Archive for December 2009
December 31st, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Queenstown New Zealand
It is hard to believe it is already the eve of 2010. This past year went by ridiculously fast. I love that the start of a new year means my husband has vacation days again, i.e. let travel planning begin!
Looking back, we had fantastic adventures in 2009. We are so fortunate to have the opportunity to explore the world together.
It’s hard to pick just 10, but here is my list of our top 2009 travel experiences.
10. Kicking off 2009 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico at the gorgeous St. Regis and Four Seasons properties in Punta Mita. These resorts are wonderful for kids and adults alike.
9. Exploring Old Town San Juan, Puerto Rico. We all enjoyed the old-world elements of this multi-cultural city.
8. Visiting the kangaroos at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney. I still laugh when I look at this photo!
7. Taking in a performance of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Opera House followed by a black tie dinner overlooking the harbor. Magic!
6. Jet boating down a river on the South Island of New Zealand. What a rush in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
5. Exploring the Dordogne region of France with 3 boys under 10. The fields of sunflowers left all of us speechless.
4. Eating at the Ferme Auberge next to our farmhouse rental in France. Fantastic food in a local setting. The ultimate fun food travel experience.
3. Learning about wild horses at the Wild Horse Sanctuary in Northern California. We fell in love with the horses and the important work this non-profit is doing to preserve these animals.
2. Taking our annual summer trip to North Lake Tahoe. In my view this is one of the best vacation destinations for kids and adults of all ages.
1. We celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary in Santa Barbara at San Ysidro Ranch. What a treat! This is truly a special venue with luxurious accommodations in a spectacular setting.
These highlights are in no particular order. Every trip was equally wonderful in its own way. Here’s to more of the same in 2010.
Happy New Year!
December 27th, 2009
Whether it lasts four hours or 14, a plane flight can feel like an eternity if you’re not prepared. Your child’s carry-on is a big key to your success (see my recent post on travel packing tips on clothes and checked baggage).
Less is more
Make sure your child’s bag is light when it’s empty. You’re going to put enough in as it is, don’t add un-necessary weight. Look for a carry-on that rolls, but can also double as a backpack. Rollers come in handy, but there are moments (think escalators and rental car bus shuttles) when you’ll be thankful your little one can put their bag on their back and go. The TSA Rules are constantly in flux, and all airlines limit the size of carry-ons, but that doesn’t mean your son or daughter needs the largest one allowed. Even with the best planning, at some point you will wind up carrying the bag. Cut yourself some slack before you get off the ground.
Have your kids pack with you
This get’s more important as your kids get older. What you think your kids need, and what they really want, might be two very different things. Packing together eliminates any unwelcome mid-air surprises such as five pounds of marbles or last year’s swim trophy. For older kids, it also adds an element of responsibility. An added bonus, if you’re child is part of the packing process, they can’t blame you when something is not in the bag.
A Favorite Quiet Thing
With the emphasis on the quiet part. This will be different for every kid. Some might want a pad of paper and small pack of crayons or colored pencils, for others a travel journal and a new fancy pen or pencil. For my girls it’s always books. They can get heavy fast. To keep the weight down, buy only paperback books, and limit your readers to two or three maximum. If your kids finish the books they packed, donate them at your destination and pick up a few new ones for the return trip home. My girls are close in age and they’ve learned to select books they both want to read, doubling their travelling library. They also like to buy books that will help them remember their trip. From Mysteries of the Loch Ness Monster to Chinese Folks Tales, books are a great use for souvenir dollars.
My kids aren’t really the video game type, but when we were planning a 2-week-plus trip to China, we thought a little extra back-up might not be a bad idea. We spent about $250 dollars on two Nintendo DS handheld game systems and games. They were worth every penny. Lightweight and easy to carry, they came in handy on various flights and long bus rides. An added bonus, they’re pretty much silent once your kids plug in a pair of earphones.
The latest rage is an itouch or iphone. I love my itouch, but my kids love it more. And why not? From music, to television programs, to a quick game of checkers, there are just too many options to get bored.
It doesn’t matter if they just had a six course meal, kids get hungry. And if they stay that way, then they get grouchy. So be prepared for when the munchies strike. Pack some snacks for the air. A sweet or two is ok, but try and pack something easy that will hold them until their next solid meal. Apples, crackers and peanut butter, and granola bars are popular with the younger set, and easy to eat on the go. They also typically make it through security without much question.
It’s not a must, but I love sneaking a surprise into my girls’ bags.Who doesn’t like a surprise? A water bottle for the trip, a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies or a new address book complete with addresses so they can send all their friends post cards. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just wrapped. Anticipation is great at keeping spirits high. My girls get to rip and tear once we’ve passed the half-way mark. I think that’s also when most moms take their first sigh of relief, and maybe, just maybe they start to realize, they’re on vacation too.
travel packing tips
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December 22nd, 2009
Theresa from SixSuitcaseTravel.com
This is a guest post from Theresa Jorgensen, a mother of 4 kids who lives outside of Denver, Colorado. Her website, SixSuitcaseTravel, helps larger families of 5 to 8 find accommodations in all 50 States, Canada, and Mexico.
On the front range of the majestic Rocky Mountains you’ll find beautiful Denver, the capital of Colorado. Sitting at 5280 feet above sea level, the Mile High City has 300 sunny days a year. Denver has over 200 outdoor parks so there is no shortage of outdoor activities. Every season is a good season to visit this great city. No matter when you visit, you’ll find plenty to do with your family.
Opened in 1896, the Denver Zoo has grown to over 80 acres. Nicely laid out on a relatively flat area, the zoo boasts over 3500 different animals. The first North American naturalistic animal habitat, Bear Mountain (opened in 1918) is the oldest exhibition. The newest, Predator Ridge, is sure to please any lion lover. Watch for scheduled feeding times, especially the sea lions and elephants. Plan on spending at least three hours here, more if your kiddos are little.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science
Be prepared to spend the whole day at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, there’s so much to see and do. Three levels containing dinosaurs, mummies, Native American Cultures, wildlife exhibits and more will keep you busy for hours. Also available is an IMAX theatre and Gates Planetarium. Don’t miss the Children’s Discovery Zone an interactive, hand-on educational area. The museum features limited time exhibits, so there’s always something new to see and explore. At the end of your visit, your little ones will be worn out.
Who doesn’t love a children’s museum? The Denver Children’s Museum has a dozen great hands-on activity areas. Exhibits include a toddler sized grocery store, real fire truck, kid-sized basketball court, finger painting, dress up, and more. Focusing on ages infant to eight, the museum is a sure kid pleaser. Open 7 days a week, we recommend visiting on Mondays which are school-group free.
There’s something magical about butterflies. The Butterfly Pavilion has over 1200 free flying butterflies in their tropical conservatory.The pavilion isn’t limited to butterflies, there are huge cockroaches, tarantulas, scorpions, giant centipedes and more. Butterfly releases are done twice a day. Newly emerged butterflies are transferred from the chrysalis viewing chamber into the tropical conservatory
Elitch Gardens Theme Park
Located near downtown Denver, Elitch Gardens Theme Park was first opened over 100 years ago. Today the amusement park has over 35 family and thrill rides. Elitch also has a water park, Island Kingdom Water Park with 11 attractions. See their schedule for special events and concerts. Check online, local grocery stores, and Pepsi cans for discount coupons. Fun for all ages.
Don’t have all day to take in an activity? These activities are fun and can be done in half a day. Hammond’s Candy Factory has a free factory tour. The Byers Evans House built in 1883 offers guided tours. The Molly Brown House is the historic house of The Unsinkable Molly Brown (think the Titanic).
Looking for a kid pleasing, unique dining experience? Try the White Fence Farm, enjoy the small animal farm, koi pond, and horse carriage rides before or after dinner. The Casa Bonita has one of a kind atmosphere although the food can be mediocre. But where else can you enjoy a meal while watching indoor cliff divers? Another great atmosphere restaurant is the Downtown Aquarium. Eat your dinner while enjoying the 150,000 gallon aquarium.
Whatever season you visit, you can catch a game with one of Denver’s many professional sports teams. Teams include the Denver Broncos, Colorado Rockies, Colorado Avalanche, Denver Nuggets, and Colorado Rapids. The Denver Nuggets offer special family packages which include tickets, pizza and drink. The Rockies have Rock Pile seats with tickets for kids $1 and adults $4
No matter what you decide to do, Denver is a great destination for a family vacation. Due to Denver’s high altitude and high desert climate, we highly recommend drinking plenty of water to prevent dehydration and headaches due to Altitude Sickness.
Theresa also has a blog at SixSuitcaseTravel.wordpress. You can follow her on twitter @sixsuitcasetrav.
Ciao Bambino recommended family hotels Denver
Colorado family ski resorts
Denver family activities on UpTake.com
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December 20th, 2009
Shannon from ItaliaKids.com
This is a guest post from Shannon Venable, the founder of ItaliaKids.com. She spends summers in Italy running the Art al Sole summer camp program. The rest of year she lives in Santa Barbara, California with her family.
Day 1 (Friday)
The animals at the zoo inhabit prime beachfront property on the site of the former Child Estate. In addition to the many engaging and interactive exhibits, the Santa Barbara Zoo has just completed full renovations and additions to its play areas. Check the event calendar to see if your trip coincides with one of the many educational events offered on the weekend.
After lunch or a picnic at the zoo, continue along the waterfront Cabrillo Boulevard to Chase Palm Park, where you’ll find the Shipwreck Park playground and an operational antique carousel.
If the kids aren’t too tuckered out, dinner on the pier upstairs at Longboard’s Grill or at the Harbor’s Brophy Brothers Restaurant are both kid-friendly destinations with breathtaking views of the harbor. Try to time it with sunset. (Hint: Longboarder’s has a treasure chest, barrels of peanuts to shuck, and a kids’ menu, but Brophy Brothers has better seafood…)
Day 2 (Saturday)
Every Saturday, Art from Scrap, an innovative environmental education and arts center at 302 East Cota St. downtown, offers a morning workshop from 10:00-12:00 on a variety of themes featuring local artists as instructors who select the project materials from the recycled items available in the Art from Scrap retail store (all donated items for reuse, proceeds benefit the center). While the kids are busy creating, pop over to the Santa Barbara Farmer’s Market just 2 blocks away on the corner of Santa Barbara St. and Cota to pick up locally-produced produce and other organic foods for a picnic. The Farmer’s Market is also a great place for unique souvenirs: lavender scrub, jams, olive oil, and much more. (Note: children 5 and under must be accompanied by an adult at the Art from Scrap workshops—but then the parents can participate, too!)
Just a few blocks up Santa Barbara St. on the corner surrounding Canon Perdido St. you will find the restored portions of the Santa Barbara Presidio and the Historical Society Musuem. Peek in the Presidio Chapel, the city’s first church and the adjacent tiny museum. Excellent photo opportunities here!
Lunch on State Street itself can sometimes be a bit touristy. As is so often the case, some of the better spots for lunch can be found just one block off State. Try Paradise Café at 702 Anacapa St., a popular spot with locals for decades.
After lunch, continue up to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art at 1130 State St. The museum’s collection of ancient Roman artifacts and sculpture, Asian collection, and impressionist works in an accessible setting will impress the whole family. The museum recently added a children’s wing with interactive activities that integrate features of the collection.
Day 3 (Sunday)
After all this sightseeing, Sunday morning might be a time to linger over a leisurely breakfast. Then pack up your Farmer’s Market picnic and head over to the Rose Garden across from the Santa Barbara Mission. This expansive lawn boasts a beautiful view of the mission across the street and fragrant collection of roses tended by local volunteers. Visiting the Mission itself on a Sunday offers a sense of the tradition of the Church and grounds as they have existed from the beginning. Don’t forget to throw a coin in the fountain, a remnant of the original wash complex, and the bookstore is interesting, too.
For your last night, enjoy a sunset walk on Butterfly Beach on Channel Drive, an historic strip of upscale beachfront with picturesque views of the Channel Islands and the Harbor. For dinner, try Los Arroyos at 1280 Coast Village Rd., a popular choice for local families. Polish off your visit with a stop at the Whodidily Cupcakes at 1140 Coast Village Rd. Yum!
Ciao Bambino recommended family hotels Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara family activities on UpTake.com
, Santa Barbara
December 17th, 2009
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
Hotel Del Coronado ice skating rink
Something about the image of skaters conjures up that holiday feeling. As winter begins, skating outdoors is accessible even in the most unlikely places. Cities all over the world feature wonderful rinks to help get families in the holiday spirit.
Last year on our spring family vacation, I noticed the rink in Philadelphia’s center and it got me thinking about all the great outdoor rinks that offer this fun winter activity. As a mother to two hockey players, I have a love-hate relationship with rinks, however, there are some exceptional options in favorite family travel destinations.
San Diego: Despite plentiful sun and sand, the beautiful Hotel Del Coronado brings ice skating to the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Their oceanfront ice rink offers an easy, active way to enjoy this historic hotel during the holidays. Be sure to get a glimpse of their well-adorned Christmas tree.
Los Angeles: Downtown on Ice at the Pershing Square rink offers skating in the heart of LA. With many events like concerts, clinics, and the not-to-be-missed “Mommy and Me Stroller Skate Sessions” to choose from, this is a fun family venue.
San Francisco: The Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center lets you combine mall-style shopping with skating. Union Square also hosts a holiday rink—this area is packed with people, but kids will appreciate the elaborate window displays at Macy’s, although warning, there are always cute, adoptable puppies and kittens on display and you may end up going home with a new member of the family.
Boston: The city embraces skating to the fullest with the Frog Pond right in Boston Common. Also, the Charles Hotel in Cambridge opens their ice rink over the holidays. The best part is the hot chocolate and cookies. Plus, their excellent kid programs combine a cooking class and skating session so parents get a break too.
Chicago: McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park is part of the large Millennium Park complex and is simple to access while downtown.
Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center
New York City:
There’s no shortage of Manhattan rinks and The Pond at Bryant Park also hosts a carousel for little ones. But if we’re talking NYC, let’s not forget Rockefeller Center—an iconic New York City holiday activity with kids.
Philadelphia: The River Rink at Penn’s Landing offers skating in a wonderful waterfront location. It’s a great spot to watch fireworks while ringing in the New Year!
Washington DC: Sculpture Garden Ice-Skating Rink is located in the National Gallery of Art’s outdoor sculpture garden. You can take in the great work of Miró, LeWitt, and Kelly while getting a little exercise.
London: If you’re lucky enough to be heading to London for the holidays, you’ll be thrilled to find that you can complete the royal experience by skating at the Tower of London (my favorite sight!), Hampton Court Palace or Hyde Park. If you are visiting the Natural History Museum, you can also take a spin on the ice there. Just the pictures make me want to go!
Paris: Last year, Emilie from Babyccino Kids did a guest post for us on Winter in Paris about the ice rink that is erected each year at the spectacular Hotel de Ville. Sadly, this season the sledge she so fondly describes is not available, but the merry-go-round is there and skating for kids is free.
Help Build a Village in India – Passports For Purpose 2010
Holidays at Walt Disney World
Holiday Travel Tips
A Traveler’s Wish List
Holiday Gifts for Jettsetting Tweens and Teens
December 16th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
We’ve been supporting the Passports with Purpose Fundraiser again this year to help build a school in Cambodia by supporting American Assistance for Cambodia (AAfC), an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving opportunities for the rural poor.
The fundraiser has raised over $18K and the Passport school is now a certainty! The school will be built in the Preah Vihear region of Cambodia. An additional $7K will provide a school garden, cook and gardener to ensure each child gets one nutritious meal per day – significant in a country like Cambodia where half the children are malnourished.
Our prize is 5 free nights at a fantastic luxury property in Costa Rica, Los Suenos Marina and Resort. This Ciao Bambino recommended hotel has generously donated a stay in a 2-bedroom condo and an Adventure Tour for 4 people.
Entering to win our prize and a long list of great options costs just $10 a raffle ticket. See our original Passports with Purpose post for details and links.
Tips for visiting Costa Rica with kids
Costa Rica family vacation (hotels recommended by Ciao Bambino)
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, Passports with Purpose
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December 15th, 2009
Linda from Travels with Children
Linda, aka “minnemom,” writes about family travel at Travels with Children, where she highlights fun things to do in the Midwest and beyond. With four young children, she has a unique perspective on what makes a place family-friendly. She delights in finding fun that is inexpensive and off the beaten path. She also blogs for our friends at Uptake.
Mall of America by Aine D on Flickr
When the snow and cold hit, Midwesterners can find themselves looking for ways to avoid the tedium of long days in the house.These are some great activities that can alleviate winter boredom.
1. Talk to the animals. Yes, even in the winter months, most zoos are still open. During the holiday season, check out a Zoolights display like that at the Columbus Zoo, but even on those cold January days, the indoor areas of the zoo can be a haven from the frigid air. The Tropics Trail at the Minnesota Zoo can almost make you forget about below-zero temperatures outside.
2. Get wet. When summer’s lazy days are a distant memory, a visit to an indoor waterpark can put a splash back into your life. Minnesota’s Waterpark of America is billed as the largest indoor waterpark in the U.S., or for more variety, head to Wisconsin Dells where there are plenty of indoor parks to choose from.
3. Learn something. A field trip to a science museum can be both educational and fun. Try Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, Columbus’ COSI, or the Kirby Science Discovery Center in Sioux Falls, where you can easily spend an entire day playing and learning.
4. Go skating. On nicer days, an outdoor rink seems to fit the season, but when it’s absolutely frigid, skating on an indoor rink like Minneapolis’ The Depot or Iowa City’s Coral Ridge Mall allows for enjoying the ice without getting too cold.
Nickelodeon Universe by Minnemom on Flickr
5. Find thrills. While most Midwestern amusement parks have long been closed before the snow flies, Nickelodeon Universe at the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN, is open year-round. Its indoor roller coasters and flume ride are perfect for keeping the cold at bay for a day.
6. Play. Take the kids to a children’s museum, where they can play to their heart’s content, and you just might have some fun as well.Some of our favorites: DuPage Children’s Museum in Naperville, IL, and Northwoods Children’s Museum in Eagle River, WI. (If you go to Eagle River, you might also want to check out the annual snowmobile races.)
7. Hit the slopes. Even the Midwest has some decent ski areas. Popular in northern Minnesota are Lutsen and Giant’s Ridge, or try Ski Brule on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
8. Ride the rails. Take some time out for the Santa Express at Iowa’s Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, or ride the Holly Trolley on Minneapolis’ Como-Harriet streetcar line.
9. Go ice fishing. Some Midwesterners are out trying to catch a big one almost every weekend. Find a good piece of ice, drill a hole, and try your hand at this popular northern sport.
10. Rekindle the romance. Enjoy a quiet stay at a bed & breakfast or a beautiful hotel like the Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa. Snuggling up under the covers may just make you forget that a blizzard is raging outside.
The winters may be long in the Midwest, but there’s still plenty to do to help chase the winter blues away. What’s your favorite winter activity?
December 13th, 2009
Whether you’re off to Grandma’s or a week in Tuscany, packing provides many challenges. Add in a kid or two and your blood pressure is sure to go up. Don’t pack enough and you might spend a day with goose bumps.
Pack everything and you won’t be able to lift your bags. Amie posted a great travel packing tips piece on how fast luggage fees for a family can add up. Luckily, some basic tips can lighten the load and the stress on your wallet.
A good rolling suitcase
Good, not big. The two don’t necessarily equate. You get what you pay for, so think of your luggage as an investment in a great trip fund. When the wheels on that bargain bag fall off two days into your European adventure, you’ll be hating life. One bag is hard enough to handle. When you’ve got two kids to lug around in addition to yours, having fun gets a lot harder.
Whenever possible, I limit myself and my kids to one rolling carry-on each. But you have to be realistic, for my family three weeks in China threw our one carry-on rule out the window.
You’ve found the perfect bag, now it’s time to fill it. Don’t do it alone.Don’t let your kids do it alone. Do it together. Deciding on necessities is easier when it’s a group effort. Involving your kids when it’s time to pack gives them choice and responsibility. It also greatly cuts down the chance of any unwelcome surprises, like “Mom, you didn’t pack me any underwear.”
Don’t pack for the worst case scenario. Deal with it when it happens.It’s a lot easier, and a lot more fun, to go shopping for underwear and a new sweater, than spend three weeks schlepping around an extra 10 pounds of clothes you never wear.
There are all sorts of packing formulas out there. When it comes down to it, how much or how little you take, is a personal choice. But some simple things can help you weed stuff out. Don’t pack directly into your suitcase. Lay out what you want to take so you can see everything. I use the bed in the guestroom. Sometimes physically seeing eight of your daughter’s favorite shirts lined up is enough to convince you to put a few back in the closet. Time can also help with thinning. Once you’ve laid everything out, walk away. Come back a few hours later, or even better the next morning. It’s amazing how the stuff you don’t need stands out to fresh eyes.
Once your bag’s packed, take it for a practice spin. If your kids will be responsible for handling a bag, this especially applies to them. If it’s too much just moving it around the house, you’ve got to re-evaluate.
For some reason many travelers forget laundry exists everywhere in the world. Whether you’re going to Switzerland or San Francisco, you can do laundry. Laundromats exist around the globe. Hotels everywhere offer the convenience. I carry a Ziploc sandwich bag of powdered laundry detergent and a short piece of clothesline rope. A bathroom sink and night’s sleep later, clothes are clean and dry.
The random stuff
Sometimes the little things make all the difference. I always tuck a handful of Ziploc bags into my suitcase. Gallon and sandwich size.They work for everything from loose markers, to ocean pebbles to holding a picnic lunch. Small, disposable ponchos weigh next to nothing and take up even less space. They will keep you dry, and kids love wearing them! Duct tape can fix everything from a ripped suitcase to a broken flip flops. Baby wipes aren’t just for babies.They can clean dirty hands, dirty faces and come in real handy when there’s no toilet paper to be found in the public restroom.
Are your kids picky eaters? A jar of peanut butter can save countless dinners. Just add bread. I even take lots of powdered drinks packets. Lemonade is always just a water bottle away.
Room for souvenirs
You did your job. Everything fits, but chances are there isn’t a lot of extra room for souvenirs and those ever-expanding dirty clothes. Roll up a light-weight flexible duffel bag and tuck it in your suitcase. If you find you start to collect things along the way, pull it out. Dirty clothes make great padding to get new found treasures home safely. Plus, keeping dad’s dirty socks away from.. well everything.. is bound to make a better trip for everyone.
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December 11th, 2009
Jamie from Travel Savvy Mom
Today’s guest is Jamie Pearson, a freelance writer and mother of Avery (10) and Max (7) who blogs about family travel at Travel Savvy Mom. Since our Passports with Purpose prize is 5 free nights in Costa Rica and Jamie vacationed there last year, I invited her to share tips and photos from her trip.
Costa Rica has a lot going for it as a family vacation destination. This tiny Central American country between Nicaragua and Panama is different enough to feel exotic, but safe enough that you won’t worry about bringing your kids there. Since it’s due south of Florida, you won’t have to worry too much about jetlag either.
My husband and I took our kids to Costa Rica for a whirlwind week last March. It was a great trip, but we didn’t relax much. If you go, try to take at least 10 days (two weeks would be ideal). Since we didn’t have a lot time, we hired a private driver guide through Global Family Adventures.
Even though Costa Rica is teeming with animals, they are remarkably good at hiding. Without our guide (who was a passionate conservationist and an expert birder with a high-tech spotting scope), we could have walked around in the rainforest all day without seeing a thing. With him, we saw sloths, coatis, monkeys, toucans, caimans, lizards, turtles, and poison dart frogs. We even saw a venomous hognosed pit viper just inches from the trail we were walking on, though that’s another story.
If you go to Costa Rica, you’ll want to include at least one volcano, one jungle, and one beach in your itinerary. Here are the ones we chose:
Poás Volcano National Park
Arenal may be Costa Rica’s most famous volcano, but Poás is its most accessible. Just an hour north of San Jose on good roads, Poás is especially good for families because you can walk right up to the crater on a paved path and look in. Try to arrive as early as possible. The later you go, the greater the likelihood that the fog will roll in.
The volcano has erupted 40 times since the early 1800s, but authorities monitor its activity and close the park if anything seems out of the ordinary. The basin, which is a mile in diameter and 1,000 feet deep, is thought to be the largest active volcano in the world.
Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí
We based ourselves in the northern lowland countryside near the town of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí for almost half of our trip. From here we took a day trip to La Fortuna where we hiked to a waterfall and swam below it, soaked in Baldi Hot Springs, and stayed up late hoping to see the lava flowing down Arenal (we got skunked, the volcano is only fog-free about 10% of the time).
We also went horseback riding on a cattle ranch and walked over the Sarapiqui River on suspension bridges in the Tirimbina Rainforest Center. We saw a lot of animals here, and probably could have seen a lot more if we could have scraped ourselves out of bed a little earlier in the morning. It was a deal we weren’t prepared to make.
Cahuita National Park
We drove south past miles of banana plantations to end our trip with a few days on the beach on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. After digging our toes in the sand and swimming in the sea a little, we set off to explore Cahuita National Park. We saw howler monkeys, emerald basilisk lizards (nicknamed Jesus Christ lizards because they run across the surface of the water to escape predators), and a three-toed tree sloth.
This part of the country was the most rustic (some towns only got electricity ten years ago), and also the warmest and the wettest. We probably would have been eaten alive by the mosquitoes at dusk if we hadn’t bathed in DEET, but we considered it a small price to pay for paradise.
We would have really liked to see the wild and beautiful Osa Peninsula, the Monteverde cloud forests, and the turtles that nest at Tortuguero, but there simply wasn’t time on this trip. There’s always next time, I guess.
For more Photo Friday posts, visit Delicious Baby.
Costa Rica family vacation (hotels recommended by Travel Savvy Mom)
Costa Rica family vacation (hotels recommended by Ciao Bambino)
, Central America
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December 10th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Beaver Creek, photo courtesy of the Park Hyatt
Skiing is a wonderful family activity. Expense aside, it is a sport that all ages and genders enjoy, and when kids are old enough, families will appreciate the time spent on vacation together—versus a pool or beach environment where everyone may be doing their own thing.
Qualifying what makes a ski resort great for families is important since terrain, facilities, and amenities vary widely. Age has a significant impact on things to consider, but there are some general attributes that contribute to making a ski area truly family-friendly.
A well-run ski school is an absolute must. If you are an expert skier and you’re going to teach your kids to ski on your own, this may not be important, but for the rest of us, we need and want a safe and reliable place to bring our children. I’ll write a dedicated post on this in the next few weeks, but suffice to stay that skiing can be a dangerous sport and ski school is set up where you drop your kids off and leave them in somebody else’s care for several hours.
You wouldn’t drop your kids off at a day care facility without knowing anything about it. Ski school is the same deal, not to mention that most day care facilities don’t involve chairs perched high in the air. We picked our 6-year-old from ski school a few weeks ago and realized that they outfitted him in his gear without a helmet. You can imagine the follow up conversation I had with the head of the ski program.
Of course, learning to ski is the point and you hope your kids acquire skills while they are there, but this is secondary to an organized and safety-oriented program.
The beauty of skiing is that once kids are off the magic carpet and can take the lift, you can spend time skiing with them on your own. Plentiful kid-friendly beginner terrain that is easy to access is critical. Easy in this context means you don’t have to take a gondola and two lifts to get there, but you have some options from the base of the mountain.
Beginner terrain that is also the main thoroughfare for advanced skiers to return to the base of the mountain is terrifying with very young kids that are just learning to ski. It’s not about what you or your kids are doing, it’s about what everyone else is doing! Once nice thing about Sun Valley (ID) is that there is an entire mountain that is practically dedicated to kids learning to ski. This is the ultimate, safe and comfortable environment.
Once kids reach intermediate levels, new options open up, although, it’s nice to find resorts that have quite a bit of intermediate terrain in a concentrated area—Northstar (CA), Deer Valley (UT), and Beaver Creek (CO) are great examples or resorts that fit this description.
The different ski resorts seem to attract certain clientele. Squaw Valley (CA) is a teenager’s dream with a younger vibe. Subsequently, your 5-year-old may learn some choice new words in and around the lift line. There are certain resorts that are all about families versus the 20-something ski crowd. Northstar is a great example of a resort that fits this profile. Young kids are everywhere and for the most part, people behave accordingly. I also love Sun Valley for a family-oriented atmosphere. Sherman’s Travel has an excellent round up in their top 10 North America ski resorts for families article.
As much as I love skiing, cranky moments are likely and convenience is essential to avoiding parent and child meltdowns. Skiing takes gear and there is nothing more aggravating then carting all that stuff around and realizing you’ve lost $50 gloves or goggles somewhere along the way.
Where you stay makes a huge difference. Of course, ski-in/ski-out facilities are wonderful—but not critical—as long as there are other ways to get family gear to and from the ski area. Things that help:
Ski Lockers – Some properties like the Vail Mountain Lodge (CO), are not slopeslide, but have an arrangement for free ski lockers that are, so you don’t have to schlep your stuff back and forth every day.
Ski Shuttles – Many resorts offer ski shuttles that will bring you from your accommodations right to the slopes. If you plan on using one, make sure the shuttle can drop you off at the ski school too.
Ski School Location – Ski schools that are nestled right at the main base of a mountain are optimal for convenience. Moreover, the ski programs that include rentals and you get to just drop your kids off and they take care of the rest are very nice. Note that lodging that is ski-in/ski-out may not be ski-out from beginner terrain and/or the ski school.
Condos are appealing from a price and amenity standpoint, but they may not have the above-mentioned convenient elements. This is why we love condos in a resort setting like The Village Lodge at Mammoth (CA) and The Village at Squaw Valley (CA) where you have the best of all words, kitchens, living space, value, and services to take the edge of ski logistics.
It’s nice to have an array of kid-friendly activity options available for non-ski days. Tubing is a blast and more resorts now run tubing hills with a magic carpet to help get up to the top of the mountain. Although, this activity can be expensive—we just went tubing at Sun Valley and they are charging $15-20 per person per hour for their program. Ouch.
Ski villages can be a fun diversion with ice skating, trampolines, fire pits, and general merriment. Northstar is one of my favorite ski villages—everything is beautifully done, convenient, and fun for all ages. Also, some properties have year-round swimming available like Clay Brook at Sugarbush (VT).
Skiing is expensive, period. There are ways to make the costs less painful.
Packages – Look for accommodation packages that include lift tickets. Ski resorts are hungry like every other vacation venue this year and have some attractive options in place. Some resorts in Colorado are even offering packages that incorporate flights too. We’ll publish any offers for our portfolio on our Special Offers page.
Kids Ski Free – Some resorts have Kids Ski Free programs. Steamboat (CO) has a compelling program where children under 12 ski free with parents/grandparents. At Mammoth, kids under 6 ski free. Although, these programs don’t help with the cost of ski school. We will put together a list of these programs in the next few weeks and post it on Ciao Bambino.
Meals – Lunch at a ski resort is insanely expensive. Packing a lunch and keeping it in a locker is a good option. This is also where condos are useful. If you can easily get to your condo over lunch for a hot meal and then head back out for more skiing, you’ve already saved $50 per day.
Off-Season – Many resorts offer special pricing pre and post season. For resorts that have a long winter like Mammoth, you still may enjoy great conditions and spend less.
Ciao Bambino recommended family ski resorts
Vermont family ski resorts
Colorado family ski resorts
Kids ski tips