Archive for March 2011
March 30th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Sanctuary Olonana’s dining room is perched over the Mara River
Although I opted to plan most of our safari in Africa through AndBeyond, I wanted to ensure that we got a taste of a different experience too.
Abercrombie and Kent (A&K) is one of the world’s leading luxury travel brands. Their awards are numerous and the company has been planning trips for decades. A&K’s roots are in Africa and this is an extra special destination for them with many fabulous itineraries.
A&K offers escorted Family Holidays customized just for travel with kids, including an East Africa Wildlife Adventure. It wasn’t possible for me to do their complete itinerary, but I was able to fit in a stay at one of the lodges they use in their trips to Kenya, Sanctuary Olonana.
Sanctuary Olonana lounge
Sanctuary Olonana Family-Friendly Review
I love comparing and contrasting lodging. There’s the good and bad, but what’s more interesting is the good and good — meaning evaluating the differences between two wonderful accommodation options. Bateleur Camp and Sanctuary Olonana are both excellent lodges for families in Masai Mara but they are very different experiences.
Olonana is dramatically positioned above the Mara River. The location of the lodge is the highlight for me. Hippos are frequently present in the river below the lodge and there’s a parade of other wildlife coming down to the river to drink at all hours. Part of the fun is hearing the hippos … Do you know what they sound like?
Beware light sleepers, hippos are particularly active at night and will lull you to sleep (or be your alarm clock), but to be honest, this is part of what makes staying here great!
The main public areas are lodge-style with Africa-themed colors and decorations — it’s a very comfortable hotel-like living space versus the more exotic camp-style public areas of Bateleur Camp. Both lodges are fenced and feature tents as guest rooms. The tents at Olonana are more spacious for families and they have fantastic private decks overlooking the river. Bateleur tents are more intimate and luxurious (the tents, bathrooms, and furnishings are newer).
Olonana has a small swimming pool in a leafy part of the resort without a view. Given that Bateleur’s pool is also small — neither option is really optimal for kids, but at Bateleur guests are able to visit the larger pool and grass area at Kichwa Tembo (5-minute walk).
Crocodile hunting zebra (see croc in middle right part of photo)
Both lodges visit the same portion of Masai Mara National Reserve for game drives. The location of Olonana is 10-15 minutes further from the park entrance, but the additional driving distance is inconsequential when it comes down to being in the car for 3-4 hours at a time.
Our ranger and guide, Bonnie, at Olonana was quite knowledgeable and good about customizing his commentary for an 8-year-old. We had one of our best drives in Masai Mara with Bonnie — we witnessed a zebra crossing the river near hungry crocodiles. We watched a crocodile strike — exciting — but no dice, the zebras outmaneuvered him and lived another day.
The bottom line is that the specific guide you’ll be assigned at a lodge is luck and timing, but you must be confident that the lodge will make a good match for the age of your kids.
Maasai naming ceremony at Olonana bush dinner
Olonana is adjacent to a few Maasai villages and guests have an easy opportunity to interact with them. The lodge manager, Maurice, set up an afternoon excursion where our son participated in a bow and arrow shooting contest with the local Maasai children. Smile-producing for all as he had fun and we had parenting time off.
We had a tremendous evening at Olonana’s bush dinner where the Maasai community came in to sing, dance, and give Maasai names to guests in an entertaining ceremony. After much discussion, the community gave our son the name “Oloboru” or still growing warrior. He’ll remember this ceremony forever and so will we!
The food at Olonana is exceptional. Like Bateleur Camp, they have their own garden where they grow vegetables and herbs. There is a difference is the selection process. Olonana has a daily menu with a few different options to choose from (restaurant-style), while Bateleur Camp has a set daily menu. Both lodges are happy to make special meals for kids.
Like AndBeyond, Sanctuary Retreats is committed to conservation. One wonderful element of the Olonana experience is their tree planting program for staff and guests.
Before we left our son had an opportunity to name and plant a native tree that will be part of the upcoming forest.
How cool is that?! Thinking about how our little Oloboru can go back in 10-20 years to see this tree — part of a rich forest by that time — gives me goose bumps.
We received a special media rate at Sanctuary Olonana. They did not ask us to express a particular point of view.
AndBeyond luxury safari lodges
Africa with kids, family safari basics
Africa with kids, planning a family safari
Family safaris in Africa, lion hunt for photo friday
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March 28th, 2011
Family trip to China with a tour operator
I have a routine when I plan a family adventure. It starts with a notebook that holds hours of research and eventually a flexible itinerary. Getting the trip together requires a lot of work, but the payoff of a great trip is worth it. My family all agreed for spring break this year, we wanted to escape to Costa Rica. A year ago, when we took off for Spain with the kids, we rented a car and went exploring on our own. But this year the rules are different.
A middle school calendar and a daughter whose blood pressure skyrockets at the mere thought of missing school, meant our time was limited. (My youngest daughter suggested we just leave her sister at home, but that is another story). My mother, who is fun and helpful to travel with, is also coming. Bottom line, things that I might have been tempted to “wing” on location, had to be somewhat set in stone, or at least down on paper.
All of the above lead me to the decision a trip with a tour operator was the best way to go. And I have to say, I think looking at the endless options, was in many ways harder than planning the trip on my own. When I googled “kids and Costa Rica” the first time, I was floored by the 91,600,000 results. So obviously, Costa Rica’s a popular family vacation choice, but there is something to the phrase “too much information” especially when it’s not all good information. All tours are not created equally, and there a many factors you should consider before laying down your credit card.
Tips for Planning a Family Tour
What do you want to do?
Everyone should have a say in what they’d like to do while on vacation. Granted, my girls are older, and at 10 and 12, they definitely have strong opinions. But even younger kids like to have a say in planning a trip. It helps them get excited about the adventure, and you just might be surprised by what they want to do. With five of us headed to Costa Rica, we all picked the top two things we’d like to visit or do. That gave me a checklist of sorts to use as a guide when looking at tour options. Zip-lining through the rainforest was by far the top choice in my family, so I knew that had to be a part of the tour we choose. For my family, there was no perfect tour, but we were able to get pretty close. Tour or no tour, you can’t see an entire country in one trip. Don’t try, it will be miserable for all involved. The plan should always be have a good time, and come back again to catch everything you missed and revisit some favorites on the list.
Is the tour family-friendly?
This is huge, and can make or break the whole trip. Some tours don’t allow children, others are thrilled to have them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get a feel for the family friendliness of a tour company. When we took a family trip to China, we traveled with a tour. The tour company welcomed the kids, but told us when we booked that our kids would most likely be the only kids on the tour. They were, and it didn’t phase them in the slightest. I think they actually enjoyed the extra attention they often received. But a week of just grown-ups can be hard for some kids. That said, a week of entertaining kids, because there aren’t any other kids around, can be hard for many grown-ups. Remember, it is vacation.
When are you going?
Before you fall in love with a particular tour, check to make sure it’s even available when you want to travel. I thought I had found “the one”, then was disappointed when I discovered there was not a trip offered on the dates I needed. (Apparently, my kids’ spring break does not match up with the majority of the rest of the world). We didn’t have much flexibility when it came to dates, but the tour we selected leaves everyday in the month of March. Wow! That’s a lot of tours. And it did give us enough wiggle room to snag cheaper plane tickets and squeeze the girls’ championship swim meet into the schedule before we race to the airport. I’m still kind of amazed by how it fell into place.
How much do you want to spend?
And more importantly, what do you want to spend your money on? Are you looking to stay at some incredible upscale resorts with a kids’ club and pamper yourself at the spa? Or will you spend most of the days zip-ling through the rain forests and hiking to the craters of volcanoes? This is an important decision to make, and you may need to hold another family meeting to do it. Nicer hotels and resorts add to the price of tours. Clean, comfortable hotels with basic family friendly amenities like a pool and restaurants on location are a must, but if you’re never going to be at the plush resort to enjoy the perks, do you want to pay for them?
The size of the tour group also plays a role in the tour price. You pay less for a seat on a big bus, more to strap your kids in the backseat of a private car. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. You have to choose what works best for your family.
What do other travelers think?
Tour operator websites are designed to make you fall in love with their trips. Find out what other people thought of the trip before you sign on the dotted line. In some cases, you can simply ask tour operators and they’ll put you in touch with past customers. Now, keep in mind, it’s unlikely they’re going to introduce you to someone who had an awful time. Websites like Tripadvisor often provide opinions on every last detail of a trip. Read through the reviews. Sure, there will always be the extremes; someone who hated everything, and someone who loved every minute. But after you read through a number of comments you’ll get an idea if the trip is for you.
The beauty of a tour, is once you make a decision, for the most part, your work is done. Pack your bags, get on the plane, and then someone else will take care of the rest. Whether it’s figuring out where to eat lunch, or lugging your bags from one hotel to the next, you don’t need to think about it. It’s someone’s job to make it all happen. No carrying luggage, mine or my kids. That’s what I call a vacation.
We take off in March. I’ll let you know if I made a good choice.
Why families should consider a family tour operator?
Adventure travel with kids, planning a family safari to Africa
Guided family vacations in Costa Rica and Panama
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March 25th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
I left out an important Rome attraction earlier this week when I published my post on 72 hours in Rome with kids. On the morning of our departure, we got up extra early to ensure we’d have time to visit the Capuchin Crypt — a set of six chapels made up of human bones and skulls.
Sound creepy? It’s ultra creepy!
Check out all of these skulls. Unfortunately, the church does not allow photographs in the crypt so the only way to share the macabre vision is through photos of their post cards. The bones are nailed to the walls in intricate patterns, piled around each chapel, and there are even bone chandeliers.
4,000 friar skeletons occupy the crypt, buried by their order after being transported to Rome in 1631. People have visited these bone chapels for hundreds of years — really, this site has to been seen to be believed.
Is the Capuchin Crypt kid-friendly?
I’d say categorically this is not a good place for little kids unless you are carrying a sleeping baby. Older school-age kids, tweens, and teens, however, will think you are the coolest (or craziest) parent ever for bringing them in here.
The crypt is below the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini off Piazza Barberini on the Via Veneto. This is not a well-known attraction — I must have asked 15 people how to find the church and I got countless shoulder shrugs, even IN Piazza Barberini. Anyway, in retrospect, it’s not difficult to find if you get yourself on Via Veneto from the piazza.
Here is a link to the official website. Note, opening hours are 9a-12 and 3-6p. The crypt is closed on Thursdays.
For more Photo Friday posts, visit Delicious Baby.
72 hours in Rome with kids
Ciao Bambino recommended Rome family hotels
Rome and Florence car rental tips
Where to stay in Rome
Rome travel tips and guides
Top things to do Rome
Unique Rome sights with kids
Rome iPhone Apps
Family-friendly dining in Rome
March 24th, 2011
This is a guest post from Camille Spanjaard, founder of baby’tems, a baby equipment rental and supply company in Paris, France. Camille is a French mom with two small children who has lived in Paris for more than 10 years. She decided to start baby’tems after traveling with her children and realizing that baby equipment rental and supply services existed in many cities, but not in Paris! Odd for one of the most visited cities in the world.
Paris can be rainy. When traveling with a baby or toddler, it’s wise to have a list of indoor activities available. Here are a few great options known and appreciated by Parisian parents.
Indoor Paris Activities with Babies and Toddlers
Cité des Sciences
At the Cité des Sciences, La Villette (Science Museum), you’ll find a dedicated section for children aged 2 to 7 (and another one for older children as well), “la Cité des enfants”. In this area, your toddler can experience 5 different areas: I discover myself, I can do, I locate myself, All together and I experiment. Cité des enfants is organized in 75 or 90 minutes sessions. The museum recommends that you focus on 1 or 2 areas only, as time is limited. Note, it is mandatory to book in advance, especially if you’re visiting the museum during France school holiday periods.
Ages: toddler, 2 and older
Le 104 and La Maison des Petits
Le 104, an artistic place that organizes exhibitions, performances and has a great bookshop, café and restaurant, also houses La Maison des Petits (House for Children). Designed by Magali Crasset, with unique shapes, colors, materials and light, you’ll find there a place for “listening, speaking, meeting, using art and play”, as described on the 104 website. La Maison des Petits opens Tuesday to Friday from 3:00 to 6:00 pm, on weekends from 10:00 am till 7:00 p.m. Free access (no booking necessary), but space is limited.
Ages: children under 6, accompanied by an adult
Le Forum des Images
Le forum des Images is a movie theater where you’ll find films you cannot see elsewhere (artistic films, limited diffusion films, independent animated shorts etc …). Le forum des images has a dedicated section for children and suggests specific films for children ages 2 and up.
Film lists for toddlers aged 2 and older (in French only)
Jardin des Plantes
Jardin des Plantes greenhouses are perfect if the weather is cold while visiting Paris. Go to these beautiful greenhouses for a “warm indoor exotic walk”. Renovated during several years, they reopened in June 2010 with new paths, new explanations boards and more attractions. The whole family will discover wonderful plant life here.
4 greenhouses are accessible to visitors:
- tropical rainforest greenhouse: hot and humid atmosphere of an imaginary tropical forest
- desert and arid land greenhouse, dedicated to the adaption of plants to dryness
- the New Caledonia glasshouse: plants from New Caledonia
- history greenhouse, uses a chronological pathway, history of adaptation to changing environments
Ages: all ages
Located in the Jardin du Trocadéro (facing the Eiffel Tower), Cineaqua (aquarium) is an ideal place for a family outing.Visitors will enjoy 43 aquariums (including one gigantic one!), a shark tunnel, a touch pool, shows, and more.
Ages: all ages
Baby’tems delivers rental equipment right to your doorstep in Paris. Our products are all recognized brands kept in perfect condition. We also can provide nappies/diapers, milk, baby food, and a range of other childcare accessories. We make it easy to travel to Paris with babies and toddlers!
Photo courtesy of Ciao Bambino!
Tips for Visiting Paris with Babies and Toddlers
Ciao Bambino recommended France family hotels
Toddler travel, Paris activities with kids
Off-the-beaten-path things to do in Paris with kids
Favorite online resources for Paris with children
Savoring the simple pleasures of Paris with children
Kid-friendly dining in Paris
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March 23rd, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Mother and son trip to Rome, October 2010
Many families use Rome as the starting point for 10-14 day trips to Italy. Rome is my favorite big city in Europe with kids. The layers of history, the chaos, the loitering — it’s impossible to be an outsider here as you are always drawn into the action in some way, shape, or form.
I actually recommend spending at least 4 days in Rome (see my post on creating the best family-friendly Itinerary in Italy). However, I know how hard it is to allocate precious days on vacation and many people end up in Rome for just 72 hours.
I spent a few days in Rome with my then-7-year-old in October. Short but sweet. Here’s how the make the best of a brief stay.
Family-Friendly Hotels in Rome
For short stays, I do not recommend staying in a standalone apartment. Everything we review in Rome has a front desk to help with directions, dinner reservations, cabs — whatever. For just a few days it’s best to have resources you can count on for help. The issue in Rome is finding a hotel in a wonderful location that can accommodate a family in a single configuration; add budget constraints to the equation and you’ve got a real challenge.
I like staying in hotels where I can walk to tourist attractions, as well as an array of interesting restaurants and shops. For this reason, I love staying in and around the Pantheon, Piazza Navona or alternatively around the Spanish Steps. There are many other fantastic options — see the guest post from Papavero Rentals defining the various neighborhoods in Rome — very helpful! The bottom line is that for a 72-hour stay, the location of your hotel matters more than ever. You don’t want to waste precious time getting from A to Z.
We chose to stay at the Grand Hotel de la Minerve. Just steps away from the Pantheon, the hotel overlooks a picturesque square. This location allowed us to sightsee and head to our room for a rest before heading out again. A luxury boutique hotel, the service and room quality is excellent. For something more value-oriented, Albergo Santa Chiara is right next door.
A memorable moment looking out our hotel room window at the Pantheon
We had a room with a view over the Pantheon and at one point, while we were taking a break, someone was out of our window playing music. Both of us stopped what we were doing and experienced a “pinch me, this is utterly fantastic” moment. All the Ciao Bambino hotels we review are in desirable locations for sightseeing — see our full list of recommended Rome family hotels.
An impromptu visit to the Vatican
Day 1: The Vatican, Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori, and Trevi Fountain
After stopping for a mandatory coffee at Sant’Eustachio (another benefit of this home-base, a 2-minute walk from this glorious coffee experience), we hit the ground running on our first day in Rome. Nancy always recommends taking a hop-on hop-off bus for the first day in a city. As many times as I’ve been to Rome, this seemed like the best way for me to give a fresh overview to a 7-year-old.
This was absolutely the right call as it allowed us to cover some ground fairly quickly. The information provided in the headphones is not kid-ready, but it doesn’t really matter, we were there for the ride and visual overview. You can grab these buses near all the major tourist attractions in Rome.
We didn’t plan on going straight to the Vatican, but as soon as my son saw St. Peter’s Square he was ready to check it out. You can see the Vatican without a time strategy during non-peak periods. You can’t make reservations for the Basilica anyway. There is always a line, but it moves.
My one regret is not climbing the Cupola. With school-age kids climbing is fantastic as we discovered when we climbed the Duomo in Florence. There is a long line (again, no reservations are possible), so you need to strategize around an early morning or lunchtime arrival. Note, you DO need a reservation to see the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. If you hire a walking tour guide they can do it for you, or you can do it on the web. I had a good experience buying tickets from Tickitaly.com (for both Florence and Rome museums).
After fighting the crowds at a major tourist attraction, I like to loiter for the rest of the day and that’s exactly what we did. Rome’s neighborhoods are varied and fabulous for walking. In this case we wandered around Campo de’ Fiori, Piazza Navona, and the Trevi Fountain. There are thousands of spots to eat lunch outside where the people watching is phenomenal. If you are looking for a piazza to park yourself, Piazza Navona is a wonderful stopping point. Lined with cafes and artisans (and no cars), this is an entertaining spot to spend an afternoon.
The wonders of the Forum
Day 2: Ancient Rome and The Spanish Steps
A formal walking tour is the best way to explore a complicated tourist attraction in a meaningful way. If you are choosing between the Vatican and Ancient Rome, I always recommend Ancient Rome with a guide. The sites that comprise Ancient Rome make so much more sense with a guide — that way the guide can tell a story and kids can visualize what they are seeing.
Our clients have had great experiences with the walking tour guides in Rome listed on our kid-friendly guides page. In this case, I decided to spend the morning with Nancy Aiello Tours. What a treat! We had a top notch experience. Good guides read their clients and customize a tour accordingly. We walked at a fast but thoughtful pace through the Pantheon, Capitoline Hill (for a view over the Forum), the Forum, and finally the Coliseum. You can spend hours at any one of these sites but for my family, that is a sure-fire way to lose attention. This was the perfect combination for a 3-4 hour walking tour (with a gelato stop along the way, of course).
Since the Forum is ruins, our guide carried a book showing the way “it used to look” — this is key for kids. If you have more time and want a very special experience, Nancy went to Gladiator School with her family. She maintains that is is one of their all-time favorite travel experiences in Europe. Her kids still talk about it!
We spent the rest of our day wandering around the Spanish Steps. The streets in this area are lined with upscale shops and restaurants. It’s a fun place to explore in the evening too when families stroll through the streets for their nightly passeggiata.
Looking at St. Peter’s and Vatican City from Castel Sant’Angelo
Day 3: Castel Sant’Angelo and Trastevere
It’s a short itinerary, it’s already the last day in Rome and even after exploring the major sites above, you still haven’t seen much of Rome, sigh. You just have to know this will be the case and be OK with it.
For our last day we chose to visit Castel Sant’Angelo — a papal fortress, residence, and prison at one point or another. This site also features prominently in Dan Brown’s thriller Angels & Demons. I thought this would be an exciting spot for a school-age boy. It may have been – with a good podcast or guide — we had neither and subsequently we didn’t engage successfully at this attraction. It happens, lesson learned. That said, the view from the top of the tower is stupendous.
Pedi-cab ride through cobblestone streets and alleys is a hit with kids
I made up for the sightseeing malaise with a pedi-cab ride to Trastevere. Months later, I think my brain is still jiggling from riding over the cobblestone streets in historic Rome, but this was a very fun experience in a city with narrow streets and passageways (not as pleasant for Mom on the major roads with traffic).
We spent our last afternoon wandering around Trastevere. This old neighborhood in Rome has many nooks and crannies. Some of it is gritty, but it feels authentic and is very different than any other part of the city. The Church of Santa Maria is one of the oldest in Rome and is in the heart of this area.
Although this was my second visit to this church, I was unprepared for the magic of our visit. Every once in awhile you visit a church when lights and candles illuminate the interior in a remarkable way — this was the case here as the gold, 12th century mosiacs glowed above us. Our son already suffers from “It’s just another church” fever and in this case he was speechless too.
Time to plan another trip to Rome. This time a week-long stay is in order!
Ciao Bambino recommended Rome family hotels
Rome and Florence car rental tips
Where to stay in Rome
Rome travel tips and guides
Top things to do Rome
Unique Rome sights with kids
Rome iPhone Apps
Family-friendly dining in Rome
How to order coffee in Italy
Tips for visiting Rome sights with kids (written for WhyGo Italy)
Information for Expatriates in Rome – InterNations
March 21st, 2011
The Northern California Wine Country has a reputation for many fabulous things, but being family-friendly isn’t one of them. Wine tasting with kids is do-able, but different. And though wine is obviously the toast of the town, kids have a new, fast-flying reason to celebrate when they visit.
Move over grapevines, some towering Redwoods have a new view of wine country to share. Ziplining is a favorite activity in family vacation spots like Cabo San Lucas and Costa Rica. Now, the California wine country can be added to the list. Sonoma Canopy Tours opened its doors — or should I say treetops — to the public a little less than a year ago. Nestled among Coastal Redwoods about an hour north of San Francisco in the tiny town of Occidental, guests get an adventure and outdoor education all rolled into one.
Now before you say “no way” hear me out. If you have a serious fear of heights, this might not be your thing, but I would like to clear up some misconceptions. Ziplining really doesn’t take a lot of physical effort. You do not have to be a marathon runner to do this. Gravity truly does most of the work for you.
The tour my family was on had folks of all shapes and sizes. That said, there are some rules. Kids must be at least 10 years old and weigh a minimum of 70 pounds. For those of us older than 10, there is a weight maximum of 250 pounds. And, yes, they have a scale.
The tour begins with a ziplining lesson at base camp. This first zipline experience allows you to get a feel of what it will be like suspended mid-air with the benefit of being just 6-or-so feet off the ground. You’ll learn a few simple tricks like where to put what hand and how to stop. Once you’ve passed your ziplining test, (no worries, everyone does) you’ll climb aboard the back of a pick-up truck for the bumpy ride up to the first zip of the course.
The course is laid out in a way that allows you to gain experience and confidence with every zip. The first “junior zip” gently gets you into the swing of things while giving you your first view of the amazing redwoods. The next zip is longer, faster and higher - around 80 feet off the canopy floor. Now that you’ve worked out all the kinks, it really gets fun! The zips are longer, but this is when my family really relaxed and starting enjoying the amazing world around them. Our fabulous guides were also outdoor educators that have spent a fair amount of time working with school-age kids. In between clicking on for safety and launching off for thrills, we learned about the area’s ecosystem. Ask my girls about the difference between the roots of a Douglas Fir and a Coastal Redwood and they’ll be jumping out of their seat to answer. I’m a big fan of having so much fun you don’t realize you’re learning. It’s magic when it happens!
Sonoma Canopy Tour’s longest zip rockets you forward 800 feet into an old growth forest. Fast and furious, you can hit speeds up to 25 miles an hour. The heavier you are, the faster you can fly. Which can present a bit of a glitch for the younger, lighter members on the tour. At about 90 pounds, my 10-year old isn’t exactly a lightweight, but our guides were concerned she might not make it the full way across. They gave her the option of doubling up with one of them, or learning a few new moves. She wanted to go it on her own, so they showed her some tips on how to tuck her legs and tighten up like a ball and off she went, reaching the other side without any trouble. Bragging rights all around!
The hardest part of the course (and hard really isn’t the right word) is toward the end. You’ll cross hanging bridges, climb a 30-foot spiral staircase, your guide will introduce you to Walter, the resident 800-year old redwood tree that has survived fires and lightning strikes, and then you’ll rappel 80-feet down back to terra firma. Those 80-feet look intimidating, but once you swing off it’s just plain fun and it’s not hard. It really takes very little effort on your part, and you can go as fast or slow as you want. A woman on our tour said she signed up to work on conquering her fear of heights. She finished everything with flying colors.
The entire course takes about 2 and-a-half hours to complete. Time flies and you’re done before you know it. While you’re taking off the safety gear be prepared to listen to your kids ask if you can do it again.
Check off another successful vacation activity. It’ll score you some serious bonus points, and maybe even a little more patience when you drag the kids wine tasting tomorrow. If and when the high wears off, tell the kids about TrapezePro, the trapeze & circus arts school in Sonoma. That’s bound to get their attention. It got mine — so it’s my family’s next high-flying adventure. Stay tuned for a full report.
Kid-friendly Napa Valley and Sonoma hotels recommended by Ciao Bambino
Five kid-friendly activities in Napa Valley
Napa Valley with kids, exploring the Oxbow Market
Things to do in Sonoma on Uptake.com
, Napa Valley
, North America
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March 18th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
People refer to a vacation in Africa as a trip of a lifetime. And it is. Traveling to this continent is a big trip in every way — the preparation, expense, travel time required to get there are all consequential.
What really makes it a trip of a lifetime, however, is the wondrous experience of being in a place where you are able to witness the very essence of our world in the most powerful and authentic way, i.e. one that is raw and unadulterated. What you experience is life changing — you’ll never look at our planet same way again after a safari.
This is one of the reasons (safety is the other) that choosing the right resources for a safari is absolutely critical. &Beyond has been a leader in responsible tourism in Africa for decades (they started as Conservation Corporation Africa). Given their history and award-winning camps, I selected their lodging for the bulk of our trip.
Bateleur Camp lounge
All I can say is that &Beyond is quite simply And Beyond Expectations … in every way. I knew the camps and lodges would be spectacular. What I didn’t anticipate, however, was the mind-boggling level of personalization. Sometimes I get special treatment as a travel writer, but in this case we experienced exactly what every other guest experienced — an insane service experience that left us teary-eyed at departure.
It’s not just about comfort or pampering here — it’s about ensuring you have your dream trip. &Beyond staff works tirelessly to ensure this happens for everyone.
We stayed at four of their accommodations — Bateleur Camp, Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Serengeti Under Canvas, and Lake Manyara Tree Camp. All were phenomenal and offer a unique bush experience. There is too much to share about each camp for a single post; this will be my first article in a series about &Beyond accommodations.
Masai Mara landscape
Bateleur Camp | Masai Mara, Kenya
We loved all the camps but Bateleur left a deep impression on all of us. Set in a leafy forest overlooking open plains with constant stream of grazing animals, the vibe of the camp is vintage safari. Rustic on the outside (rooms are tents), but exquisitely decorated on the inside with safari artifacts of yesteryear, guests are transported to another time.
This camp is fenced so bigger animals do not roam freely (monkeys and warthogs do). At first I worried this would take away from the authenticity of the experience. It doesn’t. The fence blends into the environment and the reality is with young kids a fence makes things safer and easier.
Welcome party by the Mara River
Our welcome at Bateleur Camp was the first of many surprises. Our driver, Luke, and naturalist, Jackson, picked us up from the airstrip and drove us to “party with the hippos.”
Surprise is a core part of the Bateleur Camp experience. Just when you think you’ve got the routine down — they so something special to wow you.
Our hippo stop was the optimal time to establish our safari ground rules. After traveling all morning our 8-year-old hopped out of the jeep and started heading down to literally say hello to the hippos. “No, no, no little man — this is the real deal — hippos kill more people than any other animal in Africa.” Wide-eyes followed. Our first lesson.
One of the special elements of &Beyond is the warmth of the staff at their lodges. It’s not just one person that moves you, but everyone. Truly — it’s amazing. You never pull up to a lodge without someone waiting for you and singing is big part of celebrating your arrival (and departure).
Welcome letter from the animals at Bateleur Camp
I love hotels that offer thoughtful treats to kids on arrival as this helps get them excited about a stay. At Bateleur we walked into our room and a letter was waiting for our son from the animals at the camp. He read the note aloud and a huge smile followed. “Mom, Dad … when are we going to go on our first safari?!”
Our guides Luke and Jackson
You rely on your guide for everything on a safari — his/her driving skills, knowledge, and judgment. You’re life is in their hands, literally. Of course, with kids you have the extra element of needing a guide to be kid-friendly. In the bush this means a guide that is patient and someone who is willing to adapt content so kids stay engaged and learn from the adventure.
Bateleur Camp provides a guide and Masaai Warrior naturalist to families. This is the only camp where we had two people on the drives with us. This constant access provides a wonderful, casual forum for kids to learn about the Masaai people. What little boy is not excited about a real warrior who walks around with a knife or spear? Our interaction with Jackson was as impactful and memorable as learning about the animals and ecosystem.
Outside of the safaris you can interact with the Maasai in other ways too. Jackson spent time teaching us about creating fire with sticks and shooting a bow and arrow. A 10++ on the interest scale for a school-age boy.
One of the challenges of being on a safari with kids is that there is very little time or space for them to safely run around to burn off steam. Bateleur Camp has a small swimming pool but otherwise there is very little open space for kids.
Swimming pool at Kichwa Tembo
What makes it work, however, is that the camp has an adjacent sister property, Kichwa Tembo, with an expansive grass area and a glorious swimming pool with plenty of room for kids and parents to spread out. This area is key for families and only a 5-minute walk from Bateleur. During holiday periods the property organizes games and activities for kids of all ages.
Bateleur Camp breakfast
Food-borne illness is a major concern while traveling in Africa. Bateleur Camp has their own garden and much of what you eat is grown right on the property. Given that a safari involves hours of sitting, the last thing you want is ultra-heavy meals. The menu here is prepared with care. Don’t get me wrong — we overindulged — but the food is fresh, delicious, and surprisingly light. The diligent hygiene practices here (and at all &Beyond Camps) means you can eat uncooked fruit and vegetables, plus have your drinks with ice, i.e. you aren’t giving up a thing here. They will also prepare special meals for kids if they don’t want to eat the pre-set menu.
Conservation and Community
I can’t review &Beyond without mentioning their conservation and community endeavors. The company is deeply tied to wildlife conservation and tourism is a vital mechanism to ensure Africa’s ecosystems are protected. Supporting the local communities is a critical part of their strategy to care for Africa. We visited a school they support in the Masai Mara — I’ll report on that experience in another post. Read more about their Sustainability Programs on the &Beyond website.
For more Photo Friday posts, head over the Delicious Baby.
We received a special media rate at AndBeyond lodges. They did not ask us to express a particular point of view.
Africa with kids, family safari basics
Africa with kids, planning a family safari
Family safaris in Africa, lion hunt for photo friday
, Family Safaris
March 16th, 2011
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
My research for our latest DC adventure began a month ago. Exploring Washington DC with kids is simply better with a plan. I’m all for winging it when traveling, but the amount of time spent on your feet while touring DC can easily turn a good trip into a bad one. However, with a little pre-trip work, you can organize what you want to see by general location and manage the distance you need to walk. Remember that most sites also require you to be on your feet to explore them, so work in some down time at a park, on a bus, or in a theatre.
Now, we’ve been to DC countless times and I have already written many posts on DC including Washington DC: Favorite Family Activities, but for this trip I wanted new ways to experience DC. I needed creative ways to see the city and new places to explore to rejuvenate my family’s interest in all that DC has to offer.
Additionally, the range in our children’s ages makes it a bit tricky; I need activities that appeal to all ages. While my 12-year-old would love a tour of Congress, my 3-year-old is certain to disturb Congress. For new ideas, I reached out to our knowledgeable Twitter community, as well as some personal friends. Here are the recommendations I received:
The Spy Museum
Hands-down the most recommended site, but we’ve experienced The Spy Museum a few times already. To make it different, this year we’re doing the Spy City Tour. A 1.2 mile loop with GPS units and we have to do our own sleuthing.
National Building Museum
Recommended by DC Like a Local. He says it’s his hands-down favorite. I’m wooed by the funny and sarcastic reviews of the kid-friendly activities discussed in this resource.
National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery continually offers family workshops. We’re looking forward to learning about the sculptor David Smith and then creating some of our own artwork during a hands-on session.
Recommended by Eric Richardson of DCinsider, the Eastern Market is reported to be a cool, more eclectic spot. And a big bonus, it’s on my husband’s list too.
Newseum provides an interactive look at the media. This is also recommended by DCInsider and DC Like a Local. So much so that Tim (DCInsider) wrote a post, “If you gotta pick one…” listing the expensive sites (Spy Museum, Madame Tussaud’s and the Newseum); he recommends the Newseum above the others.
Spy City Tour
DC by Foot
Exploring President Lincoln’s legacy is easy in DC. First there’s the monument — but we’ve been there a few times — and now that my kids are a little older, we’re ready to delve deeper. This trip we booked a private tour with DC by Foot that follows the footsteps of President Lincoln on his last night. The tour includes many sites like Peterson Boarding House, The Ford Theater, and the US Treasury Building, finally culminating at President Lincoln’s Cottage.
The Freer and Sackler Galleries
These galleries are the lesser-known Mall attraction, but they house amazing Asian art. The setting is more intimate, making it a perfect stop for families who are overwhelmed by the huge museums.
New Lion Cubs at the Zoo
There are 7 new baby cubs. Currently, if the zookeeper decides that they are fit to go outside, they open the enclosure at 12:30 and only stay out for one hour. So, if you want a chance to see these babies, 12:30 is the magical time.
About.com has a great list of DC tours. My current favorite is Bike the Sites. However, we’re booked with DC by Foot for this trip. I’ll keep you posted.
If you’re looking for a souvenir, consider making your own at DC Glass Works close by in Maryland or Paint This in Alexandria.
Thanks to our twitter friends for providing new ideas: @Poshbrood, @DCinsider, @DCLikealocal, @KidFriendlyDC, @Away.com
Note: For your own planning, here are some additional sources of information. There is a new website resource for families visiting the Smithsonian; they even offer sample itineraries by age with pre-trip reading suggestions. About.com offers 15 Best Activities for kids. Alistair from Kid Friendly DC offers my favorite iphone application for DC. I also like 57 Free things to do in DC on Away.com.
Not to be missed is Washington DC in full bloom during the National Cherry Blossom Season running March 26th through April 6th. The city springs to life as the beautiful pink blossoms unfold, banishing the harsh winter and welcoming in the spring.
The color is not limited to the trees, quite the opposite, as the skies light up with the kites during the annual Blossom Kite Festival on the National Mall. They have kite battles, trick shows, and feature beautiful handmade kites from around the world. On March 26th, The National Building Museum hosts Family Day. The schedule is loaded with fun family activities for kids of all ages.
Ciao Bambino recommended places to stay in Washington DC
Washington DC with kids, top planning resources
Washington DC attractions, favorite family activities
Things to do in Washington DC on Uptake.com
Photos courtesy of Nancy Solomon
, North America
, Spring Break
, Washington DC
March 15th, 2011
Kristi from Ciao Bambino
What’s an indoor waterpark? Sounds like a silly question if you live in the Midwest or East Coast where they are popular, but we don’t have them in California. Imagine three football fields filled with indoor water slides, lazy rivers, wave machines, and play structures. Put a cover over it and you’ve got an indoor waterpark — at least Kalahari style.
On a recent trip to Ohio I had an opportunity to experience the largest indoor waterpark in the world at Kalahari Waterpark and Resort in Sandusky, Ohio. I visited mid-week in November and there were no lines and no waiting — we had free reign of the place.
Ropes course is great for school-age kids
There are enough slides, rides and other activities to keep all ages entertained. At 5 and 7 my kids were able to do almost everything although there were a few rides we should have skipped in retrospect. A three-story climb to ride the Swahili Swirl, which as its name implies, swirls riders around in a funnel before dropping them down the slide, was too much for my 5 year-old and my 80 year-old father-in-law (perfect for middle school-aged kids). With young kids, we migrated towards the calmer side — lazy river, wave pool, slides and water towers. The basketball area and ropes course are popular and a nice change after many runs down the slides. And for an additional charge, you can try surfing or body boarding the waves of the FlowRider.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day there’s an outdoor waterpark which includes a zip-line, pools and water play fountains. I like the idea of being able to go from inside to outside when the weather is nice, especially for the zip-line. There’s also a year-round outdoor animal park which is interesting, although the food to feed the animals is pricey — so if you don’t want to go the whining kid’s route — enjoy the view from afar.
Water safety is taken very seriously. Life vests are visible at the entrance and there are several lifeguards at each ride and they are attentive. At the wave pool, the periphery lifeguards signaled to the main lifeguard on shore to double check that our daughter, who just met the height requirements for many of the rides, was tall enough. We never encountered a lifeguard or any staff member passively doing their job. Even at the dry land activities, they make an effort to engage the kids. I don’t have tweens or teens, but I would have felt comfortable letting them go on their own given this set-up.
If only all hotels and resorts had this many family-friendly room types. It’s a parent’s dream with options ranging from basic hotel rooms to larger family rooms to condos with full kitchens. We stayed in an African Queen Suite with 2 bedrooms but a less expensive option is the Two Room Family Suite which doesn’t have separate bedrooms but does have a wall separating kids from adults and is spacious. Waterpark passes are included in the cost of the lodging and day passes when available, are $40 and spectator passes are $10. It’s definitely worth it to stay overnight and if you book in advance a family of 4 can get a basic room for the same cost as 4 waterpark passes.
At some point you may want to get out of your wet swimming suit and be dry for a few hours. For adults there is a spa and fitness center and for kids there are multiple activities including a supervised climbing and play area for smaller children, arcade and cookie decorating daily. If you are here during high season or weekends there are planned activities all day long — crafts, limbo competition, bingo, karaoke, story time — some in the waterpark area and some in the dry activity area.
Dining options range from a coffee bar, to fast food, to buffets to The Reserve, a higher-end, dinner-only restaurant. My expectations were low — amusement park food was what first came to mind, but it is better than that. Our buffet breakfast was fair but our dinner at The Reserve was excellent with a moderately priced wine list — just what we needed after a day of being swirled and shot out.
The Kalahari Resort is tailored for families so it’s easy for parents and kids love it. Best of all — the kids are so worn out by the end of the day that they happily go to bed early.
Kristi received complimentary accommodation from Kalahari Resorts. They did not ask Ciao Bambino to express any particular opinion. Photos courtesy of Kristi Marcelle
Swimming Safety at Hotel Kids’ Clubs
Legoland’s Water Park
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March 14th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
The Travel Blog Mob is writing about travel misconceptions this month. A particularly relevant subject for traveling with kids given that parents tend to have loads of preconceived notions about what it entails.
When I first launched Ciao Bambino in 2004 as a planning service to help families travel to Italy with kids, I’ll never forget my conversation with a friend who looked me in the eye and said, “I can barely manage to get to the grocery store with my kids … let alone Italy. You’re nuts!” That may be, but I can’t think of a single family that has used Ciao Bambino to plan a trip and regretted going.
This doesn’t mean every travel experience is flawless — far from it! The point is that fears and beliefs associated with family vacations are often greatly exaggerated.
Enjoying the garden at Borgo Santo Pietro in Tuscany
Here’s my list of the top 10 misconceptions about family travel:
“I need to wait until my kids are older before taking them abroad”
Not true! In fact, I’d argue that travel with very young kids has some distinct benefits over traveling with older kids. Kids are entertained easily when they are little. We could spend hours in a piazza in Italy when our son was a toddler — he chased pigeons while we relaxed over coffee. This type of loitering becomes increasingly more difficult as kids mature. Moreover, when kids are young, you can fit the family into smaller hotel configurations and this keeps costs down (not to mention that many hotels don’t charge for kids under 12).
“Young kids won’t remember going to places like Europe, so why bother?”
Our son visited Europe a few times a year since he was a baby. Admittedly, he doesn’t remember Florence as a baby or Spain as a toddler or our trip to Banff when he was 3 or our week in Mexico for his 4th birthday … That said, we do! These are memories we’ll cherish forever as parents, plus the overall developmental benefit of these trips is significant. Travel builds flexibility in kids and an awareness that the world is a diverse place. I can’t think of a better way to teach kids to become global citizens (see Jessie Voight’s article on volunteer family travel for wonderful insight on this topic).
“A kid-friendly restaurant means there must be a kids’ menu available”
A kids’ menu is a nice perk, but there are loads of restaurants that are willing to make smaller portions of the adult selections for kids (at reduced pricing). Moreover, for a trip that is longer than a weekend, it’s easy to get bored of the same chicken nuggets with fries option, not to mention the lack of healthy food on typical kids’ menus. Hotels and restaurants are getting better about accommodating families — check one of the many excellent family travel blogs for suggestions!
“Traveling with babies requires so much stuff that travel with them is a hassle”
Yes, babies need equipment and a big list of supplies. The good news, however, is there is a growing list of companies providing essentials to parents at their destination. Translation = you don’t need to “carry” everything with you and this reduces the hassle factor exponentially. See our directory of kids and baby equipment rentals for reference.
“Art museums aren’t fun for kids”
A visit to an art museum may be the highlight of a trip for every person in the family. It’s all about who you approach the experience. Nancy wrote a timeless article with tips on visiting museums with kids — the trick is to get kids to interact with what they are seeing. There are a few great companies offering family-focused art tours including ArtXplorers in New York City and Paris Muse in Paris.
“Parents need to a long list of structured activities on vacation or kids will get bored”
It depends on where you go, but in general, the best trips involve a balance of playtime, sightseeing, and structured activities vs. too much of any one thing. We are so used to being over-scheduled at home that it’s disconcerting to leave chunks of time open while on the road. Some of our best travel memories are unique, planned experiences (see finding and booking family tours for examples), but I find that wandering without a plan can be equally as enjoyable when you are open to discovering unexpected treats and points of interest.
“Jet lag is more challenging for children than adults”
The first two days in a new time zone can be sheer misery with young kids. If you can get through that first 48 hours, you’ll find that kids are more resilient than we are. On most of our trips, I’m still experiencing caffeine emergencies in the afternoon while our son is bright-eyed and ready for action. There are great posts about coping with jet lag and time changes on Best Family Travel Advice.
Water balloon toss at Montage Laguna Beach Paintbrush kids’ club
“Kids’ clubs are glorified babysitting and not a consistent, reliable entertainment option on vacation”
Families have different vacation priorities, but sending a child to a kids’ club need not be a guilt-inducing event. There is a growing list of hotels featuring unique kids’ club experiences offering everything from cultural to environmental lessons and activities. Choosing the best kids’ club set up for your family is key — but there’s no reason in the world not to take advantage of qualified clubs offered by some hotels.
“Luxury hotels with plush furnishings and gourmet dining aren’t kid-friendly”
Au contraire, I think it’s easier to find a luxury hotel that does a wonderful job of catering to children than a mid-range or budget hotel that manages kids well. The world’s best luxury hotels will work hard to make every member of the family comfortable. All experiences, however, are not created equal — see my tips for finding and booking luxury family hotels.
“Flying long distances with young kids is stressful”
It can be! I don’t want to minimize the angst of being on a long flight with a screaming child. All of us that have passed the baby and toddler years have been there. The good news is that these flights are not the norm. I hear more stories of flights gone well than awry.
The point is that fear of flying with kids is not reason to postpone travel. Portable electronics have come so far that entertainment is easier than ever. If you need activity inspiration see our great list of travel activities for kids of all ages.
Travel Blog Mob’s round up of “Everything You Know About Travel Is Wrong” posts:
Debunking common travel misconceptions on Wandering Educators
Everything you know about travel writers is wrong on BootsnAll
Travelers Beware: Everything you think you know may be wrong on Traveling with MJ
Opting out of full body scanners on Wanderlust and Lipstick
Getting it wrong on Nerds Eye View
3 obviously true travel facts that are wrong on Spot Cool Stuff
Los Angeles facts and myths on The Vacation Gals
Traveling Disaster: 6 Unfortunate Mishaps And How to Deal with Them on Sharing Travel Experiences
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, Toddler Travel
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