Archive for April 2009
April 30th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Developing a successful kid-friendly itinerary means thinking through all the logistics ahead of time. Some people thrive on web research and working out travel details … others shudder just thinking about this kind of work. Unfortunately, this is a step that can’t be skipped and the further you’re traveling, the more important it is to get it right.
Check out my guest post on HaveKidsWillTravel about Creating a Kid-Friendly Itinerary in Europe. While you’re there, Catherine has many other valuable articles on family travel to review—I like her recent post on Internet house-swapping—a topic that comes up quite a bit lately as people try to find ways to save money and not give up vacation time.
, Trip Planning
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April 29th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
We’ve had many inquiries for Ciao Bambino recommended properties in Asia over the past year. In order to launch Asia coverage, I needed to find a good local resource. I’m thrilled to report that I’ve found one! Diana David is an American living in Hong Kong with her husband and two kids ages 3 (Emily) and 2 (Alex). She’s passionate about travel and willing to share her insight on living and traveling in Asia with kids on Ciao Bambino. I thought the best way to introduce Diana and this new market was through an interview … a great way to learn about her background and basic tips for approaching travel to the region. I’m looking forward to her Asia-focused posts over the coming months.
Diana has reviewed a few properties she’s enjoyed with her kids and I’m working on getting them online now.
In the meantime, meet Diana!
How did you end up in Asia?
In 1999 I applied for a grant from The Luce Foundation and was selected to spend a year as a media-focused intern in Hong Kong and Mainland China. This was a cross-cultural grant that never ended … I met my husband during this period and stayed in Asia.
What are you doing now?
I’m the Regional Circulation Director of Asia Pacific for the Financial Times. I’ve traveled through Asia single, married, and now married with children. I’ve been to more than 15 countries. Travel is my passion and now that I’m a parent I understand all the different inclinations that lead people to travel—from recapturing and sharing the “backpacking days” to sharing a love of travel with children or just wanting to head to a wonderful property and relax.
What are some of the things that make living in Asia so special?
The environment here is truly multi-cultural. Last weekend we went to Disneyland in Hong Kong and went on It’s a Small World. We were able to point out all the different places around the world where people we know come from—it’s nice that our kids will grow up with such a diverse group of people from different places, speaking different languages.
There are many easily accessible cultural travel opportunities in Asia. While our nieces and nephews in the US are focused on brands and TVs shows, our kids are able to visit places like Angkor Wat and the Great Wall of China. It’s like being inside a Little Einstein show—we’re able to experience these amazing places with millions of years of history.
Asia is inexpensive compared to other tourist destinations and as a result there are many families traveling here with children. Locals are very kind to kids and excited to see them here.
What is the ideal age to travel with kids to Asia?
My kids are young, but friends tell me that from age 7 onwards kids can truly appreciate and understand what they are seeing, that the temple they are climbing on is not just fun, but part of a rich history. I can tell you about my own experience from the time I was 10 in Mexico with my family. I remember being in the back of our car with a giant Day of the Dead sculpture banging me on the head. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but I have all of these fantastic memories of amazing experiences—the fishing nets of Patzcuaro, the Indian longhouses on Queen’s Island in Canada. For generations my family has traveled all over the world. I want to pass this family value along to my own children.
Where have you been with your kids to date?
We went to Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia to see the Orangutans. We liked the Rasa Ria Resort. It has a beautiful beach for relaxing and is located next door to the preserve. Next week we are going to Singapore, which has many kid-friendly activities—the zoo, beach, aquarium, botanical gardens, and lots of good restaurants. We’ve also been to Phuket in Thailand.
What is a good first trip?
Singapore and Malaysia are at the top of the list. Singapore is a good stop-over point since many flight connections go through there. Malaysia has many things to do and great beaches. Thailand is easy and friendly, plus Americans seem to know Thailand and are comfortable with it. Japan is another option if want families want to get out of Southeast Asia. Kyoto and Nara are lovely with lots of outdoor spaces to enjoy. China with older kids is a wonderful place—the cultural sights are so rich and important to understand given China’s growing importance in the world.
I think many people are intimidated by the prospect of traveling to Asia with kids. Do you have any tips to share?
Good planning is essential. The hotels and hospitality in Asia are far and above anything in the US. Contact the hotel concierge ahead of time to have them help you. They can facilitate anything from an airport pick up to guides. People use them for everything here, particularly if they don’t speak the language. Asia is now more accessible now than ever before—airfare is as low as $400 from the US—there has never been a better time to go!
I think people are worried about feeding their kids in Asia. What are your thoughts about this?
There are lots of American businessmen with the same food phobia. There are many hotels here serve “American” food or whatever they need to in order to make people happy. Our daughter went through a phase where she would only eat bananas—we explained this to our hotel and they sent an entire platter of bananas to our room. There are always options in my experience and most international hotels here will have a kids’ menu.
What are some Asia-specific resources you recommend?
The Asia Hotels.com website has a wide range of rate specials. On HungryGoWhere you can search for kid-friendly restaurants. Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines both have a good network of flights to Asia with fantastic amenities including video-on-demand, toys, nappies and wet wipes for babies. The service on these flights is exceptional.
They take hospitality seriously in Asia … come here and people take care of you.
April 28th, 2009
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
With the slow arrival of spring to the Northeast, the warmer weather is a great excuse to get outside. This picture is taken at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. The wind was blowing so hard, you could almost lean against it. At the ICA, the outside of the museum is almost as beautiful and entertaining as the inside. With sailboats, ferries, barges, and planes passing by, a few rocks to climb and the architecture to celebrate, it’s fun to just stay outside. And, having fun, of course is half the battle of making museums attractive to children.
I say “almost” because inside, the ICA is currently hosting a Shepard Fairey exhibit. This is Shepard Fairy’s first exhibit in a museum, although his work is in the Smithsonian, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. You may have seen his work with the Obama campaign or on the cover of the Black Eye Peas or Smashing Pumpkins albums. The ICA created a thought provoking and enjoyable display of his pop art that occupies a huge space. The artwork ranges from enormous 20-foot posters to portraits of rock stars. The fun atmosphere and message to question what you are seeing was a huge hit with my kids. Not to mention, that as you drive around Boston, it’s fun to look for his stickers, which are all over the place. This exhibit runs until August 16th.
Boston’s Top 5 Kid-Friendly Excursions
Museums and Kids – A Great Combination
Family-Friendly Places to Stay in Boston – The Charles Hotel
, North America
April 24th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
I invited Catherine Forth from Have Kids Will Travel to do a guest post on her favorite activities with kids in Banff, Alberta in Canada. Reading the post reminded me how much we loved this area when we spent our summer vacation there a few years ago.
As this photo of Moraine Lake demonstrates, the scenery is beyond belief spectacular. A perfect candidate for Photo Friday. Check out Delicious Baby for more Photo Friday posts and read on for great Banff activity ideas from Catherine.
The Rocky Mountain town of Banff is internationally renowned for its first-class skiing, luxurious spas, fine dining and breathtaking vistas. However children have a different checklist when it comes to evaluating places, and that’s not why the area appealed to me as a kid.
I was fortunate to grow up with this world-class tourist destination in my backyard. Born and raised in Calgary, I assumed everyone’s horizon was flanked by a saw-tooth of snow-capped peaks. Banff was our regular all-season spot for picnics, day trips and weekend getaways a mere hour and a half’s drive down the road. It never occurred to me that my local stomping ground was a travelers’ magnet. It’s only after I’ve grown up and moved away that I “get” how special Banff National Park and the town of Banff itself is. But no matter how far I roam or how sophisticated my worldly experiences have become, Banff always brings out the kid in me, its essence forever etched in the soul of my inner child.
With that youthful perspective in mind, here are my top five must sees and dos with the kids in Banff.
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
Whether you are lucky enough to actually stay here or not, you must pop into the glorious Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, one of the original Canadian Pacific Railway properties that helped pioneer leisure tourism in the region. This historic chateau is Western Canada’s closest thing to a storybook castle, and I’d always revel in the medieval vibe of its grand halls complete with stone walls, armored knights, rich tapestries and stately chandeliers. Ghostly rumors of dancing brides and former bellmen haunting the place only added to the kid appeal. It’s gone through some major renovations and is particularly posh these days, but there’s nothing stopping you from wandering the public spaces and exploring its many nooks and crannies. Just behind the hotel you can stroll down the stairs to Bow Falls, a short but powerful cascade that makes a great photo op. If you’re lucky you might even spy some elk here.
Sulphur Mountain Gondola
Grownups will wax poetic about the majestic views from the summit of Sulphur Mountain, but kids might get more of a kick out of the gondola ride itself. The 8 minute ride up to 7,486 ft. in a glass bubble dangling from a wire was always a thrill to my younger self. In warmer months you might want to take a picnic up there (bring a sweater!) or there are two restaurants by the observation deck too. Stretch your legs along the easy 1km boardwalk or even hike up to some of the old weather stations up there. Chances are you’ll encounter some chipmunks, marmots and big horn sheep along the way (they are relatively tame but best to keep your distance). It’s a bit pricey these days ($29 for adults, $14 for 6 to 15, free for 5 and under), but it’s one of those Rocky Mountain experiences you shouldn’t pass on.
Upper Hot Springs/Cave and Basin
For me, the distinctive rotten egg smell of sulphur always brings back warm childhood memories of soaking in the century old hot springs of Banff – no trip there was complete without a dip. Granted, it is a little stinky (cue the kids’ fart jokes), but once you get used to it there’s something so soothing about the natural geothermal mineral waters which hover around 38 degrees C. It’s particularly magical bathing in the outdoor pool in the winter (as a child I loved how my eyelashes would frost over but my body was toasty warm), but any season is a good time to soak in the view while you soak your weary bones. Note there’s a children’s wading area for the little ones.
Welch’s Candy Store
Welch’s Candy Store has been an institution on Banff Avenue since 1965, and I make a traditional pilgrimage to the shop every time I’m in town. Trust me, it’s not just for kids. There are fancier confectionaries in Banff but there’s something about this family run, old fashioned, hole in-the-wall candy store that makes it special. You’ll be nostalgic and stumped for choice as you contemplate the endless glass jars, shelves and bulk bins full of every sugary treat imaginable – jaw breakers, red hots, sours, soap candies, sponge toffee, pez etc. Homemade and imported chocolates, European licorice and maple syrup items are particular specialties. Stock up on some treats for the road.
What-doos? Hoodoos, for the uninitiated, are geological oddities of limestone pillars artistically eroded by wind and water throughout the millennia. These sandy spires stand like sentinels overlooking the scenic Bow and Spray River Valleys below. There’s an easy ½ mile interpretive hiking trail off Tunnel Mountain Road along a paved path (stroller friendly!) that offers great view of the hoodoos, Mount Rundle and the Banff Springs Hotel. There’s an old never-ending call and response poem we used to chant when visiting the hoodoos. Teach your kids at your own discretion – this thing can go on for hours.
You remind me of a man.
- What man?
The man with the power.
- What power?
The power of hoodoo.
- What do I do?
Remind me of a man.
- What man?
Catherine Forth, editor of Have Kids Will Travel, has lived in 9 countries, traveled to over forty others before and has not let having children quell her wanderlust. She currently lives in Barbados with her husband and two young daughters, who are no doubt oblivious to the fact that they live in a world-class tourist destination.
Ciao Bambino’s list of family-friendly places to stay in Canada
, North America
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April 23rd, 2009
Kristi from Ciao Bambino
Backyard Bird Watching
I always thought that bird watching was well, for the birds. It seemed like you needed the prerequisite binoculars and a lot of patience to wait for the bird to come along – not something that sounds fun with kids. When we moved into our home a few years ago we discovered that it was a haven for the birds – especially in the spring. We bought a Local Birds of Orange County laminated, fold-out guide at the bookstore and have been avid bird watchers ever since. The kids compete to see who can identify the birds at the feeder and especially the different varieties of hummingbirds that zoom around our yard chasing each other. Backyard bird watching requires almost no effort and is surprisingly engaging for the kids.
Strawberry Picking at Tanaka Farms
Tanaka Farms in Irvine has a variety of farm tours throughout the year geared towards children. Strawberry picking is a favorite because the weather is still cool enough that the kids can have fun picking strawberries without wilting in the hot sun.
Whale and Dolphin Watching
The gray whale migration is from January – April and the dolphins are here throughout the year. We try to go whale watching once a year and I can say from experience that seeing the whales, which are generally few and far between, is not as exciting for little children as seeing a pod of dolphins swimming with the boat or sea lions lounging on a buoy. It’s now the end of the migration and you are more likely to see the mother whales and calves, which are the last to leave Baja, heading back to Alaska for the summer. There are two whale and dolphin watching companies in Dana Point; Dana Wharf and Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari. Captain Dave’s is a catamaran with limited space to move around so I would not recommend this for on-the-move toddlers.
Tide pooling is a year-round activity here but it’s nice in the spring because the beach is not so hot and crowded yet and parking is readily available. My favorite spot to visit the tide pools is at the beach in front of the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach. This amazing resort sits on the cliff in South Laguna Beach and has beautiful public walkways on the cliffs and down to the beach. All of the walkways are handicap accessible. The resort has public restrooms near the pool. Parking is adjacent to the hotel at the small Treasure Island Park and is not visible from the highway. Check out this salt water tides website to find the best days for low tides.
San Clemente Pier
The pier in San Clemente is also a year-round destination but the summer crowds can make parking on the weekends very frustrating so we take advantage of the beautiful spring weather as much as we can. My kids never get bored here. Sometimes we bring take-out breakfast burritos and then play football or another game on the beach. Other days we eat an early dinner on the pier, watch the surfers and then just take a stroll. Other activities include a walking path that is jogger stroller-friendly, fishing off the pier and watching the Amtrak Surfliner train which has a stop at the pier.
Los Angeles with kids, kid-friendly things to do
Los Angeles with kids, museums
Choosing between Disneyland Hotels
Family things to do in Orange County on Uptake.com
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April 22nd, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Why would anyone want to take a baby or toddler to Europe? Kids that young won’t remember the trip anyway … not to mention that it sounds like a nightmare.
I can’t tell you how many people have said this to me over the years. Here’s my response:
It’s a blast to experience Europe with young kids. No, babies won’t remember these trips 10 years later, but you will! Plus, for those of us who really love traveling through Europe, we don’t want to have to postpone being there for 5 to 10 years.
Methodical and thoughtful planning makes these trips possible … I don’t want to say EASY because travel with kids is rarely easy, but the right approach, itinerary, and accommodations make all the difference in the world.
I just wrote an article for Divine Caroline with comprehensive Tips for Traveling to Europe with Young Children. Fear not! If you are considering a trip to Europe with tots, read on for details about what you need to know.
, Toddler Travel
April 21st, 2009
Robin from My Melange
I found Robin Locker on Twitter and started following her blog, My Melange, about discovering and appreciating European culture. Although Robin doesn’t have kids, she’s an Italophile. We have something in common … I thought it would be fun to invite her to do a guest post on a few of her favorite meals in Italy.
Robin’s post really captures the essence of the warmth and joy of the Italian dining experience … I love it! -Amie
I guess I have never really labeled myself as a foodie. But, when I travel, it truly excites me to eat my way though a new area, a new culture. Much can be learned about a place by the food grown, the way locals prepare it and the way they serve it. And Italy is no exception.
But in Italy, it isn’t always about the food, which is of course, fresh and delicious. Sometimes it is all about the experience.
C’mon, let me show you two of my favorites.
Tucked somewhere in the labyrinth of calle behind the Guggenheim in Dorsoduro, we strolled into Ai Cugnai, a family owned trattoria with no distinct signage announcing the fact that a little gem was hidden behind an otherwise typically Venetian façade. We were warmly greeted by the owner’s son and lead to the back patio, which was open to the cloudless sky save for the laundry dangling on a precarious clothesline above our heads. The postage stamp-sized dining area was composed of three tiny tables. A local family at one, a couple from London at the other and ourselves. The star of this restaurant was not the food (which was good Venetian fare) or the decor (which was rather bland at best). The star was our hostess, who I will affectionately call Nonna.
Among the evening’s most memorable frivolities was Nonna trying to convince my vegetarian boyfriend to eat meat, Nonna pouring the wine at the Londoner’s table and taking a generous swig for herself from their glasses and Nonna parading each dish exiting the kitchen by all nine diners before finally serving it to the intended party, as if to say “See how good this looks and aren’t you sorry YOU didn’t order this?”
By the end of the evening I was enamored of Nonna. I leafed through my phrase-book and practiced asking her in Italian if I could call her Nonna.
As she brought us the check at the end of our meal, I smiled and blurted out in broken Italian, “Ti chiama nonna?”
She approached me, slapped me ever so gently on both cheeks with open hands, looked me right in the eyes and said enthusiastically, “No, nonna…Mamma, Mamma!!”
She then insisted that the other diners snap a photo of the three of us-a photo I still have and treasure. When she left the room, the London couple confessed to frequenting the place. “Not so much for the food, but more for the show!”
We decided to make reservations to avoid the mob that surrounds Il Latini before opening time. We arrived an hour or so before our reservation to queue on the inevitable line. Pushing, shoving and line-cutting were often committed by otherwise well-mannered people as the doors opened and diners were hand-picked out of the crowd in order to strategically fill open seats at communal style tables inside. Would-be diners were more animated and violent as it became increasingly evident their chance of being picked dwindled. It seemed the reservations we had made did not matter. I’d hate to see what would have happened if you didn’t reserve!
Ham-hocks hung from the ceiling, Chianti produced on the owner’s Tuscan farm was served in a magnum-sized fiasco (the classic straw-covered wine bottle), the place was loud and filled with the happy voices of hungry diners.
The best part about Il Latini is never knowing if you’ll be seated next to locals or travellers. Our party of two comfortably became a party of four thanks to the Australian couple we shared our table with (though the tables were so close it felt more like sharing a bed).
There was no menu here. Our pleasant Egyptian server just brought course after course of what was fresh, local and deliciously Italian.
Prosciutto and melone, bruschetta, caprese salad, bread, wine and water were out first. Then came gnocchi, ravioli, Pasta Bolognese and more wine. Next up, Bistecca alla Fiorentina and more wine. Finally, out came a cheese plate and we all said, “basta!“ We were full!
But not too full for dessert- panacotta, cantucci and Vin Santo. And because we had sufficiently chatted up our waiter, he introduced us to our first bottle of Moscato d’Asti, (compliments of the house) which we successfully polished off!
After more conversation and laughter, we realized that not only were we the last ones in the restaurant, but we were in need of some serious stomach pumping due to the amount of food we had consumed.
Four, yes four, hours later we asked for the bill. Our waiter stood at the table with a pad and pen, trying to remember who ate what. After calculating a number in his head he pointed to our table-mates who ate meat and gave them a price. He then looked us over, considered the vegetarian in our party, and announced the food and drink that could otherwise feed a small country for a week, was €60, which at the time was $72. A ridiculous bargain, for which I would have gladly paid five times as much. You can’t put a price tag on those memorable moments. Or, should I say memorable hours?
Ah, Italy. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Robin is a freelance writer and travel consultant with a passion for France and Italy. She lives in the beautiful Hudson Valley region of New York with her pseudo-husband and adorable Westie, but hopes to one day live in her beloved Italy. You can drool over her travel photos, feel her love of all things European, find helpful travel tips and relish in the excitement of her upcoming trip to Rome on her blog, My Melange. Follow @MyMelange for her updates on Twitter.
April 20th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Nancy Solomon regularly contributes blog posts, articles, and hotel reviews on Ciao Bambino. She has four kids under the age of 10, but that doesn’t hinder her travel schedule. Nancy spent spring break on a road trip through several East Coast cities with her four kids—alone! It all works because Nancy knows how to structure and plan trips to make it as easy as possible on her and fun for each of her kids. She’s always discovering the latest and greatest travel tools, resources, and information. I’m so lucky that Nancy is willing to share her advice on Ciao Bambino!
Jennifer Miner recently interviewed Nancy. She published the interview in two parts. Both articles are great and offer fun insight on Nancy and her travel experiences. The first article on Suite101.com, The Luxury Family Travel Writer Experience, includes a bit of background on Nancy and her favorite travel destinations. The second half of the interview is on The Vacation Gals website, Interview with a Traveling Mama – Nancy Solomon, and uncovers Nancy’s travel goals and aspirations.
Jennifer Miner is a well-known family travel writer. On The Vacation Gals website, Jennifer, Kara Williams, and Beth Blair share tips and advice on a wide array of travel topics—news, solo trip information, girlfriend getaways, romantic escapes and more. In her article, Jennifer shares that Ciao Bambino is their favorite luxury family travel planning website. Wow, this is a HUGE compliment coming from one of our favorite travel writers on the Web. Thank you!
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April 17th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Conde Nast Traveler released their 2009 Hot List this week and I was thrilled to see two Ciao Bambino Approved properties, Borgo Santo Pietro and The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort, included in the list. The Hot List isn’t about kids, it’s about introducing trendy and interesting travel finds.
My mantra is that just because you have kids, absolutely doesn’t mean you can’t or don’t want to stay in spectacular hotels that are incredible for you and and fun for your kids. These two attributes are not mutually exclusive!
I stayed at Borgo Santo Pietro in the fall and I have to say that this is one of the most extraordinary property I’ve seen in Tuscany. You can read the complete review on the Borgo Santo Pietro profile page, but I’m going to use Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday to showcase a few highlights of this very special property.
The hotel has grand decor inside and I have to say as a parent of a young boy, I was never very relaxed inside with little and likely dirty hands … but the enormous outdoor areas are wonderful with plenty of space for kids to roam trouble-free. The owner has a 2.5-year-old son and built a terrific playground complete with trucks and toys.
There is also a fantastic organic garden where they grow the majority of the herbs, fruits, and vegetables used in the restaurant. Here’s a shot of Devon giving the garden a test drive.
One of the things that is so well done here is the huge variety of spaces outside for people to relax. Day and night—it’s hard to choose where to sit—I love that! Here’s a shot of one of the grassy areas. What you can’t see is the idyllic view from here …
We were there in October and it was still warm enough for a dip in the pool. As you can see if the photo, it has a great little shallow area for kids. I can only imagine how glorious it would be on a warm summer day.
Although the property is located only 30 minutes outside of Siena, the immediate area feels quite isolated. This is not the ideal home-base for sightseeing, plus, why bother given the phenomenal set up. That said, the surrounding landscape is gorgeous and there are plenty of walking, biking, and hiking opportunities. This nearby ruined abbey had such a surreal, magical feel to it—a fun mini-excursion.
One of the things about Ciao Bambino that is unique is that we actively seek properties that are truly special in one way or another … I’m not saying that it’s necessary or relaxing to stay at a luxury hotel at every stop, but it’s nice to have that option when you are looking for that extraordinary hotel experience. With only 7 rooms, Borgo Santo Pietro is not one of those properties that is going to have huge price fluctuations and deals to offer, even in this market. Regardless, it is a one-of-a-kind spot … kids or no kids.
, Photo Friday