tour operators in the business. Nancy’s family plans annual multi-generational trips and is still raving about the trip Classic Journeys put together for the 15 of them in Italy (see her Thoughts on Multi-Generational Travel post). I asked Edward Piegza, the company’s founder, to comment on why a tour operator is a good resource for families.
Here’s what he wrote:
You know that old adage: “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium”? It applies to the type of touring that our parents or Aunt Mary took when she did the grand tour of Europe. (And literally, you’d pack 40-50 people in a bus and cover a whole lot of countries in two weeks’ time. You knew it was Tuesday when you got to Belgium. Wednesday was Paris, Thursday was London and so on.) For many of us, myself included, it doesn’t hold any appeal.
So why would a web site like Ciao Bambino be interested in talking about tours at all? We’ve already agreed that the idea of being packed into a bus and being driven-literally-into boredom sounds terrible for anyone, and in particular for families with kids.
I’ve been in the adventure travel business for 17 years—and head of Classic Journeys since its inception in 1995. My wife, Susan, is also actively involved in Classic Journeys as our CFO and head of HR. We have two sons, Jack (12) and Matthew (9). Because of what we do professionally, they’ve always traveled with us. Over the years, we’ve found some real benefits to traveling on small group tours. Here are a few things I’ve learned on our travels.
Everything looks brighter when you see the world through younger eyes.
You rediscover the fun of family travel when you take the kids-or grandkids-on a family adventure vacation. Suddenly, ancient ruins are for climbing on. Bocci ball and boules become games for playing rather than spectating. Rivers are for rafting, and alpine tram rides turn into joy rides. That said, it helps to have someone in the know locally who can organize these activities and make your vacation seamless. A good tour company blends these into your days without you having to figure out when is the best time, place, etc. to do each activity.
A tour can give you all the fun and none of the hassle.
Okay-long-distance trips with kids can be a challenge. A well-designed small group family tour should match the curiosity, energy levels and attention spans of fledgling travelers. Check the distances companies cover so that you can avoid the “Are we there yet?” It’s almost axiomatic that if you have someone else taking care of the details for you, you (and your kids) actually get more flexibility in what you do each day.
Hold out for the “cool factor”.
Find a company that scouts out cool stuff like a nighttime safari, mountain biking on the wide medieval walls of an Italian city, or rafting down a scenic river valley. Nowadays, the best companies have local contacts and so can hook you up with local artisans so that you can get your hands dirty in craft sessions…and join kid-sensitive explorations of must-see landmarks.
With the kids it’s a trip; without the kids it’s a vacation.
That used to be the case. Now, you can find itineraries almost anywhere, from Costa Rica to Canada, Peru to Provence that give you some time together and some time apart. Ask the tour company if their itineraries are designed to satisfy the curiosity, energy levels and attention spans of multiple generations. There should be some activities each day for the whole family and some time for the adults to go off alone while the kids are on chaperoned kids-only events.
Picky eaters are people too.
I remember reading the Arthur book by Marc Brown titled “DW the Picky Eater” to my sons when they were young. You might remember it too. I have some friends whose son ate only steak and chocolate. He’s a great kid, but it was challenging when they’d try to travel. On a good tour with a great guide, your kids will be introduced to new foods in a way that makes them approachable. The guides find the local specialties kids love-pizza, fondue, picnics-as well as plenty of chances for the adventuresome to try new tastes.
For me, there are times to travel alone as a family. Every once in a while we go to Maui and we ski as a family every winter. I could not imagine needing a tour company to organize either of those for us. Then again, we’re going to Morocco on a Classic Journeys tour for spring break and I know the four families traveling together will have more fun, see more things, stress less and come home with better memories because it’s a tour designed for families.
Classic Journeys operates cultural walking adventures, culinary tours and family journeys in 65 regions around the world. The company has been recognized by Travel + Leisure and National Geographic Adventure magazines as a World’s Best Tour Operator, and by Forbes.com as a Best of the Web.
, Travel Planning