Archive for April 2010
April 30th, 2010
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
Ready to roll for our Spring Break road trip
I write about traveling with kids, yet I too still break the rules. Sometimes it works out, but on not this year’s Spring Break vacation to New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.
Now I know that four hotels in six nights is not a good idea. I also know that starting off exhausted before touring three of the USA’s largest cities is not a good idea. I realize that staying in not a single hotel with a pool is bad idea. So, it’s not surprising when I shamefully admit, our trip this year was unpleasant.
Ok, so that’s putting it mildly. It was exhausting. My kids fought the whole time and my youngest ended the trip throwing up all over the car. So there you have it. It was horrible. Of course there were great moments and great photos, but I’m chalking this trip up as a lesson on what NOT to do while traveling with kids.
Hotel room freeze dancing
What NOT to do when traveling with kids:
1) Limit the number of location changes. Stay at least three nights per destination.
2) Stay at a hotel with a pool at some point in longer trips.
3) Plan the mornings ahead of time when in big cities. We woke up like deer in the headlights debating what we were going to do—my kids were pummeling each other (see my cities with kids tips post for more ways to keep things fun).
4) Forgo adult plans to see more sophisticated galleries and stick with kid-friendly activities.
A visit to FAO Schwarz keeps everyone happy
Things that help make things better:
1) Bring toys for the hotel room. My kids love Magna-Tiles and Bananagrams.
2) Freeze Dance in the hotel room. Brightens everyone’s mood—including mine.
3) Curl up and rent a movie at the hotel. Grown-up movie in one room and kids movie in the other.
4) Visit friends where possible. My kids loved seeing our friends that live on a farm outside of DC. Time in a home is a perfect break after being on the go.
For more Photo Friday fun, visit Delicious Baby
How to pick family vacation destinations
Family trip preparation – read, read, read
Toddler travel, road trip tips
Cities with kids, family travel tips
Entertaining kids on planes
, Tip Planning
April 29th, 2010
Anne Hamilton Abouchar
Introduction to Dover Castle, England
A straightforward drive southeast out of London, perched high on the famous white cliffs, is the incredible Dover Castle. Of course it is imposing and impressive, that is the point of castles, but this location has been imposing and impressive and very important to England since Roman times and again for Henry II, and the Allies in World War II.
For many Americans our sense of history is short. So to find something that has been around since Roman times is pretty exciting, even for kids. They may not have the same understanding of time as adults, but they do know Romans (very cool people from a long long time ago) and World War II (amazing stories from a long time ago) and that good stuff sometimes happens in between, like sword fighting along the battlements, which could be 12th century, or for us, today.
Knowing we had to experience such history first hand I packed all four kids, one grandmother, a collection of plastic swords (always handy on castle visits for any spontaneous re-enactment) and down through Kent we went.
Lighthouse and church
When the Romans ruled England, they built two lighthouses on this location, one of which is still standing. Next to the lighthouse is the church of St. Mary in Castro, built by the Anglo-Saxons and still in use today. While it is amazing that buildings from so long ago are still around, and the lighthouse in particular makes a good photo backdrop, although neither are what the kids like best.
Dover Castle Keep
For that you need to leap forward to 1066 and William the Conqueror, who, having just defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings, strengthened the fortifications of the castle and one hundred years later Henry II built the Keep, a great square tower. Today, history comes alive in these carefully reconstructed rooms complete with costumed characters who invite the children to explore and ask questions and, in the case of 10-year-old Elizabeth, play a 12thcentury board game.
The tower is, of course, stone, which makes it cold. Therefore fires were blazing in every room, which make them smoky. We had a long and in-depth discussion about what it would be like to live day-in-day out in such a smoky place (to say nothing of the costumed volunteers). Would you get used to it? Or would you just feel sick all the time? Would your eyes stop watering over time?
This is when history makes sense to kids, when they can start to imagine what living at Dover Castle would have been like 800 years ago. The kitchens were also great for that. The size of the cooking pots and the volume of food that was produced there goes a long way to realizing how many people it takes to run a castle, all of whom you have to feed! These hands-on experiences describe history far better than any traditional lesson could.
Secret wartime tunnels in the white cliffs of Dover
But the true highlight of the day requires another leap in time, 625 years forward and then another 135. Underneath the castle, cut into the cliffs, are a network of tunnels. Originally built to house troops during the Napoleonic wars, (they housed 2000 men) they served a far more exciting purpose during WWII, as the top-secret planning location for the evacuation of Dunkirk.
It was here that Operation Dynamo was planned and carried out, one of the most daring, and successful, rescue operations in military history. In May 1940, Britain and its allies were trapped under German artillery on the French beaches at Dunkirk. Initially there seemed no hope for these troops, but a bold plan was made in the tunnels of Dover Castle and 850 boats (including fishing boats and pleasure crafts) sailed to Dunkirk and in the end rescued 338,226 men. The planning rooms have been preserved but the fact that such a secret plan was hatched in such a secret place is what really caught the children’s imagination.
You can take an organized tour but we decided to explore on our own, the better choice I think, and I just let them run through the empty tunnels pretending to be in a variation of Scooby Doo-does-Dunkirk plot.
The Battlements at Dover Castle
Surrounding the property, higher up, are the fortifications or battlements for the castle. It is a great place for sword fighting or just gazing out to sea. On a clear day you can see all the way to Calais, France. As I watched my kids sword fighting along the battlements, with the loser (but in this case perhaps the winner) getting to roll down the hill before springing back to life and charging up again, with the sea just beyond, I knew it had been an excellent day of history and fun.
London sightseeing with kids
Guide to London with kids on Peter Greenberg
Great family friendly guides and walking tours in Europe
Ciao Bambino recommended England family hotels
VisitEngland – offical website for English tourism
, Southeast England
, United Kingdom
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April 27th, 2010
Jacqui from Red Tricycle
Jacqui Boland is the Editor of Red Tricycle, an online city guide that help busy parents have more fun with their kids by offering ideas for cool things to see, eat, make and do. Red Tricycle covers the Bay Area, Seattle, Portland, LA and San Diego.
Madison Park dock. Photo Credit Jacqui Boland
When most people think of visiting Seattle with kids, they immediately think about taking a ride to the top of the Space Needle. And while that certainly will keep the little ones busy for, oh, say 60 minutes, the Emerald City is teaming with pint-sized adventures for families of all ages.
Explore Seattle’s best loved neighborhoods
After spending a day with the kids in Downtown Seattle (visit Pike Place market early and preferably midweek to avoid the crowds, don’t miss the stroller-friendly Olympic Sculpture Park), venture a little further afield to some of Seattle’s best loved neighborhoods, like Ballard, which boasts cute boutique shops, neighborhood pubs, eclectic restaurants, and waterfront parks, including the much-visited the Chittendenlocks Locks. Or Madison Park (an easy bus ride across town), which on warm summer days hosts the most family-friendly beach on Lake Washington, with a high dive and swimming dock all near the shore and absolutely free.
Kid-friendly Seattle coffee shops and indoor playgrounds
If the weather isn’t behaving (hey, this is Seattle after all), no worries, because you’re visiting a city with the largest collection of kid-friendly coffee shops in the US. Kid tables? Check. Books and toys? Check. A little R & R for mom and dad? Check. Once you’re suitable amped on some of the country’s best coffee, head over to the plethora of indoor playspaces and let your little monkeys climb the walls.
Free things to do with kids
If your wallet is feeling a little light and you’re looking for some cost-effective ways to make the most of this family vacation, we’ll dish on a few favorite free activities that are go-tos for Seattle moms to keep the kiddies entertained. For example, did you know you can ride the bus for free anywhere in downtown Seattle? (Raise your hand if your kids like buses). Or, if you’re lucky, you can even take a free sail on Lake Union or enjoy storytime on a tugboat. Read more about our favorite free things to do with kids in Seattle.
Sculpture garden. Photo Credit Jacqui Boland
When you’re ready to see bounty the rainfall bestows on the city (it’s not call the Emerald City for nothing), grab a raincoat and head out to one of Seattle’s vibrant, awe-inspiring gardens (the Arboretum is our favorite and not just because it’s in walking distance to the cafes and shops in Madison Valley).
And finally, when the family is ready to settle down for a meal, don’t settle for fast food. Seattle is host to many fabulous dining experiences with kiddies in tow, including dim sum, sushi and thai food. Here’s a complete list of our favorite kid-friendly world restaurants in Seattle.
More resources for families visiting Seattle
Crybabycomforts.com – rents baby gear, from strollers to high chairs and car seats, even co-sleepers and Amby Hammocks. Picks up and delivers from hotels. Daily or weekly rentals.
Bestsittersinc.com – very reputable Seattle-based baby sitting service that works with many top hotel concierge. $62 for 4 hours (minimum), $12/hour after that.
And if that’s not enough for you — Seattle residents and visitors alike can check out Red Tricycle at redtri.com for an update on the weekly events & activities for kids.
Seattle with kids, top kid-friendly activities
Hotel Monaco family-friendly hotel review
April 26th, 2010
After covering Yellowstone Park with kids last week, I’m fixated on National Parks right now and visiting them requires planning. Yosemite Park is astounding any time of year but particularly in the spring when the falls are at their peak. Given all the rain we’ve had in California this season, 2010 will undoubtedly be an incredible year to visit Yosemite.
Mist Trail in Yosemite
Tips for visiting Yosemite
I guess you could call it travel guilt. It kicked in big time last year, when a number of friends were planning trips to Yosemite National Park. At some point, someone asked me what my kids liked to do in Yosemite. I started to talk about the Mist Trail then realized, though I love Yosemite, I’ve never taken my kids. We live in Northern California. Yosemite is practically our backyard. I got out the calendar and picked a weekend. It was still winter, I had months before I needed to get organized … or so I thought.
Planning the adventure
Organizing our five nights in Yosemite was trickier than I expected.If you want to stay in the park, (which I highly recommend) your options are a bit limited. There are only a few hotels to choose from, so reservations can be pricey and tough to come by during peak times. That leaves camping. Though incredibly affordable, the competition is more than fierce.
Yosemite has 13 phenomenally popular campgrounds. From May through September, seven of the campgrounds are first-come, first-served and often fill by noon. The remaining campgrounds are by reservation.
Is not easy. And that’s an understatement. Campground reservations open in blocks of one month at a time, up to five months in advance, on the 15th of each month. For example, if you want to camp July 15th through August 14th, reservations open March 15th at 7am Pacific time. You can make reservations online or by calling a toll-free number.
Get up early
Reservations for the months of May through September fill within minutes of becoming available. When we made our reservations, my husband and I were up by 6:15a (not fun on a Sunday morning) and had four computers up and running and the toll-free number programmed into the phone. Just five minutes after seven, there were no campgrounds left. Everything was booked. We got a site, not the one we hoped for, but we got one! (Just a note, I wouldn’t waste time trying to call in. All I’ve ever gotten is a busy signal.)
Hiking in Yosemite with kids
Endless options are waiting. You have to be realistic. What you can do, enjoyably, really depends on the ages of your kids. Hiking with a 3-year-old can be back-breaking. Hiking with a 9-year-old can be exhilarating. Know your kids and their limits.
Lower Yosemite Falls is an easy, must-do hike with kids of all ages.The one-mile loop is a short walk with a huge payoff – fabulous views of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls. It was scorching hot when I did this hike with my girls last year summer. The base of the falls just might be the best pool ever. Be sure your kids are wearing good walking shoes that are okay to get wet!
Rafting in Yosemite
Rafting on the scenic Merced River is a fabulous way to spend a hot day, and one of the best ways to see the Valley’s amazing scenery. Floating is easy, it doesn’t matter how old you are! Pack a picnic lunch and rent a raft at the Curry Village Recreation Center. You’ll get life jackets and paddles, but the river does most of the work. Take your time and beach whenever the mood strikes you. There’s plenty of sandy stretches to get out and swim or set up your picnic. Families abound, so don’t be surprised if your kids make some new friends. When you reach the end of the three-mile-stretch down the river, folks are standing by to take your raft and shuttle you back to Curry Village.
The peak of summer brings hundreds of thing to do in Yosemite. Along with the obvious perks Mother Nature offers up to visitors, the National Park Service does a fabulous job offering lots of what I like to call “extras.” Read the Yosemite guide online or pick up a copy when you arrive at the park. It lists everything happening in the park, and there’s a ton to choose from. Family scavenger hunts, ranger walks, and photography classes, just to name a few of the offerings. My family of four took Sharpie art classes after dinner two nights in a row, and learned about the Yosemite’s Ahwahneechee Indians. And yes, both of my girls learned how to start a fire rubbing stick together.
Bike riding in Yosemite
Long days of playing make for tired legs. Leave the car parked and use your bike to get around the Valley Floor. Traffic is one of Yosemite’s biggest headaches. And though there are popular and crowded shuttles running pretty constantly, jumping on and off bikes is a breeze. There’s no waiting. In many cases, you’ll move faster than cars headed in the same direction. There’s the bonus of being able to stop when there’s a deer on the sidewalk or bear scampering across the meadow. And there’s always the possibility of a late night stop for ice cream at Curry Village.
Yosemite Park lodging tips and avoiding crowds
Evergreen Lodge review
Yellowstone Park with kids
toddler road trip tips
camping with kids
, National Parks
April 26th, 2010
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Photo Credit Wendy Osborne
In case you missed that much needed trip to Maui this year, I have some good news for you. We’re teamed up with our friends at Trekaroo and The Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas to offer a free family beach week on Maui!
One lucky family will win a 5-night stay in a one-bedroom ocean view condo. The Westin has also thrown in a day at their kids club (ages 5-12) and a surprise welcome treat!
Checking out the beach in Maui. Photo by Cagney Jarvis of The Chickpea Studio
Maui with Kids
The location of the Westin is perfect for families that want to mix beach time with one of the many things to do in Maui with kids. In fact, some of the best snorkeling on the island is right in front the hotel. Read our complete family-friendly hotel review for more details on the features that make this resort an exceptional option for a family vacation in Maui.
Maui Vacation Giveaway contest details
Pirate kids pool at Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas
Big thanks to Contest for Moms, Online Sweepstakes, CashNet Sweepstakes, and Sweepstakes Advantage for spreading the word about our giveaway!
Activities on Maui with kids (tips from a local)
Special things to do on Maui
Favorite activities on Maui with babies, toddlers, and young kids
Activities on Kauai with kids (tips from a local)
Maui with kids – favorite activities
Hawaii with kids, dolphin encounters and surf camps
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April 22nd, 2010
Amie from Ciao Bambino
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when it’s time to book that annual family summer vacation. With so many possibilities, how do you come up with a plan without spending hours online?
Nancy wrote a great post a few weeks ago with tips for family vacation planning. What kind of trip are you in the mood for this year? … Mountains? Beach? Urban adventure? Cultural trip?
One nice aspect of traveling with kids is the fact that it’s best to create simple itineraries—this means in a 7-14 day trip you only need to figure out 1-3 stops, particularly if you create a homebase at a single accommodation for a week or more.
The cruel reality of my job as the Editor of Ciao Bambino is that I’m continually reading about fantastic vacation venues—talk about torture for a woman with perpetual wanderlust!
Here are 10 summer family vacation ideas to get brainstorm juices flowing …
Resort at Squaw Creek swimming pool
Visit a ski town
Ski resorts are exhilarating over summer months when the weather is glorious and there are endless outdoor attractions for active families—swimming, hiking, biking, fishing, rafting, boating and more. Moreover, this can be a great way to stay at a top-notch resort that is otherwise cost prohibitive during ski season.
Ski areas typically have a wide array of accommodations. VRBO can be a good resource if you want a home or condo rental (we’re working on growing our list of family-friendly villa rental agencies), or opt for a full-service hotel where you get like a pool, onsite restaurant, and structured kids’ club. An increasing number of hotels in ski venues offer condo-type rooms too.
A few stand out options from our family ski hotel list include Sun Valley Lodge in Idaho and the Resort at Squaw Creek in Lake Tahoe, and I’m absolutely drooling over the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont.
Turks and Caicos beach. Photo Credit Nancy Solomon
Head to the Caribbean
A Caribbean beach vacation is a good option for last minute planners assuming you have access to affordable airfare and confirm there are no forthcoming hurricanes. If you can make it work, the reward is deals on luxury hotels that may be otherwise unaffordable. Yes, the weather may be hot and steamy, but there is plenty of water nearby for cooling off.
A few stand out luxury options from our Caribbean family hotels list include Grace Bay Club on Turks and Caicos and CuisinArt Resort and Spa in Anguilla where summer rates are 30-50% off. In addition, many of the resorts offer family-focused promotions with even more juicy savings.
Giddy up at Smith Fork Ranch
Check out a Dude Ranch
Dude ranch vacations are one of my all-time favorite vacation options for families. The all-inclusive structure means that you will be miles away for the day-to-day rigors of managing schedules and meals. Ranch vacations are costly—there is no question about that—but there is value in these holidays once you add together all that is included in the nightly rate (meals, lodging, activities).
A few stand out options from our portfolio include Vista Verde Ranch outside of Steamboat Springs, Smith Fork Ranch in Colorado, and Red Horse Mountain Ranch in Idaho.
Tuscany with kids
Spend a week in Tuscany
In addition to an insane number of family-friendly things to do and eat, the beauty of visiting Tuscany is the sheer number of family accommodations available. We like what we call “resorts” on Ciao Bambino where you get apartment-like amenities in a resort setting with other families. Many of these options are surprisingly value-oriented. Yes, the flight over can ruin the savings party, but once you get there, Italy can be more affordable than other top European tourist destinations for meals and activities (not car rentals).
If travel time is limited to 10 or less days, visit Florence with kids in a day trip or two, but avoid staying in the heart of the city for the full vacation as it is hot and crowded from June through August.
Explore a new state – Oregon anyone?
I’m dying to get back to Oregon. The natural beauty is phenomenal and it seems off-path enough that you feel like you are doing something different. Nancy still talks about her trip to Sunriver Resort. Kid-friendly biking, hiking, swimming, and relaxing—it’s all there and easy to access. Another plus is the wide array of resort rooms and rental homes.
Summer in Chicago
Take an urban adventure
Summer in New York City doesn’t have much appeal to me, but Chicago? The Windy City is glorious over the summer months given all the lakefront real estate and there are plenty of attractions for children to keep every age and interest engaged.
We have two fantastic hotel options in Chicago: The Affinia Chicago for kid-friendly value and Trump International Chicago for kid-friendly luxury.
San Diego Surf Camp. Photo Credit Nancy Solomon
Experience San Diego
San Diego is an incredible year-round family vacation destination. There is a bit of everything to do from beaches to Legoland to San Diego Surf Camp to the San Diego Zoo to golf to shopping—it’s endless.
We have a fantastic list of San Diego family hotels on Ciao Bambino. Stand out options include the Hotel Del Coronado for the beachfront setting combined with a kids’ club that gets rave reviews. The Four Seasons Aviara is just minutes from Legoland and amazingly family-friendly (Four Seasons is one of our top family-friendly hotel chains).
We also have a client that stayed at the Homewood Suites Del Mar; he reported back that it works well for its suites, space, and kitchen facilities in a central location to all of San Diego’s top attractions.
Galway family fun. Photo Credit Nancy Solomon
Take an Irish road trip
This is the one place where you can ignore my simple itinerary rule and stay in a variety of accommodations. Ireland is best seen by car in a moving trip where you can visit a variety of sights and regions. See the fantastic tips for Ireland with kids article we published earlier this year by Kate of MummyMaps.com for travel advice.
I wish we had more hotels reviewed on our Ireland family hotels list. Stay tuned for more. Nonetheless, Ireland is spectacular and fun place to roam.
Get outside and go camping
I can’t say I’d want to camp for an entire week at a time, but camping is a blast for 2-3 day getaways. You can’t beat the price, scenery, or fun! Note that the really popular destinations will book early so take the time to make reservations—besides if you can’t go you’ve lost $25, not a few hundred dollars. Reserve America is one of the main sites where you can book campsites.
For our California readers, DL Bliss State Park in Lake Tahoe is one of my absolute favorite campgrounds. The park smells amazing, looks amazing, and has a premium lakefront location (with showers!) with all the usual fun families have in Lake Tahoe. See my post from last year covering camping with kids.
Rovinj in Istria. Photo Credit Heather Cowper
Where? I know, I said the same thing when I first heard more about it but everyone I talk that has been there simply raves about Istria in Croatia. Ever since I published Heather Cowper’s post on visiting Croatia it’s been on my list of places to see—pricing is more reasonable than much of the rest of Europe with a strong Italian influence around food and culture, i.e. sign me up!
, Trip Planning
April 21st, 2010
Paul of Shermans Travel
This is a guest post from Paul Eisenberg, the family vacation blogger at Shermans Travel, a guide to the top travel deals and destinations.
I shudder to think how many years ago it was that I took my first standardized test, but I recall the first question like it was yesterday: “A zoo without animals is like a library without _____.”
I run this one by my kids every now and then to see if I can divert their attention from the television. After they shout out “Books! Give us another one!” I sometimes wonder how they’d respond if the second half of that question was “like Walt Disney World without _____,” because in my family, at least, “rides” has not always been the knee-jerk answer.
If you’re planning a Walt Disney World trip with particularly young kids — which I’ve done three times in recent years — or a large-party multi-generational trip, in which I was also a participant, you may need to contemplate the unthinkable: how to have a Disney park experience that’s not focused on rides.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Petting Zoo. Photo Credit Paul Eisenberg
Tips for visiting Walt Disney World
Embrace the spontaneous
If you’re traveling to Disney with a child who’s three or younger, as I did on two occasions, she may be too young or small or scared to ride many of the rides. During our first visit to the parks, my wife and I began kicking ourselves for not anticipating how limited our 3-year-old’s experience would be ride-wise. And then something unexpected happened: we chanced upon a parade, and we enjoyed it. After that first time, we learned to show up at park parade routes at scheduled times to get good spots, which also enabled our youngest to remain in her stroller. One time she fell asleep before the parade started, which frustrated me, at which point another parent turned to me and imparted a valuable tidbit: she’s not going to remember that she didn’t see it.
Spectator attractions pack appeal
It was on that first Disney trip that we also discovered the wonderful 3-D movies available at the parks. While some of them ended up having scary moments, they are all fairly benign as well as accessible for park goers of all ages. And if you’re rolling with family members who are young at heart but can’t manage the rides, live interactive shows like Turtle Talk with Crush are crowd pleasers. During our showing, Crush, an animated turtle voiced by a live actor, asked a woman her name. When the woman answered “Grandma,” Crush replied “That’s a literal name, dudette.” Good stuff.
Another winner: the quaint but charming “Carousel of Progress,” a technology-through-the-ages show performed on a moving carousel stage that according to Disney has had more performances than any show in the history of American theater. As the stage revolves it’s a real kick to watch the animatronic actors “age” as the gadgets in their apartment get increasingly futuristic. While the magic during our performance was marred by an audience member screaming at another to hang up her cell phone (ironically a gadget that had not been invented at that particular point in the performance), our party of 16 — ranging in age from 3 to 65 — enjoyed the show.
Do the “forgotten” park
A lot of families who are deliberately not focusing their Disney experience on the rides sing the praises of EPCOT because the park’s focus is almost entirely on spectator entertainment. And I adore EPCOT for that reason. But there’s also a reason why a popular translation of the EPCOT acronym is “Every Person Comes Out Tired.” The park requires a fair amount of walking, especially if you’re determined to make your way around all the country pavilions, and that proved taxing for the youngest and oldest members of our multi-generational group. A better bet is what I call the “forgotten” Disney park, Animal Kingdom, which emphasizes nature and exploration over thrill rides. Its climbing structures vary in difficulty and thus pack appeal for multiple ages. And who knew Disney had a petting zoo? There’s one here.
Actually spend time at your Walt Disney World hotel
When you go to Walt Disney World park, particularly the Magic Kingdom, deciding which ride to do when can feel like a paramilitary operation and, in fact, you ought to have a plan if you’re hoping to either hit the popular rides before the crowds or judiciously make use of Disney’s Fast Pass system. Our first two Disney trips involved a lot of this stressful strategizing. Many a night we’d return from the Disney parks and hear kids cavorting in the pool, yet our family was often too exhausted from a day of rides to go. But if you’ve already decided that you’re going to have a largely rideless experience, give your kids time to swim, explore the lobby, and avail themselves of other simple “hotel pleasures” that they enjoy on other trips but which might go underappreciated when your focus is on tackling the rides. Most Walt Disney World hotels are packed with great diversions and attractions.
Visit the Family Vacation blog at ShermansTravel.com for more great Disney tips.
Tips for visiting Walt Disney World
Choosing between Disneyland Hotels
April 20th, 2010
Although we’ve covered visiting Spain with kids (including visiting Madrid with kids and Sevilla with kids) on the Ciao Bambino Blog a few times this year, we haven’t written about things to do with kids in Barcelona. Given that Barcelona is a phenomenal destination for a family vacation, this post is long overdue!
I asked Tim Hillson, an American father of a 9-year-old son who has been living in Barcelona for almost a decade with his Spanish wife, for his thoughts on Barcelona basics. These tips provide a great foundation for must-see attractions and activities. Thanks Tim!
Introduction to Barcelona with Kids
Barcelona is kid-friendly. After living here for the last nine years, I can tell you that children are loved and tolerated well in Spain. This fact alone makes for an exciting trip where new sites, new sounds and cultural differences make for a wonderful family adventure.
One of the major differences that Spain has with the United States is its culinary culture. Spain’s food traditions are rooted in history. Freshness, simplicity and texture are hallmarks of this goldmine.
Most restaurants have children’s menu’s, but may not have high-chairs. (Note, I recommend that you bring or buy a foldable chair that you can stick on a chair so that you too can enjoy your dining experience). Also, Spain is the second fish eating country in the world after Japan. Its fish culture is deep, rich and fresh! If you don’t like fish, you will after your trip to Spain.
In this first article, I want to give you a sense of the places that make Barcelona so special.
Double-Decker Tourist Bus
It sounds silly, but the double-decker tourist bus is not to be missed. We take my wife’s family (who is Spanish) and my family from California on it when they visit. In Spring, you can sit on top and see the wonderful Spanish architecture, trees that line the avenues and hear the heartbeat of Barcelona. Plus, you can get on and off as much as you like, with or without a stroller, for one price. With the dollar/euro exchange rate, this can’t be beat.
On the North Route, stop off at Parc Güell (Gwe-ay). This park, designed by Antoni Gaudí, prodigal son of Barcelona, is an architectural masterpiece. Not only does it boast incredible views of Barcelona, but also pathways, museums, cafés and a kiddie park with swings and teeter totters for that well-deserved parent rest.
Everyone talks about Las Ramblas in Barcelona. To us, this is the Fisherman’s wharf of Barcelona. If you like that kind of stuff, be careful of your wallet and purse. Pickpockets abound. Though it is not dangerous, just be street smart.
On the Ramblas, the market called La Boquería is one of the oldest of the city. You will see and smell the amazing variety of fish, meat, cheese, vegetables and fruits. All beautifully and naturally displayed.There are several restaurants there where the food is amazing (particularly if you are a foodie). Children abound and run in and out of the stands greeted by friendly faces.
Barcelona is a beach town. Why not pack up the swimsuits and go to the beach? In the Port Olímpic, you can stroll, eat and take in the sun. Our favorite places to eat are: Bestial, Agua and Ca la Nuri. Both Bestial and Agua are from the same avant guard restauranteurs - Rosa Maria Estevay Tomás Tarruella. Ca la Nuri located farther on the boardwalk towards Barcelona and the W Hotel.
Barça Football (Soccer)
On the South Route of the Bus Turistic, stop at Camp Nou, where Barça plays. If you have boys, it is an exciting place where you might even be able to buy tickets and see a game. It rivals professional football and the stadium is huge. Barça is now one of the most famous soccer teams in the world. Note, that if you want an official jersey, this is the place, but if you find the prices out of this world (70 euros), there are many shops in the Barrio Gótico (Barri Gótic) where you can find knock-offs that look real for 15 euros.
View of Barcelona from Tibidabo
We still love the view of Barcelona from Tibidabo, the mountainous region overlooking Barcelona where the city’s amusement park is located. Our son still asks us to go. The church that overlooks the city is illuminated at night and serves as a beacon. Tibidabo has a funicular (tram) that takes you up the hill from Avenida Tibidabo. It is so cool and kids love it! Note, that from Avinguda Tibidado (Tibidabo Avenue) to the tram it is a hike. So if you are with small children, take the Tramvía Blau (Blue Trolley).
Best times to visit Barcelona with kids
Barcelona is best in the Spring and Fall. It’s Mediterranean climate is soft and much like California. Although in summer it is hot and humid. If you like heat, summer is a great choice. Barcelona is one of the most popular European destinations. Remember, Catalán people (people from the Catalonian region of Spain) will be most accepting of you if you try to speak their language. So pick up a dictionary before you come over and give your children and eye-opening experience.
Sevilla with kids
Madrid with kids
Family travel Spain – Nerjas, more paella por favor
Ciao Bambino recommended Spain family hotels
Barcelona things to do on Uptake.com
April 19th, 2010
Sharlene of Double The Adventure
This is a guest post from Sharlene Earnshaw of Double The Adventure. Sharlene’s last post for us was an excellent list of toddler road trip tips. Part of her road trip experience was exploring National Parks with her 3-year-old twins. Here are 5 kid-friendly activity suggestions in Yellowstone. Fun! Also, Sharlene just shared that she is the new Blog Editor for our friends at Trekaroo. Congratulations Sharlene!
I have a confession to make: I have been engaged in a love affair for over a decade. It was truly love at first sight, and now I can’t ever seem to get enough. The object of my affection? Our country’s National Park system. I have yet to find a park that I didn’t absolutely adore.
As a matter of fact, I have made it a personal goal to visit every single National Park (yep, all 58 of them) with my children. Last summer, I took my kids to the original National Park, Yellowstone. It exceeded every one of my expectations and now I am on a one woman crusade to convince every family to make the pilgrimage. What should you do once you get there? Here are five family friendly activities that I recommend:
Yellowstone horseback riding
Nothing makes you feel like you are in the Old West more than a horseback ride. Children aged eight and up will love exploring Yellowstone cowboy style on either a one hour or two hour guided tour at one of many different locations throughout the park. If you have children under eight, don’t worry! Our children were two when we visited so we opted to take them on a stagecoach ride and they had a ball. I have to admit that spotting a bison while sitting in a replica of a talley-ho coach was enough to make me get in touch with my inner Laura Ingalls.
Spend a sunrise or sunset in the Hayden Valley
Yellowstone is America’s version of the Serengeti and the best time to see bison, elk, deer, antelope, bears, beaver, or even the elusive wolf, is during dawn or dusk. Animals just seem to be more active during these times and luckily, it’s also when lighting is best for photography. Your children will love the excitement of spotting a bear in a clearing or having a herd of bison cross the road directly in front of your car. There is just something about seeing wild animals in their natural habitat that is magical.
Explore Geyser Basin
Yellowstone is home to 60% of the world’s geysers so no trip to this park is complete without a walk through Geyser Basin. Start at Old Faithful and “ooh” and “aww” as 204 degree water shoots 130 feet into the air above you. Then follow the Geyser Loop Trail out to Morning Glory Pool to marvel at the many geysers, pools, and bubbling pots along the way. Geysers are always erupting and if you get lucky, you may even time your visit to see one of the show stoppers such as Castle or Riverside Geyser. My personal favorite was the multicolored pools. The reflection of the trees on those glassy waters was nothing short of spectacular.
Take a hike
Whether you climb down the switchbacks to the edge of Lower Yosemite Falls or walk through a lodgepole pine forest in search of bubbling mud pots, getting out of the car and onto a trail is a very important part of the Yellowstone experience. There are hikes suitable for all ability levels so everyone has the opportunity to see Yellowstone away from the road’s edge. One of my favorite short hikes was to the Artist Paint Pots. There is just something so fascinating about bubbling mud and at just one mile round trip, it was perfect for our two-year-olds.
Participate in Yellowstone Park’s Junior Ranger Program
One of the activities we can’t investigate until my children are old enough to participate in is the Junior Ranger Program. For $3.00, children aged 5-12 can complete a twelve page activity paper, designed to introduce kids to the wonders of Yellowstone and the importance of conservation. Requirements include attending a Ranger-led program, taking a hike, and completing various age specific activities inside the booklet. Upon completion, the booklet can be returned to any visitor center where a park ranger will review your child’s work and award them with an official Junior Ranger badge. Fun, educational, and a reward at the end. What’s not to love?
toddler road trip tips
camping with kids
Yellowstone Park with kids
, National Parks
, Toddler Travel
April 15th, 2010
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Oceanfront water balloon toss at Montage Laguna Beach
Does this sound like a dream not reality?
Kids’ clubs can be an essential amenity for parents seeking downtime on vacation, particularly at resort properties where families spend the bulk of their time onsite. Many parents hesitate to use kids’ programs because they don’t want to feel guilty that they are “dumping” their kids into glorified daycare or they feel uncomfortable leaving their kids in an unknown environment.
Good news: It is possible to have your kids participate in a kids’ club and have it be a guilt-free and comfortable experience! It’s all about the quality of the program, the instructors, and how well the program is organized.
We realized we struck kids’ club gold last week on spring break while visiting Montage Laguna Beach and Terranea Resort in Southern California when our 7-year-old woke up every morning and the first thing out of his mouth was, “When do I get to go to the kids’ club today?”
Secrets to a Guilt-Free Kids’ Club
Camp-style kids’ club format
I like programs that are camp-style vs. babysitting-style with thoughtfully prepared activities that change throughout the day and week. This creates an engaging and active environment. The constant stream of “new” activities means kids don’t get bored and are excited about participating.
The program at the Montage Laguna Beach is one of the best we’ve experienced. Kids that participate are made to feel like they’ve literally entered camp for the time they are there with a dedicated cubby and personalized program backpack. There was never a dull moment as the participants did everything from tag to art projects to kick ball to carefully supervised pool games.
Special activities kids don’t do at home
Programs should involve special activities kids don’t do at home. Incorporating local elements into the program is a must. If the resort is on the beach—build sandcastles or visit tide pools. If the resort is in a culturally distinctive area—do crafts that feature local materials.
Terranea’s program uses themes for each session—pirates of the peninsula (treasure hunts), wacky wild west (forts and lassos), holiday mix up (egg hunts, trick-or-treating, snowball fights all-in-one)—every theme is creative and engaging.
Fun and appealing program home-base
Properties that are serious about offering top-notch programs need to invest in a room or building to house the kids’ club. If space is limited, meticulous thought needs to be put into activities for a variety of age groups that are incorporated into a single place.
An excellent example of this is the kids’ club space at The Breakers in Palm Beach Florida. There is an enormous amount of real estate that is devoted to kids of all ages including a place just for toddlers, another space that is suited for school-age kids, and then finally, a massive game room that appeals to tweens and teens.
Kids’ Club program grouped by age
The more granular a program is in terms of grouping similar ages together the better. Kids’ clubs can be a wonderful social environment for children. We have an only child and a kids’ club is a comfortable opportunity for him to meet other children at a resort. Plus, grouping same-age kids together enables the best age-appropriate activities.
Ages 5-10 is the sweet spot for many programs, although it is a special treat for parents of toddlers when a program can also handle ages 2-4 in a safe and nurturing environment, including kids that are not potty trained.
Flexible program drop-off schedule
This is a conundrum. In order to run a program that has all the special features mentioned above, properties need to be able to effectively staff and manage the daily schedule. Set hours provide the best framework to facilitate a dynamic program as it allows instructors to do a wide variety of activities instead of sitting in one place waiting for additional kids to show up.
The key is a bit of flexibility where parents can choose half or full day programs (vs. having to sign your kids up all day). Also, it is really great to be able to drop your kids off for just an hour or two into a program in progress. Parents need to know they may need to jump through a few hoops for that to happen, but it is the ultimate gift in terms of feeling like you get to escape the rigidity of routines and schedules on vacation.
Minimal TV and video games
Kids can watch TV and play video games at home. Although this can be an acceptable form of downtime in a program, it should not be the focus. Instructors have explained to me many times that kids start asking to play the Wii instead of going outside (of course!) and become obsessed with it. If that is the case, I’d rather see TV and videos used for emergency use only instead of a crutch to keep kids happy.
Features That Help Parents Relax
Guilt is one thing, but parents need to feel relaxed that their kids are well cared for and safe at all times.
Ratios of 1 to 6 feels good to me, although it depends on what kids are doing. If the club involves sitting in one room, then the ratio does not need to be as strict, but the more kids do, the stronger that ratio needs to be.
Programs need higher ratios for younger children. At the Montage Laguna Beach, they have an entirely separate room dedicated to toddlers and the ratio is 1 to 3. This is exceptional and the success of the program is evident by the families that come back to use the program again and again.
Swimming requires an entirely different set of rules (stay tuned for more on that, I’m writing a follow up article). For now, I’ll just say that it is important that programs offer alternatives for parents that don’t want to have their kids swim in hotel setting without being present.
Know where your kids are at all times
It is disconcerting not to know where your kids are at a large resort property. Programs need to have a method of letting parents know where kids are playing at all times if they are away from the home-base facility. A note on the kids’ club door works well for this.
Driving is a no no
I really can’t think of a scenario where I’d feel comfortable having my children driven in a car outside of the property anywhere by random hotel staff.
Don’t be shy about asking for the kids’ club program director an interviewing him/her about what to expect. Either the program director will make you comfortable or you have your answer—the program may not be for you. Don’t assume that a expensive hotel or luxury brand means that the kids’ club is great. This is definitely not the case!
You can search for kids’ clubs on Ciao Bambino by using our Quick Search box at the top of every page. Our dynamic search feature allows you to search by destination, the age of your kids, and the cost of program.
Finding a fantastic kids’ club is a win-win. It’s like a visit to the spa for kids—relaxing and pampering, customized just for them. We’re going to circulate this post to all the properties in our portfolio and encourage them to adopt kids’ club best practices.
Swimming safety at hotel and resort kids’ clubs
Top family-friendly hotel chains (US edition)
Value remains king in 2010
Tips for finding toddler-friendly accommodations
Finding family-friendly boutique hotels
Finding the best kids clubs
Finding the best Europe family hotels
Finding family-friendly ski resorts
How to choose the right ranch vacation
Things to consider before booking mega-resorts
Evaluating all-inclusive beach resorts
, School Age Travel
, Teen Travel
, Toddler Travel
, Trip Planning