Archive for March 2009
March 19th, 2009
Emilie from Babyccino
You cannot get a more Parisian park than the Luxembourg Gardens. It is situated in the heart of the beautiful sixth arrondissement around St. Germain, making it hugely accessible for everyone. The park surrounds the imposing Luxembourg Palace which is now the seat of the French Senate.
It is so much fun, even as an adult, to rent one of the little sailboats in the main fountain of the garden and push it around with a stick. Most of the time the boats capsize or collide with other boats, but that is part of the fun! (You can rent the sailboats on Wednesdays and on weekends.) There are also pony rides (Wednesdays and weekends) and swings. The ubiquitous Manege (merry-go-round) is a beautiful older-style wooden affair, run by a lovely lady who does not mind kids taking their time to decide on which wooden animal to ride. If you have time, it is lovely to sit at the outdoor café, have a coffee or apple juice and watch the world go by.
I reckon the Luxembourg Gardens playground is the best in Paris because it remains relatively empty as it is the only playground I know of in the centre of the city that charges an entrance fee. The gated playground is large and caters to children of all ages.
Last but not least, and though I hate being so practical, the Luxembourg Gardens is one of the only places in Paris I have found in which the toilets have a changing table and cute, clean, kid-sized toilets with little hand-washing basins.
Emilie writes for Babyccino from Paris.
, Toddler Travel
March 18th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Before launching Indagare in 2007, Melissa Biggs Bradley was the travel editor of Town & Country and the editor-in-chief of Town & Country Travel. I’ve always associated travel features in both magazines with the best-of-the-best in high-end travel, so I was not surprised to discover that Indagare’s homepage is a compelling invitation to explore and share tips about the world’s most luxurious and exotic getaways.
A membership-based travel community, Indagare offers a range of services including access to extensive destination-focused content, customizable itineraries, travel planning, and invitations to Indagare-sponsored events and forums. Subscription pricing varies from $US 250 to $US 1,200 per year, depending on the membership level of the user.
I spent a few hours going through Indagare’s content and was impressed by the comprehensive categories covered under each destination, including where to stay, eat and shop, plus insider tips from travelers and locals. The information provided is unique—it feels very much like you are accessing someone’s little black book about how best to experience a destination. I’m intrigued by this resource, particular since one of the areas covered is family. Melissa relates well to this category since she has two kids, ages 8 and 10. In our interview, she speaks about the birth and development Indagare, and shares insight on traveling with kids.
Her passion for exploring the world is infectious.
Tell me about your background—how did you get involved in travel journalism?
I knew I wanted to be a journalist very early on. In high school and college, I spent a few years abroad and these experiences fueled my passion for travel, although I wasn’t sure it would end up being a career at that point. Initially I wrote about design, food, and film, but travel was something that kept coming up. My first job was working for European Travel and Life, and soon after graduate school I became the travel editor for Town & Country. During my 12 years there, I launched their wedding and travel magazines, got married, and had two kids.
What is Indagare and what inspired you to start it?
As a magazine editor, I was always frustrated by the one-way conversation—articles are published, but other than an occasional letter from a subscriber, there is no information back. I realized that what interested me in my own travel planning was talking to people who know a place well. The Internet allows for a dialogue to take place, and I love the idea of a travel resource that facilitates an open exchange of information where many different opinions are heard. The more opinions there are on a given subject, the better one can make a decision about what works best for a particular trip. Also, for me, the definition of “best” varies based on who is going and the purpose of the trip. For example, the best hotel for someone who cares about design may differ from the best hotel for a family or a traveler who wants quick access to shopping and food.
Indagare is membership-based, but the application is quick and easy. It is not meant to be exclusive. We want members who are passionate about travel and share similar goals about what they want to experience through travel.
How do families use Indagare?
The common denominator for our community of families, about 20 percent of which live outside the U.S., is their desire for authentic, high-quality experiences. We don’t have a budget audience, but frequently our hotel suggestions for families are not the most expensive, as these are not always the best fit when one is traveling with kids. We receive postcards from families who travel all over the world, including Jordan, Egypt and Kenya, so there is no geographic limit to where our members go, though shorter trips, like weekend getaways, are also popular.
Our custom trip-planning service is also appreciated by families. Last year, we created signature trips with structured itineraries, including lots of kid-friendly activities, so parents don’t have to spend time figuring out the logistics.
Finally, the members of the Indagare community also inspire each other. One family will send in a virtual “postcard” about a recent trip which then motivates others to plan a similar journey. It’s a fantastic opportunity to develop and share rich content, ideas and experiences.
What is your favorite destination with your kids and why?
When our kids were very young, the best vacations were to places that offered convenience and comfort. As they have grown, we’ve gravitated towards more activity-oriented destinations, that offer animals, hiking and nature. Belize, Costa Rica, and Brazil have been big hits.
In terms of cities, London and Venice are great European starters, because of their obvious fairytale qualities. It’s harder to get into a place like Paris, since even with the best guides, kids get their fill of museums quickly. During a recent trip to the French capital, my daughter announced that Europe is “just a lot of walking and seeing”. That said, you can enliven any destination for kids by researching how to make it more accessible for them. Food, for instance, is a key to unlocking the wonder of a place, especially in a city like Paris. Of course, you have to realize that you can’t approach a trip with kids the same way you would without them.
What are the limitations of traveling with kids?
Particularly in the early days, there is a trade-off between the pleasure and pain of a given destination. Bringing a 6-month-old to Hawaii may not make sense if you have to travel a long way to get there; not only will the child not get anything out of the place, but there’s too much adjustment required to get into a routine. If the goal is to just be in a warm place, plan a getaway to a nearby destination in the same time zone, where medical attention and food that the kids are used to are readily available. Remember that a baby won’t know the difference between Florida, Hawaii, and Bora Bora. Also, be sure to evaluate how much it will cost for your family to get there and how much the children will get out of the experience.
What do you hope your kids get out of travel?
Travel has opened our kids’ eyes and minds in a huge way. One of my favorite moments with my daughter was in the Belize airport. We were on our way home and our flight was delayed for six hours. Short of a local’s food stand selling rice and beans, there were no restaurants. As the uptight American mother, I avoided the stall and bought my kids Coke and Pringles, i.e. “safe” food, instead. My daughter turned to me and said, “Mom, why aren’t we eating rice and beans like everyone else?” I realized that this was exactly what I wanted her to learn while traveling—people around the world live differently than we do and there is no “right” American way. It’s one thing to explain the differences in conversations, it’s another to show kids by example where the messages resonate. A few minutes after my daughter asked her question we were eating rice and beans. For me, travel is the most meaningful way to impart real values.
What is a must-visit destination with kids?
We have so many fantastic experiences in our own back yard. It’s about the approach you take, exploring a different neighborhood or going out for an adventure. One of our most rewarding trips as a family was Washington, D.C. Taking the train, learning about the presidents, seeing the monuments—it is a powerful experience for every age.
I liked your The Fear Factor in Travel article – are there special precautions you take or things you do to minimize risk when on the road?
You have to go where you are comfortable—I wouldn’t encourage anyone to travel to Egypt if it meant they would end up being afraid the entire time. Having comprehensive information, particularly medical, is key. An awful lot of people travel to the Caribbean without being immunized against Hepititis A. I always travel with Cipro and Benadryl. I’m also part of MedJet Assist, so in case of an emergency, I can be evacuated to a hospital of my choosing. This is crucial, since depending on where you are, even a simple thing can be a matter of life and death. We also always check with a pediatrician familiar with travel medicine before going abroad.
What are your favorite travel resources?
The gems come from other well-traveled friends who return raving about an experience. Gulliver Travel Guides do a nice job, and they have a great book about DC with kids that includes quizzes about different parts of the city—this helped get my children involved. We also use local resources like Time Out to find out about current events. I love reading books and watching movies to get the kids excited about where we’re going; it also helps engage them more effectively once we arrive.
What items do you never leave home without?
My Blackberry, a camera, and a good book to read.
For a free trial of Indagare click here and enter referral code: ind1165.
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March 17th, 2009
Kristi from Ciao Bambino
Ecuador is a country that is full of adventure and natural beauty. During the two years that I lived there, I was continually amazed and grateful for the opportunity to experience all that it had to offer. The most intriguing and well known of Ecuador’s natural treasures is the Galapagos Islands. I visited them with my parents and loved the experience! It was an amazing trip and I was thrilled to read about a mother-daughter trip to the Galapagos on Tango Diva.
The information and photos of the wildlife are spectacular and what the author concludes about traveling with her daughter may be the key to any successful family trip – everyone needs a little space and traveling together doesn’t mean that you have to spend every moment together. Read the full Ecuador: Mother-Daughter Galapagos Adventure.
I can’t wait to take my own family there – thanks Tango Diva for bringing such fun memories!
, South America
, Travel Stories
March 15th, 2009
Laura from Ciao Bambino
Sometimes the best-laid plans are the first ones to fall apart. Last summer we planned a trip to Italy with our two daughters, Lily and Charlotte (ages 1 and 3, respectively). We rented a villa in Tuscany, forty-five minutes outside of Siena. I thought I had planned for everything—I even had a wonderful local host waiting for us in Italy upon arrival as part of the villa rental program we chose. A few days before our departure date, my husband informed that he couldn’t go on the trip with us, because of business. I was devastated! We had been planning this trip for almost six months and it would mean that I would have to fly with both of my very boisterous toddlers alone for over nine hours in coach! I was in a quandary. Could I endure the flight alone?
I knew we would have a wonderful time once we arrived, plus it would be a trip my older daughter would always remember. I couldn’t cancel—we had to go, even to just escape the heat of a New York City summer.
I knew there were a few things I could do to make the trip easier. First of all I went to the toy store. I bought new coloring books, new DVD movies, sticker books, lip gloss, nail polish, slinkys—anything to keep them occupied. I hand-wrapped fifty small items (even small things like life savers) for each leg of the trip. I had snacks in all shapes and sizes. I decided to bring a seat for my youngest, Lily, so she could sleep on the seat without slipping off. I shipped all of the bulky items in advance like diapers, baby food, and more toys.
We were ready! We arrived at the airport and I curb-checked our bags, so I wouldn’t have to carry them and the girls. I had Lily in a travel stroller and two carry-on bags. I then proceeded to walk them around everywhere to exhaust them (a tough undertaking). We had relay races up and down the corridors, ate fries and played twenty rounds of I Spy. When we boarded, I waited as long as possible to pull out any toys. Charlotte ended up being the star of this leg. She went to sleep in her seat and cooperated with me probably because she could sense how freaked out I was to be flying alone with them. Lily on the other hand was not a happy camper. She cried for about two hours before she finally fell asleep. I tried everything from bottles to rocking her to walking up and down the aisles. Nothing worked. She finally exhausted herself from all the screaming and passed out in my lap. I felt terribly for the people around us, but what was I to do?
I’m happy to report that the pain of dealing with the flight alone was worth it and the trip was wonderful. Charlotte learned how to make pizza with an Italian chef, over-dosed on gelato, and she took a ceramics class with local Italian children in the town’s square. She woke up in the morning to collect the fresh eggs from the chicken coop and cut flowers in a garden fit for a queen. I think they will always remember the fields of sunflowers at every turn.
On the return, I pulled out the rest of the toys and put on my clown face. We made friends with other passengers and they helped entertain them for the 10-hour flight to JFK. When we disembarked at least twenty people said “Bye Lily!” This experience made me less afraid to take trips with them on my own.
A friend of mine with four kids says that travels with children should be called trips not vacations—these trips are satisfying, but not relaxing. Although it was a lot of work, it’s not the flight we dwell on … but the gelato and our incredible Italian garden—now those are fun to remember!
House Rental – http://www.homesaway.com/
Travel Toys – http://www.fatbraintoys.com/
Pre-Travel Diaper Shipment - http://www.jetsetbabies.com/
, Toddler Travel
, Travel Stories
March 13th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
This week’s Photo Friday Post is about the Monterey Peninsula in California. This has to be one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world. There is a luminescence in the waves that is incredible—many local artists capture this in their paintings.
The sea life in that area is amazing too and includes seals, whales, and my favorite—sea otters! We stayed at the new Intercontinental The Clement Monterey in January and enjoyed unbelievable (and spooky) 70 degree weather. We took advantage of every moment and in addition to our visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium—a must-see museum with kids—went sea kayaking. I tried hard to take pictures of the otters but sadly they were blurry. I did, however, get a fun photo of seals soaking in the rays.
Places to Stay on the Monterey Peninsula – Intercontinental The Clement Monterey and Bernardus Lodge
, North America
, Photo Friday
, Travel Stories
March 11th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) has become a go-to resource for people booking independent vacation rentals. I just confirmed a villa in the Dordogne (France) found on VRBO after an extensive online search that included our partner agencies. A few years ago I never would have booked a rental outside of a trusted rental agency, but the inventory on VRBO and other direct listing sites like HomeAway is too compelling to ignore.
I’m thrilled with our decision to go this route in this case, although it’s not without a bit of risk. I’ve outlined some things to consider before booking directly with an owner via one of these resources.
What is the primary difference between using a resource like VRBO and using a rental agency?
To net it out, high-quality rental agencies vet their inventory thoroughly and in concept, any one of the properties in a given portfolio meet baseline quality standards. VRBO/HomeAway and other direct-to-owner resources don’t vet the properties they publish. One thing I’ve learned over the past several years is that pictures can be deceiving—a property can look completely different in person. I can’t tell you how many times I think a property is going to be amazing and I end up disappointed, and vice versa!
The other big difference is the number of services provided. A high-quality rental agency will usually offer additional value-added services like a local host and/or concierge-type activity planning—this list can be extensive. This can be an important feature for families that want to minimize work and logistics on a trip given that the primary downside of an independent villa is the absence of staff and extensive onsite amenities. That said, there are owners that provide the key additional services—a cook, babysitting referrals, activity advice, and extra housekeeping.
Given the risk and service differences—why consider VRBO at all?
Inventory and price are the biggest reasons. The high-quality rental agencies usually have inventory in the main tourist zones, but limited options in off-path areas. VRBO has options everywhere. The downside of this, of course, is that you may have to sift through many frogs before you find your prince. This is time-consuming. Also, VRBO listings are broken down by region so if you are unfamiliar with the layout of a destination, it’s challenging to narrow down an initial list of targets. Like any classified ad by an owner, the descriptions are not reliable—everyone uses descriptors like luxurious, beautiful, and charming—who knows if this is really the case.
In theory, there is price benefit to going through VRBO. Rental agencies make money via commissions from owners on the properties that are rented through them. This commission may be subtracted from you’d pay anyway (like the hotel industry)—however, many rental agencies do have a bit of mark-up to cover the costs of offering all of those additional services. I’m OK with this—if an agency offers something valuable, they should charge accordingly.
That said, rates though both agencies and owners are negotiable. There is no reason why you shouldn’t ask for a discount—the worst that can happen is that they say no. Compelling reasons to get a discount include: 1) multi-week stays, 2) off-season stays, 3) a down market like this one where agencies/owners need more bookings.
If you go the VRBO route—how do you mitigate the risk that you may end up disappointed or worse?
References, references, references! It is critical to check references for anything found directly through an owner (noting that I like to check them for agency rentals too). Unlike hotels and resorts where things like Ciao Bambino and Trip Advisor provide validation from someone that has experienced a property that it is indeed a great place to stay, there is no validation for a VRBO rental (there may be testimonials available, but that is not a substitute for a live conversation). If an owner cannot provide at least 2 references, move on.
Some suggestions for questions to ask a reference:
1. What are the highlights, i.e. the features you liked most?
2. What is the state of the kitchen and bathrooms, i.e. are they updated and clean. How is the water pressure in the shower and does the kitchen have all you need to actually cook a meal?
3. What is the size of the bedrooms? How is the quality of the beds and linens? Are the bedrooms that will be used by the adults in the group equal in size?
4. What is the state of the outdoor spaces? With kids, we count on this! Are the outdoors appealing with plenty of seating space (assuming you are looking at a destination where this is relevant).
5. Ask them to comment on the overall location and any related pros and cons (traffic, convenience, walking/driving distances).
6. Ask for caveats. To me, this is the most important part of a reference call (what we call Families Should Know in Ciao Bambino reviews). Every property has some kind of caveat or trade-off. The caveat may not be consequential for you—but expectation setting is critical.
7. Who manages the property locally? Rental agencies oftentimes provide local management for owners. In the absence of an agency, is there a caretaker? If not, are you left to call the owner for issues (who may live in a different country)?
Regular users of Ciao Bambino will note that we have very limited inventory of independent rentals on the website. The growth of VRBO and HomeAway is one of the reasons for that. Yes, our value proposition in this category is the same—meaning we provide the ultimate reliable reference for families and content tells you what you need to know. That said, these direct resources are important to consider in any search.
Wendy Perrin publishes an excellent Annual Guide to Affordable Villa Vacations and has a list of preferred rental agencies. This is a must-read resource for families unfamiliar with the rental market. VRBO and HomeAway are new to me—if you have experiences to share or tips for using them more effectively, please share them!
Ciao Bambino’s family-friendly villa agency list
VRBO Rentals - experience notes
Top family-friendly hotel chains (US edition)
Value remains king in 2010
Toddler travel – where you stay matters
Finding family-friendly boutique hotels
Finding the best kids clubs
Finding the best Europe family hotels
Finding family-friendly ski resorts
How to choose the right ranch vacation
Things to consider before booking mega-resorts
Evaluating all-inclusive beach resorts
, Villa Rentals
March 9th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
It’s not too late to plan that much-needed spring getaway. Last-minute is the name of the game this year. Good news, there are plenty of deals out there to make travel more affordable. In fact, I don’t know of many properties that are not offering some kind of promotion right now! Here are a few highlights from the Ciao Bambino portfolio:
Fairmont Kea Lani – Maui, HI
- 5th Night Free Promotion
- 5th night free in rooms, suites, and villas
- Starting price for a family of 4 is $US 485 per night
- Additional discounts may be available with prepayment program
- Valid for stays through December 17, 2009
Read Fairmont Kea Lani’s full review and check availability
La Costa Resort and Spa – San Diego, CA
- Kids Eat, Play, & Stay for Free
- 48-Hour Sale (booking window March 10 and 11): 50% off best available rates
- Breakfast, lunch, and dinner is free at Legends Bistro (kids 12 and under, restrictions apply)
- Includes free half-day admission to Kidtopia Kids Club (kids 12 and under)
- Free golf and tennis court time (kids only)
- Valid for stays through June 30, 2009
Read La Costa’s full review and check availability
Grace Bay Club – Turks and Caicos, Caribbean
- Families at Grace Bay Club
- Book a 1-2 Bedroom Suite and get a connecting room at a 50% discount
- 4th night free
- Includes Very Important Kids Program (VIK)
- Champagne and fruit basket on arrival
- Includes half-day snorkel cruise
- Includes daily breakfast
- Valid for stays through April 30, 2009
Read Grace Bay Club’s full review and check availability
Le Capanne (Independent Villa) – Tuscany, Italy
- Ciao Bambino Special Offer
- 2,500€ per week for this 4-bedroom villa in Southern Tuscany (sleeps 8-10 people)
- Includes complimentary welcome dinner
- Valid for stays through June 13, 2009
Read Le Capanne’s full review and check availability
Mirror Lake Inn – Lake Placid, NY
- Escape to Lake Placid
- $US 190 per night Sunday-Thursday/$US 245 Friday-Saturday
- Includes breakfast for 2 plus $US 8 per child
- Valid for stays through March 31, 2009
Read Mirror Lake Inn’s full review and check availability
InterContinental The Clement Monterey – Monterey, CA
- Family Time Our Time
- Family package starts at $US 519 per night
- Includes room with two double beds
- Dinner for 2 at C Restaurant
- Cocktails for 2 at Pacific View Courtyard
- Members-only access for 4 to Monterey Aquarium
- 2 admissions to VIP Kids Club (value $US 150)
- No expiration
Read InterContinental The Clement Monterey’s full review and check availability
Marriott Desert Springs – Palm Springs, CA
- Escape to the West 3-Night Package
- 3rd night free
- $US 100 credit at check-out for food/services
- 3-night packages start at $US 714 for a 2-bedroom villa
- Valid for stays through June 30, 2009
Read Marriott Desert Spring’s full review and check availability
Deals & Giveaways
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March 8th, 2009
Laura from Ciao Bambino
Raising our two girls—currently 1 and 3 years old—in New York City has certain advantages. We take weekly visits to the American Museum of Natural History and utilize it as both an indoor recreation center and a place to enjoy the incredible exhibits. For the permanent exhibits, the donation amount is up to you, so it is also an affordable activity in an expensive city. It’s also the perfect place to escape a cold winter day or a humid one. Weekdays are much less crowded than weekends. We always start from the bottom and work our way up, before heading down to the café for an early lunch.
Milstein Hall of Ocean Life (Floor 1)
We always start our visit with a trip to the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. We call it the Whale Room, because of the 94-foot blue whale suspended from the ceiling. The girls love standing underneath it and admiring its grandeur. We often sit on the wide open floor underneath it and have a snack—no one seems to mind. In fact they call it their ‘picnic’ area. My toddler loves running up and down the stairs to see the whale from different angles plus they have a movie on ocean life running throughout the day to entertain my older daughter. The Hall of Ocean Life also has displays of the ocean’s ecosystems and myriad of creatures.
Akeley Hall of African Mammals (Floors 2 and 3)
The African Mammal room is another favorite. It houses 28 dioramas depicting a great array of African animals in their natural habitats. Everything from elephants to impalas which continue to amaze the girls.
Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs (Floor 4)
The Museum has the world’s largest collection of dinosaurs, so we always try to include a visit to the Dinosaur hall. We like to play a game counting bones or even hide and seek if my husband or friends come along.
The Butterfly Conservatory
Until May 25th the butterfly exhibit is a magical experience for both young children and adults alike. The butterflies are flying all around you and if you’re lucky, one may land on your child’s shoulder or finger for closer viewing.
The museum opens at 10a and we try to arrive 10 minutes early before so as not to wait on line. Be ready to have your bag inspected. They allow strollers, which is great, so we leave our coats and diaper bag on our stroller while we walk around the museum.
Café On One
First Floor, Grand Gallery
Café on One serves more gourmet fare catering to adult diners, but has healthy selections for kids too. It’s small and easy to manage if you are alone with several children.
Museum Food Court
The cafeteria downstairs has more child-friendly fare like dinosaur shaped chicken fingers, pizza, etc. It is a large venue and can get very crowded.
The Museum is open daily: 10:00a – 5:45p
The Museum is closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Phone: (212) 769-5100
Value-oriented places to stay in NYC – Shoreham and The Pod Hotel
, New York City
, North America
, Toddler Travel
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