Archive for March 2009
March 31st, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Ranch vacations are an incredible family vacation option over the summer months. When I was growing up, my family stayed at few ranches in Arizona, Wyoming, and California—without a doubt, my favorite kid-vacation memories are from these trips!
When I first started Ciao Bambino I was on the road in Italy 5 weeks a year. Despite my love for Europe, I found myself exhausted and ready for a stateside holiday. We ended up spending a week at Smith Fork Ranch in Colorado (midway between Aspen and Telluride). Devon was 2.5 years old at the time. I have to say that our week at the ranch was absolutely phenomenal and ideally, every summer I’d switch off between a ranch and more exotic destinations.
There is a massive list of ranch options available throughout the Western United States and it’s overwhelming to research where you should go. I like to look at amenities on a spectrum to help me determine the right choice for a particular trip noting that needs are different from year-to-year plus the age of your kids definitely drives what you need and want to experience at a particular point in time.
He’s an outline of the spectrum of amenities and services to review when choosing which ranch is right for you.
Structured vs. Unstructured Activities
Part of what makes ranches so entertaining is that most offer significant structured activities—trail riding, guided fishing, extensive kids programs—the list is endless. There is something easy about getting up and heading for a scheduled day of action. That said, many of us are so structured in our daily lives that the last thing we want on vacation is a rigorous schedule. For me, I want a combination of options—meaning, I want access to the interesting (and often more memorable) structured activities, but I also want the ability to do nothing. Make sure you figure out how a ranch runs their program and ensure it matches how you envision spending your week.
Horses, Horses, Horses
A typical “dude ranch” is all about horseback riding. If this does not appeal to one or more people in the group (or kids are too young to ride), it’s essential to ensure that there are plenty of other activities of interest offered. Some ranches are “all about” fishing when there are lakes or rivers nearby, while others properties are more like resorts with a swimming pool, tennis, a spa etc. Figure out what you want to experience and this will help narrow down the list of options quickly.
Rustic vs. Posh Lodging
Many ranches offer spacious, cabin-type accommodations—part of why they are so great for families. Most people would argue that a “real ranch” is more outdoorsy and rustic versus decorated like a posh hotel. I love staying at the Four Seasons as much as anyone, but I also appreciate and want the experience of staying in a place that is integrated with an outdoors-focused environment. That said, I don’t want something dusty and dirty—but simple is OK, and cozy is even better. Photos are deceiving. Make sure you read user reviews to get the real skinny on the quality of the accommodations.
All-Inclusive vs. A La Carte
Many ranches price by the week and include all meals and activities in a single rate—at first blush this pricing can seem outrageously expensive. Once you break down what you are getting, including a high staff-to-guest ratio in many cases, the value of ranch pricing is clear. I’d argue that when you really add up what you’d spend on your own in a different venue, including all activities and meals, you might find that you aren’t paying much of a premium for a ranch experience. Part of the fun of a ranch is access to a wide a variety of activities—I’d rather take part in as much as possible without worrying about spending money here and there—that just adds to stress and logistics. Figure out what works for you in terms of pricing and choose a ranch accordingly—there are some properties that offer a la carte pricing for rooms, meals, and activities.
Group vs. Individual Meals
Call me antisocial, but I don’t want to spend every dinner during my vacation making small talk with other guests. When I was investigating going to Smith Fork Ranch, I specifically asked about the structure of dinners—they confirmed that any families eat on their own when they choose to do so. It is key to understand this! Some people enjoy their trip more when eating with other people—the bottom line is you need to figure out what you want to experience and ensure the ranch is set-up accordingly.
Unlike beach-oriented kids clubs where the activities and structures seem to be more-or-less the same between resorts, there are vast differences between ranch kids programs. Step one is to understand age requirements to participate in various activities. When we were planning our Colorado trip and Devon was only 2 year old, I found it surprisingly challenging to find a ranch that had a program for him vs. just the opportunity to pay a babysitter. If you want your toddler to be entertained and have a fulfilling week too—ranches with some sort of program for younger kids are key. For school-age kids and up, many properties offer full programs with age-appropriate activities while other properties offer just riding as the activity option. Ask the ranch to outline the nitty-gritty details of their program to ensure it will be the best entertainment option for your kids based on their age and what they like to do.
If babysitting services are needed during the day or for a few of the nights, it is important to understand rates ahead of time. We list approximate babysitting rates for all Ciao Bambino properties that offer referrals.
Most ranches offer Western trail riding. Based on the terrain, there may be limitations as to what you can do on the horse, irrespective of riding experience. I remember loping through the desert for hours during one of our family trips to Tanque Verde growing up, but on this last trip to Smith Fork, the riding was mostly walking given the steep, mountain terrain. For riding enthusiasts, there is nothing worse than dreaming about fast speeds and ending up walking for hours on end. The other thing worth mentioning is that some ranches have fun rodeo programs for kids—a blast for everyone!
Comfort vs. Gourmet Food
Some ranches offer simple “home cooking” where the focus is comfort and substance. For foodie-types, there are ranches that offer gourmet food and wine. Irrespective of your preference, you are eating food from the same kitchen all week—understand the intent of the meal program. I have to admit that drinking good wine is part of what we enjoy on vacation—before going to ranch I confirm the wine options available too.
Programs run at night like campfires, dancing, and live music can significantly enhance a ranch stay and most properties offer some kind of nightly program. We stayed at the Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch last summer and they have a kids dinner and activity program a few nights a week—we loved this! We enjoyed the adult cocktail and dinner service while the kids ran around like monkeys. Devon is still asking to go back there …
Ranch Size and Personalized Services
Part of what we loved so much about Smith Fork Ranch was that there were only 25 guests staying at the ranch during our week there. This enabled a very high level of personalized service and private guides for things like riding and fishing. Ranch staff is usually transitory—college kids or kids in their early 20s—it’s fun to get to know them. Ask the ranch to confirm the maximum capacity of the property and average guest count for the week you are researching.
For families with older kids, some ranches offer overnights where they take you out to a semi-permanent camp on horseback. This is a fantastic experience with none of the hassles of camping as someone does all the planning, carrying, and cooking for you!
We have a small group of ranches on Ciao Bambino. I’ve personally stayed at a few of them and rave about them for different reasons. Our Community Recommended Options look incredible as well.
See our list of recommended family ranch vacations.
, Ranch Vacations
March 30th, 2009
Laura from Ciao Bambino
Park Avenue Tulips
It’s been a long winter in New York City this year with plenty of snowy, windy days. My four-year-old daughter, Charlotte, keeps asking me when spring is coming. I’ve told her many times that spring officially begun on March 20th but she doesn’t believe me. “Mom, spring is not here because the tulips are not yet blooming!” Charlotte’s talking about the tulips on Park Avenue. More than 150,000 tulips are planted every year in the malls on Park—they stretch from 60th Street to 96th Street. One of our favorite spring traditions is to walk down Park Avenue, admire all of these gorgeous flowers, and count them! We are still waiting and watching every day …
Central Park Carousel
The Central Park Carousel is another favorite springtime activity. We go around-and-around for as much as I can handle, and then we walk to the Central Park Zoo. When the weather is warm this time of year we watch the sea lions for hours (feedings at 2p and 4p each day are a highlight). My kids love the petting zoo too, plus it also has a great café for kids with outdoor seating and high chairs.
Conservatory Water in Central Park
Beginning in April the boat pond, a.k.a. the Conservatory Water in Central Park, makes for a great excursion. You can bring your own boat or rent a model remote controlled sailboat to operate around the pond. The Alice in Wonderland bronze sculpture is a perfect place for a post-boating climb. We also like to wander over to Turtle Pond next to Belvedere’s Castle and picnic on the Great Lawn in Central Park (note that weekdays are better than weekends when baseball players are in full swing). The girls love to stand on the dock and watch the turtles poke their heads their heads out of the water—there’s also plenty of opportunity for duck chasing.
Carl Schurz Park
Spring is a great time to enjoy city playgrounds and one of our favorite road trips is to the Carl Schurz Park located at 84th and East End Avenue. They have long “big girl swings” overlooking the East River and lots of room to run. As the weather warms up, bathing suits are a must for a run through the sprinklers.
Brooklyn Botancial Gardens
The Cherry Blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens is open from April 4-May 10th. There’s a great festival for kids on the weekend of May 2-3 with more than 50 family events. Charlotte and Lily love to watch the blossoms float around their heads and dream about summer—now just right around the corner.
Places to Stay with Kids in NYC – Shoreham Hotel and The Pod Hotel
, New York City
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March 29th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Families with dogs need to figure out what to do with them before getaways. For regional vacations, we’d rather bring ours with us—it’s more fun to travel with him!
In the last few years, more hotels have become pet-friendly, even very upscale brands like the Four Seasons allow dogs in some locations. I love that some boutique chains like Kimpton Hotels—the Sky Hotel, Hotel Monaco Seattle, Hotel Palomar Washington DC, and the Lorien Hotel and Spa are on all CB—pets (like kids) are an integral part of their service offering with an extensive list of pooch-focused amenities.
This is great news, however, buyer beware—we’ve found that pet-friendly means very different things at properties and it’s important to understand real details before deciding to include pets in your holiday.
Pet fees vary widely and can add significantly to the trip expense. I’ve seen one-time fees of $150 and other cases where guests are charged $75 per night—either way, this is an unpleasant surprise when not calculated into the trip budget. Of course, we like the hotels where there are no pet fees at all and there are many, like Kimpton Hotels, where that is the case.
It’s important to understand where dogs are allowed on property. If pets are allowed in your room but nowhere else, it is likely you will become trapped and not be able to access property amenities—particularly if the hotel has a rule that pets are not allowed in the room alone. Our dog is happy in the car for a few hours, but this is not an option in extreme hot or cold weather; as a consequence, we’ve found ourselves in situations where we can’t go to the pool or restaurant because we have to stay with the dog in the room … not good! Some hotels have referrals for pet-sitters, although this can be very expensive—I was quoted $18 an hour during a recent stay.
We’ve paid $150 extra to have our dog with us. In that case, we were unpleasantly surprised to find that after paying what seems like a huge fee to have our dog with us, there wasn’t even a dog bed available, meaning nowhere for him to sleep comfortably in a room with all-wood floors. Dog treats and bowls are a nice touch, but if a property is going to charge for the dog like a person, then they should at least provide a place for them to sleep.
I guess the bottom line for me is that pet-friendly doesn’t meant that a property is really optimized for dogs or that they really want them there for that matter. In those cases, it’s easier and less expensive to leave a dog at home. Someone needs to create a Ciao Bambino-type guide for pets …
March 27th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Lucca is one of my favorite cities in Italy—with and without kids. The walled-city is perfectly preserved and despite it’s relatively small size, visiting the city is a unique cultural experience. The architecture is extraordinary and there is sense of a tight-knit community that I haven’t experienced in other cities in Italy.
What I love most about Lucca for families is the wall surrounding the city where everyone walks, jogs, and rides bikes. It provides a unique vantage point and quite simply is a special place to have a memorable Italian experience. You can rent bikes from a number of rental shops in the city, including kids bikes and trailers. On any given Sunday, everyone is out and about—it’s so fun!
The other point that makes the city work well for kids is that most of the streets within the walls have traffic limitations, so there are few cars and many open, spectacular piazzas.
Perhaps one reason Lucca is so near and dear to my heart is that it is the place where one Easter Sunday my husband was so immersed in enjoying a cappuccino in the sunshine, that he didn’t realize that I was missing (literally) for 30 minutes. I was accidentally locked in a restaurant bathroom and given the holiday, nobody was around to hear my calls for help. When I was finally rescued, my husband was totally unphased and clearly didn’t even notice I was gone! I guess he was really into the glorious setting …
Albergo Villa Marta is our favorite boutique hotel in that area and is just 10 minutes outside the city walls. See more Photo Friday posts on Delicious Baby.
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March 26th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
I “met” @TravelSavvyKayt on Twitter. Although I’m a Twitter newbie, I was immediately drawn to Kayt’s tweets about her life living in Europe and travels with her four-year-old son Chet. In fact, @TravelSavvyKayt is so popular, she’s been nominated for Lonely Planet’s 2009 Best Micro-blogging Award.
I asked Kayt for an interview because I wanted to learn more about her perspective on social media and traveling with kids while living in Europe. One of her biggest clients is Travel Savvy Mom who, like Ciao Bambino, publishes an online guide to family-friendly accommodations and other family travel-oriented tips and advice.
It was fun and fascinating to connect with Kayt. Much of her travel through Europe and the Middle East has been done alone with her son. Many of us can’t imagine doing that, but as Kayt explains, the experience is profoundly rewarding.
How did you get into travel writing?
I grew up traveling everywhere. My Dad worked for an international company and dragged us all over the world. And in 2004, I moved to Germany with my Army Officer husband who was stationed here. My background is in information technology. But since I quickly found myself pregnant, I started freelance writing soon after moving to Europe. Travel writing was a natural extension for me given that I was continually moving around and exploring new destinations.
Germans love traveling and there are always great deals offered—it’s easy to get away. Chet travels everywhere with me and we travel as much as possible. My husband is now in Iraq so Chet and I mostly travel on our own. It’s a great experience —I find that I get a much better feel for a place when it is just the two of us. People are curious about our situation and take the time to talk to us. They’ve even invited us into their homes; this allows us to learn the real local’s perspective and lay of the land.
I write about a variety of subjects—neuroscience, immunology, and healthcare—I even write profiles for Match.com. That said, my first love is writing about travel. Especially travel with kids.
What is the value of blogging and micro-blogging about travel for you?
Travel blogging is a great way to talk about experiential travel. For me, the value of traveling with children is all the weird, niche experiences you have with them on the road. Recently we were in Jordan with a guide and Chet started teaching the guide a little song he likes to sing. In turn, the guide started teaching Chet a Bedouin song—soon they were immersed in this fantastic duet. This is the kind of stuff that makes travel worthwhile—these strange quirky moments that you can’t get in your home environment.
What do hope Chet gets out of his travels?
I suppose I hope that he gets something beyond just the American view of the world. I definitely hope he doesn’t automatically assume that everyone in the world has so much stuff. I want to Chet to literally be at home anywhere we go and know that people are more the same than different, and that there is always room to find common ground. And so far, success. He is almost four and really is comfortable everywhere.
Travel requires kids to be flexible. Do you think this is something innate or learned?
In Chet’s case I think it is learned. He sees that his father and I are flexible and goes with it. A lot of it has to do with the fact that we’ve always taken him with us when we’ve hit the road.
What is your favorite destination with him so far?
It is so hard to say. Malta was amazing. So was Jordan. I can’t pick just one! Malta has all these prehistoric temples and monuments and the people were so kid-friendly. And despite all of the warnings I received, the Middle East was an amazing experience. In Egypt and Jordan they were so interested that we would bring this small child with us. Chet became a little ambassador and everyone wanted to talk with us, kiss Chet and even invite us to their home. We found that people wanted us to experience much more because we had Chet with us. It was just amazing! These are cultures that really love and appreciate kids.
Why did people pay special attention to you?
I think we were unique because many parents choose not to bring their kids with them when traveling to these kind of destinations. People are worried that kids can’t hack the active parts of this kind of travel (hiking, long flights, going through desert) and they are concerned about safety. I also think parents worry about finding things for their kids to eat. One amusing moment was when Chet starting begging for bacon in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. That didn’t go over so well. He ended up having Pringles for breakfast …
What’s your next big trip?
We’re going back to the States for our annual family-guilt trip. It’s funny, I know I now find it much more interesting to travel in the US since Chet has never lived there—we are tourists in our own country and have this totally different travel experience.
What is the travel tool you can’t live without?
Diecast cars toys from the movie CARS. Chet takes them everywhere. We lost a favorite in Jordan and more than a few tears were shed. He transports all his cars in an airsickness bag and they provide instant entertainment in restaurants and museums.
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March 25th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Flying long distances with young kids is at the same level on the enjoyment meter as going to the dentist for most parents. Although flights to Europe are less scary now then they were when our son was 2 and running everywhere, the key to flight success is still entertainment and I’m always looking for portable-yet-fun activities.
Activities with too many small parts don’t work well as they inevitably end up under the seat behind you—in fact, on our last flight, a beloved hot wheel ended up 10 rows behind us and we had the entire back half of the plane crouched over in a desperate search for the missing car.
I recently discovered a book called Julius! Pop-Up Sticker Activity Kit starring Paul Frank’s famed monkey—it’s a great travel toy. The book is light, durable, and includes 10 pages of stickers to use with the Drawing and Stickering Book. There are directions on each page to provide focus and a bit of challenge, plus there is plenty of room for random coloring. There’s even a pop-up scene with accompanying characters for an extra 20 minutes of distraction.
In short, it’s very cute! It’s geared for ages 3-8 and retails for $14.95. Read more details and/or order the kit from the Chronicle Kids website.
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March 24th, 2009
Laura from Ciao Bambino
Before babies and traveling with sippy cups, I lived in Maui for two years. My best girlfriend and I decided to have a “surf bum” year after college. We surfed, golfed and enjoyed this incredible island to the fullest.
Since then, I have been back every year to visit the islands I love and see friends with my husband and children. Both of my girls have visited Maui—in my belly and out. I wanted them to enjoy Hawaii as much as I do and I came up with many interesting activities for us. During our most recent trip, local friends helped us create our most memorable trip there yet …
Visiting Maui with Kids: Family-Friendly Maui Activities
On our first day we headed straight for Napili Beach—an excellent sandy beach for kids. It has wonderful snorkeling for older children and adults as well. There is an area under the water there called turtle town, where a large group of turtles live. I took my daughter swimming and we watched two turtles popping their heads out of the water. Her look of wonder and amazement was worth the flight alone. One thing to keep in mind is that all Hawaiian beaches are public, so you can pack towels and a picnic and enjoy them! Another one of our favorites is Kapalua Beach—it is small and the water is calm.
On our second night we decided to take them to the Old Lahaina Luau, which is considered one of the best luaus on Maui. My oldest still talks about the Hawaiian man who climbed a palm tree to gather coconuts for coconut milk for them.
After a few beach days we decided to mix it up and take them on a whale watching trip; this was a mistake because they were too young to appreciate it. I’d recommend this activity for five year olds and up. Waiting for whales take more patience than either of them could muster. The one thing we discovered when we arrived back into port was the Maui Ocean Center. It’s definitely one of the best aquariums I’ve ever visited with turtles, sharks and rays. Open 365 days a year, it’s always a safe bet on a rainy day.
Kaanapali Beach has a long walkway which is perfect for strollers. I could leave my husband and Charlotte on the beach, while I walked Lily up and down till she fell asleep. This area is very entertaining for kids with boats coming in and lots of surfers, but keep in mind that the water can get choppy in the winter. We went to lunch at Hula Grill which has a great kids menu. They also have live Hawaiian music, and you sit with your toes in the sand. It was a big hit! After dancing in the sand, you can easily head back to the beach.
Family trips are fun, but it’s great if you can have a night out alone. The Maui Arts Center has great concerts with well-known performers. One night Greg Allman was playing, so we found a babysitter through a babysitting service called Happy Kids Maui. The sitter arrived with games and plenty of tricks up her sleeve to keep them entertained.
Finally, Sansei in Kapalua is our favorite restaurant with wonderful creative sushi. It rivals places like Nobu and they offer a 50 percent discount for early bird specials—perfect for kids.
Happy Kids Maui
Old Laihaina Luau
Maui Ocean Center
Ciao Bambino Places to Stay in Hawaii with Kids
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March 23rd, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
During a recent flight delay at San Francisco Airport we made good use of our extra time with a visit to the XpresSpa—part of a chain of international airport spas. The three of us enjoyed our visit—I got a much-needed pedicure, my husband got a chair massage, and Devon, our 6-year-old, had the best time of all playing with the controls of the vibrating massage chair. Definitely an enjoyable way to wait out a flight delay, plus nail polish dries lightening-fast on an airplane (provided, of course, you can get down the aisle without having someone step on your toes).
We loved our treatments and pricing was reasonable given the airport venue. Manicures start at $20, pedicures start at $35, and neck/back massages start at $25. Check out the list of 32 locations in the US, Mexico, and Europe that are open and/or due to be open in 2009.
March 22nd, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
There are only 9 days left to enter this month’s 2-night giveaway in New York City at the Shoreham Hotel. Don’t miss this opportunity to stay for free in a suite for a family of 4! Located in the heart of midtown Manhattan on 55th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, the hotel is walking distances from many favorite kid-friendly attractions including Central Park, Broadway Theaters, and endless shopping on 5th Avenue. Suites here are hip, well-appointed, and spacious—the perfect configuration for families with separate rooms.
To enter the drawing, simply click here and fill in your email address. That’s it! It takes 2 seconds and don’t worry, your email address will be thrown away after the drawing is is completed on March 31, 2009.
New York City: Top 5 Kid-Friendly Excursions
Must-See Exhibit: Earth From Above
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March 20th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
I thought it would be fun to branch out this week for Photo Friday and do a pre-kids travel post. We spent several months in Asia in 2001 and we were lucky enough to spend time in Bhutan. There are so many magical and exotic sights in this country located on the Eastern end of the Himalaya Mountains between Tibet, India, and Nepal. Driving from place-to-place in Bhutan was slow (at that time, the one road through the country was one lane and white-knuckle to say the least)—anyway, the drives were long and we were grateful for these moments when we witnessed something amazing.
A rainblow caught on film in all its glory. For more Photo Friday posts visit Delicious Baby.
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