Archive for March 2010
March 31st, 2010
Amie from Ciao Bambino
There are some family vacation deals out there that are a no brainer to take advantage of while on the road with kids. The cost of tourist attractions and theme parks can add up quickly for families. One key element for savings to be worthwhile, however, is ease-of-use. Meaning, you don’t need to spend hours to get the discounts since that negates the value entirely.
I was approached by Smart Destinations about their Go City Card a few weeks ago. You buy this electronic card (not tickets) for one of the destinations they cover and it allows you to access the attractions included in their program for free. After looking through their list of included activities for the destinations they cover, at a high level it seems like the big attractions you’d want to experience are part of their program. I like that you don’t have to commit to one attraction or another on specific days. That kind of flexibility for families—especially those that like to wait and see what we feel like doing while on vacation vs. committing to a schedule ahead of time—is key.
Smart Destinations provided a sample for us to try and we gave it to one of our clients visiting San Diego with kids last weekend. The card got them into the San Diego Zoo for free, and they could have used it for free admission to Legoland and SeaWorld too.
Of course, you have to buy the card so attractions aren’t really free, but the savings is real. Let’s say you are planning to spend 3 days in San Diego with 2 adults and 2 children and you plan to hit SeaWorld, Legoland, and the San Diego Zoo. The total cost of admission to those attractions without the Go City Card would be $632. Meanwhile, the cost of 3-Day Go City Cards for a family of 4 is $588. You save $44.
Although the amount isn’t life changing, I love savings like this—literally money saved with practically zero work. It’s like finding cash under your pillow.
The company also pitched me on the fact that the cards give you preferential access to some attractions without waiting in line and discounts at some restaurants and shops. We didn’t test that so we can’t comment, but clearly avoiding lines is very attractive.
You can buy 1, 3, 5, or 7-day passes. In addition to San Diego, they cover Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Maui, Miami, New York City, Orlando, Oahu, Seattle, and Toronto. Definitely worth checking out if you’re heading to any of these cities.
Note, once cards are purchased they are valid through the end of 2011.
Go to SmartDestinations.com.
United States family travel
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March 30th, 2010
When my family of four pulled into Sevilla, our 2 week-plus trip through Spain was winding down, and so were we. We had ideas of how we’d spend our couple of days there, but nothing set in stone.We were tired, and looking forward to a couple of days to just lay low.
Sevilla is the perfect place to slow down. It’s not a city loaded with must-see landmarks and tourist attractions. Park your car at the hotel and walk.. wander actually—almost everything is just a pleasant walk away.
It’s OK to get lost
You don’t need to have a final destination. You’ll figure it out, trust me. Take a walk along the Guadalquivir River along the bike/walking path. There’s plenty of patches of grass for little ones to roll around. Or head toward the cathedral, window shopping along the way. Find a seat in the shade and watch street artists catch the spirit of the city on canvas.
Streets of Sevilla
Get lost in Barrio Santa Cruz, Sevilla’s former Jewish quarter. With streets too narrow for cars, it’s a delight for young families who want to walk. It’s obvious in this neighborhood, people love where they live. Peak in at their beautiful patios, overflowing with flowers. Oranges trees bud at every turn. My kids loved the “kissing lanes” – narrow walkways formed when buildings are built close together to take advantage of each other’s shade.
Picnic like a local
When hunger sets in, for a delicious bargain, grab a bocadillo. These are simple sandwiches, ham and cheese, or sometimes just a potato omelet on a baguette. You can find them everywhere, but our favorite place was 100 Montaditos. This family friendly chain serves up 100 different types of little sandwiches. The kids will love the nutella offerings, but parents might be more inclined to try shrimp with cream cheese, salmon or grilled chicken. The sandwiches all run about 1 euro … a bargain, and come with potato chips. With so many options, everyone in the family got what they want. Once you’ve got lunch in hand, head for the closest park or shady tree and enjoy.
Click your heels
If you do only one planned thing in Sevilla, make it a Flamenco show. It’s worth making reservations early and planning your night around the show. My recommendation, book the first show of the evening. Your hotel can probably do it for you. If they tell you the early show is booked, remind them you have young kids, sometimes tickets magically appear. There are shows all over the city. Some require the purchase of dinner or drinks, so know what you’re signing up for. We thought sitting through dinner and a show would put our girls to sleep, so we went with a performance at Casa de la Memoria. With folding chairs three deep around a small stage, the show was incredibly intimate and not touristy. And though the fancy footwork tends to steal the show, the singers and guitarists are a vital and amazing part of the performance. Arrive at least a half an hour early to line up. Seats are first come first served. There’s really not a bad seat in the house, but trust me, the kids (and dads) will love being in the first row.
Spain is passionate about bullfighting and Sevilla is no exception. I don’t recommend taking in a bullfight with your kids, the nightmare potential is huge. But if your kids are enthralled with the idea, the Bullfight Museum may be the way to go. My girls had no interest in the empty arena or the chapel where the matador prays before the fight, but the gift shop on the other hand seemed to grab hold of them. The collection of posters and postcards was impressive and neat to look at. (If you’re just looking to shop, skip the tour, entrance to the gift shop is free.) In the end, we left a few postcards and pencils heavier.
Padding down the Guadalquivir River
Get a different view
If your legs start to get tired, try exploring the city another way. Go for a horse and buggy ride. The carriages are all over the city, you won’t have any trouble finding one. Look for a driver who speaks English and you’re all set to clip-clop through town. I’m not a fan of tour buses, but if it’s all you can do, go for it. When my girls were showing signs of wear, we hit the water in paddle boats. It was headed for sunset and I can’t think of a better place in the city to be than on the Guadalquivir River. The end of the day glow reflecting off the water, made my whole family want to stay another day! That wasn’t an option, so I guess we’ll just have to visit again soon.
Madrid with kids
Family travel Spain – Nerjas, more paella por favor
Ciao Bambino recommended Spain family hotels
Spain things to do on Uptake.com
March 29th, 2010
Lora from CascadiaKids.com
This is a guest post from Lora Shinn, is a mom to two kids (age 4 and age 10) and a freelance writer for regional and national magazines. She now blogs about Northwest family travel at CascadiaKids.com. Her new book, “Northwest Kid Trips,” offers a whole chapter on Vancouver’s best kid-friendly activities, restaurants and shops. Here are her picks for a family trip to Vancouver.
The museum’s signature silver geodesic dome is home to two floors of innovative science experiments. Dance on a giant keyboard, build power on a giant rotating windmill and climb inside a wild animal’s home (no rabies shots necessary). If you’re a member of your local science museum, you’ll get into Science World for free — check the list of participating museums at astc.com for more details.
Arapaima fish twice the size of your toddler? Sleek sharks cutting through water, inches from your kids’ fingertips? The largest aquarium in Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium, is a two-story winner, filled to the gills with belugas, candy-colored tropical fish and poisonous swimmers. One tip: if you haven’t found the “Clownfish Cove” within an hour of arrival, ask a helpful staff member for directions. This preschooler-friendly niche is sometimes difficult to find, but it’s worth seeking out.
Canadians of Chinese descent make up 20% percent of Vancouver’s total population, and Vancouver’s Chinese restaurants, toy shops and bakery shops offer serendipitous delights. Head to Chinatown to enjoy Sunday morning dim sum, then browse for Pokemon toys, pick up exotic fruit and bribe the kids with a pineapple-filled treat. Summer evenings bring the gregarious Chinatown Night Market, and year-round, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden enchants with classical Chinese architecture, comical turtles and free tea.
There’s so much to do here, Stanley Park almost deserves a devoted entry all to itself (hmm…). Bike the park’s seawall on a rented trail-a-bike, visit the Lost Lagoon Nature House, jump aboard a miniature Canadian transcontinental train, and splash ‘n’ dash at the Variety Kids Water Park. On summer weekends, find out whether the park’s Malkin Bowl is hosting a family-friendly concert.
Burnaby Village Museum
If your daughter loves historical novels, bring her here for a circa-1920 lifestyle reenactment. The Burnaby Village Museum is primarily outdoors, and works as a small, restored village, complete with school, city streets, a movie theater and ice cream shop. The open hours vary, but summer and Christmas seasons show off Burnaby Village at its best. My son loves the 1912 carousel, which circles faster than your average modern carousel. “Back in my day, our carousels went so fast that our wooden teeth fell out…”
Granville Island Kids Market
Granville Island Kids Market hosts over 20 shops offering stuff and services for kids: bookstores, toyshops, kite stores, clothing boutiques, hairstylists and a two-story climbing-adventure tower. Even reluctant kids can be convinced to leave this playland-like structure with promises of a walk outside. The peaceful grounds surrounding the market contain playgrounds, a wooden boat structure and bird-filled marshy ponds.
VanDusen Botanical Garden
If you don’t have time to visit the world-famous blooms in Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC (a two-hour ferry ride away), make an effort to bring the kids to VanDusen Botanical Garden. You’ll find 55 acres to run wild in, thousands of flowers, and a challenging hedge maze. Wear very comfortable shoes – the terrain is as diverse as the botanicals. VanDusen’s website lists family programs, a great way to explore the garden with experts.
Vancouver Maritime Museum
At the Vancouver Maritime Museum, learn how the first seagoing explorers reached local shores — and why so many ships wrecked in local waters. Dress up like a pirate, spend a few minutes in a below-deck recreation and try on a pair of Inuit sunglasses. In the Children’s Discovery Centre, the kids can steer a tugboat and try on a vintage metal diving helmet. Tip: The museum’s vintage schooner is definitely worth touring, but help your little ones go up the steep ladders and down narrow hallways.
Kitsilano Beach and Pool
Families gather at Kitsilano Beach and Pool from May through September to swim in the saltwater pool and enjoy views of Vancouver’s slopes and skyline. The water’s heated to a gentle 77 degrees Fahrenheit, and swimmers can gaze out from the infinity-style waters at Vancouver’s gorgeous English Bay, framed by mountains.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
As a kid, the Capilano Suspension Bridge – 230 feet above the canyon floor — terrified and delighted me. As an adult, this bridge still terrifies and delights me. But the caretakers have added new educational features since my childhood. I love the “Treetops Experience” that allows you to walk 650 of gangplank-style walkways among towering evergreens.
Photo credit for all shots in this post except the first one goes to Lora Shinn.
Ciao Bambino recommended family hotels Canada
Toronto with kids
Banff with kids
Ice hotel Quebec
March 26th, 2010
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
Cherry blossom season in Washington DC
With Spring Break coming up for many families, visiting Washington DC with kids is a hot topic of conversation—with great reason. DC is perfect with kids and right now it’s even better because the city is in bloom. From cherry blossoms to daffodils, it’s beautiful.
The National Zoo
We covered Washington DC with kids extensively in the Fall including top family travel resources, favorite Washington DC attractions with kids, and Washington DC family travel tips.
We spent part of our Spring Break in DC this year too. We had an opportunity to test a new iPhone application called Family DC (DC Essential Family Guide). It offers relevant information specific to families. I loved the ability to search for restaurants right around your location. By the time we leave a destination, often we are tired and hungry, so having family-friendly recommendations at our fingertips is very valuable. I even tested it in some of the suburbs and it identified some of our favorite places – a good sign! This guide, in addition to our downloadable Washington DC Guide on the Nile Guide, are a perfect combination.
National Portrait Gallery
We managed to miss all the rain and got fabulous weather the days we were there. Wanting to soak in the sun, we picniced in front of the National Portrait Museum. This was a perfect example of balancing what I wanted to do and what the kids wanted to do. We started with portraits and ended with monkeys (National Zoo). The architecture at the newly renovated National Portrait Museum was stunning.
Roof over newly renovated National Portrait Gallery courtyard
The roof over the courtyard created a beautiful indoor space (Keep it in mind for rainy days. It’s just across from the Spy Museum). Unfortunately, my boys had way too much energy to be indoors, so we made our way to the zoo.
At the end of a long day it was great to be met with kids robes, cookies and a large soaking tub at the Lorien Hotel and Spa.
For more Photo Friday fun, check out Delicious Baby.
Usually we include only our own photos on Photo Friday. This week, we wanted a cherry blossom shot and didn’t have a good one – we licensed that photo – it was not taken by Nancy Solomon.
, Photo Friday
, Washington DC
March 25th, 2010
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
Picking the venue for a family vacation can be difficult. Although the end result is fun, weighing all the needs, wants and constraints can be tedious. Every other year we plan an extensive family vacation with my father and all of my siblings. There are 17 of us in all with 9 children, 6 parents and 2 grandparents. It can be complicated!
Here’s how I get started thinking about a family vacation:
Trip Needs: Check-in and get and idea about what everyone needs—meaning, are you all burnt out and you just need to lie on a beach? Are you looking for a fresh infusion of culture? Do you want something nature-focused? I try to get a sense for what and where people’s interests lie.
Timeline: When you can travel quickly narrows down the selection options because weather varies so greatly from place-to-place. To see what times of year are best suited for certain destinations, check out the great weather and destination chart on My Little Swans Blog.
When we planned our last big trip, everyone had job commitments and the only time that worked for all was Christmas break. Then, we knew we wanted a beach, which immediately narrowed the viable options for that time of year. Add in the fact that much of our group lives on the West Coast—Hawaii was an easy choice.
Brainstorm: Now that you know what you’re looking for and when, now get the group brainstorming. Generate a wide variety of ideas and go from there. Dream a little and help people expand out of their comfort zone.
We sometimes use tour operator itineraries to generate ideas. A family favorite is Classic Journeys. Amie just wrote an article about all the wonderful bloggers writing about traveling with kids. Perusing these websites is a fantastic way to get inspired!
At first, I really didn’t want to travel more than six hours with my 4 kids. However, as everyone got excited about the trip, I became more flexible. Evaluate the activities at each destination to see if they special enough to warrant the time, expense, and logistics to get there. For example, when we were thinking about traveling to Rome a few years ago, everyone was initially intimidated given the size of the group and ages of the children. However, when we started thinking about the rich opportunities to experience the best of Rome as a group through things like the Gladiator School and a local soccer/football game, concerns were overshadowed by excitement.
Budget: When you are dealing with the budget, a little research goes a long way. Before dismissing any ideas, really dig in and see what the cost will be. Follow even far off ideas! People are often surprised to learn that a Disney trip can be the same cost as a Tuscany trip. This is especially true if you go to places where the exchange rate is in your favor.
Create a short list of destinations and get preliminary quotes on accommodations and airfare based on your dates of travel. Real availability and pricing will narrow the list even more. Discuss your findings as a group and your answer will be there!
Summer family vacation ideas
Trip planning with kids – history & geography websites
Trip planning with kids – read, read, read!
Travel journals for kids
, Trip Planning
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March 23rd, 2010
Hawaii Week was packed and we never got the chance to cover Oahu. Sonja Swenson works with the Oahu Visitors Bureau on PR and is the mother of two children—a perfect resource to recommend top family activities on the island. Thanks Sonja!
Sonja Swenson and her family
As a mother of two children, fun and educational family activities are always a top priority. Giving my children experiences that will last a lifetime is an amazing feeling, and I’m so lucky to be able to live on Oahu where there are so many family focused activities to choose from.
The island’s safe environment, tropical beauty and accessibility make almost anything possible. With so many options from the town and country aspect of Oahu, our weekends are packed with healthy, positive, and educating experiences.
Here are some of my favorite activities in Honolulu that are both fun and affordable.
Children’s Discovery Center
Children love getting their hands into everything they can, and parents love for their children to have hands-on experiences. At the Discovery Center, your child can explore scientific wonders from the human body to Hawaiian Rainbows. The expansive center encourages children to touch, feel, listen, and question the world around them as they explore each gallery.
The Dole Pineapple Plantation
Give your children a tropical and educational experience at the Dole Plantation. Take a ride on the Pineapple Express or tour the Plantation Garden. The highlight of this experience is racing through the largest maze in the world, Dole’s Pineapple Garden Maze. Finish off the day with a DoleWhip, a soft and refreshing pineapple-flavored ice cream, a true Hawaiian treat.
Experience the lush mountains, unique plants and exotic waterfall of Waimea Valley. The botanical garden is home to archeological Hawaiian sights, as well as endangered native plants. The on-duty lifeguard makes swimming in the pool below Waimea Valley’s 60-foot waterfall a safe and exciting experience.
The Bishop Museum’s vast collection of Hawaiian artifacts is the perfect place to get a glimpse of old Hawaii. With a historical guide and accessible information, your family can learn interesting facts, stories and legends about the Native Hawaiian people.
In August 2009, the museum reopened its acclaimed Hawaiian Hall, which showcases the world’s largest collection of Native Hawaiian and Pacific area artifacts, many of which have never been publicly displayed before. Kids will enjoy Hawaiian Hall’s interactive resource center that offers hands-on children’s activities.
Other Bishop Museum highlights are its planetarium show, in which the unique display of the universe makes you feel as though you are amongst the stars, and the active volcano at the museum’s Science Adventure Center. The synthetic volcano simulates the process of a real volcano eruption with loud rumbling sounds, steam and synthetic lava. It’s a thrilling experience for children of all ages.
Polynesian Cultural Center
From wild fireknife dances to traditional hula, your family can experience the heart-racing thrills of the Pacific Islands at the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC). The warm island spirit of aloha is exemplified by the friendly tour guides eager to share their Hawaiian culture. Visitors to PCC can also enjoy a canoe parade, a luau feast and its spectacular evening show, “Ha, The Breath of Life,” which features original costumes, music compositions, chants, and dances produced with cultural experts from each of the Center’s island villages.
Ciao Bambino recommended Hawaii family hotels
Kona Village Resort review
Big Island of Hawai’i with kids – favorite activities (tips from a local)
Kauai with kids – favorite activities (tips from a local)
Maui with kids – favorite activities (tips from a local)
Maui with kids – favorite activities
Maui with kids – fun photos and special activities
Hawaii with kids – dolphin encounters and surf camps
March 22nd, 2010
Anne Hamilton Abouchar
I recently took the four kids and my mother to Paris for 4 days. Katherine, the 4-year-old, spent much of the time asking, “Are we where we want to be?,” which I think sums up perfectly the joy of bringing children, or anyone for that matter, to a city as beautiful and interesting as Paris.
The answer was and will always remain: yes and no. What makes a city like Paris so much fun is that no matter how carefully you research and plan an itinerary, travelling with children will inevitably force you to change things; the line is too long, the exhibit you hoped to see has moved, everyone is simply too hungry and tired to go the next step, or, most often in my case, I get lost. In Paris it doesn’t matter because the city offers so many delights, in missing one you always find another.
Eiffel Tower from Trocadero Terrace
For this trip we decided to explore art and war: specifically to see lots of paintings we had seen in books and at school and to give Napoleon a closer look. We also threw in a generous dose of magic, both literally and figuratively. What we didn’t see in Paris, would however, make an equally interesting and magical Parisian holiday. In a city like Paris, wherever you are is certainly where you want to be!
Day 1: Napoleon and his amazing ego
Arc de Triomphe
We travelled to Paris from London on the Eurostar, which while an easy journey, is often delayed. This was the case for us and we arrived much later in the afternoon than we had hoped. As a result, we limited ourselves (in quantity only I can assure) to one site, and this was the magnificent Arc de Triomphe. This arch, which stands at the top of the Champs l’Elysee in the Charles de Gaulle Etoile, was built (by Napoleon) to honour his victory in 1805 at the Battle of Austerlitz, and many of the reliefs and carvings throughout celebrate other victories and the glory of the French troops.
For those of you not as fascinated with Napoleon and his antics as mine are here is a (very) brief description: Napoleon Bonaparte, born to a poor Corsican farmer attended the prestigious French military academy and rose swiftly through the ranks, ultimately taking advantage of the absence of strong power after the French revolution and its hard-working guillotine, and in 1804 he crowned himself Emperor of France. Despite the fact that he abandoned his armies twice, once in Syria and again in Russia, he was revered. The fact that he wrote his own reports from the battlefield describing his bravery and brilliance may have helped in this regard. However, when he lost to the British at Waterloo he was exiled to the island of St. Helen and died there in 1821.
Beneath the arch is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier honoured with an Eternal Flame. This soldier died on the battlefield in France in World War I and was interred on November 11, 1920, the same day as the British Unknown Warrior was buried at Westminster Abbey. I made a point of stopping and explaining this to the children as they then saw the conditions in which he had fought and died at the Army Museum. Despite the traffic and the crowds this is a deservedly solemn spot.
We climbed the 284 steps to the top. The stairs are stone and spiralled, so not ideal for those children just recently walking, but fine those slightly older. On the way to the top is a tiny museum about the arch with a flat screen on the floor filming the behaviour of the people down below. This voyeurism delighted all of my children, and the other visitors as well. Once at the top the generous viewing platform offers spectacular views of Paris, the most exciting of course being the Eiffel Tower. We jostled with the other tourists in an effort to take the perfect picture of the kids with the Tower behind…much easier said than done, but worth trying. After we made our way down we did walk back under the arch and wave enthusiastically to everyone looking down on us from above!
Day 2: Some magic and then more war
Going up the Eiffel Tower Elevator
We started Day 2 with the Eiffel Tower. One thing to keep in mind: it is always crowded, even on a cold weekday in February. Try to get there as early as possible! You can book tickets ahead of time, but there are actually two lines for the Tower. The first on the ground (which can stretch for as far as the eye can see) and a second, more tightly packed line to ride the elevator from the first viewing level up to the top. There are no fast-pass tickets for this second line and it can move very slowly. But the waiting is worth it. The views in the elevators alone are amazing. My children spent most of their time in the second line describing their complete lack of fear and lamenting that if only they were allowed they would be scaling the Eiffel Tower with but a thin rope. Then we got into the second glass elevator and began heading up and the squeals of “its too high,” and “I can’t open my eyes” began, much to the amusement of the other passengers who had had to listen to all the earlier bravado. And the elevator is a bit scary (or really rather scary for someone like me who hates heights), but once on top none of us minded. It really is magic being on the top of one of the worlds most beautiful cities.
Helpful Hint: The best place to take pictures of yourself with the Eiffel Tower in the background is on the terrace of the Trocadero, across the river.
Hotel des Invalides, Napoleon’s Tomb
We had planned to take a boat ride down the Siene but we got the timing wrong and everyone was fainting with hunger. Instead, we began to walk along the river, stopped in a café for lunch, and, admiring all the not-famous but still beautiful buildings we passed, made our way to Hotel des Invalides, the site of Napoleon’s tomb, the Army Museum, and, as it turned out, another bit of magic.
Invalides was built during the reign of Louis XIV to house wounded soldiers and a small number of veterans do live there today. It is also the location of Napoleon’s tomb, when he was brought back to France 19 years after he died, and buried in splendour. His enormous coffin (actually six stacked one inside the other) stands majestically surrounded by the (much smaller) tombs of other great French military heroes. The opulence of it alone made even my children roll their eyes. This was a man who thought very highly of himself, and persuaded many others to as well.
The Army Museum
Also in Invalides is the Army Museum. It is split into two sections: Louis-Napoleon and WWI-WWII This is a must for any children (or adult) who finds military paraphernalia interesting, and my 9-year-old son Joseph couldn’t get enough of it. The Louis-Napoleon section features lots of swords and uniforms, including several of Napoleon’s, and yes, you do say when standing in front of it, “wow he really was little”.
The WWI-WWII was the preferred section with an excellent diorama of what trench-warfare really looks like and some great propaganda posters “now that is persuasive writing” said my 11-year-old daughter, along uniforms, weaponry, and other wartime paraphernalia. There are black and white photographs along all the walls of soldiers during both wars which do an excellent job of depicting what being in these wars was like. “Not nice,” was the response we came up with.
Throughout the time we were at Invalides, French soldiers had been grouping in the beautiful central courtyard and at one point late in the afternoon a ceremony complete with military band and lots of flags took place. We never did discover the reason for this display. But we all greatly enjoyed the pageantry and magic of it. It also served as a good reminder that war is not just something you see in a museum, but a grim reality for soldiers today.
Day 3: Time for some art and more magic too
This old train station is full of some of the greatest art in the world, especially for those admirers of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionists. However, when we visited, it was very crowded with people doing everything but actually looking at the art. At best, they were chatting to each other (maybe about the paintings?) at worst photographing each other standing in front of the art work, or even worse, videotaping their casual stroll through the galleries never once letting an unfiltered eye gaze on a masterpiece. The idea of shuffling along hoping to be allowed more than a few seconds in front of something beautiful is terribly grim to me. And I don’t think there is a child in the world who would stand for it. Instead, (and I believe this of all art museums, not just crowded ones) that it is far better to look at a few paintings well then hundreds in a bored cursory manner.
To that end, I gave all of my kids a notebook and pencil and set them to find something they wanted to sketch. This accomplished (at least) 3 goals, 1) in choosing what to sketch (and what not to sketch) they are looking at art and making a decision about it 2) it forces them to look at the painting or sculpture in at least enough depth to copy it 3) I look like a brilliant mother.
And the kids set straight to work. Katherine, the 4-year-old, produced page after page of vague stick-like figures which she then pronounced to be exact replicas of the Renoir or Pizarro before her. She ended up being photographed by other tourists as much as the art work did. Granted, under this plan you only see a fraction of what a museum like the Musee D’Orsay has to offer, but the whining and complaining is eliminated. Children seem to find sculpture more accessible sometimes than paintings, and the sculpture along the central gallery is very much worth a look, especially as there are many places to sit. In the belief that less is more, the museum was a success.
Deciding we needed a treat, we went to lunch in the beautiful museum restaurant. Much to our delight we discovered that the excellent children’s menu cost only E6.50. The first real bargain we had in Paris. The adult menu was rather more expensive, but of excellent quality.
From the museum we walked along the river to Notre Dame. The cathedral was very crowded but we succeeded in making a full round of it and then sat in the chairs for a while looking at the amazing windows. Notre Dame has some of the most beautiful, and famous, stained glass windows in the world. Elizabeth, my eldest, was especially taken with them and wanted to stay much longer than we did. Even when crowded, Notre Dame has as peacefulness to it, or magic maybe, that allows weary travellers, even children, a bit of well-earned rest. You could spend hours examining all its treasure but I am not convinced of the value of that with younger children. Instead, I think it is the atmosphere rather than the objects that should be absorbed.
Musee de la Curiosite et de la Magie (Museum of Magic)
Having regained some of our strength we continued along the other side of the river to the Museum of Magic, housed in the basement of the Marquis de Sade’s home (one of the reasons I wanted to visit, just so I could say I had been!). This is a tiny, funny old-fashioned place that provided much more delight to my children that I would have imagined. A magic show, featuring all the standards (balls in a cup, the 3 ropes, the missing card etc.), amazed the children. Even in French the children could understand that the magician was pretending all the tricks were very straight-forward whilst producing balls from visitors pockets and making ropes tie themselves back together. The fun house mirrors absolutely delighted Katherine, who would still be playing in front of them now I am sure, although Stephen, age 5, found them disconcerting. Several optical illusions, of the kind found in science museums, are also there to enjoy. I am afraid I was at a loss to explain any of them, which just increased the wonder. It cheered me to see that in this day of Playstations and other electronic entertainments there is still a place for simple fun.
Day 4: Are we where we want to be and tackling the Musee du Louvre
One our last day in Paris, Elizabeth requested to see the Mona Lisa, so off to the Louvre we went, with notebooks in hand. The Louvre was also very crowded but the rooms are more spacious so, apart from the room holding the above—which is ridiculously packed—you feel less boxed in then the Musee D’Orsay. I rather optimistically believed we could dash about and just see the most famous things—something you realize quite quickly isn’t a good plan at all.
This was where Katherine’s call of “Are we were we want to be?” proved the quality of beauty in Paris. In the Louvre on the way to see one treasure you can not help but be stopped by another. For example, the children particularly enjoyed Arcimboldo’s fantastic flower and vegetable seasons which may not have been on my “masterpiece” list, but we would have been crazy not to stop and really look (and draw) them.
Similarly, the faces in the Botticelli’s are so beautiful that they caught all my kids’ attention. But poor Elizabeth, the Mona Lisa was a disappointment, not least because you simply can’t get anywhere near it for the people and the security. We saw as much as we could (I think at the very most 2 hours in a museum for anyone) and felt happier for it. We left the museum, collected our luggage at the hotel and caught the Eurostar home from Gard du Nord. As always, we felt we hadn’t had nearly enough time in Paris, but just think what we can see next time!
Anne stayed at the Hilton Arc de Triomphe—we are in touch with them now to add this hotel to Ciao Bambino. She described it as one of the best family hotels she has experienced.
Paris with kids – savoring the simple pleasures of Paris
Paris with kids – favorite online resources
Paris with kids – 10 off-the-track places to take kids
Paris with kids – tips on kid-friendly events and places
Paris with kids – favorite activities with toddlers
Paris with kids – favorite parks with toddlers
Paris with kids – favorite kid-friendly restaurant
Downloadable and customizable Introduction to Paris with Kids on NileGuide.com
Ciao Bambino recommended Paris family hotels
Winter in Paris with kids
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March 19th, 2010
We wrote about Ireland with kids on St. Patrick’s Day. Many people don’t think about Northern Ireland as a wonderful family vacation venue, although after reading Dana’s post, I agree … why not? Sounds amazing.
Trips, should I say adventures, have a knack for just happening in my family.
We were trying to plan a trip to the Loire Valley for a family wedding.I’d done my homework; sketched out a rough itinerary in my notebook and lined up hotel reservations. I had everything but plane tickets. Flights into Paris were off the charts expensive. I had been watching, waiting and hoping for a serious airfare war.
What I got was a fabulous trip to Northern Ireland and France.
OK, bear with me. It will all make sense in a minute. Flights to Paris didn’t go on sale, but flights to Ireland dropped at the speed of light. So my family of four touched down in the land of green and I used the “savings” to add a four day tour of Northern Ireland onto the trip. Simple and cheap commuter flights took us across the bay to France for the French part of the trip.
Why Northern Ireland? Why not? On my last trip to Ireland, going north wasn’t an option. Though my girls were disappointed they wouldn’t get to kiss the Blarney Stone, (a reason to go again, I assured them) everyone was game for the adventure.
This sleepy, picturesque seaside village was a lucky find. We were headed to Belfast and needed to stretch our legs. The sun had just come out when we pulled into town. We popped into the local tourist office for a map and then just started to wander. We hunted for sea glass, and walked along the harbor, soaking in the sun and the views of the largest marina in Northern Ireland. But it was the swans that won my girls’ hearts.
Sitting right on the water’s edge is the Pickie Family Fun Park complete with a lake loaded with swan boats. A morning of rain had convinced the crowds to go elsewhere, so my girls had the high seas to themselves. They pedaled, splashed and squealed. My husband and I had the best (dry) seat in town … a bench with a view of our crazy kids and the beautiful marina. It was about an hour before the girls hit dry land, only to take off running for the amazing playground just across the way. We didn’t even have to switch benches, though I will admit trying out some of the playground toys!
Antrim Coast, aka Sweaters on Legs Drive
The coast of Northern Ireland is stunning. You’ll love it, and so will the kids. Don’t rush the drive and don’t be afraid to stop. You’ll be rewarded with fabulous beaches, some of the best playgrounds my kids have ever played on, and fabulously funny sheep. Affectionately known as ”sweaters on legs” by my girls, you can’t help but laugh at them. Running looks more like prancing. And the wooley critters have an incredible knack for winding up right in front of your car, even when they’re trying to run away. Drive slow, forget about trying to pass, and enjoy the coast.
High Thrills at the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Originally built by fisherman to get access to the best places to catch migrating salmon, this bouncy rope bridge is now open to thousands of visitors just looking to catch the perfect view of the Antrim Coast. The high thrill is worth the easy and scenic 20-minute one-mile walk from the parking lot. The narrow, 90 foot bridge stretches 65 feet, connecting the mainland to a tiny island. (If you’re not fond of heights, it might not be your cup of tea, but as a parent I had no safety concerns. The bridge is very secure.)
Once on the other side, you’ll be rewarded with views that never end. Seabirds abound and there’s lots of lush green grass to just lie in.
Only so many folks can be on the bridge at a time, so there’s the equivalent of a park ranger on duty to help keep folks flowing smoothly back and forth. That said, the gentleman on duty when we visited was more than happy to stop traffic to snap family photos.
Think of it as a playground made by a volcano a long, long time ago. The Giant’s Causeway is the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland. According to legend, it was built by Irish warrior and giant Finn McCool so he could walk to Scotland to fight an enemy giant. According to geologists, it was formed during a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago. Hot lava cooled fast, leaving behind thousands of basalt columns. Pick the version that works best for you. But know, if you’re the type who likes to buy books when you’re traveling with your kids, you’ll find plenty of great stuff to choose from on good, old Finn McCool.
So what’s interesting about basalt columns? They just happen to be on a beautiful stretch of beach and they offer an endless number of things for your kids (and you) to climb on. Things can get wet and slippery, but your kids will love climbing their way up and down the coastline. My girls were especially fond of the Giant’s Boot.
You can’t go to Northern Ireland without spending at least a day in Belfast. This city has a great vibe. It’s claim to fame … it’s where the Titanic was built, and if peace prevails, I expect Belfast will someday be a major player in Ireland’s tourism industry.
Take the kids to the top of the dome at Victoria Square for a cool 360 degree view of the city. Or go for a spin on the Wheel of Belfast. Each ride lasts about 12 minutes and provides great city views.
If you haven’t done it already, eat fish & chips. Remember, you are technically in the United Kingdom. Ask the locals where they go and you won’t be disappointed. We discovered a great place in Belfast called Bishop’s, and I’ll admit we ate there more than once. OK … maybe more than twice. But we burned it all off crossing bridges, climbing rocks and chasing sheep.
Click on over to Delicious Baby for more Photo Friday posts.
Ireland with kids
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March 18th, 2010
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Caveat: Unless you are defining what makes a property top by quantitative or statistical information, creating a list of them is subjective.
Since Ciao Bambino specializes in uncovering family-friendly hotels that enhance vacations with kids–versus listing a list of any and all possibilities—top for us means favorite brands within the kind of properties we cover, i.e. those that offer something special for families in one way or another.
When I started Ciao Bambino around family travel to Italy, the focus was identifying independent, experiential properties that work well with kids. Chains rarely played a role, particularly outside of cities.
In North America, however, many of our chain hotels offer unique family-oriented services and amenities. Plus, the number of independent family-friendly options simply doesn’t exist the way it does in other markets.
Hotel Monaco Seattle
“If I loved that chain any more, I’d have their name tattooed on my forehead. Pet loaner goldfish by request, leopard print robes in adult and kid sizes, plus fun extras depending on the location,” responded Jamie Pearson of TravelSavvyMom.com after I asked her about her favorite chain hotels for families.
Kimpton Hotels creates a wide range of boutique hotel experiences for a variety of guest-types including families. All Kimpton Hotels share a reliable four-star quality rating and are known for casual, modern-yet-comfortable décor.
I asked the Twitterverse last year for favorite kids-focused hotel amenities and Kimpton’s gold fish program got the most mentions.
KimptonKids is their kids’ amenities program and although specifics vary from hotel-to-hotel, the consistent presence across the portfolio means that families can count on basic, family-friendly services at any one of their hotels.
On Ciao Bambino, we review the Hotel Monaco Seattle, The Palomar Washington DC, The Lorien Hotel and Spa in Alexandria, VA, and Vero Beach and Spa in Florida.
Joie de Vivre
This California-focused brand is not as universally kid-friendly as Kimpton, but many of the hotels in this collection are great for families. Value-oriented, these hotels not only hip and fun, but integrated with the local community both in terms of the physical features and the philanthropic programs where they partner with local non-profits, making a minimum donation of $200 per guest room per year.
Each Joie de Vivre hotel has a distinct California-style vibe. It’s part of their mission and it works. I love their hotels and again, a few stand out when it comes to families. We profile Hotel Del Sol in San Francisco and The Dream Inn in Santa Cruz. At either one you’re likely to see kids everywhere given ideal locations, room configurations, pricing, and amenities.
I’m certain enterprising hoteliers in other markets are working to emulate Chip Conley’s success with this brand.
I was introduced to Affinia Hotels last summer in Chicago. After walking into the lobby it was immediately clear to me that I just uncovered another one of those stand out boutique chains that found a way to create a unique, quality hotel experience for those traveling with and without kids. We’ve since added both the Affinia Chicago and Affinia 50 in New York to the Ciao Bambino portfolio.
The dedicated family-focused amenity program My Family is offered across their properties. After staying at a few Affinia hotels now, the atmosphere and decor between properties is not consistent, but that brand is working hard to create a comfortable guest experience. Those on Ciao Bambino are located in unbeatable areas for sightseeing with kids and Affinia is now on my short list for brands to review in other locations including Washington DC.
Four Seasons Punta Mita
Four Seasons Hotels
In some ways it’s more of a risk to stay at an unknown 3 or 4 star hotel vs. a 5 star property—the reality is that any truly service-oriented hotel will make an effort to accommodate every guest. That doesn’t mean you won’t feel uncomfortable in the lobby or by the pool where other guests may frown on kids because the overall atmosphere is not kid-friendly.
Amazingly, Four Seasons consistently caters to families successfully throughout their portfolio. I think the key is separation in conjunction with family-friendly public areas. Meaning, everyone has a place to go—an adult pool vs. family pools, adult restaurants vs. family restaurants—not to mention their outstanding Kids for All Seasons Program, which is hooray, complimentary!
We feature The Four Seasons Hualalai on the Big Island, The Four Seasons Aviara, and the Four Seasons Punta Mita on Ciao Bambino. I’ve stayed at all of these properties and they are all truly fantastic luxury hotel experiences. We’re about to add The Four Seasons Boston to our portfolio and I’m staying at the Four Seasons Scottsdale this weekend. To be honest, we could probably add every Four Seasons to our portfolio and be confident that we’ve identified a “best” option in a given destination.
The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
Not every Fairmont is family-friendly, but there are a few properties that really stand out as exceptional options with kids, particularly in Canada.
Despite being big and part of a major chain, these are hotels that create a unique, local experience through their spectacular architecture, venue, and services. If you are a luxury traveler and heading to Canada with your kids, Fairmont should be on your list!
That said, there are some outstanding hotels in other destinations too. In fact, we have more Fairmont Hotels on Ciao Bambino than any other large chain including the Fairmont Banff Springs, Fairmont Kea Lani in Maui, Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, Fairmont Mayakoba in Mexico, Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows in Santa Monica, Fairmont Scottsdale, The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, and The Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island.
What are your favorite family-friendly hotel chains?
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March 16th, 2010
Kate of MummyMaps.com
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a celebration of the spectacular country of Ireland is in order. I asked Kate Moran, the Editor of MummyMaps.com—a stylish travel guide for Irish parents loaded with fun advice and reviews—to share tips for traveling to Ireland with kids. Phenomenal information. Thanks Kate!
ITINERARY & PLANNING
Because Ireland is a relatively small country, visitors tend to try and see “everything” in the course of one week. (Lots of friends and family fly into Dublin, drive through Wicklow, kiss the Blarney Stone in Waterford, head to Cork City, eat lunch in Kinsale, drive the Ring of Kerry, ascend the Cliffs of Moher, cruise through the amazing Burren, throw back a Guinness at a trad session in Galway, marvel at awe-inspiring Connemara, and pose in front of Kylemore Abbey before heading back to Dublin to fly home. They are literally in tatters upon their return.
In our opinion, this is a bit mad – and may even spoil the transcendent impact of an Irish holiday. While Ireland shares aspects of both America and continental Europe, it is distinct in so many ways. So pick a couple of must-sees and then, try and slow down a bit – park the car and walk the landscape, repose in front of the fire, order the kids a pack of crisps from the barkeep, savor a Guinness and soak in the relaxed atmosphere.
Although public transportation is available in Ireland, with kids-in-tow, driving is the best way to see the country. Parents and children alike will be delighted by the windy country roads, stone walls, and animals out to pasture. However, please note that when renting (“hiring”) a car, most are manual. If you need an automatic car, make sure to specify this when making your reservation – you’ll pay extra for the pleasure – but this is not the time to teach yourself how to drive a stick shift. Remember, the Irish drive on the left side of the road, so sticking to the correct side should be where your focus lies.
Glendine Country House
Of course, Hollywood has made traditional Irish bed & breakfasts quite famous. Like any other accommodation, there is a wide range of variety and quality. However, there are also lovely country houses, traditional independent and chain hotels as well as holiday homes that are available for rental. Many visitors to Ireland love traveling the countryside and stopping in a village whenever they fancy it, and finding a place to bunk without reservations. This is a fun thing to do, but not necessarily the most practical – especially if you’ll need a crib for a baby or don’t intend to share your bed with your toddler.
If this is the case, it’s worth booking into a hotel and requesting a crib (“cot”) and an extra bed. Due to the huge property-driven boom over the past decade in Ireland, you’ll find amazing 4 & 5 star hotels (think renovated country estates, farmhouses and castles) throughout Ireland; some in very unlikely, off-the-beaten path locations. In addition, there is a huge surplus of holiday (“vacation”) homes in the country. So, the good news? At the moment, you can score some amazing deals at luxury hotels and holiday homes in great locations.
EATING OUT WITH KIDS:
The Irish food scene has really exploded in recent years and can offer visitors a good range of choices. A plethora of organic ingredients and a resurgence of traditional dishes will delight those unfamiliar with Irish cooking. In the countryside, pubs remain the center of village life and are very family friendly during the day (most pubs prohibit kids after 8pm). In the major cities of Cork, Galway and Dublin, you’ll have many more options. Of course, check MummyMaps.com for our reviews of great, family-friendly eateries.
If you plan on bringing a stroller, smaller is better. The doors to most shops and restaurants tend to be narrower than in America – forget about surviving with those double-wide strollers – most mums of two little ones in Dublin seem to have the buggies that stack one kid on top of the other like the Phil & Ted’s (note: we’ve lived in Dublin for 4 years without a car – the P&T double-stroller is our family car – love it!) Oh, and ALWAYS have your rain cover in the bottom of the stroller, even if it looks bright and sunny. Trust me.
A word about the famous rainy weather. Yes, it does really rain a lot. It needn’t slow you down too much, but if you plan spending the day outside, always bring a light windbreaker with a hood – the kind that can be scrunched down into the bottom of your bag or stroller are perfect.
GREAT FAMILY-FRIENDLY PLACES TO VISIT:
Ha’Penny Bridge in Dublin
Dublin & Environs
Dublin: The country’s capital and cultural heart has lots for families to enjoy. Wander through Trinity College’s cobblestone paths, up the main shopping street, Grafton Street and to St. Stephen’s Green, where the kids can spend some time at the playground. Entry into most museums is free, so they are great to pop into to get out of the rain. In fact, the National Gallery of Ireland has a fantastic gift shop to buy gifts for home as well as a reliable cafe. The Guinness Storehouse is a requisite stop for many adults – and we can report that it’s pretty family-friendly. The displays (like the massive waterfall in the front hall) can engage most children for a while and the Gravity Bar is bright and lively. There are baby changing facilities and well, there is something strangely gratifying about taking your baby’s picture next to a pint of Guinness. Finally, for older children, visit Kilmainham Goal for a tour of the famous jail where the leaders of the 1916 uprising were jailed and executed.
Powerscourt House Japanese Garden
Wicklow Mountains and Powerscourt House & Gardens: One of our all-time favourite day trips from Dublin. Drive south of the city to the Wicklow Mountains to find Powerscourt Estate. On a sunny day, the drive is spectacular. The tour/video show of Powerscourt isn’t all that interesting (the original building burned down and the existing interior is a recreation) but the planned gardens and Japanese garden are lovely to walk through – and the kids can run wild. The café and shop are feasts for the eyes and stomach – the café, run by the venerable Avoca Café, serves Irish food with a twist and is delicious. There is always a children’s meal that comes with an enormous cookie (“biscuit”) the size of their head. The shoppe is an eclectic mix of Irish goods, kitchen treats and funky clothing and books for adults and kids. If you can, take turns browsing the shop, as it’s usually a bit hectic to bring the kids into, as there are a lot of breakables and it’s hard to navigate a stroller through. (Note: There are several Avoca cafes throughout the country; the food is fantastic and they are always great for kids. The cafes are casual and usually noisy and crowded, but there are always highchairs, places to park a buggy and helpful staff to help carry your trays if you have a baby on your hip!)
Cliffs of Howth
Howth Village and Cliff Walk: The hills of Howth are magnificent and well worth a trip just outside of Dublin to check out. However, the cliff walk literally hugs the cliff’s edge and is only appropriate for adults with babies in a pouch or backpack – the paths are narrow and the drops very steep. There are other less perilous routes to the top , so some of your gang can take the more navigable route and meet at the top. The views are stunning and you can’t beat the fresh air! And, the rumors are true, a great pint awaits at the end of your hike at The Summit Inn. (During the Cliff Walk, you are really exposed to the elements, so if it’s particularly windy and rainy, skip it. The views won’t really be all that great and cliffs and windy days don’t mix. However, a little drizzle “a soft day” need not be a deterrent.)
Howth has some great eating establishments, so working up your appetite is a brilliant move. Our suggestions? The House is our new favourite home away from home. Imagine warm crumbly scones, great coffee and a bacon sandwich served with greens dressed in vinaigrette and a perfect selection of seafood for dinner. They welcome families with open arms – happy to stash buggies at the door, pull a highchair out for your little one and provide coloring supplies. The adventurous children’s menu offers smaller portions from the regular menu. Close runners up include Italian eatery, Casa Pasta or make a picnic with fish & chips from Beshoffs of Howth.
Skerries: Ireland has some seriously impressive playgrounds – really! Indulge the kids with a visit to Ardgillan Castle. The adults will marvel at the gorgeous grounds and view of the sea while the nautical themed playground provides a bounty of entertainment guaranteed to thoroughly tucker the kiddies out. The view of the sea is amazing – it’s our favorite playground in all of Dublin (to date!). If you are hankering for a snack before arrival, nip into Olive on the main drag in Skerries for take-out sandwiches, lattes, and sweets. If you’re planning on a meal after, visit the excellent Stoop Your Head in Skerries harbour for its first lunch seating (they open at noon). If you’re in a big group, try to score the tables in the right corner and dig into some of the freshest, most delectable seafood around. Despite it being a popular (and small) place, they are happy to have children and offer a children’s menu and highchairs.
Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher: These majestic cliffs rise out of the sea and are truly awe-inspiring for both parents and kids, alike. The visitor’s centre provides some background to this natural wonder. If you are approaching the cliffs from the north, make your drive to the cliffs doubly stunning by getting there via the Burren.
Ring of Kerry: The Ring of Kerry is a tourist favorite, so some try to avoid it – but, it’s a favorite for good reason. Dotted with beautiful Irish villages, dramatic overlooks and stunning beaches tucked below the cliffs – it’s beautiful! Again, opt for driving yourself and be sure to spend lots of time out of the car – make stops wherever inspires you!
West Cork: Magnificent natural landscapes makes West Cork a delight to visit. In particular, Schull is one of the loveliest villages. While there visit the Mizen Head Signal Station for a thrilling walk and view and stop at gorgeous Barley Cove Beach for a stroll.
Galway City: Galway’s streets are lively, full of university students and feels like a very small city compared to Dublin. Stroll the streets, listen to the music and be sure to get some great seafood.
Connemara: Driving through Connemara offers breathtaking scenery (I know we keep saying this, but it’s true!) Nestled behind the mountains is Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Gardens. The children will be delighted to see this amazing castle on the shores ofLough Pollacappul. There are lots of wooded paths to explore and the walled gardens will inspire the gardener in you.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day from our friend the Irish-American WanderMom
Ciao Bambino recommended Ireland family hotels
Dublin with kids
Galway with kids
Ashford Castle falconry with kids