Archive for September 2010
September 29th, 2010
The calendar may dictate the official start of fall in the San Francisco Bay Area, but for me fall begins when pumpkins start appearing on doorsteps. It’s cheap and easy to grab one with the groceries at the store, but the memories made when you traipse through the dusty fields are priceless. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough weekends to explore all the great pumpkin patches in Northern California. Everyone has their favorites, and for some of my friends, picking out a pumpkin has become just as much of a tradition as Thanksgiving dinner.
Bay Area Pumpkin Patches
Peter Pumpkin Patch
A neighbor introduced us to Peter Pumpkin Patch in Petaluma when my youngest daughter was a baby. You can spend hours searching for the perfect pumpkin, but what I love about Peter’s is digging for potatoes. Bring gloves, a small garden shovel to dig with and the philosophy that it’s ok to get dirty. Your reward — some of the best potatoes you’ve ever tasted. If all the digging makes you hungry, you can sample a variety of Spring Hill Jersey Cheese or enjoy a scoop of homemade pumpkin ice cream. The only downfall is the crowds. Word about Peter’s has definitely gotten out.
The first grade teachers at my daughter’s elementary school take their classes on an annual trip to Peterson’s Farm in Petaluma. It’s a real working farm with chickens, cows and ponies. What makes it unique is that it is a Bee Friendly Farm, and Ettamarie Peterson is the “queen bee.” A retired school teacher, Peterson is a beekeeper who loves sharing her hobby with kids (and parents). So along with picking the perfect pumpkin, kids pick up a better understanding of a bee’s life and the role they play in Sonoma County agriculture. A science lesson disguised in a trip to the pumpkin patch –that’s hard to beat.
Nicasio Valley Farms Pumpkin Patch
There are a number of small pumpkin patches that spring up off Highway 101 in Marin County once the calendar flips to October.Most offer the standard extras like jumpy houses and inflatable slides. They’re convenient and certainly more fun for families than just grabbing a pumpkin at the grocery store. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still have the farm experience in Marin County.
I have friends who say pumpkin picking season gives them a great excuse to drive out to the countryside and visit Nicasio Valley Farms Pumpkin Patch. It’s a little bit of drive from 101 (half-an-hour to 45 minutes depending on your starting point), but fall usually means good weather and a welcome chance to meet up with other families and have a picnic. Sounds like a good plan to me. Nicasio doesn’t have a website so give them a call at 415-662-9100 for details.
World Pumpkin Capital
True and dedicated pumpkin enthusiasts make the trek to Half Moon Bay in search of the perfect pumpkin. The “World Pumpkin Capital” is celebrating its 40th annual weekend long Art & Pumpkin Festivalon October 16-17 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The festivities draw an overwhelming amount of visitors, so be ready to deal with the crowds. There’s a Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off, pumpkin pie- eating contests, crafts, music, the list goes on and on.It’s a full- fledged community effort. The High School Varsity Basketball Team even hosts a traditional Pancake Breakfast.Pumpkin pancakes are popular sellers – go figure!
Either on your way to the festival, or on the way home you’ll pass numerous pumpkin patches, just take your pick. There’s so many to choose from, the San Mateo County Farm Bureau has a Pumpkin Patch Guide.
Arata Farms is the oldest working pumpkin farm in San Mateo County, and offers a good mix for families with kids young and old.Along with a petting zoo and pony rides, the farm has a straw maze that goes on for 2 acres. Your teen could be missing for hours! An added bonus: because it’s further down Highway 1, there’s less of a crowd factor to deal with.
Meet Farmer John
Farmer John’s Pumpkins is must with some college friends of mine that live in Half Moon Bay because there really is a Farmer John, and they say “he is a great, personable, down-to-earth, real local farmer.”
G & M Farms
One pumpkin is never enough. October’s a busy month, but my family can usually squeeze in a few trips to pumpkin patches. We have our regulars, but we also always plan to try somewhere new. This year, G & M Farms in Livermore is on the list. My kids are 9 and 12 years-old. Gone are the days of cute pigtail pictures atop pumpkin stacks. It’s all about the action. Finding their way through six acres of cornfield maze should deliver, and maybe even tire them enough to fall asleep on the ride home.
Photos courtesy of Dana Rebmann and Amie O’Shaughnessy
2010 Halloween events for kids (US edition)
Lessons from 2009 pumpkin patch visit
Fleet Week in San Francisco (October 7-12th this year!)
10 great fall family getaways
, North America
, Pumpkin Patch
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September 26th, 2010
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
Although one might believe that “all-inclusive” resorts have only recently become popular, this is not the case. For generations, there have been “all-inclusive” resorts all over America, but they very subtly market themselves as “American Plan Resorts.”
I wasn’t familiar with the term until recently on a recent stay at Basin Harbor Club where I was able to speak with the owner. Through the discussion, it became apparent why these resorts typically date back a few years. Due to the extensive property, upkeep and expense to build private cottages along prime real estate—building an equivalent resort is simply cost prohibitive in today’s market.
“American Plan” resorts are something like the old Catskill resorts that you saw on Dirty Dancing minus all the Hollywood drama. It’s a place where people come for generations. Some families spend the whole season there while others come for “their week,” which is usually the same week year-after-year. So in addition to the lovely resort amenities and activities, you also have a sense of friendship and community that enriches the experience—something that does not happen at typical resorts.
It isn’t a forced, community table type of socialization, but rather a very elegant and welcoming sharing of a much-appreciated summer destination. At dinner one night there was a gentleman who had been there for 47 summers. Mind you, there were also plenty of families that were coming for the first time.
These grand resorts hark back to an America of the past while catering to all that we need for the here and now. Besides Basin Harbor Club, the other “American Plan” resort that we went to was Manisota Beach Club.While the general age at Manisota was older, it was the same type of experience where everyone eats three meals a day together, guests make an effort to introduce themselves and welcome you with a sense of ritual and dignified tradition. Each evening, you have to wear a coat and tie for dinner, kids too. Often times, these resorts serve as a way for grandparents, kids and grand kids to all travel together. There are tons of activities, coupled with delicious meals in a beautiful setting.
As an explorer by nature, it’s hard for me to commit to going to the same place each year, but my kids are now begging me to go back.
What made it so nice was that they totally understood not just the kids, but families. From the physical set up of individual cabins, to offering a kids’ club at dinner so the parents could actually sit in peace for a meal to evening entertainment like campfires, storytellers, a talent show, and movies—Basin Harbor provided everything we needed to vacation together as a family.
Truly, they thought of everything, even a Creative Memories picture frame customized with our photos and a farewell basket of fresh produce to ensure that we had something to eat when we got back home.
Photo Credit Nancy Solomon
Basin Harbor Club hotel review
Luxury kid-friendly travel by Ciao Bambino and Lexus
Best family-friendly vacation rentals
Hotel and resort kids’ clubs swimming safety
Best hotel and resort kids’ clubs
Top family-friendly hotel chains, North America Edition
, Multi-Generational Travel
, North America
, United States
September 24th, 2010
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Captivated by the miniature sail boats
It doesn’t matter how many times I visit Paris, each time I arrive in this glorious city I’m blown away by the sheer beauty and grandeur of everything around me.
Our last experience in Paris was last weekend and the weather was perfect. The best first stop on a gorgeous Sunday morning? The Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Garden). This meticulously manicured Paris park is always a top ‘things to do’ in Paris with kids.
The garden was filled with locals and tourists, children and adults—everyone was clearly sharing an appreciation of the timeless beauty of this special place.
Joie de vivre is ridiculously easy here, particularly on a gorgeous day!
For more Photo Friday posts, visit Delicious Baby.
France family hotels
Paris with kids, 10 off-the-beaten-path attractions
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Paris with kids, exploring art and war
Paris with children, savoring the simple pleasures
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, Photo Friday
September 22nd, 2010
It’s good to be a kid these days.
Not that being a kid was bad when I was growing up, but being a kid now has perks that didn’t exist when my age was still written in single digits. Playgrounds had slides and swings, not rock climbling walls and carousels. We rode bikes, not electric scooters, and we listened to cassettes, not iPods.
In the past ten years there’s been an explosion of things just for kids. Think about it. Hotel kids’ clubs, kids’ menus and move over Louvre, kids’ museums. Just about every major city in the U. S. now has a dedicated kids’ museum. In many cases, more than one.
Zeum San Francisco
Lucky for my kids (and me), San Francisco has Zeum, as in museum.
Zeum is a place where kids (and let’s be honest, parents) can combine their artistic side with all the best of modern technology. We grew up drawing with crayons and fingerpaint. At Zeum kids use computers loaded with Photoshop. We had Play-Doh. At Zeum kids make figures out of clay, then using cameras and computers create movies in the Animator’s Studio.
Zeum describes itself “as an innovative arts and technology museum where kids and families combine hands-on experience with the power of their imaginations to create movies, music, art, and more!”
That’s a lot of words. The bottom line is when you go, your kids will have a great time.
As museums go, Zeum is small, but it’s size doesn’t lessen its impact. For parents, I think it’s actually a plus. If you’re visiting the museum with more than one kid, its compact space makes keeping track of everyone much easier.
My girls have grown up going to Zeum, but at 9 and 12 they haven’t out-grown Zeum. Numerous exhibits are cleverly designed to entertain a variety of ages. The older the child, the more time they hang around before moving on to the next exhibit. Though the museum targets kids ages 6 through 12, it offers something for kids of all ages which is a huge perk for families with kids of various ages.
When you enter the main gallery, chances are your toddler will make a bee-line for Little Z’s Play Lab. Full of padded shapes to climb on and tubes to crawl through, a nap will be a must. Benches perfect for tired parents act as an exhibit fence, keeping little ones from making a run for it.
There’s a puppet theatre where kids can make paper bag puppets then put on a performance. Smaller tables have been added to the Animator’s Studio, so little ones who want to play with clay have a place to call their own. The Colorforms Wall and Lego Wall are quiet spots to hang out and take a break from the crowds.
At Zeum school age kids probably have the most choices all. Those on the younger side may still be drawn to many of the toddler activities. But with so many other choices, you may not be able to squeeze everything in. My 9 year-old spent three hours in the Animator’s Studio perfecting her clay figures before creating a claymation movie almost a minute long. When she was all finished, she simply typed in my email and the creation was waiting in my inbox when we got home.
After a bathroom stop to scrub away the layers of clay, we headed for Glowdoodle. Imagine a room the size of a small movie theatre. Kids “paint” with LED light. A camera captures their work and projects it onto the walls above. I’ve never seen or heard of anything quite like it. Bean bags chairs line the circular room, offering a comfy place to sit and watch while you’re waiting for your turn.
Kids that are brave can star in their own music video. Neither of my girls would sing for the crowds in the Music Production Lab, but they had a great time watching other kids sing Michael Jackson tunes while trying to master the moonwalk. Kids can add in digital backgrounds and choose from an impressive costume wardrobe.
My tween tested and loved all the school age exhibits I mention above with her sister. The learning curve and entertainment value was just as high, the big difference was an ultimate product that was often more refined.
One of my 12 year-old’s favorite exhibits was the Digital Workshop. Snap a picture, run it through Photoshop and you never know what a tween can create. I thought I’d seen everything, but when I got home, there were even more masterpieces waiting in my inbox. My 9 year-old only had one creation she thought was worthy of keeping.She printed it out before leaving the workshop to ensure she had a copy.
With just 15 minutes until the museum closed, the race was on to squeeze in a couple more things. Z-Dance was a hit! Choose music and visual effects, then dance your heart out in front of a green screen. (The same type of wall television meteorologists use to broadcast maps behind them during newscasts.) Z-Dance mixes in your body movements and the result is something like a kaleidoscope image, but instead of seeing lots of pretty crystals, you see yourself.
I don’t think most teens would be asking to spend their weekends at Zeum. That said, if they’re tagging along with a younger sibling, I think they’d have a good day. Given some time, a creative teen could create some amazing things in the Animator’s Studio or the Digital Workshop.
A Few Tips
Weekends are the museum’s busiest time, so go on a weekday if you can. Zeum is less crowded first thing in the morning, and in the late afternoon. Some of the more popular exhibits, like the Animator’s Studio, often have waits during prime time, but later in the day you may be able to walk in and sit right down, so don’t be afraid to move around the museum out of order so to speak. Pack plenty of snacks, and a picnic lunch. There’s a great space outside to run around and the Yerba Buena playground is nearby.
If you live in the Bay Area, you can come and go when it fits into the family schedule. If you’re visiting San Francisco, Zeum is a great place to spend time when you’re kids need a day in the itinerary that’s just for them.
Oh, don’t forget the carousel. It’s next to the museum entrance. Lucky for us, it’s open an hour longer than Zeum.
And just for the record, my tween fell asleep in the car on the way home. Nothing says success to me more than that!
Zeum invited Ciao Bambino to the museum for a complimentary visit. They did not ask us to express any particular point of view about the experience.
Photos courtesy of Dana Rebmann
Tips for visiting museums with kids
Things to do in San Francisco with kids
Favorite San Francisco attractions with kids
Angel Island San Francisco
Visiting Mount Diablo with kids
Exploring New York City museums with kids
Kid-friendly museums in Los Angeles
Free family-friendly museums in London
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, San Francisco
, Toddler Travel
, Tween Travel
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September 21st, 2010
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Seeing a destination from the water offers radically different perspective. Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) is one of the world’s most spectacular bodies of water. At the foot of the Alps, the color of the lake is ever-changing and there are moments when it’s ocean-like with surf and waves.
Note, when you are on the Internet doing research Lake Geneva, Wisconsin will come up in searches too so you need to make sure you are looking at the right version …
Taking a boat tour on the lake is an essential activity for visits when the weather is nice (spring through the early fall). There are many different boats and itineraries available, particularly over the summer months. I was fairly overwhelmed when I first tried to figure out how to choose the best tour for outings with kids so I interviewed the Montreux Riviera tourist office for some insider tips and advice.
Lake Geneva Boat Tours
First and foremost, bookmark the website for cgn.ch—this is the website for the Compagnie Générale de Navigation (CGN) sur Le Lac Léman and it is the directory for all routes and timetables. I’ve added this URL to my Switzerland tourist attractions resource list.
Take a paddle steamer trip
The tourist office suggests a trip on one of the paddle steamer ships where kids can see up close how these old boats run. Favorite options include Geneva to Yvoire medieval village in France and Lausanne to Montreux and Chateau de Chillon.
We took a round trip 2-hour cruise on the Vevey through Montreux and Bouvret. We enjoyed ourselves but next time I’d leave more time for one of the shore excursions below.
Combine a boat trip with shore excursion
Over the summer months there are enough ships where it is easy to get off for a few hours and catch another boat home. Excursions of interest for families include:
*Olympic Museum in Lausanne
*Alimentarium Food Museum in Vevey
*Swiss Museum of Games in La Tour-de-Peilz
*Cogwheel railway to Rochers-de-Naye from Montreux
*Aqua Parc in Bouvret (this place looks like school age kid paradise)
*International Red Cross Museum in Geneva
*Musee du Leman (museum about the lake) in Nyon
*Chateau de Chillon near Montreux (Switzerland’s most visited historic monument)
I haven’t been to any of these suggested venues yet but will do so in the upcoming months and report back on the blog.
September sunset on Lake Geneva
If you are a group of less than 10 people you don’t need a reservation. You can buy your ticket at the port before boarding or even at the desk on the ship (same price). It is recommended, however, to make reservations head of time for any meal-specfic cruises. You can do that via phone on +41 (0) 848 811 848 or via email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also combine rail and boat passes at train stations and the Lausanne and Geneva ports. Kids under 6 are free and ages 7-16 pay half-fare. Dogs are allowed.
First versus Second Class tickets
We went first class on our last boat trip and I liked the fact that you have more room to move around and choose seating. Also, it varies by boat, but some ships only have substantial food in First Class. Snacks and drinks make the trip more pleasant.
Pricing is based on the number of kilometers, but as a general rule, First Class is about 33% more. That said, if you are on a tight budget, Second Class is fine—just bring your own drinks/snacks and get to the port early so you can be one of the first people to board the ship for optimal seating. Note, there are also a few boats with only First Class seating and services available.
When to go
Boats run through the winter months too but on a more limited schedule. I can’t imagine it would be fun to take one of these boats with kids in terrible weather when everyone is locked inside so plan accordingly.
Also, remember to bring your passport with you for excursions to France. There is nobody checking but it is good to have on hand nonetheless.
Photos courtesy of Amie O’Shaughnessy
Ciao Bambino recommended Switzerland family hotels
Switzerland tourist attraction resources
Photos of the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland
Photos of Lake Geneva, Switzerland
, Lake Geneva
September 17th, 2010
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
San Diego has so many kid-friendly activities, but in the summer, it’s the sand and surf that are the real attraction—and, best of all they are free! Beaches are plentiful and easy to access and the sand and surf provide hours of entertainment for both the kids and parents.
Mission Beach, San Diego
We just got back from a trip where we decided to check out Mission Beach. I hadn’t been down to Mission Beach for a while and I had heard from other families that Belmont Park was fun so we decided to check it out. Now, Mission Beach is certainly beautiful, with wide beaches and a boardwalk that perfect for walking, biking or rollerblading, but it can also have a mixed element, with it’s fair share of burn-outs and shady characters. That said, most people are laid back and mind their own business.
Surfing with dolphins
We decided to head down early and grab breakfast on the beach. This area is also known for great breakfast spots, like the Broken Yolk, Mission Café, and North Shore. We dined beachside at North Shore, which was easy, reasonable and great for people watching. However, it was what we stumbled on next that was the highlight—The Wave House.
The Wave House
The Wave House sells by the hour a huge adrenaline rush, aka an artificial wave machine, all packaged in a Spring Break setting. It caught our eye as we saw school age kids surfing on an eternal “pipe” wave. We signed up for the next hour. Now, this is not for the faint of heart. I can’t say that if I watched the massive wipeouts ahead of time that I would have agreed to letting my kids—ages 11, 10 and 7—participate.
They, on the other hand, said hands down this was their favorite San Diego activity. With the “mellow” flow-rider machine broken, they got to ride the pipe at a slower speed (plenty fast for us!). I’d say your best bet is to go earlier in the day because it is a bar setting and there was a fair share of drinks flowing. At night there are competitions and Sunday nights are for adults only.
The Wave House is set adjacent to Belmont Park which is a small but really fun little amusement area for kids. There are a few rides and an arcade. It is perfect for an afternoon.
As for the real waves, we rode our fair share in Del Mar. We love 17th Street where the lifeguards are terrific, parking is easy, and you have access to bathrooms and a snack shop.
For more Photo Friday posts, check out Delicious Baby who lists post from many other travel bloggers.
Ciao Bambino recommended San Diego family hotels
San Diego family travel, top kid-friendly activities
San Diego with kids, an all-season destination
Review of Legoland’s new waterpark
San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park
San Diego Surf Camp for kids
Fun at the San Diego Zoo
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, Photo Friday
, San Diego
September 16th, 2010
Family surfing on LBI beach
Jersey Shore Vacations
This is the last post in a series by Dana Rebmann on Jersey Shore vacations with kids.
Atlantic City has casinos. Ocean City has the boardwalk, and Margate has Lucy the elephant. But when I have time to relax at the Jersey Shore, Long Beach Island is where I go. It strikes a wonderful balance of having everything and nothing at the same time.
Known to locals and regular visitors as LBI, the barrier island is 18 miles long and less than a mile wide at its widest point. Tourists invade by the thousands in the summer, but in the winter all the traffic lights are turned off. (According to the 2000 U.S. Census less than 9-thousand people call the Island home year round.) There’s no McDonald’s, no Starbucks.
I admit bias. I was raised on LBI. I may have a California address, but I still call the Island home. I make a point of taking my girls every summer. Life is different here. Not better or worse, but different.
The Island is about a 90-minute drive from Philadelphia. There’s only one way to get there: take State Route 72 to “The Causeway.” (It’s officially called the Dorland J. Henderson Memorial Bridge, but in almost 40 years, I’ve never heard anyone call it that.) Numerous small cities proudly call the Island home. The main road, Long Beach Boulevard better known as “the Boulevard” runs the entire Island making it really hard, almost impossible actually, to get lost.
Long Beach Island Hotels
There are a dozen or so hotels on LBI. A couple are higher end resort-style places, but the majority are smaller, old beach style places. They fill fast, especially on weekends and holidays, and in some cases have a two night minimum. A majority of visitors rent vacation homes. Rentals typically run Saturday-to-Saturday or in some cases for the entire summer.
To use the beach, you’ll need a beach badge. Some rentals and hotels include badges, so be sure to ask when you make your reservations. If you need to purchase them, just take money when you hit the beach. “Badge Checkers” walk the beach. You can buy daily, weekly or season badges. Kids 12 and under are free. The money goes to a good cause-paying the numerous lifeguards and keeping the beaches clean. Just pin the badges or your beach bag and you won’t really have to think about them again.
Your kids will figure this out in a heartbeat, but I think it’s only fair I give you advance warning. When you’re on the beach, you’ll regularly hear and see someone at the entrance ringing a bell, or two or three. Why? Ice Cream. Ice cream trucks spend the day driving from beach to beach looking for hungry, sugar deprived kids and parents who brought their wallets to the beach. You’ll get away with playing dumb for awhile, but be ready to pony up for some ice cream sandwiches or suffer the consequences.
Family Surf Lessons
If you’re not a fan of sitting in the sand, ride the waves. Surfing has a history on LBI. The original Ron Jon Surf Shop was opened on the Island in 1961. If you’ve ever pondered getting on board, this is the perfect place to learn. My husband and 9 year-old took lessons this summer and loved every wave. Both were standing before the end of their first lesson! Local surf shops, like Wave Hog, are great at factoring in the tides and wind to help folks of all ages and abilities. I could easily see a board under the Christmas tree this year.
After a long day at the beach, a relaxing game of miniature golf might be just what the family is looking for. There’s plenty of courses to choose from, and chances are there’s one close enough to where you’re staying that you can walk or ride your bikes. Putt-putt is a popular night time activity, so expect crowds and maybe even a wait. You can play during the day, when the crowds are on the beach, but the heat and humidity can put a damper on your game.
Here’s a chance to work off all that ice cream. Climb 217 steps to the top of Barnegat Lighthouse. Kids 12 and under are free. Kids-at-heart pay just a dollar. A long spiral staircase takes you 172 feet above sea level to the beacon. Don’t get scared. It’s not as strenuous as you think. Families climb Old Barney everyday. There are numerous places to stop and take a break as you make your way up the steps. I’ve done it with my girls since they were babies.In the early years, they were strapped to my chest in the carrier. As toddlers, when they wanted to do it on their own, they’d start out climbing, but then wind up in my arms. Now, I just meet them at the top.
Thundering Surf & Bay Village
If you still can’t get the sand out of your hair, another good beach-break adventure is Thundering Surf. I loved going as a kid, and I still have fun going as a parent. The park is fairly compact, which makes keeping track of your swimmers a bit easier. There are lifeguards everywhere, which is reassuring for those moments when you lose sight of little ones.
There’s a nice offering of activities for all ages. “Cowabunga Beach” is designed especially for little ones. There’s “Dancing Fountains” and a “Lazy Crazy River” that’s nice to ride with mom or dad. Older kids will forget you exist once they see the six giant waterslides. Depending on their age, and your comfort zone, kids can ride on their own or in a double tube with you.
The new attraction the local kids are talking about is the Flowrider. It’s like boogie boarding on a wave that never ends.. until you wipe out. This might be as much fun to watch as it is to do. Moms, I hope you’re up to the challenge, but wear a solid one piece swimsuit. I can’t tell you how many suits I’ve seen the water blasting wave maker remove. If there is a downside, it’s the price. It’ll cost a family of four a little over a hundred dollars to get into the park, and your ticket is only good for a couple hours, not the entire day.
Once you’ve dried off, Bay Village is right across the street. It’s a good place to grab dinner or a snack. Touristy shops sell everything from local art to jewelry to underwear. Once your kids have real food in their tummies, stop by Country Kettle Fudge and watch the fudge being made. I think the smell alone produces a sugar rush. If only they could bottle it to get me through the long winter months that separate summers at the Jersey Shore.
United States Family Travel Guide
Family travel Ocean City, NJ
Atlantic City attractions with kids
Lucy the Elephant in Margate City
East coast beach vacations
, Long Beach Island
, New Jersey
, North America
September 14th, 2010
Mara from Mother of All Trips
This is a guest post from Mara Gorman, my business partner at Best Family Travel Advice and the mom behind the much-loved family travel site Mother of All Trips. Atlantis Resort is massive and although many families rave about their experiences here, it’s challenging to figure out where to stay given the plethora of options and price points. Mara was there recently and I asked for her tips on deciphering the best accommodations.
This is perfect, thank you!
When planning an Atlantis stay, think more about what’s outside than in …
The Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas is an amazing seaside playground for kids and grownups. From the large water park, to the amazing number of marine animals, to the 11 pools, Atlantis offers tons to do – all of it with a beach view. I stayed at Atlantis with my then four-year-old son in the winter of 2010 (we were hosted by the resort, LEGO, and JetBlue) and we spent our three days there exploring every corner of this enormous resort, walking repeatedly from one end to the other so that we could swim in every pool and see every animal from sharks to sea turtles to rays.
Getting a close up view of sea turtles
Our room was in the iconic Royal Towers. If you’ve ever seen a print or television ad for Atlantis, you’ve seen these buildings, which are connected by an ornate bridge. With an over-the-top lobby full of large aquarium tanks and one of the biggest indoor fountains I’ve ever seen, this is clearly the heart of the resort and the place to see and be seen. The rooms are large and comfortable, with the usual amenities (although no bathrobes!) but there is nothing spectacular about them and the decor is decidedly 1980s-at-the-beach. The primary advantage of staying in this portion of the resort is that you are close to everything: The water park, Dolphin Cay, the AKA Kids Club, and the main entrance to the largest aquarium named The Dig are all nearby.
If you’re traveling with younger kids, are looking for a quieter area, or just want to save a little money, I would recommend considering a stay at one of the smaller guest rooms in the Beach or Coral Towers, which are on the opposite side of the resort from the Royal Towers. Teddy and I spent a lot of time in this part of Atlantis for several reasons. For one thing, it’s where the sea turtles are, safely away from the sharks that circle in Predator Cove. And the sea turtles aren’t all that is mellow here; there’s the Lazy River ride, where you can while away the afternoon with your little one in an inner tube, the Poseidon Pool with a fountain and play area for toddlers, and the River Pool, my favorite, which has a huge zero-entry area that’s perfect for younger kids and has a gorgeous view of the ocean.
And finally, the hotels on this side of the resort is closer to the beach, so you want to spend the morning on the sand, but need to get back to your room for naptime, you won’t have far to go.
The lobbies for both the Beach and Coral Towers have been recently renovated and are modern and light-filled – great places to hang out with a cup of coffee before venturing out in the morning. Unfortunately I never got to tour one of the bedrooms there (I did peek in one of the Beach Tower rooms as I walked by an open door though, and it seemed perfectly nice) but they also have been recently redone. And since most of the resort is open to all guests, no matter where they are staying, you can still spend as much time in The Dig or the pools closer to the Royal Towers as you’d like. But you won’t have to listen, as I did, to a reggae band playing disco music until 10 p.m. on Saturday night. And when you’ve got a child who is sure to be up at 6 a.m., that’s a great thing.
One final thought. This was the view out of the window of our Royal Towers room:
Can you see why we really didn’t spend much time inside? If I returned Atlantis, I would definitely spend a little less, take a smaller room, and use the money I saved for an in-room babysitter and dinner at Nobu.
Photos courtesy of Mara Gorman
Ciao Bambino review of Atlantis Resort
Swimming safety at hotel kids’ clubs
Things to consider before booking a mega-resort with kids
September 13th, 2010
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Land of happy cows
One of the things that has been most challenging about our move to Switzerland is the lack of high quality, detailed travel and activity information in English. A very surprising discovery considering the number tourists visiting the numerous sites of interest throughout this country.
I finally got so fed up with the lack of easy-to-access, detailed content that I tried to order a few books on Amazon before our last trip to the US only to discover that the ship date for what seemed like the best books is 4-5 months out. Baffling!
Back to the Internet. Given the time I’ve spent online looking for information, I thought it would be useful to use a resource list to kick-off a series on the blog about my best Switzerland discoveries.
SBB Home – This is the one page that is not difficult to find. It is, however, essential to have readily available as the trains go everywhere here, even to the small villages high up in the mountains (versus a country like Italy where you really need to rent a car to explore the countryside).
MySwitzerland.com – Produced by the Swiss tourist bureau, this is one of the few sites that is efficient to navigate and fairly comprehensive. The clickable map is useful with a ready list of top destinations within each region, although the detail provided is sparse and in many cases the referral websites are not in English. The hiking page excited me at first as a best of resource (there are even family-friendly hikes listed); in practice, however, the information is limited if you want and need a complete hiking directory with review-oriented content for a specific destination.
There is also a child-friendly hotels page that showcases hotels offering family-focused amenities and programs, although at this point until I experience a few of them, this is an unqualified list and you know how that goes with kids.
LonelyPlanet.com – An solid overview of highlights and the main tourist attractions although it is not family-specific.
Joy of fondue
Geneva Local Resources and Activities
Since this is my home-base I’ve spent time trying to find good local resources. There is a tourist site for Lake Geneva that is glossy and inspiring to review, although again in practice (sense a theme here?), you need additional information embark on any of the excursions or events listed, i.e. this is a good high level guide only.
Hot Tip: When you need to drill down on any information around a destination, there is likely to be a website using the town’s name followed by .ch. A quick google search using the town’s name plus .ch yields quick results, although at the local level not many of the sites are in English.
One of the first resources I found while searching for information is knowitall.ch. The site targets families living and working in and around Geneva, but it is an excellent resource for visitors too with a current events calendar and a weekly summary of what to do in the area. The author of the site, Lisa Cirieco-Ohlman, also produces a book that provides fantastic fantastic tips and advice for families. See the website for instructions on where you can buy a copy.
LausanneMom is another good resource meant for expats but useful for visitors seeking parent-specific content.
Boat Tours of Lake Geneva
The website for boat cruises on Lake Geneva is cgn.ch.
Some of the best hiking in the world
Hiking in Switzerland
I haven’t tackled skiing yet, but I’ve definitely spent a good amount of time deciphering where to find family-friendly hiking. I’ll report back as we find great hikes on the blog (the Chemin de Narcisses near Montreux is one) and a post is coming up with highlights from our trip to Zermatt.
Walking and hiking is a prime tourist activity here—yellow Tourisme Pedestre signs can be found everywhere noting the walking time to various destinations. On rural hikes, despite the yellow signs, we’ve still managed to get lost (or at least feel like we weren’t taking the best path)—so again—having additional resources on hand like a map and a trail outline is best. Be sure and stop by the local tourist office before heading out for the day. A good description of the sign system is available on the Walking Switzerland website.
Wanderland.ch has a hiking trail search engine. It is useful for a top level search of routes, although there is not a family-friendly filter and the Travel Reports with reviews and photos default to German. There is a page that leads you to hiking guide books, although only one is available in English.
One of the aspects of Swiss hiking that is so fantastic is the plethora of huts where you can sleep for the night and/or get a hot meal and a cold beer—an outstanding combination after a mountain work out. The Swiss Alpine Club website has a search engine where you can find huts by location and other extended search features (including family-friendly). Although a brief hut description is provided, there are so many it is hard to distinguish between the options so you need to spend quite a bit of time here looking at all available options or find an alternative best of list.
I was featured in a Budget Travel article last summer with Gregg Witt, the operator of a hiking guide service called Alpenwild. See the review of the Swiss town of Binn—I’m certain that if you looked up “idyllic landscape” in a dictionary a picture of this place would be front and center. It’s on my list!
Biking in Switzerland
Veloland.ch is a comprehensive directory site with a route search engine (same interface as Wanderland.ch). Like the Swiss Alpine Club site, it is difficult to create a short list of the options without knowing the destinations, but this is a good place to start a search. There is no family-friendly designation here, although I do see some kids in the photos so that is a good sign.
This is the best of what I’ve come up with so far—I’m on the hunt for quality filtered content in English. If you know of such a website, please comment on this post. It doesn’t need to be family-specific, although that would be a plus of course. I do have Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, and Cadogan travel guides in hard copies. Stay tuned for an assessment of differences between them.
Ciao Bambino recommended Switzerland family hotels
Photos of the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland
Photos of Lake Geneva, Switzerland
September 9th, 2010
What am I doing in this photo?
Okay, so I’m admittedly not the most graceful person in the world. But this is the closest I’ll ever get to walking on water. You get three guess to figure out the how and why? Think about it as you read on.
The list of all the places I’d like to visit is very long. If I had to put them in order, you’d find Jamaica in the lower ranks. For some reason it’s one of those places that make me think of Spring Break and the party all night crowd. Not the ideal scenario for a family vacation. So when I was asked to be a part of a press trip sponsored by the Jamaican Tourism Board I looked at it as a good opportunity to check the place out.
I’m not too proud to admit I’ve been wrong about the kid-friendly-ness of other places before. I once worried about what I’d do during a 4 day trip to Las Vegas with kids, only to discover we could have spent a week enjoying Sin City. We had a great time in Jamaica as a family!
Checking out the beach in Jamaica
Things to do in Jamaica with kids
Jamaica is one of the largest islands in the Caribbean. Tourism is the country’s top source of income, and I think it’s safe to say for most of its visitors, the island’s gorgeous blue water and sandy beaches are the main draw. The average temperature is 85 degrees, so with choices like parasailing, snorkeling and sailing, you will in all likelihood spend a majority of your vacation happily wet. Just remember to keep applying sunscreen.
Good food plays a huge role in having a good trip. One of the highlights of the trip was Scotchies in Ochos Rios. One of three locations on the island, the casual, laid back restaurant somewhat resembles an elaborate tiki bar. Thatched roof structures are comfortably scattered in a garden area provide plenty of breezy and shady spots to enjoy lunch. The menu is all about authentic Jamaican jerk – chicken, pork and steamed fish. Place your order at the window, my recommendation is to try a little bit of everything, and then slide down a few steps to watch your lunch slowly being blackened to perfection. My girls and I watched in amazement as chicken and pork were pulled off the fire and chopped into pieces at rapid speed. The fish is wrapped in foil and steamed. The combination of sliced tomato, onion, okra and black pepper was perfect. None of the offerings are overly spicy. If you’re looking for a little more heat, you can pour on some hot sauce, but all I can say is proceed with caution, I’ve heard stories of tears.
Don’t leave Jamaica without having good jerk. I’d also make sure to enjoy some of the island’s fabulous fresh fruit. Take your pick from mangoes, pineapple and papayas – better yet have them all! Good kid-friendly choices that are good for you too.
When looking for a break from the beach, I’d suggest doing something uniquely Jamaican. My 9-year-old thought the Jamaica Dogsled Team was one of the coolest parts of our trip. No snow, no problem. Using mutts from shelters like the Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA), folks at Chukka Cove farm teach you how to be a musher for the day. Harness the hounds, hop in the custom made buggy, fasten your seatbelt and off you go. We were lucky enough to have Newton Marshall as our Musher. He’s the first Caribbean musher to ever finish the famous Iditarod. As he was introducing the dogs to the kids, he was telling us how he was headed to Alaska in the morning to start training for this year’s race.
Learning how to mush for the day
The ride was wild, but the thing that seemed to stick with my girls was the dogs themselves. A majority of the dogs are from animal shelters, some rescued mere hours before they were to be destroyed. Now they’ve got a home to call their own, and a percentage of the proceeds from their buggy rides is donated to the Jamaica SPCA. The whole adventure just leaves you with a good feeling.
Dance with Dolphins
Ok, so you’ve had about 700 words or so to think. Have you figured out what has me flying across the water yet? Bottlenose dolphins, Beta and Cometa are pushing me through the water as if I weighed next to nothing. I’m moving fast. Depending on your weight, and the dolphins pushing, you’re moving approximately 15-20 mph. It’s phenomenal!
Meeting stingrays at Treasure Reef
The strong girls are two of 17 dolphins that live at Dolphin Cove at Treasure Reef in Ochos Rios. As a family who loves to hang out at the beach, this was a perfect fit. Dolphin Cove is a natural cove surrounded by a tropical rain forest setting. The highlight for most is to swim with dolphins, but if you go, plan on spending the entire day at the park.
There’s something for all ages. Kayaking, mini boat rides, a shark show and snorkeling with sting rays (no barbs). And when the whole family is exhausted, they have a nice sandy beach with lifeguard, so everyone can relax and catch their breathe. It’s one of those things your kids will be bragging about to their friends for weeks. Leave all your jewelry and valuables in the hotel safe, but bring plenty of towels.
Franklyn D Resort
Where to Sleep
There are boundless options, for a variety of budgets. A popular choice is going all-inclusive. It’s easy and convenient. Everything’s done for you, food, drinks, activities and you never need to carry a wallet. Numerous well known, all-inclusive chains call Jamaica home. The one best for your family depends on what you’re looking for on your vacation. FdR Resorts hosted my family while we were in town. What makes it different from other resorts is that your room comes with a full-time nanny. For families with young children, it’s an inviting option. At 9 and 12 years-old my girls are past the nanny phase, they spent some time hanging out with her and genuinely liked her, but never really needed her.
The resort is small and employees seem genuinely committed to making sure you’re having a good time, it’s clean and what I would describe as authentically Caribbean. Great wood details and colors, but the property is faded around the edges, and could use some T-L-C. It’s the kind of place you stay at because you like being steps from the beach. No elevators, no glitz – just comfortable old school digs. It’s not somewhere you go if you’re looking for something fancy and luxurious. Read the community hotel review of Franklyn D Resort on Ciao Bambino for more details.
If you go the all-inclusive route, make sure you set aside some time to actually see Jamaica. Go check out one of the many local craft markets, and talk to the locals. They might be able to recommend a favorite place or a great restaurant. Either way, you’ll get a true taste of Jamaica.
Photos courtesy of Dana Rebmann and Dolphin Cove
Dana Rebmann and her family received complimentary airfare, lodging, and activities in Jamaica as part of a press trip sponsored by the Jamaica Tourism Board. We are not asked to express any particular opinion or point of view.
For more Photo Friday fun head over to Delicious Baby.
Best places for kids in the Caribbean on Ciao Bambino
Disney cruise line vacation, The Bahamas
Things to do in Jamaica on Uptake.com
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